On Being Black and Having It Both Ways In The Mainstream Media

h515894B7[VSB Note: Today I'm handing off the podium to Shamira aka Sham-wow who said to me I've got an idea and I said, that's good. Share. So she did. So ladies and gentlemen, give it up...for Shamira!]

Yesterday there was a rather spirited discussion in the VSB comments section about whether or not The Boondocks was problematic because of the way that it exposed presumed “black” culture to audiences that are primarily white.

This isn’t a new point by any means – it seems that whenever anything that is viewed as uniquely black develops a mainstream platform an iteration of this conversation rears it’s ugly head. A very notable example of course is when Dave Chappelle walked away from his hit TV show. More recently, however, versions of these talking points have emerged in the context of the Black Jeopardy skit that happened on last weeks episode of SNL.

I found the kerfuffle via SNL to be particularly interesting in the wake of the concerted effort from folks for the show to have a more substantial black/nonwhite presence. For better or worse Lorne Michaels did exactly that, casting a black woman as well as hiring two black writers. Yet when we got a sketch catering to a black audience written by black actors and casting black people…(some) folks took issue.

This begs the question: if we are given the seat at the table that we demand, should we be concerned with how our message is received.

Before I go any further, let me admit my bias and say that I thought that the Black Jeopardy sketch was funny. (I’m also quite easily amused so you may want to take my humor tastes with a grain of salt – I’m currently giggling at an overweight cat falling right now).

Beyond that, however…I’ve never been explicitly concerned about how white people receive black content once it’s been given the space for a large audience. While I understand other peoples valid concerns, I don’t think putting  content out removes the social responsibility of white people to see their privilege and know when they are able to jump in and when they should just step back and listen.

Furthermore, the folks who use caricatures and entertainment-created characters to justify their prejudices are not my worry. I don’t find value in putting out content that takes every effort to avoid the potential of future confirmation bias. In my opinion, desiring a space to depict the varying versions of the black experience is disserviced if we feel required to dilute the message to accommodate for the ignorant and the hopeless. The second we feel dictated by people who are already uninterested in our narratives is when we cede our power before mobilizing it.

To sum up…it’s not my problem if the white audience didn’t get the joke.  I’m only interested in ensuring that we have a multitude of avenues to say what we want to say in the manner that we see fit. If nonblacks get it, great. If they don’t…I’m trying to find a bother, but it seems that my pockets are all out of them at the moment.

Anyways, what say ye, folks of VSB? Am I being ignorant of reality here? Or should we go three sheets to the wind and stop worrying about what white folks may or may not think?


On The Dangerous Thinking Behind “THOT”


(The following is from Justin Laing, a Pittsburgh-area educator and activist. This is a version of a piece originally published on his blog, Hillombo.)

I had a thought-provoking and somewhat troubling conversation with a broad range of Black men at my barbershop a couple Saturdays ago. New to me and a few of the men was THOTS — an acronym for “that ho over there” that young people (primarily young men) are using with increasing frequency.

In the course of the discussion, I remarked that the term was terrible and likely to boomerang. A young man responded that what was terrible was that young women do the things that make them worthy of such names. Obviously, there is no mystery in what makes a young woman supposedly “worthy” of that dehumanizing distinction: either engaging in sex with a number of partners that young men determine excessive, or “acting” like you do. And, as is often the case with terms like this, sometimes all a young woman has to do to be referred to as a “THOT” is…exist.

It felt good that the young man later followed up his comment with some empathy, reflecting that there could be a reason for the young woman’s behavior. Interestingly enough, no mention was made, explanation was given, or word was created about the sexual behavior of the men these THOTs are involved with. After all, you can’t be a THOT without willing male partners.

The young man who made the comment was by no means expressing a viewpoint unique to him or even a minority view. We live in a White supremacist, patriarchal culture (literally, rule of the father) so the image and identity of Black women and girls are under regular assault. So, I guess what really struck me about the this term was that it was even more dismissive and dehumanizing than what I normally hear, but it’s important to consider it because the language of youth tells us a lot about where we stand as culture. Who did they learn it from? Also, I have to reflect on why the term might be striking to me when I’m aware of the culture we live in.

There is this term, “middle class subterfuge,” that a former professor of mine taught to explain how middle class people hide their ideas, particularly around power, with all kinds of euphemisms. So, I shouldn’t be surprised at hearing a term like “THOTS” in a community that is largely working class and less prone to euphemisms, but still the dehumanizing language literally sent a shockwave of fear through me. Fear, because we dehumanize classes of people to justify all kinds of things that are done to them, very often violent things, and so dehumanizing women and girls in language is simply a stage in a continuum of violence. And, I have seen on one occasion walking with my daughter at Kennard Field, how the idea that young women are little more than sexual props sits very present in the minds of boys not even 14 years old.

This got me to thinking about where does the desire to prevent male violence against women show up in neighborhood planning beyond well lit streets? When we talk about building on the cultural legacies we often are thinking about supporting our identities in racial and ethnic terms, but what about in gender terms? What kinds of design choices would we make if we wanted to build on a cultural legacy that challenged the thinking behind THOTS? The thinking that leaves women and girls vulnerable to rape and abuse and traps men and boys in ideas of manhood and boyhood that encourages unprotected sex with multiple partners and all of the consequences that can follow when we are still very young.

What part of Master Planning and neighborhood revitalization asks questions about the impact of the environment on the identities of men and boys and how those identities can be engaged with to prevent violence and the dehumanizing of women and girls, even if we are “only” talking about dehumanizing language?

(You can follow Justin at @jdlaing)

She Just Needs To Kiss More Frogs

[Admin Note: Today I'm handing the dais off to the home, S. Malik Husser. He wrote here once before and was a host with me on the now defunct Blaqout radio show on Blis.fm. Please welcome the homey to the podium. Be kind. Play nice. - PJ]

kissing-frogsI write this for the guy who wasn’t the star athlete in high school.  Who was class president in college, instead of the popular frat guy.  This is for the very smart brother who isn’t seen as the cool kid, but definitely cool in his own right.  

(PJ Edit: I happen to know Mr. Husser really well. He was both the class president and in a frat. I’m not saying, but I’m saying. I’d also wager that the class president is likely a very popular person. That’s just me speaking though. Malik, I’m looking at you.)

Just an all around great guy who likes a girl, but she’s just not that into you.  Matter of fact, she doesn’t even know you exist.  Why? Because you aren’t the shiny new object in the club, spraying champagne, with the latest (place name brand here) belt or hat, which could potentially be fake, because, well, bootlegging is real out here.  Or because you choose to invest your money into actual assets instead of financial liabilities, like high-end cars, aimless nights partying, or people that you won’t remember next week.

(PJ Edit: I’ve never attempted to spray champagne on anybody in the club. It seems like a great idea for a video but a terrible idea in practice. Ain’t no woman who isn’t being paid to be there who is going to take too well to getting sprayed. Plus, there’s no coming back from that. You’d have a problem on  your hands that even Olivia Pope couldn’t fix.More  plusses, have you seen champagne prices at clubs? Real talk, in DC at this club called Opera, there is a $75,000 methuselah bottle of Ace of Spades on the menu. NOBODY CAN DRINK THAT. But for $75K, we are gonna try like Frank Ocean does.)

Here’s the thing, she’s not into you, because she can’t see you. And the reason she can’t see you is because all she can see is green…frogs that is. (yeah, there was a double meaning there).

However, even though that’s the case, she’s still beautiful.  She’s still sexy…and from afar, she’s inconceivably witty.  She’s always laughing, and it seems like she’s always having a good time with all the cool kids, at the coolest parties.  Crazy thing is, you are there too, at the same events and same places.  But like in high school, her clique doesn’t recognize you, UNLESS you are IN their clique.

(PJ Edit: The best way to counter this is to walk around singing, “ain’t nobody f*cking with my clique, clique, clique, clique, clique…” as this will make people immediately attempt to observe your clique.)

Regardless, she still holds your attention.  No matter how many times you see her out with a different man about town, you still see her as YOUR Elizabeth Taylor.   Unimagined beauty, that’s timeless.  You can’t take your eyes off of her.  You’ve even made eye contact once…well, you thought you did.  

Still you hold on to hope.

(PJ Edit: This is that Obama stuff. Meanwhile, I’m going on three days of being temporarily fired. Hope deez.)

As you should.

Because in truth, this is her journey, and if you really want her to SEE you, she has to have these experiences. However, you too must walk your own road.  So what you don’t fit into her world.  You are building your own universe.  So what she isn’t paying you any attention, now. It’s not until she’s kissed enough frogs that she will ever realize it.

If all she knows are frogs, how are you to expect her to recognize a prince?  You can’t very well walk around wearing a crown and then tell her fix her hair in its reflection.  After all, you aren’t Jay Z (no hyphen).

Let her continue upon her path.  Jumping from lily pad, to lily pad, living the pond life.  After a while, she’ll be exhausted from all of the aimless jumping.  And when she’s looking for a reprieve, she’ll notice that there’s a bridge over her moat that leads to a very immaculate structure. 

It is then when you’ll find out first hand whether she is your princess.  Whether she is actually more than the life of the party….or was she just the party.  Her beauty is still inextricably in tact, but come to think of it, Elizabeth Taylor was married 8 times. (Who was number 8??  Geez..)

So, I say to you my fellow unassuming, charming geek that the prom queen never notices.  Let time take its course.  And allow her frog kissing to commence.  In the meantime, walk your journey and watch your path unfold.  In the end, if it’s time she needs to earn the lenses to see your beauty, than time she should have.  It’s her decision how she ends up. 

(PJ Edit: Let’s keep it 100. We outchea kissing frogs too. Some of us are kissing actual frogs. I see WSHH.)

And based on this theory…..Rihanna still has time to finally SEE me one day.

So what say you? Good advice? Bad advice?

-S. Malik Husser

Think Like A Stan: The Four Stages Of Meeting Fellow Music Snobs


***Hello, everyone. This is your Champ here, and I’d like to welcome my homie Nat Lavender to the VSB pulpit. It’s her first time and shit so give her a hand***

Music has always been one of the easiest forms of social capital to exchange. And by that, I mean you can’t walk two blocks down the road without tripping over some asshole who wants to stop you and share their half-baked argument about how Kanye making an entire album of Kim Kardashian’s fart sounds is really a self-effacing tribute to the darkskinned White woman.

As a music lover, I sometimes find it difficult to connect with others who have both reasonable taste in and good ideas about music. That’s why I’ve written this handy-dandy not-really-a-guide-but-I’m-the-DJ-here-so-it-is-today about the process of bonding with fellow music lovers.

Meeting People

The most common dilemma with meeting kindred music aficionados is weeding out the bad ones. This will be the most infuriating and hilarious part of the process and is something you’re most likely doing at all times anyway. This stage will be marked by gems like “I don’t listen to rap because it’s too violent” (maybe from a country fan who enjoys listening to songs about women revenge-killing their boyfriends).

This is where you might meet the chick confidently telling you that Jay-Z isn’t in the Illuminati because she’s the president thereof, and if you want she can send you pamphlets, and since they’re responsible for the molly trend in hip hop she can send you free samples if you want, and isn’t this conversation GREAT (the correct responses are no thank you, yes please, and PLEASE don’t stab me, in that order).

Screening Phase

Once you’re done surfing through red flags and lust-fueled denial about the direction of LL Cool J’s career, you have a smaller pool of people who’ve managed to convince you that their taste in music could probably make them more qualified to manage artists than Diddy. But since that’s true of just about anyone, you still have some work to do. This is the point where you very politely don’t slap the White dude who tries to (wrongly) correct your pronunciation of Spottieottiedopaliscious and give him his strutting papers. You might also not-so-politely tell him that long ‘o’s are for wack niggas, except when they aren’t.

During this phase, people will give you the safest of their opinions—liking ‘classic’ rappers, hating easy-to-hate artists, building love shrines to overrated dead people.

They’ll probably tell you that they like Dilla, even though your mama, your auntie, your neighbor’s dog, and the confused kid down the street who gained 100 lbs. working at Krispy Kreme will probably say the same. The point is, there isn’t anything flawed about these opinions, but you legitimately will not learn a single thing about them as a person. You’ll be doing a lot of acting like you give a damn about mediocre albums, too.

Note: This is also where you’ll meet a lot of people who “thought I was the only one!!!” to listen to world-famous musicians, because something about hipsters and special snowflakes and intellectual autofellatio. AVOID THESE PEOPLE AT ALL COSTS.

Third Date

Finally, after noticing a suspicious correlation between J. Cole fans and people who only eat vanilla ice cream and moving past the psychic death of someone telling you Wiz Khalifa has the best flow in hip hop, you find people who really have something to offer in their collections. This is when the relationship starts getting fruitful and you can really start sharing. Maybe they heard an amazing Hiatus Kaiyote remix that you never would have looked at because… let’s be honest, you’re probably not looking for remixes to anything White people made, even if they’re talented. This is like the person who tells you about the pho at the Thai spot that you never would have found/ordered because real niggas don’t mess with that ‘Asian fusion’ stuff. His mama named him Clay, I’ma order pad thai. Or something like that. You beautiful ‘alternative’ people, you.

Trouble in Paradise

Finding a like-minded music lover has its downfalls. For one, you’re bound to run into irreconcilable differences—Houston rap vs. Tennessee rap, A$AP Rocky’s mouf vs. Waka Flocka’s mouf, Miguel vs. women who lack spinal injuries—but this isn’t the real danger. There is no greater spawning ground for unadulterated assholery than a meeting of two self-proclaimed music lovers.

Posturing over music tastes alone is one thing—you can easily find yourself outgunned by a gaggle of rabid Lil B stans who refuse to admit that he does sonically sloppy shit because ‘OMG BUT HE’S BEING SO SUBVERSIVE.’ But with your newfound soundmate, you can posture together, and everyone knows being a douchenozzle with support is the best way. Soon, you’ll find yourself loudtalking no one in particular about how “OMG KEITH SHE’S NEVER HEARD DAFT PUNK MAYBE WE ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO LISTEN TO THEM!” Look, this I’m-totally-being-ironic-even-though-I’m-definitely-not moment will not go over well. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself sinking into a pit of Portishead and Chance the Rapper and White people who wear keffiyehs and losing all your friends and you’ll never know where you went wrong. But OH MY GOD did you hear this amazing new Kid Cudi it’s like he’s trying to make bad music now and we’re so countercultural and edgy and shit.

Real friends let other friends know when they’re being distasteful music snobs. And knowing is half of pretending you know everything.

***Nat is a Cleveland native and longtime reader who spends most of her time reading psychology articles and attempting to confuse White people. She thinks she’s a paradox, but suspects she’s just really lightskinneded. You can find her @PurpleLikeRawr***

“Come Through” And Chill: In Defense Of The Cheap And Lazy-Ass Date

"So what if these bottles are empty? I had to use all of the water on my hair before the date."

“So what if these bottles are empty? I had to use all of the water on my hair before the date.”

***Good day, everyone. We have another new guest poster (or is it guest postee?) today. Please extend a warm VSB welcome to Maris***

I’ll admit it; I’m a lazy dater. I didn’t start that way, though.

After being off the market for a while (How long? Well, the last time I was single, Stringer Bell was still alive.), I found myself plunged into unfamiliar territory as I tried anew to navigate the single life. Approaches were replaced with pokes, talk sessions were replaced with texting, and courting was replaced with…

The Check Slide.

I’ll never forget the first time. I was sitting across from “E-Date Dude” after dutifully engaging all evening—whilst learning the valuable lesson that witty online=/=witty IRL— when the check came. Now, I haven’t been out of the game long enough to forget the customary “purse reach,” but I was unprepared for what my eyes met with when I lifted my head back up:

The check, in front of my plate, with his half under it-in cash. Like, actual cash. Like, “this negro was thoughtful enough about his cheapness to go to an ATM, get two twenties, and go to a store to get a Snapple so he’d have enough singles and quarters in change to pay exactly half. “

I convinced myself it was a fluke. That is, until a movie date with another guy, where upon arrival I learned he was already in the theater (“Just grab your ticket, I’m inside!”). Or the beer date, where I split a six-dollar check. I’ll spare you the rest. I was baffled.

Upon whimpering on my guy friend’s shoulder (and his girlfriend, c’mon people) he admitted that some men try to “wait” to see if you’re worth spending money on. As in, they want to have invested as little as possible in case they see no return. I went from baffled to livid.

See, dating has never been easy for me. I’ve always found the whole “sprucing up” thing a chore, but at least I was putting the effort in for a purpose. I always thought women spent a certain amount to look their best, while men spent a certain amount to show women the best time, for a first date. All’s fair, right? So if you’re making sure you get the pleasure of my company with the least amount of effort, why am I wasting all this moolah on hair and outfits?

The way I see it, if we’re going to be going Dutch until you deem me “worthy of the investment,” I’d much rather start the tab at zero.

***sidebar: is “going Dutch” an offensive term, like “Indian giver”? If I’m in Amsterdam and suggest we go halfsies, will somebody punch me? Moving right along….***

So the next time I was asked to suggest a location, I picked a dessert spot by my house, let my natural hair fly, took all the pressure off… and had a ton of fun. Truth be told, maybe they were on to something. Maybe in all that effort to work on our ‘representatives’ we forgot the point of a date was to get to know a person.  I’d much rather find out we can’t hold but ten minutes of conversation in front of a food truck than across a table at a two-hour dinner. Maybe some things are best left until I learn I want to spend more time with you.

There are some that argue if I never “act” like a prize, I won’t get “treated” like one. That what I tolerate the first date will be the way I am treated throughout. I say if all I have to look forward to are laughs and great conversation, I’m good. You don’t need to take me to a five-star, and I don’t need to pour myself into a cocktail dress.  No offense, but I’d much rather make all that effort and look all special to go on a date with someone I’m actually, well….dating. Until then I’ll throw on jeans and a tank (or a sundress if you catch my lazy @$$ on a hot day) and a swipe of lip gloss and meet you for ice cream in the park.

***You can find more of Maris at Black, Latina and Fabulous, where she writes about stuff that Black, Latina, and Fabulous people write about and shit***