Fashion, Feminization, Or Who Gives A F*ck?

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One of my favorite pictures is from my 11th birthday party. I had a sleepover that year — 10 kids altogether — and the picture shows each of us in the living room, throwing awkward peace signs and making faces at the camera.

I’m in the middle of the frame, standing on the couch, and literally cheesing like…Chuck E Cheese. Since I’m standing, you can see my entire outfit: A white and gold MCM sweatshirt, a perfunctory pair of white Jordans, a Swatch watch…and some red and black spandex. And not baggy spandex either. These were f*cking yoga pants. If I’d had enough of a package then to be seen, you would have seen my entire package.

But, it wasn’t a big deal. If fact, I was the cool one. Some of you late-80s and 90s babies might not know this, but there was a phase from around 1989 to maybe 1991 where it was fashionable for guys to rock spandex. You’d see grown men walking down city streets with sweatshirts, gold chains, Adidas hats, and spandex pants. This was also a time when S-curls and tails were still cool. Those trends seem wack as the f*ck now, but I doubt anyone was saying that to these guys then.

Anyway, fashion changes almost as quickly as time does. By my senior year in high school, Timberlands, FUBU, Mecca sweatsuits, NBA/NFL jerseys, Hilfiger shirts, fatigues, and fisherman’s caps were what the cool kids rocked. And since I was a cool kid, that’s what I rocked. Now, I wouldn’t be caught dead in any of that. And even if I had an urge to, I wouldn’t be able to. The clothes I owned as an 185 pound high school senior were all bigger and baggier than the clothes I own as a 215 pound adult.

And, as I scan my closet now, I see a few pink and purple-ish polos, dress shirts, and ties. I also have a pair of salmon colored jeans. (I refuse to admit they’re pink.) These are items you probably would not have seen a straight Black man rock in 2000. It’s crazy to think about it now, but 15 years ago it was still taboo for men (Black men especially) to wear pink. Or purple. Or anything that had any hint of pink or purple in it. Now, you can walk down any city street and see legitimate, three-months-fresh-out thugs with purple sneakers and pink laces.

With all this in mind, I wonder if people like Lord Jamar are just naturally ignorant, or did they all just have the same accident that turned them into Guy Pierce from Memento? For those not familiar with Jamar, he’s a late 40s-something rapper who’s managed to snatch some recent relevance by deeming himself THE GUARDIAN VICELORD OF BLACK MALE HYPER-HETEROSEXUALITY AGAINST THE GAY-ASS SHIT AGENDA. Every time any prominent Black male does or says something Jamar deems “suspect,” you’ll find him on Vlad TV within 17 to 37 seconds saying something about it. (This is no hyperbole, btw. He’s the Usain Bolt of “defense against faggotry.” I actually think he lives in Vlad’s refrigerator.)

The latest Jamar rant is targeted at Omar Epps for wearing a leather skirt on The View. Marlon Wayans caught wind of this and jumped in to defend Epps, and this led to Wayans and THE GUARDIAN VICELORD trading insults on Twitter all day. 

Now, was it odd to see Q from Juice in one of Cindy Herron’s skirts? Yes, it was. Perhaps it’s a sign that Omar Epps really, really, really needs that Resurrection money to come through. Or maybe he lost a bet with Mike Tomlin. Who knows? But new fashion is always going to be f*cking odd. If it wasn’t f*cking odd, if it didn’t make people say “WTF is he wearing?” it wouldn’t be new fashion. This doesn’t mean that all fashion-related trends are related equal. I have long, passionate, and sweaty fantasies about giving thermonuclear wedgies to every teenager I see with 80% of his boxers showing. And I’m glad the spandex phase died before Alex Haley did. But that’s just the way things have been and will always be. Trends thought to be “feminine” or “masculine” now will switch roles in 20 years. And, 20 years after that, they’ll switch back.

And maybe that’s why cats like THE GUARDIAN VICELORD are so angry. They don’t give a damn about “feminization” or “the gay agenda” or whatever the hell else. They just really, really, really want Karl Kani to come back.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Reminder: For the next ten days, you can purchase your own I Love Bougie Black Girls t-shirt via Teespring for the insanely low prices of $11.50 for a men’s shirt, $13 for a women’s shirt (don’t ask why the women’s shirts are more expensive, because I have no answers)

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and $24.50 for a hoodie.

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The campaign ends Sunday, March 23. So, if you don’t buy one before then, you, um, won’t have one.

Anywho, they’re available now, so go and BUY!!! and be fly.

Two Thoughts About The Reactions To Pharrell’s GIRL Album Cover

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1. It’s been two years since Trayvon Martin was murdered. A couple weeks since a jury let Jordan Davis’ killer off the hook for murder. Eight months since I watched Fruitvale Station. These and other notable stories about the tenuousness of Black male life have dominated (and will likely continue to dominate) our conversations about what it means to be present in America. Black males are both endangered and dangerous. Threats and targets. Feared and scared. Policed and…privileged.

Yes. Privileged.

This (obviously) does not apply to all Black males. But, for many who’ve, by the grace of God, managed to make it to their 20s, managed to be employable, and managed to stay out of the system, the tides change. People will support and root for you just because you’re a living Black man with a job and a driver’s licence. Someone might even create a job for you. You have social capital. If you brush your teeth, tie your shoes, and can put two sentences together, you’ll likely have romantic options. You will always be included.

This privilege is also tenuous. You’re still a Black man in America, which means it can be lost forever at a traffic light. Or at a movie theater. But it exists. And the mental juxtaposition of possessing this micro-level privilege while existing in a hostile country can be jarring, comforting, and humbling. Sometimes all at the same time. It can also make you a prick.

I thought about this yesterday when reading some of the reactions to Pharrell’s GIRL album cover. More specifically, I thought about how, when I first saw it, I didn’t think anything of it at all. I clicked on a link, said “Oh, I guess Pharrell has a new album” and went about my day. The “Black male artist surrounding himself with racially ambiguous women…again” thing didn’t even register with me.

A small part of this is due to the fact that I don’t pay much attention to Pharrell. I like his music, but I like it the same way I like grapes and pillowcases. The bigger part is due to me just not being as sensitive to the context making that cover upsetting to (many) Black women. I looked at it and saw an artist trying to convey a sexy type of “fun.” Others saw another example of a prominent Black man shunning his sizable Black female fan base and promoting “other” women as some sort of feminine ideal.

Just as I didn’t intentionally overlook how potentially troublesome that image could be, I’m sure Pharrell didn’t consciously want to insult Black women. He’s probably laying in some hyperbaric chamber below a lake right now, shocked at the pushback it’s received. And both my lack of awareness and Pharrell’s lack of consideration is a result of privilege. It didn’t immediately register to me because I’m not as sensitive to those types of images, and I’m not as sensitive to those types of images because I’ve never had to be. Sure, when someone points it out, I recognize it. And, I’ll even join the “yeah..that’s effed up” chorus. But, despite whichever challenges I face as a Black man, having my sexual/physical/aesthetic value and desirability constantly dismissed (or even ignored) — often by the same people I love and support — is something I’ve never really had to deal with.

2. This conversation brings up another point; a point that makes you wonder if a person like Pharrell or Kanye is caught in a perpetual catch-22.

GIRL’s cover features Pharrell and three women in bathrobes. It looks like they’re in a hotel room. Maybe a private home or resort. It’s (somewhat) implied that they’ve either just finished a foursome, or they’re about to go have a foursome. (8:20 am edit: So, according to some comments here and on Facebook, the cover may also suggest they’re just headed to some type of spa. Which doesn’t negate my main point, but does prove I was raised on Cinemax After Dark.) If this is true, they’re his sexual props, and it would qualify as objectification. Maybe it’s not as explicit as “Tip Drill”, but the idea is the same: “I’m a cool motherfucker. So cool that all these beautiful women want to have sex with me.”

With videos like “Tip Drill”, the objectification was the problem. With the GIRL cover, though, the problem seems to be that Black women aren’t considered attractive enough to be objectified. But, sexual objectification is a bad thing. As is using women as sexual props. Right? Or is it only a bad thing when it’s not done tastefully by someone as cool as Pharrell?

I’d try to answer those questions, but I think I just gave myself a nosebleed. Where’s a hyperbaric chamber when you need one?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

My Completely Irrational, Illogical, And Borderline Insane Hate For Inspirational Messages

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Shut the f*ck up

It happens at least twice a week. Actually, let me stop lying. This shit happens to me five to seven times everyday. 

I’ll be minding my business on VSB or EBONY or Food.com, drinking lukewarm lemonade, eating salmon and fried eggs, and sitting in the Gay Reindeer’s pink robe because it’s cold in our house and she’s a vampire and she refuses to turn on the heat until the temperature falls to 37 and her robe is warmer than mine, and I’ll decide to check Facebook to see how many cool people liked my latest status message.

When finished counting the likes, I’ll check my newsfeed to see how many of my friends are sharing articles with words like “appropriation” and “intersectionality” in their titles, and I’ll might even hold a mini-contest in my head to see who has the day’s best humblebrag.

***Actually, this is also a lie. If I did do a daily Facebook humblebrag contest, the exact same guy would win everyday. It is not a game with his humblebrag game. Seriously, he’s the type of dude that would say “Man, was rushing out the door and forgot to brush my teeth. They’re so straight and white that I forget I still need to do it sometimes. #mybadcolgate #forgivemetoothfairy #blessed”***

But, right in the middle of all this fun, someone named “Pam” or “Greg” or some other shittily annoying bitch-ass name will decide to bless the universe with some shitty-ass, meaningless-ass, taken from the cafeteria toilet paper at a Hallmark distribution center-ass inspirational status, and I will want to reach through the monitor and garrote them with a USB cord.

I know this hate is irrational, illogical, and borderline insane, but something about seeing some f*ck-ass share an inspirational picture, a shittily “uplifting” quote, or some “deep” message that Gandhi probably tweeted while he was throwing erasers at kittens makes me want to hurl, clean the hurl up, put it in a paper bag, set it on fire, piss on the fire, and leave it in their mailbox.

Perhaps I’m too cynical to believe that some Fisher Price platitude is actually going to inspire anyone. Perhaps I’m so cynical that I assume anyone who regularly sends messages like that are just trying to deflect attention from the raped otters buried in their basement. And, perhaps I’m just not a good person, and my not good-ness is annoyed whenever someone is openly trying to better themselves.

Either way, if you happen to see me, and you happen to think that “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart” or some other Hellen Keller-ass f*ck shit is going to cheer me up, unless you feel like getting shanked by an expired YMCA membership cardplease happen to keep it to yourself.

Anyway, people of VSB, am I alone here? Does anyone share my disdain for the inspirational message? If not, are there any other “good” and “nice” things you have an irrational hate for?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Don Lemon’s Haircut Killed A Guy

BTT71WjIEAAb037If you’re Black, use Twitter, or know somebody with a degree, there’s a very good chance that you know Don Lemon got a haircut. Not just any ole haircut either. He got f*cked up in a barber’s chair. It could have been the angle or something, but he definitely shouldn’t have paid for that haircut. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not die for a Black man to go into a barbershop, point to a number 14 then walk out with a dry A.C. Green. He just didn’t y’all.

Well, the reason folks know that Don Lemon caught a bad fade is because for some odd reason, after getting a terrible haircut, he decided to take to Twitter to ask folks for feedback on his haircut.

Now, I’m guessing this was Don Lemon’s first foray into the slander that is Black Twitter. See, you can’t just ask questions on Twitter without Black Twitter getting wind and then taking it as far left as possible. You’d have thought he would know better after his ridiculous talking points a few weeks back. I mean, he caught the fade (pun intended) and he was being serious.

You canNOT put a f*cked up haircut on Twitter AFTER calling out the Black community looking like one of your own bullet points (his haircut looked like the nword and litter to me) and expect to walk away the same way you showed up. Black folks…we don’t have short attention spans for certain things. Needless to say, the clouds opened up and the pain was swift and severe. Urban Daily cataloged some of the funniest ones.

We all know Black folks are funny. We do comedy. We’re good at that, but even I was in tears at some of the responses. Black people, I salute you.

Believe it or not, the point of this post isn’t Don Lemon’s Drake-do. Nope, it’s this: if you get slandered like that via Twitter…

…wouldn’t your feelings get really really hurt? I remember when I got laughed at in first grade for wearing three different shades of red to school. I didn’t even know what clashing was at that point. I just really liked those pants and that shirt and had some red Chuck Taylor’s. I didn’t know I was yelling at people with my textiles. If I wore that today and posted a picture, Twitter would have a field day. And I’m not famous. Definitely not infamous.

Granted he asked for it (and clearly has no Black friends), but wow I have to feel like he woke up the next morning and probably shed at least one struggle tear. My feelings were hurt for him. Which leads me to this next point, which may or may not be a reach…at what point does Twitter or social media slander, even of famous people, become bullying?

A reach, I know…but I mean wow, if I’m Don Lemon, I’m IMMEDIATELY cutting my my hair back to a number 1, going on television and pretending it never existed. And crying into my pillow at night since men cry in the dark.

(The upside to this is that at least his mother isn’t dating a rapper named Lambo. Or at least not that we know of.)

Again, he asked for feedback, and feedback is what he got, but how much of the slander is because he’s Don Lemon. I mean, it is a struggle haircut, and Twitter is relentless, and how much of that is just rude bullying. Looks like he tried to take it in stride.

Eh, maybe I don’t care…since at the end of the day, what I really want to ask…to the homeys here…

…how much do you think Don Lemon’s feelings were hurt by the slander? Sociologically speaking, what type of effects do you all think really occur when folks get gone ham on via Twitter?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka lower.case.p aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

On Work Environments And Well-Intentioned B*llshit

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It’s been roughly a week since the Adria Richards story first went viral. (For those hearing about this for the first time today, read the first 200 or so words of this article, and make sure you have food and fresh coconut water in that cave you’ve obviously been hiding in.) Predictably, this story has created multiple sub-stories about the tech industry, sexism, racism, trolling, concern-trolling, sensitivity, victim-blaming, sexual harassment, patriarchy, and a dozen more of our trendiest blog buzz terms.

***My take? I think degrees of wrong matter. And, saying that Richards—who has been the subject of multiple death threats and was let go by her company—”got what she deserved” for tweeting that picture is akin to saying that if a person steps on your shoe at a club, you have the right to kill them. I think a minor wrong—the guys making the joke¹—led to another minor wrong—Richards taking and tweeting the pic (Yes, I think she was wrong for that). These minor wrongs are the social more equivalent of cutting someone off in traffic. Understandable, unnecessary, and ultimately forgettable. But, they led to a greater wrong—one of the jokesters getting fired—and this led to a chorus of increasingly greater wrongs—Richards receiving death threats and also getting fired. Basically, the equivalent of getting cut off in traffic. But, instead of it stopping there, you find the person who cut you off, follow him home, burn down his house, and sell his pet pit bull to a dog-fighting ring. This was an orgy of increasingly wrong wrongness.*** 

I’m not very interested in those aspects of the story, though. Well, lemme rephrase that. They’re interesting to me, but not as interesting as some of the questions about gendered behavior it brings up.

Before I continue, I need to point out the fact that there are people who believe that gender roles and/or behavior are unnatural and solely a product of socialization. Basically, while it’s true that (generally speaking) men tend to act/think a certain way and women tend to act/think a certain way, these differences only exist because they’ve been taught to us. If free of societal and cultural influence, the only real differences between men and women would be anatomical.

I do not agree with this. While I do agree that certain gender-based expectations are definitely the result of socialization—and can result in (at best) unreasonable expectations and (at worst) using gender-based biases to discriminate and hate—I believe that men and women have some fundamental differences that go past anatomy. These differences don’t make either gender inferior—but they do make us different. Obviously, neither men nor women are monolithic. There are inter-gender exceptions and variances found among all of us. But, saying “men tend to act/think a certain way and women tend to act/think a certain way,” while general, somewhat limiting, and kinda stereotypical, isn’t untrue.

Anyway, whether it’s a locker room, barbershop, ball court, or place of business, if you put a group of men together—and have no women within ear or eyeshot—men are probably going to act a certain way. The tongues might be a little freer, the jokes might be a little dirtier, the air might be a little mustier, and the social dynamics—and the various roles (leader, organizer, alpha, contrarian, etc) we find ourselves in—might be a little more clearly defined.  (I’m sure these types of changes also occur in environments solely populated by women. I imagine the air being a little sweeter, though. Kinda like mango salsa.) 

When you introduce women to these environments, though, behavior tends to change. Sure, you may have a few men threatened by the change who refuse to adjust, but most will eventually self-police because, well, there are woman in the room now. And men who’ve been raised right know that you should adjust your behavior accordingly when women are in the room.

And, this is where it starts to get interesting.

Men—professional men, college-aged men, men in schools, seminars, classes, and conferences—are (rightly) taught that women are just as capable, smart, resourceful, determined, and tough as men are. In a business/professional sense, you’re also taught to treat women the same way you’d treat other men. If you’re not able to do this, you face possible reprimand, you might be fired, and both you and your workplace could be sued.

But, men cannot treat women the exact same way men typically treat other men because, well, (generally speaking) if left to our own devices, we (men) are dicks to each other. So, you’re left with a dynamic where men are taught to “treat women the same way you’d treat men” but also taught to “make the environment more woman-friendly.” Basically, “gender-based differences don’t exist…but please make sure to remember that you can’t act the way you’d normally would with each other.”

There’s a scene in Django Unchained of all places that provides an example of how confusing this type of ambiguity with expected behavior can be. “Django” (Jamie Foxx) and “Schultz” (Christoph Waltz) are visiting “Big Daddy’s” (Don Johnson) plantation. When Schulz and Big Daddy plan to ahead into the house to discuss business, Big Daddy (I hate typing this so many times) instructs one of the slaves (“Betina”, played by Miriam Glover) to give Django a tour.

(Slightly paraphrasing)

Big Daddy: Django isn’t a slave. Django is a free man. You can’t treat him like you would a slave, because he’s a free man. He’s not like that. Do you understand?

Betina: So I should treat him like a White man?

Big Daddy: Heavens no. That’s not what I said.

Betina: Well, I don’t know what you want.

Big Daddy: Yea, I can see how that would be confusing.

Interestingly enough, while the concept of treating women the same as you treat men is considered progressive, if taken literally, it provides some men a justification for misogyny and even violence.

“I mean, if a man who was smaller and weaker than me insulted me like that, I’d punch him in the face. So, since women aren’t any different than men, why can’t I punch her?”

Obviously, this is a dangerous form of semantics-based cherry-picking—basically using a loophole to act out some sort of fantasy—but taking things to its most literal meaning does have a way of exposing a few cracks in a premise’s foundation.

Fortunately, most reasonable men and women seem to have figured out how to deal with these seemingly contradictory gender-based rules. Perhaps it’s because these reasonable people possess a nuanced and multi-faceted understanding of this dynamic, and this understanding allows us to treat each other with fairness. This is also known as being a f*cking professional.

Still, teaching people that we should completely overlook and ignore gender-based differences seems intentionally dishonest, and, if “being a f*cking professional” means that you need to consider “think of and treat her the exact same way you’d think of and treat a man” to be bullshit, then so be it.

¹I can’t neglect to mention that a conversation I had last week with a friend forced me to consider the wrongness of the initial joke in a different way. I thought taking offense to that “harmless” joke was just an example of someone being uber-sensitive. My friend disagreed:

“Of course you’d feel that way, because you’re a man. But…I don’t know, what if you were in her shoes—at a conference surrounded by Whites—and the men behind you were making stupid racial jokes instead of sexual jokes? Would you shrug it off as easily as you said she should have?”

Hmm. 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)