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”)

Why We (Men) Don’t Write About Our Sex Lives

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A scoff. A prolonged, intense, and bemused scoff. Followed by an aggressive bite of a granola bar.

This was my first reaction when reading “Why Is It So Hard for Men to Write About Sex?” — a piece from Slate’s Amanda Hess that gave some sociological (and, potentially, biological) reasons for why it’s more difficult for us (men) to write about love-making.

I mean, had she not been to VSB? (Probably not, but play along.) Had she not read the dozens of pieces I’ve written about sex, sex acts, when to have sex, when to have certain sex acts, who to have sex with, who not to have sex with, who to perform certain sex acts on, what you’re supposed to do when an eager cat is watching, etc? Did she not know that the longest chapter in Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night — a book about dating, relationships, and SEX — was titled “19 Things About Sex I Definitely Didn’t Learn In Sex-Ed” and contained 28 pages of sex-related topics written by me, a man?

Basically, what the hell was she talking about?

But then I finished my granola bar. And another. (I like granola bars.) While in the middle of that second bar, I started to think about the sex-related pieces I’ve written. By the time I was finished, a realization hit me: She was right. Well, she was right when it comes to me. And, since she’s right when it comes to me, she’s right when it comes to (straight) men.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve written about sex quite a few times. And the sex-related topics have varied. But, despite this variety, they all seem to fall under one of three categories:

1. “Explain” pieces. Usually tongue-in-cheek, these bring up a sex-related topic, and “explain” why you need to do it, why it’s not important, why you need to do it differently, etc. Example: “The Dos and Don’ts of Making a Sex Tape”

2. “Mandom” pieces. These tend to adopt a collective male voice while giving insight into a “difference” between men and women. Something with a title like “Why Men Love Sex On The First Night.”

3. Anecdotal pieces. These are usually humorous stories about a sex-related incident in my past. Example: “My First Time.”

While these types of pieces serve their functions, all stay on the peripherals of sex, using humor, observation, and an occasional bit of sophomoric overshare to talk about sex without actually talking about sex. VSB has been up for almost six years now. In that six years, I’ve had sex at least 1,000 times. (2,000 if you count sex with myself.) Yet, I’ve never written about my sex life. Nothing about the myriad feelings — physical, mental, and emotional — associated with sleeping with someone. Nothing about the difference in preparation and performance between sleeping with a one night stand and sleeping with a f-buddy. Nothing about the awkwardness of being with someone new, or the extra awkwardness of sleeping with someone familiar but thinking of someone new. Nothing about any sexual fantasies. Nothing about my own sexual prowess (or lack thereof).

Of course, there’s one very obvious reason for this lack of openness. Every woman I’ve been with in that time is aware of VSB. Some of these women also have friends and family who read, and it just wouldn’t have been the best idea to provide sexual details about those relationships.

But, while this reason is practical, it’s a bit of a cop-out. I’ve written about other intimate relationship-related topics before. Some of these topics were very sensitive in nature, but that didn’t stop me from finding a way to express myself without being too explicit. Also, even if the women I’ve been with didn’t read VSB, I still wouldn’t feel very comfortable sharing anything sexual.

Why? Well, it’s complicated. Part of it is stylistic. My work tends to be more observational/distant, and that type of writing doesn’t lend itself to detailed conversations about the bedroom.

Also, it just doesn’t feel…right. Writing about sex makes me feel like I’m either humble-bragging or pandering. There’s no inbetween. Even earlier, when I mentioned how many times I’ve had sex in the past few years, I was tempted to delete it. Despite the fact that it’s an innocuous stat and a (relatively) unremarkable number, it felt tactless to include it.

This feeling of tactlessness is present whenever I see other men writing about sex. Sharing those type of details seems, for lack of a better term, feminine. And yes, I realize the irony in thinking that a straight man sharing details about sex with women is feminine, but I can’t deny that the feeling is there. Considering how rare it is to see straight men talk openly and explicitly about our own sex lives, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. We’ve been socialized to think that sharing those types of intimate details about what happens in our bedrooms is something women do, not men. Sure, there are the storied “locker room” conversations, but those are more about reporting conquests than sharing details about them.

Also — and this goes back to the humble-bragging point — because of the language commonly used to describe sex, it’s difficult to really talk about it without using certain verbs and adjectives that suggest that you are, in fact, bragging. The way words like f*ck, bang, screw, pop, hit, beat, and bone are usually incorporated drive home the conquer/conquest concept. And, if you prefer to use less aggressive language that suggests you were receiving more than giving, it feels soft. Unmasculine. So instead of striving to find the perfect language to hit that sweet spot between “too aggressive” and “too weak”, we just don’t talk about it. (And, if we want to, we use a fifteen-year-old rap song as a proxy.) The best writing is inherently, sometimes painfully vulnerable. And we (men) can be vulnerable about family or fear or even love. But, when it comes to (straight) male sexuality, there really isn’t much room for it.

This brings me to my last point. Perhaps we don’t talk about it because no one really wants to hear it. Maybe there’s just no real audience for a straight male version of someone like Feminista Jones. Which sucks for me. Because I did want to start talking about my sex life more often.

Actually, nevermind. Even if there was an audience for it, there’s one person — a person I’m marrying this summer — who I know wouldn’t be happy with me sharing. So I won’t.

Drats.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Ask A VSB: He Hates My Natural Hair!

Cute Lioness style.

(Damon’s latest at Madame Noire advises a woman whose boyfriend isn’t a fan of her new hair)

Hey Damon,

I recently decided to cut my hair off and go natural. I made the decision on a whim and I felt empowered doing it and I love my new TWA. But my boyfriend absolutely cannot stand it. This is who I am so I’m wondering whether or not our relationship stands a chance? What do you think?

-Newly Natural

Dear Newly Natural,

That’s a tricky question, for many reasons.

It’s possible that he doesn’t dislike your natural hair, just the particular natural hairstyle you have. Just as there are dozens of different things women can do with weave or relaxed hair, there are dozens of different “natural” hair styles — twists, afros, short dreads, long dreads, braids, etc.

I bring this up because it’s often implied that if a Black man doesn’t like a Black woman’s natural hair style, he’s a self-hating slave to the euro-standard of beauty. And while that may be true in some cases, usually it just comes down to a man getting used to his woman with a particular hairstyle, and not immediately feeling the change.

Also, although men are the ones who get criticized for being upset about a woman’s hair change, many women actually would feel the same way if their bf/husband made certain hair-related changes. For all the women attracted to and/or dating men with dreads, I’m sure you’d feel a certain way if you came home one day and he cut all of his hair off. Same with the women who attracted to and/or dating men with full beards. And, I personally know that my fiancee would have an issue if I went all Pusha T on her.

You also have to consider the fact that maybe it’s not about the hair. Perhaps he’s upset you made that decision without discussing it with him first. Not asking permission, mind you. But discussing it. Perhaps the hair issue is a symptom of a deeper communication problem.

That said, a situation like this can say a lot about your relationship’s health. Basically, if he’s truly into you, he’ll eventually get over it and get used to your new hair. Maybe he won’t ever love it, but it won’t be a deal breaker either. And, if the hair continues to be an issue, he’s not the one for you.

Sincerely,

Damon Young

(Read the rest at Madame Noire)

Bougie Black Pick-Up Lines

"You've been Black Girl Running in my mind all night long."

“You’ve been Black Girl Running in my mind all night long.”

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day which likely means one of six things to you:

1. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2. Absolutely nothing.

3. Absolutely nothing, but since you have a girlfriend/wife who’s all !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! about it, you pretend enough for one exclamation point.

4. Subdued happiness. Maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t your favorite day, but it’s cool. And it’s the one day you get to wear red pants without people thinking you’re Dominican.

5. Anxiety. You’re in a new situationship, and what happens today will determine the health and direction of it.

6. Sadness. Long, lonely, lecherous, getting to the McDonald’s drive-thru a minute after they’ve stopped serving Egg McMuffins, type sadness.

If you’re one of the first four, today’s post isn’t for you.

If you’re #5, let me give you some unsolicited advice. You know what day comes after Valentine’s Day? Saturday. Which, like Valentine’s Day, is just another day. Repeat after me: Just another day.

If you’re number #6, listen up. I don’t believe in pep talks. Shit, some days I don’t even believe in talking. I do believe in practical advice, though. And since you’re not currently in a relationship, I’m going to help you find one. Well, maybe you won’t find one.

But (piggybacking off #activistpickuplines), if you happen to be out today, and you see someone you’re interested in, and you suspect this someone is a Bougie Black Person, here are a few things you can say that’ll help your luck.

1. “Let me stamp that passport.”

2. “Did you get those jeans from Target? Cause there’s a bullseye on dat ass.”

3. “Do you like Thai food?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Cause I’m gonna Thai dat ass up.”

4. “Damn, girl. I’d like to Jack your Jill.”

5. “The only Foreign Exchange we’ll need is my ass on your face.”

6. “The gallery crawl in my pants is free all night long.”

7. “You know what NSBE stands for, right?”

“What?”

“N*ggas Sexin Bitches’ Ears.”

8. “I bet you love leaving big tips, don’t you?”

9. “Eight inches is the only number I’m trying to keep down.”

10. “It’s a Different World from where I come from. And in my bedroom.”

11. “I know you’re natural, girl, but come here and lemme relax you.”

12. “I’m gonna displace those panties. Call me the gentrifier.”

13.”The only gladiator I know is being glad I ate her.”

14. “Why don’t you and your friend come over, and we can have an all-night Groupon.”

15. “Is that a gluten-free lettuce wrap in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

16. “You remind me of my Naked Juice. Cause I want to substitute you for a meal.”

Did I forget any?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

When Your Worst Behavior And Best Behavior Is The Same Damn Thing

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We’ve all heard the story before:

Boy spots Girl at 6th annual Delta “Chicken Wing Eating Contest For The Mouth Gout Cure.” Boy approaches Girl. Girl, impressed by Boy’s use of “intersectionality” and “motherf*cking goat cheese ravioli” gives Boy her number. They eventually date. And, after a couple surprisingly fun trips to Walgreen’s and a very intense bout of post-Thai buffet car sex, they decide to date exclusively. 

Months later, things continue to go well. She’s beginning to get used to his strange penchant for burping when he’s nervous, and he’s gotten used to her strikingly large clitoris. But, there has been one pretty major bump in the road. She has a penchant for laziness. Not life-crippling laziness, but she tends to do things on her own time. And sometimes “her own time” means “only when reminded repeatedly” or “not all at.” Which is a problem for him, because he’s naturally a detail-oriented and concrete-sequential person. 

What makes the problem even more complicated is that Girl’s laidback attitude and generally calm demeanor is what attracted him to her in the first place. (Well that and her thigh gap.) He was used to drama-filled relationships with manic-depressive women, and the fact that she’s so cool and calm made him want to put a Nuvaring on it. The thing he loves most about her came from the exact same place as the thing he’s most annoyed with.

As the Gay Reindeer and I near our wedding date, and conversations about guest lists, parenthood, and gotdamn recycling are regularly had, a few things have become more apparent:

1. I made the right choice.

2. I need to make more money to afford all the toilet paper we’re going to need. 

3. I’m going to have to get used to the things that annoy the hell out of me about her.

The first two I’ve known for some time. I knew she was the right choice before I even made the choice, and every month my bank statement reminds me I spend so much money on toilet paper you’d think “Charmin” was a stripper I’m sponsoring.

That third one, though, is a monster. While she has many lovely attributes and talents, she’s not perfect. And there are some parts about her that irritate me. Maybe that’s only 4.5% of her (as opposed to the 95.5% that’s f*cking awesome), but we’re getting married. And we plan to stay married. And we plan to stay alive. And, over a span of 30 or 40 or even 50+ years, that 4.5% will add up.

Some of these irritating things will soften over time. I’m sure she’ll learn that the 4th quarter of a tied game isn’t the time to ask me about scented bleach and fried zucchini. But most of those things will always be there, because they’re an inherent part of her. And, without getting too specific, each of these annoyances come from the exact same damn place as the parts about her I fell in love with.

This has a tendency to make things very ironic. Not cute, hipster irony. But “I love that you’re so thoughtful and hate that you overthink things sometimes” irony. That grown-ass, “butt naked in the house on a Saturday night eating steak salad and watching Shark Tank reruns” irony.

And, since I don’t want to suppress those great parts about her, I have to learn to live with that four point motherf*cking five percent.

Oh, and yes. I know she can say the same things about me. Most of the things she loves most about me and most of the things that annoy her the most come from the same place in my (very large) head. Some parts will get better. I’ve already stopped using nine different glasses every day (I’m down to five), and I’m definitely getting better at giving non-verbal feedback while she’s talking to me instead of the bemused indifference my resting face usually conveys. (I’m not indifferent. But I always look like I am. Which, I guess, can be annoying.)

But some parts will always be there. And for this to work she’ll have to choose to suck it up. Which, all things considered, is an easy choice if you made the right choice.

—Damon Young