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Janelle Monáe, Donald Glover, and the Exclusivity of Black Genius

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On April 27, Janelle Monáe released her latest project, Dirty Computer. Through it, the femdroid allows the listener to enter into a new realm of immovable and robust queerness, autonomy, and joy. With trans-inclusive songs about the triumph of love like Pynk; sexy and provocative songs like Make Me Feel; songs which demand space for Black women’s agency and independence like Django Jane; and songs which detail the complexities of her humanity like I Like That, Monáe finds a way to encapsulate the fullness of her blackness without ever trivializing or commodifying Black Death.

 

The same cannot be said for Donald Glover.

Childish Gambino//This Is America

On May 6, Donald Glover—also known as Childish Gambino—released a song and visual titled This is America, where he raps about what it looks like to exist as a Black American in this current political climate.

As Gambino dances through the warehouse, in a chair sits a Black man playing the guitar. In one moment, you can see his face; in the next, his head is covered and, without warning, Gambino takes a gun and shoots him in the back of the head. The artist continues to dance through this empty warehouse, accompanied by young Black kids, as chaos ensues around him. After he finishes one of his dance takes, the camera pans to the inside of what is supposed to represent a Black church, specifically Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church—the historic church in Charleston, SC which also serves as the site for the murder of nine members at the hands of Dylann Roof. Gambino dances into the church as the choir sings. Then, for the second time, without warning, he opens fire on the entire choir. After both of these shootings, Gambino places the firearms neatly in a red cloth. I surmise that the red represents the blood of Black people and the care with which he handles the guns is intended to provide a visual for how little Black lives matter in America and how much guns matter to America.

It has been argued that This is America was intended to be a critique to/of Black people; as a way to say that we have long ignored, or turned away from, the chaos around us, using pop culture as an escape. It has also been argued that This is America was a message to white people as an attempt to engage their “moral consciousness”; to draw attention to the plight of Black American people. I am positing that, irrespective of who the intended audience was, Gambino’s commodification of Black Death was irresponsible and not impactful.

Since our very existence in America, Black people have resisted. We resisted the Transatlantic Slave Trade and enslavement through jumping ship, revolting, and building pathways which would lead to the freedom of tens of thousands of enslaved people; we resisted Jim Crow by demanding and carving out space which we were told could never be ours. We’ve resisted through the art and music of the Harlem Renaissance; we’ve resisted through Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA); we’ve resisted through the Montgomery Bus Boycott; through the sit-in era and the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); through the March on Selma; through the rise of the Black Panther Party and other armed-resistance movements; and today we continue in the tradition of radical Black resistance through anti-mass incarceration and police movements. And through each of these eras—through each moment of resistance—Black people have found ways to laugh, to love, to heal, to carry on in the face of adversity; not as a form of distraction, but as a form of self-preservation.

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This remains true even if his intended audience is white. However, whiteness has no moral consciousness because whiteness is always already immoral. The very existence of whiteness is what makes room for anti-Black violences, for gun violence, for America to look the way that Gambino depicted it in his video. And since much of Gambino’s audience is white, and we exist under anti-Black capitalism, I’d argue that there is no way to produce content on his level without it being consumed by white people. Due to this, serving up Black Pain and Black Death on a silver platter as to appeal to the nonexisting consciousness of whiteness is counterproductive and only trivializes our trauma.

In 2014, after the months-long resistance in Ferguson that sparked a new wave of community organizing, organizers across the country did what we called die-ins as direct action. That soon transitioned out of our liberation toolkit, however, because it was more harmful than it was helpful. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, there was rarely ever a moment where one couldn’t turn on the news and see a slain Black body. Because of this, at least in Atlanta organizing spaces, we realized that the circulation of more still, motionless Black bodies did not/could not/would not disrupt the moral unconsciousness of whiteness. Instead, it forced Black people to continue to visualize ourselves as lifeless. So, too, is this true for This is America.

In an interview discussing her compilation album, Protest Anthology, Nina Simone—an artist best known for using her love for music as a medium for her activism during the Civil Rights Movement—stated that an artist’s duty was to reflect the times. I believe that she was correct. Art, especially Black Art, has a particular and significant responsibility to insight and to amplify. Through This is America, I believe that Gambino was making an attempt to do just that. However, I do not believe that art requires us to reproduce imagery that is already inescapable. Art does not demand that we subject ourselves (and others) to the already-inescapable trauma of existing as Black in America. In the visual for Beyoncé’s Formation, she makes a similar critique of America through the drowning of a police car in the New Orleans water and having a little Black child dance in the face of New Orleans police. While there is room to critique her display of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and what that might trigger for Katrina survivors, she never once trivialized Black Death by placing the literal murders of Black people on display in the way that Gambino does.

The ability to uplift Black women while postulating the death of the state—and not of Black people—is what's genius. It is because of this that I believe that Janelle Monáe deserves to be celebrated and uplifted as Black Genius. Click To Tweet

Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Drake, Kanye West, and Donald Glover are just a few of the names of Black cisgender, heterosexual men who rap that have been labeled as “genius.” Men whose misogyny and sexism, heterosexism and cissexism, and blatant anti-blackness have been excused and justified to preserve their status as genius while women like Janelle and Beyoncé are either overlooked or deemed overrated. This begs the question: who is Black Genius reserved for and, with Gambino’s recent video, when will space be created to broaden that definition?

Janelle Monáe//Dirty Computer

We do not have to plaster our blood on walls or lay our bodies on cold ground to discuss our blackness in America. To me, the ability to create a comprehensive album which struggles through the joys of being Black and queer while also discussing the ills of existing with those same identities in America, while never having to showcase murdered Black bodies, is what’s genius. The ability to uplift Black women while postulating the death of the state—and not of Black people—is what’s genius. It is because of this that I believe that Janelle Monáe deserves to be celebrated and uplifted as Black Genius. That this fresh project she released, which brings the intersection at which blackness and queerness meet to mainstream conversation, makes her Black Genius. Her ability to dream up entire worlds, conjuring the Black Arts Movement with her own particular twist, makes her Black Genius. There is something subversive with naming her work (and, thusly, herself) as “dirty” as a queer Black woman—three identities which have long been viewed as impure and unclean—and making it mean something that is complex and stern, yet joyous and hopeful.

I do not believe that we should pull our politic from celebrities. I believe that for as long as “Celebrity” exists, it is their job to pull from and amplify those of us whose voices are not as clearly heard. I do not believe that any true uprising will be led by The Celebrity. Said again, any real revolution must be led by poor and working-class people. The role of Celebrity—until it, too, is abolished—is to make space for those of us who are doing liberation work on the ground. However, seeing as how the term “pansexual” was the top searched word on Merriam-Webster post-release of Dirty Computer, I believe that Janelle has proven that Black Art is not reserved for cisgender, heterosexual Black men. It is for this reason that she, to me, represents Black Genius.

 

What mainstream or underground black women artists do you support?

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For The Culture

Why Voting Is Actually Important…

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I’m mad. And not just the regular mad I’ve been since White people elected their president, I am rabid dog angry, fightin’ mad.

I am angry at the number of Black, seemingly well-educated people who are currently posting these philosophical rants about why voting doesn’t matter, how voting is irrelevant, how voting means nothing, how some radical Black movement is going to come by and save us all.

Side note – The last time a gang of Black people were all on the same page to do some radical shit was the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and even then, the wayward negro had to be threatened and cajoled to keep it going. I would love to see a radical movement that brings Black people together across skin color, social, class, gender, and sex lines. I would love to see it, but it’s just not feasible.

Don’t listen to what these intellectuals are telling you online, take your Black ass to vote. Click To Tweet

Yes, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act has significantly reduced the democracy inherent in voting. And yes, those in power have systematically made it much more difficult to vote, especially for people living in low income communities, who often do not have the flexibility to take off work to vote (to learn more about the dismantling of the voter’s rights act, here is a good article), but that doesn’t mean that we have to give up on voting.

Here are six good-ass reasons to vote.

1. Voting is your civic duty.

The first time I voted in a presidential election, the candidates were George W. Bush and Al Gore. For my second presidential election, I had to choose between George (again) and John Kerry. I can tell you that neither of those options gave me wet dreams. I wasn’t that excited to Rock the Vote…but rock the vote I did because, for me, it was important to make my voice heard.

And it sucks because I remember the fervor and passion people had about President Obama’s campaign. People were lined up for hours to vote. Black people, across the country, were fired up in a way that they hadn’t been fired up about voting since Bill Clinton played that saxophone on Arsenio Hall.

Side note: We talked cash shit about Hillary Clinton and that Crime Bill, and as someone who actually lived during that time, I can tell you that most of the Blacks and the Whites were 100% supportive of that Crime Bill. Yes, now we know better, obviously, but I think revisionist history put a stank on Hillary that she didn’t deserve.

A candidate that lights your political fire and gets your panties wet is a rarity, and that’s just real. Voting isn’t usually fun and mostly, you’ll be rolling your eyes as you pull the lever or fill in the bubbles, but it’s like any other chore you have to do – mow the lawn, rake the leaves – you just get it over with.

2. Voting actually does work.

I’d like to pooch on down to Brazil and have a look at their history and current political climate to illustrate my point. First, Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery, is reported to have imported more Africans for enslavement than any other country, and was considered one of the most brutal places to be enslaved (the average life expectancy of a slave was four years). The racism, police brutality, and abject poverty experienced by Blacks in Brazil rivals anything you’ve seen anywhere, including America. The country is currently ruled by President Michel Temer who aside from snatching services from millions of impoverished people, is a blatant advocate of violence as a tactic to suppress social justice movements. The safety of Black life is so precarious in Brazil that most activists have been terrorized into submission and silence.

Who should emerge in the midst of this but Marielle Franco. Marielle Franco, a Brazilian activist turned politician, was an outspoken activist against police brutality and extrajudicial killings, and a staunch supporter of the rights of Black women, and LGBTQIA people. Franco ran for city council and was supported by votes from primarily poor Black women and people living in favelas (these are the poorest of slums). On March 14, 2018, leaving a meeting, she and her driver were murdered by masked gun men – shot down in her car. You know what happened next — 1,237 Black women are now on the ballots for local, state, and federal elected positions in Brazil. These women have been activated to make change. They understand that change begins in the voting booth. They know that’s the place to demonstrate their power. Protests don’t matter because they are ruled by an administration (much like the one in America) that doesn’t give a damn about their little protests and will actually kill you in the street for having the audacity to hold up a sign critiquing the government. Knowing this story, and the story of all those who came before makes it hard for me to understand how people can say voting doesn’t matter. If these Black women, living under the shadow of the murder of their fearless leader can get the courage to not only vote, but to run for office, then I (and you too) can certainly go vote. It is the absolute LEAST we can do. #MarielleResists

3. You do realize there’s more than just presidential candidates on the ballot, right?

After you fill in your bubbles or pull your lever for the President or Senator or House Rep, you have the opportunity to vote for local issues, like allocation of funds for schools, youth programs, or new roads, like sheriffs and judges, like raising the minimum wage which research shows helps everybody. So do you really care about your community or are you just talking about it, because if you actually care, these are the kinds of issues that your vote directly affects, almost immediately?

4. I know you know this, but Black people died for this right to vote, and we shouldn’t forget that.

Listen, I know it’s been said to death but I feel compelled to say it again — Black people died, literally died, for the right to vote. During Reconstruction when Black people were trying to figure out how to survive in a country where they had nothing and no rights to get anything, one of the first demands was the right to vote because they recognized that their power was in their collective vote. Their collective vote was probably one of the only things they had during that time of deep, overt racism, aggression, and subjugation. Their collective vote was the only way they had to demonstrate their humanity. And if you don’t have some reverence in your heart for that, well, that’s a damn shame.

5. If the Supremacists and Republicans are working so hard to suppress your vote, it must be powerful.

Bruce Carter, who founded Black Men for Bernie, was seduced into the Trump campaign and paid good money by Trump and ‘dem to convince Black people to vote for Trump or not vote at all. According to Charles Blow’s op-ed, Russian interference in the 2016 election included direct attacks at the “woke” black vote. And it didn’t help that several prominent voices in the Black community – Colin Kaepernick, Mark Lamont Hill, Killer Mike, Michelle Alexander, J. Cole – were either dead set against Hillary Clinton or publicly denounced the act of voting. During one of Trump’s rallies, he is reported to have said in reference to the huge reduction in Black voters, “They didn’t come out to vote for Hillary. They didn’t come out. And that was a big — so thank you to the African-American community.”

Side note – I think we can all agree by now that Hillary Clinton, 1994 Crime Bill transgressions and all, would have been a far better leader than who White people elected. I think we can also agree that Black men who either didn’t vote or decided to vote third party like stupid ass Marc Lamont Hill, let misogyny outweigh their good sense.

Have you noticed that the same rhetoric used by supremacists to deter Black voters aligns with the rhetoric of the “I’m Black and too woke to vote” crew? If your argument against voting aligns with the arguments of Russian bots, you need to sit down and re-think your entire life because it went very, very wrong somewhere.

6. For now, with this current administration, voting is the most radical thing you can do.

They don’t want you to vote – their policies, their rhetoric, their rejection of your political needs proves that. That makes voting that much more important. Have you noticed that the fervor of the Black Liberation Movement has died down since Trump has been in office? By no fault of their own, their movement doesn’t matter in the same way it did with President Obama in office because these current dummies in office don’t care, at all, they aren’t even pretending to care. However, your local politicians who need your votes to stay in office, they actually might care a little, and the way the world is going, that sliver of possibility is enough for me.

 

Don’t listen to what these intellectuals are telling you online, take your Black ass to vote.

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Lena Waithe and Halle Berry Join BET for Boomerang Sequel

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Beloved screenwriter, Lena Waithe, will be joining Halle Berry in the BET 10 episode comedy series of Boomerang. The network wants to be clear in saying that this is a sequel and not an adaptation or reboot. Waithe will be co-writing the pilot with Insecure’s showrunner, Ben Corey Jones. The series is set to follow the children of Jacqueline Boyer and Marcus and Angela Graham as they try to create their own legacy away from their parent’s shadow.

Waithe commented on the goal of the project and said,

“This is less of a reboot and more of a continuation of the original story. There’s no point in trying to remake a classic. It can’t be done. So, we want to create something fresh that speaks to a new generation. We hope people will come to the show with an open mind and ready to embrace the new world we’ve created!”

Oscar-winning actress, Halle Berry, is also excited for the upcoming series saying,

“I’m thrilled to team up with Lena on this project as she is without a doubt a leading voice of her generation and a trailblazer in her own right. I’m truly excited to be a part of bringing this iconic and beloved film to the small screen.”

Boomerang is going to be one of the first projects announced for BET since former president, Debra Lee, left the company. The new president, Scott Mills, is equally enthusiastic for the collaboration of Berry and Waithe and says, “Partnering an icon such as Halle with a disruptor like Lena is a perfect blend for the creation of a project that tells a classic tale in a relevant voice.”

What do you guys think? Are you excited for the sequel or should they just leave it a movie? Let us know in the comments below.

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The Diversity JUMPED out: Savage x Fenty Fashion Show Gave us all the Inclusion we Needed

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Last night Savage x Fenty by Rihanna ended New York Fashion Week with a bang! The lingerie brand had an array of women from different skin tones to body types. Rih wanted to show the world that ANYONE can wear Savage x Fenty and feel sexy. There were even pregnant models featured in the show. Yes, pregnant. Get into the models and event down below:

 

Rihanna is taking the fashion industry by storm. Let’s hope other fashion brands can follow suit.

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