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Todrick Hall is Black Enough, But His White Gaze Concerns Me

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Photo Credit: Ramona Rosales for People Magazine

“Let me assure you that there is no such thing as a black racist. There is no such thing. ‘Black racism’ and ‘reverse racism’ are terms that were developed by intellectual white thinktanks in political circles to get you as African young people to feel guilty about discussing what has happened to you as African people in America. So when you start to discuss slavery, or the effects of slavery, or the effects of 500 years of domination, what they do is say, “Oh, you’re a racist.” When you react to the ugly things that they do or say to us, they say, “Oh, you’re a racist.” That is to get you to feel guilty about discussing, or organizing, or taking issue with the condition of African people in this country.” — Sister Souljah “We Are At War”

They say Google is your friend. Well, for the last few hours I’ve been searching for the historical context that would demonstrate that the term mayonnaise, when used sardonically to refer to the dominant racial group, upholds a racially-based hierarchy that leads to systemic inequities. Guess what? It doesn’t exist. Perhaps, mayonnaise is offensive, but racist it certainly is not. And considering that Mr. Hall does not belong to the mayonnaise group, why on Earth is he offended? That shot wasn’t even aimed at him.

Todrick Hall in his latest video titled ‘I’m Not Black Enough’ was filled with everything but a Taylor Swift cover of September (it had her tears though if you listened hard enough). Mr.Hall took 16 minutes out of his very booked schedule to respond to a video I made critiquing his new T.H.U.G. video. He said he wasn’t mad, but I suspect that he was, and I get it (y’all know how the Black V necks be). He claims that people accuse him of being in the sunken place, tap dancing and thinking he’s white. It sounds like he may have some internal conflict about his Black identity, which frankly, we all have to confront at some point because anti-Blackness is pervasive. It is the air we breathe, the TV we see, and the education we get. His feelings are hurt and good, they need to be hurt. Growth comes from pain.

Aside from that, Mr. Hall doesn’t owe me or anyone else an explanation about his brand of blackness, but since he offered one and directed it at me, I’ll take him up on his offer.

Let me give you the problem in a nutshell — Mr. Hall admits that he has been called out for his stereotypical portrayals of Black men and women in his older content, and he says he’s evolved since then; however, the T.H.U.G. video, to me, seems like more of the same.

What you will notice is that Mr. Hall builds his argument the same way the dominant racial group does — you know how they completely miss the point and start running down their list of Black affiliations and oppressions to let you know they, too, know the struggle. *insert side-eye here*

After running down the list of illustrious Black artists that he’s worked with over the past few years, Mr. Hall lets the viewer know that he doesn’t participate in the ‘woke Olympics.’ Evolving and loving your blackness ain’t hardly a competition but I get that he saw someone (who was probably being flamed for being problematic) say that on Twitter and he felt it fit this context.

@Todrick builds his argument the same way the dominant racial group does — you know how they completely miss the point and start running down their list of Black affiliations and oppressions to let you know they, too, know the struggle. Click To Tweet

Statements like “too woke” and “woke Olympics” are counterproductive. Woke is a term many have used to describe their new view of the world and the way in which white supremacy actually rules everything. Personally, I prefer to use the term “more informed,” which doesn’t mean I will ever be completely informed, but I am open to continuing to learn, and that’s what is important. The way he used “woke Olympics” tells me a lot about his view of the world and society.

Shall we begin?

Blackness is not a monolith. We are not homogenous people; we are not all the same.-Jesse Williams

Blackness exists on a spectrum. One can not be too black or not black enough. That itself sounds like a form of Olympics. We all exist.

Todrick, you say that not being Black enough haunts you, but what have you done about it? If many people have made similar points in their videos about your portrayal of black people, what does that say? We’re going to get there, trust me.

Todrick actually opens the video by telling me how I should have framed my critique of him, how I should have reached out to him directly. But then does the same thing.  Hypocritical much? No one gets to tell someone how to protest or how to react. I’m not telling you how you should react either. My video was done to challenge some of your past and present work in the hopes that your future work has more equitable representation for Black people in particular. Call me the Ghost of Past, Present, and Future

Todrick does make one good point in the video — I have not seen his full body of work. That is true.  Because of the history of some of his previous “problematic parodies,” I didn’t think it would be best (I’ll explain more later). However, from what I have seen, I feel comfortable saying that I have not heard him shine a positive light on Black men, which is why the T.H.U.G. video caught my attention, and it was the first video that I came across from his Forbidden visual album.

I was really rooting for him, but alas, it’s just more of the same. The video seemed to sexualize black men, and the song is called thug — you know, the term white people in the media use to describe black men when they can’t say, nigger. Honestly, I’m just thankful it wasn’t titled BBC, but that’s neither here or there. Todrick’s rapping and singing about his new found interest in eggplants and melanin is a complete departure from his usual, so you can imagine, I was quite perplexed. Where did this come from? I literally screamed when I heard him use the word “trade”. Since when sis? The first verse sounds like a white woman wrote it, see how he shouted out the queens of problematic white women?

Yo, yo, yo
I used to f*cks with them Ken doll types (mwah)
Them femme doll types
I had to switch up the hims I like (switch)
Get a cap with the brims I like
He got that whip with the rims I like (woo, woo)
Get that good right swipe
Type that the Khloe and Kims all like
Kims all like, yep (yeah, yeah, yeah)

“I used to f*cks with them Ken Doll types.” 

 

 

Back in 2016,  Todrick released a video titled ‘Color’ featuring Jay Armstrong. They both sing to each other throughout the video describing their affection towards another. It is a visually stunning video that shows the great love affair between a white man and a black man, which isn’t groundbreaking, considering the majority of Black same gender loving men we see in media are paired with non-Black men. The problem is in Jay Armstrong’s lyrics in which he says that “I don’t see color.” In the “I’m Not Black Enough” video, Todrick Hall tries to connect this lyric to his obsession with the Wizard of Oz. Okay. But within the context of my critique about his racially insensitive imagery and lyrics, ‘I don’t see color is another way to minimize the experience of Black and Brown people in a world that absolutely does see color and makes it a point to keep “colored” people out of everything but prison.

That makes my skies blue
And whenever we’re through
All I can do is see color
There’s something ’bout us
When we’re together
Whenever you’re there, darling I swear
I don’t see color

“I don’t see color.”

Even though Todrick didn’t utter the words out of his mouth, words mean things, and he is responsible for the lyric by proxy. He responded that he wasn’t the one who sang that exact part but he is one of the writers, and this is your video soooooo…

 

 

Back to the mayonnaise — Todrick seemed to be exceptionally “salty” about my use of mayonnaise which I’ve already said could be construed as offensive, but then Mr. Hall had to take it one additional step and call it reverse racism? Who in 2018 don’t understand that reverse racism ain’t a thing? White people, that’s who.

“…if it was really in our interest to find out the truth about that person we would watch the whole body of work and then make an assessment a judgement but even then we would upload a video that was nice and kind and really trying to get to the bottom of the situations instead of dragging someone over and over and over and ultimately making reverse racism remarks. Whereas if a white person uploaded this exact video replacing all the times that he said “mayonnaise” with something that is offensive towards black people this video would be going viral and people would be upset and saying that that person was racist.”

Black people can never be racist – we never had the tools or power to institutionalize racial oppression.- Sobantu Mzwakali

We also have a sitting president that has used many offensive terms to describe people of color. This is what so many before me have tried to explain in so many ways to Todrick, but yet he insists on not getting it.  He’s too busy listening to respond instead of listening to understand, which is why he’s doing a reaction video instead of reflecting in a quiet place about his creative choices.

Let’s do a quick project — I would like for you to go find “mayonnaise” or “cracker” or any so-called “racist” term that might offend white people on a birth certificate.

Couldn’t find it could you? You know what you can find on some birth certificates, the words “negro” and “colored” which we all agree are actually offensive. My grandmother, only two generations before me, has it on hers. She also shared with me that she was alive when one of her family members was lynched in Mississippi. As a matter of fact, the last word that the nearly 10,000 Black people who were lynched in this country between 1899 and 1960 heard was ‘nigger.’ I advise that you, Todrick Hall, understand the historical context behind racist words and refrain from comparing an offensive word such as mayonnaise with a racist one. The pain ain’t the same, boo.

Todrick also admits that the parodies he’s done in the past were problematic, but he isn’t interested in taking them down. As I’ve already admitted, I have not seen the full body of his work. To be better informed in my future critiques (because you know I ain’t stopping) I’ve decided to take his advice and get to know more of his content. Remember when I said I was going to explain why I wasn’t as interested in watching the full “body of work?” Here’s why.

Let’s start with ‘Snow White and the Seven Thugs’ (2014) since we’re in this situation because of a video called T.H.U.G.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the most problematic of them all? The video starts with Snow White singing to Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’. Need I say more? She makes her way into the hood and falls asleep in a home with 7 thugs. Ashy, Nappy, Tooty, Fruity, Musty, Crusty and Dopey. Their costumes are hoodies, and the one with the gold chain is Orlando Brown. The evil queen played by Kimberly Cole turns into the witch to get Snow White to eat an apple. Remember how the evil witch looked in the cartoon? Well, Glozell played that character and yes Glozell had her wig and green lipstick on.

The Hungry Games’ (2013) is a parody of  The Hunger Games‘ with Fatniss Everdeen played by a dark skin character with a loud personality — a cross between the Mammy and the Sapphire trope. It’s important to point out the actress’ skin tone because it adds to the stereotype of darker skinned women being heavyset and loud. In this parody, Fatniss gets her name called and she loudly and thankfully says “Gurl I won!” She pushes the white women out her way while wearing a bandanna.  It doesn’t stop there. In one scene, Fatniss and other victors fight over fried chicken from KFC and watermelon. I was at a loss for words. KFC, really? Black people eat Popeye’s. If you’re going to do the stereotype, do it right. 

We all know the negative connotations behind fried chicken and watermelon when it comes to African Americans. Did I mention even though they were fighting for their lives in this parody they still had gold chains? Cleary they won’t be getting into Blake’s in Atlanta with this dress code.

Titaniqua (2015) is a parody of the Titanic movie with a ratchet spin and a dash of gold because every parody of blacks needs gold. A white woman falls in love with a gangster/thug drug dealer? More stereotypical black characters portrayed through the lens of whiteness.

Todrick’s character Jack sits at the table with a gold grill while talking to Rose’s mother and friends. He’s asked what does he do and he replies “I sell that good good.” He’s also an up and coming rapper and has a song called ‘Jiggle That Booty Meat’ which he performs at the dinner table leaving the white people at the table confused.

 

Hocus Broke-Us (2015) features The Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus but they’re black and of course, they’re ratchet. Todrick plays Seyoncé and the witches are looking for “chirren“. Why do the Sanderson Sisters have to be broke? Why do weave and ratchet have to be implied so much?

Beauty and the Beat (2013) A parody of Beauty and the Beast with a white Disney character strolling through the hood while holding an Ebony magazine. 

These videos are still monetized. Which means Todrick Hall is still collecting revenue from them. Maybe this a reason why he isn’t in a hurry to take them down.

Listen, the white gaze is a motherfucker. It’s so easy to create content based on the regular schmegular tropes that already exist about black people. Stereotypes work because they are shortcuts, and content creators don’t have to work as hard to tell the story. And the truth is, I’ve chuckled at some of these parodies; I’m sure we all have. The point is Todrick’s audience is majority white, and it makes a difference. Are they laughing with Todrick Hall or laughing at him? Even that question is tricky because Todrick doesn’t seem to completely understand the breadth of racism. That’s not his fault; I ultimately put the blame on white supremacy and I also admit that I used to be like him, hard-pressed to assimilate by poking fun at racial stereotypes to fit in with the dominant culture. This is why we have to hold him accountable. He has a huge platform.  Audiences see these parodies, and it reinforces stereotypes about African Americans.

What Todrick Hall does not show you in his video is the section of my video where I pay homage to his work ethic and his creativity. I called him a creative genius with mad talent, and I still feel that way. To have created a lane for himself as an openly gay Black man in a very outwardly homophobic industry is something that deserves all the credit.  Can you imagine what he could do if he used his powers for good?

For the record, I have no personal issue with Todrick Hall. Although I directed my video to Todrick Hall, my issue is bigger than him. We all have to be held accountable, especially those who have a voice. I’ve been held accountable and will be held accountable in the future, and I will look back at this very moment and learn from the experience.

With great power comes great responsibility.” A corny quote that Uncle Ben gave Peter Parker in Spiderman but it has so much meaning. Todrick, you have the power, so what is your responsibility?

In case you need any help answering this question, here are some suggestions for what you can do today to be better:

  1. Start by taking down the videos that reinforce stereotypes of African Americans.
  2. Reach out to your critics for constructive feedback if that’s what you want. You can contact me at [email protected]
  3. If you’re truly interested in growing, make time in your busy schedule to have a conversation. No, it will not be backstage. I need your full undivided attention.

 

You have a voice and the platform to amplify it and that’s what makes you dangerous.

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For The Culture

High School Students Stage Sit-In Protest Against Racism

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Students Protest

In response to how school faculty have handled a racist video, students of Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx have staged an overnight-sit-in protest. Dissatisfied with faculty’s response to demands to address racism on the school’s campus, students have rallied and locked staff out of the administration building until they reached an agreement.

Outrage Lead to Action

More than 200 high school students of the K-12 academy occupied the building to demand action. They were outraged by the response to a video which featured White students counting down before blurting racist, homophobic, and misogynistic slurs. The video gained attention after circulating Twitter and eventually being reported on by The New York Times. However, school administrative officials did the bare minimum by only condemning the video without stating a plan for disciplinary action. Knowing only one of the students involved had withdrawn from the exclusive academy, students developed a plan to hold staff accountable. Thus, Students of Color Matter was born.

The standoff between students and staff lasted for 72 hours before an agreement was met. Each day the students, who developed a Twitter, Instagram, and petition, posted demands to their accounts. March 11th, the students began with a statement on Instagram:

“We are here today in light of recent events imploring those who desire to see out institution more forward to stand in solidarity with the students of color and white allies of the Ethical Culture Fieldston Community. Today a lockout will take place in the administration building (the 200s) as a means to force our administration to acknowledge the concerns we’ve been bringing to their attention over the past several years”

After outlining the reason for their cause, Students of Color Matter organizers detailed updates as well as their demands.

All or Nothing

The administration was sent an email by students which resulted in the head of the school, Jessica Bagby, alerting parents and students that “Fieldston campus will operate on a normal schedule.” The students also integrated a hashtag, which added pressure due to its discovery by major media sources. Despite the non-violent protest, there were two physical altercations which involved a history teacher and a parent attempting to enter the closed facility. Jessica Bagby’s inadequate response to the students’ demands and inability to commit to change is what ultimately caused the 72-hour standoff.

As of March13th, the students had roughly 3,000 signatures on their petition. Housed on their Students of Color Matter website, the organization calls for the following:

The use of racist and bigoted language are symptoms of systemic and institutional racism that plague educational institutions across the country. For this reason, we command the implementation of structural reform, such as long term curriculum changes, the admittance of more students and faculty of color, and racial sensitivity training for all community members.”

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Jaden Smith Brings Mobile Water Filtration System to Flint

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Jaden Smith Water Box

Flint, Michigan has been ravaged by a bad city-wide deal that resulted in tainted water for nearly five years. Now, Jaden Smith’s startup may provide a solution to the city’s needs water needs.

Called “The Water Box”, Jaden’s mobile water filtration device was unveiled in Flint at First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church. Able to produce 10 gallons of clean drinking water per minute, the actor-rapper turned philanthropist hopes the invention will help the community. Housed within the church, which previously distributed over 5 million bottles of water to the community, residents will be able to fill any container of their choice with clean water. However, they are required to do so during distribution times.

After Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder ended the free bottled water program initiated by the state, Jaden and crew stepped up through JUST Water. JUST Water is a company that Jaden Smith became a partner of at just 12 years old. The company, which “combines for-profit energy and non-profit motives,” began from a desire to develop a filtration system to benefit poorer areas and nations. Making clean water more accessible, the company first launched in August 2018 in the UK.

Speaking about his community effort, Jaded remarked, “This has been one of the most rewarding and educational experiences for me personally. He added,” Working together with people in the community experiencing the problems and designing something to help them has been a journey I will never forget.” Jaden Smith plans to continue deploying more filtration systems across the city to benefit those in need and looks forward to aiding more places experiencing similar issues.

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Jussie Smollett | In The Middle

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