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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

Alexandra Shipp Doesn’t Understand Colorism and It Shows

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Alexandra Shipp is suffering from the same light-skin plight that Tinashe claimed stifled her career two years ago. Oh well…

After hearing that KiKi Layne was in talks to step into her queendom as Storm, Alexandra Shipp wasted no time chiming in on Twitter. Her hot garbage take has since sparked yet another conversation about colorism in Hollywood. Alexandra stated, in so many words, that Black people aren’t supporting her because of her skin tone. Proving she, like so many, does not understand colorism as a system of oppression, Alexandra makes it clear there’s still work to be done.

You see, Alexandra, no one is attacking you for having light skin. They’re simply expressing joy over the much-anticipated portrayal of Storm as she was intended — a dark-skin, beautiful Black woman. This was a monumental opportunity for you to offer praise. Instead, you chose self-pity because a skilled actress is taking a role you aren’t entitled to. Let’s look at receipts, shall we?

KiKi Layne has been nominated for:

  • The Alliance of Women Film Journalists Award for Best Breakthrough Performance
  • The Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor
  • The Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Ensemble.

You, Alexandra, have been nominated for a Teen Choice Award and a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award.

Because you, and others who look like you, have not had to search for representation to feel included, you may not know how to respond to this. I get it, You think you worked hard, earned that role, did it justice. Sorry, baby, but you thought wrong. The one-time wife of T’Challa deserves to be a dark-skin queen and there’s nothing you should do about it.

It’s bigger than you.

For two decades, we have waited for the mantle of Storm to be assumed by a woman who truly looks like her. For once, little Black children who share that skin-tone would feel seen as they look upon their favorite superhero. Imagine children looking at Storm the way they knew her and the way they thought they could be; strong, beautiful, dark-skinned, and more talented than you.

Furthermore, your conflict with the change in the cast should not be conflated with other pressing issues. Don’t weaponize Black Lives Matter to represent losing a job because you’re talentless. Where is your grace, queen? You’ve been coasting on mediocrity in an industry that has made you proud of your light-skin privilege. Now that dark-skin is profitable, the industry is accepting of some actresses with melanin more popping than yours, and you want to play the victim? Ms. “90 percent of the racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime has been at the hands of fellow Black people.”

Girl, bye.

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Protests Ensue Over Death of Jameek Lowery

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Jameek Lowery streamed his final moments as he sought assistance from officers in a Paterson, New Jersey station. Having passed in police custody, community members and family want answers.

Scared and Alone

Jameek Lowery was disoriented, foaming at the mouth, and shoeless. Asking for water and visibly unsettled, 27-year-old Jameek admitted he’d taken ecstasy just moments earlier. Hoping officers would help him find proper care, Jameek trusted them with his life.

Police say they called an ambulance and accompanied him to St. Joseph’s Hospital, but what happened during transport is unclear. The Passaic County Prosecutor claims although hospital records do not indicate acute trauma, Jameek suffered physical force and compliance holds during the ride. While transport took between five and twelve minutes, the prosecutor alleges that Jameek was unresponsive upon arrival. Jamir King, Jameek’s brother, says Lowery suffered a fractured eye socket and broken cheekbone after the recording.

We want answers now!

Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale maintains everything that could be done to help Jameek was.

 “They will do the autopsy, everything will come up and then we’ll know where we stand, and the answers will be given to you. I want you to have those answers. Right or wrong, I want you to have those answers.”

Jerry Speziale, Paterson Police Director

Unhappy with what Paterson Police have provided since Jameek’s death Saturday, protests have ensued. Hawk Newsome of Black Lives Matter attended the Tuesday night protest, providing his support to the family and commenting on what he knew so far.

“He was extremely paranoid, he was terrified, and he had no shoes on. What I did notice was his face looked good and within a few hours he was dead.”

Hank Newsome, Black Lives Matter of Greater New York

City Council members were also present during the protests, providing comfort to the family as they begged for answers. Lowery’s sister Jamilia Laurie said, “My heart hurts, I can’t explain how I feel because I don’t know how I feel. I can’t go to sleep at night. I’ve been up since this happened. I cannot sleep.”

Justice for Jameek

Late into the evening, things came to a head as protestors clashed with police on the street, spilling out of City Hall where the rally took place. Holding cell phones to record the officers, police lined up on the other side, equipped with mace. People began chanting “Justice for Jameek,” “Black Lives Matter”, and “No justice, no peace”. Police fired upon the crowd with mace and a large crowd was seen fleeing the Paterson Public Safety Complex building, shielding their faces and coughing.

Wana Fulcher, a protestor on the scene commented on the frightening state of police relations in Paterson.

“I have four sons myself and this is very scary. Your child can’t even walk down to the store without being harassed by an officer. Who can we run to?”

Wana Fulcher, protestor

Community leaders and Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh are supporting the investigation into what happened to Jameek. Several news outlets have attempted to reach Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale for further comment with no success.

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On the Subject of R. Kelly

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I was 14 years old when R. Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. It was 2002. TP-2 had been out for a while and everyone was vibing to “Fiesta” and “Feelin’ On Yo Booty”. He was preparing to perform at the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City when the story broke. A videotape had surfaced, allegedly showing R. Kelly urinating on an underage girl. The Black community was silent.

I overheard my adult cousins discuss the tape at family gatherings. Everyone that had seen it seemed to agree. Without a shadow of a doubt, they all knew they were watching Robert Kelly, the pied piper of R&B. Yet there was no outrage, no public outcry or demands for justice. It was sickening. At the time, I lived in Detroit, Michigan, home to DSA. DSA was known as The Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, but it was famous for birthing the princess of R&B, Aaliyah Dana Haughton.

Buried

When Aaliyah married R. Kelly in 1994 in that secret ceremony with forged documents, Detroit knew. When conversation surrounding the nature of their artist-protégé relationship was questioned, Detroit knew. In televised interviews and radio segments when their voices and body language could be dissected, the truth was bare and as a community we denied it. For the second time, I watched a city turn a blind eye to R. Kelly’s predatory behavior for the love of his music. For what? Because it was more difficult to hold one man accountable for his hebephilia than sacrifice music to bump to? We collectively did ourselves a disservice, the same disservice we do to little Black girls and boys who are preyed on by family and religious figures.

Ignoring the presence of sexual deviance in the Black community does not make the trauma survivors battle daily disappear. I couldn’t understand why people made excuses for rapists or held victims accountable for their pain. “Just separate the art from the artist.” How? Why? The artist is using his status and artistry to directly engage, lure, and abuse Black girls. R. Kelly isn’t the only person to do this. Many celebs have used the promise of fame for sexual favors. Hell, employers use this exact same tactic. In the working environment, people in positions of power will dangle promotion and incentive to bargain sexual favors and people excuse it.

Second Chances

As a community, we must demand better. From the moment those 21 counts of child pornography surfaced following the release of the infamous tape, R. Kelly’s career should have been over. But it wasn’t. He went on to release the Chocolate Factory album, selling more than 3 million copies and going platinum. With the help of a delayed trial, he worked diligently, released gospel music to clean his image. By the time he went to trial in 2008, the Black community had two-stepped his depravity out of their memory. He was found not guilty.

People use twisted language like “Those girls were fast. Where were their parents?” Working long hours to clothe and feed that child. No parent is in all places at all times so save that bullsh*t. Such rhetoric does absolutely nothing to absolve sexual predators of the reality that they took advantage of naive adolescents or starry-eyed adults. Just call it what it is. Or are you afraid that acknowledging his deviance means calling out the same evil in those around you?

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