Thursday, February 27, 2014
Monday, March 18, 2013
So this new Beyonce track "Bow Down" has surfaced and the internet is buzzing with reviews, rants, and raves alike. Aside from the fact that Beyonce does very little actual singing on the track, there are a few reasons the track just doesn't work.
To begin with, there have been plenty of arguments bandied about in recent years regarding whether or not to consider Beyonce a firmly established feminist voice. If there was any doubt about her qualification as the voice of empowerment for a generation of
black women who so desperately need uplifting in the media, this track settles the whole matter. Absolutely not.
"I know when you were little girls
you dreamt of being in my world
Don't forget it, Don't forget it
Bow down bitches
I took some time to live my life
but don't think I'm just his little wife
Don't get it twisted, Get it Twisted
This my shit
Bow Down Bitches"
And there you have it. The moment Beyonce invokes the pejorative "Bitch," she undermines whatever work she previously has done to establish herself as the voice of women's empowerment. Perhaps she forgot that the very women she sings to/for have been engaged in discussions for years over whether or not "bitch," can ever qualify as a harmless term of endearment among women working to achieve gender solidarity. It was, is, and will always be reductive, insulting, and harmful.
Of course the case can be made that she is not necessarily referring to women as bitches, after all, men can be bitches too. But let's be honest ... she's NOT in competition with ANY male entertainers. And the cadre of critics who bash her most vehemently are NOT men. Moreover, even though she has attempted to gender-switch on us through her references to herself as "King" Bey, no one is ignorant of the fact that she is most readily compared to and pitted against other female R&B singers. The salient question raised here remains "Who's Beyonce's "bitch?" Wendy? Keri? Keyshia? Letoya? The news outlets who dogged her post-inauguration? Take your pick I guess.
We get it, she receives a tremendous amount of flack for being insanely successful (who else sells out concerts in 15 minutes?), talented, and wealthy. She also at times is reasonably frustrated by the fact that people regularly deny her humanity and attack her without consideration of the fact that she too is a woman who feels. But what happened to the notion that the best revenge is continued success. This kind of self-aware superiority is just what the doctor ordered to murk a fan base and add fuel to the already highly stoked fire where those who despise her await the opportunity to burn her at the stake.
She vaguely returns to her desire to be a feminist voice by asserting that she is not simply Jay-Z's "little wife," but I'm not sure that's enough to undo the damage already established by the hurling of the caustic "Bitch" lyric. I'm sure the video will be AMAZING ... as they usually are. But is it enough to compensate for her tossing humility to the wind?
There will likely be an immense amount of undaunted fans who will booty-pop all over the place to this track with no regard whatsoever for the lyrics. But for the critically thinking minority, "Bow Down" raises all kinds of red flags. Releasing this track on the heels of her Life is But a Dream HBO special—an effort to humanize herself in the public eye—was bad choice. All "Bow Down" does is make the brash statement that Beyonce has successfully reached a point in her career where she simply "DGAF." And that's fine. Reinvention is fine too. Art, creativity, and edginess, are all FINE. But why work so hard to build something, a legacy, only to tear it down with a track that's mediocre at best. I will assume this is a marketing strategy—after all, everyone HATED "Run the World" when it first hit radio—but the follow-up better be outstanding.
I'd like to give her a pass, but I'm forced to ask ... is this the same black-laced Beyonce we just saw lip-syncing the national anthem and pecking the President's cheek complete with wind machines, flair for the dramatic, and an invisible hip-hop royalty tiara? Is this Chelly O's "goodest" girlfriend and Sasha and Malia's mentor? Is this the voice of the same woman who works so hard at concerts to uplift women who are already beaten down by a misogynistic society that hates them? Me thinks not. The discursive cache this song finds itself situated in is so far to the left (to the left) from everything we thought her career was really about. (And it pains me to say this).
As an artist, freedom of expression is everything. But there are some things you create for your own catharsis and don't necessarily need or choose to share—they are yours.
My only hope is that this track is not a sign of things to come where the rest of the album is concerned. If so, we're in for bumpy ride down with Mrs. Carter.
With all that said, however, I know ... somehow she's gonna make you love it.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Randy Miller: Race Indeed Does Matter in the Classroom
In his recent Huffington Post article, Randy Miller posits the need for more instructors of color in schools around the nation, citing that largely the exigency arises out of need for students to see more persons of color at the helm as advocates and as intermediaries. Often students of color who express their culture in various ways are seen as disruptive or inappropriate. They are thereafter mislabeled and sometimes removed from classrooms where they might well be productive if only the person instructing them was more culturally astute and diverse in his/her understanding. I agree wholeheartedly. Miller apparently works at a secondary charter school, where I'm sure the fallout from these issues are abundant. The perspective that is not given in his article, however—and this is not criticism—is the great need for more multiethnic male instructors in higher education.
I share Miller's woes, but from a different vantage point. The issues that arise in higher education can often be just as complex. As a matriculating doctoral student, I find that the great conundrum of my experience as an instructor tends to be the great looming question, where will I end up when this is all over? Having spent the majority of my educational journey at an HBCU, I find myself now wondering whether my presence will best serve student populations at an HBCU or at a PWI.
I have no reservations about making it known that my time in the HBCU environment gave me an immense appreciation for the significance of my presence among students of color. The environment tends to be not only academic, but familial. At the HBCU, the instructor of color assumes a maternal/paternal role in addition to that of instructor. One becomes mentor, life coach, advocate, and yes, sometimes surrogate mama and daddy. That is because of the level of comfort that is instinctively established when students of color see someone else of color in an authoritative position, as a voice of educational authority. I appreciate and value that experience greatly.
This is not to say that I don't appreciate the experiences I have with my non-minority students at the PWI. Often I find similar rewards from open-minded students who are not immediately prompted to question my knowledge and qualification on the basis of my skin color. Those relationships are equally as important. There my presence serves to deconstruct limiting black male stereotypes in significant ways. Yet herein lies the quandary for the black male instructor contemplating an academic "home"... he is equally important and equally needed in both places. But the complexity of his position many times rests in the fact that he is forced to be less authentically himself in the environment where he is the minority in order to lessen any cultural tensions that may accompany the limited exposure of those in his classroom. It has been shocking to hear black students confess to me that I am the first black male instructor they have ever had in 12+ years of schooling. Shocking, but rewarding. I can only imagine, however, that my presence must also be somewhat disorienting and maybe a bit overwhelming for non-minority students who come to the academy from environments that are, even in 2013, not culturally diverse. I can only imagine the script that may play out in some (not all) minds at the mere sight of their "new" instructor.
What tends to be most frustrating, however, is the academy's insistence that, as a minority instructor, you must not stir the pot or unsettle the sedimented ideologies that have collected in the student unconsciousness. You are not to, in some senses, enact a mode of racial passing whereby you appear to be as shocked as everyone else about your own blackness. Don't make anyone uncomfortable. Don't mention race or racism, or else you may appear to be an angry black male with a race agenda. Don't talk about social issues that students desperately need to dialogue about. Don't ever pay any attention to your students of color or you may be misinterpreted as showing unjust favoritism. And remember that your students are fragile. Shun the mention of any discursive language or references that may prompt a call from a parent who wants to know, "What are you teaching my child?"
Such pedagogical approaches are unrealistic, limiting, and socially unproductive. The only way we will ever achieve the coveted post-racial status we seem so obsessed with in America ... is by confronting race and allowing those who instruct to be as authentically diverse as they may need to be in the moment. That is education. And that is how we foster growth ... by ruffling a few feathers. Yet the academy, at times, seems invested in protecting non-existent sensibilities that need to die. In order for our world to change, the minority instructor must not be forced to "pass," mask, closet, or feign an ignorant unawareness of self in order to keep everybody blind to the fact that diversity is real and difference does not approximate social unsuitability. Indeed we need more instructors of color, but we also need to unchain them in the academy and allow them to make the worthwhile contributions they are capable of.