Jesse Williams’ BET Awards 2016 Speech: Watch | Billboard

 

“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”

Watch the full speech below:

 

“Let’s get a couple of things straight. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander — that’s not our job so let’s stop with all that. If you have a critique for our resistance then you’d better have an established record, a critique of our oppression.“If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do: sit down.“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold! — ghettoizing and demeaning our creations and stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”

  • Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams accepts the Humanitarian Award onstage during the 2016 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016 in Los Angeles.
KEVIN WINTER/BET/GETTY IMAGES FOR BET

It’s safe to say that 34-year-old Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams stole the BET Awards on Sunday night with a wildly inspirational, confrontational speech that is bound to become a cornerstone of the Black Lives Matter movement. Later in the show, Samuel L. Jackson said he hadn’t heard a speech like it since the 1960s.

Williams has appeared in multiple films, but he was honored with BET’s Humanitarian Award for his activism. In October 2014, he joined protests in Ferguson, Missouri to protest the shooting of Michael Brown. He was also an actor and executive producer of Stay Woke, a documentary about the movement that premiered in May. He has written extensively on Black Lives Matter and met with President Obama earlier this year to discuss his humanitarian work.

Watch All the Prince Tributes at the 2016 BET Awards

BET CEO Debra Lee presented his award “for his continued efforts and steadfast commitment to furthering social change.”

He began by thanking BET and all involved in the video that preceded his appearance, his wife and his parents “for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, they made sure I learned what the schools are afraid to teach us.

“This award is not for me,” he continued. “This is for the real organizers all over the country, the activist, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. It’s kinda basic mathematics: the more we learn about who we are and how we got here the more we will mobilize.

“This award is also for the black women in particular who have spent their lives nurturing everyone before themselves — we can and will do better for you.

Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar Open the 2016 BET Awards

“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours. [Standing ovation.]

“I got more, y’all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday so I don’t want to hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television, and then going home to make a sandwich.

“Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner, Sandra Bland.

“The thing is though, all of us here are getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. Dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back to put someone’s brand on our body — when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies?

BET Awards Week: See All the Photos

“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There is no job we haven’t done, there is no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we have paid all of them.

“But freedom is always conditional here. ‘You’re free!’ they keeping telling us. ‘But she would be alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.’ Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but the hereafter is a hustle: We want it now.

“Let’s get a couple of things straight. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander — that’s not our job so let’s stop with all that. If you have a critique for our resistance then you’d better have an established record, a critique of our oppression.

“If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do: sit down.

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold! — ghettoizing and demeaning our creations and stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”

Watch the full speech  from the link below:

Source: Jesse Williams’ BET Awards 2016 Speech: Watch | Billboard

Sign of the Times — Medium

 

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid” — Audre Lorde

My consciousness is not arranged in such a way that I view any good person’s life as inherently more valuable than any other good person’s life. We all have value. We are all inherently valuable. The unjust arrangement of this world is premised on the notion that some humans are more human than others and therefore inherently more valuable. As I observe the posts, statuses, remembrances, reflections, tributes and energy devoted to ensuring Prince’s safe passage to the next realm. I am reminded that while no one life has more inherent value than another, a single life can be profoundly meaningful in its impact and influence. That is to say, one life can be so robust with meaning that it elevates the inherent value not of themselves but of humanity.

We are society very accustomed to biting on the style of an icon and leaving all the substance on the bone. Prince the man, the artist, the visionary, the philanthropist, the quiet activist are inextricably powerful in their meaningfulness because they all emanated from genius anchored in primordial excellence, a sense purpose and passion, ancient wisdom and an understanding that surpassed the colonization of knowing, all fused with a fierce sense of self determination, which like Harriet Tubman, was informed with a get free or die trying spiritness. You can’t get free, if you are too afraid to even acknowledge you are in bondage. Prince was/is clear.

Behind the iconic purple rain was an Oya like tornadic force powered by a prodigious work ethic, mastery of craft, a sense of excellence and a will to be good rather than to simply look good — that he was able to do both is part of his virtuosity too. In an age in which we aspire to be seen without having done anything worth looking at, in which one aspires to be stylistically robust but substantively bereft, in an era where we seem to have forgotten that subtly, allusion and refinement are demonstrations of genius in control of itself, its will and intent, fully aware of its prodigious fertility, conscious of what it is trying to birth. Prince stands as a reminder, a road map, a flashlight on a darkened path that being true to oneself, pursuing your purpose, your destiny may not make you famous, may not make you rich but it damn sure make you profoundly powerful.

What Prince possessed was not the manic individualism that is so characteristic of the ethos of American society but rather an ancient African ethos which speaks to a kind of expressive individualism rooted in a sociology of personhood, that asks us to improvise — speak our own special truth — within a shared cultural mosaic in such a way as to transcend and transform — improve — it without changing its fundamental essence. In many ways, Prince’s life was jazz personified, which is to say Black life set to a funky syncopated rhythm.

Few artist in my lifetime — ok, none — simultaneously embodied the times and presaged them the way Prince did. From the gender flexibility to the provocative dress to the saturation of sex to the empowering of sexuality as an element of spirituality to the narcissism to defining oneself on ones terms to understanding the sign of the times to the necessity of owning ones labor and ones worth. Prince stood firmly within a Black (African) tradition of artist as activist and philanthropist, in this regard Prince was/is closer to Harry Belafonte than Jimi Hendrix.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so too does print and television media, there is air and space to fill, so there will lots of hot air filling space from a media, fascinated by Black life but inured to the point of indifference about Black suffering, mostly about Prince’s art and it/his impact and likely be very little about the man — the Black man — the activist and the philanthropist. This is unfortunate because here there is much to be gleaned from Prince’s life, his work as well as his approach to life, to love, to liberation, and much to teach us about how to convert a life that was inherently valuable just because into a life that was so meaningful that it imbued humanity with additional value.

The image for which Prince became best known for is a stylized Ankh. The ankh is symbol that derives from KMT (the ancient African Nile Valley civilization best known as Egypt). The symbol represents that creative synthesis of complementary parts in fertile harmony; it represented the life giving power of masculine and feminine energy invested in creating eternal possibility, in generating life eternally. The eminent African psychologist Wade Nobles has noted that much of what is useful in African (American) culture is either overlooked or misunderstood due to our inability to understand the role and function of symbolism in African (American) culture. Even when he wasn’t using his name Prince was always speaking truth to power.

The prescient African novelist Ayi Kwei Armah rightly notes in his memoir, The Eloquence of the Scribes that: “ …Connections is a constant motif in all autonomous African culture, it comes from an ethos that says death cannot be the end; that beyond death remain connection, between those here and now, those who were once here but are now elsewhere, and those who, though not yet here, are destined to come some day….Bodies may connect visibly in the here and now; souls are connectors across the present with past and future time.”

Put another way, energy is neither created nor destroyed it merely changes forms. A profoundly meaningful Black man, a comrade in the struggle for a just, egalitarian and verdant world has departed: Next Woman, Next Man up. As Ella Baker, the Civil Rights activist said: “The struggle is eternal. The tribe increases. Somebody else carries on.” They always do — Will it be you?

Maa Kheru Prince, you did your work on the earthly realm; we look forward what your genius in collaboration with the other ancestors will provide us in the ancestral realm and in ours.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life…

Live. Love. Create Fully,

Àdísà

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    Go to the profile of Àdisà Àjàmú

    Àdisà Àjàmú

    Pan-Africanist. Doma. Healer. Scribe. Humanist. Force Multiplier. Path Clearer. Crossroads Guardian. A lit candle in a dark room.

  • Source: Sign of the Times — Medium

    Teen Girls’ Slam Poetry φ Bustle Video

    Teen Girls’ Slam Poetry On ‘The Queen Latifah Show’ Is The Powerful Thing You Need To Hear Today — VIDEO

    Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, an

     

    Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen recited a jaw-dropping poem called “Somewhere in America” on the since-canceled The Queen Latifah Show. The young women, part of the LA-based nonprofit Get Lit, called to attention the information passed along unintentionally in this country’s classrooms. Spoiler alert: it gets pretty real.

    The trio of teenage girls start the poem ominously: “The greatest lessons you will ever teach us, you won’t even remember.” From there, they jump into fairly controversial, dark topics like rape, race, gun control, socioeconomics, and censorship. Emotions rage so hard in the three-and-a-half-minute piece, occasionally you can spot a small vocal crack in the performance, but that just lends more validation to the truth they kept spouting. ”Somewhere in America,” ushers in the hard-to-hear stuff,  ”Women are killed for rejecting dates, but God forbid I bring my girlfriend to prom.” Another: “The preppy kids go thrifting because they think it sounds fun. But we go ‘cause that’s all we’ve got money for.”

    The episode, also guest featuring feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, was meant to highlight female empowerment. However, the young voices seemed to lend strength and raise serious questions across the board, regardless of gender identity. Get Lit says they hope to “change the world, one word at a time.” We believe, given this performance, that’s entirely possible.

    Escobedo, McGavin, and Allen have performed their poem in front of thousands of people, including a coveted opening slot for a sold-out John Legend concert at the Hollywood Bowl last fall. They cite real-life, personal experiences and Jay Z’s social commentary as inspiration for the piece. “I think poetry is the best way to express emotions…” McGavin says, “It’s an amazing way to help people, especially teens.” Hear hear.

    Image: The Queen Latifah Show

    RATCHET ME THIS: HOW DO WE RIDE FOR PLEASURE IN A PIMP CULTURE?

    REAL COLORED GIRLS

    DEC 22 2013

    RATCHET ME THIS: HOW DO WE RIDE FOR PLEASURE IN A PIMP CULTURE?

    Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Barbara Christian, June Jordan, Michele Wallace, Harriet Tubman, Patricia Hill Collins, Sojourner Truth, M. Jacqui Alexander, Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, et. al.

     

    irst things first: we are not talking to Jamilah-come-lately. If you ain’t been boycottin’ R. Kelly since Aaliyah was 14, if you even needed to see the piss tapes to persuade you further, if Kevin Powell’s BK Nation petition was your entry into this conversation, you ain’t got the answers.

    Second: if you’re trying to engage in an analysis of Black women’s sexuality, without acknowledging the role of pimp culture in your framing, you ain’t been doin’ the education.

    ‘Pimp culture’ is the umbrella under which we map the interlocking systems of oppression that create the material conditions under which Black women experience bodily and psychic harm. Vestiges of the gator-wearing, fur cape-lined pimp show up in our private and public spaces and we feel the brunt of his solid gold cane in our experiences of mass culture apparatuses. Pimp culture employs white supremacy, misogyny, racism, homophobia and the dogma of rugged individualism to physically and psychically undermine our sense of self, diminishing our capacity for self-determination.

    Pimp culture is in line with other terms used in anti-violence discourse – sexual violence, culture of violence, rape culture. Yet, in the Black feminist tradition, we use the term to center the unique experiences of Black women and signal the specific forms of knowledge that we bring in understanding the depths of physical violence and psychic trauma on individual and societal levels.

    By Jess Pinkham _DSC9539.NEFCollectively, these forces show up as, for example, the vicious maligning of nine-year old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis who was “jokingly” called a cunt by a major news media outlet. The sexualized verbal battery of a Black girl child, on the public stage, in her moment of glory, was an act of psychic aggression meant to humiliate Black girls and women, while underscoring that in pimp culture we are primed to be sexually exploited even in our most innocent moments. The language used was an attempt by pimp culture to turn a Black girl child out as a sexual spectacle, reminding those of us who are grown that we don’t own the mechanisms of our representation, nor do we have the allegiance of anyone in power who will ride for us.

    Many of the comments on our first blog, “The Problem with BeyHive Bottom Bitch Feminism,” along with dialogues in the Twitterverse, support the idea that we should celebrate the presentation of sexual pleasure by Black women, especially when it’s done inside of marriage. In an effort to subvert the politics of respectability, some Black feminist hash-taggers have relied on strategic amnesia that discounts the reality of the material conditions of our sexual lives. To wit:

    Whenever we consider Black women on stage, we also consider the auction block. When we think of public displays of Black female sexuality, Saartje Baartman isn’t far from our minds. When Black women voluntarily show “the actual inside[s] of [our] vagina” to an audience of strangers and peeping Toms, the torture of Anarcha Wescott takes center stage. Sexual violence is not a joke. We breathe these histories alongside our freedoms, which interrupt any fantasies of an ahistoric sexuality and make us suspicious and critical like a mutha.

    Real Colored Girls are serving notice: game recognize game, and we are not here for corporate entities to consume our bodies, shit them out, repackage and sell them back to us as avatars for the music industrial complex. RCG are committed to defining healthy, loving, kinky, freaky, juicy, queer, bi and hetero sexualities for Black women. We are most concerned with publicly taking care of Black women’s sexuality by addressing historical and present trauma and arguing for the creation of a cultural environment in which it is safe for us to express ourselves sensually and sexually.

    A cadre of Black feminists and Black women sympathizers (those who don’t proclaim to be feminist but ride for Black women) are calling for a “pleasure principle” that creates space in pop culture for Black women to express empowered sexualities. Any set of propositions that seeks to determine the fundamental basis for our sexual expression must consider the structural conditions under which said propositions are engineered. Pop cultural texts are produced inside of this context, and failing to acknowledge that in your analysis limits the work of dismantling the structures of pimp culture. Twerk it out.

    Real Colored Girls encourages the communities of folk engaged in recent discussions about this work to move beyond Bey and consider what this moment has triggered around the presentation of Black female sexualities. Beyonce seems to have mastered the impossible, given the realities for most Black women in the U.S. – taking charge of her cultural production. Close reads of her recent and past work from writers Emily J. Lordi and Daphne Brooks invite us to consider the complex challenges for Black women artists. Even though Beyoncé is suspiciously sexy and joyfully raunchy, it would take a contortionist to situate her performances as a safe & empowered representation of Black women’s sexualities. Beyonce is a product of the hip hop generation – she woke up like that. In contracting with pop culture to distribute feminism, have we diluted the struggle of our Black feminist foremothers? For RCG, this is about the political economy of culture – how global corporate structures are not the context for transformative revolutionary action, and we shouldn’t look to them for our politics.

    Our dream is for a revolution for Black women and our sexualities. As Mother bell exhorts, living out this dream requires us to do,

    …the critical project of openly interrogating and exploring representations of black female sexuality as they appear everywhere, especially in popular culture.

    Real Colored Girls are willing to ride for our radical politic, while acknowledging our privileges as artists and academics. We promote an oppositional consciousness that imagines radical spaces for sexual expression – physical, virtual and spiritual – which is risky and not without sacrifice. We call upon the lives and recorded texts of womanists and Black feminists as scripture and theory in the flesh.

    roll-callAudre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Barbara Christian, June Jordan, Michele Wallace, Harriet Tubman, Patricia Hill Collins, Sojourner Truth, M. Jacqui Alexander, Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, et. al.

    bell hooks cautions that Black women,

    …haven’t as a group really carved out different ways to live our lives.

    This is an amazing opportunity to do this work. In the spirit of loving Black women, we invite interventions that construct a post-capitalist imagination in which to dream ourselves whole.

    #RealColoredGirls

    #PimpCulture

    Photo Credits: Bridge to Freedom FoundationTrey Anthony

    REAL COLORED GIRLS

     

    THE PROBLEM WITH BEYHIVE BOTTOM BITCH FEMINISM

    THE PROBLEM WITH BEYHIVE BOTTOM BITCH FEMINISM

    Beyhive Booty

    In Pimp Theory, a “bottom bitch” is the one in the whores’ hierarchy who rides hardest for her man. She’s the rock of every hustler economy and her primary occupation is keeping other ho’s in check and gettin’ that money. She isn’t trying to elevate the status of her sister ho’s. She isn’t looking to transform pimp culture. The bottom bitch is a token who is allowed symbolic power, which she uses to discipline, advocate for, represent and advance the domain of the stable.  In pop culture, she represents the trope of the chosen black female, loyal to her man and complicit in her own commodification.

    In hip hop vernacular she has emerged as the “Boss Bitch” or “Bawse”, titles you’ll hear used liberally across urban/pop discourses – from the streets to rappers to the hip hop, basketball and ATL housewives.  What she represents is an appearance of power within a structure of male dominance, but in reality this “power” is merely vicarious and not a positional power in and of itself.

    Admittedly, bottom bitch is an unfortunate metaphor to use for framing conversations about Beyonce, but when you’re married to “Big Pimp’n” and his cameo on your new self-titled album, coined a “feminist masterpiece,” is all about how he gon’

    Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

    I’m like Ike Turner

    Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae

    Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae

    you leave us no choice. When elements of the feminist community rise up to applaud your simplistic, pro-capitalist, structurally violent sampling of feminism, the metaphor becomes even more relevant. Moreover, we’re concerned that the capitalist ethics of mainstream hip hop has seduced feminist allies into flirting with bottom bitch feminism in their silencing of those who would critique Bey and the systemic violence she represents.

    To this we ask: Is a feminism sponsored by the corporate music industrial complex as big as we can dream? Is the end game a feminism in which the glass ceiling for black women’s representation only reaches as high as our booties? Can’t we just love Bey as an amazing corporate artist without selling out the hard won accomplishments of our black feminist and womanist foremothers?  Can we not love her for the gorgeous and fierce mega pop star she is without appropriating her for some liberal, power feminist agenda?

    These questions asked, we do understand the terror and mistrust some black women may feel when confronted with representations that reflect us to ourselves as brilliantly beautiful.  We also get the impulse that these same women may have to criticize and destroy such images. But this is not that. Our critique of Bey as a feminist doesn’t come from a place of fear. Indeed it may even be more a critique of the black feminist blogosphere. Our real fear is of a bourgeoning cadre of institutional gatekeepers of “appropriate” black feminist politics going in hard with their facile analyses, shaming and silencing black women with alternative reads of B.

    Real Colored Girls are not here to promote or co-sign the idea that to critique Bey’s “Flawless Feminism” is to hate black women.  We reject the idea that love for the folks equals blind loyalty. Our deep and abiding love and respect for the ancestors will never permit an image of feminism wrapped in the gold chains of hip hop machismo.  We ain’t throwin’ no (blood) diamonds in the air for ‘da roc, no matter how many feminists you sample over a dope beat. We’re smarter than that. We’re worth more than that.

    Insisting on a rank and file consent and approval to these ‘terms of engagement’ is a form of bullying and in the spirit of Audre Lorde we remind you that silencing dissent will not protect you.  We feel strongly that it is our duty and imperative to engage multiple perspectives in the marketplace of ideas, supporting open discourse, lest we find ourselves guilty of policing one another into a dishonest respectability.

    Our work is not done. Beyhive Bottom Bitch Feminism does not replace nor is it even in the realm of the critical work of black women writers and artists across the discursive spectrum, as some folks have proclaimed across social media. As womanists and black feminists, we have a responsibility to bring it with our cultural work which we will infuse, at all times, with an ethic of care and responsibility. The coontocracy of assimilationist corporate negroes is in full effect, riding for patriarchal capitalist agendas and having us believe that somehow Bey’s success is a step toward some dystopic vision of progress for Black women. There may be empowerment for some folks but by and large it is a false hope steeped in capitalism and individualism, supporting the escapist desires of rampant pornographic consumerism.

    This essay does not come from a place of ‘who gon’ check me, boo?’. We would like to invite dialogue, conversation and a multitude of perspectives. We’re thinking that our next conversation will be about how Beyonce has opened the door for further discussion around black female sexuality. We’ve been feelin’ this quote by bell hooks from her essay “Selling Hot Pussy”:

    When black women relate to our bodies, our sexuality, in ways that place erotic recognition, desire, pleasure, and fulfillment at the center of our efforts to create radical black female subjectivity, we can make new and different representations of ourselves as sexual subjects. To do so we must be willing to transgress traditional boundaries. We must no longer shy away from the critical project of openly interrogating and exploring representation of black female sexuality as they appear everywhere, especially in popular culture.

    What are your thoughts?

    #RealColoredGirls

    #BottomBitchFem

    REAL COLORED GIRLS  Who Are They ?

    When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful Minds

    Sister of the Yam

    POLITICS. HIP HOP. AND THE OCCASIONAL LOVE POEM.

    When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful Minds

     kanye-west-808s-heartbreak-kaws-1[1]

    For lack of a better reference, the moment felt like Lauryn Hill circa 2000: Kanye West spitting his characteristically impulsive but nod-worthy truths–my favorite that night was his deft critique of “rap beef” –riddled by the painfully familiar feeling that what we were also witnessing was a beautiful mind unraveling.

    Some who watched the Kanye West-Jimmy Kimmel interview this past Thursday, who had been keeping close watch of the many other interviewstweetspaparazzi attacks, and fashion statements that brought Kanye to Kimmel’s desk that night, and who were perhaps also nostalgic for the pre-kilt, pre-Kim, College Dropout Kanye that used to croon about family dinners and the graveshift of dead-end jobs, observed in Kanye a dangerously heightened mix of mania and megalomania; heard a wired, rambling incoherence; and chronicled those twenty plus minutes as exhibit Z that Kanye West is indeed battling some sort of mental health crises.

    Others picked up on a mouth racing to keep up with a mind in constant overdrive; they tuned into Kanye’s fearless, biting critique; and cheered along the self-proclaimed Genius-Underdog sparring with the lovable Everyman type that always seems to win these kinds of debates.

    Both interpretations of that night–that Kanye was emitting his last fumes before meltdown or that he is deep beyond reproach–are freighted with their own particular dangers. On one hand, we risk participating in a rich tradition of silencing and managing rightfully angry people of color who dare to speak up by calling them crazy. On the other hand, fawning hero-worship can doom us to pulling up a chair and whipping out the popcorn to shit shows that could very well be prevented; Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston hang heavy in my mind as the parables for how fatal that kind of spectatorship can truly be.

    Positioning oneself in the gray is often indicia of cowardice, but here I am in this whack limboland of hedge and no answers: neither hypotheses fully work for me.

     

    That night I saw a man who was wounded. Who never expected his naked struggle for legitimacy would become fodder for late-night mockery or that it would hurt that much–that he, as an adult man with serious indictments against an industry that made and now mangles him, would be infantalized into a whiny, ranting child. I saw a man deeply frustrated by an industry that has smugly siloed bright black and brown men into the white noise of hip-hop so that it can exoticize, imitate, appropriate, and snub them safely from afar. I saw a man who was lonely and misunderstood, who had had been stripped of his support system and now floats about unmoored. I saw a man who thought his creativity and hard word would somehow immunize him from the garden variety isms that topple heroes and unmentionables alike. I saw a man who, like many talented men of color, whether they hide out in Ivy League institutions or behind mics, has never been held accountable for the gaps in his logic and the tangles in his heart strings–for the materialism, misogyny and violence that hobbles his otherwise brave and sophisticated wisdom about race and class in this country. (But that goes for Common, Nas, Tupac and Kendrick Lamar too). I saw a man who wears his vanity like a XXL T-shirt as armor for the much smaller, more vulnerable man underneath. I saw a man who is so transfixed by needing affirmation from White America, so obsessed with his worthiness and seriousness as an artist, an intellectual and a man that he can’t quite calibrate, stake out terms for himself, laugh at the jokes that will surely come, or brave the insults that will never end. And I saw a man who can’t help but still be, many albums and awards later, the creative boy in the back of classrooms, saving up for Gucci loafers, standing up against gangster bullies and inventing those self-survival myths and mechanisms that get you out but never quite set you free.

     

    Black America is mad at Kanye because he didn’t properly learn the lesson that every person of color must learn to remain sane in an insanely racist world–how not to offer your neck to the guillotine. Quite frankly, we’re confused: did Kanye think his art, his name, his stuff, his women-as-props would exempt him from blackness? Did he think his laying out of dreams, the unbridled honesty and that faux Little Engine That Could confidence could be the brave preemptive moves that would keep him safe? Further, we’re exhausted by his lack of groundedness . Kanye cannot seem to locate himself in a long history of great people doing great things while hearing as many–if not more and more serious–no’s than he. Lack of perspective is a male privilege and also the white privilege Kanye will never have and should never fight for.

    Terrifyingly, Kanye’s sins for White America are much simpler: he dared to call himself great without their permission. For that, he is an asshole.  For that, he is dangerous. For that, he is crazy.

    ink-blot-colored-small[1]

    Deciding what Kanye is–”crazy”, genius, or troubled–is important because this is, of course, much bigger than Kanye. He stands next to Lauryn Hill, Dave Chapelle, and others with beautiful minds and broken spirits. I do not think it is coincidence that all three–Kanye, Lauryn, Dave and we can even throw Michael Jackson in–have been accused of “craziness” at the height of critiquing the ugliness and the isms of the industries and audiences that have propelled them to fame. I think we should understand that “crazy” is the Atomic Bomb of the English language, that it’s a no-return obliteration of personhood and credibility. And we should also remember that ”crazy” has been a way of managing female sexual desirequeer eroticism and political ideology; yesterday’s history is today’s wet paint. As Dave once said, “the worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person. So they’re crazy.’ That’s bullshit.”

    I believe in considering Dave’s follow up to that thought: “These people are not crazy. They’re strong people. Maybe their environment is a little sick.”drwdx-pw5_ru-deyv-shapell-aktery-dave-chappelle[1]

    And that–the sick environment–is the one thing that never, ever gets enough play: if, as we speculate, all these beautiful, beautiful minds are breaking, undoing themselves, unfurling like tightly wound string, we owe it to ourselves to at least ask if something drives them to it. Certainly, mental illness is complex and at times turns on with no external switch, but we have testimony from artists we respect and admire, that something is rotten in Hollywood.

    As Lauryn said after her hiatus from music, “When artists experience danger and crises…everyone easily accepts that there was something either dysfunctional or defective with the artist, rather than look at, and fully examine, the system and its means and its policies of exploiting/’doing business’.”

    Over the course of a short decade, so many celebrities have fallen apart before my eyes: shaving their heads, ripping apart cameras, tearing off clothes, eating themselves into bloated existence or not eating themselves into invisible non-existence, drinking and drugging fast lives and slow deaths, basically begging us to listen in the most literal, primal languages possible, and we still keep diagnosing symptoms instead of curing the disease and the whole thing seems wild to me.

    If mental illness is a dialectic between the person and the space,  then its source is not wholly the artist nor Hollywood, but I know that what Kanye and so many others deserve is the clean slate and the fighting chance Kanye kept quoting Richard Pryor to talk about.

    LaurynHill[1]

    If this past Thursday was only an open-aired breakdown of mental health, then we need better language. Because though we complain mental health in this country and for black folks in particular isn’t talked about, that’s not entirely true: we talk about it all the time; we just talk about it poorly. If finding oneself on the edge deserves a life-sentence of being called “crazy,” of being dismissed, written off, and laughed at, of not being heard, then no wonder the shame and the silence. Particularly for artists, whose whole careers and identities are based on being experienced, interpreted, listened to and gazed upon: mattering.  Truth is, there are those who are dying from, but more curiously living with, mental illness in our midst; they are flying our planes, shaking our hands, watching our kids, loving us, and staring back at us from mirrors. And some of the great mindswe most admire produced art, theories, and inventions despite and because of battles with mental illness. Furthermore, achieving mental health is often a lifetime of strenuously and intentionally maintaining the balance; there is not one discrete day you are sick and one discrete day you are well. Given the enormity, pervasiveness, and constantly looming threat of mental illness, we have to figure out a way for people to matter even if they have not sought or successfully phased out of treatment. We can’t just keep calling people “crazy” as the lever we pull to extradite them into irrelevance. The balance is hard but important: how to hear folks when they need help, how to hear folks even if they need help, how to empower them to seek help, how to be the help they seek, and how to know when we can’t be.

    If this Thursday was also about something bad happening to a beautiful mind and that something bad is, as Lauryn puts it, “a machine that overlook[s] the need to to take care of the people who produce the sounds that have a lot to do with the health and well-being of society,” then we still need transformation.  We not only need to imagine and create a celebrity culture that does not drive the talented, the strong, and the brave into hiding but we also need to collectively figure out how to survive that heartless, breathless machine in the meantime. For Kanye, the machine is the fashion and the music industries, but for any one of us, it could be the university or the office or the political regime. If we become as angry as we deserve to be, then the isms we fight will rob us of our life joy. We have to somehow figure out how to resist and dissent without allowing that enterprise to swallow us whole and turn us stale and I have faith we can win this war without quotable tweets or serving as the one-person congregation of the Church of our own self-proclaimed Godliness. Kanye once said that he, like Dave Chapelle, has to laugh to keep from crying and I suggest that he works harder on that laugh–not for the Kimmels but for Kanye.

    Why Breaking Bad’s Finale Was Perfect

    Why Breaking Bad‘s Finale Was Perfect

     

    There was never any doubt that Breaking Bad cared about its viewers. The show’s most impressive feat to me was its devotion to clarity, no matter how complicated its character dynamics or intricate its plot developments. Breaking Bad explained everything and then re-explained it. Jumps in logic were extremely rare and when they were employed—Jesse’s a-ha ricin moment from earlier this season, in which he deduced way too much given way too little information, and wielded his hunch like a weapon—they sent the plot forward with too much velocity to upset anyone but nitpickers.

    The show was so satisfying, at least to me, because it played like a system of rewards. It would introduce a character or concept, allow you to engage and wonder, and then, just as you were getting to the point of Wait, what?: It delivered. Take Walt’s initially mystifying pay-phone conversation from last night’s Breaking Bad series finale, in which he impersonates a New York Times reporter in order to track down Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz, his former partners at Gray Matter. Walt’s ensuing break-in, while Gretchen and Elliott putter around their mansion oblivious to the invasion, is so calm and casual—the resulting suspense fucked with us the audience and only us. (And how about the eventual reveal that Walt’s intentions are not to murder Gretchen and Elliott, but to rope them into distributing his remaining fortune to his children? That show could play with me all night long if it wanted to.)

    Another example: Walt’s final meeting with Skyler, preceded by a phone call from her sister Marie, who informs her Walter is in town, that he could be coming for her at any moment. Skyler hangs up, the camera deliberately pulls forward and reveals Walt, who’d been standing in the kitchen the whole time, previously obscured from our vision by a support column.

    Breaking Bad made disclosure into a game in which viewers always felt like we were winning. The hang time between introduction and revelation is what we reveled in, and it was complicated further by characters’ participation in the game too, their worlds circumscribed by their own knowledge, ignorance, and willful suspension of disbelief in any given situation. This was not simply in a scene-to-scene way, but in the structure of the entire series. From Walt’s introduction to the meth trade in the pilot episode, his frequently repeated motivation—his risky behavior was all for his family—was dubious. The show allowed us to draw our own conclusions, to fill the small open space in Walt’s motivation and transformation from hero to anti-hero, from mild-mannered high school teacher to Heisenberg. And then, considerately and perfectly, Walt fills out his own understanding of himself: “I did it for me,” he tells Skyler, in a moment of ultimate revelation. “I liked it. I was good at it, and I was really… I was alive.”

    No one gets to write his own obituary, but in taking control and revising his life—an existence eaten by cancer, already down and out after a near miss at entrepreneurial glory—Walter White came as close as a man can get to doing so. The tagline on posters advertising this final batch of Season 5 episodes was: “Remember my name.” That kind of egocentrism is fuel for success and ruin. The two existed simultaneously for Walter White. As much as Breaking Bad was the story about a man’s death—and thank god it turned out to be that story via its definitive, satisfying ending (not that I’d expect less)—it was also one of rebirth. Nothing exists in a vacuum: Walter’s selfishness affected everyone close to him, and his generosity was ultimately self-serving. He was a bad man who was attracted to innocence, which is why the only moments of pure joy we saw him experience were spent with his baby Holly (and also, I’d argue, why he saved his basically incompetent and certainly dependent beta counterpart, Jesse).

    In the finale, Walt employs Jesse’s cohorts Badger and Skinny Pete to help scare Gretchen and Elliott into delivering Walter’s money to his son. The pair then shares an exchange that’s the most overt shout out to fans in Breaking Bad history:

    Badger: I don’t know how to feel about all this.
    Skinny Pete: For real, yo; the whole thing felt shady morality-wise.

    They feel us. This chamber has an echo.

    The finale was tidy, maybe overly so for a show about a man who made a mess of his life. Few questions were left unanswered—the Times points out that we never really got to the bottom of Walt’s departure from Gray Matter, and there was the curious removal of his watch after the aforementioned pay-phone call. (Later, on the post-show Talking Bad, creator Vince Gilligan explained that this was a matter of keeping continuity with the flash-forward that we saw at the beginning of the season, but also provided a more interpretive explanation about Walter’s time being up.) But really, except for henchman Huell (who trended on Twitter last night as a result of being absent from the finale), all T’s were crossed, all I’s dotted as they always were.

    Walter’s ending was a happy one, or as happy as one could be engineered from the ruins of his life: He put a plan in place to ensure his kids would get his fortune (thus his meth-making was not in vain), he effectively destroyed the arm of the meth industry he built up, he got to be a hero to Jesse, and he died without suffering, beating his cancer once and for all. Walter got off easily, yes, but in receiving a definitive ending that is both thoughtful and morally straightforward, so did we. Walter’s destruction was not for nothing. We won’t have to argue and debate this to death a la The SopranosBreaking Bad did most of the work for us, as usual.

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