White Advertisers; Black Effects

Advertising campaigns had a great impact on Black American Communities and culture in the 1990s. Advertisements influenced 90’s politics, community health conditions, standards of beauty, technology, and countless other aspects of Black life. Holistically covering the impacts of such campaigns would likely require a novelistic thesis rather than a blog post. But in this writing, I will briefly cover some of the 90’s marketing/advertising campaigns that greatly impacted Black Americans. This is no attempt to capture everything, but rather a start; one that should be built upon over time.

  1. George H.W. Bush’s “Revolving Door”

George H.W. Bush’s “Revolving Door” advertisement was released in 1988 but had a large impact on the “tough on crime” initiatives that would drive many of the legal policies that increased levels of mass incarceration in the 1990’s [it’s almost needless to say that a disproportionate number of those legally affected were/are people with black and brown skin]. The ad attacked a prison weekend furlough program that had been supported by George H.W. Bush’s Democratic presidential challenger, Michael Dukakis, when Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts. The ad a focus was placed on a specific case/instance that terrified white America: The story of Willie Horton, a Massachusetts state prison inmate (and a dark-skinned African American male), who raped a woman while on a weekend furlough. The Ad successfully struck a major blow to Dukakis’ campaign, contributing to Bush winning 80 percent of the electoral vote. Bush successfully won his campaign, while also intensifying American race relations in a way that came with grave consequences for American minorities.

2. Nami Campbell and Gianni Versace

According to surveys conducted in the 1990’s, African-Americans were included in roughly 11 percent of all advertisements. However, Black People were most often depicted in minor, degrading, or background roles rather than prominent major roles. In 1991 Nami Campbell began making advertisements for Gianni Versace. This was revolutionary at the time because her representation pushed against notions that Black women didn’t have the ability to front international fashion brands… well, at least depending on one’s perspective. Though she was a dark-skinned Black woman, Nami Campbell still upheld other White/European standards of beauty: such as wearing synthetic long silky hair. One could argue that even in the midst of modeling with dark skin, she still perpetuated long-standing biased notions of beauty.

3) Mcdonalds  Focused Heavily on Black Communities

During the 1990’s McDonalds targeted Black communities very heavily. One of the most memorable Advertising campaigns run by McDonalds in 1990 and 1992 have come to be known as the “Calvin’s got a job” ads. In the ads McDonalds used the story of and African American character named Calvin to display the social mobility potential of working at McDonalds. The ads even went as far as to imply that Calvin may become the owner of the restaurant one day if he kept working hard. Such campaigning focused towards Black communities positioned McDonald to look like assets in Black communities, rather than liabilities that were contributing to problems and capitalizing on their struggles. Zak Cheney-Rice from Mic.com wrote that “Mickey D’s efforts to highlight investment in the black community seem starkly in opposition to the rate at which they flood these same communities with extremely unhealthy food. This inevitably contributes to a slew of health issues, from heart disease in adults to ‘skyrocketing’ diabetes rates in children.”

4) Brown Tobacco and Brown Hands

“We don’t smoke that s_ _ _. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and stupid.” ―R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company Executive (1992).

According to Connolly, G.N.’s essay “Sweeet and Spicy Flavours: Brands for Minorities and Youth”, during the period of 1995-1999, tobacco companies sponsored at least 2,733 programs, events, and organizations throughout the U.S, equaling a bare minimum of $365.4 million spent on such sponsorships alone. Many of the sponsorships consisted of small community-based organizations in Black and Minority Neighborhoods. Furthermore, studies from 1990-1998 found that there were 2.6 times as many tobacco advertisements per person in areas with an African American majority compared to white-majority areas. During this period, menthol cigarettes became a staple in Black American culture, becoming the cultural preference.

Let us know what Advertisement/marketing campaigns come to your mind when you think about the 90’s (comment below).

Throw Up a Fist, or Turn the Other Cheek

You should never argue about religion, politics, and…umm… sagging pants. The 1990’s gave rise to many fashion trends, but sagging pants has stood as one of the most controversial. People have argued over the historical roots, the psychology behind people showing their behind (slight word-play pun intended), and there have even been instances of people pushing to ban sagging pants altogether. “Which movie was better: Friday or Boyz n the Hood?”, “Who had a bigger impact: Biggie or 2pac?”, “Did O.J. really do it?”, and “Why did many people in urban areas begin sagging their pants?” are all topics that universal scholars and barbershop clients could endlessly debate.

Image result for sagging pants in prison

One popular narrative regarding the rise of sagging pants in the 90’s is that prison fashion trickled over to everyday fashion worn in the street(s).This argument has grounds because between the years 1990-2000, U.S. prison rates grew from roughly 800,000 to 1,400,000. Prison populations aren’t allowed to wear belts and are often provided with oversized clothes. Many believe that such prison clothing distribution practices led to a normalization of sagging pants; one that ex-prisoners did not abandon upon being released back into their personal communities. Furthermore, about a decade before the 90’s, various influential sources, such as the Washington Post, began publishing articles declaring that “Prison Has Become ‘Rite of Passage’”. If such a theory is true, then it may strengthen the arguments of those who believe that sagging pants originated in prison; if prison is a rite of passage (for at least some groups or individuals), then quite naturally various people would lean towards dressing as if they’ve been imprisoned.

There’s also a separate prison origin-based belief, that accredits the initial act of prisoners sagging their pants to sexuality, rather than a sheer lack of belts and better clothing. A commonly perpetuated idea has been that prisoners began showing their behind in order to advertise sexual availability. It has also been said that certain prisoners were forced to wear their pants below the waist in order to communicate to other prisoners that they were taken (“taken” as in concurred/controlled by another inmate). Though such narratives are popular, like the Big Bang theory, their accuracy has yet to be completely confirmed.

Stepping away from the prison narrative, some argue that the trend of sagging pants that rose in the 1990’s was simply a result of young people in urban communities trying to maneuver poverty: children and teenagers tend to have many growth-spurts, and in the midst of economic struggles, continuously buying clothes for growing children can quickly become costly. A solution implemented by many parents and young shoppers was to buy clothes that were too big, so that the intended wearer would have an opportunity to grow into them over time (a practice that is still very common). due to many families struggle in urban communities, purchasing belts were sometimes viewed as a luxury, rather than a necessity. Some people believe that the two factors (oversized clothing and not being able to afford belts) led to the trend of urban youth unapologetically wearing baggy pants that hung below their waistline.

Though as human beings we tend to search for simple explanations, the reality is that few things are black and white, and it’s possible that all the arguments/narratives above may hold some level truth. But to shake up the conversation a bit, if the saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” holds any validity, then potentially the most accurate answer regarding the roots and psychology behind the birth of sagging pants in the 90’s can be discovered through exploring eras prior to the decade.

Image result for zoot suit

Historian Luis Alvarez states that zoot suits of the 1930s and 1940 “share much of the same DNA as the trend of sagging pants that gained popularity in the 1990’s. Zoot suits were baggy, worn by youth in urban spaces and associated with criminal activity by Black and Latino people.” The suits were initially worn in such a way due to people not being able to afford fitted suits and was eventually adopted as an intentional style linked to Jazz music. Sagging pants started out being worn by youth in urban spaces and was/is associated with criminal activity by Black and Latino people. Also, the affordability and mainstream music adoption aspect has perpetuated the popularity of the style as well. One important thing to note about the zoot suit wearers is that, for them, the style represented a form of moral and political defiance. Luis Alvarez states that zoot suits were “ways that people made statements about their relationships to other people and their circumstances”. A majority of narratives regarding the birth and psychology of sagging pants are wrapped in notions of people being controlled/dominated and/or lacking self-respect, but history shows society’s fashion outcasts are often people exhibiting strength through social and political defiance. Image result for 70s afroFor example, dashikis and afros were seen as signs of defiance and militancy in the 1970s, as many Black Americans backlashed against American norms. Perhaps sagging pants came to popularity in the 1990’s, out of urban youth’s desire to defy social norms and expectations. Perhaps people began empowering themselves with sagging pants by blatantly rejecting the control of mainstream American society… A society that they felt would never fully grant them acceptance; so they stopped striving for the acceptance and worked to make it clear that there was no longer a care for mainstream approval… Perhaps.

What do you believe led to the popular trend of sagging pants that emerged in the 90’s?

O.J. Simpson

O.J. Simpson

On October 3, 1995 Orenthal James Simpson (O.J.) was found “not guilty” of the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman after only four hours of deliberation. The response from the American people was split. Many white audiences stared in shock and disbelief while black audiences cheered and celebrated the verdict. What was a huge miscarriage of justice to white people felt like vindication and validation to black people. It proved that the LAPD was corrupt and racist towards Black people. But Simpson’s acquittal only benefitted Simpson and did nothing for relations between the Black community and the LAPD, a community Simpson had erased from his life in pursuit of fame, fortune, and celebrity.

Before Simpson stepped into the spotlight for the murders of Brown and Goldman, he was already a household name. Simpson first found fame as a college running back at the University of Southern California.[1] An NCAA record breaker and a Heisman Trophy winner, Simpson shined as the darling of USC football. He later went on to play professional football with the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers, breaking records along the way. During his time in professional football, Simpson became the spokesman for Hertz, the rental car service, and Chevrolet which bolstered his rise to fame. Simpson retired from football in 1979 to pursue other career options.

Simpson’s time in the national spotlight came during the Civil Rights Movement. However, Simpson made sure to stay far from racial conflict. Simpson not only declined to take a stand, he claimed ignorance to the racial upheaval around him. In an interview, when a reporter asks Simpson about the 1968 Summer Olympics boycott, he had “no comment.”[2] Simpson endeavored to live his life colorless, erasing his blackness and just being allowed to live as a man. In Ezra Edelman’s documentary O.J.: Made in America, a friend comments that Simpson was “seduced by white society.” This erasure of color from Simpson’s life meant that he could be palatable to the white world he wanted to take part in. In a commercial for Hertz, Simpson was depicted running through the airport, surrounded by white people cheering him on.[2] Much of Simpson’s adult life mirrored this Hertz commercial. For many of the white people in Simpson’s life, he was one of the few black people they knew, and they were all rooting for him. Simpson had been completely immersed in the world of whiteness, leaving his blackness behind. So, how did Simpson come to symbolize the struggle of Black America during his murder trial?

Two years before the murders and Simpson’s trial captured national attention, the eyes of the world were rivetted on Los Angeles awaiting the verdict of the LAPD cops responsible for the Rodney King beating. King’s beating was caught on camera and the cry for justice could not be ignored. The abuse the LAPD heaped on the Black community had been documented and reported for decades and had gone unanswered. Many believed that though the King beating was unfortunate because it was recorded and shared with the world, there would finally be justice for a community terrorized by the LAPD. The resulting ‘not guilty’ verdict shocked and angered many. The Black community raged at the blatant miscarriage of justice and took to the streets spawning riots that would last four days. The violence was not a response to just the King verdict; it had been brewing for decades. The L.A. riot may have been cathartic, but it was not justice. The LAPD and racial inequality still won.

Though Simpson had abandoned the black community, for many represented the height of success for a black man. Simpson’s football prowess rocketed him to the wealth and power black men rarely see, especially a black man coming up from poverty and government housing. Simpson may have tried to erase his blackness, but for black people he was a role model and something to reach for. Even black people understood that Simpson’s acceptance by a white audience was responsible for his status. Simpson had made it despite being a black man in white America. When Simpson was arrested for the murders of Brown and Goldman, much of black America was ready to root for him.

With the “Dream Team” consisting of Johnny Cochran, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey and a few other high-powered attorneys at his side, the trial began in January 1995. Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden were the District Attorneys prosecuting the case and built a case on the evidence collected at the crime scene and Simpson’s estate. But it was not enough. The world watched as Cochran and the Dream Team presented a defense that alleged mishandling of evidence and mishandling of evidence by the prosecution’s star witness, Mark Fuhrman. A trial that should have been about the science quickly turned into one about race and the history injustice and racism by the LAPD against black people. Johnnie Cochran spent the next year reconstructing O.J.’s blackness and building him as a symbol of racial injustice. Even though Simpson had not concerned himself with being Black in America, Black people rallied around him when it appeared he was being railroaded by the LAPD. While race was not the only reason the prosecution lost its case, it was the most defining. In a poll by the L.A. Times, 65% of whites believed Simpson was guilty, but 77% of blacks believed he was innocent.[3] In an interview for Edelman’s documentary, juror Carrie Bess asserts that Simpson’s acquittal was payback for the Rodney King beating and acquittal, but another juror denies this instead saying the prosecution lost the case because it was weak. But maybe it was a bit of both.

­­–– A. Latson

 

[1]https://www.biography.com/people/oj-simpson-9484729

[2]Edelman, Ezra. O.J.: Made in America.

[3]Decker, Cathleen. “THE TIMES POLL: Most in County Disagree with Simpson Verdicts.” Los Angeles Times. 8 October 1995.

A Look at 90s Tv and Colorism

When W.E.B Du Bois wrote about the quintessential black experience in America he defined is as double consciousness, putting into words an identity that is divided into multiple facets. (Black and American)
He uses this idea of a “veil” to metaphorically describe 3 things: literal skin difference as a physical separation, white people’s lacks of clarity to see Blacks as true Americans, and black’s inability to see themselves outside of how white Americans see them.

“One ever feels his two-ness- an American, A Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one day body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Double consciousness and the veil convey underlined issues of racism and the social constructs to which race builds prejudice in a black American vs. white American nation. But let us be honest: There is a second sensation of double consciousness  black Americans are facing within the realm own their own black community. Colorism can be formally defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically amongst people of the same race. It is Colorism that gave birth to the light-skinned vs. dark-skinned beef.

Black 90s sitcoms showed us colorism in the following variations: “Aunt-Viv” Who?, Pam vs. Gina, and what I like to call revenge of colorism: The Hilary Banks, and Whitley Gilberts. 

It is safe to say that colorism is a kin to racism that black folks have taken right in. Early twentieth century there was the Clark doll experiment in which children would answer questions regarding characteristic in which they attribute to a doll. Results showed children attributed traits like “prettiness, and good behavior” to lighter dolls, and “ugliness and badness” to darker dolls,” proving the social construct of race begins early, leaving much time for its ideologies to truly embed in one’s beliefs.

Well into the mid-twentieth century we had the paper bag test, in which black institutions would use a brown paper bag to determine whether an individual’s skin was light enough to gain membership.

Too, let’s acknowledge the existence of passing in which lighter-skinned blacks or multi-racial persons were able to assimilate into white culture to avoid the legal and social conventions that being black would subject them to.

Now here comes the 90s, administering deadly doses of colorism:

I think it’s safe to say the impacts of colorism is part of the reason why so many viewers weren’t here for Aunt Viv 2.0. For the first three years of “The Fresh Prince” we bonded so well with Janet Hubert’s loveable portrayal of Aunt Viv with her feisty, joke cracking personality, accompanied by her beautifully-fixed brown-chocolate skin.

Hubert lasted half way through the series until they brought Daphne Reid in. Aunt Viv 2.0 was much lighter, and noticeably less feisty. It appeared as if Aunt Viv 2.0 was the example of what it means to be seen and not heard, while the original dancing diva of Aunt Viv could have easily stolen the show. But there it is; a stereotype that appoints darker skinned women as more antagonistic, while Janet Hubert’s replacement with a light-skinned women supports the notion that the best “do over” for a feisty darker toned woman is a less antagonistic, light-skinned woman. Viewers yearned for Hubert’s return. They never got it.

The 90s also gave us aspiring news anchor Dexter Jackson, in Livin’ Large who finally got his chance on the local news only to end up with a mistaken image of himself (lighter toned and European features) in which was considered ideal. This is an example of the impact colorism can have on oneself.

Now let’s really talk: Pam and Gina. For five years viewers watched as Gina (played by Tisha Campbell) was the kind, beautiful, light-skinned, sought-after and perfectly silly partner of Martin. On the other hand there was Pam; (played by Tichina Arnold) dark-skinned, loud and confrontational, though still attractive. Gina was the love interest to the main face of the series, while Pam was simply Gina’s combative best friend. Pam’s relationship with Martin was playfully explosive, with the two consistently making fun of each other. Martin consistently referencing Pam’s “bad attitude,” “nasty mouth,” “buck-shots;” while also deeming her as animal like and the type of woman to run men away. I don’t think it lightened the blow to see Martin’s real-life wife as light as Gina.

Don’t get it twisted. Martin is a respectable classic, whose re-runs we all love. You just can’t help but to point out the aesthetics that speak to a harsh reality within the black community.

Some people will say the portrayals stand without colorism and remain true to some woman who fits the description of the character, but the underlying issue is variation!!!!!

The last instance of colorism I’d like to point out is one that goes against what we typically see as “colorism”: The Hillary Banks (Fresh Prince): light in complexion, self-centered, air-head that can never do right. The Dionne Davenport (Clueless): light-skinned, knowingly beautiful, rich girl who prefers not to use her popularity for good cause. Whitley Gilbert (A Different World): snobby as hell, though she eventually mellowed out. Regine Hunter (Living Single): image-conscious, materialistic and men loving.  Could these portrayals of “air-headed” lighter toned women be some sort of “revenge” for society’s seemingly admiration for lighter skinned black women.

These instances of colorism have us feeling combative towards our own sisters. Dark-skinned women consistently feeling as if their chocolate skin makes them less attractive or even less acceptable. As well as light-skinned women feeling as if their complexions forbid them from having a real seat at the table.

Skin should never be the deciding factor to how anyone feels or views about another person. Just as black Americans want white people to quit stereotyping them, we in the black community have to quit stereo-typing and disqualifying one another.

Note: I think it also important for light-skinned women to acknowledge their particular privilege and USE IT when combatting issues of racism. 

-Tysheira Scribner

Let’s Talk Julie Dash’s 90’s Indie: Daughters of the Dust, & What It May Mean For Black Identity

 

 

 

"I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the barren one and many are my daughters. I am the silence that you can not understand. I am the utterance of my name." Nana Peazant (Daughters of the Dust), via The Thunder, Perfect Mind

It was through this incredible 90s seminar that I was introduced to Julie Dash and Daughters of the Dust. I thought to myself, “this looks like Beyoncé’s video.” In fact, the year that Mrs. Knowles-Carter dropped her historic Lemonade visual album marked the 25th anniversary for Daughters of the Dust, as well as a seemingly pivotal time in defining and accepting black identity; I don’t think it happened coincidentally.

Daughters of the Dust tells a compelling story of a self-preserved Gullah Island family who overtime, has been able to maintain their ancestor’s unique culture.  They are the direct descendants of the slaves who worked the area.  The film is packed with tradition and gives a new meaning to perseverance. However, after many years, much of the Peazant family has decided to move into the “mainland.” This manifestation of assimilation into mainstream and modern culture is a major theme throughout the film. While the matriarch of the family, Nana, would probably never give the mainland the time of day, others are willing to part ways with tradition in hope of easier life. What they don’t realize however, is that mainland life isn’t as glorious as it appears. (As evident in the return of Yellow Mary)

I began to think about black identity, specifically, black American identity. I can’t be the only one who has felt as if black Americans, to Africans, are another rendition of the light-skinned versus dark-skinned beef. Again, it brings me to question what black identity really is, what it isn’t, and who gets to make these decisions?

Maybe we are struggling so much in determining black identity because for once, we are peaking out of the veil and feeling the need to define ourselves, for ourselves. Daughters of the Dust offers a revelation that the antagonist of their black Gullah identity is influence of European culture. (The mainland) This could explain why blacks from Africa often disregard black American’s as their own, due to American influence in our black American culture. This also helps to explain the dark-skinned versus light-skinned beef, as lighter-skin is too often associated with European relation.

So…I paint the question to you; what really is black identity? Sociologist have long said that race, “black” and “white” are merely social constructs but with what identity does that leave the entire black race when we consistently label the assets of our identity with the inclusion of the word “black”?

Could it be possible that identifying black culture begins with embracing, understanding, and breaking down what it means to be African American? Both African. And American.

I believe America’s war on black people makes it difficult for us to want to identify ourselves as pieces of them, but truth be told, we are. Also, and not to be confused with assimilation, maybe we can come to consider ourselves as the evolved versions of our ancestors. Not to get evolution confused as being “advanced,” but rather “a new model fit for its circumstances.”

What Daughters of the Dust offers us is a chance at witnessing a facet of our African American culture.

Let us consider long gowns in modesty, oversized hats, Sunday’s best with ruffles, white lace and a small dose of sheer, capable of bearing imagination. Let us consider traditional names that speak to our being, and a tongue that makes love with the creole. Let us embrace, and not abuse family; “Eli, your wife does not belong to you, she only married you.” And for our women, embrace your independence, “for it fine to want a man to depend on for only if you need to.” Embrace nature around you and the organics things nature give to you. Try fresh gumbo and weaving baskets.

Let your hair be the feelings that you wear; brief or long, twisted or puffed, free or tamed. To be sassy in demeanor is ok, enthralled with the spirits of your ancestors, but always in love and protection. If you shall dance, dance; Practice your footwork, let your arms go and let your body tell its message. Be spiritual; in whole like your hopped jewelry. Love and respect thy elders in a way the master respected thy whip.

Too, the pieces of this very archive, the years surrounding it, the historical black American events, trials and tribulations, further aid in the quest to define our African American identities.

On this 27th anniversary of Daughters of the Dust, I consider preservation, multiculturalism and evolution. From the time I began to learn in depth about black American identity I felt that black Americans must have it the hardest. Because truly, we are African and truly, we are American. One must come to a place of balance, a place of love, two seemingly polarized identities in which you’ve been birth. Without the impact of this social construct of  what”blackness” means to our European counterparts, the African and the America represents the true essence of double consciousness. (As defined by Du Bois)

-Tysheira Scribner


More To Ponder: In defining black and African American identities Daughter’s of the Dust can give us insight on assimilation as a negative occurrence. I think it is important to note that as African Americas, we are not assimilated, yet more so of heterogeneous nature. 

More Than Noise: “Hip-Hop you the love of my life” (An Ode to Black Culture)

In my mind it is the bridge between the unspoken and white picket fences. We’re talking as gutta as Wu-Tang Clang, as authentic as The Roots, as everlasting as Pac and Biggie, and as pivotal as Shawn Carter; there is a reason this black noise was bursting through Jordan Davis’ red dodge Durango. I believe the misinterpretation and seemingly irritable nature of black noise served as a death sentence for Davis; but unfamiliarity is always the archenemies of privilege.

What black noise is, is a lifeline for pain and questionability. These are real voices that convey the everyday lives, perceptions, and inevitable truths of  one of American’s third worlds. Reality defines the state of things in which they exist. To be blinded by such, can be defined as privilege.

Early black “noise” was the inspiration behind a once billion-dollar Black Entertainment Television network. It is more than noise. It is kin to the triangular trade that birthed this discarded third world nation. Though this vibration driven tale dates back to the tumultuous 70’s, it is its 90’s alliances that put these voices on the map. Hip-hop deserves its own Mount Rushmore up on Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx.

It didn’t surprise me in 2018 when I was tackling Tricia Rose’s critical analysis Black Noise, when she revealed an encounter with a colleague after which she had presented some research on this thing we call hip-hop. For the same reason it served as a death sentence for Davis, it served as a simple “nothing” to Roses’ colleague, the same nothing Jordan Davis’ privileged predator left him to descend into. In chapter three of the 1994 publication, Rose recalls hip-hop’s misinterpretator as stating, “Well, you must be writing on rap’s social impact and political lyrics, because there is nothing to the music.” (62)

“They ride down the street at 2:00 am with it blasting from car speakers, and (they) wake up my wife and kids. What’s the point in that?” Rose further recalls. (62)

As a self-proclaimed hip-hop baby I know how it makes me feel to ride with reasonable doubt blasting through the highest volume of my Civic. I am relating. I am feeling. I am understanding. Obliviously, I am dreaming. Can I live, in imagination that life has something more for me than it did my mother? Can I live, feeling in empathy for the black men whose public school systems don’t believe in anything more than their ability to be a drug dealing or dead ridden statistic? Can I live, with the least bit of comfort knowing somebody out there knows my story? And cares too.

Those political lyrics are as acquainted with Keisha down the block as the star spangle banner is to American stadiums.

Hip-hop’s coded language is the underground railroad that for once, refuses to cross its legs in favor of lady-likeness. Hip-hop lets the truth hang, something political correctness has never done. Hip-hop is a gift only received by those rich enough to understand our value.

As real as it gets, hip-hop tells the 1991 story of the 12-year-old Brooklyn girl that threw her baby down a chute and into a trash compactor. That’s “Brenda’s got a baby.” For those who have consistently lived behind white picket fences, the traumatization of third world tendencies are imaginable. I’m talking Margaret Garner and Beloved feels. I’m talking “the damage is irreversible” pull the plug type of feels.

“Can I live” speaks the inevitable consequences of the the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the ways in which something as politically correct as gentrification leaves third world residents to by any means necessary, make things happen for themselves.

This revelation that rap is mere noise is a reflection of the heart and eyes in which our melanin has always been regarded. For my fellow hip-hop babies, welfare recipients, affirmative actions beneficiaries, and driving while black inheritors, this revelation of meaningless noise is as Jim Crow as it gets.

Hip-hop is perfectly imperfect in the sense that it accurately lets the rest of the world know of the unprosperous cards black people have been (and are being) dealt.

For a moment, I will entertain the foulness of NWA’s “Fuck The Police” era that often ends up being the burden of proof that rap is merely a loud, violent, and unnecessary hobby.  If “affluenza” is legit, so is “Fuck The Police.”

Why is it that affluenza [i] can get a wealthy white teenager out of drunk driving and killing four people yet a black man cannot utter a cultural expression to his oppressor?

It is unfair to hold one to a standard of moral and political correctness, while the other through the lens of superiority. Two wrongs don’t make a right but they do enforce a pattern. Expecting black men who have lived their entire lives under racial and social inequality to suddenly take the “high road” when you have yet produced them with some sort of ladder to equity is incomprehensible to say the least.

America’s law enforcement system was founded through the same moral and politically incorrect systems that make black bodies “less than” and a target for unjust treatment. The only time a black body is held in high regards is when it opposes its oppressor. It is then that the 3/5th compromise never existed.

“Fuck The Police” is a black man’s back against the wall (literally) and his only way out is to fight the thing that put him there. Hip-hop is not guilty of creating detrimental social impacts. In order for something to not be innocent it has to be the perpetrator of wrongdoing or crime. Verbal expression over banging beats regarding 1990s crown heights or 1990s Compton is as virtuous as we know.

Yes, hip-hop is noise. Voices are noise. And voices are quintessential to this thing we call life.

Hip-hop is necessarily unapologetic, too, a result of morally incorrect ideology this country stands on. Hip-hop’s critics may never acknowledge the role black coded laws played in putting black expression on the map.

I recently encountered a 23-year-old Chinese woman who has been a U.S resident for just 6 years. She began to speak to me regarding the interesting American things she’s encountered; a colleague had just given her an introduction to rap. Stunned, I immediately asked if hip-hops controversial lyrics interfered with her ability to enjoy it. Her response, and I quote “Not at all. It is part of the culture.”

In 5 years of American culture and 1 brief lesson on hip-hop, this China native who was still grasping English orality understood this black expressiveness. I stand strong when I say, black noise is consistently and inaccurately regarded as “nothing” due to its close resemblance to black life. Hip-hop’s acceptance as legit art is parallel to white Americans acceptance of black Americans, and the removal of the veil in which black Americans have always been hidden under.

-Tysheira Scribner

Footnote

[i] Affluenza- a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Couch

Work Cited

Rose, Tricia. (1994). Black noise : rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, NH :University Press of New England.

For the Culture, Past and Present: A Look Back at Nick Jr.’s Gullah Gullah Island

For the Culture, Past and Present: A Look Back at Nick Jr.’s Gullah Gullah Island

Welcome to the land of the colored/ All we do is win never suffer/Ain’t no cops undercover/where every kid on the block never had a Glock …. /All the kids wearing hoodies/Coming from the back of the 7/11 / Wit’ a bag full of goodies

The above words are the lyrics to a rap song by rapper SilaS. In the song, SilaS imagines a place populated only by Black people. There is no violence from the police, no drugs, and no poverty. SilaS’s imagined world is where Black children are allowed to be just that: Carefree Black kids “cause we don’t look SUSPICIOUS” (emphasis in the original). SilaS’s inspiration for this world is one some of us growing up in the 90s will remember: Gullah Gullah Island. Gullah Gullah Island was a Nick Jr. children’s sing-along program that premiered in 1994 and featured a nuclear Black family. In an e-mail for Vibe magazine, rapper SilaS explains why he uses Gullah Gullah Island as the place for his rap of the same name: “I remember watching the show as a kid and it was like, all black everywhere, black love, black businesses, and a successful black family. So I wanted to incorporate that into the sample which already came from the show and just make something positive to let people know that it’s possible to be successful as a black person and be positive.”[1]

SilaS samples the theme song to Gullah Gullah Island in his intro and invites Black people to a place where they can be safe from the injustice of reality. While Gullah Gullah Island may be imaginary, the impact of the show is one that still reaches far and still inspires Black people to dream of a better world. But just as much as Nick Jr.’s Gullah Gullah Island helps SilaS imagine a different future, it also encourages us to remember the past.

Nick Jr.’s Gullah Gullah Island was inspired the culture and heritage of the Gullah-Geechee people, the legacy of enslaved West Africans who settled along the coasts and sea islands of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.[2] But long before the show, Ron Daise, who played the father in the show, was already sharing Gullah culture. Daise grew up in the culture on St. Helena Island. Daise, along with his wife, Natalie, who also starred in the show as the mother, toured the country with a multimedia “Sea Island Montage.”[3][4]  Though the show is not about Gullah-Geechee culture, it featured elements of the culture. The show brought Gullah-Geechee culture from the margins and helped preserve the rich culture.

Just as important, Gullah Gullah Island was the first sing-along preschool show to center a Black family and geared towards a pre-school audience. While Black families populated television during the 90s, the Alston family of Gullah Gullah Island gave viewers something different. Though the show was for a very young audience it captured the attention of people beyond its target group, I believe, because of its warmth and inclusion. The Alston family consisted of Ron and Natalie and their children James, Shaina and Simeon and their cousin Vanessa, but their many of their neighbors were also people of color from different cultures. And even though Binyah Binyah Polliwag was a life-sized puppet, he was given full characterization and just as important. The show incorporated smatterings of the Gullah language as well Spanish from its Spanish speaking guest. The show was full of vibrant colors, fun characters, and original songs, not to mention all the food. Of course, there was conflict, but it was always resolved with love, understanding, and grace. Kids, adults, and anthropomorphic puppets were allowed to make mistakes and learn and grow from them. Gullah Gullah Island was a utopia centered around a Black family. Looking back Gullah Gullah Island today, it feels safe. SilaS’s homage to the show emphasizes that. But it is imaginary. SilaS’s video ends with the group of kids still searching for Gullah Gullah Island in the present, but seems to hold out hope that maybe we can find it in the future.

[1]Robertson, Darryl. “Mississippi’s Newcomer SilaS Imagines An All Black City On “Gullah Gullah Island.” Vibe. 17 Feb., 2016.

[2]https://www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org

[3]McCormick, Moira. “Nick Jr.’s Preschool Line Debuts on ‘Gullah Gullah.’” Billboard. 29 April 1995.

[4]Spivack, Elana. “Author, actor shares Gullah songs, stories at Gund.” The Collegian.27 Feb., 2014

–– A. Latson

Sister, Sister: Sisterhood & Womanism in the 90s

Womanism: “Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.”[1]

Alice Walker     

A close friend told me being a Black woman is like being in a secret club of magic, sisterhood and friendship. Reflecting on Black women’s friendship and sisterhood on television and movies in the 90s, I, similarly see a consistent theme of support, unconditional love and acceptance.  These themes can be aligned to how Alice Walker describes a Black feminist in her definition of Womanism. Walker describes Womanism as young girl as “girlish” or  “womanish” or a black feminist or feminist of color. I find her description of Womanism as a means to provide a specific exploration into the lives of Black womanhood.

 I look specifically to Walker’s second definition because it captures the essence of the 90s Black woman who aims to take on the responsibility to be in charge of herself and to question the world around her. I reference how this can be explored in the hit show Living Single and the hit movie and book Waiting to Exhale. I utilize Walker’s second definition to explore how these women embody the spirit of being a womanist through the ways their characters interact with each other and how they stand alone as independent Black women loving and living in the 90s.

Looking at the lives of Khadijah James, Synclaire James, Regina Hunter and Maxine Shaw, Living Single explores the lives of four independent Black women in New York City. This show captures the “everydayness” of single Black women in New York who validated each other, dealt with love and relationships and enjoying each other’s company.

With each woman having their own characteristics and identities, each woman on the show had an important role in each other’s lives. Khadijah and Regina were childhood friends who supported each other when things got tough. This support and commitment were also fluid in Khadijah and Synclaire’s relationship as cousins who she employed at her own Hip-Hop magazine called “Flava”.

Maxie and Khadijah were college friends from Howard University and Maxie seemed to always be the advocate for strong independent Black women amongst her friends. Their friendship supports Walker’s definition because of the characters emotional flexibility, their commitment to women’s empowerment and their tough bond as friends that were seamlessly interconnected, through the best and worst of times.

Walker does a great job discussing the emotional and spiritual effort that goes into being a Womanist. Walker explains how Womanist appreciates women’s culture, loves women sexually and non-sexually and values a woman’s strength and weaknesses[2]. This is where the women in Terry McMillian’s Waiting to Exhale fit this definition. Savannah Jackson, Bernadine Harris, Robin Stokes and Gloria Matthews experienced tough trials of love, life and men. Through their experiences, the women supported each other through it all. There were words of affirmation and emotional support that showed people like Bernadine who was going through a terrible divorce that her friends were by her side.

I see Walker’s womanism as describing the social interactions, spiritual activism and critical thought that Black women do to uplift all people regardless of sexuality or gender. I understand this definition as a way to look at Black women’s liberation and healing of the self. Specifically, acting “womanish” seems to be a central theme in Waiting to Exhale. The four women were searching for answers to love, family and womanhood which is where I found the connection with Walker’s definition. This can be seen in Robin’s way of how she seemed to date the wrong men, but tried to see the best in them because she had love to give. Walker added the importance that a Womanist was not a separatist, but only in the occasion that Black woman in the 90s needs to repair her health. Gloria symbolizes the friend who represented self-care as a hairstylist and made sure her friends were always taking care of themselves, even if she didn’t want to do the big chop on Bernadine.

Furthermore, the importance of Walker’s definition and the analysis of  Black woman’s thoughts and feelings will better aid to the mental and emotional health and well-being where the Black woman can adequately take care of others and themselves in shows like Living Single and Waiting to Exhale. The womanist identity and the importance of Black women’s “everydayness” in the 90s was significant, interesting and relevant to highlighting the ugly and the beautiful of what it means to be a Black woman. These women work on coming into their own and being Black adult women who may not have it all figured out. But with the power of resilience, self-love and love for each other, the magnitude and power of their friendship kept them moving forward. — Adeerya J.

Citations

[1]Walker, A. (2006). Womanist. In L. Phillips, The Womanist Reader (p. 19). New York: Routledge.

[2]ibid.

 

Because I am a man, I cannot love another man?

Invisable life book

“In a perfect world I would never have to write this letter. In a perfect world there wouldn’t be a need for it. In a perfect world this pain…absent. In a perfect world we would accept people whom and what they are. No Strings, complete honestly, total acceptance, no matter what. In this imperfect world we live in, there is no longer dignity in telling the truth.” Harris, Invisible life, 250

Shining a light on an issue that was hidden from view within the African American community, “Invisible Life”, written by E. Lynn Harris, depicts the life of its protagonist, Raymond Winston Tyler Jr., as he tries to cope with his sexual attraction to men. At first glance, Raymond is the epitome of what every woman would desire in a man; he is a successful Sports and Entertainment lawyer and is physically attractive. It is as the story unfolds that we learn that there are many sides to this complex character. In an effort to avoid judgement, Raymond is the epitome of a “DL brother” in African American society. Though he has sexual encounters with men, he continues to keep this part of his life quiet in order to avoid the hardships that come along with openly being gay. The reader sees a glimpse of this while getting his shoes shined in the Harts field International Airport, the shoe shiner, an African American female, converses with him about many African American males being “DL’, which causes Raymond to rethink his earlier desires of “coming out of the closet”. “The hatred in her face and voice bothered me deeply. The fact that she was black made my feelings more intense (Harris 15).

JL King on the downlow

The 1990s presented an elevated amount of AIDS/HIV cases which were initially thought to be connected directly to homosexual men and their sexual activities. African American men that were attracted to or desired to be with other men, had no other choice but to hide their true feelings and resort to hiding in the closet (becoming “down low”) in an attempt to refute the classification/associated with the stereotypical homosexuals. Many of these African American men, walk around us, exhibiting the looks of living, of what we would call, a “normal life” in order not to deal with aspects of discrimination and the stigma of being “gay”.

Though we live in an accepting world today, the phenomenon still exists. There are men that have secret sexual encounters with men but still continue to have relationships with women because of the appearance and comfortability it provides them. Being “out” and gay provides many hardships, including social exclusions in some communities that keep men in the closet. After all, who would want to be considered less of a man because of their sexual preference? Being straight in society is easy, being gay in society, is extremely judgmental and defiantly hard. Until we break the cycle and accept people for who they are, men will continue to live a lie and not their truth.

McMillan and Harris: The Mother and Father of Black Fiction

Terry McMillan came on the literary scene in 1987 with her first novel Mama, however it was not until she published her third novel Waiting to Exhale in 1992 that she received fame and fortune. Waiting to Exhale told the story of four professional, middle class black women and their experiences with love. Readers experienced each character’s loneliness, destruction, happiness, sadness, sexual desires, and frustrations with black men; things that readers, especially female readers, could relate to.

While some argued the novel represented a negative view of the black woman and her relationship with black men, the novel spent months on the New York Times Bestseller list and went on to sell over three million copies, and a film adaptation was released in 1995 that featured Whitney Houston. Author and professor Daphe A. Brooks says of the novel: It marked a watershed moment in American culture as it announced and contributed to a shift in Black popular cultural consciousness and production during the last decade of the twentieth century. Advantageously positioned in the aftermath of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill Senate hearings, Exhale dramatically extended and popularized for mass consumption the politics of a particular kind of heterosexual, Black middle-class conflict and desire.[i]

McMillan’s novel Waiting to Exhale not only depicted a demographic, middle-class black women, of people not regularly seen in literature, but she also shed light on the complexities of relationships.

McMillan is credited for jumpstarting the African American fiction movement with Waiting to Exhale, and throughout the decade she went on to write more novels that gave glimpses of black love and published one of her most popular novels How Stella Got Her Groove Back in 1996; in 1998, the film adaptation featuring Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs was released. The novel told the story of Stella and her relationship with Winston, a man considerably younger than her. Winston taught Stella to embrace life and eventually his love because she married him. The novel mirrored McMillan’s experience with then husband, Jonathan Plummer.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back is another novel that sets McMillan apart because she reveals the questions, concerns, hopes, and fears of dating someone younger. Stella (and McMillan) has to deal with the thrills and drama that comes along with dating someone younger and at a different stage in life. Likewise, Terry McMillan’s novels did not only deal with love in terms of black men and black women, a few of her works also introduced black’s complex relationship with homosexuals. She weaves in political and social concerns in the black community, such as the understanding (or misunderstanding) of HIV/AIDS and the negative stigma of being black and gay.

Consequently it is of no surprise that another author would emerge and hit the issue of being black and gay head on instead of touching on the subject as McMillan does. Author E. Lynn Harris filled this role and shocked the world with his tales of black men on the DL and carrying on relationships with women. Harris’ novel Invisible Life (1991) told the story of Raymond Tyler struggling with his identity as a bisexual black man. In the novel, Tyler was torn between his married boyfriend and girlfriend. Although readers were stunned by the then-taboo topic, the novel went on to sell millions of copies. Harris’ novels speak to an audience that was largely ignored by authors. All of his books reached the New York Times bestseller list and he is one of the most successful black authors. He was even referred to as the male Terry McMillan.

Some were surprised by Harris’ success because the black community does not readily accept or discuss homosexuality. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Harris says, “I feel like my readers get that I’m writing from the heart, and that resonates with a lot of people in the black community, women especially. Even though the character might be a gay man, they can connect with him emotionally. They can relate to being in hurtful relationships, and because they get that, it doesn’t matter if it’s a gay or a straight relationship” (2003). [ii] Even though homosexuality in the 90s was a taboo subject, readers could relate to Harris’ works. He spoke for and told stories for those who could not speak for themselves during that time.

Both authors captured readers by representing and telling stories that black women and men craved, and they provided literature for black middle-class Americans, a largely underrepresented group before the 90s. McMillan and Harris used personal experiences and turned them into fiction in order to reach and possibly help a multitude of people. Without their persistence in creating stories that people could relate to, who knows what black fiction would look like now.B. Stewart


 

[i] Brooks, Daphe A. “”It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”” Taylor & Francis Online. Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

[ii] Millard, Elizabeth. “Writing to Find Some Kind of Peace of Mind.” PublishersWeekly.com. N.p., 16 June 2003. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.