I have said some honest to God nonsense in my life. When I say “nonsense” I’m talking about Grade-A, 5 Star General Problematic Shit. Like Rev Run and Tyrese I have said in the past “dress as you wish to be addressed.” *le sigh* The younger iteration of me genuinely saw, defended and perpetuated a correlation between the way women presented themselves and the way they were treated by men and society in general. “If you don’t want to be treated like a whore, then don’t dress like one” was my Key Stage Two analysis and understanding of what I now know to be Respectability Politics. Now, however, I understand that it doesn’t matter how a woman dresses, she should be respected and protected. It sounds so simple, but I have had to grow into this understanding, but back then? HAHA! Even with all my intelligence and Christianity, basic Jesus principles “treat people the way you want to be treated” missed me to the point where I became a misogynist. So I have patience for Lianne La Havas in light of her uniformed tweets this past week. No one wakes up woke. Alas Miss Lianne is sleep. But like me, she has time wake up.
Dave Chapelle, one of my hands down favourite comedians of all time, did this bit in his 2000 HBO special Killin’ Them Softly and I remember laughing until I was weak. When I watched it again recently, I still laughed because it is clever but my laugh wasn’t as hearty. When the show was over, I sat in silence for a minute. Is it possible that one of my favourite comedians while conscious of the negative effects of racism is unconscious about misogyny and wilfully perpetuates it in his art? In this bit Chapelle is actually speaking about men’s entitlement to women’s bodies. Twenty six year old me is able to disseminate the complexities of what is being said here, but 15 year old Dani laughed until she nearly peed herself and worst of all she agreed. Whore Uniforms had to go.
Melanin Millennials is one of my favourite weekly podcasts and in one of their most recent episodes “Hoteps Go Back To Egypt” they discuss David Oyelowo’s upcoming role in “A United Kingdom” the story about “Seretse Khama, the former president of Botswana whose interracial marriage with a white Englishwoman caused a scandal back in 1948.” Imrie and Satia raise an important point; Oyelowo’s passion about that role in particular ignores the underrepresentation of black African women in mainstream film storytelling. And just like that my love for Mr Oyelowo dissipated. How dare he ignore black women when it was the Patron Saint of Black Women, Ava Duvernay, who cast him in Selma? That was it! I hung up my David Oyelowo cape. I’m violently passionate about intersectionality and for him to not realise how his statements affect the disenfranchised amongst his own race is unacceptable! LOL! It was only 18 months ago that I found out what intersectionality was.
Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.
I am having to change how I consume the problematic things my favourite artists say. I can no longer completely write off these celebrities who are being forced to speak on subjects for which they have not had the opportunity and experience to develop critical thinking around. A United Kingdom is important to David Oyelowo because he is married to Jessica Oyelowo with whom he has two mixed raced children- he says it clear as the day is long “Yes there’s no question that my own very happy marriage was the inspiration of why I want to see a story like A United Kingdom told…” The issue of interracial marriages and the love within them is important to him but this does nothing to change the fact that he is proud to be Nigerian. “But also you know I’m Nigerian, I’m from Africa, my parents are from Africa and I just don’t feel like there are enough stories out of Africa that are transcendent that aren’t about dictators, or degradation, or poverty or to be perfectly frank “a white saviour” at the centre of the story.” For me he isn’t malicious in his intent and a byproduct of him wanting to make this film is that before I have even seen the film, before I even read the entirety of what he said, I had decided that he hated black women. I’m dramatic like that, you see? It is easy to become irrational when subjects you care about and affect you personally are being discussed but I need to treat people the way I want to be treated. When I was woefully ignorant about whore uniforms, my friends were patient with me, gave me the space to evolve, read some books and become cognisant of the mechanisms of patriarchy that made it possible for a joke as insidious as that to be acceptable.
Lianne La Havas clearly has no clue what racism is, if she did she would understand that #TheBritsSoWhite is a criticism of the lack of representation for people of colour like herself who create important, groundbreaking work but receive no recognition for no reason other than the colour of their skin. In the same way #BlackLivesMatter is not a rally cry against white people, but a call for black lives to matter as much as white lives. Every single thing she said was wrong in her now tweeted and deleted rant but as I grew into my understanding she too will have to become conscious of the impact of her words. Or not. Who knows? What I do know is Lianne, Kanye, Whoopi, Pharrell, Common and all my other problematic faves are just artists and I will not expect them to be woke on all subjects. I’m going to be patient with them, make sure I get all the facts about what they did or in many cases (*coughs* Meryl Streep) didn’t say before I read them. Righteous indignation is easy when you have knowledge on an issue but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I look forward to a time when celebrities take time before sharing their diatribe and we too take time before deciding to Twitter Lynch them. Some of these people are simply uninformed and others like Donald Trump, Stacey Dash, Katie Hopkins, Ann Coulter and all their kin know what they are saying and genuinely mean the rest of us harm.
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