home of the conditioned

I just spent days keeping Facebook browsing to a minimum, while I spent time with family and avoided watching the news. I spent hours binge watching that TV show about that tax-exempt organization that describes itself as a church but is criticized by former members who liken it to a cult. It was fascinating, the things people do – the things people allow in their lives – and the reasons they allow them. People will ignore things that are inconsistent with what they want to see. People will suffer things that they don’t have to suffer because they don’t believe they really have a choice (when they do). People will allow themselves to become acclimated to terrible things because they don’t see ways to change them. It’s like people are imprisoned by the funhouse mirrors of distorted reality in their own minds.

Patriotism is propaganda. The American Dream is marketing. America is like a cult. And for all I know, American exceptionalism is a big lie.

Now, I have lived in this country for my entire life as a black female – these are not new revelations to me. I’ve long believed that “liberty and justice for all,” has never yet existed in this country and isn’t intended by the people with the most power. I’ve long known the economic game is rigged and the American Dream comes off like folklore to many Americans from humble backgrounds. It’s the cult-like framing of American exceptionalism that has become more prominent in my thinking in recent days.

As I sat there listening to former members of that organization saying things like, “they didn’t give us what they promised us,” “we’ve been conned,” I could relate. When the ones who grew up in that organization describe how they went along with terrible things because they didn’t know any different, because they thought that any existence besides being in their organization would be exponentially worse, I could relate. When they said that their observations of the actions and events around them convinced them that they have been misled about the nature of the organization, causing anger and frustration, I could relate.

It made me wonder, and not for the first time, why we stay. The violence. Police brutality. Class warfare. The politicization of caring for the poor, the elderly. The politicization of educating young people or healing the sick. The general disintegration of civility in public discourse. People in Flint still don’t have clean water. People in New Orleans were left to die in the Superdome. Children in schools are being left by Congress to the whims of anybody with guns and ammunition, despite regular and deadly reminders of their vulnerability. White people have been caught on camera harassing people for speaking Spanish, and calling the police on black people for non-emergencies because they feel uncomfortable, because someone didn’t smile and wave. Why do we stay?

Besides the fact that we were born here, and we have families here, there has to be more. I mean, I know immigrants. They’re not totally cut off from their families, they just don’t see them as often because of the expense of travel. And if you can grasp the language and find a source of income in a new place, the new place can become home. So why do we stay?

It can be scary to think about leaving the only place you know when you live in a place where 1) you’ve been told your entire life that you live in the most free, the most safe, the very best place there is on this planet, and 2) the culture of the place you live doesn’t put respeck on the name of the immigrants who come here and the awesome things they’ve done. We are told, leave America? Where would you go that’s better than here? Other countries persecute the press, their officials demand bribes, they have inferior economies and education… You don’t know how good you have it. You need to thank God you were born an American citizen. That’s why the immigrants come here! Because in America we provide the educational excellence, class mobility, first-world amenities, stable government, and freedom that they can’t get in their own countries. It’s a terrible world out there, and America is a beacon of light.

But we see darkness in this country that we overlook every day! And most Americans aren’t experts on other countries. Most of us, myself included, don’t really know what’s going on out there in the rest of the world. America isn’t the only place that immigrants move to – there are other countries that welcome new workers or retirees.

And so, like people who’ve been blinded by the cult rhetoric of your current situation being the best and only option, we watch, or just complain, as this country continues to default on its promissory note, like Dr. King said fifty years ago. We stay and we agonize. Should we wear a hoodie? Should we risk getting shot at when asking for directions when we’re lost? Should we send our kids to school and hope that they’ll come home without mental or physical trauma? Can we risk getting pulled over on the freeway by a trooper?

Is this anxiety – are these abuses – just the price we have to pay to live in the “home of the brave?” It’s like we’ve been messed up by mental programming. The shit is just disturbing. I’m still turning this stuff over in my mind, working through it. But I know it’s wrong that I saw that headline about those kids getting massacred in Santa Fe, Texas and I legit scrolled past it. I didn’t want to go through the emotions. I didn’t want to hear the bad news. It’s so frustrating and unjust and wrong. I wanted to be able to look past the ugly and keep living my comfortable life, cause I don’t personally feel like I can change the evils I see. Just like these people who were in that cult-like organization who went along with everything because they didn’t know what else to do. They raise their children in it. (Subjecting their children to the same conditioning.) They give their labor to it. (Expending their energy to keep the dysfunction going.) It’s not okay. What are we doing here? I don’t have the answers, but I believe I’m asking some damn good questions.

#thisisamerica

never belonging

When I was in college, I had taken a shuttle from the downtown area to my campus with a friend, a recent graduate who still lived in the area. As we walked from the shuttle stop to my off-campus university-owned apartment, he, for whatever reason, lagged behind me. We were both headed to my car – I had taken the shuttle earlier because my battery had gone dead and I didn’t have time to take care of it right then. Our plan was for me to call the campus police and have them give me a jump so I could go get the battery replaced. When the campus police arrived, they met me at my car. While they were helping me, my friend and I heard his description being broadcast on the police radio. Someone had seen my friend, a 6-foot+ tall black man, walking on the campus he had just graduated from, and thought that he looked suspicious enough to call the police. The campus police did not make a big deal out of the call. He was with me, I was a student, we were off-campus at that point, and they could clearly see that he wasn’t doing anything they needed to be concerned about.  But I’ve never forgotten that. Every time I think about it, I am offended that based on the way he looked, someone figured that the chance he didn’t belong was high enough that they needed to call the police.

The videos showing the confrontation of black Yale student, Lolade Siyonbola, by a white student who believed she had every right to call the campus police because Ms. Siyonbola fell asleep in a dorm common area have gone viral now. Ms. Siyonbola posted a video lasting the better part of twenty minutes, during which she had to deal with campus police verifying her right to be – not in the common area – but in the dorm at all. She had to provide campus identification. She had to wait while they verified her status as a student. She was told that she was subjected to this because they had to verify that she belonged on the private property.

I need to stress that this is newsworthy, not because this is a singular and strange event, but because it’s as common as common can get and people need to understand that. It may seem like incidents where white people call the police to have black or brown people removed are just being reported more often, since we have all just heard of the Native American Gray brothers being pulled from a college tour for investigation because some jerk figured that they didn’t belong. Or the black AirBnB customers being interrogated because they didn’t wave at a neighbor. Or the former Obama staffer being interrogated as he moved into his building because they figured a black man moving furniture must be stealing something. Or the golfers who weren’t moving fast enough along the course. But just like excessive force from police, more people are believing that this is real because more people are recording it. Hey y’all, it’s been there all along.

It just so happens that Ms. Siyonbola is believed because she has a cell phone, and her battery didn’t die, and Facebook Live exists. She had no friend or witness there with her. If she were to tell this story without video evidence of the white student’s entitled and hostile demeanor, or the sheer amount of her time wasted by campus police, people would think she were exaggerating for effect, or out of frustration, or with some agenda to instigate. Some people just don’t want to believe that a situation is as bad as it sounds. They want to hear both sides of the story. They don’t want to jump to conclusions. They don’t want to take the wrong side. They don’t want to be cynical, and particularly regarding race relations, they don’t want to believe that white people who do racist things mean it in a racist way. Or that “regular” people who don’t say the n-word or wear hooded Klan robes can still act as agents for preserving the American racial caste system. It takes video of men being arrested for sitting down in a Starbucks. It takes video of Ms. Siyonbola opening the door to her dorm room with a key and still being ordered by the campus police to produce identification in order to convince some people that black people – especially those of us who come into close proximity to spaces that are traditionally frequented by whites – are commonly, constantly, tirelessly suspected of not belonging. Not just suspected, but interrogated, searched, harassed, followed, berated – and because people don’t want to engage in direct confrontation, they call the police on us.

They believe they are in the right and that the law – some law, any law – is on their side. They tell themselves it’s not because the person they’re calling police to get is black, or Latina, or indigenous, or “Muslim-looking,” but because their behavior is suspicious, or they simply don’t “belong.” And we like to think that belonging is objective. But minorities in this country know that it is highly subjective. We understand that white people don’t want to put their hands on us to remove us once they’ve decided that we don’t belong, but if they call the police, the police will either determine that we don’t belong and remove us, or they will make us miserable enough to feel like we don’t belong. Then, like the police in both the Starbucks and Yale incidents, the police will say they were obligated to keep the peace and/or investigate. Turns out that neither the white person who called the police nor the police themselves are ever responsible for their actions. Turns out that causing a scene, creating an arrest record or incident report, pat downs, handcuffs (if not worse consequences) – all these are no one’s fault (but our own, for being black or brown in a white space where we don’t subjectively belong). Putting black and brown people in their places, where they belong, is in the cultural DNA of America. It predates the republic. It enabled its riches. It still does. It killed Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin.

The racial caste system does not exist in a vacuum. It has no teeth if it’s all in our minds. It cannot work without the concerted efforts of people who are vested in its continued existence. When people do passive aggressive shit like call the police for non-emergency situations because they cannot stand for a person of color to be somewhere where they “don’t belong,” they are strengthening and maintaining the racial caste system that ultimately benefits white people at the expense of everyone else. To the extent that people of color are cynical about race relations and white people themselves, it’s because we know this, and we live this, and way too many white people think that using the police as butlers to take out the black and brown trash isn’t common. Six months from now, when the media is finished with reporting these stories like the flavor of the month, the racial caste system may be dented a bit, but it will still be in place until “belonging” is no longer in the eye of the white beholder.

 

litmus shitmus

So this is what we’re going to do now?

Every time somebody says or does something in the public eye that pulls our coattails, boosts our resolve, speaks truth to power, or in other words, is some kind of #woke, now we have to investigate their racial bonafides in the bedroom?

I remember when it happened to Jesse Williams. He won a humanitarian award for being a human rights advocate. (In other words, he’s out there Doing The Work many of us are too busy typing on our cell phones to do.) He gave a speech that went viral on social media, and if you didn’t know he was about that life, you surely found out the next day, when these words hit every screen in Black America:

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, 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 then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though… the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

Babyyyyy, we all celebrated a little bit when we heard that one. Well, anyway, that was June 2016. Less than a year later, he filed for divorce from his black wife. Started seeing a white girl. And that was the end of all the #wokebae chatter. It was okay for him to have a white mom, because she was apparently “down.” But dating a white woman? Nope, too far.

And then Get Out happened to everyone. Jordan Peele hit it out of the park. Everyone loved the movie, everyone was talking about it – how groundbreaking it was, how #woke it was. And well, then people felt the need to vet his #woke credentials.  Again – it’s okay for him to have a white parent, but people asked how a man that’s married to Chelsea Peretti (a white woman) really, truly, be #woke.

Kendrick Lamar has been dropping some of the most interesting and creative social commentary, period, in his last few albums. To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN have been critically acclaimed in large part because of their discussions of race and black culture. But I remember when he got engaged to his longtime high school sweetheart. First question people asked – “What is she?” Because one can’t tell for looking at her whether or not she has African ancestry. Some people were ready to boycott. Ready to just throw the whole Kendrick away.

Childish Gambino is now being subjected to the #woke litmus tests. The photo of him and his lady are being passed around on the internet for your consideration of whether or not y’all want to change your minds that the This is America video is actually #woke, and that the artist who created it is actually #woke.

I’m sensing a theme here… Question: If Colin Kaepernick’s lady wasn’t Egyptian, would y’all #woke police be questioning him, too? You know, racially, modern-day Egyptians aren’t typically thought of as the same race as sub-saharan Africans and American blacks, so should y’all be knocking down his door, too? I’m wondering whether losing his job for taking conspicuous action to assert that black lives matter is enough? Because apparently, it’s not enough to do the work, create the art, win the Pulitzer, lose your job, break the internet, or any of the things Frederick Douglass, Harry Belafonte, or Quincy Jones did #fortheculture.

Now don’t get me wrong. Kanye West didn’t say, “when he get on, he’ll leave your ass for a white girl,” for no reason. (Too soon? LOL! I’m sorry, but I have to give the credit where it’s due, even if y’all mad at him right now.) Colorism is a real thing. It is hurtful to many of us. It does affect folks’ relationships. I am not trying to pretend that it does not matter that black men are typically more open minded about dating out of the race than black women are. But there are better spaces for these necessary conversations than as a litmus test for whether or not a brother who is out here doing the work is #woke enough.

I am not trying to say that choosing to be with someone who is not black or black-looking is never an indicator that someone has internalized Eurocentric standards of beauty or that someone subscribes to negative stereotypes about black people – I’m just saying that it’s not always an indicator of those things, either. I’m saying that what people do matters. It isn’t invalidated by whether or not they choose a fair skinned partner or a person of another race. One can be fully aware of the fucked up racial dynamics of this country, actively resist, and still be linked romantically to someone light or white. Police do not ask “is your girlfriend white,” when they pull black men over. These successful black men are out here facing racism no matter who they go home to. One can’t screw or marry or buy themselves into white privilege. Men like these have more reason to know and understand that than any of the rest of us, because they are out here living it.

It is time to stop asking over and over again about the sincerity of these men, who have captured our attention specifically because of their contributions to society involving acknowledgment and/or promotion of blackness, black culture, and black humanity. This question has been answered time and time again. Stop looking for agents and boogeymen in the people who very publicly declare their love for us with their actions and art, when there are real actual boogeymen out there.

struggle

I love Childish Gambino’s new video, This is America. I’m glad that I watched it a few times before I read others’ reactions to the video. I saw it, and still do see it, as a description of a struggle we all have. James Baldwin is often quoted, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Childish Gambino’s most recent hit, Redbone, repeats, “Stay woke,” over and over again. And Jordan Peele was excited to use that song in the beginning of his movie, Get Out, a thriller in which a black protagonist struggles through the entire movie to react appropriately to events and situations around him, wavering between being normal and enjoying his life or seeing something to be fearful of behind everything and everyone. I see all of these things fitting together if you look at the video as putting our reactions to the violence against black people in our country in perspective.

After relatively little action or plot, within the first minute of the video, a black man gets shot. It’s graphic – his brains are blown out and shoot across the screen, and you hear, “This is America.” And it’s our reaction to this murder and another murder – the sudden, shocking mass murder of a black choir – in the video that we need to think about. The viewer is given no chance to process the murders. The blood splatters everywhere and we are not spared the awful carnage -we see it all. The body is dragged away, or the camera cuts away from a pile of dead people who aren’t seen again, and that’s it. There are too many other things going on in the video. The viewer feels horror and shock. But the video just continues, and the viewer is compelled to continue to watch for a resolution that is never given, for justice that is never meted out, maybe some kind of explanation, which is never received. There’s just unresolved discomfort that lingers. It feels like how it’s felt lately to have the anger and fear over a murdered person wash over us like waves, to keep living long enough to stop hearing about that murder, to remember how to go to work and school without anger and fear, to watch TV and see a really good video and just enjoy life… And then we have the wave of anger and fear wash over us again in the form of a cop acquittal over that person’s murder, or a new name of a new murdered person, or the news that a mass murderer was taken for burgers, or some black guy got shot AGAIN because some cop supposedly feared for their life, AGAIN. It’s a struggle.

There is absolute chaos going on in the background of this video, behind the hot music and the excellent dancing. You’re feeling uncomfortable with the deaths, there’s fires, and running, and confusion, and police, and it should be scary, but there’s Childish Gambino and these kids getting it in and it’s just hard to keep up with everything that’s going on. Like, you want to nod your head with the beat cause it’s dope. But there’s also something political  going on here, you can tell. And that man got shot, and that choir got mowed down, but somehow we’re not looking at that because Childish Gambino is commanding our attention with the entertainment stuff and your brain has so much stuff to process, so it’s really a struggle to get your bearings. We want to be normal and enjoy the video. We need to let our guard down, it’s heavy to carry. But there are fearful things going on.

At one point, the video shows people pointing their phones at all the action. Everyone who is filming the chaos on their phones is wearing one of those germ masks, like they’re trying not to catch something. They are literally above and removed from the problems they’re witnessing. Except they’re not, because they are in just as much danger as the people below them. Those masks can’t stop bullets. Neither can their position. I think it helped me that I just binge watched the first season of Donald Glover’s (Childish Gambino’s) Atlanta so I’m familiar with some of its themes, including the way our technology and social media are perverting our interactions with each other. We’re here, and we’re seeing what’s going on with police violence and mass murders and absolute carnage, and we’re just watching. Do we even know what else are we supposed to do besides hope we don’t personally get caught up in it?

At the end of the video, after entertaining, singing, dancing, like none of the chaos in the video was affecting him or could touch him, a black screen gradually reveals that Childish Gambino is running for his life. The look of terror on his face when he’s being chased terrifies me. It should. But it’s so jarring. Remember the first time we saw Daniel Kaluuya’s eyes when he is finally fully present in his fear in Get Out? His eyes, open wide, transfixed in fear, welling with tears? When you stop being distracted from the constant threat in this very real world to YOUR ACTUAL LIFE, and you are focused on what it truly means to be in actual danger, it can consume you.

The terror in Childish Gambino’s eyes when he is running for his life is disruptive and potent and real AF. Which is necessary, because we’re constantly being desensitized (have already been desensitized) to the fear we ought to have regarding the ever-present threats to our well being at the hands of people who don’t believe that black lives matter. Can’t really blame us for that. Living in constant terror is not sustainable. To be in a rage almost all the time will kill you too. You can’t not relax. Problem is, you can’t relax either. It’s a struggle. The whole video feels like that.

This video is resistance. It is art.

the outrage is the point

See, I never thought that Kanye West was out here saying he liked Donald Trump for Trump’s politics. Donald Trump isn’t even here for his own politics, he just said what he needed to say to get into the big chair. I mean, I don’t know him personally or anything, but I’ve paid enough attention to know a hustler when I see one. And so has Kanye West.

He has noticed that Donald Trump is a hustler. I don’t mean that he’s got a great work ethic, which people often mean when they say someone is a hustler. I mean he’s got a knack for how to put attention where he wants it. You know about the card game on the street, right? The hustler takes three cards, lays them on the table, has you pick one, and then y’all bet on whether, after he mixes the cards up, you’ll be able to find the card you picked. And you’re smart and his hands can’t be faster than your eyes, cause you got the focus of a Jedi master, and anyway, ain’t but three cards, so your odds ain’t bad anyway, so you go, okay let’s do this, and less than five minutes later, your pockets are lighter and you’re wondering what went wrong. Donald Trump is that kind of hustler. He’s an idiot, you’re thinking. He ran Atlantic City into the ground. He falsely accused the Central Park Five. His hair ain’t fooling nobody. He wasn’t supposed to get the Republican nomination, let alone the Oval Office. But here we all are, after having underestimated our country’s ability to get as misdirected as the mark in the card game, wondering what went wrong.

Kanye West looks at that. And he looks at how this man manipulates and misdirects people. How he doesn’t adhere to “truth,” and makes other people confused about the concept of “truth.” How he used his big mouth and his unapologetic personality to stomp all over convention and get access to more attention and power. And Kanye admires that. Much like Donald Trump, Kanye West sees himself as a singularly special person, who has only to grab for something, and he can – he should – he will get it. So, for all the reasons that the media paid undue attention to Donald Trump in the leadup to the 2016 election, Kanye West is getting an astounding amount of attention in both traditional and social media. I haven’t listened to a full Kanye West album since Late Registration, and here I am blogging about him. He has forced his way into the topics of the day. Kanye has taken a page from his unofficial mentor and he is doing a great job emulating him.

Now, when you get to follow a talented person’s career over years and years, you come to care about them. People care about Kanye. They were sad for him when he lost his mom. They were happy for him when he started a family. They call him a genius because he’s a great producer. Seeing him in the media, embracing Donald Trump by wearing one of his slogan hats and saying nonsensical things about slavery is shocking. Now, it’s not shocking because he is known for his restraint and decorum. Over the years he has consistently ratcheted up the level of “I’m eccentric,” “I’m contrarian,” “I operate in my own sphere of thought and understanding,” in his public persona. But despite this reputation, he’s now dropping jaws because he’s crossing lines that his fans find to be harmful and completely inappropriate. Forgive my cynicism, but that’s exactly the point. When you cross the lines, when your statements and your behavior are outrageous, “they” can’t look away or get your name out of their mouth. Raise your hand if you didn’t know Kanye West wore a MAGA hat and said some wayward mess about slavery before reading this paragraph. He will troll and troll and troll the public, and the public will continue to care.  Despite the number of people “canceling” Kanye, this will all work out for him. For a time anyway. Difference between him and Donald Trump is that he has no white privilege. One of these days, he’s going to get cancelled by something “bigger” than all these offended black people, and his real reckoning will come.

Until then he’ll keep on trolling, because just like for his public relations mentor Donald Trump, this has to do with his selfishness and narcissism. Kanye is here for Kanye, and that’s it. Like the family he’s married into, there is no attention-seeking behavior that doesn’t have a price tag. But it’s not even really about the money. He has money already, and the talent to earn a living without all the exhibitionism. It’s really more about the attention and satisfying the demands of his ego. Perhaps this shouldn’t be news to so many people, but I guess it is. Sorry he had to break it to y’all like this.

listen to the women

There is a school of thought that “feminism” was created by white women and introduced to black women in order to derail the struggle of black people in this country by disrupting the unity between black men and black women. Often, when I read or take part in discussions involving womanhood, this theory is trotted out as some form of “Gotcha – agent!” I suppose the theory is enticing because of the air of conspiracy about it, but the mental laziness that one has to engage in to believe this theory should embarrass whoever subscribes to this belief.

Absolutely nothing about believing that a woman is as fully human as a man  and should be treated accordingly should disrupt unity between black men and black women, point blank, period. Start there.

Black women do not, and never did need white women to point out to them that we get treated differently than men in this society because of the way our patriarchal society is set up. To assert such a thing is insulting to our intelligence and the intelligence of the mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors before us. We plainly and clearly see it for ourselves, and we always have.

Do not confuse our assertion of dignity, power, humanity, and rights for the feminism symbolized by burning bras and pink pussy hats. With all due respect to what white women are out there fighting for, the burden of femininity for black women in this society is another animal altogether. This is due in part to the intersection of racism and sexism working together against us. This is due in part to some black men thinking that black women who dare call attention to the issues we face as women is a threat to fighting the oppression that they face, like there’s a zero sum game being played and that our fight for fairness siphons power from their (our collective!) fight. This is also due in part to some white women feeling victimized when black women assert that while we have some issues in common, they still have privilege in this society that we don’t have and their perspective is limited in its scope to address our issues. We are not mimicking white women.

However, when black men rail against women’s issues, they are mimicking white men. When they manipulate the scriptures of religious texts to subjugate women, they aren’t doing anything white men haven’t already done with those texts. When they ignore certain issues because it doesn’t affect them and it “only” affects women, they aren’t ignoring anything that white men haven’t already decided to ignore. When they try to shame women for not adhering to a hurtful and oppressive status quo, they are maintaining the same status quo that puts white men at the top of a power hierarchy that endangers the lives and well being of black men and black women, black boys and black girls. By calling black feminists and womanists tools of the oppressor, they ironically and quite unwittingly act as tools of the oppressor.

To the extent that there is a divide between American black men and women on gender issues, it wasn’t the assertion of feminism or womanism by black women that caused it. It was caused by the absorption and maintenance of old European patriarchal values that hindered our ability to communicate effectively and empathize with each other any better than white men and women.

When we communicate fairly, without malice or fear, with empathy and understanding, misunderstandings get cleared up and people learn. Things get better. Culture shifts. I have been personally encouraged by seeing people listening with open minds to each other instead of hurling “agent” accusations at each other to derail dialogue. I already know that if you’re still reading at this point, I’m preaching to the choir. But I’m just out here sayin what I thought should be said.

the pedophilia carols doctrine

Keshia Knight Pulliam is my contemporary. I literally grew up watching The Cosby Show and don’t remember a world without it, really. I watched it every Thursday night and talked about it with my friends at school on Friday mornings. I also grew up watching The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and Good Times – all shows that featured all or predominantly black casts, and all shows that to some extent played into stereotypical trope about black people at some point in their runs. I didn’t know it until I got older, but The Cosby Show was in some way the bucking of racist expectations. For all of the criticism it received for not being realistic and trafficking in respectability politics, the show rejected the idea that black people had to talk or dress a certain way to authentically portray blackness for the screen. It opened the portrayal of blackness to include many facets. It featured people like Lena Horne, Miriam Makeba, Sandman Sims, and Dizzy Gillespie. It featured black arts in spades – jazz, dance, blues, spirituals, paintings, and fashion. It ran storylines of giving back to urban communities, preserving black traditions, support of civil rights, and even confronting white male patriarchal supremacy. The show was a gift to my generation. For these reasons, and because the show is the product of many minds and hands, not just the hands of convicted rapist Bill Cosby, it will always have a place in my heart and on my TV screen. In fact, it’s some of the only non-animated TV that I feel currently feel comfortable sharing with my young children, since what passes for family sitcoms these days is typically too mature in content, themes, and language for young minds.

Contrast this with how I change the radio station every time Bump and Grind, or another of R. Kelly’s songs is aired on the radio. I was at a young, impressionable age when his career took off, and even at that time, I knew that this was grown folks’ music, not meant for my ears. Aaliyah Houghton was also my contemporary, and when I found out about his marriage to her before either of us was even eligible to vote, I was disgusted. Her debut album, which he produced, was called “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number.” He was trolling the public, even then. When that sex tape with the minor went viral, I was shocked and dismayed to hear how people defended his actions. He didn’t get the reputation for being a child predator by accident. And what’s worse, so many of his songs are about sex. So I can’t help now but to think that the women he’s singing to about what he wants to do to their bodies aren’t really women, but girls. I don’t hear baby-making music. I only hear pedophilia carols. In his distinctive voice, I can only hear the grown men on the avenue who tried to get my attention when I was walking to the hair shop with my girlfriends in our teenage years. For decades now, R. Kelly has used his fame and the goodwill he purchases with his soulful music to draw young ladies to him so that he can lure them into his bed. Then he calls himself the Pied Piper – the legendary character who lured children away with his music. He’s out here trolling, and I can’t separate the music from the artist.

The difference between me watching The Cosby Show and listening to You Remind Me of My Jeep is that I find it much easier to separate Heathcliff Huxtable from Bill Cosby. I am disgusted by what those (as of this date) 62 women say he did. I want him to be held accountable for it in the same way that he wanted to hold his fictional pound cake thief accountable. I believe the women and his own deposition statement – not a conspiracy theory, and not his vicious defense attorney. And yet – when I watch the show, I can do so without associating it or his character in that show with those heinous acts. It’s a lot like how I don’t hear domestic violence in James Brown songs.

I’m in favor of preserving the legacy of that art, of Little Bill, of Fat Albert. I just wish they could rebrand the syndicated The Cosby Show as “The Huxtables,” or “10 Stickwood Avenue,” or something like that, to get his name off of it. That would be great. I can’t imagine how much those women are triggered every time they hear his name. We are not victims for having to examine how we want to deal with the conflict between Bill Cosby’s art and his actions. They are victims for having been at the receiving end of those actions. They are victims for having to wait for decades to even be able to push past everyone’s esteem for the false image of himself that he created, in part through his laudable art. It may feel complicated for us, but it never has been for them. I hope his conviction helps them. I actually hope it helps us all. And I hope that it won’t take as long for us to finally snag R. Kelly as it did to snag Bill Cosby.

nobody asked me but i’m here

I am a daughter, wife, mother, cousin, niece, granddaughter, and sisterfriend. I am a person of faith, and part of my faith includes, “live and let live.”  I am a black woman, and I am rooting for everybody black. I am an educated professional. I was raised in a low-income neighborhood. I live in suburbia now. I am liberal and conservative. I am wholly disenchanted with political parties, but I am a proud part of the 94%. I’m a recovering spoken word poet. I’m hetero, cisgender, gender conforming, and still learning about my privilege in those ways. None of these facts explains everything or enough about me.

I stan for the Oxford comma. I speak business English, I speak AAVE, and I write in both. I’m long winded. I try not to take myself too seriously, but when I am passionate about a point, I go in. I don’t know it all, I recognize that, and I like learning from others. I accept that I am a work in progress.

I got a big mouth. No one ever asks me, but I’m here anyway, out here sayin what I think ought to be said.