bell hooks Is An Aphrodisiac, Part Six

[Editor’s Note: Discussion Here Is A Continuation From This Post]


Let us be Ta Nehisi Coates for a few. Let me hold your imagination, once again here, I promise to give it back to you exponentially increased. Okay, so you’re this small time freelance gambler that gets a chance to sit in the rooms with the likes of Al Sharpton under the bright lights of MSNBC. You’ve gone from the smoke filled rooms to the Player’s Table, and within a relatively short time given the type of career most of your breed must suffer through. You’re Ta Nehisi Coates. You’ve written for before it became the launching pad of Al Sharpton’s “Politics Nation” and Melissa Harris-Perry’s “The Melissa Harris-Perry Show”. In the debate of whether freelance writers should be paid for their services, you argued that they should not be paid because you spent time harnessing your craft at Slate for free, and others should follow your lead. You’ve risen from obscurity to being celebrated for your critique of Barrack Obama, and you even appear as a guest on your colleague, and I’m sure by now, friend’s MSNBC show, “The Melissa Harris-Perry Show”. Ta Nehisi Coates, welcome to your life as a privileged US Black writer.


How does one frame a renege as simple oversight in the lofty career of a card shark? How do you remind a multi-billion dollar company with advertising revenue driven by white mothers of adopted Black children that your star media personality meant those scathing statements about white people that adopted Black children did not mean it like that? If you are clever, and I would imagine a guy like Ta Nehisi Coates who has published on his blog for The Atlantic that he has written at length on how Harriet Tubman is not as impressive as her legend suggest and that possibly Harriet “Mother Moses” slash “Bytch Nigga, I Freed US Slaves In Real Life Not In Some Video Game” Tubman is undeserving of her stature, well, I would wager that a guy that can sink that low for approval and validation, and still find air to breathe, is most likely full of guile. If you are the guileful Ta Nehisi Coates, you look around that gambling room, you look at the MSNBC line up, and you start indirectly putting every one present under that White Ivory bus. Who else but Tulane professor of political studies with a Black feminist audience in the age of hashtag solidarity is for white women could fill the void that would exist if her show does not?


Sure, you could find another light-skinned woman of mixed racial heritage to add extensions to her permed hair and don braids, but will they have that peer reviewed political science background coupled with an almost religious following of middle class US Black women? See, bell hooks really had already provided Ta Nehisi Coates with his panoply.


“I’ve never been on a stage with a celebrity before!”


It was said in such a Black Women of age who really could care less about how she appeared, damn it, she survived being a US Black Woman. I almost cry when I replay the video because she reminds me so much of my own mother that due to a massive stroke can no longer articulate or walk. Her presence is archetype—bell hooks, in so many vast and immeasurable ways is invocation of US Black Woman. But, the title of this is not “bell hooks is a flower, or some romantic device”. It is not the application of metaphoric devise to point at the illusive customs that aid us in taking for granted the bonds sealed due to reproductive drives. No, bell hooks is utility, she is aphrodisiac. Her presence with us is not impractical deed done to promote escape; her presence promotes getting to the business at hand without immature and unreasonable obligations of one’s time spent on decorating already beautiful realities perceived as ugly by those existentialist thinkers that believe Life is ugly. bell hooks does not posture here much. bell hooks is not love letters and chocolate candy, she is good weed and wine.


bell hooks Is An Aphrodisiac, Part Five

[Editor’s Note: Discussion Here Is A Continuation From This Post]

The need for Ta-Nehisi Coates to present Harris-Perry in such a manner ultimately stems from the attacks at that moment. Melissa Harris-Perry was being scrutinized for an off key remark, a statement of ill will that involved a child. If media politics where a game of spades, Melissa Harris-Perry’s comments would be something like getting caught reneging—for those that are not natives, a very grievous error in the US Black Community. In this analogy of sorts, Melissa Harris-Perry is the partner of MSNBC, in a game against FOX news and its Republican Party interests. And following this line of comparison, the media voices of the Republican Party wanted their three books, in a sense, Melissa Harris-Perry to be fired, or to have her reputation sullied.


So, Ta Nehisi Coates finds himself in an interesting role here in this scenario. If I am allowed by you the reader to continue, I’d like to venture that Coates is something like a sideline gambler, who has a vested interests in the success of MSNBC and Melissa Harris-Perry winning this game against FOX News and its GOP associated interests. Coates’ job here is to stop the partners from arguing over the renege, so that they might focus on what makes them winning partners. In this regard, if I might be allowed to stretch your imagination here some more, Coates has to frame Melissa Harris-Perry in such a way as to remind MSNBC of what MSNBC and Melissa Harris-Perry as a brand have done together, and all the wins that Melissa Harris-Perry has provided for the MSNBC slash Melissa Harris-Perry conglomeration that is “The Melissa Harris-Perry Show”.


Alright, now that we have extended ourselves thusly, let us step back so that we might step forward. We’ve got that this interesting metaphor of a spades game where one partner on one team has been caught reneging, and a third-party who is enjoying the benefits of the partnership of that team needing that to remain in existence. We also have the less metaphoric objective reality of Ta Nehisi Coates needing to present via his writing platform over at The Atlantic Melissa Harris-Perry in such a way as to remind MSNBC’s investors to keep her show on air, as opposed to having to removing yet another premiere show from their scheduled line-up.


In order to understand the exact nature of the preemptive strike that is the “Smartest Nerd In the Room” article, we must be completely clear on the travesty here. Not to be too humorous here, or however that needs to be worded, but, I’ve literally seen romantic couples split ways over a renege on the spades table. That particular incident I am recalling had no money involved. Melissa Harris-Perry made comments about a child after Aiyana Jones, after Trayvon Martin, as an insult to a group of people whose audience is as emotionally driven as The Tea Party, because their audience is The Tea Party! The immediate response was a social media cry that Harris-Perry not be fired. It was that egregious. Regardless of whether Harris-Perry had become overzealous in her position as MSNBC political punditry media assassin, or if she felt compulsions to speak against the Romney household from her own deep seated personal experiences, she gave her opponents fodder—she handed them plenty of fuel for the fire of her baking. She reneged.


[Editor’s Note: Discussion continued here in part six]

My Thoughts On Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Response To Nate Thayer

“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside….Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.” – C.S. Lewis, “The Inner Ring”(1944)


This piece is written in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘Lucrative Work-for-Free Opportunity’ article for The Atlantic (which is owned by Atlantic Media owner David G. Bradley based in the Watergate in Washington, DC), the company that a few months ago asked sports journalist Nate Thayer to republish an article, and when Thayer asked about compensation, he was denied. Well, all this is very well documented here, do not be a lazy surfer, check it out. Ta-Nehisi Coates stands at the bat as, possibly cleanup, definitely yet another swinger for The Atlantic to defend the magazine against the brouhaha of writers that felt The Atlantic’s business model is diminishing their evaluation, and thusly the evaluation of the very craft that brought you the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. If those people that hold so much to the history of human development cannot presume to make a living, then how easy will it be for the fattest pockets to put pressure on their staff to provide only content that suits the purposes of the fat pockets? Or governments? Or any other power that First Amendment rights were initially created to protect writers against?


If those people that hold so much to the history of human development cannot presume to make a living, then how easy will it be for the fattest pockets to put pressure on their staff to provide only content that suits the purposes of the fat pockets?


Now, while I do not personally regard my Self as a ‘journalist’, I do hold a Bachelor’s degree in media communications and I have written several “journalistic” type pieces over the years. Without me rewriting my resume here for you, I do regard the craft of writing in high esteem and I have sat in the training facilities of these “professionals”. I do consider my Self a Black media analyst and I do analyze Black media, and I’ve even written a few self-published works as well as having a contract with a major publishing house for a book of media analysis due out…any…damn…day…now(excuse me for that). All that is to say, although I don’t work for any popular brands that sell written works, I have met the standard squarely and I’ve told it, “we can fight if you don’t respect my penmanship.” Moving on.


As a writer, and more importantly, as a writer that doesn’t use their words to defend or dick ride those that purchase my works, I cannot promote a business model that asks writers to provide work for free. And to be honest, neither should those that write the checks and command the major brands. The content saturation model of big brands such as Huffington Post and The Atlantic creates a market where it wants content to be more valuable than the content creators, which is ass backwards. Let alone being defined as slavery. Even if the model is refined and defenders give the nomenclature of “intern”(*cough*indentured servants*cough*) to those poor hacks forced to choose between making a living and gambling on a dream, the results are surely the same. The value of the writer is siphoned, the content is pimped, and the only partner being valued and esteemed is the brand. But without those humans poring over brightly lit laptops, sipping day old coffee trying to remember what in the hell it was they scribbled here on this napkin(what in the phukkk is THIS?! Oh, sorry…) then you do not have a business or a brand. And as a writer, employment or not, I cannot advise anyone to take the responsibility of keeping brands alive if the brand has not taken even the slightest consideration that eating Ramen noodles as a daily dietary staple(as much as I love the Ramen) is not the lifestyle most of us seek to create.


Free is not a livelihood. Free is not compensation. Free is not a ticket to a more lucrative position. Free does not get you into more doors because no one respects free.


Ultimately, the argument boils down to how do you esteem your Self in the face of corporations, or bigger brands? Is the big business more important than the worker? Than the consumer? Than you? And that is a discussion that is on-going in this capitalist estate we call the United States of America. Since the inception of the federation, humans have been reduced to 3/5ths of a human to justify why businesses should treat them like they are beasts of burden. If your name is on the Fortune 500 list as an owner, getting money from the US Government is at best a subsidy, at worst a “bailout”. If your name is on the open mic list as a starving artist or writer, and you are getting a crumb of the money from the US Government that those on the Forbes listing might get, you are at best a “welfare case”, at worst a “lazy bum”. We have grown to place a stature on big business brands as divine Providences that deserve our esteem more than our own Selves. And the peer pressure to belong to one of these organizations reminds me of the pressure children face to fit in, or the pressure poor children face when hiding the fact that their family receives a Government dole out.


I think that metaphor is a substantial parallel, let’s explore it further, shall we? The insecurity of the child or teenager created by their fears of alienation is often reflected in their behavior. As esteemed professor emeritus of Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo writes, “Peer pressure has been identified as one social force that makes people, especially adolescents, do strange things–anything–to be accepted.” Since this is very important to our discussion here, I would like to quote Mr. Zimbardo further:


“There is no peer-pressure power without that push from self-pressure for them to want you. It makes people willing to suffer through painful, humiliating initiation rites in fraternities, cults, social clubs, or the military. It justifies for many suffering a lifelong existence climbing the corporate ladder.” Philip Zimbardo, “Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil” (pg. 259)


Profound, yes? Before I move on, I would like to one more authority on human behavior, and that is Cialdini. Cialdini writes in his book on persuasion, “Opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available. Interestingly, this is often true even when the opportunity holds little attraction for us its own merits. Take as evidence the experience of Florida State University students who, like most undergraduates, rated themselves as dissatisfied with the quality of their campus cafeteria food. Nine days later, they had changed their minds, rating that food significantly better than they had before. It is instructive that no actual improvement in food service had occurred between the two ratings. Instead, on the day of the second rating, the students had learned that, because of a fire, they could not eat the cafeteria for two weeks.”


Cialdini speaks more directly to us with regard to the pains humans will suffer in order to become part and parcel of organized humans:


“During the traditional ‘Hell Week’ held yearly on college campuses, fraternity pledges must persevere through a variety of activities designed by the older members to test the limits of physical exertion, psychological strain, and social embarrassment. At week’s end, the boys who have persisted through the ordeal are accepted for full group membership…What is interesting is how closely the particular features of Hell Week tasks match those of tribal initiation rites…Beatings…Exposure to cold…Thirst…Eating of unsavory foods…Punishment…Threats of death…What is it about hazing practices that make them so precious to these societies?…My own view is that the answer appeared in 1959 in the results of a study little known outside of social psychology. A pair of young researchers, Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, decided to test their observations that ‘persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.’ The real stroke of inspiration came in their choice of the initiation ceremony as the best place to examine this possibility. They found that college women who had to endure a severely embarrassing initiation ceremony in order to gain access to a sex discussion group convinced themselves that their new group and its discussions were extremely valuable, even though Aronson and Mills had rehearsed the other group members to be as ‘worthless and uninteresting’ as possible. Different coeds who went through a much milder initiation ceremony or went through no initiation at all, were decidedly less positive about the ‘worthless’ new group they had joined. Additional research showed the same results when coeds were required to endure pain rather than embarrassment to get into a group. The more electric shock a woman received as part of the initiation ceremony, the more she later persuaded herself that her new group and its activities were interesting, intelligent, and desirable.” – Cialdini, “Influence: Science and Practice” (pages 75-79)


In the same way that I feel a person allowing someone to degrade them to join their fraternal order or sorority is not wise, I feel as though any demeaning of my craft, asking me to do something for free for some future bit of compensation, is also not wise. I might be able to understand this notion if The Atlantic was a not-for-profit, or a charity. It is not. According to Paul Carr the magazine has a “circulation of 482,267, and hosts a sold-out $2,800-a-ticket conference in Aspen”.


Free is not a livelihood. Free is not compensation. Free is not a ticket to more a lucrative position. Free does not get you into more doors because no one respects free.

Asking me to write for free is asking me to starve, to take a beating, to gamble with the possibility of enduring the cold all for the possibility of a job. This is hazing. Hazing might be a sexy proposition for some socially awkward or social mobility desperate soul, but my Self esteem is not that low, nor or my prices. And how long will It be before enough of us have submitted to the pressures of social acceptance and big business brands start hazing us in a more directly humiliating fashion?


“For one thing: Let’s lay to rest the notion that payment equals pro. A professional writer is a professional writer, no matter whether he’s being paid or not. Likewise, you can throw money at an amateur, and he’ll always be an amateur. The reason professional journalists need to be paid is not because money somehow magically makes them better at their job, but because real journalism is their job. The fact that some pros maintain their own blogs, or occasionally write stuff for free is utterly irrelevant to the argument.” – Paul Carr

Get Off His Dick And The ‘D’ Ain’t Silent::Initial Thoughts Of Impact Of Django Unchained

So, I just got through watching Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained for the first time. I may be biased(and whose writing is not these days?), and my initial angst regarding the film might have tainted my ability to appreciate any portion of it, but, I did feel it was lackluster. The story of a slave named Django, played by comic turned singer turned dramatic actor Jamie Foxx, bound by love for his wife and purchased by a wayward and whimsical bounty hunter, while interesting, it just did not live up to the hype. The usual cinematic cosmetics that have made Tarantino respected as an artist as opposed to just a guy that obviously needs psychiatric help were not here. In place of the more interesting cinematography, we have a melange of hip hop and western tunes to help convey the idea that this is antebellum Texas and Mississippi. The overuse of the term “nigga” notwithstanding, and I suppose after sitting through all of Quentin’s prior works, I have become somewhat numbed by his liberties. This time around, he hides his quaint hobby of dropping the n-word behind the film’s supposed era — never mind the fifty odd anachronisms that crop up throughout the script.

I was not captured at all by the character of Broomhilda, played by Scandal star Kerry Washington. I am not sure if it was the sheer incredulity of a German speaking slave or just her almost callow and infantile mannerisms after surviving as an escaped slave and an obviously disobedient one. I expected at least a few inspired bits of Shola from Sankofa, no, I’m lying, I knew Tarantino wouldn’t be as accurate or as intrepid as to present a strong Black woman as a romantic interest. The writhing, wailing, and weak character reminded me of the stereotypical tragic mulatto role, not sure if they were going for that, however. But alas, I really don’t want to focus so much on the film as much as the impact of a film that really did not deserve as much fanfare.

Initially, Spike Lee’s comments of honoring our Ancestors seemed fairly harmless as he mentions in those comments that he is only speaking for him self. Michael Eric Dyson would take Spike to task on the December 27, 2012 episode of Ed Shultz’s show labeling Spike’s comments as dismissive after a lengthy segment of lathering the film in complimentary spittle(which was not quite as frothy as the foaming of his other Black male MSNBC personality– Toure– regarding the movie,but it was quite noticeable). Interesting enough, as impact, Dr. James Peterson, director of Africana studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University predicts that the movie could possibly become a classic. It would seem that this reaction from Black men would be further extended throughout the national dialogue about this film. At the time of this writing, no Black women in the media have spoken about the film, I expected to hear from our good friend at #NerdLand, Melissa Harris-Perry, but alas…not a damn thing. Even our favorite token negro writer over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a subtly congratulatory piece about Django Unchained while disparaging the history of Harriet Tubman. It seems that it is redemptive for Black men to watch Jamie Foxx ride away from a cage of Black slaves to save his wife, but a legend based on actual events of the woman that would have saved those slaves that, according to the plot, helped to save him, is not worthy of the hyperbole that is the entirety of Django Unchained. In fact, the movie was not even original, I could almost see Tarantino on the couch with Robert Freeman and Uncle Ruckus giving his version of the Catcher Freeman story.

So, I do question the overall impact of a movie such as this. It is the Barack moment all over again. A national euphoria for Black men now swimmingly smacking hands around barbershops and blunt ciphers as if they had killed George Zimmerman, Chicago Police Det. Dante Servin, Johannes Mehserle, or any of the hundreds of White men responsible for modern day lynching. I was asked on Twitter why I cared what the White response to the film was because the person asking the question, a Black man, was tired of us having to ask white people what they think. As if Quentin Tarantino’s input into the movie was not the thinking of a white man. At best, Tarantino’s Django Unchained is a slave thematic. It is not a movie about slavery, just one that exploits its horrors in an effort to sell to a Black audience. It is not a redemptive piece as no media format could ever be enough to redeem anyone from the extended effects of the US Black Holocaust– the term “holocaust” is not even enough to package the degree of repulsive human abomination our Ancestors were met with in the founding of this nation. Due to the lack of nobility on the part of the character of Django in dealing with other Blacks in the movie, I can only fathom that Black men felt appeased by Tarantino’s quaint Trojan Horse due to the degree of bloodshed, that– given Tarantino’s repertoire and the US slavery theme– was not even as sensationalistic as it was billed. In fact, the Germans should feel more redeemed by the movie than the US Blacks.

In closing, if Django Unchained — a White Man named Quentin Tarantino production no matter how many Blacks were utilized — is that shining moment of redemption for Black men in the United States of America where Malcolm X was gunned down in front of his own wife and children, then I think CoIntelPro worked a lot better than most assumed it would.

Thoughts on Fear of a Black President

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote what I found to be the best encapsulation of the tension that has come with being a Black president. Coates captured it all from the hope and sense of ownership to the disgust and frustration within our community as well as the reception of President Obama and what his blackness means outside of our community.


What gripped me most was the theme regarding what do we mean and what should we expect when we say we have a Black President (or really a Black anything, for that matter). As Coates noted in his article, we love President Obama’s employing cultural signals and behaviors, but we also long for that “speak- truth-to-power” defiance. We want that avatar of our anger and rage just as much as the effortless portrayal of who we are culturally by our own in high places. What real good is understanding the finer points of giving dap, a command of Al Greens lyrics, or a child touching his hair in the light of death of young Black men and women in Chicago, extra judicial murders of Black folk in general, and predator drones? For many, especially those of us with immediate survival needs: Federalism, the nature of political process, reelections and the calculus of race ring very hollow as explanations in the face of such an environment.


While Obama still has to bear that criticism, I find that I also have to weigh the potency of racism in this country that demands as Coates says,” twice as good and half as black”. A lot of times we discuss authenticity in terms of hair and one’s adherence to different models and I think Coates engagement of this theme injects the nuance of a given person’s situation into the understanding of what authenticity means. It is easier and far sexier for us to view authenticity as this unbending adherence to a particular set of rules rather than sort of struggle to embody what we believe. A journey that is often beset with challenges, experiences, and situations where we stray, modify, or confirm those principles. The philosophies and principles we live by are born of human experience and not the other way around. As such, these philosophies and principles cannot hope to cover every single situation we face. Our lived experience is too complex to be pinned in like that. So what happens when in a situation where you have every intention to do good but must compromise and risk your ability to use your position positively in the future? What happens when such a decision is a matter of survival or ability to provide for one’s family? As Coates discusses, such a calculation is as relevant to the President in his position as it is to us in our day to day lives.


In short, intent counts.