Moral Contradictions: Kanye & Kaepernick

Kanye West wants to express himself. And while this is not a “Kanye is being Kanye” article, I think this is a basic but important thing to consider that under-girds much of the commentary I am laying out below. Kanye is also not a classically trained scholar or debater. His perspectives will have gaps in logic, lack consistent themes and historical context. If you want to vilify Kanye for not being as smart as you, go right away. But does his degree of intelligence dictate whether you believe he should have an opinion/be allowed to express his opinion? If your issue is that he is speaking uninformed, then issue away. But I would be also be interested in who you believe is informed, and why that person is informed? If you believe Kanye is just doing this to sell records, then I have no idea why you’d even click on this page. Lastly, if you believe Kanye has a personal agenda to undermine the efforts of black people for his own personal gain, then you can stop reading now, because if you believe that then no information below will persuade you to think otherwise. This article is for those who cast moral judgment on his comments and political beliefs.

From what I have been able to scan, the backlash has been about the timing and context of Kanye’s opinions. We’re experiencing a surge in conservative ideology, and some fear that Kanye’s comments will only fuel the fire for those looking to couch hateful ideologies within statements of people with authority in an effort to legitimize hateful speech, ideas, and racist policies. It is irresponsible, some say, to make comments that could so easily become fodder for alt-rights and persuade moderate whites to the MAGA imperative to get rid of colored people.

Those who seek to guard against such potentialities have warranted reason for their concern. However, directing and foisting responsibility onto Kanye to police his speech instead of those seeking to manipulate his speech to deny and curtail human rights seems misguided. It would appear, then, the culprits are those lurking to straw-man benevolent (even if not fully developed) cultural commentary into an anti-black agenda. Even if Kanye foresaw such an event, I am not sure why he himself should bear the brunt of the negative energy while the “crazy whites” for which we should be so wary sneak away from the fight with golden nuggets that people seem so certain will help fan the flames of fascism.

Unfortunately, this type of manic about Kanye is not unlike objections made about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to activate his own form of freedom of expression. People lamented on about the inappropriate time, context, place and space to express his own personal views. Conservatives went to great lengths to condemn and silence him and others who felt similarly, while those on the opposite side beat the drum for the right to express himself however he felt, regardless of its mass acceptability or lack thereof.

Given the backlash Kanye has received, I am concerned that the insistence from the Left that Kaepernick be allowed to express dissent with the status quo is because his stance is more in-line with the Left’s “mode of disruption” than is Kanye’s. An apparent unwillingness to allow others to voice unpopular but perceptibly counterproductive opinions freely, independently and without police or supervision is actually us imposing boundaries onto others about which and what is permissible and impermissible to be outspoken. Insomuch as Kanye’s intent is not to subjugate, silence or actively undermine others, then why should he be subject to such consternation?

If indeed his comments are privy to fuel and continue a subversive agenda, why, then, is the backlash, and its impact it could have on the lives of black people, not a component of how we assess Colin’s behaviors? Kaepernick’s behavior has consequences for black bodies in the same way in which Kanye’s could potentially have. And both are using their privilege and platform to discuss perspectives that they themselves are unlikely to be subject to.  It is not to say Kanye is fighting for any cause more-noble than Kaep, but the manner in which we deal with the public’s responses to them are inconsistent. Who’s opinions about their opinions matter? And why should the way we view their stances be affected at all by how others will view them? It gives a sense of a sort-of “woke” respectability politic that is overall hurtful to discourse and close the ranks of ideology even tighter. The more essential question: can we disagree on issues of race that don’t result in people suggesting you need your head examined or be accused of changing “teams”? And if that is not impossible, how will disarming racism ever occur if such a consensus in thinking is required?

Kanye West has more than afforded himself the reputation of being someone who has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the intent of his comments. His past comments and recent music is hyper-aware of the role of race in society. If you’re willing to throw all of that out of the door because of weeks worth of comments, then your position could be quickly undermined within a week, and you should stop rushing so quickly to judge people. And by all indications, he has been more than willing to engage with others about his ideas. More verbal violence thrust toward him only confirms the “prison” in which he is so adamant in rebelling against.

Even more importantly, those who characterize his comments as being careless or apathetic to the experiences of everyday black people (or “without thought”) only distract from the fact that his perspective about “slavery as a choice” is not all that new a perspective within black political thought.

From David Walker, to Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, to Louis Farrakhan to even Barack Obama, each has used language that illicit the view that many blacks have chosen to identify with their masters or be complicit, or have accepted defeat at the hands of racism. All seemingly things that, at-least perceptually, can be changed through choice (though no one guarantees a change of perspective will necessarily lead to a better life or how people will treat them). Even outside of political leaders, it is not uncommon for those who are growing their understanding of history to simply challenge the hands of time: WHY wouldn’t we resist? Why wasn’t there more war? We saw massive uprisings all across the African diaspora, why didn’t African Americans for so many centuries?

There are answers to each of these questions. What’s missing from Kanye’s analysis is that there were people who were enslaved who agreed with Kanye. History books (the right ones at-least), are filled with black folks who thought slavery was a choice. And there are narrative after narrative of black folks who have changed their mind about how they view the world and changed the world in the process. They escaped plantations, they killed slave-owners and have started political movements. Some jumped ship to their deaths, some were killed by whites, some were literally held in bondage. Like most things that require people do things that have a high likelihood of death, they are in the exception. So some chose life. Some had the fear of God put into them, some were threatened with their own families. Later on, some were lynched, and the ones surviving learned to cling on tight to the lives and loved ones they had. Kanye is advocating more people think like the former. Isn’t that what we tell our children? “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees?” If your issue with Kanye is poor articulation, and you didn’t feel like working to see where he was coming from because he said it in a way that breeds headlines for Trump trolls, then your issue might be deeper (listening, comprehension, empathy?).

Him developing a worldview that perceives injustice as an unacceptable reality to him should be fine for others to comprehend, even if idealistic. Because it doesn’t jive with the predominant narrative of black people does not mean he should police when or how he expresses his ideas, even if they can be misused for causes counterproductive to what he cares about.  That Kanye believes his perspective will uplift people should not be accepted as truth; but at least be embraced. And to conclude that Kaepernicks actions are somehow more uplifting therefore more valid, is something wrought with confirmation bias (because we make it more uplifting).

If his comments create your own subjective distaste for him, then that is perfectly fine. I have been turned off by artists for a lot less. But to vilify him for his opinions would be committing the same crime that has been committed against us. He shouldn’t be deemed as some moral hazard because he doesn’t care how his words will be used against those who share his race no more than Colin Kaepernick should. Don’t hate the player; hate the game. He is not necessarily right, nor is he wrong.

It is always fascinating to see how liberals can at times use similar mechanisms that conservative zealots use to police or wage verbal war against others. It is a reminder that inclusion has limits and that even in spaces where personal freedoms are paramount, we will always invent new ways to place people onto the margins using the same old tricks. The fame and wealth Kanye has is something very few people possess, especially black people. Inevitably, these experiences will change how you see the world. If your unique experience engenders a variant perspective that won’t be tolerated by black people because it is no longer representative of the prevailing black narrative and tradition from which you were once member, then how can any changes to the narrative occur? Kanye’s vision of the world might not be where we want the narrative to move, but its existence is one that maybe we should accept. But deciding who is allowed to speak about what, and how, when and where that speech occurs is a story we’ve seen too often. And we should be willing to live, and die, by that.

#BlackLivesMatter and the Unavoidable Issue of Black-on-Black Crime

Recently, NFL cornerback Richard Sherman addressed media about his opinions regarding the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Usually opinionated and controversial, Sherman calmly stated that blacklivesmatter must be a movement that is concentrated internally amongst blacks, as violent black-on-black crime is a prevalent issue that affects African Americans just as much as police brutality. He argued that it is unwise to wage in ideological and political diatribes against law enforcement figures and white people and not place an even greater emphasis on the way black people treat each other. Those who are proponents of the blacklivesmatter movement are instinctually dismissive of those who attempt to divert the focus of police brutality onto intraracial relations. Such a reaction is legitimate. Focusing on the behavior of blacks alone obfuscates the role other forces play in such experiences, and are typically brought up to discredit the sincerity of blacklivesmatter or altogether absolve law enforcement in the roles they play in the desecration of black bodies.

Both sides of the debate create unnecessary dichotomies because they place an undue emphasis on the specific actors within a conflict. Both sides comprehend the complexity of the issue, but have different operational foci through which their arguments depart. Blacklivesmatter proponents are approaching the criminalization of African Americans from a policy perspective, seeking to remedy specific grievances like improper policing and racial profiling to create better civil equality; for their legal relationship to the state to be the same as white people.  Black-on-black crime fixationists approach the conflict from a psychological perspective, appreciating that there is a devaluation of black people even within the black community. However, the shortcomings of the latter perspective is that it overlooks how reciprocal the two relationships are. Proper enforcement of lives on the legal level create proper treatment of lives on the civic level.

There are many examples that show that an improvement of conditions have an impact in how individuals develop self-esteem and how they treat others. During the reconstruction era after the Civil War, it would not be unreasonable to meet a black man who viewed the white man as his social and intellectual superior, as the legal, political and cultural conditions made such conclusions unavoidable. Additionally, such conditions would cause one to make daunting judgments about the one’s own prospects as a black man, given that there are so few opportunities for growth, freedom, and self-actualization. However, as the law became more inclusive and as policy advanced to create a more-equitable society, one’s view of their role within it changes. It would be ridiculous if, during that time, someone were to argue we should not open up schools because African Americans don’t believe they can achieve, or because African Americans may or may not attend the schools, and they must develop some sense of self-worth first before they undertake larger societal roles. Conditions—conditions created by policy—change the imagination of the psyche and the role they play within those conditions.

Blacklivesmatter focuses on the structural barriers that create conditions that entrench crime, racism, brutality and civil negligence. Police brutality is simply low-hanging fruit; an easy visual and political example that symbolizes a systems ambivalence to the quality of life—and the life, itself—for black people. However, a campaign against police brutality (which extends beyond physical violence and includes inconsistent administration of constitutional rights, police intimidation, terrorism, harsh and excessive laws and statutes that extend from city hall to public schools) and black-on-black crime are like hand and glove.

Blacklivesmatter should consider incorporating black-on-black crime as a problem that is an extension of a failing law enforcement system. In 2013, only 132 of over 500 murder cases in Chicago were closed. The city has a homicide clearance rate of under 26% percent. A great majority of the unsolved murders are the result of black on black violence. Unless we are to believe murders in the black community are trained in stealth attacking, this clearly articulates a failure to act properly in finding murderers.

If law enforcement fails to solve murder crimes, then how can they effectively deter them? Police officers suggest having a larger task force would help accomplish the objectives, but they appear to have very little difficulty apprehending men and women for non-violent crimes—pulling women over for failing to use turn signals and for loitering outside of bodegas. One in three of every African American males aged 18-24 is arrested at least once in his lifetime, such an astounding rate of arrest does not sound like understaffing. If law enforcement has succeeded in incarcerating men and women of color at record rates, someone has to be doing the arresting. Yet we fail to enforce murder. It is not unreasonable to believe one can kill a black person and get away with it. Over 350 men and women in Chicago do so every year. Our government needs to step up in finding efficient ways to make blacklivesmatter. Arrest by volume has not worked. Local law enforcement fail to take the safety of black communities seriously, thus the only way for people to be protected is through retaliatory murders, protection and security through gang warfare and territory. That on top of drugs, poor schooling and housing create a recipe where black lives are the afterthought, where all of the effective solutions, intellectual resources, and political will are used to keep the urban poor away from the urban affluent.

Riot Naysayers Should Take A Slice of Reality.

There’s been enough protesting in the last year in America that most readers have become well-versed in the principles behind protests, and the debate about the merits of violent protest (irresponsibility labeled separately as “riots”) have been beaten into the ground as well.  While no one seems to be acknowledging the uselessness of peaceful protest in the history of the United States, it is ironically a prevalent assumption that rioting is antithetical to the objective of protest; that it undermines political grievances.

Rioting is inherently nothing; its’ usefulness is defined through our collective understanding of its causes. This is why sports riots don’t lead to grand-scale overhauls in policy- it is believed to be a vacuous occurrence sparked by drunken irrationality rather than having sociopolitical undertones. If you believe that the riots in Baltimore have clear cultural and political contexts, then it is irresponsible to dismiss riots as some act of villainy. Rioting is a form of protest; people have found ways to create dichotomies between the two that defy logic.

The condemnation of protest in the form of rioting betrays the objective of protest. The objective of protest is not only to disrupt societal order, but to directly challenge governments in a way that is commensurate with (or proportional to) your grievances. A significant group of citizens in Baltimore (and other cities) do not feel peaceful protests satisfy their political urges that call for action now, as cities have become too well-versed in learning how to ignore deal with peaceful demonstrations. Peaceful marches are not subversive; they are prepared, carefully streamlined, routed, predictable, acquiescing to the states’ demand for order.  Recent history would support the idea that peaceful protests do not empower citizens and that, in fact, things like protest curfews and ever-present police imply protests that lack the instigation of violence fail to effectively challenge asymmetrical citizen-state relations, which is the purpose of protest.  During the civil rights era, the use of state-sanctioned violence and racists white citizens was exploited to create necessary inertia for change in policy—even if such force was masochistic in nature, as blacks welcomed the inevitable violence. State governors would literally promise to kick ass if black people simply showed up somewhere they were forbidden from being. Today states are smarter, citizens are more civil. But staunch protesters do not see peace as a viable means to address issues anymore, as they have grown impatient with the systems’ ambivalence to their needs. If it is said that a society’s appearance should reflect how said society feels, then fire, broken glass, discarded trash and lighters—fixtures of violent protest– is the only way these communities should look. Peace does not represent the rage, frustration, confusion and anxiety that exists within black bodies around the country, and the half-hazard conditions and infrequent peace within these communities when they aren’t rioting seem to suggest the same.

Given the corner citizens have been wrestled into, it is amazing that we’ve seen no leader rise from the smoky cauldrons to endorse and support violent protests. Instead, we’ve read and heard pundits express sentiments that essentially go “I understand! But it’s still wrong!” People characterize the experiences of the urban poor as “misfortune”, and “despair”, as if all of the oppression is simply a product of misunderstanding instead of systematic disenfranchisement. This sort of ‘supportive finger-wagging’ is political correctness to a fault. People whom “understand” must also understand that law and order has no legitimacy in a community where its’ enforcers are corrupt. In chaos, there is neither right nor wrong. Peace and justice were absent from the equation before the riots, thus it is irrational to expect them to straighten up just because the cameras are on.

What would our public conversations look like with journalists and community leaders that praise violent protester and consider the “rioters” to be heroes? What if someone characterized them as freedom fighters not dictated by respectability politics and too smart to be disrespected by the usual system of political patronage? What if there were leaders who, out of love for everyone, warn of what is to come if there is more un-redressed oppression? What if there were leaders who understood that the destruction of property is only proof of how people within the community lack property they feel are worth preserving? And What if they recognized that violent protesters see property as belonging to a system of oppression instead of a system of enfranchisement? And just as revolutionaries must burn the flag, behead the statue, and shed the religions of their oppressor, violent protests serve as micro-revolutions that seek to destroy extensions of injustice. It’s possible their actions reveal more important questions for new-age activism: What can we do that would really get the attention of our government? Where are we forbidden? How do we cross the line just enough to provoke action now? Marching through the streets with signs seems to fall short in demonstrating the urgency of our grievances.

People qualify their support for violent protesters while peaceful protests are praised despite its inefficiencies. Controversial responses are ridiculed by peaceful protesters who seek to distinguish themselves out of some sense that violence betrays the spirit of protest, even to the extent that the parents of our slain men and women of interest seek to discourage all violence by characterizing it as “inexcuseable”. Media and punditry makes them opposing ideas, while forgetting that our history tells us they are coextensive. Anger articulates our fight as eloquently as any speech.

A lot have people have wondered what MLK would do. And while I think it’s a silly question on the surface, hidden underneath such a question are inquiries about what a true advocate of justice would say or do in a situation. The Reverend Doctor gives some idea in his I Have A Dream speech when he states that “the sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality… those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.” Like King, we should be moving away from proclamations of right and wrong and looking more precisely at justice and reality. It doesn’t matter whether violent protests are right or wrong, only that it is an inevitable reality for neglected persons. I would have hoped that one person—just one—would remind us of how oppression only begets anger, and under such conditions peace is a privilege; not a right.

 

Teachers get what they deserve, but Trial still has the stink of injustice.

The APS teaching scandal is unprecedented. The pervasiveness and prevalence of the cheating—along with its cover-up of the practice—makes for a startling story that is certain to make a really great movie one day. The actions of the administrators are deplorable—making it easy for many to easily digest the maximum of 20 years that several of the defendants received Tuesday morning. While the participants are deemed guilty in their involvement, the excessive punishments they have received does lend credence to the possibility that they have been dealt an injustice.

Let this be understood: this was a complete racket. While many are sympathetic to the high-stakes circumstances that make school officials compelled to skew test scores, the manner in which they achieved their objectives were nothing short of reprehensible and criminal. They operated with impunity on a wide-scale, all while maximizing profits for themselves at the expense of students. It is not like these teachers acted under a pressure to improve the lives of children whose futures are very much at stake due to the importance of test scores. Their actions seemed to depart from their personal career objectives than out of the interests in the people whom they serve. And just as we would demand city officials to be accountable for willingly distorting and conspiring to conceal information at the detriment of its citizens, we should be similarly unapologetic in our desire to ensure these teachers receive the right punishment.

But for those who are not following the story closely, the lengthy prison sentences are not actually because of the cheating on tests. Several conspirators who have confessed to cheating as early as a year ago have not received sentences that are even the slightest bit as severe as what some of the twelve defendants have received. It is the cover-up of the misconduct that has led to the excessive sentencing and racketeering charges. Many of the co-conspirators were found guilty of witness intimidation and suppression and falsification of testimony—you know, the type of gangsta shit you see in your favorite mafia films.

The city is being arbitrary in how they decide to penalize its culprits. While Sharon Davis-Williams, Tamara Cotman, and Michael Pitts are facing up to twenty years of prison, administrators like Millicent Few and Christopher Waller, whom witnesses have testified playing equally critical roles, have left this debacle mostly unscathed. In fact, the acts of both administrators had been used in testimony against the twelve defendants! Neither Few nor Waller have received jail time.

Investigations alleged that Few, a head of human resources, ordered staff to destroy and alter incriminating documents. Few pleaded guilty to racketeering and false swearing in February in exchange for testifying against Superintendent Beverley Hall, whom Few served under an executive capacity. She received 12-months’ probation, 250 hours of community service and a $800 fine. Waller, a former principal, plead guilty to similar offenses and received a 5-year probationary period, $50,000 fine, and 1,000 hours of community service. Two conspirators who are direct extensions of the primary instigator of the crimes (Beverley Hall) received what can be relatively considered slaps on the wrist. Davis-Williams, Cotman, and Pitts have been found guilty of similar offenses, so do we really believe they are guilty to that much greater a degree simply because they chose to go to trial? I am not sure how a group of persons performing the exact same actions can receive such a disparate sentencing.

It appears as if the District Attorney’s office was willing to provide freedom cards for anyone involved—regardless of guilt—in exchange for assisting the courts in ensuring that someone, presumably those unwilling to cooperate, take the brunt of the whole scam. A small confession for an administrator could help transfer tons of responsibility and accountability onto select individuals who chose to maximize their constitutional rights. Society can effectively shift the public blame onto those doing hard jail time while the courts and city officials can claim definitive victory. The sentencing overlooks that such a widespread operation of impunity requires the cooperation of hundreds, the decision to adjudicate so feverishly on those who chose not to admit their guilt is without sufficient grounds, especially if they were so willing to be lenient on those who admit guilt. Those who accepted plea deals are, in fact, equally as guilty in the eyes of the law. It seems as if the defendants were sentenced by the public instead of the law.

Most of us understand the reason why plea deals exist but few of us interrogate its legitimacy. To provide incentives for citizens to cooperate with law enforcement, district attorneys allow for settlements that could be significantly lower than the maximum penalty one has the potential to receive. I am not sure of the moral/legal basis for this practice, as one’s cooperation should not factor into one’s sentencing unless said
“uncooperation” leads to an actual criminal charge, for example, obstruction of justice.  In other words, if prison sentences are to be commensurate with the degree of guilt, then I am not sure why a person’s decision to simply exercise their right to trial makes them more-guilty. It is clearly a product of a “confess-your-sins-and-be-forgiven (kinda)” logic; One who is guilty but admits it, presumably, is less morally corrupt than one who is guilty but does not even if the acts performed are equal. Our criminal system should avoid turning pleas into poker-like bets, where every instance of defense is equated to upping the ante. Representation is designed as a check against the system; not a checkmate for the system. Defense is a right; no citizen should be punished greater for lawfully invoking it. Conversely, the alternative to invoking a right should not be an unequivocal decision to be punished to the letter of the law. Capitalistic wagers for constitutional rights contradicts the moral ground the law seeks to operate upon. The Truth is not an asset you ought to be able to leverage. The truth sets you free, not being truthful.

Consistency of law is important to maintaining a laws’ legitimacy. So while we should condemn the acts of the perpetrators, the defendants received the greatest injustice because we seemed to be subjective in our understanding of the comprehensiveness of wrongdoing here. Equality in adjudication was non-existent, making the defendants victims of a larger public agenda to have jail sentences that are congruent to the outrage of the system and inconsistent with the legal approach toward similar offenders. As a result, a slew of guilty teachers may serve the remainder of their twilight years of adult life behind bars while an even greater slew of equally culpable teachers and leaders remain home with their families. All because they admitted to being just like them.

Strange fruit, man.

Street Harassment Movement Should Be Careful Not To Overlook Culture.

I’ve recently began doing a ton of reading and research on street harassment. I initially became intrigued because I find alternative interpretations to every-day life-functioning to be worthwhile issues to explore. And the more I read about it, the more evident it became that it is a rather polarizing issue. There are a ton of perspectives on street harassment, and men and women view things differently on both sides of the issue.

Firstly, I believe street harassment is a legitimate issue in this country that significantly affects non-paternal-heterosexuals. Also, I consider the issues inherent in street harassment as a useful tool in curbing not just how men approach prospective targets of sexual desire, but also how all genders conduct themselves in public. However, the biggest trouble I have had with street harassment (and what I also think creates a small portion of the polarity on the issue) is identifying what street harassment looks like, and how to discern them as I see them.

Granted, many instances of street harassment are plain as day. Disparaging a woman after a woman has spurned a man’s passive/aggressive advancement toward her is clearly street harassment. If a newspaper salesman offers you a newspaper, and you decline, then you should not be met with pejorative slander. Also, following a woman for blocks is arguably sufficient enough grounds to be stabbed.

It is awful that I cannot for certain categorize those instances as exceptional or of an insignificant minority.  Conversely, I do consider that a substantial amount of interactions can be interpreted as street harassment but don’t quite fall within the aforementioned egregious categories. Many instances border between harmful and harassment, culturally offensive, or simply just being lame. The differences are significant for a few reasons:

  1. Harmful and harassing acts compromise the safety of individuals in the public square in a tangible way. While comments like “hey beautiful” have serious ideological implications, categorizing it as harassment (something that has legal implications) implies a serious physical harm that can come out of those statements. While “hey beautiful”, and “why don’t you smile” and “Damn!” certainly are annoying and offensive, it doesn’t signify harm in a way that speaking aggressively or following a person for blocks can. While those same actions might be considered harassment in a workplace, it would be disingenuous to impose workplace conduct standards in the general public.
  2. What is offensive is often subject to cultural, class, and racial bias. This is the much-beleaguered “some women like that” point. While I personally agree that much of the language men use in the street against women are harmful and based in a series of horrible assumptions about womens’ identity, receptivity to such language often depends on cultural norms and gender expectations. In significantly integrated and diverse societies like New York City, language like “hey girl” and demands like “come here” can be more-likely interpreted as offensive. There’s much more diversity in terms of sensibility present in many metropolitan communities. Columbia-educated students occupy many of the same streets as high school dropouts. More and more communities hold project-dwellers, college attendants and professionals all within 5 square blocks. A woman more in-tune with the cultural and traditional approaches of masculinity may see them as equally irritating, and some may be flattered by such advancements. These dynamics change in a variety of groups. I find it harmful to exclude those voices from the discussion. Allow this example to illustrate my point:
    1. In http://stoptellingwomentosmile.com/ feature video, the narrator discusses how she talks to women and helps create awareness for street harassment. While her video is definitely a small sample size, the women featured in the video lack aesthetic diversity. Many of the women shown in photos are natural-haired, stereotypically “well-spoken” women. I’m aware that I am basing this somewhat on stereotype. However, ideologies often have their own physical properties– styles of dress, fashioning of ideas, and association of symbols. When assessing cultural relativity, physical aesthetic plays an important role. A lack of diverse physical aesthetics also assists in informing us of lacking diversity in cultural mindset.This is important because it reminds the viewer whose cultures/ideologies are present/absent from discourse. Do not get me wrong– their lack of women with colorful weave, tattoos, and a cultural vocal affect doesn’t invalidate their issues. Nor am I making an assumption that women more in-tune with the other cultural norms are never offended. Nor am I suggesting that such women are intentionally left out. However, if we surveyed some women on, say, the south-side of Atlanta- an area significantly segregated by race, class and culture, the conversation and how we look at those dynamics would change significantly. Thus, differentiation about what is harassment and what is simply offensive should be interrogated. What is offensive is subjective; what is harassment seeks to occupy a greater degree of objectivity. If you have an issue with any generalizations I make here, it is legitimate. I do not think it is irrational, though, to generalize that in isolated communities– where men and women are more likely to think similarly– that there is less disagreement in how genders interact.

Cultural miscommunications are common. Those cultural miscommunications often result in being offended. The discourse on street harassment often overlooks that place where they intersect.  Thus, when things that are culturally relative and up for interpretation are considered to be street harassment, it has the potential to be culturally offensive. This may play a role in why the issue has been so polarizing for some (I am sure other factors are at play).

Nevertheless, just because something may be culturally offensive to someone doesn’t mean we should allow it to persist if it causes real harms. But it should inform how we frame, discuss, and present the issues. Being clear of what is actual harassment and what can possibly be cultural disagreement/misunderstanding is paramount. We should take into consideration that while we could be highlighting an issue that affects a certain group of people, we may also be chastising cultural behavior that an equally significant group of men and women deem valuable.

Being able to categorize and distinguish behavior that is threatening and behavior that is offensive could do bounds toward helping resolve such a common, everyday problem. In a world so rigidly stagnated and divided by culture, race, and class, gender is one of the areas where culture is most permeable and most likely to collide. Why? Because its likely the only time in your day when you come into direct (personal, not business-related or spatially related) confrontation with a complete stranger. Attraction is the only time where people feel bold enough to reach out to someone of whom they’re not certain thinks, looks, or acts the same. And for cultural, traditional–and arguably evolutionary– reasons, men are most likely to initiate that permeation and they do so 100 times a day.

The frequency at which women experience such cultural clashes can feel like harassment, but they are certainly not objective forms of harassment. Feeling harassed is indeed significant enough to warrant a discussion about issues and grievances. This essay does not seek to undermine whether women actually feel harassed. That cannot– and should not– be challenged. However, this essay seeks to address the implications of uncritically conceding that feeling harassed is a sufficient enough warrant to actually categorize something as harassment in the objective sense. Feelings are subjective interpretations of events.They’re extremely valuable for discourse. Conversely, when deciding how to intellectually adjudicate harassment, we need more-objective standards and defined lines on what categorizes as harassment and things that could feel like harassment but are actually offensive. The difference between the two are essential. Assuming the former forces us to criminalize men, whereas the other enables us to have discourse in the ways that men– and “masculine” culture– undermine womens’ agency. In some cases, we need to make men criminally accountable for their actions. In others, we need to make men civically, culturally, and ideologically accountable for their actions.

Maliciousness and passive/aggressive behavior certainly is harassment. And while a man signifying and cool-posing, blowing kisses and calling women “beautiful” instead of trying to figure out their names, are, in my estimation, based in heterocentric righteousness, those same actions hold personal and cultural significance to both genders within some cultures and real men and women interact in meaningful ways based on that. Approaching a stranger based on your own cultural frame of reference may offend others, and may even make others feel disrespected; but it is NOT harassment.

Men are going to approach women more often than the opposite. That’s a fact. What affects your approach toward the opposite sex are your culture, your education, and an amalgamate of experiences. A culture of oppression can exist, but only insomuch as it tangibly damages a groups’ ability to be active in a society. Many forms of interactions between men and women do indeed fall within that form of cultural oppression. Just as many, however, are simply clashes of culture. The latter is a better problem to have because the solution is in understanding each other, whereas in the former the solution is in punitive action. Just as we want men to be more careful in the language they use because of it’s implications, Street Harassment needs to be aware of the same.

While Child-Rearing is Complex, Peterson Controversy Reveals Irony and Hypocrisy within NFL and ALL Parents

The Adrian Peterson dilemma has just about every major news outlet on fire. Some have stepped up on their highchair of righteousness, condemning Peterson for whipping his child to the point that the child began to bleed, while others have come to his defense and right to discipline his child as he sees fit. Hidden within it all are the subjective and cultural experiences of viewers across the country.

Child-rearing is a very personal aspect for adults. There are several considerations that affect strategies for raising children. They tend to speak to the esteem in which we hold those we love the most—our parents. Child-rearing, like religion, is passed down generation to generation. And while parents by generation seem willing to provide their children with greater freedoms and autonomy because of the availability of technology, methods in child discipline seem to be one dynamic of parenting very resistant to change.

The reason why is obvious. While parents’ being open to letting their children drive cars and possess cell phones makes life more convenient for the parent, child-disciplining possesses a greater challenge. Children need explanations to understand deviant behavior. Most commonly, consequences serve to illuminate understanding on a basic level. If the consequence is abstract, many children are developed to understand behavior based on its’ consequence rather the wrong of the action. For example, leaving your child locked out of the house for leaving his keys at school is an example of a consequence associated with the action, giving a child a clear genesis in the flaw in their behavior. However, beating your child for waking up late will prevent the children from understanding why waking up late is such a bad idea (save for the fact that he might get beaten).

Enter the NFL. After the Minnesota Vikings deactivated their All-Pro running back from their week 2 matchup against the patriots, they responded by essentially suspending him indefinitely because of the outrage the public expressed at Peterson’s behavior. The general public seemed to be astonished that parents whoop their children to this extent and with such impunity. He used a tree branch, beating his child until the skin is shown, including the private area of his four-year old son.

Aside from being curious about what the child did to invoke such rage from Peterson, I was reminded of a stand-up comedy routine by the late Bernie Mac, who once alluded to beating children “’til the white meat shows.” Those who have come to Peterson’s defense—aside from those advocating parental rights—are pleading for viewers to understand that Peterson is a product of his cultural upbringing, and that this is a common thing amongst black people.

Whopping your child is not a black thing—it’s a global practice. Children are whipped to one extent or another by adults every day. And while it would be easy to just call it a cultured practice (in an attempt to justify it), Peterson’s actions are likely not the best methods in child-rearing. And it is Adrian Peterson who has the most to lose.

Peterson is no different than any loving parent who forces their child to participate in an activity the child dislikes but the parent believes it is for the “better good.” He is no different than the parent who forces their child to do house labor for deviant behavior. Parents love— and love hard—not realizing the way you did it is not the best way for your child to do it.

Or maybe Adrian Peterson is a tired parent. Perhaps he’s one of many who do not have the time or patience to explain things to their children. It’s possible that he is too time-strapped to consider more creative and relevant ways to encourage desirable behavior. Instead, like most parents, probably just believes if the consequence is harsh enough, the child will learn to fear that instead of understanding the wrong. The fastest way to get the desired behavior, unfortunately, is the most preferred; as it helps us all get back to business.

And NFL is doing the exact same thing.

Peterson may have tried to suggest to his beaten child that it was done with the best intentions and “out of love”, or that it’s “his house, his rules.” When the consequences are not aligned with the actual behavior, it’s usually because the action simply bothered you, not because it is intrinsically wrong. However, at least Peterson has right to be so paternal, irrespective of how misguided such paternity is. The NFL? Not so much. The law has already created disincentives for domestic abuse, namely, the denial of freedom and constitutional rights. The NFL needs to realize they are partners with the players, not parents of the players.

BREAKING NEWS: Notes from National Police Convention Discovered!; The Willis Lynn Letter

In light of the political angst that continue to builds in Ferguson, Mo., a national meeting of Police Departments had been held yesterday to provide police officers and police chiefs new training and to give some new research-based orientation of best-practices. Though it was a highly secret training, I was able to sneak in and record a lecture given by guest speaker Willis Lynn, a Police Chief from Barbados. Here are key excerpts from the presentation provided by Officer Lynn.

Greetings,

Ladies and Gentlemen, I greet you here on this gracious day of our lord to solve some of the problems that have begun to arise in our communities. Most of us here have been tasked with managing black communities—preventing insurrections, pumping them into prison pipelines, and clearing our communities of these menaces. It has been noticed that with increasing difficulty, we have been effective in our plan keep the black community tamed. They have been using Smartphones, and their access to social media—the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram– to observe our people with a more-watchful eye. They have sought to undermine us through constant critiques and propaganda; demanding outrageous things such as thorough investigations, equitable treatment, and “Ask-Before-Acting” police policy. It goes without stating that this goes against our Fraternal objectives.

Your invitation reached me in my modest home in Barbados, where we have conducted the finest research using the best statisticians of our time. We have experimented with some of the best, and oldest, methods in keeping communities submissive. Governor George Wallace would exalt us eternally in heaven if my plan was implemented. Certainly my people, your predicament is not unique. The British used the navy to intimidate citizens and sent their citizens to jail for the slightest infractions, so much that we needed to conquer Australia to place them. Earlier civilizations used the Bible as justification to intimidate and imprison—sending citizens to jail for homosexuality or anything akin to it…. Like anal sex.

However, ladies and gentlemen, our societies have become more and more liberal. In America, you have things like “innocent until proven guilty,” and while this had been working for us well, there has been increasing expectation for us to extend these same values to our Negro brethren. This is unacceptable and wholly disrespectful to our forefathers, who tirelessly sailed the seas as captains and shipmen—the first American policemen– to help bring us to the prosperous conditions we live within.

Lately, our order has become sloppy and lazy in maintaining power. Our errors have been exploited by the media because of our inability to deal with when members of our order choose to use deadly force. But if we follow these fool-proof procedures that have been validated by Science, we will become prosperous once again. While I had thought much of this was common sense, the situation in Ferguson, MO. has made me aware that many police departments have not adopted such practiced. I have created several rules to follow for when deadly force is used by our police:

  1. Create proof that demonstrates that the offer was attacked: This is a subtle and difficult rule to follow, mostly because of citizens’ tendency to record our encounters with them. However, if available, always generate bruises that demonstrate proof of resistance and document it. We have a strong precedent for such a practice. Consider the Zimmerman case. While he was not a police officer, his bruises played a significant role in his favorable verdict. Bruises, abrasions, and scratches are little things police officers can create to create a more believable scenario. People believe black people are dangerous; and while the public typically does not even need proof to believe a black man was the aggressor, it’s always a plus if we can provide “definitive proof” of his aggression. Remember, Denzel, ironically a black man, told us best in ‘Training Day’: It’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove!
  2. Harass your citizens during the nighttime: We understand that this is why many of you become cops in the first place! What’s the point of the badge and gun if you can’t wield it from time to time?! This is the best way to remove obstacles that exist with rule one. Zimmerman provided an astonishing model. Smartphone camera visibility drastically reduces during the nighttime. Additionally, at nighttime our research indicates that there are fewer witnesses and bystanders. This enables us to make up stories more seamlessly. It allows us to plant contraband such as weapons and drugs onto the offender. Plus, people outside at night are usually guilty, anyways. And we all know we don’t need witnesses to help close our cases. Witnesses are ONLY a deterrent to police power. Do what you can to avail yourself of them! And while many of you on daytime duty may be disappointed, this is the best way to protect all of us.
  3. Improve target shooting for Police Officers: The firestorm in Ferguson, MO. is the result of many issues gone wrong, but c’mon ladies and gentlemen. Let’s be honest: the reason why so many people are up in arms is because of the numerous shots that have been allegedly shot. This would have been an otherwise harmless shooting of another Negro male if our police officers were better marksmen. By improving the shooting aim of our police force, thereby improving their efficiency, we can reduce the number of grievances but still maintain the authority we so desperately need. One shot? We can, at worst, spin that as an “accident.” Six shots look like murder. You do not want to put us—or yourself– in that position.

 

These methods are tried and true. I urge our police force to keep it simple. We have been getting away with murdering black men and women for centuries now, and we cannot afford a few misguided and ill-prepared police departments to squander so much of our efforts.

If we continue to stumble, police officers will be under just as much surveillance as civilians are, which defies our purpose in becoming cops. If we persists with such reckless behavior, police departments will be replete with men and women of color, and we cannot trust them in our fight to keep colored people powerless. Our society has already gutted their communities of worthwhile jobs and taken their access to education. It is our duty to close the coffin (no pun intended). The criminal justice system is where the cycle is complete, and we are on ground zero of that construction site. Follow these rules, and the objective of our Fraternal Order will be complete!

 

            At the end of the presentation, an officer raised his hand to ask whether they could solve these problems by simply following the law. Chief Lynn responded by suggesting that African Americans have used the law to get almost anything they want from government subsidies to affirmative action. He continued by blaming black people for larger governments and increased spending that has crippled the economy. Finally, he concluded that by instilling fear into black communities from rising against the most fundamental form of the law—its’ police—it serves as an everyday incentive to maintain the status quo, which benefits the majority of Americans. “How can we impose order if they don’t fear us?” Chief Lynn rhetorically posed.

“How can we maintain order if WE fear THEM?” One asked. Silence ensued.

Republican Party… and Bulls**t

*Disclaimer. I am not connected or affiliated with any political party*

Without stating the obvious, the government shutdown this year is bound to affect millions of Americans directly and indirectly. The government lacking appropriations and labor-hours will eventually affect the provision of pell grants, student loans, and early-education programs like Head Start– things that will disproportionately affect those in the middle-class and below. As of today, the government is broke man waiting for his FEMA check to arrive, filled with IOU’s, “I’m sorry’s” and “our bad’s” that, quite honestly, the American people will allow them to do. Fact is, people have no faith in our representatives anymore and mayhem like this is not only non-surprising to anyone who even remotely pays attention to the news, but it is almost expected.

The leaders in the GOP are either insanely genius and calculated, or are the most disconnected, mind-numb people on the planet. If they make any progress in the eyes of the American people hence forth I will be stunned. Republican leaders had to see this coming since last November. And all I have been thinking is: “Is this the best strategy you could come up with in 11 months.” I know 11 year-olds that could probably figure better.

Furthermore, the government shutdown is a product of party politics, which America has always been. However, recently, party strategy has been more about doing things that deliberately attempt to sabatoge the other party to create negative press instead of using the American people, groundswell and grass-roots campaigns to sway public opinion; it’s a ‘rich’ (another word for lazy) way of doing politics . However, I really want to assume that GOP members are rational thinkers. Putting my GOP thinking cap on, I’ve determined their cost/risk analysis can be parametricized as:

“We like their chances in swaying public opinion over the Affordable Care Act, and democrats in general, through waging a government shutdown much better than we like our chances in gaining political clout from the law being passed. Thus, shutting down the government to prevent funding, paychecks, and access to lands to millions of Americans (indefinitely) is worth the wage in what– in our  interpretation– is government intrusion, rising insurance costs, and reductions in employment. “ *In my GOP voice*

Willing to take the ship down with them

While the GOP will publicly blame Democrats for the shutdown, it is clear that they consider the shutdown—and the lives it will affect—as necessary casualties. Point blank, the GOP has taken the country hostage, and you have to believe that, strategically, party leaders considered this the absolute best option, because it’s a pretty shitty move.

The republicans are fucked. That’s pretty much it. The Bush administration—mostly the war and the economy—have turned the party into a waste-land. Their most legitimate leader, John McCain, lost his opportunity mostly because of bad timing and a hellified grassroots campaign by the Obama administration. Coming down the pike is likely the first female President in an increasingly liberal republic, with a youth demographic heavy in democratic support only to grow in age and number.

As if those realities were not impending enough, the Obama adminstration is about the pass the first major health care reform in a half-century, with any judgment about it’s success being utterly premature by the midterm elections. Thus, the year of 2014 would be a year of Democrats boasting health care reform (in spite of GOP resistance) and a continuously-waning mass appeal of the men and women in red, making two years of Republican leadership look like a complete failure, unable to get any major republican agendas pulled through or any Democratic agendas blocked all the while taking blame for a massive government shutdown.  To save face, their best option is somehow to make the Dems responsible for a government shutdown as the only legitimate ammo for the 2014 midterm elections. But this game comes at a cost.

The democrats have delivered the sabatoge to the GOP in the most painful way possible—the right way. They trusted that “we, the people” would assist in delivering the blow in a way that make antics and theatrics unnecessary. Not because the republicans are bad people, not because they don’t care about Americans, but because the Democratic agenda right now is best in-line with what the people want for better or worse. The republicans look like sore losers, like people falling looking for imaginary handles to grab on their way down. But instead of bowing down, taking the respectable and hard-fought loss, they’ve decided they’re going to take anyone caught in the net—democrats, citizens, even weapon-permits—with them.

And its all to preserve the party. But this wont be the first or last example of how our affiliations trump real-world solutions. It isn’t right, but I understand.

RG III is More like Donovan McNabb Than He’s Willing to Admit

ImageThis upcoming Thursday, six-time pro-bowler and former Eagles QB Donovan McNabb will have his number retired for the Philadelphia Eagles, recognizing his outstanding contributions to the franchise. Since his departure from wearing green and white, McNabb has made the news for several reasons, most notably his ongoing media beef with Redskins star Robert Griffin III. RGIII’s struggles entering week 3 and Donovan McNabb’s retirement of his jersey makes for an interested comparison between the two. Despite some of their public statements and disagreements, RGIII’s career is certainly shaping up to have a remarkably similar story arc that makes whatever disagreement between the two woefully ironic.

In May 2012, in a feature on ESPN’s first take, McNabb sat beside troll Hall-of-Famer Skip Bayless to speculate on RGIII’s would-be success in the Redskins offense. McNabb, after experiencing a tenuous time in Washington—being benched on the final drive heading versus the Detroit Lions despite entering the game 4-3 because of an “inability to learn the playbook”—implied that coach Mike Shanahan’s pride would get in the way of Baylor standout’s success.

“I say that because a lot of the time ego gets too involved with when you’re playing in Washington.” And McNabb was not off-based with this idea. While the Redskins did change the offense to fit RGIII’s skill sets, leading him to have a rookie season arguably better than Cam Newton’s, pride and an unwillingness to sit RGIII after his injury at the end of the 2012 season did—and is currently—hurting the team.

McNabb continued with advice for the offensive Rookie of the Year. During this past off-season, as RGIII was rehabbing his torn ACL, getting married, and posting pictures of wedding presents his fans have purchased for him, McNabb told him to lay off the theatrics a bit. Griffin responded by saying “right now, it’s probably best we don’t talk.”

Ironically, McNabb’s advice is coming from an honest place. He, more than anyone knows about how it feels to have public favor turned against a player. By 2003, McNabb was Philadelphia’s darling and shining armor. He dazzled viewers by juking linebackers out of their shoes, brushing off would-be lineman trying to take his head off, and running over smaller defensive backs. After losing a few NFC championship games, where a combination of poor performance and pure coaching arrogance led to loses, the perception tide began to change. Then came Rush Limbaugh. Then  J. Whyatt Mondesire. Then Terrell Owens. Finally “vomit-gate” and the sports hernia. McNabb’s message to the young star is simple: stop letting these fans build you up because they will turn on you in a minute.

This will be almost an inevitable occurrence for Griffin. They love him. And without Super-Bowl rings, those honey-moons tend to end really fast. And given how talented and young his counterparts in San Francisco, Indiana, Seattle, Cincinnati, and Carolina are, and how putrid the Redskins defense and receiving corps are, it’s reasonable to believe that a championship is pretty far away.

But similar to Donovan McNabb’s career, everyone wants to analyze Robert Griffin on a level so much more than what is on the field. Griffin and McNabb do not have some of the identifiers we look for in our top black athletes. In the NFL, black men want to root for black quarterbacks. However, we look at black quarterbacks—especially those like Michael Vick and Cam Newton—in a different light. They exude a swagger and demeanor that feels affirmative of “black culture,” whereas the perception goes for McNabb and Griffin—for unfounded reasons—appear to run from them. McNair and Warren Moon went to HBCU’s, Michael Vick’s from the hood in Newport News, Cam’s from Atlanta. When they speak, when they talk—what they go through—allows them to claim access to “blackness” regardless of what they say, however problematic. Cam Newton has been as eager to shirk discussions about race (or altogether miss the point completely) as much as any quarterback before or after—yet no one questions his authenticity.

Griffin’s handling of racially-driven comments about his character has been as unrevealing as McNabb’s response to J Whyatt Mondesire. Mondesire, then-president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP, criticized McNabb in the Philadelphia Tribune in 2005 for pandering to race because McNabb rejected the notion of being a running quarterback in preference of being labeled a pocket-passer.

Without justifying Mondesire’s statement, it is clear that it ignores McNabb’s abhorrence to being labeled a running quarterback as having its own pathology based in racist assumptions others have made about his ability. Nevertheless, McNabb’s response is summed up by the following passive statement: “I always thought the NAACP supported African Americans and didn’t talk bad about them. Now you learn a little bit more.”

Griffin was subject to racially-driven ridicule by ESPN analyst Rob Parker. After being dooped into an awfully leading and loaded question by Bayless about Parker’s opinion of Griffin III’s braids, Parker responds: “My question, which is just a straight honest question: is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?.. That he’s black, he kind of does his thing, but he’s not really down with the cause, he’s not one of us…” Griffin responds with the predictable and oft-repeated tagline about race. “You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I’ve tried to go out and do.”

In fairness, most athletes wound respond in the politically-correct way Griffin and McNabb had to help dismiss the statement and push it under the rug. The more-telling issue is that people feel comfortable to raise those questions. However ignorant, it is relevant because they relate to how the athlete is being watched, and how we read into their actions.

There are a group of black male viewers of football that hate “company men.” Just as some white viewers impose their fantasies and subconscious onto black players on the field, so do some black viewers. There are a sect of viewers who want to see black quarterbacks who are down for the cause—players who use their status as quarterback to call out and subvert the system all while defeating the stereotypes. They are expected to be quarterback Ray Lewis’s–light fire under their teammates, yell at receivers who drop balls, and to be genuine. Black viewers want to watch their black quarterback be a symbol of freedom and not a reminder of their own lives, where political correct-ness, corporate responses and detached communications rule the day. Being quarterback is equated to some organizational power, something we want them to wield without pandering to coaches or general managers.

Someone—the right type of people—has to hate what you stand for in order for us to love you. And if the wrong people love you it is a sign for us to be weary of our allegiances. And that extends beyond the realm of sports.

Robert Griffin III’s career is looking to take a very McNabb-ian arc. Because he doesn’t look and act a certain way he will be subject to unwarranted criticism about his manhood, toughness, authenticity, and black pride that the media will force him to waste time on. And in the end, if he doesn’t win, he’ll be defined by everything he wasn’t.

And very little of that will have to do with his play on the field. And as McNabb retires his jersey Thursday night, he can’t help but wonder if his career is being reincarnated unto Griffin.

McNabb is just trying to give him a heads-up. They’d probably learn a lot from each other. Instead, their common experiences will be too personal to assuage the wedge between them.

Miley Cyrus’ Coonery Should Offend Everyone’s Senses, Not Their Race.

In-case you didn’t know already, last Sunday at the MTV Music Video Awards (why this award show is still relevant even though videos aren’t, don’t ask me), Miley Cyrus gave us another scene of her trippy 20 year-old pop-girl routine; smacking asses, gyrating on Robin Thicke, and doing a depressing and unappealing interpretation of “twerking.”

(*One Note* Can we stop calling referring whatever she is doing with her pelvic joints as ‘twerking’?! It is grossly offensive to call what she does—and this—the same thing. Thus, for the rest of this blog, I will refer to her dancing as ‘happy dance’.)

Cyrus’s hijinks on stage and off stage have drawn the ire of many around the country. People have accused her actions as racist, distasteful, and a gross cooptation of the oft-monolithicized “black culture.”

Not to make this article about myself, but context is critical for this discussion. My personal narrative will illustrate this. I am from a pretty black community growing up. I knew about wu-tangin’, D-mackin’, and other hyper-energetic dances. However, I was not familiar at all to “twerking” until I traveled to Atlanta, GA for college. It is there that I learned this wonderful secret of twerking. To southerners, it was pretty commonplace. I have seen women shake their asses in music videos. Twerking is something different, though. Perhaps this is male-centric perspective, but twerking it is a coordinated manipulation of toned muscle control and lower-body fat. Not just anyone can do it. It takes practice, skill, and rhythm. There’s a hierarchy and artistry to this thing that’s more than ass-shaking. Not ONE human on this earth has any intellectual ground to argue why twerking is not an art-form. It is just another example of how the perception of an expression determines the legitimacy of the expression (jump-rope comes to mind).

From Outkast to Lil’ Jon, to T.I. and Ludacris, to 2Chainz, the city of Atlanta has seen a rapid increase of visibility in the music industry. Gentlemen’s Clubs—or plainly Strip Clubs, a prominent cultural fixture in Atlanta, has found its’ way into the music. Stripper tracks or trap beats (songs kind of tailored to strip clubs) has taken the control of hip-hop. Juicy J, 2Chainz, and Rihanna all have songs that quite directly refer to strippers. This type of music has been called “ratchet” music (a name I absolutely despise). Today, radio stations across the country are largely playing the same music. This has diffused a lot of musical variance in the genre. Big Sean, Meek Millz, French Montana, Chief Keef, though they are from cities with traditionally-distinctive sounds, get meshed with music labels that feature both northern and southern artists. And the south is winning. Point is: the mainstream success of this type of music has made it so most listeners are novices to the genre– blacks and whites alike. My narrative is no different.

Enter Miley Cyrus. Her exposure to twerking probably has a similar genesis to mine. Just as a piece of the sub-culture has captured the ears of Philadelphians, New Yorkers, or even Gambians, it has caught Miley Cyrus. Granted, aesthetically, her reception to the genre is not as seamless as when, say, Amber Rose, Rihanna, or Beyonce. However, that does not make her performance akin to minstrel shows in any way.  We make it seem as if twerking is something white folk just are not supposed to do. If anything, we should be screaming about how late everyone is to the party. Even if we agreed Cyrus is imitating (a form) of black culture, that doesn’t make it minstrel act. We damn sure would not call Robin Thicke minstrelsy. Minstrel acts were designed to grossly distort stereotypes of African Americans. At the moment we conclude twerking is indeed part of a distinct black sub-culture, any assumption of minstrelsy cannot exist. Miley Cyrus is just another person swept up in the current status of hip-hop. And for that we should not be surprised or appalled.

The country’s obsession with “ratchet” is music is a myth. The country has always been obsessed with hip-hop. And right now, it is in a phase where fascination about exotic dancers is rampant. The only difference is that she enjoys it and doesn’t mind if others find out if she does. I understand, from a celebrity standpoint, racial dynamics in this country enable her to embrace and reject the sub-culture at her own convenience, but this is something even as black people do.

The Hannah Montana star’s explanation that she enjoys “hood” music, but does not make “hood music” is not entirely unlike “socially upward” African Americans who admittedly enjoy “ratchet” culture in moderation. Why choose to jump on her there? There are plenty of people who enjoy sub-cultures but do not consider themselves to be part of it, nor desire to be categorized as a member of the culture. Fans of gospel music can be atheists. Fans of gangsta rap don’t want to be called gangsters or thugs. Fan-hood does not require an acceptance of the lifestyles the genre promotes. Her implication that Nicki Menaj is a hood artist is pretty ridiculous, but that is another topic.

Let’s be clear that Nicki Menaj and Rihanna both do the type of things that Miley did on that stage—albeit with much more meat on their bodies, rhythm, and cool, right? Nicki Menaj did it in front of Lil Wayne at the Billboard Music Awards, flanked by black women, without nearly as much ridicule. There are racially-driven reasons for that, also the fact that the VMA’s are not the BMA’s. The reason Cyrus’ performance was unappealing to Rihanna and Drake, because it was stupid-looking (Drake looked as if he was a worse person having seen that, which is how I felt watching). Her goof-ish and awkward happy dance is accentuated by dancing bears in a way that makes the entire show look like a caricature that evokes minstrelsy. In some twisted way, there is some seriousness that rhythmically inclined people take to twerking that makes Nicki Menaj’s dancing look more audacious than exploitative. Cyrus’ parading around foolishly doing her happy dance felt like a bastardization of the what I consider a legitimate and artful expression of the body. But foolishness is just coonery (it’s kinda fun to intentionally misappropriate traditionally-racial terms), something that Miley Cyrus epitomized Sunday night.

It was offensive to our senses, not our race.

The most poignant argument of Cyrus’ racism is seen through her company of black dancers on stage. It has been pointed out that Miley Cyrus participates in these “ratchet” acts usually flanked by other black women as if they are accessories. While that is not unique to pop star, certainly Cyrus’ analingus simulation on a voluptuous woman was offensive and inappropriate. It is egregious because she invaded the privacy of a body to which she does not own. But she is so willing to treat herself, Robin Thicke, and that dancer’s body like a piece of meat that it is difficult to discern whether her actions are racialized or if she is just some hyper-sexualized idiot.

Miley Cyrus is approaching this all in a way not too incongruent with how most of us have, albeit with the usual flair of a celebrity. The real problem for most people: she’s doing it on television. Meanwhile, we also grow unclear whether we’re upset that she’s mimicking, co-opting, or exploiting the culture, each having its’ own implications. Should we demand that people stop trying to portray what we perceive to be sexual images of black women or should we just insist that twerking shouldn’t be so sexualized? The former tend to function in a way that attempts to limit the freedom of what women can and want to do. I’d advocate the latter.

At the heart of the issue is sensitivity.  Miley Cyrus is just another white artist that will continue to gain notoriety from embracing something that blacks know is a “black thing.” Black folk are reasonably upset because twerking, had it been something we did embrace, would result in a continued narrative of sexualization of black women. Or maybe not. There are legitimate issues to both sides of the quandary. But the lesson we keep learning is that it is important to for black people to uphold ALL cultural expressions as legitimate artistry. Or maybe we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

At the end of the day, Miley Cyrus is participating in acts that, in some way, allude to a type of black culture of which politically empowered black people feel is exploitative and/or insulting that illicit a stigma and/or behavior that negatively portray black women. But ironically, at the same time, as the idea of twerking explodes across the nation and world, we’d still be upset if Miley Cyrus stands to gain the most from being credited with the very exploitative and suggesting type of dancing we want to be distanced from.

Aint that black people in America?