Yes, this is yet another piece written about Beyonce and her latest album. I have seen people label the tone and impact of Yonce’s latest album as a display of a,“ hip hop generation feminist sensibility.” This feminist label/association is primarily due to Beyonce’s announcement that she is a, “modern day feminist,” and the fact that the Noel “Detail” Fisher (the producer of Flawless) sampled the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie impassioned words from her speech entitled We Should All Be Feminist in the hit record Flawless, which happened to spawn the new highly hashtagable catchphrase, “I woke up like this.” It is important to note that many that have vaulted Beyonce into the oft-politicized terrain of being associated with the F-Word have taken Bey’s association with Feminism out of context. Mrs. Carter calling herself a “modern day feminist” comes from an interview that she conducted with British Vogue. In the interview Beyonce was asked if she considers herself a feminist, which lead to Beyonce saying:
That word can be very extreme … But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman. … I do believe in equality and that we have a way to go and it’s something that’s pushed aside and something that we have been conditioned to accept. … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.
This is obviously a far cry from a ringing endorsement, or willing association with the historical/political label of being a feminist, but the point of this piece is not to question Mrs. Carter’s association with feminism. Nor is this piece about certain feminists (Pro-Beyonce and Anti-Beyonce) ignoring the fact Beyonce questions, “Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are?” And that in a sense, Beyonce is saying that the feminist box/label is limiting her personal potential/definition of what it means to be a woman. This piece is more so about connecting Yonce’s investment in female empowerment, and having control of their bodies/sexuality and the song Drunk In Love featuring (her husband) Shawn “Jay Z/Hov” Carter. My aim is to critically engage the lyrics of the record Drunk In Love. I want to unpack what it means (based upon the songs lyrics) to be drunk in love, and how being drunk and in love looks (again based on the songs lyrics) within the record.
Beyonce and Jay Z opened the 2014 Grammy Awards with a performance of their hit record Drunk In Love. “Dressed in Saint Laurent black tights, custom bra, La Perla collar body and Nichole de Carle body suit, complete with wavy wet hair, Beyonce belted out the lyrics to the song — expertly twirling in a chair amid strobe lights for the mid-tempo jam. Beyonce completed her outfit with Stuart Weitzman heels and Jennifer Fisher yellow gold and large dagger earrings” (Hollywood Reporter). Jay Z on the other hand was simply decked in the classic formal uniform of masculine decadent fashion- a timeless black tuxedo. This leads one to wonder why we know so much about everything worn by Beyonce, and so little about Jay Z (while ironically Beyonce clearly has on less clothing than Jay Z). The first thing that I thought about while watching this performance (remember this was the opening performance for the Grammys, so it was 8:00 pm) was that this was a bit risqué for not only the Grammys, but also for CBS who had a full blown controversy on their hands via Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake during the now infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII, Nipplegate 2004. Side note: America lost their minds when Janet Jackson’s nipple was exposed for less than one second by way of a, “wardrobe malfunction,” but the Red Hot Chilli Peppers did an entire set with four nipples exposed in the 2014 Super Bowl, and nobody had a problem with that- but I digress. The Beyonce performance (which was essentially an homage to the iconic 1980s film Flash Dance) was essentially a primetime network television version of a striptease, a mild erotica of sorts, set to her self-created theme music. Sex sells. I get it. People have a right to express their sexuality however they choose. I get it. This is not myself playing the role of the politics of sexual censorship police. I’m just calling it not only as I saw, but also as it was intended to be seen by all parties involved in the performance. What I did find interesting was the fact that CBS saw fit to edit the audio, censoring what they considered risqué lyrics within the song during two points of Beyonce’s performance. The lyrics that were worthy of censoring was when Beyonce sang, “How the hell did this shit happen…” This seemed peculiar to me, being that the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC is now prohibited from fining and sanctioning any sort of obscene and indecent content. In the past, TV networks like CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, PBS, and others — had to censor certain curse words within programming in order to adhere to specific policies and avoid fines or other infractions. In other words, the choice to censor the words “hell” and “shit” from Beyonce’s performance of Drunk In Love was the choice of those at CBS, not the FCC, and the slippery slope of what is (and or is not) deemed as indecent (Beyonce’s actual performance in comparison to verbal obscenities) is then also a decision of those at CBS. This lead me to focus, not on which lyrics were censored, but which lyrics (and subsequently the themes associated with said lyrics) were allowed to flood the primetime public airwaves.
The censored portion of Drunk In Love happens to be the bridge that connects the verse’s lyrics to the hook (or chorus). As I mentioned the words “hell” and “shit” were not allowed to be played to the viewing audience, but let us look at the bridge in totality. During the bridge, Beyonce sings:
“We woke up in the kitchen saying ‘How the hell did this shit happen?’, oh baby. Drunk in love, we be all night. Last thing I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding off in that club. Drunk in love.
My question is, why was this portion of the bridge suitable for the primetime public airwaves? Look, let’s get this out of the way; the song is about getting hyper-inebriated, having sex, and not knowing how it happened. Now, in the world of Jay Z and Beyonce that’s the recipe for a hit record, but in the real world, that is the recipe for date rape.
According to the Department of Justice, “Approximately 90 percent of date rapes happen with alcohol involved.” A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that by the time they are seniors, almost 20 percent of college women will become victims, overwhelmingly by a fellow classmate. Very few will ever report it to authorities. The same study states that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol (Krebs et. al.). I’m in the state of California and in the state of California, if you have sex with an individual who voluntarily consumes enough alcohol and/or drugs to the point where he/she is unable to resist the sexual encounter, prosecutors could charge you with Penal Code 261 PC date rape. This also applies to married couples. California rape law holds that every act of sexual intercourse must be consensual. This is why even a married individual can be convicted of raping his/her spouse under Penal Code 262 spousal rape. What does this have to do with Yonce’s lyrics? Quite honestly, it has everything to do with these lyrics. Drunk In Love is (seemingly) about two hyper-inebriated people that were having sex all night. Based upon Drunk In Love’s bridge, Beyonce and her partner awoke in the kitchen (not our kitchen, which is an important distinction when we think about being familiar with a location) unaware of how they arrived at the kitchen, but it seemed obvious that something sexual had happened “all night.” Based on the bridge, Yonce and her partner were not only “drunk” and “in love,” but they were also incapable of remembering “how this shit happened.” But wait a minute; there is another perspective to take into consideration. We have to take Jay Z’s recollection of the night of drunken love to complete this story.
Mr. Carter emerges onto the record providing not only the male perspective of the aforementioned night, but also (unlike Mrs. Carter) Jay Z provides a detailed account of the drunken love session that lasted “all night.” Based upon Jay Z’s verse in the song, the night transpired like this:
Hold up, Stumbled all in the house time to back up all of that mouth/ That you had all in the car, talking ‘bout you the baddest bitch thus far/ Talking ‘bout you be repping that third, I wanna see all the shit that I heard Know I sling Clint Eastwood, hope you can handle this curve/ Foreplay in the foyer, fucked up my Warhol/ Slip the panties right to the side/ Ain’t got the time to take draws off, on site/ Catch a charge I might, beat the box up like Mike In ‘97 I bite, I’m Ike, Turner, turn up Baby no I don’t play, now eat the cake, Anna Mae Said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!”
Again, when one does a close reading of Jay Z’s lyrics in Drunk In Love you can see that he, (unlike Beyonce) is fully cognizant of the situation at hand, and is capable of giving a full recount of the events that lead them into the kitchen. Beyonce was alone in pondering, “how did this shit happen.” According to Jay Z, Beyonce, “stumbled all in the house,” and it was time for her to “back up all of that mouth,” about how she was the, “baddest bitch thus far.” There was “Foreplay in the foyer” that leads to the damaging of his Andy Warhol painting. The sense of urgency within the situation lead Jay Z to, “slip the panties,” of Beyonce, “right to the side,” because he did not have the “time” to take her “drawers off.” This sexual encounter was happening, “on site.” This then lead Jay Z to reveal the true nature of the sexual encounter, because (in his own words) he felt as if this sexual session could lead him to catching, “a charge.” For those unaware, to potentially, “catch a charge,” means that one is performing an act that can result in legal problems and possible incarceration. Problematically, Jay Z then mentions that he, “beat the box up like Mike,” (as in former Heavy Weight Champion Mike Tyson who was convicted of rape in 1992) which translates into the level in which he punished the vagina (“box” is a derogatory term for female genitalia) of his wife Beyonce. Post Jay Z exposing the listening/viewing audience as to how he is a particular type of heavy weight champ in the sex ring, he then makes the controversial association between he and Beyonce with Ike and Tina Turner. Like Ike and Tina Turner’s Proud Mary, Drunk In Love speaks to the ways in which Jay and Beyonce, “neva eva do nothing nice and easy” in the sexual sphere, according to Jay’s verse they prefer to (like Ike and Tina Turner), “do it nice and ruff.” As Mark Anthony Neal said in a recent blog piece, “We may never know what exactly Mrs. Knowles-Carter and Mr. Carter’s intents were with the song or why they fully felt the need to share as they have,” we do know that when Jay Z made reference to the scene in What’s Love Got to Do with It? (1993), the film adaptation of Ms. Turner’s autobiography I, Tina (1986), when he said, “Baby know I don’t play/ Now eat the cake Anne Mae!” In this particular scene in the film, Ike Turner (played by Lawrence Fishburn) and Tina Turner (played by Angela Bassett) are in the midst of a domestic dispute in a public space. But, for me, the line reminded me of the first time that I had ever seen sexual violence in a film- when Ike Turner’s character rapes Tina Turner in their home recoding studio. Again, to echo Mark Anthony Neal, I have no idea as to why Jay Z chose to go with the Mike Tyson and Ike Turner references in regards to painting the picture of this sexual setting for Drunk In Love, but we do know that those two men were connected to violent sexual experiences with women.
After really thinking about how clear Jay Z was about the entire sexual experience, and how Beyonce, “woke up in the kitchen saying, ‘How the hell did this shit happen,” I took another look at both Jay Z and Beyonce’s lyrics. What I found was that within this song, Beyonce mentions drinking or being drunk 18 times- Jay Z mentions being drunk 0 times. This may explain why Jay Z can fully recall all of the details of the sexual encounter, while Beyonce is wondering how she ended up in a kitchen drunk, again searching for answers to her question, “how the hell did this shit happen.” As I mentioned before, according to the Department of Justice, “Approximately 90 percent of date rapes happen with alcohol involved.” But there is one detail that I failed to focus on; Beyonce did remember something from that night. According to Beyonce, “The last thing that I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding off in that club.” So if, “the last thing” that Beyonce remembers was, “off in that club,” where Beyonce had been drinking, and that the person that she was involved with had her, “faded,” making her, “want,” him and then she awoke in the morning (presumably naked) in a kitchen, there is a possibility that something had been slipped into Beyonce’s drink. Maybe Rohypnol had been put into her alcoholic beverage at the club. “Many victims have reported that after Rohypnol was slipped into their drinks, they blacked out and woke up unsure of what had happened during the course of their blackout. Also, it is important to note that the loss of memory does not necessarily mean a loss of consciousness. Victims can be awake and still experience complete memory loss of the incident. The loss of memory may prevent people from reporting the crime soon enough to be tested for the drug” (Campus Advocacy Network, University of Illinois), or maybe the popular date rape drug GHB was given to her without her knowledge. Whatever the case based on the lyrics, something happened to Beyonce at the club while she was drinking and hours later she had awaken, wondering, “how the hell did this shit happen,” to her.
Now, I know that there will be some people that will read this and say that this is, “just a song,” but I think that there is something dangerous about the promotion of a song that glamorizes being so drunk after leaving a nightclub that you can’t even remember how you ended up in a kitchen in the morning after having sex, “all night.” I wonder what is the message being received by the listener when Jay Z talks about potentially catching, “a case,” for having sex with a woman that “stumbled all in the house?” I am also wondering why did CBS open up the 2014 Grammys, at 8:00pm with an erotic performance of a record about drunk (and potentially drugged) “love,” and felt that censoring the words “hell” and “shit” would make the Beyonce and Jay Z performance suitable for a primetime viewing audience.
Checkmate: The King Could Be on the Verge of Complicating the LeBron vs. Jordan Debate
Before we begin, lets get one thing clear, all debates in sports regarding which player is “the best” or “the greatest ever” are based on personal preferences/points of view, tethered to statistics, and mythology. These debates are subjective arguments shrouded in the illusion of objectivity. In the case of the NBA, the recent debate over who is “the best” has become the Jordan vs. LeBron debate. It is almost a form of National Basketball Association fandom sacrilege to say that someone is the next Michael Jordan, but it is almost a form of NBA blaspheme to say that one is greater than his Airness. I get it, how can you blame those that were mesmerized by Jordan’s role in the evolution of the way that the game of basketball was played and perceived? I mean, come on man, he dunked from the free-throw line with a gold chain on to win the Slam Dunk Contest, he defeated alien cartoon characters in Space Jam, and how can we forget that he is arguably the father of sneaker head collectible shoe culture- He is Jordan. Oh yeah, also, let’s not forget the fact that his Airness has been to the NBA Finals 6 times, he has 6 NBA Championship rings, 6 NBA Finals MVP Trophies, and in his quest to secure his sequence of successful sixes, he never allowed a NBA Finals series to make it past game 6. I mean for real, who could possibly (pardon my French) fuck with that? Who could match his Airness with his own brand of basketball Greatness? Have you heard of this guy named LeBron James? He’s pretty good.
Outside of the fact that players like Scottie Pippen (you know the man that has the same 6 NBA championship rings as Mr. Jordan) reportedly said that LeBron would, “kick MJ’s ass,” on the hardwood, and Magic Johnson told him live on television that he is the, “only player that has chance to be greatest of all time,” LeBron James has begun to stack up the statistical data and basketball mythology necessary to dethrone his Airness as the King of NBA folklore and supremacy. Let’s look at their careers up until their 8th seasons in the NBA side by side. “Why up until the 8th season” you ask, well obviously King James has only been in the league for 8 seasons, but let’s delve deeper. Think about it, both Mike and LeBron won their second rings in their 8th playoff appearance (by the way James was a year younger than Jordan- Mike was 29, LeBron was 28). LeBron has a career playoff percentage record of .638 while MJ had a playoff winning percentage of .587. Don’t forget that Jordan had 2 MVP awards up until his 2nd title, while LeBron has 4 MVP awards, and that’s not to mention the fact that James had (statistically speaking) less qualified coaching (I mean really, no disrespect to Paul Silas and Mike Brown, but Phil Jackson has more NBA Championship Rings than he has fingers). And let me say this (as I stand on my soap box), since we’re throwing around numbers, I would argue that statistically speaking MJ had a better cast of co-stars during his championship run, because I’ll match your aging (and oft injured) D-Wade with the aforementioned Scottie Pippen that was not only one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, but also, during Jordan’s season of batting .202 playing minor league baseball, Pippen averaged a brilliantly complete 22 points (on 49 percent shooting), 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals per game. Let’s not forget about arguably the greatest rebounder of the 80s and 90s- Dennis Rodman (who had won 2 NBA Championships of his own with the Isaiah Thomas lead “Bad Boys” Pistons). Now, tell the truth, who would you rather have crashing the boards, The Worm or The Bosh (like I said, these debates are subjective arguments shrouded in illusions of objectivity)? I’m not even going to go into Horace Grant and Toni Kukoc, but if I did, let’s just say that Jordan’s “sidekicks” were not anything to complain about. But I digress; let’s get back to LeBron James and Michel Jeffery Jordan, and the career titles earned to tip the scale on who is the greatest NBA Star of all-time.
Jason Whitlock just recently broke the news that LeBron James may be on the road to earning an NBA title that Michel Jordan doesn’t have on his resume- NBA Players Union President. A source with close ties to James told FOXSports.com on Wednesday. “He was very vocal at the meeting during the All-Star Weekend about the need for the union to dramatically change. There is a new executive director coming in and new commissioner. He recognizes that this is the time for the union to change.” This could tip the scales of true NBA greatness.
In the past, union presidents were Hall of Players big name players, such as Oscar Robertson and Patrick Ewing, but If LeBron James runs for Players Union President, and wins, he would become not only the first NBA Superstar in the prime of his career since Isiah Thomas (in the late ’80s and early ’90s) to be the Players Union President, he and Isiah Thomas would be the only two-time NBA Champions (in the modern era of the NBA) to be the President of the NBA Players Union. This title may be one of the most exclusive of NBA titles for many reasons, but one of those many reasons is the selflessness that comes with the position. It doesn’t come with diamond championship rings and golden trophies. It is about giving assist to other players, making sure that other players are taken care so that the collective can share in the spoils of victory.
During Oscar Robertson’s stay as the NBA Players Union President he actually sued the NBA, and The Big-O’s lawsuit triggered negotiations that led to what is now known as free agency, as well as a settlement that paid more than $4 million to then-current players and another $1 million in union legal fees. Pensions for the players improved during his stint and the minimum salary for NBA players tripled. During Isiah Thomas’ stint as the NBA Players Union President, the NBA experienced the most expansive period in the history of professional basketball. A period in which the average NBA player’s salary increased from $300,000 to $1.8 million dollars per season, and (agents may hate this, but the players love it) during Zeke’s time as El Presidente, a league wide agent regulatory system was implemented to combat the excessive fees charged to players by agents, reducing the agents fees from 10% to a maximum of 4%. Yes, Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas are more than just Hall of Fame hoopers, they are of the forefathers of modern NBA players making an average salary of $5.1 million dollars per season.
King James and his Airness are both global icons and NBA royalty that have NBA Championships, MVP Trophies, All-Star Game appearances, Coke, Nike, and Mc Donald’s endorsement deals, and millions of adorning fans willing to celebrate their otherworldly physical gifts, but, I am seeing a title that LeBron is earning off of the court that MJ never wanted- the title of the People’s Champ (not to be confused with the Media’s Champ). LeBron James (and the Miami Heat players) stood up in solidarity with the people, showing their disdain for the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. LeBron James tweeted, “#WeAreTrayvonMartin, #Hoodies, #Stereotyped, #WeWantJustice,” identifying with the slain Black teen that was racially profiled and killed for being Black while walking in a suburban neighborhood. LeBron James also recently advised his 9.3 million Twitter followers to support the film Fruitvale Station. In case you didn’t know, Fruitvale Station is a film about Oscar Grant was detained by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police and ultimately Grant was restrained by Officer Johannes Mehserle, and while Grant was lying face down and handcuffed, Mehserle stood over Oscar, drew his gun as he stood over Grant, and fired a gunshot into the back of the 22-year-old. Grant would be pronounced dead the following morning at Highland Hospital in Oakland. This public support vaults LeBron James into a politicized space rarely occupied by the modern super-star athlete. The most prominent of these apolitical global icons is MJ himself. He carefully dodged any political issue that might have jeopardized his ability to make people want to “be like Mike.” In 1992 when Jordan was asked about the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, Jordan simply replied: “I need to know more about it.” What more is there to know Mike? Did you see the tape? This is also the same MJ that refused to take a side in the 1990 North Carolina Senate race in which Jesse Helms, despised by many Blacks (if you don’t know about Jesse Helms, let’s just say id he was wearing a white hood, it wouldn’t have been to support Trayvon Martin), was challenged by a black man, Harvey Gantt. Approached by Gantt’s campaign, Jordan declined to get involved, reportedly offering this explanation: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”
I will end this piece as I has began this piece, all debates in sports regarding which player is “the best” or “the greatest ever” are based on personal preferences/points of view, tethered to statistics, and mythology. When we begin to tear away the multiple layers of media/marketing mythologies that make up the King James and His Airness, there is one NBA Title that LeBron can have that MJ doesn’t and that’s the NBPA Presidency title. And I believe that LeBron’s seemingly natural inclination to want to identify with the people, and his legendary ability to dish out assist to NBA Players on the court, will suit him well if he is to become the 1st NBPA President of the post David Stern era of the NBA.
*Note: This piece was written prior to Chris Paul becoming the NBPA President.
On July 19th 2013, I witnessed a Presidential speech that was foreign to my ears and eyes. I witnessed a President of the United States personally identify with the wrongful death of a Black male murdered in America, when President Barack Obama said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” In that moment he informed the world of his personal pain and connection to Trayvon- he publically stood his ground on a highly controversial, racialized hot button issue. But there was another moment of identification that was put on the table served as an alien acknowledgment; President Barack Obama made the idea/reality of, “Black pain,” a topic to be openly discussed. In that moment, Obama moved beyond his personal pain associated with the isolated killing of an unarmed teenage Black male, and spoke of the post racially taboo truth of “Black pain.” In this speech President Obama spoke as if he were (what many of the Black folks that stood in lines for hours to vote for him) speaking on behalf of Black America. Think about these Barack Obama quotes:
If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened, and if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
And let’s not forget when President Obama said:
We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys…There are a lot of kids out there that need help, that get a lot of negative reinforcement, and is there more that we can do to give them a sense that their country cares about them, and values them, and is willing to invest in them.
These were not the words of a civil rights activist, a Black Nationalist, an educator in a Black Studies Department, or Black folks in a predominantly Black neighborhood- These were the words of the 44th President of the United States of America.
On July 31st 2013, President Obama put his words into action. According to Politico.com, President Barack Obama told House Democrats that his administration was “looking at measures to help at-risk children, particularly minority youth — a move that comes in light of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.” Politico.com goes on to report that President Obama told Rep. Elijah Cummings that Obama told Cummings, “that it was a ‘good time’ to examine disparities in the criminal justice system, and efforts to help black, Asian, and Hispanic men and boys. The President added that officials need to look at what can be done to aid at-risk youth in general.” This made me think about the quote from his speech when he spoke about how letting the “at-risk-youth” know that “their country cares about them, and values them, and is willing to invest in them.” I began to think about America being “their” (Trayvon Martin compatible “at-risk youth”) country and what is the norm when it comes to investing in “at-risk youth” and conjointly how is “value” placed upon the Trayvon Martin’s of America. Instead of hearing President Obama say, “African-American boys…get a lot of negative reinforcement,” I began to hear “reinforcement” sound more like law enforcement. I unfortunately began to look past the words of the 44th President of the United States of America and I began to remember the reality of being a Black male in capitalist America.
With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population, over 90 percent of inmates are male, and while 12 percent of the U.S. population is Black, over 40 percent of prisoners with sentences longer than one year are African American. Black Folks are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of their white counterparts, and are sent to prison at ten times the rate of whites. Since 2002, over 4 million New Yorkers have been stopped and frisked in NYC. In 2011, 87 percent of those stop-and-frisked were Black and Latino, and nine out of ten were completely innocent, according to NYPD’s own reports. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three Black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Sadly, many of us are somewhat familiar with these statistics about the disproportionate amount of Trayvon Martin like males in America, but are we as well versed in the amount of money being generated off of the storage of Black bodies in the penal system?
The privatization of prisons has become big business for capitalist America. The onset of private prisons began during the Regan era and continued to flourish throughout the Clinton years. Specifically, after Clinton drastically cut the federal workforce, the Justice Departments began to search for and contract private prison corporations for the incarceration of particular populations of inmates such as undocumented workers and high-security inmates (globalresearch.org). It is no secret that private prisons prosper in proportion to the number of prisoners they house, which may lead one to ask if that may be a catalyst to the mass incarceration nation that America has become. The ACLU report, Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarcerations, indicated that the “rise of the for-profit prison companies that have capitalized on the nation’s addiction to incarceration (2.4-million behind bars) will achieve gigantic profits.” Alone, the two largest private prison corporations earned roughly $3 billion in revenue in 2010 (ACLU, 2011). Think about this, within the privatization of prisons in America, there has even been a push for the privatization of phone calls made by prisoners. Inmate collect calls are a “$1 billion dollar market” with prison collect-calling services charging “as much as four times the standard rate for collect calls” (CNNMoney.com). This practice is common in prisons all over the United States, for example, according to Prison Legal News, New York prisons alone generated $200 million in prison cell phone call fee kickback payments from 1996 to 2007. Prison Legal continues by stating that:
Prison phone service kickbacks average 42% nationwide among states that accept commissions, and in some cases reach 60% or more. Put into simple terms, up to 60% of what prisoners’ families pay to receive phone calls from their incarcerated loved ones has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of the phone service provided.
“In many state prison systems, what on the outside would be a 10-cent call costs $9” (Elsner, Alan: 2006). Again, we are just talking about the amount of potential money that can be generated from collect calls made in prisons, this does not include the amounts of money being generated by the exploitation of prison labor by Fortune 500 companies including but not limited to IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and Victoria’s Secret. So when President Obama says that the Trayvon Martins’ of America need to know, “that their country cares about them, and values them, and is willing to invest in them,” sadly many of them are already aware of the fact that Capitalist America “cares about them, and values them,” as neo-slave laborers. They are aware that Capitalist America, “is willing to invest in them” as Black men in America, not as human beings experiencing “Black pain” in need of “positive reinforcement,” but as commodities, assisting in positive economic returns, under the watchful eye of law enforcement.
You should be my soul sistah…
You should be my perfect portion of my prayer to the Creator of my soul, sistah…
You should be my beautiful balance between perfection and utter chaos captured in the human case that houses your soul…Sistah
Sistah, you should be my most magnificent moment
Magic made into a medley of me and you
Of musical melodies manifesting in our destinies desire to be soul mates
A mosaic of eternities
Making divisions of become one
You should be my soul sistah.
The Death of Odin Lloyd: Why So Much Attention For This Particular Black Man Murdered In America?
On Wednesday last week, in Massachusetts, New England Patriot’s tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested for first-degree murder. There are a number of trajectories that I can go with this story. My natural inclination is to focus on the man that was murdered- Odin Lloyd. Mr. Odin Lloyd was murdered on June 17, after he was shot multiple times in the groin, arm, side, chest and back. I could focus on his brief, yet chilling final text messages (prior to his death) to his sister that simply said, “Did you see who I was with?” said the first, at 3:07 a.m. June 17. Lloyd’s sister replied “Who?” To which Odin replied “NFL,” he then added: “Just so you know.” But I will not. I will respectfully allow his final words to stand on their own. On Saturday June 29, 2013, dressed in all white, Odin Lloyd was laid to rest. Over 300 mourners came to pay their last respects to the 27-year-old Odin.
Sadly, Odin Lloyd’s death is simultaneously common and uncommon within the Black community. It is common in the sense of Lloyd being yet another Black male dying by way of homicide. Let’s look at Chicago; the death toll by murder in Chicago over the past decade is greater than the number of American forces who have died in Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. For the same 2003-2011 period, blacks were the victims of 75 percent of 4,265 murders. Couple that with the fact that FBI statistics show that somewhere between 35%-40% of homicides in the US go unsolved. That is where Lloyd’s death is both common and uncommon. It is statistically more probable for Black males to lose their lives by way of homicide than any other group of people in the United States, while conjointly; it is somewhat uncommon that said deceased Black males have their homicide cases closed. So why are we all familiar with the Odin Lloyd murder? We are familiar with Lloyd, not because of his death; we are familiar with the murder of Mr. Lloyd because of the individual that is in prison for his murder. We know about Odin’s death because a star from one of America’s favorite forms of entertainment – Football. But not only did the potential murderer of Mr. Odin play football, he played football for one of the most celebrated teams in NFL history (the Robert Kraft owned New England Patriots), for one of the most celebrated coaches in NFL history (Bill Belichick), while catching touchdown passes from one of the most celebrated quarterbacks in NFL history (Tom Brady). Aaron Hernandez is connected to some pretty powerful White men in high places, and he broke their trust, he threw dirt on the “Patriot Way.” But that alone doesn’t answer why we know about this sports related homicide. We are aware of the death of Odin Lloyd, because the sports writers and pundits (along with the networks that employ them) have made this murder news worthy. My question is why? What are the writers, pundits, and network’s reasons for sticking with this story? Is it for the bringing of justice for a slain Black man in America? What is the larger story that Lloyd’s death is couched in? I see that larger story being the criminalization of NFL players.
According to a database kept by the San Diego Union-Tribune there have been 27 arrests of NFL players this year (4 of the 27 charges have been either dismissed or dropped), ranging from disorderly conduct and DUI to domestic violence and assault. In 2012 Dan Hope of The BleacherReport.com reported “The FBI’s Crime in the U.S. report from 2010 (the 2011 report has not yet been published), states that an estimated 4.2576 percent of the U.S. population was arrested over the course of that calendar year.”
Hope goes on to say that, “Even when the NFL’s 2012 off-season arrested-player rate is adjusted to account for those 26 players’ being arrested over only a five-and-a-half-month span, the percentage still comes out to roughly only 3.345 percent, almost one percentage point lower than that of the full U.S. population.” Though these numbers are from 2012, the fact that in 2102 a grand total of 26 players were arrested and in 2013 (thus far) 27 players have been arrested, I felt that standing the two years side by side one can come to a similar conclusion- the NFL arrest rate is indicative of the arrest rate throughout the United States. NFL players are being criminalized, even though there are 32 NFL teams, and with 53-man rosters, that makes 1,696 players, if you do the math 27 out of 1,696 players makes roughly one percent of the players that have been caught up in criminal activity in 2013, thus 99 percent of the NFL players are law abiding citizens. So why are so many sports writers, pundits and networks invested in the criminalization of NFL players? Another important question to ask is who are these people in the profession of painting professional football players as criminals?
According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, whites account for 94 percent of sports editors, 89 percent of assistant sports editors, 88 percent of columnists, 87 percent of reporters and 89 percent of copy editors. While according to the Associated Press Sports Editors, African Americans make up just 10.6 percent of all sports positions at mainstream newspapers. As a result, the vast majority of what we digest about professional sports—which are dominated by black athletes—is written, edited and reported by white journalists. The NBA’s players are 80 percent black. In the NFL, African Americans are 68 percent of players, and they are only 8.8 percent in Major League Baseball. Speaking of baseball, here is an interesting statistic to consider, “According to an infographic on sports crime rates in 2010, Major League Baseball players were arrested 16 times for major crimes like drug offenses and violent crimes. 34 pro football players were arrested for those offenses, which puts football and baseball at a similar rate of arrest (there are twice as many NFL players than MLB players)” (Jason DeRusha: 2011). So my question is, why are we not seeing a criminalization of America’s Pastime baseball? Could it be that baseball with its “similar” rates of arrest is not catching the criminal stigma by the most exclusively white male sports writers fraternity because of the fact that in doing so you would in a sense be criminalizing a sport that is dominated by white male athletes and managers (according to Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, 61.2% of the players and 83.3% of the managers were white males). I know it’s taboo to point out racial disparities and racialized discriminations in this post racial America, but I’m just allowing the research to speak for itself.
Now, I am back at my original question, why are we hearing so much about the death of this Black man in America? Is this Odin Lloyd case about bringing this industry of predominantly white males attempting to bring needed attention to the amount of Black men that are victims of homicides or is the daily coverage of this murder centered on an NFL player potentially committing a crime, thus allowing journalist, pundits and networks to criminalize (predominately Black) NFL players? Well, I will say this, read the stories surrounding this case in the newspaper and on the internet, listen to how the case is talked about on sports-talk radio, and while your at it, watch your favorite sports station (that is probably owned by the Disney Corporation) and let me know what you think.
The Purge: Post Racial Classicidal Cathartic Release
This weekend I went to the movies to watch the horror film The Purge. I see that I wasn’t the only person that went to see this film as The Purge is estimated to have raked in $34.6 million dollars over the weekend, knocking Fast and Furious 6 ($19.1 million in its third week of release) out of the number one box office position, and destroying the Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn comedy The Internship ($18.1 million). The question is why? How did this micro-budget film (the movie only cost $3 million dollars to make) become this first week phenomenon at the movie theatres? What made this the film to go and see? What did the paying moviegoer expect and also, what did they potentially take away from this experience? Now, remember that these are my views, connections and interpretations. You don’t have to agree, but as always I hope that you enjoy a brief journey into how I see shit, and why I see said shit the way that I see it.
The Purge is set in the United States in the year 2022. Thanks to the “new Founding Fathers”, America is experiencing a state of economic prosperity and universal bliss, in what seems to be a virtual utopia, well, that’s not if you count the twelve-hour period per year from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am where emergency services are suspended, hospitals are closed down, and all crime (including murder) is not only legal, but seen as a baptism by way of this neo-American soul cleansing experience. The Purge is then to be seen as a day of catharsis. With that said, we have to ask ourselves, “what in the hell is catharsis, and what does it really have to do with this film?”
Plainly put, catharsis is an emotional release. According to psychoanalytic theory, this emotional release is linked to a need to release unconscious conflicts, tensions and emotions. Sigmund Freud famously taught that psychotherapy helped the patient achieve catharsis, or purging of the emotions. Freud hypothesized that “psychic energy” was tied up in keeping down or repressing pent up traumatic memories. Freud viewed catharsis as a way of releasing that energy so the patient could regain normal strength and energy. In other words Freud thought, because he imagined that our emotions exist in a closed hydraulic system, like a steam engine and that we need to relieve the pressure from time to time to remain in a healthy mental state. The film is peppered with pseudo-scientific proof/testimonials that the purging of one’s individual natural humanistic desire (connected to the hunting hypothesis) to murder is the road to individual salvation and a more harmonious society. The question then becomes, who is worthy of being the sacrificial lambs, who occupy the dubious distinction as being the human sacrifices to be offered up to the “New Fore Fathers” (that serve as quasi deities) as the Haves “purify their souls” at the expense of the Have-Not’s during the patriotic ritual slaughter/ holiday known as The Purge?
Who are the Have-Not’s in the film The Purge? The Have-Not’s are the designated domestic deviants in this 2022 America. In other words (as always) the stigmatized within the society are the living organisms worthy of being murdered. By definition, “we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human” (Goffman, 1963). According to Erving Goffman three grossly different types of stigma should be taken into consideration:
First there are abominations of the body- the various physical deformities. Next there are blemishes of individual character perceived as weak will, domineering or unnatural passions, treacherous and rigid beliefs, and dishonesty, these being inferred from a known record of for example, mental disorder, imprisonment, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, suicidal attempts, and radical political behavior. Finally there are the tribal stigma of race, nation and religion, these being stigma that can be transmitted through lineages and equally contaminate all members of a family.
So, an obvious “not quite human” stigmatized group to “hunt” during The Purge are the homeless. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there was a point in 2012 where 633,782 people were experiencing homelessness in America. Another not so obvious “not quite human” stigmatypical group to “hunt” are war veterans. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that some 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and dismal, overcrowded living conditions. Veterans are much more likely than the population at large to suffer from homelessness, comprising 23 percent of the homeless population even though only 8 percent of the population at large can claim veteran status. The war Vet is not only stigmatizable due to their alarming rates of homelessness, they would also be a part of the purgeable population of “not quite humans” due to their association with the perceived blemishes of individual and collective character due to the mental disorder PTSD. Military leaders and veterans’ advocates worry about hidden hiring discrimination against Iraq and Afghanistan war vets by employers who see the veterans perhaps as emotionally damaged. A key fear is how this could be contributing to stubbornly higher joblessness (which contributes to homelessness) among the generation that serves in the military post what is commonly known as 9/11. Because employers are barred by law from asking job applicants about mental health conditions, many assume that any veteran can be afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “There is a need to be concerned about this issue and this stigma,” says Kevin Schmiegel, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring our Heroes program. Also, let us not forget that there are a significant amount of war vets with combat induced limb amputations, which would qualify them as having “physical deformities.” This makes the war veteran a victim of what I call stacked stigmatization. Now this brings us to the finale in the ménage a trois, the un-holy trinity within the triad of stigmatization- “the tribal stigma of race.”
Okay, I have read a slew of reviews about The Purge. They all talk about the premise of the film being everything from “interesting” to “foolishly unrealistic,” to how it is a “thriller film for the Occupy Era that fails to deliver.” But none of these people that call themselves critiquing and reviewing the film mention the melanin-enhanced elephant in the room- the runaway slave – I mean Black man, that the socially awkward kid (Charlie Sandin) saved from being lynched – I mean purged, by the white supremacist – I mean patriotic, Purge Day supporting “real Americans.” As mentioned earlier, Purge Day (which is only practiced in America) is about providing “people a release for all of the hatred and violence that they (have pent up?) keep up inside of them,” why would we not assume that some of that bottled up hatred was racism? An underlying theme in this film, particularly in regard to the nameless bloody Black stranger (who happened to be both homeless and a military vet- when you watch the film look around his neck, he’s wearing military dog tags) is the psychopathic group of preppy, well educated, affluent, young white Americans being denied their right to manifest their destiny and mutilate and murder the “not quite human” Black man, quenching their need to release some pent up racist steam in a “post-racial America. Now, this is where I will totally deviate from my analysis of what was taking place within the film and expound upon what was taking place within the movie theatre. I could absolutely continue on this path of talking about the film and post-racial racism in America, but the craziest shit was taking place literally one seat away from me.
Sitting right next to me in the movie theatre was a Brotha that many would consider to be the embodiment of the stereotypical Nigga. He had a mouth full of gold teeth, he was hella loud in the movie theatre, yelling at the screen sporadic profane sentences, and giving a damn about the other folks that paid to view the film. This (for me) was an, “it is what it is” type of thing. His Niggaisms didn’t bother me at all. What did bother me was what the Brotha was yelling at the screen, what scenes/moments in the film sparked his emotions, and finally, when he was as quiet as a Black man hiding in a white family’s closet to save his life on Purge Day. The first moment that I noticed a rise out of the nameless Brotha one seat away was when the nameless bloody Black stranger was rescued from the Purge Mob of Haves. When the nameless bloody Black stranger made it under the steel security door of the home (which served as the primary setting of the film), the nameless Brotha one seat away, lets the crowd know his displeasure with a loud, “hell naw, I wouldn’t have let that nigga in my house!” I’m thinking to myself, “Damn nameless Brotha one seat away, you wanted the Black dude to get murdered out there?” Then once the bloody Black stranger was in the house, one of the first things nameless Brotha one seat away snarled out was urgent instructions for Ethan Hawke to, “kill that nigga!” and when Ethan in fact did not “kill that nigga” he seemed dejected, muttering, “I would have blew that nigga’s head off.” I’m now thinking, “damn, nameless Brotha one seat away from me, you really don’t want the bloody Black stranger to have a chance to live.” He had a special amount of venom for the socially awkward kid in the film that saved the bloody Black stranger. When it seemed like the kid was about to be murdered Brotha one seat away from me said, “That’s what the fuck he gets for letting that nigga in the house!” So, not only did he want the “nigga” dead, but he also wanted the “nigga” loving child dead as well. And when the white father finally found the bloody Black stranger and he shot, and stabbed him in the open wound repeatedly with a letter opener, and duct taped him so that the nameless bloody Black stranger could be murdered by the Purge Mob- the Brotha one seat away from me seemed to be satisfied. Hell, the one moment of sadness (based on his running dialog with the movie screen) for Brotha one seat away from me was when the white father was dying due to being stabbed in the stomach. Here is the cold part, the one moment that the Brotha one seat away from me was dead ass silent, was when the bloody Black stranger came through and saved the day in the film. As soon as that happened, my assumption was confirmed, Brotha one seat away from me was suffering from a case of internalized racism. Internalized racism is the personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group. It gives rise to patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that result in discriminating, minimizing, criticizing, finding fault, invalidating, and hating oneself while simultaneously valuing the dominant culture. Internalized racism is a mental disease, and Brotha one seat away from me was infected. But then I looked around the theatre, and I began to think, Brotha one seat away from me could not have been the only one that felt like that “Nigga” deserved to die. He was just the only one that opened his mouth and voiced his disdain for the nameless bloody Black stranger. In a sense, Brotha one seat away from me was the only person publically willing to acknowledge the fact that The Purge was not only a film dealing with classicidal cathartic release, or put another way, an annual extermination of a consolidation of Have-Not’s that are stigmatized as being economic/ “not quite human” shit stains on the Have’s purge preserved promise land, but it was also a film about a theoretically post-racial white family dealing with having a strange Black man in their house, and how scary that must have been (I know that was a long ass sentence, but it’s my blog so yeah, long sentence it is).
This concludes yet another lecture at the University of LEFT.
Peace and Respect