I Can Speak For Myself, Homie

"Pass the mic, homie. We don't need a savior. We can speak for ourselves."

These are the words of renown and well-respected author, attorney and speaker Gyasi Ross in his spoken word piece White Privilege 3. Gyasi (a member of the Blackfoot Nation) articulates a well-thought out and powerful response to Macklemore and his White Privilege II from a Native perspective, navigating his feelings and opinions of Macklemore's supposed playing of white savior to people of color with his song. He subsequently requests of him to relinquish his platform in a manner similar to that of Marlon Brando, who refused his Academy Award for his work in The Godfather and instead offered Sacheen Littlefeather a stage to voice the mistreatment of Native Americans in the film industry and the country in general. Native Americans and their ongoing plight and seemingly never-ending struggle are often pushed to the back, and it's great to see strong Native voices such as Gyasi's resonate and shine light on issues too easily pushed into the dark. We can all be well-educated on the struggles of a group we don't belong to and speak out in the name of a cause, but the ethos offered by a member of that group speaking out on their own people's struggles and experiences will forever go unrivaled. This appears to be the motivation of Gyasi's call for Macklemore to pass his mic. To give platform to the voices of those supposedly silenced by Macklemore's existence within the hip-hop realm.

So then why exactly does Gyasi feel the license to speak on behalf of Black people in doing so?

Macklemore has been a magnet for controversy for the past couple of years. Lambasted for the authenticity and pop appeal of his music, criticized for his penchant for dressing in culturally-inspired, sometimes tone deaf costume (none more controversially than his exaggerated wig and mask while on stage at an event at Experience Music Project in Seattle that drew anti-Semitic claims) and generally derided upon winning Grammys that presumably belonged to Kendrick Lamar (or anyone else in that category depending on who you ask), then messily posting their text conversation after the fact on social media. Without question, there have been times where Macklemore hasn't been able to get out of his own way, not through a malicious or malevolent intent, but through an inability to cleanly navigate the many nuances of being a white artist in a Black art form with instantly magnified scrutiny at an expert level.

Photo: Colorlines

Photo: Colorlines

This leads us to White Privilege II, a sequel to a song released in 2005. The song is a lengthy sonic experience through the mind and encounters of Macklemore with his own struggles of his position, his place within the Black Lives Matters movement, his encounters with his predominantly White fan-base, along with thoughts from Black men and women about the BLM movement before a stirring and moving wrap-up by Jamila Woods. The song borders on being overwrought and is a lot to stomach in a nearly 9 minute sitting, making it an effort to unsuspectingly drop on the presumed intended audience (read: white people) for educational purposes, as was the impossible task offered to my man DJ Swervewon via annoying request at a club gig the other night.

But really, while the artistic merits and quality of the song can be debated, they are essentially irrelevant (although I have to say, you're tripping if you think the flow is off-beat, and you likely thought the same thing of Jay-Z on the remix to Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe). In actuality, the subject matter is the only real point of relevance within this discussion, much how the acquired taste of Gyasi's spoken word approach to White Privilege 3 is not "pop-palatable", nor does it "slap", but still contains valuable content worth conversation.

White privilege is understood to be a by-product of White supremacy (the latter a term still taboo in relation to the former) and that affects us all. It affects Whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinxs, Natives, Pacific Islanders, it touches every single person subjected to it, and to be subjected to it in the United States, you need only to reside within it. The definition of these terms is not generally up for debate. However, though the song is entitled White Privilege II, it in fact should really be interpreted as White Privilege As It Affects Black Folks, a title offered by Gyasi himself in an extremely brief back and forth we had about his piece on Facebook (an official sponsor of White supremacy via it's blocking of POCs posting their art discussing and dissecting this topic). According to Gyasi, he believes Macklemore to be addressing all the facets that encompass what we know as White privilege and supremacy within the song, thus opened the conversation to all those subjected to that privilege and supremacy. I agree that Macklemore's desire to illuminate the discussion of White privilege should also include how he factors into the oppression of other minority groups as a white man of success in entertainment business. However, I find it hard to believe that as the context of this now ten-year long discussion has been long established to be what we all should universally recognize -- white hip-hop artists operating within a recognized Black culture and the accusation of appropriation while doing so -- that Gyasi somehow missed the context of the original conversation. To me, it feels like he got hung up on the literal definition of the title and by glossing over the content of the song, does a disservice to the conversation in trying to co-opt it for his own agenda outside the conversation. An action not without it's irony given the criticisms lobbied against Macklemore.

This is not at all to diminish the issues affecting Natives and the long-standing battle against White supremacy, which Gyasi brings to light with his piece, nor does it exempt someone like Macklemore from speaking out on the issue. I fully support being vocal about this country's disgusting and shameful treatment of it's original inhabitants, we frankly don't do enough to keep this relevant and at the front of our society's conscience. But this was a conversation about how a White rapper's actions affected Black people directly. And on the first day of Black History Month, an attempt was made to transform that conversation into something more, and a self-recognized ally of Black people attempted it. Much like aforementioned actions by Macklemore, Gyasi's appeared extremely well intentioned, but still just didn't sit all the way right with me. Thing is, this is a more common occurrence than acknowledged when minority groups overlap, because sometimes we forget that the idea of misguided or problematic allyship isn't reserved only for white people. Whether it's Black people enduring other groups freely embracing the use of "nigga" as a term of endearment, Trans-folk suffering exclusion from Black Lives Matter, Latinxs spiting their own African roots to the point of skin-bleaching or forced deportation of Black inhabitants of its country, the conversation of how minority groups can potentially oppress one another is highly nuanced and requires a real dedication to the issue to develop actionable solutions.

Concurrently on February 1st, in Sacramento, CA, the hometown Kings and Milwaukee Bucks prepared to face each other in an otherwise normal regular season NBA game. DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins is the young center for the Kings and the current face of the franchise. He is arguably the most elite player at his position in the league, and as such was recently recognized as an all-star. Although injured, he was in attendance at the game. That night, two separate promotions honoring two separate cultures were to take place. Players on the court began a month-long campaign of donning attire recognizing Black History Month and the Kings planned to recognize the upcoming Chinese New Year that starts on February 8th. The NBA mandates commemoration of the Chinese Lunar New Year as well as full participation in its month-long recognition of Black History Month of all its teams. The planned shirt was an admittedly cool design of the animal recognized this year. The only problem is, the animal in question was a monkey. Cousins discovered the shirts being laid out all over the arena and vocalized an objection that he and some other members of the organization shared to see an arena full of monkey depictions on the first day of Black History Month. The decision to remove the shirts was made and the organization will continue forward with the rest of its planned promotions.

Photo: @James_Ham

Photo: @James_Ham

Obviously the unintentionally problematic optics of the overlapping commemorations didn't occur until the organization's star Black player noticed it and vocalized it, but no one would ever suggest that the organization maliciously tried to portray a long perpetuated, disgusting caricature of Black people as primates on the first day of Black History Month. Nor would anyone ever suggest Chinese culture is bigoted towards Black people for having a monkey zodiac symbol. Simply put, sometimes what people do good-naturedly in the name of one culture can potentially have problematic residual effects on another. Sometimes what someone does with good intentions results in a level of harm, discomfort or offense. It's important to dialogue about these instances and situations, then apply those learnings in action going forward. Its why when I see a person of Native decent using a Black art form developed during the Harlem Renaissance, featuring words by a beloved Black civil rights figure, to tell a White person how Black people amongst other minority groups, should feel about his attempts to deconstruct and analyze White privilege and supremacy as it relates to Black culture, I don't get upset, I just simply pause and think this to myself:

"Pass the mic, homie. I don't need a savior. I can speak for myself."

Go Home, Black-on-Black Violence

“There were some points…that were relevant and I could agree with, but there were also obviously some ignorant points in there”

That was Richard Sherman’s quote discussing a purported rebuttal to King Noble (a jackass claiming affiliation to Black Lives Matter and the movement) and his use of Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch’s image to promote an all out war of violence on police. This is also a quote that can easily be used to describe Richard Sherman’s response to the whole situation.

The invoking of “black-on-black crime” is far too often lazily used to tell black and brown people to clean up their own house before other people are expected to value their lives. The term “black-on-black violence” in itself is a problematic misnomer that ignores the facts that debunk its suggestion; black people are the only people that kill themselves. Is there work to be done within the black community on how we treat and value each other? Absolutely, we all have work to do. ALL. OF. US. But the manner in which Richard Sherman invoked that point, only lends to let non-blacks off the hook for the work they need to do as well in addressing the issue. The fact that the praise for his words are coming from what is essentially a side of the issue that normally remains dormant (predominantly white, Seattle sports writers), is an indication of the context in which his words were received.

Imagine all the times you’ve seen a man telling a woman all the things she needs to do with regards to her self-worth and value, before he should have to value her life as well. All the things she needs to do to earn the right to speak out for her own worth when mistreatment occurs. All the times you’ve seen a man lamenting about how she needs to dress, how she needs to conduct herself, how she needs to play a certain role in maintaining her value, so that men can then decide it’s OK to do the same. It’s a rather disgusting thing to see every time you encounter it. Now imagine all the times you've seen that train of thought publicly coming from a woman when addressing other women, and all the ways in which men use that moment to justify numerous faults on their end and absolve themselves of the responsibility and need to do better. Well unfortunately, Richard Sherman was that woman this afternoon.

James Blake, not committing black-on-black crime

You would think a week after seeing James Blake being thrown to the ground while standing outside the rather overpriced and undersized Grand Hyatt Hotel, a black man would be a little more cognizant of the idea that we need to, as a community, “establish” our worth before anyone else can honor it and expressing that thought to the media. There is no suit, no tie, no decorum, no anything, that is going to dissuade those who actively benefit from the white supremacy in which Black Lives Matter serves to combat, or the passive benefit of that same supremacy that many in the very room he spoke in, benefit from by playing ostrich. Sherman posted earlier this week on Twitter that we should “be stronger than our excuses”. Well my brother, there’s no excuse for your misstep today. You should, can, and I hope will be stronger than that in the future.

I love Richard Sherman like hell, and I hope he continues to speak out more and encourage other athletes to do so as well. It would be a great departure from the Michael Jordan era and more of an affirmation of the LeBron James era. I hope he allows people to educate him on a topic that seems simple on the surface, but is unfortunately highly nuanced for no real good reason. I understand that he may have been emotional speaking about his friend being killed by two black men back in Compton, and that may have colored his perspective and views. But today, he got caught slipping. Much like Stedman Bailey got behind him and caught him slipping on Sunday.

Go Hawks.

Street Harassment

When I first got wind of a video going around that chronicled the experience of a woman walking through New York City, I was intrigued and a little bit happy to see something like that get put together. I have a few female friends that live in the NYC and all have shared with me experiences with street harassment, even flipping the phrase "Ay Yo Ma" on it's head and branding it. So I decide to check out what all the fuss was about, legitimately eager to see the result. What I ended up watching really scared me. And not in a way that the creators of the video may or may not have intended.

Before I go any further, let me make something abundantly clear: None of the behavior by the men in this video is excusable. Every interaction was clearly motivated sexually, so comments that seemed innocent to the uninitiated are actually just as toxic. If you want more insight on that verbal coding, you can check out my brother Bambu's track "The Queen is Dead" for a more articulate breakdown.

Additionally, I have no doubts that the interactions were authentic and nothing was "staged" to provoke these catcalls. This looks like an honest and realistic portrayal of this particular woman's experience walking through the particular areas that this was filmed it. But there, hidden in that premise, lies the problem.

As I watched this video, I became more and more troubled. Not just by the behavior of the men, but what became more and more abundantly clear, from my perspective. This seemed like a deliberately selective presentation of all the interactions that may have occurred during this experiment. The lack of diversity among the offenders was obvious. And being born and partly raised in NYC, and maintaining strong ties to it, the neighborhood selections were obvious and seemed deliberate. Something that could have brought real perspective to a real issue facing all women came off to me as propaganda for an existing and ugly sentiment: these black and brown men just can't act right.

Maybe that's a leap for some of you, and that's fine if it is. Unfortunately for me, it really isn't. And it's something the creators Hollaback! themselves are aware of, having hedged the video's shortcomings with information vaguely noting that "the reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence." This is absolutely true, but none of that is addressed nor exists in this video. None of that is being championed along with the obvious topic during this viral spread of the video.

Do black and brown men need to do better? Yes. There's no argument there. But it's not just black and brown men that need to do better. It's ALL men. Period. No qualifiers. This video doesn't show me that, nor did it come off as even trying to attempt to. Instead, it played into the faulty societal perception that I see a lot: "It's them, not us."

A great deal of society likes to pretend that black and brown men invented misogyny, that black and brown men are the only ones abusing their significant others, and that black and brown men are the only ones that "holla". This is disgustingly untrue. Yes, the men in that video are a party to the problem, but they're far from alone. None of the men in that video are paying the women they harass less money for the same work. None of those men in that video are denying women access to birth control and contraception, and none of them are legislating against a woman's choice to decide what she does with her body.

On my last trip to New York City, my ex and I met with her friend from college who works on Wall Street and told us to come down to the area to meet for dinner. As the three of us walked to get food, both of them were consistently harassed by all men. This included men in button-ups, men working construction, men in suits, police officers, all of whom included a white man within each segment. None of that is present in this video, but it occurs with the same frequency. Why? (Rhetorical question.)

I'm not out to shift blame or to discredit the issue of how women are treated by society. Men have a lot of work to do in the behaviors we exhibit, myself included. I'm simply disappointed in the manner which this particular project was presented if only for the fact that whether it was intended or not, it's a tailor-made tool for those who wish to push very dangerous agendas and perceptions of black and brown men. And in the words of the song I linked earlier, "somebody check me if I'm wrong".

Just keep in mind, this happened in the name of supposedly defending a white woman from street harassment by a black teenager: