And she became the most famous, richest black woman in the world. Does that mean anything?
"See, we could fight like Ike and Tina..." -- Alicia Keys, "Unbreakable"
Why is this your opening line, Alicia? And why would this song EVER be your jam?The other day, a relative of mine asked me (Sum) what my opinion was of the Chris Brown/Rihanna saga. It was a curiously framed question that I didn’t quite understand. It had never dawned on me to have an opinion on the matter. Maybe this was because of the black interest blogs I read. On them, there are people actually choosing a set – Team Rihanna or Team Chris – and repping it. Besides, I had only been paying mild attention to the whole ordeal, and what I did know consisted of rumors and hearsay. And I’m not in the business of forming an opinion based on some shit some niggas might (not) have said. I was a nerd in a black high school for two years. I know how to avoid fistfights.
Though she probably wasn’t, at the time it felt like my relative was asking me pick a camp and join it. Choose which rumors to believe or not, and cast my allegiance accordingly. Misunderstanding or no, the question made me uncomfortable – so much so that I actually squirmed a bit. But it did get me thinking about black people, and (normalized) violence, and how and why the black public sphere reacts to domestic violence the way it does.
If there are any white people reading this (so doubtful), you’ll have to trust me on the following statement. (In this instance, my cultural capital is worth more than yours. Take that, suckas!) Black people – and yes, I mean all black people, including Michelle Obama – know and quote scenes from two movies: What’s Love Got to Do With It? and The Color Purple. On varying levels, both movies are concerned with violence against black women perpetuated by their male partners. To add, Tyler Perry, who is a descendant and beneficiary of the kind of influence these films have on black movie audience and black culture at large, is the most popular black filmmaker of the day; he continues to disseminate and profit from the collateral intimate knowledge of these movies provide. For instance, one of his most recent films, The Family That Preys, features a deliberately unlikeable black female character who, through her insubordination (shout out, moyazb for this line and so much more), emasculates (and therefore disrespects) her black, blue-collar husband. So much so that the climax of the movie is his justifiable reclamation of manhood via smacking the shit out of her. I say justified because members of the primarily black audience I was in the company of (don’t ask why I was in a theater to see a Tyler Perry movie) cheered when it happened. The homie, Maegs had a similar experience. I put up several blue chips that these aren’t statistical aberrations. So, really, what the fuck is this about?
“You told Harpo to beat me,” and “That’s all you got, Ike?” elicit two responses from black folk: laughter and the outward expression of our inner thespians. What we seem to forget in our collective re-enactment of these scenes is the violence against black women at the heart of them. That casual omission seems to suggest, on some level just barely beneath the surface, that domestic violence is not only normal and acceptable, but a source of amusement. I ask, as someone who has participated fully in these exchanges plenty of times, What the fuck makes this shit funny? No, seriously, that is not a rhetorical question. Why the fuck are we laughing? Why are these the lines we memorize?
We have to stop this trend of normalizing violence in the home to the point that it is a stock device that any black comedian can employ to garner a laugh. I see no irony in this, Chris Rock. We have to stop rewarding (NAACP, listen up) and financially supporting a man whose career is based on dressing up in drag and caricaturizing black women, recycling coonery for the 21st century, and perpetuating misogyny and a belief in a patriarchal structure that advocates violence if it means the reclamation of a (tentative-ass black) manliness. We need to check these black interest blogs for the way they deliver this “news” to us. (And I’m not making that last point because nobody is fucking with our shit, despite Sum-n-Saf's blatant genius.)
Most importantly, we have to stop normalizing this violence and responding to it (only) with laughter. My ex used to talk about how ironic it was that the only blacks on television starred in sitcoms, because there really wasn’t much funny about black life in America. Well, there isn’t anything funny about black women getting their ears boxed. And I see no point in choosing sides or turning this Chris Brown/Rihanna mess into t-shirts or Mortal Kombat sketches. I’m over it.
Here’s a dose of penicillin for that ass: How about we stop trying to make light of, debate and justify the actions of victim and/or victimizer of domestic violence, and fucking confront our pathology? WARNING: THIS MEDICINE WILL NOT CAUSE DROWSINESS, AND IT WILL NOT MAKE YOU LAUGH. IF ILLNESS PERSISTS AFTER SEVEN DAYS, CEASE TAKING MEDICINE, AND CONSULT A THERAPIST.
n.b.: This morning, I received this via email. See what I mean?