Black people doing white people doing Black people.

[14 April 2009]

By Diepiriye Kuku

I’ve started to capitalize ‘White’ in my lexicon, elevating it to an anti-racist category, like Black. Undoubtedly, ‘white’ as a racial category grew out of imperialism and dominance- a holistic ideology to squash others. It is rare that folks reclaim the identity, forming it into anything other than what pop culture has said: bland, mainstream (See 1999’s American Beauty- WASPY asses hung out to dry!). Further aiding whiteness evaporate into nothingness, came the lexicon celebrating ethnicity, diversity and inclusion, which understandably even further silenced and effaced ‘white’.  Interestingly, Martin Luther King always affirmed the category of White and Black, and as cable of engaging in dialogue. Beyond King’s dream, what happens when the ‘white kids and black kids’ playing together (inevitably) grow up and decide to play parents together?

Certainly, my wet dreams aren’t of some wanton tragic mulatto naked on her hands and knees, projecting that very old Plantation style racial order (See the next to last scene of Monster’s Ball). Rather, I fantasize about Mariah, Barack and Alicia. I wonder what it would be like if Mariah took piano lessons from Alicia Keys, and actually started belting out, stomping and mashing the keyboard all at once. How fierce would that diva be then? Or what magic would the two composers compose together? Imagine them rocking the White House. Do you wonder about the kinds of dialogue they would have, and how much it would benefit the public? Imagine a Save the Music concert not sponsored by VH1’s corporate sponsors, but by ‘the people’. Imagine government investing in art education at all levels on behalf of us, ‘the people’. Imagine the Queen of Soul praising a Black president, in dialogue with a nation, before the world stage at his inauguration. Hey Lover, as LL fantasized, it’s no longer just one-way love, anymore.

Within President Barack Obama’s first 50 days in office, Earth Wind and Fire performed at the White House. Shortly thereafter, Barack handed Stevie Wonder ‘the people’s highest citation for artistic achievement, where Stevie has actual albums directly criticizing several previous presidents. A short list would include ‘Big Brother’ from 1972’s Talking Book; a critique of Nixon in ‘You Haven’t Done Nothing’ with the Jackson Five on 1974’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale; and the slap against Reagan in ‘Happy Birthday’ from 1980’s Hotter than July. Or, perhaps this is just a shrewd Chicago political move, like Michael Jordan with his tongue stuck out, like the Honorable Brother Harold Washington in the seat of city politics- these brothers remain on the offensive.  Notably, Barack’s first action was to declare the people’s commitment to human rights as a policy agenda item, and moral basis of operation. Now, can’t we command peace!?!

Yet when one takes the offensive with dialogue and appreciation the craft and it’s players, rather than dominance and in-consideration (Hateration, Mary J. Blige calls it), we stand a great chance at mutuality, care and respect. Instead we have a ‘Save the Children’ style Live-Aid, ‘Save the Music Campaign’ or some other odd charity filling people’s most basic needs like food, shelter and encouragement. What if the people responded to the needs of the people, including art, food, transportation, health care, workers’ rights and the whole bit. Then what sorts of dynamic creative energy would be released from our cooperation? Wouldn’t that be encouraging?

Wake up and smell the Petals:Mariah LOVES Wu Tang Clan NOT Mottola

Unlike one-way love, which is just a fantasy, cooperation is two-way love, a collaboration that must begin with dialogue. Imagine here Mariah and Jay-Z singing Heartbreaker; Mariah and Jermaine Dupri doing Sweetheart; Mariah and Mobb Deep singing The Roof; Mariah and O.D.B. singing Fantasy; Mariah and Busta Rhymes doing I Know What you Want; Mariah and DJ Clue remixing many beats- another sort of dialogue- including remaking Don’t Stop (Funkin’ for Jamaica), a fierce video where Mariah mocks her won screeching. Imagine Mariah and Boys II Men on their chart-topping, mega-melismatic ‘One Sweet Day.’ Imagine that she left her own industry’s richest head for Puff Daddy remixes with ghetto comic Eddie Griffen. “I ain’t gon’ talk about Magic Johnson for doing what he did, ‘cause I think Magic’s a hell of a man to come on TV and say what he had to say” he began a 1992 Def Comedy Jam route, referring to the champions public revelation of his sero-conversion (a tricky word since at this point, conversion is one-way). That same year, Mariah came out with her first live album, ‘MTV Unplugged’, paying homage to the Jackson Five, and spotlighting the Fabulous Four, with whom she sings. She also debuted the fiercest version of Make it Happen to which I choreographed a dance for our school’s Pep Club. In call and response with the Fabulous Four, our diva sang: 

Not more than three short years ago/I was abandoned and alone/Without a penny to my name/So very young and so afraid/No type of shoes upon my feet/Sometimes I couldn’t even eat/I often cried myself to sleep/And still I had to keep on going/Never knowing/If I could take it/If I would make it through the night/I held onto my faith/I struggled and I prayed/And now/I’ found my way

No wonder Mariah had to mince some words in her Barbara Walters’ 2006 Oscar Special interview. Barbara says “every woman’s dream…her closet is bigger than most people’s living rooms….the black father, the white mother…a life a transience and turmoil.” Frankly, the rich white woman did everything but directly ask her how she could divorce a rich, powerful white man. How could this poor, tragic mulatto girl, who’s sister sold-sex and is HIV-positive, who grew up abandoned by her father, keep on going? Walters asked these questions with the most pitiful looking feigned compassion underneath her smirk. It’s as if Barbara Walters plead Mariah’s words on her own behalf, lamenting over her own weaknesses as if incapable of understanding how anyone could overcome such strife and eventually Make it Happen. Walters fails to hear the resolution in the funkiness of the beat, or just didn’t stick around till to see things through: YOU can make it happen!

It’s as if Walters had no idea that Aretha also left Columbia, singing/signing with Atlantic Records, and from that black/white collaboration (Aretha, her sister Caroline and Jerry Wexler) came the album I Never Loved Another Man (the Way that I Love You). ‘A change gon’ come,” Aretha reiterated on one of the album’s mot solidly timeless hits, paying homage to an icon, demonstrating to us that she was listening to her elders. Sadly, one hardly remembers the pop-like jingles Columbia Records offered us for six long years, shriveling Aretha’s massive voice and artistic capacity. It’s Walters who was not paying attention.

In Walters’ interview of Mariah, Walters was too blinded by the fear of loosing her own privilege-, represented by the figure before her: A mulatto, the product of racial impurity. Barbara Walters’ snideness in prodding Mariah, even ridiculing girlfriend for cutting short her record deal and walking away with reportedly 28 million dollars, all seemed to say ‘How could YOU walk away from that’? Or, how DARE you, of all people, walk away fro money and power!?! Walters was dumb(founded).

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, we all say, but do we believe we are so deserving? Poor little mulatto will never be settled in the big house, Walter’s attitude and positioning seemed to say: Why aren’t you resigned to spend [your] life in a maze of misery, she chided. Oh how we project our own issues onto one another. It’s the interviewer’s own issue on trial here.  As if in response Mariah insists on refusing retreat, refusing to reside to mundanity:

Can we recover/Will the world ever be/A place of peace and harmony/With no war and with no brutality/If we loved each other/We would find victory

Such words of encouragement are no new hat for Mariah, who resists the popular trend to portray herself as dumb and wantonly available. Sure, girlfriend wears tight skirts and way-low-down cut blouses. Yet, while she’s got the titty investigation committee waiting for her panty-hose to drop down, she’ll drop an a capella line like:  “I miss you little sis and little brother/And I hope you realize/I’ll always love you/And although you’re struggling you will recover,” she sings to the children of the “patriarch” she sought, “predictably,” she punctuates.


Thunder precedes the sunlight/So I’ll be alright

Not only is Mariah not afraid to bear her real soul, she explores subjects much, much deeper than the superficial romanticized love too commonplace in popular music. How many love songs are there delving beyond he/she love? And how many ever reach the real heart of the matter resolving the cycle of love and abandonment of pop? Mariah says:

And I missed a lot of life/But I’ll recover/Though I know you really like/To see me suffer/Still I wish that you and I’d/Forgive each other

As a racially charged nation, we have missed a lot of time fighting one another, instead of the myriad of possibilities for doing the real work of forgiveness. Sadly, we do not look enough towards our own musical history, which charts many avenues for forgiveness and recovery. Any sort of love can be built and rebuilt, lest we abandon faith, or like many, place all our hopes and dreams in Bling.

Spanning from the songs popularized in the fields of king cotton (e.g. Follow the drinking Gourd; Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child), later Irish jigs, till today’s mad lyricists, our popular musical history has shown a plethora of examples of individual collaboration, creating the base, as well as entire genres of our music. Where would we be without courageous whites like Gershwin, for example, or Burt Bacherach? Imagine the Rolling Stones with no Muddy Waters or Tina Turner for them to imitate and remix? Imagine a young Madonna Ciccone not having any Black kids to teach her how to dance? Imagine if we were really as segregated as we superficially seem? Imagine cultural miscegenation. Can’t we imagine much more? In absence of such forgiveness, there can be no collaborations, and without such collaboration, we can never really cooperate, we will never really know love. Listen to Aretha rocking the Stones’ I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, and see how that beat resolves that lament. It’s all love, it’s all cultural miscegenation- policed by our segregationist ideas of a racially binary society. Yet, frankly this has never really been the case. Why not, then, finally establish a relationship based on even the potential to love.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/72280-black-people-doing-white-people-doing-black-people/