In the wake of the events in Ferguson, two videos got released by a couple of females in the business: Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” I don’t believe in coincidences. Whether conscious or not, everything is connected. The imagery in these videos speak to a mounting racial tension that has been getting a lot of media attention lately.
I thought she was classin’ it up, but naw, she assin’ it up.
Post the shooting of Michael Brown, the conversation has been conveniently diverted from one of yet another murdered unarmed Black person by the police, to the profiling and criminalization of the victim and their community. We’ve seen this same script play out many times with some of the same actors. It’s the same narrative: the respectability politics surrounding what Black people must do in order to not be shot in the streets. And we see the same race pundits on CNN and Twitter talking about how much Black-on-Black crime is or isn’t a factor.
At the risk of sounding like some of these Uncle Tom-assed Negroes who seem to think the solution to unarmed Black people getting murdered in the street is pulling their pants up, I think it’s foolish to think that how we treat one another on a daily basis isn’t a factor in the constant devaluing of Black life. No matter the race, people don’t fear killing Black people because the overwhelming sentiment from society at large is that Black people don’t matter. Our status in this world has been one of expendability and replaceability for at least 500 years. Regardless of what anyone has done to or thinks of Black people, at some point, it all comes down to us.
People are not property. We are not to be raced, traded, or trafficked. Those are things you do to commercial goods, not human beings.
Had Black lives mattered to other Black people 500 years ago, Africans wouldn’t have been complicit in the colonization of their African brothers and sisters. Sure, we all make mistakes and can be fools from time to time, but you should learn from experience not to repeat the same fuck ups over and over again. I get that Europeans may have had the advantage as far as gun power, but I don’t think that’s why we ultimately lost to them invading Africa. Because we were weak as a nation, outsiders we able to take advantage of infighting within the ranks of African leaders. Because we lack whatever some Europeans have in their DNA that makes them feel entitled to capture, torture, and rape a people of their land and their humanity, we have a hard time fathoming the sociopathic mind that could so freely do that to another. 500 years later, and we still expect the oppressor to acknowledge their wrongdoing and give us justice. As if the powers that be know or care anything about justice.
“The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny, and it is useless for the innocent to try by reasoning to get justice, when the oppressor intends to be unjust.”
The Wolf and The Lamb
Regardless of whose fault it is, the only way Black people are going to move ahead in this world is to first respect themselves. As long as we continue to see ourselves through the lens of the oppressor there won’t be peace or justice. Not because the oppressor is the arbiter of either peace or justice, but because when we are disconnected from who we really are, there is no chance for evolution. What does not evolve, dies, and what is dead, deteriorates — which is why we find ourselves doing exactly what we did 50 years ago.
I’m not surprised we are here, because we never finished what we started 50 years ago. The Civil Rights Movement was about a change in policy. The subsequent Black Power Movement is really what was supposed to set things off. We must remember that we didn’t drop the ball. We were fired up and ready to take action. Yes, some of us were guilty of assimilating once we were given a chance to live in White neighborhoods, eat at White restaurants, and take part in all of the trappings of the capitalist system that became a symbol of world domination from the sweat off of our Black backs. But there was a growing number of grassroots activists who were feeding and educating our marginalized Black youth — people like Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, Assata Shakur, all of whom were either killed, arrested or exiled.
Again, tactics of intimidation and fear were used as a means of keeping us in check. We’re told not to forget the names of your Trayvon Martins, Mike Browns, Renisha McBrides, Jordan Davises, and Ezell Fords — but the list is getting too long. We can’t remember all the names of the Black people who have been killed within the last 5 years, much less the last 500 years. We must not forget the murder of our ancestors, but we must remember why this happened to us and is continuing to happen. The thread that ties all of this together is that murder of Blacks is justified because we are not civilized. And according to the self-appointed majority race, when you are not civilized, you are not human — you are savages. That makes us disposable and unworthy of justice in the eyes of the status quo.
You see, the real war is not against Black or White. The real war is culture versus civilization. My question is: Why should we expect liberty under the same statehood which profits from our servitude? I think a more effective use of our energy would have been and still is to build a Pan-African communal support base around the world. This is the work that Malcolm X was doing before he was set up to be assassinated. Marcus Garvey is also to be commended for being one of the pioneers of Pan-African thought.
If all people of African descent respected and acknowledged that we are part of the same family, we could reverse and repair the effects of 500 years of colonization. The problem is that many of us who are blessed enough to have a voice and have built enough riches in the ways of this world to make a difference are too busy being drunk in love or twerking to speak up and do something to propel us forward. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for lap dances and asshakery, but when the only picture of Black women you get in the media is this, it’s a problem.
Two hundred years ago…
Josephine Baker shaked her ass so you don’t have to.
When we mimic the distorted views of those who oppress us, we relinquish our right to rail against the system when they minstrelize us. You can’t be mad at Taylor Swift for appropriating Black culture when Nicki Minaj dual-plagiarizes the appropriation by telling Massa his story back to him.
What’s more offensive than any sistas shaking their asses in the videos, is how lame both “Shake It Off” and “Anaconda” are musically. The greatest crime in both of these so-called songs is that you’re being sold a stereotypical imagery of Black culture with a sound that is stripped of that which makes Black American music what it is. Neither is even remotely funky. It makes me wonder how anyone gets inspired to shake anything upon hearing that. Both diminish the code which exists in all great Black music. Perhaps because Taylor has more to prove, and though a complete rip from the ’80s favorite “Hey Mickey,” Taylor’s song has more of a groove than Nicki’s.
“Now you take the little baby that’s layin’ in the cradle — kicking and hollerin’ and goin’ on and tearin’ up the lil’ baby bed — can’t get that milk bottle fast enough. It’s got The Blues.”
— Albert King
To be completely honest, I wouldn’t have that much of a problem at all with either song if they were soulful. I cannot stress enough the importance The Blues plays in the liberation of The Souls of Black Folk. Because we were not allowed to speak our Native Tongues, The Blues is the new language we invented for ourselves. Sometimes the only way to get the masses aboard is by tricking them into doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Within this context, using the gloss of entertainment propaganda to get the message to folks is completely acceptable. When you give people That Rhythm, you give them That Life. At which point, the glorification of debauchery becomes a vessel for the deeper message you’re attempting to deliver.
Though everything in the media tries to convince us otherwise, Black people are a community. Not only are we linked to each other as people of African descent, but we are linked to all indigenous people the world over. Native Americans, Asians, Palestinians, Aboriginal Australians, and others, have a shared history in the destruction of our cultures by means of civilization. And to show you how the oppressor uses language as a tool to brainwash, when someone’s being “civilized” the connotation is one of peace, when we know the irony is that all state-sanctioned civilizations are born of violence and destruction.
The first tool of oppression is language. When you control someone’s speech, you control their thoughts.
What I think Black Americans need to reclaim first and foremost is our indigenous Black American language, The Blues. Any gains we have made in this society as a people has been through The Blues. Be it Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues,” Charlie Parker’s “K.C. Blues,” Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Really Care About Us,” Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times,” Lauryn Hill’s “Every Ghetto, Every City,” as Miles Davis said, it’s “All Blues.”
The message is in the music. And it’s not so much what you’re saying as it is how you are saying it. We need to make each other responsible. We should hold our leaders and artists to the high standard of expression our ancestors set. Blacks call adopting a mainstream sound stripped of Blues “crossing over,” when by doing so, we still stuck on the wrong side of the River Jordan. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Peace and justice won’t be ours until we reconnect to the way we communicate with The Universe.
We need to be able to decipher the subliminal messages underneath what’s being sold to us. On the surface, Taylor and Nicki’s songs appear to reinforce the “Hottentot Venus” syndrome of the Black female body only being of use for shake dancing and for people to ogle over. And in Nicki’s case the “Anaconda” serves as a symbol reinforcing society’s fear and fascination of a large, Black penis. It would behoove Black people to develop their sense of hypersensitivity in order to counterbalance the imagery of hypersexuality. We have a tendency to get all up in our feelings about stuff and reacting as opposed to sitting still and thinking for awhile before we respond.
In light of all of this, though we have struggled, I am proud of my heritage as a Black American. This has all happened for a reason. I think we have an opportunity to be better Africans than we were 500 years ago, but that would require us to remember. With all that we’ve been through, we should be better than our ancestors. But as long as we continue to suffer from cultural amnesia, we could find ourselves on the news again 50 years in the future, fighting the same fight. Or worse, we will have no historical memory at all of who we were before we were enslaved.
Once you get past the imagery of appropriation, the lyrics in Taylor’s song are quite affirmative:
I never miss a beat
I’m lighting up my feet
And that’s what they don’t see
That’s what they don’t see
I’m dancing on my own
I make the moves as I go
And that’s what they don’t know
That’s what they don’t know
But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright
Cause the players gonna play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate
Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off
And in an earlier essay, I conveyed that in ancient African mythology snakes were deities. A snake or serpent often represented fertility, which is not too far off from the big, Black dick Nicki is alluding to. In the Hindu faith, Shesha was the king of all Nagas (serpent gods). Nagas are gods, so are Niggas. And then there’s the sacred snake dance of the Hopi Indians. There is no end to the allegorical connection to all of these things if we take a look through our Third Eye.
I, IV, V
I know, for some, the events in Ferguson are cathartic and necessary. I just hope that after they return home they remember what brought them out into the streets this time. Those who are lost know most the beauty of being found. When you’re playing a Blues progression, it always goes back to One. As James Brown, Bootsy, and George Clinton have all said, ain’t no funk without The One. I. Eye. The Amen Cadence is IV — I (four to one). Four: IV — intravenous. Amun, the Egyptian God of the poor and downtrodden, became one with the Sun (or Ra) and representative of transformation of self. Amun as a god was hidden, but through Ra, was revealed. Amun-Ra, revelation of The Seen and The Unseen. Amun-Ra was adopted by Greek mythology in the form of Esus, or Zeus, which eventually became adopted by Christianity as Jesus. E-SUS in musical terms is a chord, so is G-SUS — Jesus. What’s interesting about SUS chords, short for suspended chord, is that the chord is built from the first, forth, and fifth degree of the diatonic scale. The traditional blues form in Black music is built upon the I, IV, and V chord.
It all goes back to The One.
Everything is connected.
— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop