So, does it make me a bad father if I let my daughter watch multiple episodes of Sanford & Son while I’m working?
Did you know Earle Hyman, best known for his role as Russell Huxtable, father of Cliff on The Cosby Show was also the voice of Pantro, the coolest Thundercat? Yeah…that’s the sound of your mind being blown.
So, for the record, I have grudging respect for Shelby Steele. For the most part, I find him to be a thoughtful and intelligent proponent of African-American conservatism. And I agree with him about 85% of the time in his piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. Like Steele, I also believe that a large part of liberalism is dependent on the fetishizing of black victimization but, like the vast majority of commentators who lament the lack of minority and, specifically, black participation in the Republican party, Steele does not even acknowledge the long and well documented openly hostile behavior the organization has had towards black people. Until I see a Republican/conservative representative candidly discuss-not apologize, just friggin’ acknowledge- the movement of the so-called “Dixiecrats” to the GOP as well as the racist code of the 80’s Republican memes such as the “Cadillac welfare queens” and the demonization of poor black men, I can’t take any outreach seriously.
So, we’re in the kitchen the other day, listening to the little radio and Luther Vandross’ “Take You Out” come on. Realizing that I’m humming along, I told Wendy that, of all of the shitty Luther songs that have come out in the last fifteen years (and God knows there’s been a bunch of them), this might be my favorite. Y’know, I don’t like it, but I do find myself tapping my foot to the melody. Well, being the ever supportive wife, she starts clowning me and accusing me of losing my taste in music. According to her, I’m about to buy some smooth jazz and start wearing mustard colored mock turtlenecks. Now, it was all fun and jokes but, I have to admit, I’m always on the lookout for my sense of aesthetics slipping away.
Because it happens to lots of people. As much as I rail against how pop and disposable black music got in the eighties and want to blame suburban housewives for ruining my music, the ugly truth is that I don’t know how much the audience actually changed. The same people who bought Patti Labelle’s 1977 album, Patti Labelle and correctly celebrated “Joy To Have Your Love” as one of the greatest R&B songs ever…bought the embarrassingly cheesy “New Attitude” from The Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack almost ten years later. And I’ve always wondered, what happens to make you start liking bad music? Are you just loyal to the artist or does something actually occur that makes you lose your taste?
Y’know, when Q-Tip’s solo debut, Amplified, came out in 1999, I had a real crisis trying to determine whether or not I really liked it because it was good or because it was Q-Tip or if, maybe, my senses were slipping. The production was completely opposite from the warmer, more organic, jazz inflected work of A Tribe Called Quest, resembling the current, staccato, Swizz Beats type tracks that I hated but I liked it when he rhymed over it. I remember saying that I liked it for what it was and, even when I reviewed it, basically saying that Q-Tip could do no wrong with me because, well, he’s Q-Tip. But doesn’t that explain why someone would buy “A House Is Not A Home” and “Dance With My Father?”
I still don’t know if it excuses bad music though. Q-Tip’s second studio release, The Renaissance, is much more in the vein of his Tribe work and I like it more than the aforementioned debut and I acknowledge the difference. The problem with the later work of artists who used to produce really good work is that their fans don’t really call them on it. And it shouldn’t matter whether you can tap your foot to it or not.
Still on my Bobby Jindal obsession a little bit. Thought his 60 Minutes interview was fascinating and doesn’t change my opinion that he’s a smart cat that I hope the GOP attaches their cart to. The one thing that really stood out to me was something his wife said that alludes to my earlier post. When asked about their Indian heritage, Mrs. Jindal said they didn’t think of themselves as Indian, they thought of themselves as American. Now, as an African-American from a certain place and space, that kind of talk from people of color always makes my skin crawl because, what I hear is, “I’d rather just be like everyone else, which really means, ‘white.'” But I understand that this space that I come from also never could have foreseen Barack Obama being elected president. My question is, in a post-Obama landscape, what racialized space does this mindset occupy?
While I believe President Obama has completely disrupted the manner in which identity politics are understood, I don’t know if he’s destroyed them. Nia-Malika Henderson has a really smart article up at politico.com outlining the manner in which Obama is very much a racialized black man and, to paraphrase Jindal, sees himself as a black man and an American. In fact, once again, I believe that his embrace of this codified blackness is part of the reason he succeeded.
Yet, within this codified blackness, clearly Obama created his own space. Biracial heritage and Hawaiin background aside, he never consciously tried to be something he wasn’t. His “coolness” was a reflection of his natural tendency towards introspection and deliberation, not a foolish attempt to bring, “hip-hop” to his campaign (coughcoughMichaelSteelecoughcough). In reference to the title of this post, the Syreeta Wright song that challenges some post Integration blackness, Obama didn’t engage in much, “I’m down” pantomime. He was simply him…but he said and acted like there was space for himself in the black world. And we loved him for it.
So I wonder-does a person of color downplaying his color make him more or less attractive to the rest of us, regardless of color, in the 21st century?
And the question that needs to be answered? Is Sam Jackson playing Sho’ Nuff a bad idea…or the worst idea you’ve ever heard?
Andrew Sullivan, writer/blogger for The Atlantic, was the first person I saw who made the best observation about Bobby Jindal’s GOP response to President Obama’s speech Tuesday: stilted, faux-folksy, amateurish; Jindal moved and sounded like Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock. At this point, everyone has had their say about Jindal and, honestly, I feel a little bad for the guy but, frankly, I immediately thought he was someone else who got caught out by the Barack Obama phenomenon. It’s not so much that Obama is a great speaker so much as it is that he makes it look so damn easy that folks, like Jindal the other night, Caroline Kennedy for about fifteen minutes and, of course, the glorious spectacle of Sarah Palin, fool themselves into thinking they can do it too. But there’s a lot that goes into why and how Obama, in the words of the great African-American poet, Mos Def, “makes the eloquent look effortless.”
Ironically, Jindal had the opposite problem that Sarah Palin did. With Palin, when she was scripted and controlled, she did wonderfully. In retrospect, the only time I was really concerned about the Republican ticket was when she gave speeches. She’s personable, has great physical presence and delivers a script in a big way. But, as we all know, once you get a teleprompter away from the esteemed governor, it all falls apart pretty quickly and, suddenly, asking someone with a Journalism degree what newspapers they read is a “gotcha question.” Jindal, on the other hand, is a poised and articulate man and his sheer brilliance shines through when he’s in an uncontrolled interview setting. The bitter irony is that he was much more of a presence, yesterday morning on the talk show circuit, responding to his official “coming out party” than he was the night before. Putting the two aspects together, doing well in speeches and in conversation, compared to the president, seems to be the issue for the GOP. And, again, Obama seems to do it so easily that people get caught into thinking, well, it is.
The thing is, I believe Barack Obama works really hard at making what he does look not that hard at all. In fact, this action can be linked to a centuries old African-American defense mechanism that sociologists have termed, “the cool pose” most famously in the book by the same name by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson. This disaffected, nonchalant attitude towards achievement can originally be traced to black people, usually men, hiding their weakness from an oppressive system with the thinking being that you shouldn’t let them find a chink in your armor. Brothers have turned, “never let them see you sweat” into a mantra. The cool pose has most often been publically noted in musicians, like Miles Davis, or athletes, like Michael Jordan but I think Barack Obama might be the first really public political figure who we can point to who utilizes the action (mainly because the vast majority of black politicians have historically come from the more expressive and outwardly emotive Baptist preacher tradition…) So, when folks look from the outside, without acknowledging the work that must go into being Barack Obama, I don’t necessarily fault them for thinking it looks easy because I think he’s doing it on purpose.
(And just to be clear, I don’t think all brothers manage this as well as others. I saw Michael Steele’s goofy ass on Morning Joe yesterday wearing some kind of ridiculous zoot suit, looking like he was in Janet Jackson’s “Alright” video. I kept expecting Heavy D and Cab Calloway to come strutting from out back talking about things were copacetic. Between that and his, “we need to inject some hip-hop into the Republican Party” plan, Steele is the epitome of Guy Trying Too Hard.)
The other reason I believe Obama consciously shapes his swagger around archetypes like Billy Dee Williams or Marvin Gaye is because of the manner in which he consciously discusses wanting to be connected to black culture and I think there’s something there. Here’s something I just found out; Bobby Jindal’s name isn’t Bobby. It’s Piyush. By all accounts, he renamed himself Bobby after Bobby Brady on The Brady Bunch. Now, I’m not trying to go into a whole name thing but I do find it a striking detail when contrasted with Obama’s introspective journey from Barry to Barack that he outlines in Dreams of my Father. For him, using his full first name and, even coming to terms with his middle name Hussein, made he feel more comfortable with himself and more connected to black culture where, again, where I think he accessed his rhetorical style.
I’m going to take the governor at his word and assume he feels like he is a Bobby and doesn’t need the psychological journey that Obama needed with his own name but the hard reality is that “Bobby” makes a lot of people feel much more comfortable than “Piyush” would. And, frankly, I think those were the people that his handlers were trying to tap into the other night. He may have come off sounding like Kenneth the Page but his rehearsers and speech writers were trying to invoke the folksy Reagan and the audience for that, not only need a Bobby but they need that Bobby to eat up valuable time relaying his personal story when he should have been more pointed with his criticism. Regardless of the reason why he renamed himself, Bobby is the type of name that works to make people of color appear nonthreatening , just like taking half of your response time to convince folks that “I’m just like you!” But if the last election showed up anything it’s that America is okay with folks that aren’t “just like you” so, to be effective, I think Jindal is going to have to leave that part alone and concentrate on getting his qualifications across.
Look, I’m pulling for both Jindal and Michael Steele and their goal of revamping the GOP because I believe in having a viable choice. Turkey with pepper jack cheese on marble rye is my favorite sandwich but I would love to not have to eat it every day. Once in a while, it’d be great to choose between that and a cheeseburger. Right now, my choice is the turkey sandwich or a “We’ve Constructed Our Entire Modern Party On A Platform Of Open Hostility Towards Poor People and Minorities” hoagie. To get to that, I think Jindal-and Michael Steele- are going to have to figure out a way to ignore the voices asking for Bobby and figure out a way to tap into their inner Piyush.