Note: Originally published 24 Mar 09
Today a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook asking why Justin Timberlake gets a pass to degrade black women. They were referring to his, rather Ciara’s new video for a song featuring JT. There were a lot of comments to the article about how he threw Janet under a bus during “Nipplegate”, but I’m on board with the commenter’s who asked “why would Ciara do this?”
I know, it’s a chicken/ egg question for the ages. They’re performers, artists, businesses. JT is like vocal gold in a landscape riddled with weak voices and fueled more by personal scandals than talent. I totally dig that. But it is the 21st century. Maybe she should read this and she wouldn’t be so quick to let some white dude, literally, yank her chain. Wasn’t she the dancing queen a few years ago when she was part of Missy’s crew?
I’ve gone on and on about black female sexuality and film, so all I can say right now is: Really?
Is this really a video today? Are we so willfully ignorant about our own history that we find this acceptable? I’m sick of blaming other people for our own lack of love and respect for ourselves. It’s a tired Civil Rights movement mentality. This young woman was told the concept and performed the video. She’s the one crawling all over this man (white or black) apparently desperate for his attention that only her body and sex can get her. Her “lyrics” are equally as needy and a plea for him to fall in love with her while having sex with her. I guess that’s the part that really disgusts me. A whole generation of young (and not so youthful) women believing that having “mad skills” in the bed will make a man “fall in love”. (Whatever that means to them.)
The theory is that all these gyrations are the thing that will build a lasting loving relationship. Having been both that young once and the older cynic that I am now, it’s depressing. It’s depressing because I have all these words for it, but it incites in me such a visceral reaction I just start yelling “stop acting like that, you’re fucking it up for all of us!!!!” And even if I said that, I’d be shouting at the wind. How can I tell these girls that shaking your booty to the detriment of your mind and self worth won’t get you love? Every other piece of media tells them the exact opposite.
They don’t want to sit around reading stuffy Sterling Brown or hear about Jezebel and her role in their oppression. Shit, they just want to look cute and get some numbers. I dig that. I’ve been there and still go there occasionally. But what I really want to say to them is that they’re worth more than that.
When I was in my early 20’s I worked on a video for Lil’ Kim, “Crush on You”, I was still just a Production Assistant (PA) and was therefore at the bottom of the production food chain. There were a lot of hip hop celebrities around cause Biggie was there and his album was dropping in 2 weeks. Luke had come with his entourage of ladies in sheer dresses with thongs on that beautiful 10 degree day in February. At some point in the 26 hour shoot day, I see a guy grab one of the dancers butt. He just walked up to her and grabbed it. I went up to her and asked if she knew him. She said “No, but he’s one of Mase’s boys”. I didn’t, then, know what a Mase was (nobody did- or would if Biggie had lived I think) and told her he didn’t have the right to touch her like that. She just giggled, repeated the same line, and walked away with him. I was furious. I went in the corner and wrote some moody poem about pain and there being no art there.
As the girl PA, I was especially conscience of my own sexuality because of the sexual attention I garnered from the hip hop dudes whose videos paid my rent. God forbid I should show up in clothes that showed my hot young body, cause they’d try the same thing with me. I remember one rapper (who will remain anonymous because I can’t remember who he was- one hit wonder I think) who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t lapping up his attentions. I was at work and so was he, I told him. His attention, though flattering, was inappropriate. The dancer girls called me a fool. He was rich (only he’s not now, I’m sure) and why wouldn’t I want to go out with a rapper? Cause he’s stupid, and arrogant, and shallow, and not a very good rapper. They thought I was stupid.
But the most important thing was, I didn’t like him and didn’t have to like him just because he found me attractive. I’m not on the slave block. And it’s not that I haven’t fallen into the trap and tried to “learn to like someone” who liked me. But it’s still a more intellectual exercise with an appropriate and seemingly compatible person than me humping the air so they can see how good a lay I am.
I just think more of myself. I think more of my mind than my body, because that’s what I’ve EARNED. I thought I’d look like that forever too. But I don’t now, I look better. You can tell I read too much when you talk to me and that weeds out the riff-raff interested more in my rack than my spin on Foucault. When I tell young girls that their minds are their greatest asset, they look at me like I just farted out of my mouth. So what do you do about Justin Timberlake sexually degrading interactions with black women? Let him not find any black women to sexually degrade… that should be a cinch right? Maybe we can get Michelle Obama to help.