Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Them Niggas Were Coonin' Too: The Ironic Subjectivity of the Black Minstrel

I’ve often wondered why African Americans give the Black pioneers of cinema a pass, yet the modern-day African American community, as a whole, particularly those of the scholarly or academic ilk, castigate the new-age minstrels (i.e. African American reality kings and queens) such as those characters portrayed on the Love and Hip Hop shows, both Atlanta and New York, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and R&B Divas among others are demonized as the worst thing that has happened to the image of Black Americans since the crack epidemic, Gangsta Rap, and Flavor Flav. 
A couple of days ago my father and I were having our usual post-breakfast conversation on America and pop culture and Black America and Black American pop culture and I brought to his attention how, back when I was in Graduate School, the African American professors at the university in which I attended, always, like sheep, fell in line and were obedient in lauding the Black actors and comedians, who seemingly consistently portrayed stereotypical Negroidian roles on stage and film, as pioneers who paved the way for the New Negro to revel in national, and oft times international fame, notoriety and wealth, yet lambaste the Black actors, rappers, comedians, and, even athletes, of today as being coons who were and are disrespectful of those who have paved the path for them to economically and socially flourish in the 21st century.  Moms Mabley came to mind.  I said, “Daddy, them niggas didn’t have a choice, but neither do these new Niggas.  I mean, sure they perpetuated the derogatory stereotypes be it their aesthetic appearance (i.e. bucked eyes, bulbous lips, spooked-out/frightened/dumbfounded facial expressions, or tattered and subservient attire) or their perpetual use of Black slanguage or Black Speak (see bell hooks or Zora Neale Hurston).” He casually replied, “Hell, they didn’t have to do it either.  They should’ve just not taken the roll or acted the part.” 
I laughed and agreed.  This is true.  Was being in show business that important?  I know that one’s art or craft, whether it be to live vicariously through a written role in a film or to make someone laugh or dance or cry, or, in a writer’s case, to think, is a gift and talent, but I wouldn’t write for the sake of garnering money or fame or acceptance.  So, why did these people?  I am fully aware that great entertainers like Moms Mabley utilized their artistic expression to subtly cram racism and sexism in the face of the hierarchical structure under the guise of comedy, but can you not say that Stevie J of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta isn’t doing the same by deconstructing the notion that the only way to obtain wealth, or at least a consistent paycheck, while being a Black male is to be educated at the finest universities or colleges and procuring internships and wearing slacks and loafers and neckties and speaking with clarity and enunciating his syllables and pronouncing his words correctly?  You know, being “articulate” as Black and white Americans say when hearing a Negro who doesn’t sound like a Throwback-Thursday Antebellum slave.
The peculiarity in the way that Black reality stars are demonized befuddles me, because, for the most part, they are utilizing all of the characteristics and motifs that early Black comedy, Black Exploitation films of the 70’s, and Hip Hop of the late 80’s, 90’s, and early 21st century have done.  They are being “them”, or at least I hope so, because I’m a fascinated fan of realism and ratchedness that they portray on the television screen week in and week out.   Both Black and white Americans alike love voyeurism, and reality television is a hit, and has been since the early 90’s when MTV introduced The Real World.  So, why not be compensated and be afforded the ability to provide yourself and your family and friends with a lifestyle that is reminiscent of what we all have been told and sold as the American Dream?  Expensive everything: car(s), house, clothes, jewelry, and food.  If being a perpetual stereotype, no matter whether any positivity or negativity can be found within the textual message one is disseminating, is a crime, do you really want to be right?  If these niggas are coonin’, let them coon.  Coons gotta eat, right?

                                                                                                 -Gee Joyner

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tales from the Thot: The Objectification of Black(female) Sexuality

I can remember the first time I heard it.  It was a few weeks into the Fall 2013 semester.  I was doing my routine 3-5 minute ice-breaking monologue for one of my classes.  Asking students about their weekends and giving them a detailed yet graphic description of mine.  Ala Arsenio Hall (in the 90s) or any other network talk-show host you may or may have fancied.  And one student mentioned a party they had attended, and if you knew anything about collegiate parties or gatherings, particularly HBCUs, you know they can run the gamut from lame to no-holds-barred cage match type gatherings to all out pseudo strip clubs and grind fests.  Anyway, the student was giving a brief outline, if you will, and stated, “It was plenty of Thots, Mr. Joyner.’  Then, another male student chimed in, “It was a thotfest out there, man.”  I stood befuddled, bewildered, even ignorant.  Female and male students alike burst into laughter and full-toothed grins.  So, I asked, embarrassingly, because I knew, due to the context, I was losing touch with the millennial generation, even though I consider myself pretty cool, hip, and “with it” because I have always been cool, hip, and “with it” as far as Generation X’ers are concerned and because I have the cache of mingling with the youth of today considering my occupation as a professor, “What is as Thot?”  In unison, half of the class replied, “That hoe over there.”  I inadvertently laughed and lowered my head.  I love acronyms.  And this acronym shook me to the core, yet me thinking I’m still cool, chose not to expose it to my students.  I was laughing and smiling, but to me, the “term,” or acronym-turned-noun (synonymous with whore) wasn’t funny whatsoever---it was disturbing. 
Since the beginning of recorded language there have been many words used to describe a sexually promiscuous woman: harlot, trollop, whore, slut.  So, I guess it is only right that the 21st century colloquial lexicon, just as its predecessor popularized the slanguaged term hoe, a derivative of whore, would introduce another disparaging piece of language to further demonize the sexual freedom and frequency of intercourse of women, particularly the Black female.  But the dilemma lies in the idea of judgment, personal freedom, and morality.  And all of these three tenants in which women and their sexuality and their usage thereof exist under a microscopic lense of subjectivity.  Who is to say what morality is and whether or not a woman is cognizant or unaware of what it is she is doing or attempting to do when it pertains to her nether regions?  As far as Thots are concerned, this new terminology has replaced hoe, even though hoe is represented by one of the letters in the acronym, and is not only synonymous with a promiscuous woman but it is also connoted with a woman who seems to be irresponsible and unaccomplished, be she a negligent mother, an untrustworthy friend, a cutthroat criminal, or an occupier of a dead-end job.
But why is the Thot so castigated?  Because she utilizes her looks or her physique or feminine wilds to get what she want?  Money, housing, attention, or a mere sexual satisfying of her pleasure principle.  Possibly.  But, what is ironic is the fact that both women and men alike seem to detest a woman who chooses to occupy the space that men, both Black and white, have occupied for so long-- a space of patriarchal prestige, power, and entitlement.  A space where one’s superiority in a particular discipline or occupation or physicality affords them the opportunity to dominate another.  So, are Thots to blame for creating a space that defines them as superior, or, at the least, getting what they want in a given situation vis’ a vis the tools that they were given or capitalizing on what society as a whole wants?  In graduate school, as a graduate assistant, I wrote a headnote for a Norton Anthology on the late June Jordan, famed author, feminist, and social activist, and in doing my research, I came upon a quote by Audre Lorde that has stuck with me for the past 13 years and aided in making me comfortable in what I was and am trying to do as far as my own artistry.  She stated, “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”  Maybe the Thot has a freedom that those of us that glare and condemn her do not understand.  Maybe we are the one’s enslaved to the worry of judgment and marginalization and ostracization.  If we really think about it, haven’t we all been a Thot, both male and female, for someone?  Just a piece of meat or a piece of sex or something to pass the time while the person we performed for waited for a better man, woman, or thing to pin there hopes upon.  Shirley Chism famously said, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘It's a girl.’”  That’s funny, yet true.  We all must revisit, deconstruct, and reconstruct the way the vagina, and the woman it is attached to, has been demonized for wanting and doing what it and she wants to do.  Double Standards are a bitch, but you better not call a man one.