When the Music Stops: The Micro-Wages of Patriarchy (Beyoncé to R Kelly)

NOTE: Since this post was in part inspired by my grad school memory of R Kelly’s 1995 single “You Remind Me of Something” (yes, you women remind me of some THING), I initially though I’d post the music video, but on second thought, I refuse. I refuse to give currency (literally adding views on YouTube) to his digital presence and his commercial work. Instead, please watch and listen to the Jim DeRogatis’s YouTube series The Kelly Conversations with guest Psychology Professor Charmaine Jake-Matthews, a black woman who as a teen attended the academy where R Kelly preyed on underage girls.

Ahead of R. Kelly headlining Pitchfork Music Festival, WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis conducts a series of conversations with smart, passionate cultural critics.

As a professor of ethnomusicology, or rather the sociology of a gendered musical blackness on and off line, I have become increasingly committed to a womanist/feminist critique of pedagogy, of the digitally divided, and of the lack of an intergenerational and intersectional analysis of the oppression and domination tactics being used against black girls and women.  So it might seem strange that  recent controversies around whatever mega-artists’ latest release whether its Yeezy or Queen Bey, are often not all that interesting to me.

Usually I am not and have never really been interested in being dragged by the current into a maelstrom of opinions and argumentation, of bullying and social agreement. Perhaps it’s being an only child who even as an adult still feels introverted and outside what’s really popular. I’ve always been more interested in how the vernacular and local popular works for black girls and women. The micro-sociologies and the micro-stories of our ethnography–the first-hand, personal study of local settings.

The new popular with its advent of “new media”–the always-on, always available participatory culture and networks from YouTube to Facebook and Twitter–it all seems so irresistible. This immediately compelling “now now” (the term someone told me must be used to transact for an immediate demand of action by request in South African work culture)  distracts and dissuades us from our own need to personalize our habits of work, money and health. It distracts and dissuades us as well as from any radical (the thing we really need–whatever that may be for you and you– given the generalized indifference to black female existence by “IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY.” We need a radical collective action one that actually stops, thinks, and plans actions like what’s needed with regards to the most beloved and often the wealthiest, and most symbolically powerful, actors of musical blackness whose linguistic and symbolic imperialism often defy any local concerns for the linguistic and symbolic violence and emotional and cognitive abuse being waged against black girls and women.

The micro-wages and -aggressions of patriarchy whose consequences range from a lack of consent in mundane transactions like calling out gender when it’s irrelevant (The Fem-Cee Jean Grae!!!) to the invasive domination of rape, sexual assault and murder are hidden by the controversies around Yeezy and Bey. Then all these micro-wages and aggressions are expropriated to all communities of girls and women via American pop culture and YouTube in almost invisible ways. Witness over time the increased visibility of formerly denigrated and now objectified ideals of black female bodies where non-black bodies have and manufacture through cosmetics and cosmetic surgeries fuller lips, fuller hips, and tanned skin but not kinky hair, fuller noses and definitely not chocolate-bar to  blue-black skin tones. This goes unseen or unnoticed in the speedy highlights of new media blazing new new stories at the speed of lightness.

This is the outflow from my keyboard this morning after reading a story about R Kelly and accusations of sexual assaults dating back to when I was in graduate school in the early 1990s. And it bleeds into some concern I had that maybe I should take a bigger role in the black feminist blogosphere’s conversations about Beyoncé.

When we critique Beyoncé’s new  (old) work without considering the larger socio-political contexts of what bell hooks calls “IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY” as well as the social imagination of a heteronormative, non-consensual, pornificated gender politics that black girls and women are constantly re-subjected to by major black and non-black, major male and non-male superstars dating back decades, we miss what inter-generational critiques have to offer. I’d love to do a Google Chat that has 16 year olds, 30 year olds and 50 year old at the table sharing simply about the micro-wages and -oppressions they have felt from watching Bey’s new work or from moments in time then-then that reminds them this now-now.

I remember back in the early 90s when I was in grad school at Michigan with about 650 currently enrolled grad students of color–one of the most radical moments of my academic experience having formerly only existed in tiny groups of minority students before that–I was disgusted by R Kelly’s song lyric “You remind me of a Jeep. I wanna ride it! You remind me of a credit card. I wanna buy it!” I don’t remember too much public outrage about the sisters I knew then but I did complain about it. There was no new media to circulate our thoughts beyond our immediate sphere. Well there was email which we did use to galvanize a full-page ad in defense of ourselves and Anita Hill in what was it 1991 which came out of womanist actions by Michigan faculty–female and male. But back then I was just beginning to learn that I didn’t have the language to identify its connections to “IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY.”

Yesterday’s December 16, 2013 Village Voice article about the stomach-churning stories about R. Kelly and a one-man crusade by one music journalist to investigate and publicize his factual sexual abuse cases brings the facts of “IMPERIALIST WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY”  into view for deeper analysis of Beyoncé and more importantly of ourselves.

These are facts that are plagued by the lack of media literacy among young and old that leads way too  many of us refusing to confront

  • what is being peddled and for whom
  • what is being bought and by whom,
  • what (not who) is being sold to our minds through popular and social media culture then and now
  • and why…to and for what ends are we constantly being distracted by new media?

I am realizing that I must keep blogging here but I ask that today, in this now now, you carve time out to:

Read the “Stomach-Churning” Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full

Here is a telling excerpt:

Jessica Hopper/Village Voice: Some of our young critical peers, they’re 24 and all they know of Kelly’s past is some vague sense of scandal, because they were introduced to him as kids via Space Jam. A lot of your reporting on this is not online, it is not Google-able. Collective memory is that he “just” peed in a girl’s mouth.

Music journalist Jim DeRogatis: To be fair, I teach 20-year-olds at Columbia. Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody knows everything. A lot of art, great art, is made by despicable people. James Brown beat his wife. …

The art very rarely talks about these things. There are not pro-rape Led Zeppelin songs. There are not pro-wife-beating James Brown songs. I think in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, rock music, or pop culture people misbehaving and behaving badly sexually with young women, rare is the amount of evidence compiled against anyone apart from R. Kelly. Dozens of girls — not one, not two, dozens — with harrowing lawsuits. The videotapes — and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video. You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his “gift.” It’s a rape that you’re watching. So we’re not talking about rock star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We’re talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined. Read the lawsuits!” READ MORE.

CLOSE QUOTES:

We have been raised to view any difference other than sex as a reason for destruction, and for Black women and white women to face each other’s anger without denial or immobility or silence or guilt is in itself a heretical and generative idea. It implies peers meeting upon a common basis to examine difference, and to alter those distortions which history has created around our difference. For it is those distortions which separate us. And we must ask ourselves. Who profits from all this?
Audre Lorde. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” Sister Outsider. Crossing Press Berkley. 1984. Originally published as the keynote presentation at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Storrs, Connecticut, June 1981
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