Forget what it sounds like for a minute, let’s consider the spirit of rock and roll: Rebellious. Energetic. Vocal. Independent. Driven. Unapologetic. Powerful. They’re characteristics I could attribute to damn-near every sister I know.
In fact, my personal Who’s Who of Rock and Roll is stacked with bomb Black women. Betty Davis. Grace Jones. Tina Turner. Aretha Franklin. Nona Hendryx. Poly Styrene. Joan Armatrading. Joyce Kennedy… and that’s just 1976-77.
So why do so many people go out of their way to marginalize or flat-out disregard Black women as both pioneers and torchbearers of rock? Why are we so indifferent to the fact that more than a few African-American women strapped an instrument to their back and helped carry the genre from the fields to the church to the juke joint to the charts to a multimillion-dollar industry?
Probably because someone told us it wasn’t ours and we chose to believe it. They said it was devil’s music, so we cast it out. We let it go because someone gave it white skin, a penis, and the green light to cross boundaries that Black people couldn’t. And in so doing, they convinced the world that our pioneers didn’t deserve equal recognition, equal exposure or equal ownership.
Trayvon’s blackness wasn’t something he could hide, so it wouldn’t have mattered whether he’d worn a hoodie or a t-shirt that fateful night. It mattered that he was black, and it mattered that the person who shot him had a vendetta out for black men before Trayvon ever set foot in the neighborhood. It matters that in 2012, there are more black men in prison today than those who were enslaved in 1850. It matters that blacks, in particular black men, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and underrepresented in colleges. It matters that the black unemployment rate is nearly double that of unemployment for the general population. It matters that blacks are less likely to be screened, diagnosed, and treated for preventable diseases, less likely to own homes, less likely to receive research grants, and more likely to retire in poverty than their white counterparts. It matters that blacks are less likely than whites to abuse drugs, but more likely to be convicted of drug crimes. None of these statistics are due to a genetic predisposition to violence, poor health and underachievement, instead as a direct result of the disenfranchisement of blacks that has occurred in this country for more than 200 years at the hands of slavery, Jim Crow Laws, discrimination, and the institutionalized racism in our schools, banks, businesses, courts, and prisons that has torn apart our families and fractured our community. Just like Trayvon Martin, race mattered for Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, and hundreds more we will never know the name of who died because of their skin color.
Hey, guys. So… race, what’s up with that? Word on the Internet is that stylists are now taping back the face skin of Vogue models, ostensibly to give them Asian looking eyes. Refinery 29 wonders if eye-taping is the new blackface, while 8asians quips that Chinky eyes are in. Meanwhile, the Asian women who come through my ESL class consistently ask me to name the English word for the eyelid crease that white people have. To their disbelief, there is no specific word in English because “we” typically don’t think about it. Little do we know how beautiful and enviable our giant eyes are to some, like the Korean girls who get eyelid surgeries as graduation presents.
On a recent visit to the wonderful Museum of Chinese in America I learned that yellowface is a very real tradition which extends far and beyond the Mikey Rooney phenomenon to many deeply offensive, absurdly hilarious, possibly okay, and whatever moments in the history of entertainment. In light of more serious qualms, what judgement is there to really lay down on the fashion world for wanting to change the shape of an eye? If I can tell you anything, it’s that these fetishes swing all ways. I am curious to see how people will become aware of this practice if it continues. Will they see it in a larger context of cultural beauty swapping? As exploitative or maybe desiring? Where are the Asian models?
And… Have you heard of Afrocentric? This man’s t-shirt certainly adds some odd-ball garnish to the above conversation, but let’s skip the unpacking and just enjoy it. Karen of Liv-Chic Furniture and Design asked for his photo on West 4th and 6th Ave in Manhattan. She says, “He was super nice and I am not quite sure if he understood the delicious irony, his friends thought he was SUPER cool that a NYer was stopping him on the street to shoot him.”