You’ve heard a lot about white feminism and why many people of color, women of color in particular, can’t stand it. It’s not that we can’t feminism; in fact, we love feminism. It’s just that we can’t stand when something that’s supposed to accept us is just used as yet another tool to marginalize us and keep power centralized on whiteness. Case in point: Jennifer Lawrence.
“So what did Jennifer Lawrence do this week that we should be concerned about?” you might be asking. Well, first, you’re right in asking what she did this week. There’s never a week that goes by that we don’t hear something about Lawrence, whether it’s in the form of a gushing fashion post, a gushing celebrity news post about what she ate for lunch or how she’s best gal pals with other problematic white feminist Amy Schumer, or in some clickbait headline. Many of us are tired of hearing about the manufactured admiration for this woman.
Lawrence’s tide with Hollywood started shifting months ago at the Golden Globe Awards, when she rudely shut down a Spanish-speaking journalist for looking at his phone while asking her a question (something which a lot of journalists do nowadays, since we can record interviews, look at our notes, and take pictures with our smart phones). The tide is continuing to shift with Lawrence’s latest foot-in-mouth instance—talking about sacred Hawaiian sites in the form of crude jokes.
On a recent episode of The Graham Norton Show to promote her and Chris Pratt’s upcoming film Passengers, Lawrence joked that while in Hawaii filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she used one of the state’s ancient stones to scratch her butt.
“These were sacred rocks …and you’re not supposed to sit on them because you’re not supposed to expose your genitalia to them. …They were so good for butt itching! …One rock that I was butt-scratching on ended up coming loose. And it was a giant boulder and it rolled down this mountain and it almost killed our sound guy! It was this huge dramatic deal and all the Hawaiians were like, ‘It’s the curse!’ And I’m over in the corner going, ‘I’m your curse. I wedged it loose with my ass.'”
Here’s a question: Why couldn’t she scratch her backside how most people do—WITH HER FINGERNAILS? Did she really need to find a rock to do this?
Let’s also discuss that she nearly killed someone just because of her butt.
The incident caused immediate pushback from Hawaiians for her flippant manner when addressing the stones in the interview (she said the stones reflected “the ancestors…or whatever”), her stereotypical way of addressing the people who were angry at her, and for disrespecting their culture.
The so-called “rocks” she thought were so good for butt-scratching are part of a larger burial site. As in, for Lawrence to understand, a site where people’s remains are. As in: a place to show some doggone respect.
To quote PEOPLE:
” ‘It was an archeological site,’ says Hawaiian cultural expert Kahokule’a Haiku, who advised the Hunger Games production team. Haiku has been featured in the New York Times for his work in the Waimea Valley. ‘It’s an ancient Hawaiian living site and there are several hundred burial caves right in the area. The caves contain the bones of our ancestors–but not just any ancestors. They are called Kahuna. These were the astronomers, navigators, and doctors of the time. They were the Einsteins and Marconis of Hawaiian culture. And they were filming just a few yards away.”
After facing a firestorm of anger, Lawrence has apologized via Facebook:
But many are still unhappy with her and her seeming lack of understanding as to what she scratched her butt on. The many comments on her Facebook post show people from many backgrounds taking her to task for acting like, in keeping with this post’s theme, a butt.
So what does this have to do with white feminism? Because white feminism operates from a very narrow, very racist viewpoint. For this post, I’ll quote BattyMamzelle, who has the best, most succinct definition of white feminism I can find.
I see “white feminism” as a specific set of single-issue, non-intersectional, superficial feminist practices. It is the feminism we understand as mainstream; the feminism obsessed with body hair, high heels and makeup, and changing your married name. It is the feminism you probably first learned. “White feminism” is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.
White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is “one size fits all” feminism, where middle class women are the mould that others must fit. it is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always.”
(I highly recommend reading her full post on white feminism if you want to learn more about it.)
So, if you are white reading this, and you are worried about being perceived as a Jennifer Lawrence-esque white feminist, here are some things you can do to not get this label attached to your name and social media legacy:
1. DON’T SCRATCH YOUR BUTT ON SACRED SITES. That’s first and foremost. There’s a deeper point here though; respect the cultures of others outside of your own. Just because something looks innocuous to you doesn’t mean it is to someone else. A great way to show how misunderstanding a culture can actually make you look foolish: The slave owners of the American south didn’t realize that the songs, dances, and other artistic modes of expression used by slaves were either about passing along their African heritage, giving each other instruction on how to escape or making fun of the masters, usually in front of their faces. Instead of figuring this out, the slave masters just wrote it off as “negroes being negroes.”
2. Think of people as people, regardless of their race. If there’s one thing (among many) that irritates the bejesus out of me when it comes to white feminism is that some white women will say to other women of color, “I understand your struggle because I struggle as a woman to gain acceptance.” I’ve had this happen to me. To that, I say what feminist icon Sojourner Truth said—“Ain’t I a woman?” Do we have to keep saying what should be a basic fact for some of y’all out there to get it? Women of color aren’t objects for ridicule, fascination, obsession, or sexualization. We are women just like you, and we deserve every privilege you white women get.
3. Reach out to other women with intersectionality in your heart. As I’ve said many times on this site now, we’re in Trump’s America now, and if I’m being honest, white ladies, a lot of white women helped put us in this predicament. The supposed superiority of whiteness is connected to white male dominance, and a lot of white women apparently would rather have the security of male-based white supremacy than a white woman entering the White House as President. That’s messed up. However, to the rest of you white women out there wanting to staunch the bleeding and help protect the nation from fascism by creating lasting bridges with America’s non-white communities, you need to come with no agenda. Don’t come wanting to be a savior or wanting to get your “Good White Person” badge, because we don’t have time for that. Instead, come with an open mind and open heart, wanting to learn and be a conscientious woman of the world. Come wanting to do good for the sake of everyone, not just for yourself and to appease your white guilt. America needs everyone at the table to actually make America great, so we need you to come correct.
4. Do your own research. It would have been great if Lawrence had taken the time out to actually learn from Haiku since his services were available on site. She would have learned why she shouldn’t scratch her butt on things. Too many times, whiteness lulls white people into thinking they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whatever they want without repercussions. It’s part of the “Manifest Destiny” idea; I am lord (or lady) of all things, so I can do as I please without learning outside of my personal bubble. This ignorance is all over how Lawrence told her story, from flippantly describing the site to making fun of Hawaiians themselves by portraying them as superstitious. Lawrence should know better. If you don’t want to be like Lawrence, it would behoove you to learn about other cultures whenever you can, but especially if you’re visiting a place in which your culture is the minority. Don’t embarrass yourself.
5. Don’t follow Lawrence, Schumer, and Taylor Swift‘s examples. Shooting off at the mouth isn’t cute, y’all. There are some things you say and some things you keep to yourself. Being a feminist doesn’t mean thinking everything you say and do is some revolutionary thing. It’s definitely not revolutionary if a woman of color said or did the same thing and no one bats an eye at it or, worse, demeans the woman of color for saying or doing anything. If what you think is amazing is actually mediocre or offensive, then do yourself and the rest of us a favor and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Your ability to mouth off and have people praise you for it is actually a level of racial privilege, and it’s annoying.
I think I’ve wrung just about everything I can out of Lawrence’s debacle. What are your takes on it and how do you feel about white privilege? Comment below!
It’s always once every decade or so that People Magazine actually gets their “Sexiest Man Alive” issue right. Turns out, we’re in one of those moments where the broken clock lands on the right time.
Moana star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been on people’s personal “sexiest man alive” lists for the longest, and finally, People has officially given him that title over Eddie Redmayne, who I figured would have won this title in any other year since he’s got Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them, despite Johnson also having a holiday movie (and several other films and projects this year) and being Hollywood’s most highest paid actor.
Johnson’s title comes just at the right time in this nation, when we could all use a much-needed pick-me-up. After being bombarded with so much racism and discrimination and sexism and everything evil, it’s nice to see a well-deserving (and brown) actor get some love in these trying times. It provides a little bit of hope, however shallow, that life isn’t as bad as some people are trying to make it become, and that life doesn’t have to be bad at all if we just love each other for their own brand of uniqueness and dare I say, sexiness.
Thanks, Dwayne, for being good looking and powerfully rich in Hollywood. Now, enjoy the reigning Sexiest Man Alive talk about his super-iconic fanny pack photo.
What do you think about The Rock getting this nom? Also, what do you think about the small number of folks People has deigned to give the Sexiest Man or Woman Alive title to? Certainly, there should be more.
Chris Hemsworth plays a Marvel superhero on screen, and on the regular, he lives out a rather superheroic life by making children’s dreams come true. But with his latest tweet, he’s ascended even further into superhero status by actually doing what many people seem incapable of doing–actually apologizing for being racially and culturally insensitive.
Recently, Hemsworth tweeted out his support of those against the North Dakota pipeline. In his statement of support, he also gave a heartfelt apology for a picture from a New Year’s Eve party he and his wife held last year. We saw that picture, and naturally, people felt upset, and rightly so. Dressing up as Native stereotypes isn’t cool. This year, we see Hemsworth is a new outlook on his actions.
Standing with those who are fighting to protect their sacred land and water. #nodapl #waterislife #mniwiconi @taikawaititi I would also like to take this opportunity to raise something that has been bothering me for sometime. Last New Year’s Eve I was at a “Lone Ranger” themed party where some of us, myself included, wore the traditional dress of First Nations people. I was stupidly unaware of the offence this may have caused and the sensitivity around this issue. I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to all First Nations people for this thoughtless action. I now appreciate that there is a great need for a deeper understanding of the complex and extensive issues facing indigenous communities. I hope that in highlighting my own ignorance I can help in some small way.
“Standing with those who are fighting to protect their sacred land and water. #nodapl #waterislife#mniwiconi @taikawaititi. I would also like to take this opportunity to raise something that has been bothering me for sometime. Last New Year’s Eve I was at a “Lone Ranger” themed party where some of us, myself included, wore the traditional dress of First Nations people. I was stupidly unaware of the offence this may have caused and the sensitivity around this issue. I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to all First Nations people for this thoughtless action. I now appreciate that there is a great need for a deeper understanding of the complex and extensive issues facing indigenous communities. I hope that in highlighting my own ignorance I can help in some small way.”
If we take a cynical approach, we could easily say, “Well, clearly he’s apologizing because the director of his Thor: Ragnarok is an indigenous person.” But, isn’t interacting with people how others learn about their ignorances in the first place?
The whole point of multiculturalism is to learn more about each other and how we can better ourselves. We’ve all come into contact with some limited aspects of ourselves that become broadened when we interact with people with different life experiences and cultures different from our own. I know I’ve had that happen to me before. Many people are afraid to experience other cultures because, as we are vulnerable creatures, we are afraid of being wrong. It takes a big person to actually apologize for ignorance, and it takes a smart person to know what they’re apologizing for. For that, I commend Hemsworth for doing so.
He didn’t just put out a B.S. apology like some out there have done in the past (insert name of who you think fits in this space now—you’ve got a lot to choose from). He put out an apology that reads as sincere and thought-out, particularly when he wrote that this issue had been “bothering [him] for some time.” He’s had a lot of time to process this, and while his apology might not have come as quickly as we as a collective might like, it’s better that it came from him when he had an understanding of the issues.
Now, can more people decide to think outside of their minds and apologize for things they’ve done wrong? Can more people follow Hemsworth’s example? If so, that’d be great.
What do you think about Hemsworth’s apology? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
#UnderratedAsian, created by NerdyAsians, is one hashtag and Twitter account worth following. Not only will you learn about some of America’s little known MVPs in the arts, diplomacy, entertainment, politics, advocacy, sports, etc., but you’ll also see some of the entries by other Twitter accounts like the one for media advocacy site Kulture. Kulture’s Twitter account is a huge supporter of #UnderratedAsian, and while Kulture is utilizing the popular hashtag to educate, you can also get some eye candy from it as well, such as the three male models featured in this post.
Without saying it explicitly, #UnderratedAsian is also smashing another stereotype: that Asian men aren’t sexy. Indeed, Asian men are sexy. You read it right here if you haven’t read it anywhere else. This point is being emphasized because Long Duk Dong is still what too many folks think is the true representation of Asian men.
Amy Sun for Everyday Feminism wrote about the stereotypes facing Asian men in her article, “4 Lies We Need to Stop Telling About Asian-American Men”:
“Media has traditionally painted Asian-American men as sidekicks who serve as comic relief (see: Ken Jeong in any of his roles, such as The Hangover), are extremely nervous or silent around girls (see: The Big Bang Theory’s Raj Koothrappali, an Indian astrophysicist who is unable to speak to women for six seasons), are short and deeply accented (see: Han in 2 Broke Girls), and sidekick samurai warriors (yes, apparently, you can be Asian and still be a sidekick in a movie about samurai; I’m talking to you, The Last Samurai).
Let’s get over these awful stereotypes! Let’s start by oogling at these dudes.
Hao Yun Xiang
— Kulture (@kulturewatchdog) September 4, 2016
Sung Jin Park
— Kulture (@kulturewatchdog) September 4, 2016
— Kulture (@kulturewatchdog) September 3, 2016
@geoffreyberliner is an incredible friend and kind soul. He is the executive director at @penumbrafoundation . Geoffrey has a beautiful way in his art of photography—a way of making you feel like you’ve just experienced something special. There’s never a dull moment at the @penumbratintypestudio when he and @jolenelupo are creating. Thank you for being a wonderful friend, for all you do, and most of all, for being you. #largeformat #photography #alternativephotography #wetplate #tintype #portrait
You want more fine Asian dudes? Check out this Buzzfeed list from 2014. Use that as your jumping off point. You’re welcome.
Who’s your favorite #UnderratedAsian actor, model, or activist? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Rami Malek is a personal favorite around these parts, and his latest interview/photoshoot for the September issue of ELLE Magazine, he proves once again why he’s a low-key thought leader as well as a stellar actor.
In the interview, Malek talks about how he relates to his Mr. Robot character Elliot. His relationship to the character is much less about the self-important vanity of acting a meaty role (that kind of sentiment is something I’ve personally heard from an actress when discussing her role on a formerly popular show a few years ago) and more about how Elliot reflects a darker side to Malek’s past thinking and personal flaws.
“Look at me. I’m an actor who’s been struggling for a while, and there have been moments where I don’t think I’ve been the greatest in my personal life because I’ve sometimes taken my professional goals too seriously. So when I do things that aren’t as altruistic as I want them to be, I have to take inventory of myself, the way Elliot does when he starts to see the ramifications of his actions. He’s an unexpected hero in that way.”
It’s rare when we hear actors or actresses discuss their shortcomings in a way that’s genuine. Usually, too many of the acting set discuss their flaws in a self-congratulatory, humblebrag way, as if being proud of how “special” their flaws are makes them “just like us” while still using those same flaws to showcase how much “better” they are than the rest of us. When you read Malek’s words, you can tell he’s not talking about himself in a way to say “I’m better than you because I’m more perfectly imperfect than you.” He’s discussing past regrets like a person who has matured over time, and that makes him even more relatable than he already was. A lot of us can identify with feeling like there’s not enough time to make your dreams happen, of wanting to rush things to get to where you think you should be, of taking yourself too seriously. I know I can certainly identify. It takes a surprising lot of maturity to admit when you haven’t been as grateful or as well-meaning as you aspire to be, and Malek reflects that maturity in his answer.
It also helps that it seems like he’s not an actor who trips off of being famous. He still seems like a normal (yet immensely talented) guy. A guy who can take smoking-hot pictures. Just eat your heart out as you look at the top screenshot; there’s more where that came from in the actual ELLE article. (Of course, it goes without saying that model Cora Emmanuel takes a good photo too.)
Model @CoraEmmanuel takes fall’s gleaming patent leather look for a city spin on the arm of actor @RamiMalek, star of TV’s Golden Globe–winning @WhoIsMrRobot. Click the link in our bio for more shots of Rami and Cora modeling fall’s slickest looks. #WeAreFashion || ELLE September 2016 Photo by Azim Haidaryan
Malek’s star is on the rise; Season 3 of Mr. Robot has already been ordered, and Malek is getting ready to promote Buster’s Mal Heart, an indie film he’s starring in. Once again, he’s taking on a cerebral mind-bender of a character who is lost out at sea and in the wilderness, but recalls a former life as a family man. The film, which is expected to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is already expected to be a must-watch in the indie circuit, and it’s going to be exciting to see just how well this film does. You can take a look at the trailer right here.
What do you think about Malek and his regular-guy approach to Hollywood fame? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Who doesn’t love Jackie Chan! Well, guess what? He’s finally getting an overdue Oscar!
Chan will receive an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar for his body of work. That body of work includes classics like The Legend of Drunken Master, Rumble in the Bronx, and of course, Rush Hour. His resume also includes uncredited roles in many films, including the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon. Disney fans might know Chan was the singing voice for Shang in the Chinese release of Disney’s Mulan (indeed, Chan has a singing career that goes all the way back to the ’80s).
Also being honored is Anne Coates, Lynn Stalmaster and Frederick Wiseman. According to the press release, the four legends will receive their awards during the Academy’s 8th Annual Governors Awards on Saturday, November 12, at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center.
“The Honorary Award was created for artists like Jackie Chan, Anne Coates, Lynn Stalmaster and Frederick Wiseman – true pioneers and legends in their crafts,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “The Board is proud to honor their extraordinary achievements, and we look forward to celebrating with them at the Governors Awards in November.”
After making his motion picture debut at the age of eight, Chan brought his childhood training with the Peking Opera to a distinctive international career. He starred in – and sometimes wrote, directed and produced – more than 30 martial arts features in his native Hong Kong, charming audiences with his dazzling athleticism, inventive stunt work and boundless charisma. Since “Rumble in the Bronx” in 1996, he has gone on to enormous worldwide success with the “Rush Hour” movies, “Shanghai Noon,” “Shanghai Knights,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “The Karate Kid” and the “Kung Fu Panda” series of animated films.
Congrats to Chan! As a celebration of Chan’s acting career, let’s take a look at one of Chan’s finest moments: WB’s Jackie Chan Adventures.
What’s your favorite Jackie Chan movie? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
The updated, modern retelling of the seminal classic miniseries Roots left most Americans knee-deep in emotions Memorial Day weekend, and you have The Big Short star Brandon Stacy to thank for some of that. Stacy’s role aired during Night 4 of the miniseries, and Stacy was happy to discuss his role and what it was like to be a part of Roots with me during a recent phone interview. We also discussed his love for Star Trek and what it was like playing Spock in Star Trek: The New Voyages.
JUST ADD COLOR: I watched Roots, and just like the first one, this one left me in shambles, so congratulations to you and the cast for affecting me and a lot of other people in America like that.
BRANDON STACY: Thank you. Yeah, it’s definitely intense, powerful stuff. It’s very moving; we knew it would be, and we’re glad that it is moving people.
Just for the folks reading this interview, can you refresh us on your character?
Sure, I play Clingman. He’s in Night 4 of the mini-series. The Civil War’s approaching, and Clingman serves as council to one of the key players, Frederick, who is not a nice guy. Neither is Clingman. I guess he has some sort of qualities that might be admirable, as far as standing up for his country in the way that he was brought up. But he’s a product of his environment, and that’s not a good thing sometimes. He’s got these traditions that he was brought up with, so I think we all could be bad people given our environment and our lack of understanding of humanity and right and wrong. Ultimately, he’s a pretty dangerous guy.
When the original Roots came out, it changed TV forever. What does it feel like to be in the retelling of that story?
It means a lot to be able to reach so many people and it’s a lot to live up to, making Roots again. But we do cover some new ground in a new way, [with] a more modern way of storytelling. It is very, very powerful stuff and hopefully people take a positive message [from it] and use it for something positive. People can always use history to divide us, but the point is to use history to unite us. I hope that’s how people take from it; that a new generation can learn from the past and we can all shape a better future.
That segues into my next question; you mentioned the younger generation—what specifically do you hope they take away from it, since they might not have seen the original and with everything going on in the media and politics today, there are a lot of opinions about what America is supposed to be. So what do you hope the younger generation took from this retelling?
Well, it’s a fine line to walk, but I hope that we all can use the past to unite us like I said and to do something positive rather than to deconstruct us and divide us. We have the past, and there’s nothing we can do to change the past. But we can use it, we can heal, we can come together to make something positive in the future. That is something we have the power to do. We can shape the future. That’s what we need to take from this, while honoring our roots. That’s what I want people to take from this and I’m certainly glad to be part of such a moving, inspirational story.
Roots came back at an interesting time in television because before Roots aired, we had Underground telling one side of the story of slavery, then we had Roots, and in movies, we’ve got Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation and the HBO Harriet Tubman biopic coming. So what do you think about the fact that this year there have been and will be so many stories like this in one to two years?
The great thing about these shows and that it comes at a great time is that it does showcase great actors, fantastic black actors…and that’s what we want. The important thing is that these are great stories. We will always have this era to showcase fantastic talent, and that’s great, I think that’s a good stepping stone. Now, we can go on to some other stories. We’ll always have those stories to go back to, but now is the time to really seize the moment and branch out from that once we get through this period.
How did working on this project affect you personally?
It’s tough. I definitely can get involved in my characters and still be in the trauma and that dark place for that moment…Certainly when you watch it, me being Caucasian, I feel pain. I feel shame, even. I’m not sure the exact things that happened my lineage, but it’s certainly shameful what did go on, and I think it’s in our DNA that we feel that pain no matter who we are, as humanity. We just have to live with that and made something positive. That’s what we face everyday; we can take anything and spin it negatively and go down a negative path.
I think now is a very important time and I think as society, we are evolving in a way that really speaks to the energy inside us. We can use that in a positive way that we haven’t before. There’s something special going on between us right now energetically that we can really come together.
My last questions are about Star Trek; I read that you’d played Spock in [Star Trek: The New Voyages] before so my questions are 1) how big of a Star Trek fan are you and 2) what do you think of the new Star Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, that’s going to come out soon?
I’m a huge Trek fan. The Gene Roddenberry message is really something special. For me personally, I like to be involved in things that comment on society and [focus on] ways to move society in a positive direction. That’s what The Big Short tries to do, that’s what Roots tries to do, and all of Gene Roddenberry’s projects do the same thing.
Star Trek is a really special thing, and certainly being able to play Spock in any capacity is wonderful. He’s a really, really layered being and I certainly enjoy the subtleties that show so much in his character. You have to look closely for it, but you find that he is quite emotional while trying to be so logical. He’s a torn person; he’s constantly at war with himself, which I find very interesting to play. And the new movies—I love them. I love J.J. Abrams; I think he does a great job of producing these things. It’s not the ’60s Star Trek, and that’s fine. We evolve. I think there’s a place for ’60s Star Trek and I think there’s a place for what’s going on now, so I’m a big fan of all of it. ♦
“I‘m finally feeling better,” I told my mom over the phone. I’d just expelled a lot of grief I was experiencing in an hour-long rant to her. At that point in the day—around 10 to 11 in the morning—my grief wasn’t anything Prince related. In fact, like everyone else that day, little did I know the rest of my day would be consumed by the news of His Purple Majesty’s passing.
At the time, what I was ranting about was about personal stuff; my Sleepy Hollow post concerning Abbie’s death had become one of the biggest hits, if not the biggest hit, JUST ADD COLOR and my personal writing portfolio had seen. Even Variety‘s Maureen Ryan, a writer I’m a huge fan of, and Kelly Connolly, my Entertainment Weekly Community Blog boss, had read it, having found it organically (I had actually considered sending them the link to the article, but I figured that if they read it, they’d read it, and if not, then whatever.) Ryan even went a step further and highlighted a part of the article she was the most affected by and retweeted the article to her followers. I was flabbergasted and honored that I was now considered worthy to be retweeted by writing elite. That’s when the panic and fear set in.
Now that I had reached another plateau in my online writing career, what did followers expect from me? Would I have to write about every pop culture thing, even if I didn’t particularly care about it? Would I have to give my opinion on everything? And if I did give an opinion, would it be the opinion that would put me on the ever-present “problematic” lists of Twitter and Tumblr denizens? I’d already had my brushes with that before—those brushes exposed me a lot more to the hypocrisy of social media life than I would have liked to have experienced. How hypocritical was I expected to be? In other words: what kind of “self” was I now allowed to have on Twitter now that more eyes were looking at what I’d have to write?
These thoughts about self-preservation, self-representation, and the inherent fakery of internet culture had consumed me for days, leading me to rant about it to my sister the night before, and then to my mom the next morning after staying in bed for far too long, dreading to start my day and deal with my social media quandaries yet again. After that hour of ranting (so much so that I was putting my mom to sleep by talking so much) and letting off steam in the form of tears, I felt better and said so. “That’s good,” my mom said. “It’s good to get it all out.”
“Yeah,” I said, already feeling lighter and finally looking forward to writing some stuff on Underground and maybe even that pesky article about Ghost in the Shell and Dr. Strange. I got out of bed, remade it, did my morning routine, and started putting some laundry away while talking to my mom about whatever else had been rattling around in my brain.
Then my sister texted me. “Prince is dead!” she exclaimed. Angina, something I’ve never really had an issue with (despite my history of chronic stress and anxiety), flared up so badly I briefly considered if I needed a paramedic myself. As strange as it sounds even to me, the most recent time I’ve felt so directionless was about two years ago, when my uncle—another person I wrongly assumed would live forever—died. Instantly, I was trying to figure out if this was a hoax—it had to be a hoax, because Prince doesn’t just die—but as I switched between my mom and Twitter, I saw that it wasn’t a hoax. It was true. “NOT PRINCE!” I yelled to my empty room and my mom on the other end. “NO! NOT PRINCE!” My mom, on the other hand, was waiting on CNN or MSNBC to confirm it. Once they did, she sounded tired. “I was waiting to see if it was true,” she said. “That’s sad.”
Like the news junkie I am, I ran to my television in the living room to see what MSNBC was saying. As I watched Brian Williams say what we were all thinking at that moment—that we were all living what we thought would be a normal, uneventful Thursday only to hear the unthinkable—I started reflecting on things. It’s not unusual for me to think a lot; thinking is what jumpstarts this site every day, after all. But this train of thought, after the shock started subsiding microscopically, began to center around Prince’s way of life. More specifically, how Prince never let anyone define him; he was always in control of himself and his image.
My sister observed that Prince’s iron grip on his image might have been “a little psychotic.” But regardless of what kind of control issues Prince may have had (or probably did have, judging by how rigid he was with how Vanity 6, Sheila E., and Apollonia are all versions of the same dream woman archetype he fostered over the decades) Prince’s control over his outward persona and his introverted personal life is deeply rooted in two of his philosophical mottos:
This is why Prince was the originator of shade…. ☔️☔️☔️☔️pic.twitter.com/DqvaUfBxvB
— obi wan kenobi (@thebrokenrobotz) January 22, 2016
“If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”
The former is one of the reasons why Prince became known as the Prince of Shade on social media, and the latter is about his battles with Warner Bros. over owning the rights to his own music. But both also speak to how Prince carried himself and how he practiced the art of disregard for other people’s feelings about how he should live his life.
Prince became a star because of his musical talent, first and foremost. He was a musical prodigy, playing at least 27 instruments, not counting his own honeyed vocal cords. But what launched him into supernova-dom was his ability to be completely unique, particularly during a time in which everyone wanted to be unique.
The ’80s are best known for its androgyny, the pounds and pounds of makeup women and men would wear, the frantic, desperate desire to be something new and different, something no one’s ever seen before. You had Madonna, The Culture Club’s Boy George, Adam Ant, and even “standard” R&B acts like Shalamar played with beauty and androgyny (something Charlie Murphy hilariously highlighted in his infamous Chappelle‘s Show skit about Prince). All of them, though, have to pay homage to originators of androgyny-in-music, like Little Richard, David Bowie, and even James Brown to a certain extent. And while I’m certain David Bowie, who was steeped in soul music history, did know how his bread was buttered (and often said so), Prince (as it has been said so much over the course of these strange days) was one that relished in the path paved by his musical forefathers and sought to create alchemy with the tools they left behind. He certainly did, giving the world something that was both in line with the era’s play on sex and sexuality and much more than anyone could comprehend. (Indeed, Prince himself actually said so in “I Would Die 4 You”: “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something you could never understand.”)
From where I’m sitting, Prince’s legendary status wasn’t achieved just because he participated in the ’80s androgyny; it was because he defined what it meant for him and never apologized for it or explained it. Whereas most others were still defining themselves by labels, Prince used none. To use another song, he raps “My name is Prince,” and that is the summation of it all. He is everything you saw and then more, tons more. He wasn’t man or woman, and he wasn’t something we could comprehend. The fact that he was the only one who could understand his own mystery intrigued us and made us want to be in his quirky, fascinating, dreamscape of a world.
In his way, he invited us all to discover our own mysteries. When he sang “Paisley Park is in your heart,” he wanted us to find out what made each of us special and cultivate that, just like he’d figured out how to cultivate his own specialness. Prince, who had been bullied in school and suffered from epilepsy, wanted us to create our own Paisley Parks, our own personal universes that allowed us to be the spectacular selves we want to be. He had figured out the secret, and in order to join in on his fun, you had to be willing to search for the answers to yourselves. You had to build your own personal Paisley Park, a task that’s much easier to sing about than it is to actually do.
I’d say a direct parallel to the ’80s “gimmie more” culture is right now. The ’10s are a time in which we’ve got access to everything and everyone just by using our phones, tablets, or laptops. We are closer than we ever were to celebrities, dignitaries, and presidents alike. You’d think that would satisfy us. But instead, all of this access to each other has only made us more neurotic and more prone to wanting to fit in than ever before.
Article after article after article states how Facebook (and social media in general) has led to a dramatic uptick in depression, all because we’re posturing to each other. Most of what you see on social media isn’t real. Too much of the time, there’s someone lying to you about what they’ve got, who they know, how “woke” they are or how accepting or inclusive they are. If they’re not busy trying to convince you of how much more together they are than you, then they’re busy overloading you with opinions about how to get to where they are in life and why you aren’t there. Why you and your fave “will never.” (“Will never” what, exactly?) Why you should strive to be a #carefreeblackgirl, even if you don’t feel that carefree. Why you shouldn’t express why you don’t feel as magical as the #blackgirlmagic hashtag suggests you should (Dr. Linda Chavers, who wrote in Elle about how her debilitating illness has left her feeling like a shell instead of someone who feels magical and important, received a mountain of clapbacks instead of nurturing support from a community). There are too many people out there busy tearing down others to uplift themselves. Too many times in the social media world, having your own view on the world—whether that opinion is something the majority agrees with or not—can be seen as detrimental to your social standing, much less your career.
The “gimmie more” culture has evolved into a shaming culture. Are you feminist enough? Are you queer enough? Are you alternative enough? Are you black enough (and to that end, are you carefree or magical enough)? There’s even a specific uniform for the “alt” person; just go on Tumblr and Twitter and you’ll find that a lot of folks who want to be perceived as “special” all end up looking similar, depending on what brand of “alt” they aspire to. But is wearing a uniform actually being alternative? Is critiquing others for their personal Paisley Parks building up your own?
Prince didn’t tear others down while staying in his own lane. Instead, he worked on his own stuff and released his own personal stamp on life into the world for us to marvel at. What we saw in his music and artistic representation was a manifestation of his own high self-worth. As many have said online, what they loved most about him was his ability to be himself. While most of us are struggling to find peace with our identities, Prince seemed to casually live in it and mine it for inspiration. He was his own inspiration—how many of us can say that about ourselves?
I hate that it took Prince’s death for me to realize what was the most grand thing about him, and that he was the teacher of the most important lesson I need to learn in life. I’ve always struggled with just being myself; if you read my Mr. Robot piece, you’ll see that I’ve always had a bout with accepting my own sensitivity. But I’ve had other battles, most of them racially and culturally charged. The more I’ve become a part of the social media and online journalism/blogging spheres, the more I’ve realized how crucially important it is to have a strong sense of self-worth and self-understanding. Not only is it important just in life in general, but it’s comes in so handy when having to deal with strong personalities, a barrage of opinions, and others who are keen on tearing you down just to prove how special they are.
That’s what brings this article full circle; my rant to my mom was based in the fact that I still didn’t know how to grapple with the stress of being in a forum where almost everyone is trying to present their best, most perfect, most special selves. I couldn’t get my mind around how social media perpetuates the act of folks trying to prove their specialness by pointing out where others are “problematic” and never letting them live down whatever mistake they might have made. All I wanted to find was peace and the belief that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be without worry from what other people would have to say. I wanted relief from the stress of “fitting in,” a stress that I thought would have left me once I graduated from high school years ago.
Unfortunately, Prince’s death taught me that I have yet to own my masters, because the master—my fear—was owning me big time. I learned that I honestly don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks of me, as long as I have belief and love for myself. If I work on becoming the version of Monique I want to be, then the stress of “fitting in” will go away. I will be me, and everyone else can be them, whether that’s them being their best selves or not. Like Prince, I can find my own Paisley Park and happily live there in my heart. Once I discover that, I’ll be able to attract others to me, others who want to know what my mystery is. That’s a lesson we can all learn.
To quote Janelle Monaé (who was also one of the people Prince called “friend”), “Categorize me, I defy every label.” Prince challenged us to not just define ourselves, but to defy the labels people put on us and the ones we put on ourselves. He wanted us to challenge others to try to put us in boxes, and he wanted those who tried to categorize to fail. We should try to learn from his example and try to truly accept what makes us unique; if anyone tried to play us, they’d soon learn they were only playing themselves. His name was Prince. My name is Monique. Who are you?
Other articles to check out:
“Whether Or Not Prince Knew It, He Was A Disability Icon To Me” | Black Girl Dangerous
Prince never apologized for who he was. For that, he was an inspiration. | Washington Post