Apparently people across the country are outraged by Erykah Badu’s public disrobing. Perhaps this was a matter of timing. Had Ms. Badu waited until this month, April, which is Confederacy History Month in southern states like Texas, it might not have been such a big deal–the War of Northern Aggression being all about a state’s sovereign right to disrobe black people and buy and sell black bodies all willy-nilly and everything. Still, no one wants to admit to viewing a black woman’s body on her own terms. That shit’s embarrassing. So much so that Dallas police had to compel one actual witness to come forward so that they could formally charge @fatbellybella with disorderly conduct.
Watch the video.
Guilty as charged. On several counts. Giving the middle finger to the state by not securing the proper permits to film in the big D (li’l a double-l-a-s)? Guilty. Resuscitating a beloved dead white man’s violently tragic death for purely niggardly purposes? Guilty. Removing one’s clothes for reasons other than satiating the male gaze? Guilty. Demanding that said gaze look at a black body in a non-sexual manner? Guilty. Publicly proclaiming a black woman’s agency? Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. /sarcasm
What was just as interesting as the video was the responses to the video. There were blog posts (here, here and here), Twitter comments, response videos and legal action taken against Erykah. In fact as of today April 20th, Erykah Badu has been charged with disorderly conduct and can either pay a $500 fine, or contest the charge. It will be interesting to see what she does. Which leads me to two questions:
What does it mean that this is a society where women’s bodies are used to sell everything from beer to cars, yet the presence of a Black woman’s body on her own terms prompts fears about children witnesses and fears of nudity? Let me be clear, a nude body and sexual body are not one in the same. But then again, folks don’t have #noactright because the nude white model’s at the MOMA got fondled last week by museum visitors. This happened in an installation, which is apart of the Marina Abramović restrospective, where patrons must walk between two nude female bodies. Full stop. Jen Carlson, writing in Gothamist says,”the Yugoslavian-born performance artist wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t make her audience experience something they haven’t before, no?” Two different settings, high art, nudity and folks acting like they have no home training when it comes to seeing a naked female body. One body violated in the moment and another subject to a public scrutiny that’s still copping its feel.
Back to Erykah and the Dallas Police Department. The Dallas police received hundreds of calls from outside the state in complaint of Badu’s actions. Badu’s pale(r) inspirations, Matt & Kim, generated no such vitriol. No one lodged complaints out of concern for the poor children who were exposed to the pasty frostbitten (it looked cold right?) bits of a white woman and man. Erykah’s video predicts the retribution by a state that wants to keep people on the straight and narrow. (Who shot ya?) She did apparently disrupt the order despite the fact that most people weren’t even paying attention to her when she did it. Check the disinterest in the bystanders. Wu-Tang is for the children (RIP, ODB), but according to Dallas police, Erykah ain’t. The DPD said she didn’t care about the kids grazing the grassy knoll. This despite her own words on Twitter and in numerous interviews about how she worried that they might be traumatized. So she sent out a telepathic signal to let them know her intent. Next time, Erykah, use an iPhone.
Despite Badu’s best efforts to explain herself (she went on 106 & Park, for fuck’s sake), despite her attempt to be intentional, folks had the unmitigated gall to say that they couldn’t understand the clip as anything more than a publicity stunt. Which is to say they’d rather not read or listen…to words. Which explains several (pop) cultural phenomena, including Sarah Palin and blazing hip-hop and R&B, in general. (To be sure, Sarah Palin and Erykah Badu will never be mentioned in the same blog entry again.)
What good do your words do if they can’t understand you (or stop looking at your ass)?
Let’s write a $500 check to the city of Dallas on behalf of Erykah. The shit might bounce, but the sentiment won’t.