On Becky, M.I.A.,and the Problem of that “Good Hair”

Via eonline.com

It’s a ‘do you remember where you were when…?” kind of event.

Years from now, I’ll say, “I was at a friends birthday party where some of us gathered around the TV, shushing the others, to watch Lemonade premiere.”

It was a warm, April evening in Houston and I got to the party with about 4 minutes to spare. We had a hard time hearing, but we leaned in to hear. We gulped the visuals down with wide eyes, like we’d never seen any music video before. There was hollering, cheering, praising, waving, conferring, and more than a few times, there was a stunned silence.

So many have written already, about the well and tide of resonance that the album inspires. There is something powerful, bigger than a single story in the fact of hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands of women, saying, “Yes. I know this story.” One of my favorite writers, Robin Boylorn, an anchor of my understanding of Black feminism says, Lemonade  “bore witness to lifelong legacies of blackgirl womanhood.”

For those of us that see familiar stories in Lemonade, but are not Black women, to whom Lemonade is a love letter, so clearly —  there may be the question how to ally, sincerely with the resonances, and note but not occupy any dissonances.

I, myself, find the deepest resonance with the rage. Specifically, with the righteous rage and the clarity with with the album points to the wrongs, carried out by a person and those carried out by the state. The unapologetic political drive of Freedom speaks to my angry heart — a song I can imagine chanting in marches, and at rallies, and in my house at my computer when the trolls come out.

But, really, I came here to talk about/with the South Asian women.

Because there is also the question of Becky With The Good Hair. There is the question of good hair. And there is the question of our girl M.I.A.

The album addresses infidelity, including a reference in the song “Sorry” to a woman Beyonce calls “Becky with the good hair.” Becky widely rumored to be fashion designer Rachel Roy. Rachel Roy is a mixed-race Dutch and Indian woman who was once married to music producer Damon Dash with whom she has two daughters. Let’s side-step the question of whether Rachel Roy is indeed Becky, and whether or not she had an affair with Jay-Z. Those are questions best left to those directly involved, and to the wine-induced gossiping that the rest of us will be doing forever. In fact, given the trajectory of the album, if it is indeed biographical — Beyonce and Jay are working through the challenges in their marriage and making good progress. So, let’s keep it moving.

What to make of the matter of “good hair?” Beyonce spits the words at the the end of “Sorry” – full of anger and some resignation, perhaps. Just a few hours later, when Rachel Roy would (foolishly) post “good hair, don’t care,” the first thing I thought of was colonization. How many of us, here I’m thinking of the South Asian women that are my family and friends, are told, before we know much else about ourselves, whether we have good or bad hair? The straighter, the better. The silkier or lighter in color, the more beautiful. Couple that with the deep-seated colorism and the fact that Fair ’n Lovely skin whitening cream is sold on every street corner and bazaar in India, and you’ve got a recipe of beauty standards that are pervasive, impossible to achieve and so dangerous. Proximity to whiteness is beauty and power, proximity to blackness is detested.

In Lemonade, Beyonce reclaims some of that conversation about beauty. Interestingly, some of the comments on Roy’s instagram be sure to point out how Roy’s hair “isn’t even that good” and “that the real Becky” is the blonde woman in the photo with Roy. Hoo boy, this stuff runs deep. Now, I’m mostly here for the stanning, in particular the copious amount of lemon emojis and the fierce protection of a Black feminist idol, but let’s note the contradiction. The fact that THIS is the story so many are telling after witnessing a piece of art that upends our idea of what a pop icon can do? Beyonce’s work in Lemonade seeks a radical redefinition of beauty, and power, that centers Black women. Does it succeed? Let’s have that conversation. The fact that so much of the media (notably, most of these pieces are not the ones written by Black women) is fomenting a rivalry, and dwelling on the rumored infidelity, should tell you something about the power of these racist narratives.

Why are we even playing this game? This game in which the prize is self-worth. This game that’s rigged from the start.

What about Rachel Roy’s mixed-race daughters? What about the fact that they might not have the “good hair” that their mother is so proud of? What about the deep anti-blackness that is at the core of designating straight hair as “good” and kinky hair as “bad?”

Why are we even playing this game? These are not our standards, they did not come from us. They came from our oppressors who would have us hating ourselves and each other, so that we don’t turn our rage in their direction.

<puts “Freedom” on again>

On this matter of tearing each other down, in a recent interview with the Evening Standard a reporter asked M.I.A. for her reaction to Beyoncé’s black power salute during the 2016 Super Bowl half-time show. Her response: “It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter … Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question.” She continued, “And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV programme, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.”

Hoo boy, this stuff runs deep.

M.I.A is operating here from a warped understanding of solidarity. But let’s start with the fact that her comments betray an ignorance of what it has taken, what it continues to take to keep our national media conversation paying attention to the liberatory work of the Black Lives Matter movement. They hardly cover it at all, and if they do it is so often distorted beyond recognition. So, to say that here in the US we are “allowed” to talk about Black Lives in the US is clear and willful ignorance about the death and destruction brought to bear upon every single historical struggle in the US that fights racial injustice and proclaims the value of Black lives. It is false. To say it that way undermines the great cost that Black activists have borne in order to be seen and heard. Get into the Google, girl.

On the question of solidarity, where to begin? First, saying “Black Lives Matter” does not exclude “Muslim lives” because there are, of course, Black Muslims. Second, while I concur that Islamophobia is deep and pervasive in the U.S., the BLM movement does not preclude additional movements (which already exist) from taking up the question of Muslim lives, Pakistani lives, refugee lives. In fact, I think that both Beyonce and Kendrick should talk about Islamophobia – these are conversations that we must have across our communities. To place the burden on Black leaders and activists, completely misunderstands the way that solidarity works. To act in solidarity means to understand the movement and the demands of those you seek to ally with. It means, sometimes putting your demands second to theirs. It means making space at the table for your allies when you are there and they are not.

It requires building relationships and trust across difference. As we can see from the conversation about “good hair,” it involves working to understand the multiple systems of oppression that you share, as well as those you don’t.

It doesn’t involve a flip and uninformed chastisement in an interview, I’ll tell you that much. I hope that her deep commitment to social justice will push M.I.A to re-think those remarks, and push her to do better.

<puts on Hold Up>

Solidarity is hard work. It is a commitment and a way of being. At least I have a new soundtrack for all that hard work.

Lemonade, Sweet Tea, and Dirty Laundry on the Clothesline

beyonce lemonadeHomemade lemonade was relief from the humid heat of North Carolina summers.  Sweet and sour lemon water always tasted better after it had been sitting for a few days, bathed in the sun so the sugar syrup could fully absorb the lemon pieces floating at the top of a see through pitcher, like a see through picture.  Similarly, I’ve been sitting with Beyoncé’s visual album since Saturday night, absorbing the pieces of myself and my life sticky sweet on the edges of the glass, transparent and raw.  You can see right through me.

i’ve always been misrecognized by every man i tried to love

my daddy didn’t think something he made could make a difference

& the object of my focused affection couldn’t make love to me without making me love him more than me

my momma told me once,

you can’t make a man love you twice

but my naiveté believed in pussy power

more than god

*

Lemonade bore witness to lifelong legacies of blackgirl womanhood

desperate for good love and satisfaction

longing for peace and white girl ever-afters

the ones that are happily not just getting by

the ones Hallmark cards commemorate and anniversaries  celebrate

was not the love of my lineage

not the way my folk taught me to love

not what the wounded women in my world learned love was

 

so, Lemonade was right on time

an unexpected ritual and reckoning of blackgirl self-love in spite of

like heartache, a recipe that never tastes the same even when you follow all the instructions

i teach and learn about black women’s lives in my everyday life

wondering how our stories of power languish beside our stories of pain and loss

black men perpetually centered in narratives they choose to leave

*

the debut happened while i was separating dirty laundry and drawing bath water,

my intention was to rinse myself while i was washing clothes

my colored clothes separated from the Clorox whites, careful not to bleed, careful not to drown

 

Lemonade washed over me while I watched, on the floor, my dirty laundry on each side of me, in front of me, on the screen in vivid yellows, blacks and whites, and greys

i was reminded of my greatest strength and weakness

the times i elevated another’s dreams over my feelings, my sanity, my sanctity and good sense

i abandoned all of my commitments

& commandments

1) Thou shalt not settle.

2) Thou shalt not tolerate disrespect or threats.

3) Thou shalt not be made to feel small.

4) Thou shalt not stay past tears not captured in his hands, followed by profuse apologies.

5) Thou shalt not fake orgasms.

6) Thou shalt not accept blatant lies for truth.

7) Thou shalt not beg him to want you.

8) Thou shalt not knowingly share him.

9) Thou shalt not absorb victimization for his salvation.

10) Thou shalt not lose yourself (in or because of him).

*

tea

I received Beyonce’s offering and Warsan Shire’s words in the spirit of sisterfriend collaborative communication.  A “niggas” ain’t shit, I can do bad by my damn self, but what of this loneliness kinda conversation that happens, in the South, in the daytime, over sweet tea or lemonade in thick glasses with slow melting ice cubes that make the glass sweat.  We would trade love stories like war stories, hiding our scars under Fashion Fair foundation and long sleeves, sitting outside under shaded trees on folding chairs, borrowed from the kitchen table.  We repeated  our versions of conversations we overhead as blackgirls trying to make sense of the broken strength we saw on our mama’s faces.  Twenty years later and we look just like our mamas.

*

Beyonce is a storyteller telling my story, an artist making art out of destruction.  No doubt some of it is autobiographical, but truth be told she telling alla our bizness, alla our lives, alla our pain, alla our love lost legacies passed down from grandmothers’ grandmother.

even after all this singleness and celibacy, i can relate.

my black man and daddy issues on full display

blackgirl blues and rhythms and melancholia

bittersweet and sour, lingering on my lips like the taste of him

taking me through the motions of every emotion i have experienced as a black woman trying to love and be loved

*

Lemonade is not theoretical for me.  While I was moved by the images and metaphors and innuendos, I was more moved by the cyclical nature of the storyline, how the chapters can be read front to back and then back and forth again.  From intuition to redemption back to intuition. Denial. Anger. Apathy. Emptiness. Accountability. Reformation. Forgiveness. Resurrection. Hope. Redemption.

I have lived these li(v)es.  Swallowed my truths.  Pretended not to know.  Turned my anger on myself.  Stopped caring. Carried grief around like an unborn child. Demanded to know. The truth.  Compassion. Raised myself from the dead. Believed again, loved again. Reconciled myself to myself.

*

Lemonade was like airing dirty laundry on the clothesline.  Wooden pins showing.  Bras, panties, soiled sheets, socks, undershirts, wash cloths, dish rags, work pants, choir robes, and the collar shirt he left, her scent lingering on loose sleeves.

Black Girl Is a Verb: A New American Grammar Book

In her famous essay, “Interstices: A Small Drama of Words,” the venerable literary critic Hortense Spillers wrote, “Black women are the beached whales of the sexual universe, unvoiced, misseen, not doing, awaiting their verb.”

At the time, Spillers was talking about the lack of texts about Black women’s sexuality and the lack of a collectively-honed voice and articulation about Black women’s sexuality from Black women themselves. She was writing in a moment that is very different from this one. In Spillers moment, controlling images of Black women as jezebels and mammies ruled the day. These days, the careful labor of multiple generations of Black feminist women fighting for us, together with the expansive reach of social media has transformed this moment into one which allows Black women far more possibilities for self-authorship around the sexual lives they want to have, the sexual selves they want to be, and the sexy things they want to do.

Still a recent series of conversations with some of my girls, brought this idea of Black women “awaiting their verb,” back to mind.

In this era of #BlackGirlMagic, Black women and girls are actively constituting and reconstructing a grammar of Black girlhood and Black womanhood. The active way that Black girls do the things we do constitutes new verbiage in its own right.

Back last fall, when Viola Davis won the Emmy for Best Actress, and donned the stage to accept her award, Taraji P. Henson, who had also been nominated, was the only person in the room to give Viola a standing ovation for knocking down this historic barrier. Taraji clapped, nodded, and listened intently and as her colleague took her moment to shine on stage.

 

Taraji Showing Love to Viola

Taraji Showing Love to Viola

My good friend Dr. Treva Lindsey pointed out this show of support between Black women in a predominantly white space, as a particularly Black-girl act of solidarity. Taraji, had become for Treva, a verb.

Taraji – (v.) to support, to show up, to ride for.

 

Because when Black Girls Win We All Win

Because when Black Girls Win We All Win

Black girl, as it turns out, is a verb.

Serena Williams is another Black girl who is a verb. Months ago, as we watched Serena march her way to another “Serena Slam,” in which she won four consecutive grand slam tournaments, my good friend Esther Armah pointed out that Serena is a verb.

Serena – (v.) to slay, to conquer, to body.

In that moment, Esther told me to “Serena my book revisions.” And I immediately felt like Wonder Woman. You couldn’t tell me anything. Esther was in that moment Taraji’ing for my ability to show and Serena my own obstacles.

Me v. Book

Me v. Book

It doesn’t get anymore more #BlackGirlMagic than that.

Last week, Serena took on the co-founder of the Indian Wells tennis tournament, a tournament that she and Venus famously refused to play for nearly a decade and a half after they were subjected to racial slurs by the crowd back in 2001. In 2015 Serena returned to Indian Wells. Last week, Raymond Moore, CEO of Indian Wells, offered a bizarre set of sexist comments in which he asserted,

In my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] because they ride on the coattails of the men,” said Moore, before continuing to add that female players don’t make any decisions and have just been very lucky. “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

Not only is this shit sexist and misguided. But one wonders what professional tennis Moore has been watching for the last decade. The Williams Sisters playing primetime makes professional tennis associations and network television obscene amounts of money. Just because the Williams Sisters backs ain’t bent don’t mean they ain’t been carrying the sport.

Serena responded,

Obviously, I don’t think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that. If I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister, I couldn’t even bring up that number. So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement. If you read the transcript you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English; I’m sure he does, too. You know, there’s only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man, which is not—we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”

Shortly thereafter, Moore resigned. He got Serena’d.

 

Get that shit outta here, Raymond Moore.

Get that shit outta here, Raymond Moore.

Black women are no longer awaiting their verb. White men no longer get to deploy sexist sexual tropes about female submissiveness in ways that denigrate all women, by (and while) actively erasing the clear and visible labor of Black women. The Williams Sisters have almost single-handedly changed the game, making it relevant in the 21st century for everybody. And anybody with sense knows that. Now certainly, as sexual politics and pleasure go, ain’t nothing wrong with getting on your knees. But we don’t owe these knees to anybody, certainly not to those whom we have carried.

As in so many cases, we have kneaded the American Grammar Book,” (another Spillers term) into the thing, we needed it to be. And we ain’t got no more “knee(d)s” to give, unless a knee to the groin is what ya into. Ya heard?

No the transformation has not been total. But to put a fancy spin on it, Black girl verb-ing, is the kind of discursive insurgency that can make folks shut up, sit down, and pay attention. They might talk about us, but we get to talk back.

Black women wait for no one. If verbs are what you want, verbs are what we’re serving. And we got adverbs, too. Because for sisters, it is never just about what we do. It’s also about how we do.

This is my Black girl magic reminder. Whatever verbs you need, you already are. Because we already are.

If you need to slay, Serena.

If you need to show up for a sister, Taraji.

If you need somebody to tell the truth and shame the devil (that is Peter Gunz), Cardi B.

If you need somebody to run shit, Beyoncé.

If you need to win, Gabby.

If you need somebody to get Crunk, CFC.

If you need somebody to get you, Blackgirls ‘r us.

 

Because we got us. And we do this. Recognize. #BlackGirlIsAVerb

 

Update: I learned today of an earlier scholarly take on the creative ways ways that Black girls verb. You can find the citation here.

No (dis)Grace: Cam Newton and the Emotional Labor of Blackness

The Panthers lost the Super Bowl.  Peyton Manning won his second ring on the backs of a Denver Defense that ain’t nothing nice.  Cam Newton didn’t shine, didn’t get to dab, didn’t ever seem to fall into the rhythm fans have become accustomed to this season.  He wasn’t playing with the joy and jubilant energy we were used to seeing.  He didn’t bless us with that all-star smile from the sidelines.  Instead he was all business from the start, serious, undoubtedly putting the responsibility of saving the season for his team on his shoulders.  But like only one other time this season, winning wasn’t to be.  And that’s okay.  I am confident there will be other Carolina Panther featured Super Bowls, and unlike the last time the Panthers lost in the Super Bowl, I was prepared, it wasn’t in overtime, it wasn’t off a technicality, it didn’t break my heart.  But I know it broke Cam Newton’s.  How could it not?

In a year and season where he was recognized as both Offensive Player of the Year and MVP, and making his Super Bowl debut in the midst of hyper criticality around everything from him wearing socks with flops (perhaps it’s a country thing, but I do too, in fact I’m wearing some ankle socks and Adidas slides right now) to celebrating on the field, Newton gets to be pissed.  He gets to be disappointed.  It should not be surprising that he wasn’t up to talking about it right after the game.  Who the hell is up to talking after a devastating loss? Hell, I wasn’t taking calls for about 30 minutes after the game and I am just a fan.

The general practice in championship games is that the losing team and coach are protected from media immediately following the game so that they can process and prepare themselves for the inevitable interview.  The spotlight then, rightfully goes to the winning team, and their celebration.  Generally, the losing team is given some time to gather their thoughts, grieve the loss with their teammates, and then face the crowd.  But nah, not this year, not this quarterback.  The public was anxious to see what he had to say about failing.  Cam Newton was rushed to the podium when he normally has an hour after the game to get ready for a post-game interview, especially following a loss (hence him not having time to shower or change while his teammates were interviewed in suits and with a little more perspective).  He was devastated and downtrodden, just the way folk wanted to see him.  But he wasn’t crying, or pouting, or playing, which was how folk wanted to frame him.

So he was curt, brief, and bothered when being bombarded with questions he had not fully processed about a game he had barely finished playing.  He was angry, visibly upset and stern.  Disappointed.  Heart-broken.  And short-tempered.  But he was not a bad sport, he was not disrespectful, he was not disgraceful or any less of a role model than he was when Beyoncé was giving life during the halftime show.  Despite what you heard, he walked away from the interview after 3 minutes because he was being questioned in the same room where Broncos player Chris Harris was being interviewed nearby, talking ish about how they shut him down.  No doubt the Broncos deserved their moment of celebration and cockiness, but Cam deserved his moment of privacy.

And here’s the thing.  Cam Newton can’t be happy or sad without folk trying to police his emotions.  When he is happy, excited and joyful to the point of embodying it, he is labeled disrespectful and arrogant.  When he is sad, disappointed and angry (likely at himself for not being able to orchestrate a comeback), he is labeled disrespectful and arrogant.  FOH.  Most of that is housed in antiblackness, the criminality of the black male body, the inaccessibility of cool masculinity, and resentment that after generations of bearing the emotional weight and labor of white folk, black folk out here being carefree and ish.  But, like most things about black life and artistry, if white supremacist patriarchy can’t control it, it’ll demean and demoralize it.

I’m not at all here for folk trying to dictate how black women and men get to grieve and express sadness, especially when that same judgment is re-packaged for white people.  An article re-circulated about Peyton Manning from 2010 states:

“Peyton Manning didn’t shake hands with New Orleans Saints players after his Indianapolis Colts lost 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. Apparently some think this is a sign of poor sportsmanship from the NFL’s greatest player. It’s not.

Walking off the field without congratulating Drew Brees may go against our misguided notion of what sportsmanship should be, but it wasn’t at all disrespectful or bitter. It shows how much Peyton Manning wanted to win the game. And who can argue about that?”

Enter Cam Newton, superstar quarterback, MVP and black.  Evidently a lot of folk can argue with that.  Cam was gracious and respectful to Peyton on the football field. The fact that when Peyton was far less gracious with Drew Brees, but was given all the grace and benefits of the doubt from media, I ain’t even halfway here for folk coming at Cam like that, especially when (as per usual) only half the story is reported.

Apparently, a lot of folk, especially racist ones, attempted to use Cam leaving the interview as evidence of his classlessness and buffoonery.  In particular, Bill Romanowski, a former ain’t ish player who said in an interview leading up to the Super Bowl that if he was still playing and Cam was in a pile that he would choke him, sent out a tweet in which he referred to Cam as a “boy.”  But of course he didn’t intend any racial under and overtones, claiming later that he only meant Cam needed to “grow up”.  FOH.

Everyone wants Cam to be humble and gracious, and there is nothing more humbling than a huge loss when the world is watching.  And grace, grace is a two-way street.  And in my opinion, whether it matters or not, Cam hasn’t fallen from it, he is rarely given it, as a black man, in the first place.  We need to wrestle with the ways that all the money, power, influence and talent in the world won’t protect us from the ways racism is embedded in how we are seen, treated, and reported about (because…Beyoncé).  And I appreciate articles that are out here offering a nuanced race critique of all this concentration and concentrated hate on how Cam gracefully negotiated a complicated situation.  What he didn’t do was get confrontational or defensive.  He walked away.  And in some situations, that is the most graceful response you can give.

Now run tell dat.

#keeppounding

Newtonism: Notes on Cool Masculinity and the Fear of Black Genius

“I do not expect the white media to create positive black male images.” –Huey Newton

Cam 2

 

It is the Friday before the Super Bowl and for the last two weeks there has been much ado about the anticipated performance of frontrunner for the league MVP, and star quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton.  And by performance I don’t only mean whether or not he will rely on his arm or his feet to put points on the board, or whether or not it will be a stat staggering game like many others this season, or whether or not he will lead his team to their first Super Bowl victory–the focus has been on what he will do after a first down, or after a touchdown.  Folk are all in their feelings over how Cam Newton performs black cool masculinity on the football field–how he performs as a star quarterback, not so much.

He has been equally criticized and celebrated for showing out when he gets his way, taunting the opposing team when he pushes, runs, throws or jumps his way to(wards) the end zone.  Cam “dabs” on ‘em, pushes his upper body up exposing an invisible “S” on his chest, gives the referee signal for first down, and jumps around with his teammates in jubilation.  Then he gives the pigskin to an eager and anxious child up in the stands.  He is braggadocious, cocky, proud and free, only half of how we are used to seeing black men behave in public.  (Full Disclosure:  I am a Carolina girl, so without a doubt a die hard Carolina fan, and by default a Cam Newton fan.  I am not, however, over here or anywhere caping for the NFL all like that…)  Anyway…

I’ve been thinking through, for much of the season, the visceral contempt that a lot of folk (who are not die hard Carolina fans) have of Cam.  He’s a rich, big, black man who has style (did you peep those Versace pants he wore on the flight to the Bay?), swagger, cool and confidence.  He is also charming, attractive, loves the kids, and ain’t above a good clapback.  As one of my homegirls stated, “With the exception of not marrying his baby momma, which shouldn’t even be a thing, the guy is damn near perfect and it still isn’t enough for some busters.”  It’s attribution bias, the same folk who have so much to say about what Cam does in the end zone, would find no fault in it if he were the quarterback of their team, and/or perhaps if he was not black (no shade, but shade).

One of the most delicious aspects of how Cam performs cool masculinity is his unapologetic blackness, his disinterest in re-packaging himself to be tolerable to folk who don’t give a damn about black men who are not running up and down a football field and taking hits, or who would be terrified of him if he was just big and black (and not big, black, famous and rich).

And then I saw where there have been comparisons (and conspiracy theories) of Cam Newton with Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers.  Some folk find it ironic, even kismet that Cam is playing in Super Bowl 50, 50 years after Huey co-founded the Black Panther party, pointing out that Cam was born the same year Huey died, saying there is something to the fact that Huey was a Black Panther, and Cam is a Black (Carolina) Panther, and… (Side eye). It’s all bullshit on one hand but compelling on another.  I’m not here for folk claiming Cam Newton is the reincarnation of Huey Newton, but I do think there are some things the two men share in common, like all black men, and it is all about the perception of being black and male, and how that is supposed to be performed.  Black men are cool, but that cool is often misunderstood.  Their confidence is read as disrespect.  Their stoicism is interpreted as a threat.  Their cool pose is seen as something to appropriate but not appreciate.  Cool pose masculinity is a self-defense mechanism, a habitual and learned response to injustice and racism.  Black boys become black men who have been conditioned to “keep their cool,” and “be cool” no matter what.  That means if you strip a black man of everything but his dignity, he will be the coolest cat in the room.  And if a black man is able to live his dream on a stage of millions, he will be the coolest cat in the room.

Cam Newton stands out not because he is a 6’5”, 245 pound towering athlete.  He stands out because he is black.  And in a country and culture that fears black men, black masculinity, and black genius, folk misconstrue the black male body.  There is not a failure to recognize its magnificence.  Black male bodies have always been utilized in patriarchal and racist contexts for profit (the NFL is no different).  And as a black man who possesses his body, on and off the field, Cam takes up a lot of space, literally and figuratively.  He has the audacity to be exceptional, unapologetic, unrelenting, brave and cocky.  Haters gone be on they job and hate the hell out of that.

So, as I situate myself to get caught up in the rigmarole that is Super Bowl weekend, I am over here low key celebrating carefree black masculinity, and this moment and opportunity where black boys (cis and trans) can be cool, black, educated and free. And imperfect.

Last year this time I was discussing What Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman Can Teach Us About Black Masculinity and respectability, and I find myself having similar reflections as it relates to Cam Newton, but differently.  I don’t think Cam Newton is redefining black masculinity, but he embodies an alternative to the thug masculinity that was attached to Lynch and Sherman because he is in some ways the antithesis of them, both on the field and in his presentation.  Cam is the clean-cut pretty boy to their dred-headed dark skin, but as college educated black athletes they all share in common notions of cool and the limitations of stereotypes.  They all get hype, get buck, celebrate on the field, and find themselves subject to sanctions and judgments (from Lynch’s refusal to engage reporters to Cam’s insistence on gifting footballs).  They are over-analyzed, hypermasculinized, and intentionally scrutinized.  They resist boxed in assumptions of who they should be and rebel against how people say they should act because they are too rich to not be free, and too  free to not be themselves.  And they all use cool posing to re-inscribe what black masculinity (even in football) can look like.  All of what we already know, some of what we had not yet considered, and more.

The last time the Panthers were in the Super Bowl Janet had her wardrobe malfunction and we lost by a field goal.  No bueno.  The dynamics are much different this year.  The team is led by a black quarterback and a Hispanic coach.  The team has had a damn near perfect record and a damn near perfect season.  Come Sunday night, all eyes will be on Cam Newton, and what he will do.  I hope he dab, dab, dab, dab, dab on ‘em.

Cam Newton