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On John Mayer (And Apologies That Don’t Really Offer Clarity)

Upon a few hours of trying to process reports of offensive remarks that popular musician John Mayer made in the current issue of Playboy magazine, I tried coming up with a few clever Facebook status-updates, my favorite being that Mayer sorely needed a Racism and Sexism course. (I didn’t publish that, but I still think it’s true) Though a pornographic magazine is the (very overlooked) context for all of his statements about who he’s had sex with, how it was, and who he won’t–there remain key issues in this media event.

Jessica Simpson

Superficially, it’s another example of a celebrity making a “gaffe” on race, (which never gets old) getting caught up in it, “apologizing” for it, melting down, having a moment of “clarity“.

But on another level, it’s a particularly vivid example of the freedom, if you will, afforded him, as young, white, heterosexual, and male, to freely espouse his sexual proclivities, debase women period, race be damned, claim identification with black people, promptly get hated on, have a breakdown, and in the end, remind us that he “just wants to play his guitar.” And in a span of 48 hours, no less.

Kerry Washington

The racism of his sexual aversion to black women, I’d argue, is coupled with the sexist entitlement abound in his retelling of the sexual details of his relationships with Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston, who as blonde-haired white women, already receive a particularly stifling type of media treatment. That entitlement helps explain why he was able to candidly explain the types of black women he’s attracted to, and even debase women, like actor Kerry Washington, whom he’s never had a sexual relationship with.

Without even reading his entire Playboy interview, the widely-publicized excerpts are textbook examples of intersections of racism, sexism and male domination–comparing his penis to white supremacist David Duke, crude as it is, is simultaneously as clear as many of Mayer’s most popular songs.

Global media culture has long thrived off of narrowly defined notions of who’s racist (white men only) and who’s sexist (black men only) vis a vis characters like a Don Imus or Ludacris. So when Mayer, someone outside of those types, who has built a career and image solidly as a non-threatening and introspective artist, acts out, we take notice. For those paying any attention, it’s an important moment that should have us recognize the myriad of ways that domination can be made visible.

Part of what’s critical about Mayer’s moment is that even after speaking as he did, he will be allowed to use that image as his cover. This is where nearly all public “apologies” are rendered useless–as a comedian once remarked, “He’s just sorry he got caught.” What’s really evident is that the entitlement of racism and sexism will enable John Mayer to “breakdown”, come to “terms” with his transgressions and return to modest guitar-playing.

But will Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, and Kerry Washington be allowed a (public) breakdown? I doubt it.

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black girls face: r. kelly (preview)

about one year ago, i completed the film i had always wanted to see but got tired of waiting for someone else to make. here’s some snippets of it:

i purposely included the black female subjects of this documentary trying to figure things out and make meaning while they spoke. that’s real to me. in watching a nation and media obsess about an older white man’s remarks about younger black women, i realized that when racism and sexism are the topics, we are allowed very little space to just think and express something outside of guilt and resentment (white folks) or anger and resolve (black folks). anything outside of these emotions exceed the limits of mass media, particularly tv.

the issues underpinning the imus drama can’t be resolved or even fully understood in mainstream media, mostly because mainstream media thrive mostly off of eruptions–events that ultimately become spectacles that inundate more than they inform. as far as imus went, i found myself as interested in how the story was reported on as much as the story itself.

one of the most frustrating things is the continued insistence of mainstream media to rely on perspectives from black folks who are older and/or male. to refer to al sharpton at every eruption is almost as offensive as the eruptions themselves. another reality that keeps becoming more and more clear is that if a white man is the perpetrator (imus) or accused perpetrator (duke guys) and the target(s) is black and female, the problem is consider a “racially explosive” issue and is quickly addressed. but if the perpetrator is a black man, its like the infraction didn’t happen.

and i am talking about r. kelly. it’s going on 5 years since he’s been charged with child pornography–younger black females as the targets–and he has not seen a trial. i quietly bring and re-bring this up, not because i have a vested interest in seeing r. kelly being admonished in the same ways that imus was (as an aside, i’m not convinced firing him was necessary). it’s more because as a young black woman, i care about what’s being implied in all these eruptions, particularly when they have to do with my peers.

rather than glamorize what’s being implied, i’ll just tell you my goals for the documentary–they are purposely the opposite of what all these eruptions suggest.

show our faces,
show us being vulnerable and pensive,
show us processing,
show us as female.

then we can draw some more appropriate conclusions about black girls and women.

tokumbo bodunde
04.13.07

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2007 in black women, girls, music, r. kelly