Arts & Entertainment

Because I’m Not Solely Writing About DT for the Next 4 Years

I. I had so many disclaimers when this topic wouldn’t leave me alone (and if you’re a writer, you know exactly how it feels to be gently pursued by – or completely annoyed by – a topic or idea):

What would I write about if our dreams of justice were realized and I didn’t need to write specifically about (insert social justice issue here)? Why would that thing be important to say?

My first disclaimers served as comfort blankies… faux “brand protections” for a landscape that’s already so shaped by the think-piece culture.
Here’s how that story goes: a) See instance, b) Write on instance… first (hopefully), c) Be ‘yaaaas-ed’, d) Likes and shares, and e) More work comes until… a) Next instance, b) Write on instance… first (hopefully).

Endlessly responding.

To be clear, it is important to write specifically about social justice – now more than ever. It is important for us to respond to the ways that this capitalist state, this militarized and increasingly militarizing state, impacts the lives of those who are marginalized. It is important for us to respond when patriarchy threatens to crush our dreams, regulate our reproduction, mansplain us away, and stalk us into silence. It is important for us to call out the system of racism for what it is – White supremacy. Now, more than ever, with the threatening rhetoric AND action (let’s be clear) of 45 – we’ve got to resist.

But it is also important for us to continue telling our stories… to our audiences. It is important for us to take respites from the White gaze that pursues us upon each waking moment – especially in the realm of our writing & dreaming spaces.

II. I think about Toni Morrison whenever I’m hopelessly stuck with writer’s block. I have no shortage of things to write about. There is no shortage of things to say. It’s just that there’s so much noise:  links subtly dropped into my inbox with the not-so-subtle hints to do more, work harder, “Say both your words AND mine-for-me. Give me digestible works that I can quickly share with my (racist, ableist, homo-antagonistic) facebook friends”. Chile…

This has only increased with the rise of DT aka 45 aka Trumplethinskin”.

But I know that balance is important – especially if we’re going to find sustainable ways forward. I know there’s another way to exist in my creative & dreaming space – largely because Toni Morrison already said there was:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”– Toni Morrison, “Black Studies Center public dialogue,” Portland State University, May 30, 1975

You can literally google the words Toni Morrison and ‘white gaze’. It won’t be long until you realize that she’s not here for it. She’s not here to write under it. She’s not here for it to hang over her head, endlessly bossing her into writing. If we could have coffee, I think she would tell me that I could do better than chaining my writing to such a rickety carriage – heading down such a dead-end road.

And so…

I want to advocate here, kinfolk, for us to continue sharing our stories and realities. This doesn’t mean that the landscape of those stories won’t include the social justice issues of our time – but it is important to also resist being denied the space to tell the fullness of our stories – imagining, as Toni Morrison did, our creative works without speaking directly to an all-consuming gaze. It’s a petrifying and exhilarating exercise… but if I did it…

III. If I did it…

I wouldn’t worry about standard grammar. Seriously. I wouldn’t. I try not to police my writing on this platform, as it is. But after this point, I would give negative fuxx.

Because the speech that comes from my bones, while socioculturally informed, sounds just like music, has different rules altogether, and sits somewhere between the verbal and the nonverbal. It’s the side-eye that tells us what the deal is. It’s the spot between text and

I would talk with Toni Morrison, August Wilson, and Zora Neale Hurston about writing in dialect, studying how to write Philadelphian AAVE dialect with both precision and beauty. I would diagram North Philly dialects, using Philly rappers like “It’s a cold winter, ya’ll ***** bettah bundoo up” . Then, I would do an analysis of how my speech morphed from:

LAWUHN (Philadelphia) to
[lawn?!?!] (living in the Southeast. I was sociolinguistically all over the place) to
LOHN (Midwest)

I would tell more of my stories. I come from a long line of Black American storytellers. My aunts, uncles, and father can roll their trip to the grocery store into 45 minutes of entertainment with a life lesson at the end. For example…

My family was fighting at the 2008-2009ish reunion. I don’t remember why. I do remember that my cousin processed this issue by telling a story about friends who enjoyed waffles, friends who enjoyed pancakes, and how both of those breakfast dishes needed syrup. Therefore, it’s wise to share your syrup if both parties want to stay away from dry ass breakfast dishes. It’s also wise to choose your fights when it comes to family, if you can help it.

I would tell ya’ll the stories – in my own tongue – about how I’m always doing the most. This is not self-deprecation. I’ve taken a poll and most of my friends… and coworkers… agree. Doing the most… is what I do. You want a report? Chile, you’re getting report, graphics, and a sequined outfit when I present the report to you. I could literally have a series of “Doing the Most” Chronicles. I would always have something to write about and we would both be cackling.

I would talk about how my students are always teaching me. Last week, I learned that references to the popular 90’s / early 2000s group 112 don’t go over well with younger millenials. Last quarter, I learned about a student’s analysis on the process of gentrification to the ethos of Manifest Destiny. (Chile, my students come the f*** through with an analysis).

I would take one week to do an ethnography of nail fashion trends in all the places that I’ve lived. Because, this is how I do. Also, my nail tech and I are tired of ya’ll asking for French manicures and boxy ass filed nails (nells– as we call them in Philadelphia).


Nails done by @luxurinails, Jewelry by @mashallah_us

And outside of the gaze, and if my Momma slash employers didn’t also read this blog (I think?? Chile, idk) – I would write more readily about how I went from purity culture chastity maven to throw it in a circle ten times past Sunday life. And still get blessed.

So, #52essays2017 is an exercise to “build my writing muscle” indeed. It’s also a chance for me to stretch into the fullness of my human experience, tell my stories, and resist 45 taking up all of the creative oxygen in the damn place.

Featured image credit:

BET Awards Recap (and Petty Encouragements)

It’s been a while, and while I’ve got a few posts queued up for you… I’ve also been working through a nasty season of Writer’s-Block-Prompted-By-Life-Blocks.

Suffice it to say… this month sucked.

Now, there were some bright spots – my 10 year high school reunion, being one of them. However, all in all, it’s been a rough one. I encountered the thoughts that SO many writers, bloggers, and freelancers do: Do I have the strength, the time, the resources to keep on blogging? Should I be writing more for this platform? Less? Have I gotten away from my original mission? Closer? Am I coasting? WHATISIMDAWN?!  Typically, when I get there, I remind myself that “I’ve got the juice” and free-write until I’m clear on my thesis. This time it just didn’t seem to work…

Until I saw the BET Awards.

Ya’ll know that in the midst of these essays, I LOVE a good recap! (Click here to see my recap from The Wiz Live). I love reading them. I love writing them. And let’s be honest… since I basically wrote one from the couch as I was watching the BET Awards yesterday… I figured I’d share here. So, let’s get into it.

Overall, I enjoyed the show. I really did! I watched it with my petty singer friends and our only sort of bougie snacks (think wine and cheese puffs). I mostly watched it because I wanted to see how they would honor our ancestor, Prince. So, I won’t go into detail about each performance or each facet of the show.

But before I get too ahead of myself, let’s get into the opening.

The opening. The friggin’ opening.

Beyonce said, “I’m going to stand here in this wade-in-the-water realness and sing my song. And when Brother Kendrick gets up here, we are giving you the Freedom Frolic you never knew you needed”.

Was I the only one near tears?!?! I think not. Trust me, I WILL be frolicking in my shower tomorrow morning… ya’ll pray my safety.

After that, there were brief blurs of bad writing (those jokes… mercy), folks obviously reading from teleprompter, and cuts to MC Lyte with her stage manager binder.

I did appreciate the Philly hometown love in the opening Prince tribute set featuring The Roots and Bilal! Ya’ll will stop making fun of Bilal’s sew-in prep cornrows (Black Twitter has had me cackling about that all day)… because he sang the SNOT out of that song! Are. you. kidding. me?! Ya’ll thought he wasn’t going to commit to rolling around on the ground in honor of Prince? Well, his pre-emptive hip thrusts and choice of kitten heels at should have warned you that he was going all. in. 

What goes up, must come down. And the vibe took a significant dip when A. Keys got onstage…


Who. Is. RESPONSIBLE?! #Crine!

I held my breath as she found the note. I visibly cringed when she pushed over the synthesizer after the ending ‘hit’. I later found out from prolific bassist, Justin Raines, that the synthesizer was not just any old synth… it was a $4k Moog synthesizer.  My final sentiments below:


It may seem like I was a bit harsh on this (but I’m still bumpin ‘Diary’ though, so I feel like I’m good). Between A Keys, Desiigner, and Usher, I left feeling strangely encouraged!

Here’s the thing… I’m not willing to say that I haven’t danced to Panda a time or two or ten. However… my statement still stands. We don’t really know what Desiigner is saying, yet he has a rap career. Be encouraged! You can follow your dreams too! (Also, if you haven’t seen the memes done for Desiigner by the genius that is Black Twitter and IG, you NEED this cackle)

Let me pause here and say, I LOVE Usher. His runs are CLEAN every time, and have you heard his collabs? He will outsing an artist on their own song 80% of the time! The strobe lights were just a lot for me on this go round (doesn’t mean I don’t still love Usher)!

There were a lot of highlights from the show, so I want to get into those. Let’s break down these tributes first and go from there.

  • Maxwell – *bows head, “Lord, I thank You for Maxwell. I thank You that he consistently is on the note. I thank You for his swag. I want to cry out against him because he’s had us waiting on his new album since I was but a fertilized egg in the eyes of the Universe… but seeing as how he continues to do great live performances, I’m just going to take this time to say, ‘Thank You”… and thank you, Maxwell.
  • Jennifer Hudson’s Purple Rain – So, here’s the thing. I know a great deal of folk that absolutely loved the rendition! Jennifer Hudson is definitely a powerhouse. However, I was desperately hoping that there might be a mic toss to Fantasia as well. Deep down, my soul was crying out for Fantasia. Did you see her face as the camera cut to her? She was in deep worship, and I needed their energies to meet on that stage!
  • Janelle Monae – YAHS LAWD! Listen… I can’t even! The stamina! The RANGE!  The hair! The attention that she’s so very clearly paid to Prince’s music and career trajectory. Janelle Monae is amazing to me. The end. (Also, the outfit cheek cut outs kind of cracked me up because it was lowkey churchy. Is anyone going to talk about how the cut outs had a sheer panel over them because #modesty? And before you think I’m clowning, know that I’m not because I’m lowkey churchy too and would have done the same. exact. thing. It would have sounded like this: “Oh, you want cheek cut outs?! For Prince?!?! Oh absolutely! Bet… please tell the Mother’s Board of Mt. Sinai Baptist to sew in my sheer modesty cloth across them. Kthanxbye!” I. love. Janelle! *For my real thoughts on the subjective shenanigan that is modest dress, click here after you’ve finished the recap)
  • Sheila E THE QUEEN!
    Sheila E came out with that band and the games IMMEDIATELY ceased. She came out there with her shoes off, her hair out, her sticks in her hand, ready. to. slay. Sheila E came out and brought Jerome from The Time, and Prince’s ex wife Mayte with the hip shaking realness. Sheila E came out and told us to GET IT DAGGEVA FOR ANCESTOR PRINCE. The background singers were amazing. The band was doing their GOOD playing. And life was given. THAT is how you do a tribute, and I’m just here to take notes.
  • Jesse “Teach the Word” Williams
    I know that this wasn’t a Prince tribute, but it was definitely one of the show’s highlights. So, I’m putting it here. First of all, I want you to see the look on his face BEFORE he gets up. This is the face of someone that has a word just simmering on the inside:
    A recap of what he said honestly would not do his speech justice. The only quote that I shared on social media were these bars, “Gentrifying our genius” (because #barz), and “Just because we’re magic… doesn’t mean we’re not real”. The reason that I only quoted those pieces was because I was still in deep awe and appreciation for the way that he OPENLY acknowledged Black women. Ya’ll don’t understand… I legit stood up in the living room! Please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and get into his commentary on race, racism, capitalism (you could almost hear the edges being snatched when he got into this piece), movement building, and more!

A Final Note:
I want to share this final cackle with you because I know you’ll appreciate it. This is not a show highlight, nor is it commentary on any given performance. I just need ya’ll to understand that one of my petty friends said that Jermaine Dupri and Fat Joe were in prime “Auntie at a wedding” fashions. And I. almost. fell. over.

(P.S. Who was responsible for the choice to have geishas with swords in the background though….? I’m crying out against that because like… really? *Rolls eyes and tries not to write 1k more words in the key of think piece about cultural appropriation and turning culture into caricature. *Logs out)

What were your favorite parts of the show? What was your least favorite part of the show? Leave them in the comments below!

Chance the Rapper Got Oil*: What I’m Learning about Faith via Coloring Book

Oil* – (working definition) The concept of ‘having oil’ occurs in many Black church contexts and is attached to both the practice and the praxis of anointing someone with oil. To ‘have oil’ means to carry a special anointing or grace to do whatever it is that you have been charged to do.  Although this is primarily used in scenarios where people are offering musical gifts (singing, playing an instrument, etc), this also could mean that a certain person has a particular way about them that facilitates freedom, openness, and joy.

Chance the Rapper got the oil.

Chance the Rapper released his newest mixtape, Coloring Book, last Thursday, and suffice it to say that I was. HYPE. There are two rappers, currently, that have my unending support. These two rappers that could release an album, a literal coloring book, a designer line of Sharpie pens, a recyclable fork (you get the gist) and I. would. buy. it. Those two rappers are Kendrick Lamar (whom I’ve already written a considerable amount on) and Chance the Rapper.

I appreciate Chance’s overall musicality, the way he hears songs and how it is evidenced in his interpretation. I appreciate his flow and how he communicates emotional realities alongside clever rhymes. However, I also appreciate Chance…

Because churchy folk know churchy folk like real recognize real.

Let me give you an example. When my partner played Chance’s ‘Good Ass Intro’, from his previous Acid Rap mixtape, I immediately noticed both the piano stylings and the shout / bump track looming in the background.


^My FIRST inclination, when I heard the Good Ass Intro – you cannot deny the ring-shout realness.

In his SNL debut of Sunday Candy, Chance was both musically signifying a Sunday church service and alluding to a sacred text, namely John 6:51, where Jesus tells the people to eat the bread that symbolizes his flesh.

But Chance reached oil* status with Coloring Book. Let’s talk some specifics:

On the record, Chance channels a practice of many Black church spaces by taking a mainstream Christian contemporary tune and adding on vocal / cultural / musical signifiers i.e. re-interpreting  Chris Tomlin’s How Great is Our God . (I cracked up because my previous church sang it with those exact harmonies).

It was an intentional choice to feature Kirk Franklin, one of the absolute game-changers of 90’s gospel music. We also saw Chance add the lyrics on Fred Hammond’s chorus of  Let the Praise Begin to his song, Blessings.

Chance demonstrated some of this oil* in his lyrical content, which explicitly acknowledges his understandings of the Divine:
“Jesus’ Black life ain’t matter / I know, I talked to His Daddy”
“I do not talk to the serpent / that’s that holistic discernment
(Come through, Chance, and channel the favorite word of church mothers across the States).


Apart from these specifics, Chance has oil because he can teach us a great deal about faith and spirituality. I find in Chance’s Coloring Book, a creative and freeing way to engage with the Divine – outside the proverbial lines of how Christianity (as an institution) prescribes. It is, in my opinion, a healthier way.

I grew up in a church context that loved to focus on  “going right or getting left”. For those who are unfamiliar, this meant doing things the “right” way, according to the standards and edicts of the church or being abandoned in the case of a literal rapture. Needless to say, I was a bit stressed in my youth about what it meant to be a ‘good Christian’.

In 2010, I begun a very long crisis of faith. By 2011, I realized that you can’t just pray those things away. You can’t just place a few Scriptures over your already crumbling theological frameworks. There aren’t enough church services or pithy sayings to adequately address the angst of reconsidering your expectations of the Divine. By 2012, I realized that relationships between humans and the Divine have always been complicated (to say the least).

So, in Coloring Book I hear Chance the Rapper alluding to a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a human in relationship with the Divine. Coloring Book invites us into a conversation about a faith that affirms us. Through this lens, we are not just spiritual misfits waiting to be judged – but that there is the possibility and reality of mutual love and respect. As one example, Chance offers:

I speak to God in public, I speak to God in public

He keep my rhymes in couplets

He think the new shit jam, I think we mutual fans

Blessings, Repraise

Coloring Book illustrates a faith context that has space to dialogue about the sexual, the juke, the twerk – the sensual, the drink and enjoyment – the social, intimate relationships, family, romance, geographic context – and the transcendently spiritual. Coloring Book is a working theology of what it means to live.

Featured Image Credit:, Cover Art for Album by Brandon Breaux 


Chile… Ms. Lauryn Hill Was Late Again.

Pre-Reading Disclaimers:

  1. Chile… Ms. Lauryn Hill was late again.
  2. She issued a public statement, explaining her chronic lateness and attributing some of it to the challenge of “aligning (her) energy with the time, taking something that isn’t easily classified or contained and trying to make it available for others”.
  3. I’m not here to talk about isolated incidents. I want to talk about the chronic arc of Lauryn’s relation to time… and perhaps, to trauma.

All clear? Let’s go.

In an open letter regarding Hill’s lateness, Questlove starts with a recap on what it takes for artists to have business acumen when it comes to putting on a show. He explained general artist-to-audience etiquette but then made the ‘Boom’ statement:

“… on the other side of the coin (and not wanting to put people’s business out there) this is prime psychological sabotage fear in motion. This is the embarrassment of that Newark 4 lawsuit. This is age fear talking loud and clear. This is resentment of having to now do this to survive (I mean we all “do it for the love”—but this is survival) the embarrassment of now being a one album legacy artist and the possibility of not mattering anymore in this disposable society. People will kill something before it grows.

This is prime example of that”

I’m not advocating for Ms. Hill’s actions because they are inexcusable. Holding a toxic relationship to your audience’s time is just… not okay. At the same time, I want to explore this theme of “psychological sabotage” and / or trauma.

There are very real implications about what trauma does to the body, the heart, the mind, the music, and daily functions… such as showing up on time. There have got to be some very real outcomes for the mind, body, and spirit after enduring Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, financial troubles, legal battles for songwriting credits, and a tenuous relationship to the first and premiere album you’ve written.

In Ms. Lauryn Hill’s 2009 Essence magazine interview, she states:

“For two or three years I was away from all social interaction. It was a very introspective time because I had to confront my fears and master every demonic thought about inferiority, about insecurity or the fear of being black, young and gifted in this western culture”

Might it be that she is still dealing with this in her backstage / offstage life? Might it be that this is what is spilling over to her onstage life?

In her written apology to fans, she referenced her “perfectionistic tendencies” and her need to “align (her) energy with the time”. Might she be limited by the trap of perfection (as Brene Brown OFTEN talks about)?

I’m not altogether sure why I have this need to figure out what in the ham-sandwich is going on to make her consistently and chronically 2-3 hours late for shows. After all, this really is not just about her. It’s about the audience, as well.

Audience members are traveling, gathering seats, navigating their accessibility needs in the same moments that Ms. Hill is aligning her energies. Gathering coins from each week’s check to put towards an artist’s tour schedule. Finding ways to get to the venue… even if it takes some ‘doing’ to do. Standing. For four hours. Sitting for two hours before she even gets onstage. This is something that not everyone is physically capable of doing.

I imagine there are quite a few audience members who struggled with these levels of demand on their bodies. Perhaps it also took some time for her audience members to also ‘align their energies’: push past the anxiety of crowded venues and to work through whatever ‘psychological sabotages’ would have hindered them, so that their bodies could show up in that space. These scales hold in the balance the time and effort it always takes for her fans to get there too. And that should be honored.

And yet… I understand (more than I really want to) her post on lateness.

I live with chronic illness (which I have talked about at length on this platform). It made me late for a lot of things before I knew how to properly manage it. This was not necessarily my fault. Undergoing traumatic processes to the brain, body, and psyche are not Ms. Hill’s fault. However, as writer Tammy Perlmutter says, “it is our responsibility” to address. I learned that in order to thrive, I needed to find systems, exercises, and positive coping mechanisms so that I could show up as close to time as possible… and slay when I got there! And let me note: it was hard as hell.

I don’t know Ms. Hill, what she does / does not have access to, or how she is understanding her personal mind / heart / soul journey.  I can only see what the public sees. But I’d like to believe that she isn’t doing this on purpose.

It’s really easy to mock Ms. Hill’s reasoning, her chronic lateness, and her somewhat erratic behavior. Yet, when does this mocking become the easy way of not actually SEEING her humanity, seeing the trauma that she has been through, and understanding the layers that are there. Yet, I think there are some real layers to why things are happening this way. We don’t have to excuse her specific behavior to note that. We also don’t have to excuse this behavior to practice empathy in our own lives. So here’s where I’ll start: with the simple hope that everyone (Ms. Hill AND all of the audience members who keep on showing up) gets what they need.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons, Original posted using Flickr upload bot on 26 May 2013 (UTC), by Stefan4

#Lemonade: Was Bey in My Art Therapy Sessions? (Also Titled: Beyonce Did That, Also Titled: “Who The F*^% Do You Think I Ih…”)

“Let’s try not to discount anger as a valid emotion…”
“Expressing anger is okay. How can we do that with color and imagery?”
“Let’s try to answer: How did the emotion of anger assist you in the moments that you needed it to? Did it protect you from something? Did it make you aware of something?”
“Let’s talk about why you choose the image of the woman’s clenched fist for your collage?” – My art therapist.

“Who the f&&% do you think I ih….?!” – Beyonce, Don’t Hurt Yourself

Ya’ll. Ya’ll.

I think sitting with art is important. Reflecting on art is important. Unpacking the nuances of art is so important… and Queen Bey has given us A LOT to unpack in her latest work, Lemonade. I will refer to Evelyn from the Internet to break that down for you briefly:

The strong imagery and the odes / poetry / healing songs for Black women that she presented in Lemonade are still dealing with me at a heart-level at the moment. I would love to write an intellectually-based thinkpiece on how meaningful this work is in the entertainment industry (you can read Dr. Birgitta Johnson’s reflections on that here). I would love to break down all of the images that she’s used to signify to and conjure for Black women (you can learn about that by following #LemonadeSyllabus on Twitter). Yet the response that’s come up for me has been a very personal and emotional opening.

It would take countless hours to express my feelings about the entire project. This project was about the interpersonal and sociocultural relationships that Black women hold. This project was about healing and wholeness for Black women. This project was about finding ways to rebuild. However, what spoke to me the most was Bey’s expressions of anger and grief. The songs and imagery for ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ are still dealing with and working on me.

Here’s why seeing that was so powerful for me:
I was raised churchy church. (I’ve written that sentence at least 4 times on this platform). I was raised within a setting that taught that we were to be “slow to anger”, that “fools give full vent to their anger”, and that “anger resteth in the bosom of a fool”. It was a bit more socially acceptable to see men giving voice to their anger, both inside of that context and given the patriarchy that America so adores. However, it was not as socially acceptable for young girls and women to express emotions of anger, rage, wrath. These were seen as destructive and out of place.

So, I learned to stuff my anger. I learned to swallow it whole and throw up smiles and forgiveness without accountability. I did this most often in my romantic relationships. #TellYoBusinessThursdays

“When you play me…. you play yo’self” -Beyonce

It’s taken years of learning ways to nuance Scripture as well as art therapy to learn how anger can be an absolutely important emotion. This emotion tells you, “Something is wrong!” It tells us when someone has been mistreated, duped, left behind, or taken advantage of. It moves us to action on their behalf or on our own behalf. It reminds us that when one of us is mistreated… it doesn’t often bode well for any of us.

“Who the f&&% do you think I ih….?! You ain’t married to no average b!tch, boi…” – Beyonce

I joked with a friend that I wanted to get that quote re-interpreted as a tattoo so that I could walk around and people would immediately remember who they were talking to.

Petty flowchart
Image Credit: @PettyFlowcharts, Instagram aka my petty side project

It’s no secret that women of color are often ‘presumed incompetent’ (Gutiérrez et al, 2012). We have to prove what we are saying is valid in our professional lives and our personal lives. Our brilliant work is often quoted without citation or attribution. Our labors of love are often taken for granted. We are often expected to bend into painful shapes due to toxic masculinity, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression [see: for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, The Color Purple, Salt Eaters, the entirety of #LemonadeSyllabus, and the oral histories and lived experiences of Black womyn].

While it may seem that ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ orbited around the storyline of romantic betrayal, Beyonce was crystal clear in incorporating quotes from Malcolm X. She is also speaking to a palpable, documented, and lived sociocultural reality on a broader scale.
Before Bey showed us images of healing, she showed us images of anger and wrath. I appreciate her for that.

Blogger, writer, and scholar Ebony Janice has always said, ‘Beyonce knows‘.

I’ll add that Bey knows that mis-recognition and mistreatment by American society and by those who claim to love us brings about grief and anger. Through Lemonade, she shows us that anger is an absolutely valid emotion to feel and to express after being mistreated. She also shows us that finding space to express anger is a step that cannot be skipped on our journey to wholeness. We cannot simply rush toward reconciliation without dealing with what ‘is’. Before you can see the possibilities of lemonade, it’s okay to find healing spaces to lament over them sour @$$ lemons.

Image Credit:, Beyonce “Lemonade” Preview Review

*Please be sure to download the #LemonadeSyllabus! It is a resource, curated by Candice Benbow, that holds 200 resources (including books, articles, music, film, etc.) to further unpack the themes of Beyonce’s Lemonade. I’m so honored to have been asked to contribute to this work and encourage you to download and share!

Download here:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kendrick, Bey, the Dragging Fest, & the Think-piece Machine (also Titled “Have We Looked at The Art Yet”?)

It’s been uncharacteristically quiet here at, so let me explain why. On February 6th, 2016, Queen Bey released her latest (and in my opinion, most epic and socially conscious) video, ‘Formation’.

Suffice it to say… I was hype…

Beyonce was making a very clear statement. Her video was simultaneously a celebration of Black life & joy, a cry out against police brutality, a nod to Black culture specifically as expressed in New Orleans, a photographic hearkening  to the ways government failed Black people in Hurricane Katrina. This video incorporated Black queer culture, encouragements for Black femmes to #slay, and THEN ended with the drowning of a cop car.


It didn’t take long for both the think pieces and social media critiques to begin:
Beyonce was problematic because [insert diatribe about her support of capitalism given the line “the best revenge is your paper”, insert diatribe about the ways the lyrics “did not match” the imagery, insert diatribe about…] There were some very solid critiques / analyses offered in regards to the art (favorites including Shantrelle Lewis’piece for, Dr. Yaba Blay’s work on, Dr. Zandria Robinson’s post on

However, meaning-making patterns around the art and the artist have seemed to morph into what I now identify as a “dragging-fest” (forms of continual one-upmanship through written word, gifs, memes, etc.) Yet in the busy-ness of cranking out critical analyses and peppering pages with “reads” (pun intended), it seemed we (myself, included) had not given more than a few days (hours, even) to actually sit with Beyonce’s musical choices and / or artistic work. Moreover, I had not seen much of this work being done by artists, musicians, and creatives.

I took a couple of days to let the social media blocks simmer down and to discern whether or not it was worth adding my .02 to an already saturated topic…

But then…

Flash forward to the 2016 Grammy’s where Kendrick “Chakra Balancing” Lamar performed. for. his. life. (And if you haven’t seen it… pause, and view it)

Again, suffice it to say, I was hype. Let’s be honest: most of my readers already know how I feel about Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. There is an in-the-works series happening on this platform to discuss To Pimp a Buttefly. I knew Kendrick was going to come with art that, as Nina Simone described, “reflected the times”. But I couldn’t have guessed what that interpretation would look like and when I saw it, I was absolutely moved.

When I woke up the next morning, there were additional critiques on the work he’d done, why it was problematic (to the tune of: a) Kendrick primarily situates Black men in his work, and b) Kendrick signifies a lot of respectability politics in his music / performance art). There were also (let me be proactively clear here) valid questions about how misogyny gave Kendrick a “pass” from the dragging-fest and shade that Beyonce received for Formation. Peers, colleagues, and friends raised (again) these points and questions; conversations that need to be furthered as time goes on. But again, I realized that it didn’t take more than a couple of days to begin analyzing. Very little commentary took a multi-faceted look at both pieces of performance art sans the other. In comparison pieces, very little commentary looks at the respective arcs of both of their careers and how that may have impacted the reception of both performance art pieces. I have yet to see a piece on how the mediums (film versus live performance) affects our reception of the messages. We could look into why hip hop / trap music genres work for these kinds of messages (cue L.H. Stallings, 2013). There was little on what musicians were saying about the music industry itself in their art. The musical and theatrical purpose of the band’s placement seemed overlooked after K.L’s live performance, though they were also an integral part of the imagery that Kendrick was asking us to sit with. Those notes become clearer if we choose to engage the art and dialogue with artists.

We consume media and artistry and the focus becomes thinking about it before feeling it.

We consume media and artistry faster than we can actually sit with it and let it speak to us.

We consume media and artistry faster than we have respectful dialogue to understand what the artist’s messaging is and seeing how our reception of the message depends on (but is not limited to) the artist, the medium (live, film, etc), the genres, and the arc of that artist’s respective career over time (not to mention our own mood and ethos at the time).

We analyze media faster than we can learn the lyrics to the media we’re analyzing.

The voices of the artists, the creatives, and those that write primarily about arts & entertainment often get lost. It feels rushed and hurried at the low end of the spectrum and disrespectful at the high end.

India.Arie writes about a time she was “dragged” in a series of essays surrounding what she calls SkinGate2013: the accusations she faced regarding skin lightening / bleaching on her SoulBird album cover. While the circumstances are vastly different as Kendrick or Bey, what these artists have in common is that they create art that speaks to their own sociocultural identities and also signifies to the Black community. What’s also common is that they are all performing artists. India.Arie writes about her experiences:

“The most important artists, the most creative, the most imaginative artists, are the most sensitive, and they are generally self-medicating just to MAKE IT through! True artists have MAGIC and LIGHT that people are rightfully drawn to. When too many hands grab at such a delicate thing, the light is extinguished…”

How do I know this is true? Because I know what it is to be an artist in my own lived experience. Of course, I’ve never reached the caliber of Kendrick & Bey! But in order to give an authentic response to their work as of late, I have to call forth that side of myself as well. In a recent and public Facebook status, I mused:

“I was trained in a Theater tradition where being the “triple threat” (singing, dancing, and acting) was the lens. I was a Creative Writer, focusing on Poetry, before I ever wrote a think piece.

And here is what I know about art: Your art reflections where YOU are in your internal process and evolution, and your art is a byproduct of love for self and love for your community. It’s amazing to read the analyses and critiques, but at the same time I’m sitting with their contributions as artists and as the primary makers and creatives of the content we’re critiquing.

As Rev. Dr. Lee Butler Jr. states(1), “Black rage is expressed in Black creativity”, and if we don’t want anyone policing what our Black rage looks like, I’m not sure why we’re so interested in dragging Bey or Kendrick for what it looks like in their lives.

“Our faves can be problematic”(2). And I’m grateful for the ways that that is lovingly & creatively ‘called out’. But there’s a difference between asking for accountability and dragging folk”.

So, I want to pivot here just a bit from the artist themselves. I want to hear the thoughts of other musicians, art historians, ethnomusicologists, creatives, artists, singers, and makers (I know many are still breaking down the performances and that’s okay; we actually can wait). I want to pivot here and ask a few questions that I hope you will engage: When and how do we find constructive ways of holding artists accountable in ways that don’t dissuade them from creating in ways that attempt to speak to us? When and how do we also find constructive ways of holding  other consumers-of-art accountable in both their analysis and their appreciation of artistic works? Finally, what weight do we give expertise in writing specifically for and about musical and art itself?
(1) Butler, Lee. “Black Rage”. Visionary Care: Black Mental Health and Economic Justice [Conference]. Chicago, IL. 12 Sep. 2015.
(2) From a public post by Danielle Stevens, Visionary behind ‘This Bridge Called Our Health’


Image Credit:


Jade’s Faves: WOC in Music to Look Out for in 2016

Music is one of my first loves. I come from a musically-inclined family of singers, drummers, and more. I have chosen every. single. romantic partner based on their musical choices… (amongst other things but best believe that is a top priority).

Though music isn’t something I blog about often here, I’ve covered a few projects / artists at length a few different places and often contribute to the Music Makes Me Happy platform. I’ve got my ear tuned in to a few singers, songwriters, musicians, and women of color that are killin’ the game and set to do great things in 2016.

Laura Mvula:
Laura Mvula is a singer / songwriter from Birmingham, UK and her tone is unlike anything I’ve heard. Her songs are heartfelt, warm, and beautifully executed with layers of vocal harmonies and live instrumentation. (And when I say live I mean… she cut a record with the Metropole Orkest… #friggindope). If you’ve never heard her music, please do yourself a favor and listen. Here’s a quick sampler of her last project:

Today, Laura Mvula released a quick teaser snippet for her latest single, Overcome, and it’s the #BlackGirlMagic that is needed for 2016.

Alex Isley:

If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because this artist is the daughter of Ernie Isley and as her bio states, “her uncles are collectively the Isley Brothers”. Her sound is absolutely original… almost ethereal. She is a singer / songwriter with a truly otherworldly quality about her music and her clear, clean tone. This past December, she released her newest project called Luxury, which seems to be already making a statement on the Independent Music scene.

The first song I’d ever heard from her was F.D.A. and if you’ve never heard her work before, it’s truly a great introduction:

Jaime Woods:
A few months ago, I attended an Emily King concert (and was absolutely swept away). In Emily’s live interpretation of the song ‘Out of the Clouds’, she made space for her musicians and background vocalists to use a few bars and go. AWF! As soon as Jaime Woods started singing, I was enraptured by her tone and how her voice seemed to almost glide over the music. So, I did what I always do when that happens… hit up google! I came across her Soundcloud page and let me tell you, it gets me through a work day like none other! Upon finding her website, I learned that she’s worked with so many acclaimed vocalists (and it’s no surprise because she killllllls vocally)! Her project, TROY, is available on Bandcamp now and I’ve shared one of my favorite songs from it below, entitled “If You Were Mine”:


KING is comprised of three women (which, pause, because I love that concept), “Twins, Paris and Amber Strother and musical sister Anita Bias”. They sing. They play. And their blend is out of this world! Their music is equal parts fun and thoughtful. It’s experimental in many respects, but carries with it a whole lot of soul! They’ve been on the Independent Music scene for quite a while, upon their initial release of their first EP. After that point, I could easily pick out their vocal & musical stylings on Robert Glasper’s project Black Radio and more. This February, they will be launching their first full length project, and trust… it’s already gotten a lot of buzz. They are currently touring in the States (I’m going in February and I am HYPE) and have recently released a new single called “The Greatest”. One of my favorite tracks from them is their sultry-sounding song, “Hey”, a track that feels like and sounds like falling in love. Here’s the acoustic version:


Brandy has solidified her spot in R&B for life! From her early “I Wanna Be Down” until now, she has consistently given us unique vocals and the RIFFS. OF. LIFE! However, I want to focus a bit more on what she’s doing now. Even after her time as Roxie Hart on the Broadway show, Chicago, Brandy hasn’t stopped creating for a moment. She’s now slated in the new BET series Zoe Ever After and has released her supppperr-siicccckkkk song, ‘Beggin and Pleadin’.

So, let me pause here to tell you that from the moment I heard the blues sample and her ‘Good God, Almighty’ opening riff… I had one response…


SANG THE SONG, BRANDY!!  If this is how she’s STARTING the year off, I’m surely excited for what’s to come.

Chantae Cann

Singer, songwriter, Chantae Cann has a tone that’s as clear as a bell. She sings background vocals for India.Arie (I mean… I really can stop right there because ya’ll know India.Arie has some AMAZE-ing background singers). She’s been featured with bands such as the Jaspects and collaborated with jazz band, Snarky Puppy. Suffice it say… the woman’s got vocal chops and she’s making music with some heavy hitters. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m usually attracted to vocalists who have a very unique tone and Ms. Cann’s lilting soprano is one of a kind. This March, she will be releasing her first full length project entitled Journey to Golden.

I’m excited for all that these women will do in this new year and beyond! Stay on the lookout for their projects! Since I’m always looking for new music, let me know who you’d add to this list. Who’s capturing your ears these days?


The Wiz Realness Recap!

Last night, the melanin pop-age was present and accounted for on NBC’s live airing of The Wiz! Shanice Williams made her debut as Dorothy and the cast was star-studded, including Uzo Aduba, Queen Latifah, Ne-yo, Elijah Kelley, Amber Riley, David Allen Grier, Mary J Blige, (Mutha) Stephanie Mills, and Common. Seeing the representation of Black Theater, Black talent, and Black culture live on NBC… gave me my life! It was a magical 3 hours.

As a note, this recap is written in dialect, unlike many of my other pieces… because only AAVE will do it justice. #SayinithowIfeelit. Also, this recap will show the pieces that stood out to me the most (so don’t get in your feelings if I don’t mention your favorite part).

First, I will admit that I was skeptical at the beginning. You have to understand that many-a-weekend during my childhood was spent watching the 1978 version of The Wiz with Diana Ross, Nipsy Russel, and Michael Jackson. (Don’t judge me… I needed my Ease Down the Road Realness Levels to be stable).

However, from the moment that Mutha Stephanie Mills (who originally played the role of Dorothy in the 1975 Broadway debut) opened her mouth to sing “The Feeling We Once Had(written by Charlie Smalls), I knew it was going to be a great production. And when that WIND got to blowin’?!?! TWIRL! Erin Logan, writer for, said that “the tornado sequence and everyone’s reaction to it” was “#2 on the list of a definitive ranking of the 8 Blackest moments of #TheWizLive”. Erin is right. I literally started shouting when they came out.

One of my FAVORITE moments from the show was Amber Riley’s performance of He’s the Wizard. It’s one of my favorite songs in the show (those movements… yes) and Amber Riley came to sing the damn song with that fierce blue lippie that I actually need in my life (does anybody know where I can find a dupe?). Sheridan Watson wrote a Buzzfeed article about the greatness of Amber Riley’s facial expressions alone… and you need to read it after this because it’s hysterical. #SINGAMBER 

NBC – #MOOD when you know you about to sing the house down

Now, before people think I’m throwin’ shade, let me speak on Shanice Williams, who played the role of Dorothy. She can sing. She has a key soprano that fit in well with the grandeur of this production. But her tone isn’t one of my favorites. With that said, I’ll repeat what I told my Facebook cousins yesterday:  “I ain’t mad (at her) tho cuz she’s up there and I’m spectating so… #gogurl”.

I knew that the temptation was going to be to compare Elijah Kelley’s rendition of “You Can’t Win” to the incomparable Michael Jackson. But for me, Elijah Kelley has been bae since his role in the film version of Hairspray so #youcanttellmenuffin. So, shoutout to his interpretation of the song. Shoutout to the fact that he busted out a back handspring and then proceeded to sing the dang song. Shoutout to the scarecrows who were in. character. the entire time – come through head tilt and wing span realness! Who’s mad? Not me.

Do you have an older relative, an uncle perhaps, that always regales you with tales of how they were ‘back in the day’. You may have believed them. You may not have. But then one fine day, at the family gathering, they just bust out with whatever their talent was… and they kill it.

That’s that David. Allen. Grier. Realness.

He came to sing. He came to dance and body roll. He came to give us the lipshakesnarl. He came to win. And he won. (Also, because I’m churchy, I was tempted to do a medley from “Be a Lion” into Donald Lawrence’s Encourage Yourself. Click the links later, hear it, and cackle. And if you do it on Sunday, I’m expecting a shout out).

Speaking of church, Common did a good job as the quintessential church usher… I mean, Emerald City bouncer.

Credit: Karlton Humes aka @notkarltonbanks on Vine and Instagram

Quick recognition to choreographer Fatima Robinson and the Poppies whine-up-ya-waist-and-werk sequence.

OH but when they got into the Emerald City (cue Hammond B3)… VOGUE REALNESS was being served! Not only did the ensemble cast come to dance, strut, and vogue, the costume designer Paul Tazewell did his GOOD work. If anyone wants to get me the geometric jumpsuit with the triangle hat for Christmas, I will wear it gratefully.


Next up… the Queen! I SO appreciated Peter Tazewell’s decision to nuance The Wiz’s costume. On NBC News, he describes it as “androgynous, angular, a showman (showperson?) and definitely GREEN”. Come through inclusion. Queen Latifah did an awesome job and she’s no newcomer to the musical scene. I was proud of her interpretation of the Wiz and proud of that mean side-step she did on her song “So You Wanted to See the Wizard”. Also, pit orchestra for the win.

I haven’t forgotten about Ne-Yo as Tin Man but you’re probably wondering why I waited until now to bring him up. I was surprised by Ne-yo’s performance. I didn’t love the character choice he made with the accent but that really doesn’t matter because when he opened his mouth to sing “What Would I Do If I Could Feel”… #SINGTHESONG #CONVEYTHETEXT. He performed that song and I allllmost shed a tear.

In the spirit of transparency, I was low-key worried about Mary J. Blige (and I do love her).

I was so scared the Mary-bopness would take away from the character, but I have to give it to her. She made BOLD choices with Evilene’s character. She sang. the. dang. song. (Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News). Her braids were on point. And Mary won. She just won. Because when she said, “This lil’ gurl think I’m still playin with her…” I realized she was talkin’ to me for lowkey doubting her. Come through, Mary! LOL!

Everybody Rejoice / Brand New Day, originally written by Luther Vandross, is another one of my absolute favorite songs in the musical, and I appreciated the gospel choir backup, and Elijah Kelley’s distinct harmonies (they thought they were slick and were going to slide that in like we weren’t gone know). But from that entire scene, I have to take special notice of the ensemble member with the bald head and the beard. Does anybody know his name? I didn’t get a progrum… He took those 8 seconds and said “I have to come to hold this note and who’s mad…”?!!! Sing, sir. Somebody send me his name so I can thank him for that.

Uzo Aduba. OH MY STARS. That tone. The smoothness. The richness.

Finally, I need to know who is responsible for this:

Black Twitter has NO. CHILL. I laughed hysterically because of the amount of #FreeToto and ‘Where’s Toto’ posts I saw!

WHOOO is responsible?!?!?! LOL!

So, when he popped out the side at the end, my heart was filled with joy unspeakable!

All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful production and I’m left with so much pride and joy! Many of you know that I went to a Creative & Performing Arts High School and majored in Theater, so this production meant a lot to me on so many levels. I appreciated every note and nae nae, and you better believe I’ll be re-watching and singing along at my earliest convenience. #BlackExcellence!

Featured Image Credit:







JTP’s Side Eye Symposium: Intro & the Grammy’s

Let me just be honest & say that I can’t remember the last time that I sat down to watch an entire Grammy’s show. Typically, I just wait until all the social media commentaries and clips come out and that is precisely what I did this year. But the events from this year are making me move forward with something that has been on my heart… JTP’s side eye symposium. There are so many things that warrant the side eye in life, and I’m here to talk about mine.

But first, some context: Tracey Michae’l, contributer at, wrote a hilarious piece on the definition & phenomenon of the side eye. She explains, “In situations where we might feel silenced (or have chosen to silence ourselves) for whatever reason, in those all too frequent moments when we feel like we are drowning in micro-aggressions and plain out foolishness, it’s our way of saying, “Oh so you just going to say/do that?” or “Okay, I see you,” or simply, “Stop.”

There are some absolutely wonderful versions of the side eye out there, but my absolute favorite side eyes tend to come from Prince. Here’s his latest:


Prince’s Epic Side Eye,
Image Credit:

Again… I’m taking notes:

So, in my side eye symposium series, I will cover the various events, happenings, etc. that I think would warrant a fictional session in my side eye symposium. The level of side eye that I give to each event will typically be ranked from Level 1  to Level Prince (aka 5).

There are a lot of commentaries on why the Grammy’s were problematic this year, so I won’t rehash those. Today, I’m focusing on a few of the nuanced events that happened surrounding this year’s Grammy award show that I am incorporating as a session in the symposium.

Yesterday, I read an article about India Arie’s experience with Lady Gaga’s security guard. According to the source (and India.Arie’s tweets), India Arie was reaching out to greet Lady Gaga, but was “swatted on the hand” and “touched aggressively” by her security guard. India.Arie navigated this exchange with lots of grace, online, explaining that her sole issue was with being touched by that security guard (here I will add aggressively and without consent, but those are my words).

After posting the source article via my personal social media page, I witnessed the most amazing case of man’splaining I’ve heard in quite some time. The general sentiment was that the security guard was just doing his job, and though he may have been too aggressive, this type of behavior was within the constraints of his job. I had to put my ear to the computer to check because that explanation sounded like something I wasn’t here for…

So today, I’m giving a Level 4 Side Eye for the actions of Gaga’s Security Guard & the by-proxy explanations of his action. Here’s why:

  • Far too often, we see this societal pattern and belief that keeping a woman in check physically is normal and within the constraints of some acceptable end (u.e. getting the job done). It’s inappropriate and far too often, a verbal discourse would be sufficient in the conflict resolution process.
  • The notion from the mansplainations that Gaga’s body was not to be touched, while India Arie’s body was allowed / acceptable to be touched aggressively and swatted is incredibly problematic. When I look closely at that notion, and those who are apt to defend the bodyguard’s actions, I can’t help but to see the undervaluing of the body of a woman of color. As India.Arie vented on Twitter, it did not take long for people to begin with their arguments. Meanwhile, that experience was her experience. She was explaining it from her point of view, and a corporate group took to social media to say (in so many words), “Nope, your experience is invalid… he was just doing his job”.

This one is a bit stickier for me because it involves four artists / musicians / entertainers that I respect for their body of work. Those entertainers are Ledisi, John Legend, Common, & Beyonce. If you haven’t heard already, Ledisi is the artist that played famed gospel artist & singer Mahalia Jackson, in Ava DuVernay’s latest movie, “Selma”. There is a scene in which Ledisi, in character, absolutely sings the snot out of the hymn, Precious Lord. In this year’s Grammy show, however, artistic rendering of that song was given to Beyonce, as per her request. I will let you draw your own conclusions on the performance.

Of course, media outlets showed feedback and further insights about the performance from both singers, as the flames of controversy grew. Radio shows and news outlets asked the question of whether or not Ledisi had been “snubbed”. Beyonce’s team produced a mini-doc explaining her creative process, while Ledisi shared her thoughts with ET. (Ledisi for the win on her comments!)

So, let’s dial back and then I’ll give out my side eye. How did Beyonce get this gig in the first place, if Ledisi was the one who sang it in the recent movie, Selma? She asked. According to sources, John Legend explained that “You don’t really say no to Beyonce if she asks to perform with you.” My heart was sad… because I love John Legend. I love his activism and philanthropic work, and there’s no denying his musical talents, as well. I also love Common and his socially conscious rap and acting pursuits. But in this particular moment, I gave them both a loving level 1 side eye (it broke my heart, too). Why?

Because there are some real implications when you say that you could not say no to Beyonce, even if it was at the expense of Ledisi… a colleague in the very movie that you worked on. Ledisi never received the implicit no. So, what made it so easy to say no to Ledisi in the Grammy’s format, after her being cast to sing this song in Selma? And why aren’t people talking about this while fixating on dualistic Beyonce versus Ledisi rants?! Something about the notion of crafting media narratives that pit two women artists against each other sounds alarmingly like…something I’m not here for.

When we peel back those layers, we also understand that neither Legend nor Common are the final decision makers of who gets to be on the Grammy platform. So I’m giving Grammy board members, execs, (‘n nem) a level 4 side eye. I’m not sure why we are equating levels of celebrity to technique within a specific genre of music. When I initially heard the story, I was not sure if there was colorism going on, to be perfectly honest. I’m not sure if this is another way that popular media outlets and big-time-peer-reviewed spaces are keeping DuVernay’s work and interpretations out of the spaces that need it most. For these reasons, they get the level 4 side-eye. I’m passing them out pretty liberally today.

Note: I am accepting submissions for bloggers who want to host a session in the JTP Side Eye Symposium! Contact me & let’s chat about it!

Electric Lady at Work (aka How Janelle Monae Helped Me Get My Life)

Two things that I really miss about South Carolina are the open roads and the 70 mph speed limits. It creates the perfect landscape for one of my favorite past-times: riding down the roads with my music as a soundtrack. During my time in South Carolina, I did anti-bias, diversity, & inclusion work as the only staff member of color in our division. The lessons that I learned during my time of anti-bias work in the South were incredible. However, as a young professional woman of color advocating for underrepresented students, I was not immune to bias & microaggression. In many respects, the world that my students inhabited and the struggles they faced was my world, too.

Janelle Monae’s project, Electric Lady, came out right before I started that work. However it didn’t mean much to me until I actually began.
Until I, as a Northern transplant, saw & experienced the ways in which women of color moved through academia in a Southern setting.
Until I needed something that would sustain me in the work while the rural landscape provided ample space for reflection and little space for socialization.
That “something” became Janelle Monae’s Electric Lady.

It is undeniable that the project “jams”. It’s one that you can dance to, clean to, and essentially “get your life” to. Yet under the jam is a fresh message of empowerment & uplift. In a Billboard interview, Monae unpacks her inspiration for the album, stating that it came from a series of paintings she did & was trying to make sense of. Throughout the process, she identified the figure she kept painting as The Electric Lady. Through these paintings and this album, Janelle Monae created, “a world where these electric ladies were realizing their super powers and doing self-realization into self-actualization and nurturing the community through their gifts and their unique perspectives on life.”

The Electric Lady, as described in the titled track, is a woman who,

“Whether in Savannah, K-Kansas or in Atlanta,
She’ll walk in any room have you raising up your antennas.
She can fly you straight to the moon or to the ghettos
Wearing tennis shoes or in flats or in stilettos
Illuminating all that she touches
Eye on the sparrow
A modern day Joan of a Arc or Mia Farrow
Classy, Sassy, put you in a razzle-dazzy
Her magnetic energy will have you coming home like Lassie
Saying “ooh shock it, break it, baby”
Electro, sofista, funky, -cated”

So, one evening as I was “shockin’ it” & “breakin’ it”, I decided that this work by Janelle Monae would become my strategy for empowerment and self-care. I decided that as long as I was doing the work, I would own my vitality, buzz, & worth as a professional woman of color. I would not wait for it to come externally. I was finally taking ownership of my inner Electric Lady. I hoped that by doing this, others would be encouraged to do the same.

Why claim this motif as a self-care strategy?

The Electric Lady is vital. The Electric Lady can transition through various environments. The Electric Lady has a keen sense of style politics, how she shows up in the world, & navigates through them creatively. The Electric Lady understands the power of oppositional gaze, is not afraid to look at the world around her, and require better. The Electric Lady is courageous in her love for others, fully realized. The Electric Lady has grit & finesse. The Electric Lady “illuminates all that she touches. She sparks something in other people that they did not know they had. She lights a path for those within her reach through knowledge and the audacity to simply be herself. This is what I wished to model for my students. I realized that in those moments of driving down stretches of highway, facilitating learning experiences, creating opportunities for underrepresented students, sharing written work, and having the audacity to show up as myself in the world… I am an Electric Lady.

When I was in graduate school, my professors required us to create a personal statement that would outline our professional philosophy. In that statement I talked about ” assessing your performance, receiving feedback, and adapting to the changing needs of students, cultivating relationships outside of work…” and so forth. Though these things still detail my professional values, I’ve since distilled it down to something I remember each day. It motivates me to do the work through education, writing, and student affairs. And that philosophy is… “Be an Electric Lady.”

Image credit:

Lyrics written by Janelle Monae, cited from Google Play

Resource Links:

bell hooks (1992). In Black Looks: Race & Representation. pp. 115 -131.