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 ForHarriet.com, 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: http://www.theroot.com/blogs/the_grapevine/2015/02/how_one_photo_of_prince_perfectly_summed_up_the_grammys.html

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: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Janelle_Mon%C3%A1e_19.jpg

Lyrics written by Janelle Monae, cited from Google Play

Resource Links:

bell hooks (1992). In Black Looks: Race & Representation. pp. 115 -131. http://www.umass.edu/afroam/downloads/reading14.pdf

A Womanist Album Review: Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show

I’m crafting up some fresh new blog posts for you all & can’t wait to share them! As you know, a part of my mission is:

  • To encourage, inspire, & empower readers to thrive in spite of systems that are not inherently set up for their success & affirmation.
  • To offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives  towards these purposes.

Last week, I carried that mission over to ForHarriet.com, and posted about the system of arts & entertainment. The focus of the piece was Jazmine Sullivan’s latest & brilliant work, “Reality Show”. This piece was specifically important for me to review, as Sullivan unpacks some really deep womanist themes in her work & provides a landscape of the realities of a number of Black women in America today. Check out my review here!

Image credit: ForHarriet.com