Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Revelations on Childish Gambino's "This is America"

Childish Gambino’s “This is America” is a nation’s self-portrait highlighting its flaws while seeking celebration for its ability to do so in a stylistic performance by Donald Glover. Like, “Hey! I’m pointing out how I’m fucked up, but don’t I get points for doing it with panache?” The answer to that would be yes.  

I am not here to ridicule the art or discredit the artist.  The imagery, juxtaposition, symbolism, and other creative-techniques-I-don’t-even-know-the-name-of
all work to deliver a polished and poignant piece of art. “This is America” carries sophisticated motifs that are accessible without being oversimplified. “Get yo money black man” repeats in the song, breaking the fourth wall to let America know we recognize the brainwashing propaganda that often baits and switch ambition at the expense of black casualties, apathy, and deferred dreams.

Where I struggle with “This is America” is that I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to do with it. When it comes to analyzing art, I’m formally unqualified yet civically vetted to form and share opinions.  I think it’s safe to say that Glover wasn’t intending to simply make art that could be admired. This isn’t the Mona Lisa. He had an agenda, and while admiration may or may not be a part of his agenda, the song and video are positioned as a social commentary.

But what makes an effective social commentary? Is it style and substance, or compelling others to adjust their behaviors and beliefs?   Am I supposed to post video clips on social media and say, “Hey, this work is genius! Did you notice how he (insert evidence/examples of how he used a clever technique to relay a point)?” I don’t fault people for doing that because it’s celebrating the work of a thoughtful artist and helping others to understand the messages. You best believe I read several think pieces on the video trying to unpack things I may have missed after watching it several times.  Even if circulating ideas that unpack the cryptic themes in the video is a course of action, where does that lead as it relates to being a piece of effective social commentary? If it’s for story arc and presentation, then I feel mildly disappointed that its main contribution was portraying substance through style.  As a black American, I don’t see the novelty in reminding me that America is exploitive and oppressive.  I’m pretty aware of the ways in which society reminds black people of their value. Which again leads me to, what am I supposed to do with this really cool piece of art? Am I supposed to show it to white people and draw conclusions about how (un)problematic they are based on their response? Regardless if a white person “gets it,” the work still stands on its own merit and doesn’t need white validation. Perhaps I expected more from Donald Glover since his show Atlanta has often left me with things to consider or analyze in new ways. 

I guess when I zoom out and think of the video’s usefulness, I have to think beyond how it doesn’t offer me a new insight or call-to-action.  Although if I wanted, I could be resolute in seeing Glover’s confident skinny-with-a-side-of love-handles physique as an affirmation for my quest towards complete body acceptance. 

As with all good black art, I think of the students I’ve taught/my platform as an educator that curates curricular resources.  The youth in the video provide an excellent lens for classroom analysis and discussion. Is the dancing veneer a symbol for being complicit in shallow apathy or a coping mechanism steeped in perseverance and resistance?  As thoughts of how this art can be used with my students came to me, I finally realized what made this an effective social commentary. Beyond the art having multiple entry points for analysis, it compelled me to make sense of it and respond in ways that I felt were meaningful. I was expecting for the song/video to tell me what to do or teach me something new, when really, that responsibility lies on me.  I am so American…wanting Childish Gambino to do all the work for me.  This is America.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Where you go Chocolate? Being black in Thailand vs in America

“How was Thailand?” I’ve been asked that question at least 50 times since I’ve been back from Thailand…and I’m not using hyperbolic liberties. The question itself is not bothering, it just puts me on the spot to summarize amazing experiences and moments in a way that I haven’t really had an opportunity to completely process and articulate. I usually just recap about what I saw and mention the food, and that seems to suffice.

I think I’m still processing the awesomeness which traveling to Thailand meant for me…but one thing I’ve come to realize, is the complete dichotomous treatment my black male American identity received in Thailand versus how blacks (men and women) are treated in America.

As a black American man, I’m not always expecting to be treated like a full-human being, or I’m often reminded of how my social-cultural identity has historically and presently been diminished and preyed upon through the victimization of my black American brothers and sisters.  I don’t even think I need to give examples to support this point…it would be disrespectfully redundant and insulting to your intelligence.

While in Thailand, I was consistently treated with respect by the locals and tourists alike. In Thai culture, there is something called “wai” which consists of a series of respectful greetings and gestures. Every day while either in my hotel or while out at a restaurant I was the recipient of a non-submissive but rather polite head nod and/or bow with a genuine smile.  My blackness was noticed, but not stigmatized through damaging perceptions or cultural cues which prompt feelings of inferiority. In one instance, my blackness was celebrated while on a tour of the Kanchanaburi countryside. Several of the tour guides innocuously asked for photos with me and my black male friend Moe, because to them, it was an exciting opportunity to interact with a black man. Moe and I often made jokes where we said we could introduce ourselves as Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Brown…which is hilarious in itself because neither of us are tall (Shaq) or light-skinned (Chris Brown), but in the eyes of the Thai…we were black men, and we were made to feel that our blackness made us special, not something to be feared or dismissed. The worst treatment I heard in regards to my race in Thailand, was a local cab driver asking me, “Where you go chocolate?” But I actually thought it was really funny, and was able to discern that his question towards me was based on seeing me as a black American with money to spend, not an intimidating “where are you going darkie/boy” that many black American men have historically heard on the soil of a country that claims to have “liberty and justice for all.”

 While over in Thailand, the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile deaths had just gone down and as summers have traditionally been in American history, blacks were having to confront this notion of wanting to enjoy and celebrate our American heritage, while still being conflicted with the harsh realities of black Americans at the hands of oppressors.

I’m not going to lie…being in Thailand during those undeserving deaths of my black American brethren gave me an opportunity to escape the American obsession and consumption with racial injustice. Not to say that I took on the veil of Americans who treat black lives as irrelevant and act as if it didn’t happen. What I really mean is…I saw and felt that the deaths of those black men, the racial tensions that followed, and all the other pain that ensues from their deaths were an American problem…and being in Thailand gave me the privilege to say, "I'll deal with that when I'm back in America." I recognize how that sentiment can come off, it is definitely rooted in a place of trying to hold off pain rather than denying its existence. 

Since I’ve been back…some shady stuff has gone down most recently in Chicago with respect to police brutality and another unarmed black man being gunned down. I am feeling the weight of the American racial and socioeconomic injustice problems.  I’m not saying Thailand doesn’t have issues with injustice, but as they are tied to my black male identity, it was nice to feel free of those things.  I now learn from my Thai experience and bow my head with a genuine smile towards the respect and legacy of black men and women who have most recently lost their lives on American soil, who may have not ever experienced what it was like to feel the admiration and respect for their black beauty.

Welcome to the Club! Thoughts on being 30…for a week, LOL!

Since I have turned 30, I have heard “welcome to the club” a lot.  I feel very welcomed. 

While we all know there isn’t an actual club for people who turn 30, or maybe there is and I just haven’t been invited, I will say that our society expects that when an individual turns 30, that they should be ready to apply all the useful lessons from their twenties and start their triad decade with self-refining habits.

If I were to assess myself according to that criteria…I’d have to say I’m doing pretty good (I know “well” is supposed to be used instead of good, but allow me a colloquialism). Let’s also keep in mind that my self-assessment is biased and  I have only been 30 for exactly a week .What I will say, is that I have been trusting what I know to be true and how I’m feeling a lot more. I’m not sure why I’m feeling a renewed or stronger sense of self-trust now that I’m 30.   Some of it may be rooted in the fact that I’ve had a substantial amount of time learning myself and can vet the decisions that I make with justifiable experiences. I feel really confident, and this has been evident in small things since being 30, and how I celebrated my birthday.

For my 30th, I had a songs and storytelling soiree where I engaged my guests with some live storytelling and some singing. In the days/weeks/months leading up to my party, while I was still a seasoned 29 year old, I had been obsessing over what could go wrong and doubting my creative ideas and the validity of the stories that I had to tell. But something changed for me on my actual birthday when I turned 30. I had gotten a massage earlier in the day, came home to “prepare” and was so inspired and confident in what I was doing that new insights of how to craft my stories just poured in to my head. It was awesome.

I can’t explain the psychology of what is happening to me…I can admit that nothing chemically/hormonally shifted for me when I turned 30. I’m sure a large part of what I’m experiencing with regards to more confidence, actually already existed in me.  I do however accept the social expectations/construction that this age brings, as it is providing a great gateway to further exploring, loving and trusting myself. I look forward to telling others when they hit this age, “Welcome to the club!”

Monday, July 20, 2015

Don't Feed the Animals - Avoiding Predatory People

DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS – a warning prompt at zoos or along paths near camps, parks and ponds full of greedy animals that are prone to believe you have an endless supply of food if thrown their way. Whether these animals are seemingly harmless or ravenously carnivorous, the theme that remains consistent from "don't feed the animals" is a cautionary piece of advice that could save you from being bombarded by a swarm of relentless ducks or in some extreme cases being attacked by an agitated bear. 

So when I heard the “don’t feed the animals” warning put to the tune of music beyond a zoo-sing-a-long for-kids type of way by Emily King, the lyrics really caught my attention.

Big teeth in your face
Claws like a razor blade
Never ever again will I ever be friends with a big bad wolf like you

Poison that will eat you alive
Tongue like a dragon fire
Never ever again will I ever be friends with a creepy little snake like you

Didn’t learn the first time,
But oh I learned the second time
Never again will we ever be friends
They told me don’t feed the animals

Besides the song’s incredible chanteuse and melodious harmonies, it got me thinking about its theme. The song’s lyrics are encouraging the listeners to be empowered through intuition, experience and self-care/preservation to not put themselves in situations where someone preys on their generosity or other nicety that can be misused.

At an initial thought over the lyrics, I began to wonder…who are the animals in my life? And then my mind went to, what are the situations that are animals in my life?  There are a host of bad habits, situations, and people that could be deemed as “animals” in the context of Emily King’s song. Even more, it made me think about how do you know when you’ve identified a predatory type “animal” person/situation in your life.

Hopefully this quick list of animals/people to avoid will help you discern when to throw away the bait, or at least keep it for yourself:

  • Messy Meerkats - People who try to get you to engage in gossip and then use your words against you. They mean you no good. If they will sit up there and talk nastily about someone else or distort their words, they will do it about you or defame your character for taking part in their antics

  • Pitiful Pandas – these are people who are perpetually in need  yet (un)intentionally negligent of your needs – I’m all for helping out a friend/lover/relative, yet this cute seemingly harmless animal will never extend that help back to you during your time of need. Don’t feed this animal.

  • Hating Hyenas. Enough said.

  • Sporadic Snake Snackers- These people are selectively reinforcing. They conveniently pick and choose when they want you around, get what they want out of you and have little regard for your feelings. They probably make you feel good when you’re around them, yet once they’ve gotten all they wanted from you they toss you to the side until their next feeding.  Don’t feed these animals.

  • Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. The Bible specifically discusses these folks. They’re fake and deceitful…once you’ve seen their true colors, don’t try and get them a better fitting sheep skin, it will never fit.

Let’s not even get on the topic of personal habits that can be animals. It takes consistent work on oneself when you realize you’re an animal to yourself and/or others. 

Enjoy the full song and video that inspired this post below:

Monday, December 29, 2014

Confessions of an Amateur Blogger

It’s been hard for me to finish a thoughtful post that I am proud of since June 2014. You could officially say I have writer’s block…which is weird because there have been/there are plenty of things to talk about since my last update. With the new layout, it’s pretty easy to see the various silos that I’ve had a knack for writing about.

Socio-political commentary, relationships,  spirituality, my professional life and quirky relatability seem to be my strongest suits of writing. While I am an UnExpert blogger, and I have the amateur views/stats and aesthetic design to validate my inexpertise,  the readers of my blog have told me that they actually find my content and words to be pretty thoughtful, witty, and relevant. While that is encouraging, presently it hasn’t been easy for me to sustain that level of writing.

In the event that anyone is reading this and cares, all I can really say is THANK YOU. Every encouraging word, social media like, text, or random spike in views from the data tracker have given me the confidence and affirmation to continue to express my ideas through my writing. I started this blog on a whim with no real foresight or identity as a writer. I had no clue how much of a tool it would be for me to create, release, and reflect.

I certainly intend to honor the spirit in which I started this blog…a happenstance site of thoughts with no authority,  and a situational relatable source of affirmation.

I’m opening myself up to writing about other aspects of my life that I don’t typically tend to analyze beyond face value.  My finances, travel excursions, personal fitness and short story telling. We’ll see how that goes.

Right now I can’t force the write….but when it’s right,  the words will flow and I’ll be happy to post. I’m actually feeling a bit more inspired. Until then…read something old or leave me a comment.

- Brandon

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Social Media Personality Matrix: a guide to every social persona

Social media networking sites are a true force to be reckoned with. They have proven themselves to be real social entities which impact people’s daily lives, their interactions with others and one’s own self-awareness. While social media was on the upsurge as a new phenomenon during my college years, I’m sure there are classes now that analyze the sociology behind social media and all the various ways it shapes identity.

With that being said…I’ve been extremely observant and developed a list of online personalities we have all seen, perhaps rolled our eyes at, and may be displaying every time we click the log-in button.

The Digital Narcissist: The digital narcissist has an obsession with social media sites and looking at how much people like what they post. They check their various sites at least 10 times a day, make frequent posts and status updates and enjoy selfies, likes, comments, photo tags and hashtags.

Pros:  At their best, a digital narcissist is complimentary, enthusiastic, confident and according to their frequent posts they have a structured life with consistent routines.

Cons:  At their worst, digital narcissists are self-centered, delusional, share too much information, and send annoying app invites and party requests that no one cares about.

Social Media Socialite:  The social media socialite is fixated on showing how awesome their life is by highlighting their food choices, their friends, vacations and random cultured shenanigans. Unlike the digital narcissist the social media socialite does not rely on selfies, frequent updates and obsessive hashtags.

Pros: At their best, the social media socialite is endearing, authentic, well-rounded and is a great person to ask when you need recommendations for food, fashion, travel and leisure.

Cons: At their worst, the social media socialite is contrived, pretentious, shallow and is a digital narcissist with better clothes and more disposable income. 

Modern Day Philosopher: This social media user views their network as a platform to enlighten, educate, challenge and promote political issues, social reform and self-improvement. They are intentional about their posts and feel that their online presence is substantive.

Pros: At their best the Modern Day Philosopher is insightful, empathetic, encouraging, and trusted for their posts of thoughtful articles, quotes, and inspirational videos.

Cons: At their worst the Modern Day Philosopher is irrelevant, condescending, annoying and overcompensating for feelings of unintelligence or other unaccomplished goals.

Purveyor of Ratchet Pop Culture:
This social media persona uses their social media as an expansive online conversation between friends to share their thoughts about any and every thing that happens under the sun. They use and coin online abbreviations and acronyms religiously. They love posting humorous pictures and videos from TMZ, World Star Hip Hop or other frivolous internet foolery.

Pros: At their best the Purveyor of Ratchet Pop Culture is hilarious, relatable, likable, and have great timing for posting hilarious memes that can lift someone’s spirits and provide a much needed laugh.

Cons: At their worst the Purveyor of Ratchet Pop Culture is trivial, crass, prone to gossip, and lacks ambition or drive. 
Voyeurs Anonymous: This social media user sees their network as an entertainment movie in which they have front row seats. They love to read, like, and share other people’s posts but do not reveal much of their own thoughts online or make status updates.

Pros: At their best a Voyeur Anonymous is friendly, thoughtful and stable. When this user does decide to post they share relevant, meaningful or sentimental information that is well received in their network.

Cons: At their worst Voyeurs Anonymous are online stalkers, conspiracy theorists, jealous and say some of the most hateful and cynical things about people offline.

Opinion Chameleons: This social media user is a hybrid mix of some of the other personas, but it’s true colors are shown during times of mass public tension and controversy. Their defining characteristic is that they have no filter when expressing their strong/radical opinions about topics like same-sex marriage, racial profiling and dynamics or immigration.

Pros: At their best, an Opinion Chameleon is logical, thought-provoking, fair and can gracefully leave comments in discussion threads that don’t lead to arguments.

Cons: At their worst, an Opinion Chameleon  is insensitive, uses inflammatory language, is purposefully oppositional/argumentative and will cling to “free speech” as a means to be verbally reckless.

Revelations on Childish Gambino's "This is America"

Childish Gambino’s “This is America” is a nation’s self-portrait highlighting its flaws while seeking celebration for its ability to do so ...