Is Erykah Tripping? Or are We?

I saw Badu’s new video and read a very  funny and scathingly critical article on a Black woman’s blog. I laughed at the witty wods and winced at the subsequent comments regarding the video, comments which were largely outraged and confused.

As a serious reader of abstruse texts, I’ve noted how angry, distrustful and dismissive people are when they “don’t get it”. I recall a member of my book club’s response to Toni Morrison’s novel, Song of Solomon, “She be doing too much. She didn’t have to do all that!”

It was clear my fellow reader  was dead serious. And then she enthusiastically suggested we read something less challenging or “deep”.

I’m not saying Badu’s video is “deep” necessarily. I am, however, noting the blogger criticizes the video for not even being sexy, even with all that nudity. That, to me, is an insightful observation, albeit apparently accidentally insightful. Maybe that dissonance and incongruity the blogger noted are connected to the video’s point.  Or, yes, maybe, it’s just a desperate attempt on Badu’s part to garner attention for her new single. I believe it’s the former more than the latter.

If some of us love Erykah as much as we claim and see her as a clever woman with some depth, I wonder about the mad rush to throw Erykah under the bus and condemn so vigorously this video which features a woman’s body which isn’t generated from the typically  lecherous, male gaze of hip hop sensibility, designed from and for the arrested development of pubescent male gratification, a point of view which is tired and all-too-familiar in videos.

Seems to me, this was a gynocentric view of the female body, a woman’s look at the woman’s body, her self, her body, her sexuality.
Besides the angry, suspicious and quizzical responses all couched in funny and amusing bons mots I’ve read all over the internet, underneath that there’s more than just an anti-intellectual impetus.  The bigger and most disturbing trend I feel is women’s own ambivalence about their bodies they claim to love, and  the ongoing fear women of color  have of being seen as a sexual siren or a  Sapphire figure, or in the everyday vernacular of being seen as a “freak” or a “ho”.  Less surprising but very telling  is men in their comments in general  seem confused by the video since it doesn’t conform to the formula of women as titillating and teasing stripper. Since the woman, (the body double is apparently Erykah’s younger, twin-like sister) is completely naked, seems men don’t know what to make of the video. Apparently a naked woman’s body not packaged predictably, where we are left to imagine her breasts and vagina, leaves men limp and bothered, in lieu of hot and bothered.

And, I want to be clear, while those Black women’s fears are  valid and based on a long, shameful, and  undeniable history of black women being violated, exploited and stereotyped as sexually licentious and available, a pernicious pattern first established by white males historically and currently embraced wholeheartedly  by black males who in their “art” advance those sexist and denigrating images and ideas, it leaves very little or no space ideologically or otherwise for a black nude to be art or to have meaning defined outside the narrow and limited scope of male desire and sexual gratification.

I don’t purport to “understand” Badu’s intent, but I do think whatever she’s doing here deserves a less reactive interpretation.  If women were allowed, and I am aware of the problematic implication of the word “allowed,” to explore and present their own images of themselves, including their bodies and sexuality, so readily appropriated by others, I wonder what that would feel like, what would that look like?

Maybe, it would be, in at least, some representations like this video, naked and challenging, forcing us to see the woman’s body, the breasts, areolae, nipples, vagina, and ass, not hinted at or hidden.

After years of watching images of Black women, in an endless litany of videos where legions of females  have marched and served time  in a seemingly infinite parade of jiggling, scantily clad, voiceless, dead-eyed,  suggestive and taunting images, all of which are ultimately juvenile masculine tableaus of women as exciting but dullened sexual objects of fantasy, I like Badu’s video.

For once, it seemed to me, rightly or wrongly, the woman was in charge of her own body, writing her own naked story.


2 thoughts on “Is Erykah Tripping? Or are We?

  1. Jon Goode Well written!… I still hate the video but well written hahaha!

    June 6 at 9:26am · Like.

    Jennifer Williams Insightful. Can I share? More offensive than all the effluvia to me was the terrible remake of Flack’s song.

    June 6 at 9:30am · Like.

    Ken Capers Jen, feel free to share. Jon you always got me laughing.

    June 6 at 9:53am · Like.

    Zain Beyond Words I believe Erykah never opts for ordinary. She reaches and if you can only see as far as “Tyrone” can take you. Your understanding will take you as deep as a bathtub of water.

    June 6 at 10:47am · Like.

    Deshawn Dominique Jenkins I agree with Jon. Your comment was better than the video. I’m all for avant garde, but I felt as if I had to work too hard to get whatever she was speaking. I like Erykah nonetheless.

    June 6 at 11:20am · Like · 1.

    Audra Foreman Roper
    I saw the video and thought it was a very provocative cover of the song. For me, it conjured thoughts of a woman giving birth to her identity after being abused and re-embracing her sexuality and sensuality. Of course, the video is open t…

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    June 6 at 3:23pm · Like.

    Ja A. Jahannes I think EryHah smoke a joint. The video producers smoked a joint. They made a video. They had sex, and her sister got in the act. They did some crack and went home.

    June 6 at 3:29pm · Like · 3.

    Ken Capers Audra, my read is similar to yours. I think she looked bruised too, trying to reclaim herself in some kind of symbolic sexual act slash rebirth. Now I’m reading there’s a question of whether the version we’ve seen was approved by Erykah. And the group is apologizing or something. In my view it’s better if she liked the final outcome and it was her concept… Big “IF” as it turns out.

    June 6 at 4:06pm · Like.

    Ken Capers Dr. Jahannes, you ain’t right but hey great art has come from getting high — Ginsberg, Coleridge, et. al.!

    June 6 at 4:08pm · Like.

    Ken Capers
    New twist: OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM – WAYNE COYNE / FLAMING LIPS “The video link that was erroneously posted on Pitchfork by the Flaming Lips of the Music Video ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’, which features Erykah Badu, is unedited a
    nd unapproved.. Sorry!! We, the Flaming Lips, accept full responsibility for prematurely having Pitchfork post it. It has outraged and upset a segment of fans and we apologize if we offended any viewers!!! This is a Flaming Lips video which features Erykah Badu and her sister Nayrok and is not meant to be considered an Erykah Badu or Nayrok statement, creation, or approved version.”

    June 6 at 4:20pm · Like.

    Ken Capers
    I wonder what exactly Erykah expected to be shown and not shown? Seems this video may be a male-generated idea after all, but it seems more complicated. This was clearly a collaboration with the women featured. It’s not like hired video chi
    cks shaking their ass for the camera. The question is what was the agreed on and intended message and statement. And still I say the outrage is possibly the viewers’ inability to ever see the naked female form outside voyeuristic and objectified sexual object. There’s more going going on here than that.

    June 6 at 4:27pm · Like.

    Audra Foreman Roper
    What i found to be irritating was the lack of African American male representation in the video. It was disturbing to see caucasian males who appeared to be in ecstasy while beating a “wild” thing. There also seems to be an implied accept…

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    June 6 at 5:13pm · Like.

    Audra Foreman Roper My final thought…as a female this video did not leave me feeling empowered or embolden. In fact, I fell silent and felt silenced…

    June 6 at 5:18pm · Like.

    Ken Capers
    Audra, yeah, the juxtaposition of images, from the women to these white males was a bit jarring. Again, I don’t know what the actual point was but it did seem to be Erykah’s expression or point of view. It is noteworthy as a woman it didn’t…

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    June 6 at 10:20pm · Like · 1.

    Vince Truett Ken, I saw a portion of the video earlier today. I am not impressed with the video. In fact, all of the persons in the video look like they are having a bad LSD trip. The video is strange–to say the least.

    June 6 at 11:44pm · Like.

    Ken Capers Vince, the video’s point is still a mystery especially since Badu, herself , now condemns the video. Whatever the video is, it’s provocative. Course that doesn’t mean much sometimes. I still liked it Yes, it was strange…lol.

    June 7 at 12:06am · Like · 1.

    El-Mahdi Holly-Haile
    We’ve all seen this before. Remember when Diddy took a champagne bottle to Steve Stout’s head because of a potentially leaked music video showed Diddy nailed high on a cross opposite Nas? Apparently, Diddy initially thought it clever to c
    ast himself as a martyr for hip hop , but perhaps after a discussion with his mother or lawyer, tried to explain that his angry conniption was a result of him not having control of his image — rather than taking any blame for lying down on a beams of wood in the first place. OR…. Perhaps we all remember that Super Bowl halftime show w/ Janet Jackson/JT’s little stunt — sorry — I meant “wardrobe malfunction.” No need to explain this one.
    I truly believe that had she consulted with a supporter like you Ken, she would have displayed far more tact and restraint in making a statement for which she would be proud to release. This video has far more to do with a TREND of music artists who have wandered off into a phenomenal sense of themselves, far beyond the chatter of fans & critics, to generate attention from desperate shock value, only to cry foul when some “unintended” party allows them to be held accountable in the public’s eye. It’s a byproduct of an industry that rapidly elevates musicians to the level of idols, where their fans are to the artists nothing more than numbers on a balance sheet, and are thus too gullible or too fickle to read between the lines.
    It’s no surprise that naked bodies would be shown, no surprise that liquids used to mimic blood or semen were displayed either. It’s not even a surprise that Erykah, the one who gave us “Window Seat” couldn’t back down from the hype to make a meaningful video when her last vid shot her into viral Internet fame, the same way it made pseudoPop acts like Lady Gaga famous for all her silly tricks that put more $$ in Akon’s pocket. I mean, how else can a 40-something black woman compete with today’s assembly line of bubblegum talent??
    The answer is easy, but you fans were never expected to get it. In the end, we’re all a bunch of CD-buying/MP3 downloading villagers waxing poetic about the Empress’s New Clothes.

    June 7 at 9:23am via mobile · Like.

    Ken Capers
    El-Mahdi, you eloquent, insightful you — yes and yes and yes. I have been kind of attacked on my friend Jon Goode’s page for crying foul on Badu’s questionable denial and disavowal. She called in for her sister to do scenes she found dista
    steful, simulating blood and semen, but somehow she thought this would end up tastefully edited? I won’t recap all I wrote, but I closed with this ~ If people had loved or liked the video, like I did. I don’t think Badu would have said shit.

  2. I actually believed this video was quite distasteful.. From a mans perspective the nudity is the only reason that I was engaged, but I did not understand the message that Erykah was trying to convey. Furthermore, the fact that she had white men looking as if they were high made me very dazednand confused. If I did not know Erykah made this video I would think this video was just thrown together in order to convey females sexuality. However, I do like the fact that woman are in control of their own body because usually when you see a rap video of some kind you see woman are depicted as “sluts” dancing all up on these rappers in a very sexual and implicit manner, but in this video these woman were in control of what they were doing with their body.

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