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.