NO, Kanye West is NOT the Male Lauryn Hill

Ms. Lauryn Hill released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill five months after I gave birth to my son. I often held him while singing along to “Zion“. Ms. Hill’s voice and the lyrics were cathartic as I quietly struggled through what I now suspect was postpartum depression. With Miseducation, I fell more in love with Ms. Hill than I was when she was a member of the Fugees.

When I moved to Atlanta in 2003, seeing Ms. Hill in concert was one of my top five Atlanta To-Do list items. I don’t recall the exact date when I first saw her in concert, but I do know that I’ve seen her perform in Atlanta at least four times – at the Tabernacle, Center Stage, Chastain Park, and Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood. I also had a picture taken with her after hearing her speak to a surprised group of middle school youth at an end-of-year ceremony.

I saw “polo-and-backpacks” Kanye in concert for the first time in 2004 at Atlanta’s Centennial Park. I also attended the shows for the Watch the Throne Tour in 2011 and The Yeezus Tour in 2013 and had plans to attend the Saint Pablo Tour in 2016. I’ve bumped Kanye’s albums from The College Dropout to The Life of Pablo. I stopped listening after Pablo.

For a while, I felt – as did/do many people – Kanye was misunderstood. He was just being an eccentric artist. That was the reason – excuse – I gave. Whenever he’d speak in circular patterns at awards shows or during interviews, I’d interpret his comments and post them to my Facebook page. Eventually, some of my Facebook friends would look to my page or tag me in a post and ask me what he was trying to say. They jokingly referred to me as the “Kanye Whisperer”.

I have followed and been a fan of Ms. Hill and Kanye in various capacities. Both are artists whose work I admire, love. Both are artists whose creativity sets them apart from other artists, no matter whether that creativity is wrapped up in one studio album (and one equally and differently impressive live album…I said what I said.) or in multiple albums and production credits. Both have had some challenging life experiences. Both of them have disappointed fans.

But they are not the same. Kanye West is NOT the male Lauryn Hill.

Critiques of Ms. Hill being difficult to work with and for and being late to shows have lingered for most of her post-Fugees career. These critiques have been reignited this year Robert Glasper’s commentary about an alleged 2008 interaction and late-starting and canceled shows for her 20th Anniversary Miseducation Tour. Ms. Hill has responded to the critique, but some fans understandably find her inconsistency inconsiderate.

When Kanye was hospitalized in November, 2016, many expressed prayers for his health. But his behavior since his release have had fans, foes, and other hip hop artists see-sawing between calling for him to be saved by a Black woman to saying, “Fuck him and that Donald Trump hill  he wants to die on.”  People are convinced that he’s not “the old Kanye” – the one who said George Bush doesn’t like Black people; the one who interrupted Taylor Swift. He’s now the Kanye who meets with and idolizes President Trump, wears Make America Great Again hats, says slavery was a choice, and rants on social media, interviews, and on Saturday Night Live. Kanye is beyond inconsiderate.

At one point, I was one of Kanye’s biggest fans. I still am one of Ms. Hill’s biggest fans. I understand why people have been disappointed in and by their words and actions. But let’s be clear, suggesting that Kanye West is the Male Lauryn Hill is a false analogy. The disappointment in Ms. Hill and Kanye West are not the same. There are levels. Ms. Hill being late to or canceling shows is inconsiderate but is not comparable to Kanye’s idolization of Donald Trump, MAGA hats, and statements about slavery and the 13th amendment.

Kanye West is NOT the male Lauryn Hill. But this comparison sheds light on the unbelievably high (and unbalanced) standards to which we hold Black women. The public support that Kanye has received over the years would never have continued had he been Ms. Hill. The desire to understand where he’s coming from would not be extended to him were he Ms. Hill. Questions about his mental health and sincere calls for him to get help would not be asked or made if he were Ms. Hill.

We hold Black women to such a standard that repeatedly being late to concerts is equated with dangerous idolization and rhetoric that could potentially influence the continued marginalization and oppression of Black people. And no, I’m not reading too much into the suggestion that Kanye West is the male Lauryn Hill. We’re not reading enough into the subtle ways we tell Black women their behavior and words must always be impeccable in order to deserve a modicum of the support that we give Black men. We have canceled Black women’s careers for behaviors that we rationalize with Black men (e.g., Chrisette Michele told us she was no political genius, and we still give her the side-eye.). We have canceled Black women in our communities for behaviors that we forgive when demonstrated by Black men.

Kanye West is not the male Lauryn Hill because he’s been coddled, supported, and prayed for – in spite of and because of his words and actions.

Maybe Lauryn Hill should be the female Kanye. At least then she’d get to be late to and cancel concerts and be coddled, supported, forgiven, or pray for.

It’s time we Black men to the same high standards to which we hold Black women and nurture Black women the same way we nurture Black men. It’s time.

-Qiana M. Cutts

 

 

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On My Block [A street requiem]

This past weekend, I visited Ferguson, MO along with the #BlackLivesMatter group and returned to Atlanta with a lump in my throat but empowerment in my heart. I was speechless…but I could write. And I’m sure this is unfinished, but after seeing the exact location where Mike Brown was gunned down on a neighborhood street in the middle of the day, I had to write something. Hoping to give it life at a spoken word event soon…

On my block
Were syrupy bee-bops
Up the street
The Candy Lady’s sweet shop.
The intersection of Rosa Parks
And Martin Luther King
My block was the corner
Of street lights and
Olympic dreams…
Foot races
Tightened shoe laces.
To the STOP sign and back
A quick 100 meters
Winning to talk trash
Taking rocks to pavement
Chalk for Tic-Tac
Toe in the street.
On my block
Deuces and quarters
With Subwoofers
1980s hip hop beats

On my block
Was where time stopped.
I could be cool forever
Daydreaming about
Being a poet…
Letting the rhymes drop.
Just young, wild
And free.
Taking over the streets.
Cars passed by with
Permission.
Honk the horn one time
And our kick ball games
Took intermission.
With an adult yelling

“Get ya’ll asses out the street!”

But on my block
That yell was sincere
and Sweet.
And we moved.
For a time.
Watched the cars go by
Us, standing on either side.
Soul Train line.
Then kick ball resumed.
No one assumed

That on our block
We could be stopped.
For walking in OUR spaces
Sidewalks or not
Neighborhood streets
Were sacred places.
No yellow lines
No jay-walking street signs.

Because it’s

OUR

Block.

On OUR block
We don’t need
Crooked cops.
Trigger happy
Trained assassins
Carrying glocks
Interrupting
games of hop scotch.
Facades of protecting
And serving.
With authentic
Purposes
of unnerving
Our neighborhood.
Cruising through at a
Steady 5 miles
Looking for targets
Eye contact.
Fake smiles.

Word.

On Mike’s block
A ripple of shots.
A ripple of shots.
He surrendered.
Hands up
Six times popped.
To the pavement
He dropped.
Dead in the street.
On his block.

He was dead in the street
On his block.

Where
Blood stains
Remain
Reminders to some
Challenges to the
Sane.
Headaches and tears
As children play
And mothers love
With enhanced fears
That our streets
Are not our own
That on our blocks
The innocence
Of bee-bops
Candy Ladies and sweet shops
Places where
Time never stopped.
Where cyphers lived
And beats and flows
Dropped.
As we danced to hop-scotch.

Those sacred places
Those neighborhood blocks
Now
Invaded by
Uncaring
Trained Assassin
Racist
Cops.

But we won’t
Surrender
Hands up
To the pavement
We won’t drop.
Not one more
Dead in the street.
Hit by six shots.
On HIS block.
On HER block.
On OUR block.

Because it’s

OUR

Block.

Don’t come ‘round here
To our streets
Our urban retreats
Our sanctuary and
Release.
We’ve drawn lines
In the sand.
On the side of [real]  justice
We stand.

Because it’s

OUR

Block.

No place
For crooked cops
Trigger happy
Trained assassins
Armed with glocks.

Marching won’t stop
Protecting our homes
Our blocks.
Not one more
Shot
Pavement dropped
For walking in OUR spaces
Sidewalks or not
Neighborhood streets
Are sacred places.
Fuck them yellow lines
Fuck them
Non-existent
jay-walking street signs.

We strolling down
the blvd
the lane
the ave
the drive
From one end to the other
Still alive

Keep driving through
Don’t stop.

We just walking.
We living.
We just loving.

Because it’s

OUR

Block.

 

 

 

Asphyxiation (Our Lives Matter)

I can’t breathe.

In an open space with air all around

Yet, I can’t breathe.

Can’t inhale or exhale –

Unless they give permission.

To kill me.

Choke holds and

Cold-blooded murder.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

Because I was suspect.

For my Black, my Brown skin.

For seeking help.

For minding my own business.

In this world where my biggest sin

Is being.

That’s all. Just being.

Being Black.

Being Brown.

Being Brave.

Being Bold.

Enough to say

“You don’t own me!”

Bold enough to ask

“Can you help me?”

Bold enough to plead.

“I can’t breathe.”

“I can’t breathe.”

“I CAN’T BREATHE.”

And they’re killing me.

With my hands raised

Open palms

I’m not greeted with open arms.

I’m suspect.

Slayed in the streets,

And on porches.

And in neighborhoods.

In parks.

In public spaces.

Making a mockery of me.

Bodies uncovered for all to see.

For they aim to let us know

That I won’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

Unless permission is given to me.

But I’m villainized for reacting

To the repeated cries.

They say I should march.

And I should be peaceful.

And I should make a difference.

In a calm way.

But I can’t breathe.

I can’t fucking breathe.

And they want me…

To trust that I’ll be free.

Trust that this system will protect me.

Trust that they’ll let me breathe.

And I don’t.

I don’t trust that I’ll ever be able to breathe.

So I’m fighting.

For air.

And I apologize if my methods

Don’t suit.

But they match the madness.

For when you can’t breathe

And you’re unsure that they won’t shoot

Fight is a natural response.

When my words, my cries, my pleas

Have fallen on deaf ears

How am I expected to breathe?

How am I expected to bring peace?

When peace is not afforded to me…

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I want peace.

I want to breathe…

F R E E L Y.

 

 

 

Messages from the Universe: Be Open, Raw, Authentic – Write.Me.Free

Writing is like breathing is like loving is like mothering is like exhaling is like speaking (out) is like dancing is like exploring is like living. It’s like freedom. That I must have. ‪#‎WriteMeFree

The Universe moves in such mysteriously correct ways. Over the past few weeks, She has sent me several messages that require that I listen.

I received the first message during a vacation to the Dominican Republic. My partner and I rented a condo at the beautiful Alsol Resort in Punta Cana. We spent time relaxing by the pool, partying with the local citizens at Carnaval, and attempting to navigate the country with our limited Spanish. Because much of Punta Cana caters to tourists, many of the restaurants lacked the authentic food that we craved. So we rented a car and drove to Santo Domingo where we enjoyed asopao de camarones, arroz con pollo, mofongo, and asopao de pollo. We also spent time on the beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, and it was during the trip to Juanillo Beach that I felt renewed. I am not a swimmer – partially because I nearly drowned as a teen when a cousin tried to teach me to swim at a family reunion (in 10 feet of water) and partially because salt water, chlorine water, etc. burns my contacts when I have tried to swim – but after relaxing for a while with my face to the sun, I ventured into the water. With splashes of miniature waves hitting my breasts, an energy consumed me that I can only describe as the feeling I had when I was first dipped in a baptismal pool as a teenager. I started to cry and speak – reciting random poetry, narrating lines to the beginning of the book I’ve been writing in my head for quite some time. There was a spirit of newness surrounding me.

My eyes were watching God...

My eyes were watching God…

The second message came as I was researching information on substance abuse, and the phrase ‘self-silencing’ caught my attention. Self-silencing is a term used to describe people who suppress their feelings, thoughts, and needs…especially when doing so is an effort to protect others. For example, Flett, Besser, Hewitt, and Davis (2007) contended:

People high in self-silencing are self-sacrificing individuals who keep their distress to themselves in an attempt to maintain or improve interpersonal relationships. Their distress often takes the form of unexpressed anger (see Jack, 1999b, 2001). People high in self-silencing conceal their true feelings out of desires to maintain relationships and obtain the approval of significant others. (p. 1212)

Anger is not an emotion I experience often, but occasionally self-silencing leaves me disconnected and emotionally flat. Anger gives way to numbing indifference.

The third message came through Facebook. Scrolling through my timeline, I was stopped by a reposted blog on For Harriet’s page by Zakiya Brown. In the blog, Dancing to My Own Drum: How Embracing My Authentic Self Set Me Free, Brown wrote that the deaths of her mother and grandmother along with a move to a new state encouraged her desire to let her soul dance to music she selected. I identified with this post in so many ways. Although I have not encountered the losses that Brown has, I know the implications of faking good and dancing to music that doesn’t move my spirit.

For Black women, the intersection of self-silencing, self-sacrificing, and inauthentic living is a place of exhaustion where we become more susceptible to mental health issues. Yet, we view our strength as our defining characteristic, our badge of honor that masks any perceived weaknesses. We are Superwomen. This rationalization of the silent, sacrificial Superwoman makes being strong synonymous with quietly coping with hurdles that challenges our physical, emotional, and mental well-beings. [We are forever jumping hurdles.] Then as much as our resilience is our savior, it can also be our batterer. Finding the space to be resilient and vocal and authentic without being wholly sacrificial of ourselves can be a challenge. Lifelong internalization of using quiet strength while we mask our hurt takes great energy and support to unearth. But we have to engage in the process…

Bag lady you goin’ hurt your back/Draggin’ all ’em bags like that/I guess nobody ever told you/All you must hold on to/Is you, is you, is you… Each day has to be a process of putting down our bags and holding on to ourselves.

It is not that Black women have not been and are not strong; it is simply that this is only a part of our story, a dimension, just as the suffering is another dimension— one that has been most unnoticed and unattended to.   —bell hooks, Talking Back

We must talk back, write back. So I receive the messages that the Universe sent me and will address them the only way that I know how – to write. For too long, I’ve been a writer…that doesn’t write. I narrate the stories in my head but refrain from putting them on paper, on screen because that makes them real. That makes me visible. And to borrow Brown’s contention, I would be Open. Raw. Authentic. And that’s a scary feeling. I always have been an introvert, satisfied fading into the background. But like I was told during a conversation on tenure and the academy, “You have to put yourself out there. Your name should come up in these conversations.” That, too, is a scary feeling. Yet, no matter how frightening being open, raw, and authentic can be, the only other option is to remain in this space of numbing indifference. To remain in this space where I literally canNOT breathe, move, grow. A place where I canNOT live or be free. I must Write.Me.Free.