Tag Archives: representation

Frank Ocean (and Malcolm X) read disrespectfully

Two things about my bias on the topic of Frank Ocean fighting Chris Brown:

1.  I’ve been on team Frank Ocean for a while.

2. I think Chris Brown is a douchebag.


Thanks to missinfo.tv for the nice graphic.

In the days following the fight between Frank Ocean and Chris Brown a lot of discussion about both of the artists were made visible in the commentary about the fight.  One of the most interesting to me is the January 28 MissInfo report on the disagreement.  Shortly after this post appeared, Frank Ocean chose not to press charges and forgave Chris Brown, but for a day in January 2013, the hip hop world thought Frank Ocean was snitching.  When the reports came out that Frank Ocean was going to press charges, MissInfo authored a funny send up of the New York Post’s coverage and added her own humorous image seen above.

It is worth taking time to talk about Missinfo’s choice of representation.  I assume that this graphic suggests that Frank Ocean took it too far — fighting for a parking space.  A tactic to minimize the significance of the violence and in particular associate the violence with the parking space rather than . . . say . . . anti-gay slurs.  MissInfo explains why she asked her friend to make the parody image of Frank Ocean as Malcolm X:

At least that hogwash about this being a “hate crime” got kiboshed. That would have been absurd. Correction…more absurd. This whole thing is already all the way Absurdistan.

In reaction to the story, I asked my buddy Phil to create a parody-homage for my instagram.

via MissInfo.tv » Frank Ocean Wants To Press Charges Against Chris Brown, Says L.A. Sheriff.

The image of Malcolm X has such an amazing history — it was taken during the under-discussed late years of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz where he was actively struggling with the Nation of Islam and building a new organization all while under heavy government surveillance.  Death threats, shootings and the 1965 firebombing of his house (almost killing his family) are necessary context for this image itself.  Separate the visual from the history or context and it becomes malleable, able to be bent to the representation at hand.

(I wonder if MissInfo thinks that the armed Malcolm X is absurd, or is this just one more heavily armed person taking it too far and fighting over a parking space?  If it is Malcolm X in this parody — reduced to someone who is a stand-in for armed extremist then we cut out a serious political history — sanitizing Shabazz.  If this is a comparison intended to mock Frank Ocean’s choice to press charges — in essence anchoring the act of violence to the parking space.  “Defend your parking space.” then the seriousness of Malcolm X is used to trivialize Frank Ocean.)

Today’s lengthy piece on Frank Ocean in the New York Times magazine gives a slightly more journalistic edge to the history between Chris Brown and Frank Ocean.

A feud with the notoriously violent and thin-skinned singer Chris Brown began on Twitter in June 2011 and included a couple of Brown’s associates following Ocean’s car after he left a studio. They posted footage of their interaction — the cars side by side, threats being hollered through open windows — to Worldstar Hip-Hop, a Web site that does many things but mostly hosts videos of fights. Ocean made an oblique mention of that situation when we were together, but I thought it was over. Then last month, the feud boiled over again, with conflicting reports that agreed on one thing: There had been an altercation between Ocean and Brown and a few other people on the street in Santa Monica.

via Frank Ocean Can Fly – NYTimes.com.

I’m pretty sure that last sentence is the best the New York Times editors feel safe releasing — without knowing more they don’t make a claim about what caused or what happened.

TMZ got a copy of the police report, and we get a slightly more direct choice of representations here.

Our Investigation revealed Victim Breaux, a music artist also known as Frank Ocean, was battered by Suspects Brown, Omololu, and Glass due to an apparent argument over a parking space.

The victim was initially uncooperative and did not want to give any details of the fight at the location of the incident, except for saying that he was assaulted.  The victim also refused any medical treatment for a cut to his right index finger and minor cut on his left temple.  The victim went to Cedars Sinai Hospital on his own and agreed to talk to us once at the hospital.  Therefore no arrests were made at the time of this report.

Once at the hospital, the victim told us Suspect Brown, also a music artist, was parked in the victim’s assigned parking spot at Westlake Recording Studios.  he walked to Suspect Brown in the lobby of the Studio and told Suspect Brown that he was parked in his parking spot.  Suddenly, Suspect Brown punched the victim on the side of his face.  Thereafter, suspects Omololu and Glass jumped in to help Suspect Brown beat the victim.  The victim fought back to defend himself as all three suspects pushed him into a corner and attempted to kick him while on the ground.  The entire fight lasted 1 to 2 minutes.  The victim believes he might have heard someone yell, “faggot!” but was unsure, who if anyone, made the statement.  After the beating, Suspect Brown said, “We can bust on you to! “Bust” is a slang term sued on the street to mean shoot.  The three suspects left the studio in an unknown direction.


There is a lot in this segment of the police report to contrast against MissInfo arguments.  Layer the police report against her choice of language to describe the fight.

Late last night, our worlds were rocked by the outbreak of violence between two sweet R&B crooners, Chris Brown, of the Greenish-Yellow Locks Vs. Frank Ocean, of The Exotic Headband. The two bumped heads (and a finger) after an argument in the parking lot of the Westlake recording studio. There were reports that Frank was upset over Chris parking in his space, and that Chris was blocked from driving off, and that Chris attempted a handshake, but then the scuffle popped off between the stars and their crews…and then doves cried.

via MissInfo.tv » Frank Ocean Wants To Press Charges Against Chris Brown, Says L.A. Sheriff.

There is a sexualized tone to her trivializing writeup in the choice of “sweet,” “bumped heads,” and “doves cried,”  to describe the fight.  And of course the notion that the fight is about the parking space instead of perhaps the long-standing disagreement that the New York Times was unable to uncover, or the refusal of the offered hand shake.  (I dunno, would you shake Chris Brown’s hand?)

Mostly MissInfo is enforcing — quite effectively — the ideology of no snitching.  She writes: “Frank Ocean doesn’t care about your silly “code of the streets”…He wants JUSTICE!”

And the funny part of this is that Frank Ocean has embodied the same code.  The police report makes this clear: “The victim was initially uncooperative and did not want to give any details of the fight at the location of the incident, except for saying that he was assaulted.”

And regardless of the cultural impact the fight and the representation present in MissInfo’s blog, Frank Ocean never did actually press charges.  Not only does he stand firmly with the wave of no snitching, but he recognized the intense negative public relations effects of being the person who testified sending Chris Brown to prison would have on his career.

Isn’t that how abusers often get away?  Relying on the fact that it sucks for any survivor of violence to have to deal with the police and courts.  It is totally unfair to suggest that it is Frank Ocean’s responsibility to press charges. I don’t know and can’t begin to judge.  But I can be sympathetic to the forces at work triggered by this sublime moment of violence.  And I suspect that most people would do the same thing — and like any other survivor of violence whose perpetrator is not in any way accountable — live with the conflicted reality of that choice.

As an anti-violence educator, I always make clear that the choice of violence is in the hands of the person being violent.  You don’t blame domestic abuse on survivors of domestic abusers.  The choice and responsibility for violence is solely — and intensely on the shoulders of those who choose violence.

It might seem like nit-picking, but I think it is fruitful to look at this one moment and the choices of this one hip hop intellectual (MissInfo) in her choices in telling the story of this fight.


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Filed under communication, Gay, hip hop, juxtaposition, media, music, police, propaganda, representation

Reconstruction panic/Django and Sean Price: representations of black masculinity

There is a particular part of the press conversations about the new film Django Unchained that bothers me.  I guess it feels like the indignation about the portrayal of the so-called racism of the film.  In this particular time, marked by the re-election of Barack Obama, it seems like people with white privilege have taken notice of the actual reality of racism but only because of the perceived loss of power.  We could note the famous Bill O’Reilly Fox News white privilege breakdown AKA “the white establishment is now the minority” rant:

I actually think O’Reilly’s speech is pretty transparent, in that it communicates the loss of explicit — assumed solidarity between white women and a white candidate.  O’Reilly makes clear the idea of white privilege as a club — a team of support of care and compassion extended, in his view, between members of the same race.  This absurd idea of compassion and solidarity is at the heart of racism and exactly how people can simultaneously be incredibly violent and exclusionary to people and still imagine themselves as caring people.

We might think about the time period known as Reconstruction — after the Civil War.  James Loewen, a professor of History at UVM who wrote the wonderful book Lies my teacher taught me which gathers up the worst distortions of US History text books.  Here he talks about the fundamental flaws about our understandings of Reconstruction and the implications on self-consciousness:

LOEWEN: I taught for many years at Tougaloo College, a college in Mississippi that is predominantly African-American. Then I moved to the University of Vermont, so I went from the blackest to the whitest college in America. When I was at Tougaloo, I was distraught by the fact that my students believed the following myth about Reconstruction. They believed that Reconstruction was that time period when blacks took over the government of the Southern states right after the Civil War, but they were too soon out of slavery, and so they messed up and whites had to take control again. Now, that’s a terrible misstatement of what happened in Reconstruction. For one thing, the Southern states were governed by a black-white coalition led by whites; they did not go under black control. For another thing, many of the Southern states, particularly Mississippi, had good government during Reconstruction. In Mississippi the state government during that time period started the public schools for both races, whites as well as blacks, wrote a terrific new constitution and did other things.

I thought, what must it do to people to believe erroneously that the one time that they were on the center stage of history in the American past they messed up? What does that do to your self-concept? So I looked into how had my students learned this. Why did they believe it? And Tougaloo was a good college, is a good college. They had learned what was in their high school state history books, so I put together a coalition of students and faculty, and we wrote a new history of Mississippi called “Mississippi: Conflict and Change.” The state rejected it for public school use, and it’s another story but we actually took them to court about that and won a First Amendment victory.

via Booknotes :: Watch.

I listened to the NPR audio interview with the director of the film, Quentin Tarantino, and the questions posed to Tarantino about the racism of the use of the N-word seemed so similar to the arguments about reconstruction.  It seems like the simplistic portrayal of racism — the idea that the offensive part about racism is the expression of the word rather than the systematic exploitation and oppression of a group of people for 500 years.  I can’t find the interview, but this gives you some taste of the NPR take on things.

“Django Unchained” not only plunges Tarantino back into the racially sensitive territory that has brought him criticism in the past, it essentially explodes it. The n-word is used more than 100 times in the film. Two especially violent scenes of slavery — one a Mandingo brawl, the other involving a dog — even Tarantino calls “traumatizing.”

It’s a revenge fantasy that, depending on your perspective, makes this either the rare film to honestly present the ugliness of slavery, or one that treats atrocity as a backdrop for genre movie irreverence. It’s probably both.

“If the only purpose of this movie was to make a shocking expose about slavery … that would be well and good. You could definitely do that,” says Tarantino. “But this movie wants to be a little more than just that.”

via Tarantino Unchained: Quentin Unleashes ‘Django’ : NPR.

It seems to me that this time period of heightened white anxiety over the displacement of power, so clearly represented in the racist O’Reilly rant, one modern thread is the bogus fear that a rising tide of revenge-prone people of color will come to presumably kick white people’s ass and take their stuff.  What I’m calling reconstruction panic.

I guess the NPR tsk-tsk of Quentin Tarantino seems similar.  I feel like they are suggesting that it isn’t acceptable to represent aggressive black violence against white racists, and it is certainly not okay to make a fictional film about it that uses the N-word.

Both the NPR response to Django and the O’Reilly segment present a kind of problem with the representation of threatening men of color.  Which brings us to Sean Price.

For those who don’t know, Sean Price is one of the best rappers in the United States.  At various points he raps with his partner Rock as Heltah Skeltah, sometimes he raps with a larger crew of emcees as the Boot Camp Clik.  Any verse you hear from him will be talented and probably contain something offensive.

His newest album Mic Tyson — exemplifies the double entendre word play and aggressive tough-guy rhymes that makes Sean Price so appreciated.  It goes without saying that the rhymes are so strong that I don’t tend to share my appreciation with Sean with anyone else other than with rap fans.  I like that Sean Price has rhymed with the same genuinely clever anti-social style since he was a teenager.  I buy everything he releases simply because he is that good. I don’t need him to get with the hottest beat makers.  And I don’t need him to have a collaboration with a current emcee.  All I need is that he continues to make really good rhymes and I’ll keep buying the records.

So if one is, lets say, like Sean Price a large black man — is there any way to soften one’s image to make the incredibly talented rhymes that you write be appreciated and for you to get paid?

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Filed under art, colonialism, communication, cultural appropriation, juxtaposition, learning, race, representation, slavery

Neil deGrasse Tyson and representation of race

Insightful story from Dr. Tyson.  Representation. Representation. Representation.


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Filed under cultural appropriation, human rights, race, representation

Cultural assimilation vs. Marketing: the Nike Black and Tan edition

Thanks to kicksonfire for the image.

Nike’s new shoe, the Black and Tan, has been released presumably to take advantage of St. Patrick’s day drinking/marketing opportunities.  Whoops.  Turns out that the Black and Tan is a sour brand in Ireland because of the hated military/police group which murdered and terrorized civilians during the early twenties.

The Black and Tans were a colonial army recruited from England ostensibly to police the people of Ireland.  The lack of oversight and genuine racism in the face of a guerrilla uprising led to a terrible disdain for civilians.  The roughshod police force (their name is a reference to the haphazard uniforms of the unit) was almost 7-10,000 strong and recruited from former World War I veterans.

In retaliation for attacks on police forces, the Black and Tans attacked civilians, burned homes and businesses and in one case refused an entire village food.  Consider the documentary The Burning of Cork.

The Nike marketing error is evidence of the smooth appropriation transforming actual Irish history into a bizarre tourist narrative emphasizing drinking, leprechauns, and Irish-affiliated brands.  These tourist realities corrode against the actual history of Sinn Fein, Home Rule, and the bodily struggles associated with Irish Nationalism.

The assumption of Nike, that their party, party, party language was the universal meaning points to a kind of linguistic arrogance. NPR’s Melissa Block and Robert Siegel interviewed Brian Boyd of the Irish Times on the Nike apology.

BLOCK: Now, Nike has released a statement saying: We apologize, no offense was intended. At the same time, Nike says the sneaker has been, quote, unofficially named by some as the Black and Tan.

SIEGEL: That said, if you look inside the shoe – as we have done with online photos – you see an image of a pint of beer with two colors, black and tan.

BLOCK: Brian Boyd of The Irish Times has reported on some outrage over the shoe. But really, he says, it’s not about a shoe. It’s about a holiday.

BOYD: It’s how the Americans view Saint Patrick’s Day and view Irish culture and history. And it’s the very fact that some people are saying that these are beer-themed sneakers, that the only way to celebrate a national holiday of a country with a very rich culture and a very rich history and literature, et cetera, is to pour massive amounts of alcohol down your body.

It’s how the American treat St. Patrick’s Day. So we’re using this story to say, look, it’s the silly Americans, stupid Americans, look what they’re doing again. They’ve got it all wrong.

via Nike Kicks Up Controversy With ‘Black And Tan’ Shoes : NPR.

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Filed under capitalism, colonialism, communication, human rights, juxtaposition, learning, police, propaganda, protest, representation, resistance