[Ed. Note—The opinions expressed during this conversation reflect those of the participants and the participants only. This conversation does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Complex Media.]
City Guide's Lauretta Charlton and Julian Kimble tackle the most controversial headlines about race that made the news. This month's discussion focuses on Scandal, the possibility of the KKK "rebranding" itself, Pharrell's "New Black," and Homeboy Sandman's response to the Donald Sterling controversy.
[Scandal's third season came to an end this month. Despite its popularity, its status as a legitimately good show and the themes it sends to viewers are in question. Specifically, should the Olivia Pope character actually be considered a role model?]
Julian: So tell me something, Lauretta. Are you a fan of Scandal?
Lauretta: Is this a trick question? Because my mind is telling me no, but my body is telling me yes. It's so hard to deny how gripping the show is, but I realize it's bad television.
Julian: Since we're using R. Kelly references, why is Scandal calling your body?
Lauretta: Well it's got some salacious sex scenes, for one.
Julian: For network TV, yes.
Lauretta: Right. A softer Cinemax.
Julian: Eh, maybe not, but they certainly don't pull any punches. It's what I'd call a "good bad show."
Lauretta: Other examples? Revenge. Also a good bad show.
Julian: Exactly, ABC's 2-2.
Lauretta: Okay, but why is Scandal the good-bad show #blacktwitter loves?
Julian: That's a phenomenon I've been trying to get to the root of for about a year. Part of it has to do with the obvious swirl affair that's a huge part of the show's plot.
Lauretta: Is it not the show? I mean, I feel like being a gladiator baaaaasically means swirling.
Julian: Also, the main character is a black woman in a position of authority, so that's a positive.
Lauretta: True, but the underlying message is, to be the ultimate gladiator you need to sleep with the president. And in good-bad TV land, the president is white. Are black women to aspire to be like Olivia Pope? I don't want to be a gladiator.
Is Olivia Pope a heroine to some, yes? But is she, a black woman, also a white man's side bitch and possible forbidden fantasy attained? I believe so.
Julian: There's also the "slave master who was dipping his pen in the sweet black pussy because his frigid wife is wack" thing.
Lauretta: ZOMG JK WENT THERE! I#&*KUIHDS>KHDFJWSBF.
Julian: You know I don't give a shit. That's what people don't seem to get. Well, some people.
Lauretta: Do you think that trope is lost on most people?
Julian: Is Olivia Pope a heroine to some, yes? But is she, a black woman, also a white man's side bitch and possible forbidden fantasy attained? I believe so.
Lauretta: Do you think Shonda Rhimes is blatantly challenging us to make those connections?
Julian: Possibly, but I also think the writers love to solve everything through Deus ex Machina so black twitter can pollute my timeline on Thursday nights. As a black woman, how do you feel about this supposed "heroine" being the president's "side bitch?"
Lauretta: I think that the show portrays black women as objects that need to be tamed and discarded as the master sees fit. That is basically the plot of Scandal to me. Would you agree?
Julian: To some effect, yes. Here's the thing that gets me about Twitter and how active it gets during Scandal: I see a bevy of side bitches chiding Olivia Pope for being a side bitch and I'm like, at least she's fucking the president. She aimed about as high as you can go.
Julian: Wait a minute, I got it—Scandal is popular with some because it's therapeutic.
Julian: It allows some people to project their self-loathing onto a fictional character and describe how they feel about themselves when talking about someone who isn't real.
Lauretta: These are willful observers and if they decide that they want to be like Olivia Pope/be a side bitch to a man (regardless of race or position), so be it.
Julian: Well Scandal, though somewhat wide in reach, definitely panders to the lowest common denominator.
Lauretta: That's on them.
Julian: To me, it's a basic-ass show.
Lauretta: It has been written: Scandal is a basic-ass show according to Julian Kimble. LOL. But don't you think it's a rung above Basketball Wives? I do.
Julian: Right there with Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives and Love & Hip-Hop. Yes, because those programs—specifically the last two—have the lowest common denominator in their crosshairs. But unlike those other shows, it doesn't target the lowest common denominator. I watch enough of these shows to know what kind of beasts they are.
Lauretta: The idea that television producers see these people as "targets" is troubling.
Julian: People are products, and that's nothing new.
Julian: I'm not gonna sit here and act holier than thou, because I've watched all of these shows. I like looking at Draya as much as the next dude does (no bullshit), but after about 10 minutes, I'm like "the fuck am I watching this shit for?!" No disrespect to Mona Scott-Young, get paid, but think about why these shows are successful: It's black people fighting on TV. Mob mentality which, in some part, is what black Twitter is all about.
Lauretta: Right. It's a good-bad show, but the fact that people are aspiring to be a bad bitch a la Olivia Pope, which translates to side-bitch, is not a good look, black Twitter.
Julian: It's the playground and you have to fight your way to respect or be forever ridiculed. Also, what's the difference between Olivia Pope and the next fledgling rapper's side bitch? Oh, she's a white man's plaything. Speaking of white men, the KKK wants to change its face.
[In the wake of known white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller's murder of three people at two separate Kansas Jewish institutions the day before the beginning of Passover, the KKK now somehow seeks to "rebrand" itself.]
Lauretta: The KKK is trying to get into the marketing game, yo.
Julian: Interesting that CNN took the time to entertain that thought.
Julian: I mean, how realistic is that?
Lauretta: I'm gonna go with not at all.
Julian: They can want to distance themselves from Frazier Glenn Miller all they want, they still are who they are. The KKK is and always has been about hate. Call it "racial separation" if you want, you're upholding racist ideologies.
Lauretta: So true. But the neighborhood watch situation is kind of funny.
Julian: The idea of the KKK keeping anyone safe is ridiculous. It's laughable, but then again it isn't.
Lauretta: Well if you're talking about keeping people safe from swirling, then in that case, they have done a pretty good job.
Julian: You think so? Well, maybe in that regard. What could possibly be comforting about that flyer?
Lauretta: Well, for one, I think the underlying message is "We are alive and well." We are in your neighborhood and we want you to know you can reach out to us.
Julian: In other words, racism is alive and well, and available to assist like-minded individuals if need be.
Lauretta: Exactly. The fact that they are making their presence known in the "Yankee territory" is rather alarming to people who are racist, but for people who are closeted racists, I bet it's comforting.
Julian: Yeah, it's like "We've got allies."
Lauretta: "You're not alone. If you think young black men are robbing our white homes, we are here. Call us."
Julian: "We know you're scared, but so are we. Let's be afraid together."
Lauretta: LOL. Obviously, they don't want to admit that most of the people who have used the number on the flyer are saying the police aren't actually doing enough to fight crime. Naturally, the people who call the KKK don't believe law enforcement is doing enough to crack down on black people infiltrating white neighborhoods. That's my takeaway from the KKK neighborhood watch.
Julian: Justification for taking matters into their own hands.
Lauretta: Historically, it's always been a vigilante organization. The people who are calling would prefer NOT to work within the confines of law. It's scary. And it speaks to what happened in Kansas as well. That guy went rogue, but at the same time, he is a grand lizard or whatever. He founded a chapter. He obviously knows the culture.
Julian: You know what's really troubling about that? None of the people he killed were even Jewish.
Lauretta: Yes. That's completely fucked up.
Julian: Just like luring a black male prostitute into sex in hope of attacking him later. Of course the KKK wants to distance itself from him, he allegedly snitched on other white supremacists for a more lenient sentence. The law was like, "Ok, we'll amend your sentence if you roll over on your people." This guy did not belong on the street.
Lauretta: Speaking of rolling over your people, what's up with this right here: Black People Are Cowards.
[Audio footage of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his then-girlfriend—who is African-American and Mexican—that he didn't want her bringing blacks to "his" games. The story has been everywhere since the news broke, and Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman shared his thoughts on the saga with a Gawker essay titled "Black People Are Cowards." Sterling has since been banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million.]
Julian: Oy. Well, that headline is like 200% troll. In other words, the Gawker Special.
Julian: What was your knee-jerk reaction to Homeboy Sandman's take on the Donald Sterling saga and black people's response—or non-response—to it?
Lauretta: Well once I get beyond all of the trolling language, I still think it's ridiculous. All the rubbish about aliens invading the earth and who you want to be there with you....The fact that the writer implies he wouldn't want to be with black people makes me think a white person wrote this. You know no black person is going to say they want to be surrounded by white people in the event of an alien invasion. FOH.
Julian: I'm also not here for Twitter activism and people flying the flag for a cause because it's "fashionable to care," but this is absurd. It came off like one huge troll mission. He took the long way home to say "people are cowards."
Julian: But the headline and the bulk of the essay harp on how black people are cowards and uses the Clippers' response to Donald Sterling as an excuse to do that, all just to criticize humans across the board in the end. You could argue that it was cowardly for Homeboy to write the essay and cowardly of Gawker to publish it. Everyone can always sit back, play Monday Morning Quarterback and wax poetic about what should've been done. Here's another thing: If you only have a fundamental understanding of something, sit out all arguments on the matter. His assertion that if every NBA player refused to play until Donald Sterling "resigned" is ridiculous, because I'm not certain what Sterling—the owner of the team—would have resigned from. He'd have to sell the team, which is what [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver is urging other owners to vote in favor of, and he'd make a killing from it.
The players sitting out a playoff game and getting fined as a result wouldn't have accomplished much. It was up to the league to deal with Sterling accordingly, and Silver did as much as he could to punish a ridiculously wealthy 80-year-old bigot. Donald Sterling wasn't their boss—they play for the NBA, not him. So you can't make the weak-ass "If you go to work the day after finding out your boss is a racist, you're a coward" argument.
In general, I think our attention spans are too short to let these kinds of injustices really get under our skin for long enough to do something about it.
Lauretta: I agree. I understand why this guy is upset, and I understand that we should all do more. But it's not cowardice or shame that's the problem.
Julian: Right, I get where he's coming from, but his argument is flawed.
Lauretta: For some people, not revolting is a matter of life and death. Putting food on the table. Like you said, it's very easy to make these lofty pronouncements about how to make things better when you have a record deal and a sweet apartment. It's not so easy when you're a single mother living on welfare raising four children. I agree that boycotts work, though. To some degree, the piss has been taken out of US, and by that I do not mean black people. In general, I think our attention spans are too short to let these kinds of injustices really get under our skin for long enough to do something about it. I like that he mentions the film Network, which is one of my favorites. Classic cinema. Way ahead of its time and still very relevant today.
Julian: Ironically, they use the "Mad as hell" scene at basketball games.
Julian: Call to arms.
Lauretta: But as soon as people turn off their computer or TV, it's like nothing ever happened. We all suffer quietly.
Julian: I agree. People get fake mad about something for five minutes, then go right back to their regularly scheduled lives.
Julian: But sometimes, that support backfires. Remember Jena 6?
Julian: Still, I think knee-jerk reactions to all of this are the wrong way to go. Donald Sterling, who's been known as a racist asshole for years, ended up receiving the most severe punishment the league could give him, so calling the Clippers' players—and black people in general—cowards for clicks ultimately solved nothing.
Lauretta: Well said.
Julian: So, do you think the notion of the "New Black" is cowardly?
[During a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, Pharrell described himself as "the New Black." "The 'New Black' doesn’t blame other races for our issues," he explained. "The 'new black' dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality. And it’s either going to work for you, or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re gonna be on." His words have since been picked apart.]
Lauretta: I do. I think it's shortsighted.
Julian: I'll put it like this: I don't think Pharrell is saying institutional or systemic racism don't exist. I think he's trying to say that we, as blacks, shouldn't let it defeat us. At least, I hope that's what he's getting at, because his "New Black" definition certainly could've been better articulated. I'd also say that it's one person's opinion. Just like Questlove's opinion regarding how hip-hop failing black America is one he's entitled to, this is Pharrell's, and Pharrell has always been an outlier. Everyone criticizing him should also remember that his opinion has about as much power as you assign it.
Lauretta: Anytime anyone makes a pronouncement about an entire race, I just smh. The "New Black." The fuck is that? I am entirely part of the legacy of the old black. And I'm proud of that. Don't take that away from me, Pharrell!
Julian: Dude, there's only one black. End of discussion.
Lauretta: EXACTLY. One black. One love.
Julian: New Black, old black...Donald Sterling sees them as the same, so whatever. If Pharrell believes that people shouldn't let adversity defeat them, I agree. But I don't think he's a "disconnected black man" blinded by his privilege. He's weird and always has been. And that—and his talent—have made him who and what he is. This is the same dude who rapped "Identity crisis, they scrunched they facial/How we both black and our kid is biracial?" about his parents confusion over his behavior as a youth. That no doubt resonated with a lot of people who felt the same way. We have to remember that P is who he is, but his opinion shouldn't be taken as law. You have to know when and where to draw the line with people.
Lauretta: My problem is, he didn't know better. You shouldn't make that kind of statement when you're a celebrity. Them's the breaks. When you're a celebrity, you receive more attention and I believe you have more responsibility to not make these types of mistakes. Speak for yourself. Don't speak for your race.
Julian: I think he is speaking for himself. He's the "New Black"...in his mind. His first solo album was called In My Mind. He's in his own world.
When you're a celebrity, you receive more attention and I believe you have more responsibility to not make these types of mistakes. Speak for yourself. Don't speak for your race. Period.
Lauretta: He's Pharrell. And he happens to be black. Do you, but leave blackness out of it. Struggling against adversity has ALWAYS been black. Not letting racism and injustice prevent you from striving for success has always been a black thing. It's not new. By calling for a "new black," I think he created an unnecessary divide when the last thing black people need at the moment is to be more fractured and more divided.
Julian: I don't think there's really a divide though, because he, like you and me, are the same black regardless of how he chooses to define race for himself or anyone else. I can't tell the dickhead cop who pulls me over, "It's ok, officer. I'm the New Black. Let my elite ass go."
Lauretta: So you think he was just posturing for Oprah?
Julian: I can't call it, but a better choice of words was necessary. Maybe he wants to be create a new Talented Tenth, but if that's the case, he should express it properly. If you're gonna go there, you should be as articulate and clear as possible.