For this week, we talk about the new track from Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, get excited about the upcoming biographical drama about Fred Hampton, offer a couple culture recommendations, and reflect on the resonance Kamala Harris has for islanders.
This week’s culture conversation: ‘WAP’
Brandon: We have to talk about Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP.” Sorry, I don’t make the rules!
Leah: Brandon, there’s truly nothing I want more. Where to begin!
B: Well, to start, hit me with your first impressions.
L: What I think hit me the most was how incredible it felt to hear and see these two Black women just completely own their bodies and sexuality. I gasped! Too often, Black women, especially, are sexualized by the male gaze. But there aren’t even any men in the video. It’s purely on their own terms. Ugh! I love it. What did you think?
B: I agree with everything you just said. It’s probably safe to say that this song and its video are a love letter to Black women’s pleasure and Black sisterhood – I gay-gasped when I saw Normani.
Also, on Twitter, the writer Roxane Gay pointed out the homage to Beyoncé in the video’s opening. There’s just so much to delight in!
Unsurprisingly, though, there have been some detractors …
L: Oh, the detractors. I saw a couple. One was the California politician James P. Bradley, who said that he heard the song “accidentally” (huh?) and that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are “what happens when children are raised without God and without a strong father figure.” The far-right commentator Ben Shapiro also had some thoughts.
These reactions just show how Black women continue to be policed … even when they try to exist outside of all that. I mean, where was that energy for literally any other sexually explicit song by men?
Also, let’s not pretend that there isn’t a long history of policing and controlling Black bodies in America.
B: Right, I’d argue that the conservative outrage is revealing. It seems like it’s less about sex than about who gets to enjoy or talk about sex. When men talk about sex, they can take refuge in: Locker room talk! Boys will be boys!
But when women, especially Black women, talk about sex – let alone, my goodness, enjoying sex – the criticism is immediate. They’re bucking prevailing power dynamics.
Actually, this last point just made me think of one of the themes of “Hustlers:” that women, too, revel in power and pleasure. For some people, though, that’s all too much.
Something to look forward to: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’
Why we’re excited: “Judas and the Black Messiah” is an upcoming movie about the 1969 assassination of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Starring Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya, both of whom are incredibly talented actors (remember “Get Out”?), the film looks like a fascinating – not to mention timely – portrayal of an underappreciated civil rights leader.
Recommended for your eyes and ears
Brandon recommends: ‘Didn’t They Almost Have It All?’ by Niela Orr
To know me is to know that I adore – ADORE – Whitney Houston. She’s a much more complicated text than people think: a Black trailblazer, a gay icon, a pop/R&B sensation, a feeling – The Voice.
In honor of Houston’s birthday, which was on Sunday, Niela Orr wrote a gorgeous piece for The Believer magazine that explores Black womanhood via Houston’s sometimes intimate relationship with Robyn Crawford, who was the singer’s best friend and assistant.
Called “Didn’t They Almost Have It All?” – you get the reference, surely – the story revisits Crawford’s 2019 memoir, looking at how the book is “a marvelous document of the closet, of bi-erasure, romantic longing, unrequited love, queer subtext, and textual elusiveness.”
These are all sensitive themes, especially since Houston herself rejected speculation that she was anything other than straight. But Orr handles them with care, and fits Houston and Crawford into the very rich canon of Black female friendship. At one point, she compares the pair with characters in Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel “Sula,” about two young Black women.
Orr observes: “Whitney and Robyn are inextricably bound from the beginning, and, like Sula and Nel, ‘their friendship was as intense as it was sudden. They found relief in each other’s personality.’ “
I implore you to read Orr’s essay – and return to some of your favorite Houston tracks while you’re at it.
Leah recommends: Ziwe Fumudoh’s Instagram Live show
Every Thursday at 8 p.m. EST, the comedian Ziwe Fumudoh hilariously interviews various guests on Instagram Live about race. Their blatant squirming has become the best part of my week.
Possibly her most famous guest has been Alison Roman, who was recently widely criticized – so much so that her New York Times column has been put on hold – for her appropriation of cuisines and her put-downs of Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo.
“Can you name five Asian people?” Ziwe asks, and Roman stumbles. What did you do to diversify your workplace while at Bon Appetit, Ziwe questions, and Roman answers honestly: nothing.
(I will say that, at least on the surface, Roman has tried to acknowledge her wrongs and use her platform to lift up Black voices and businesses.)
The aim of the show isn’t to make fun of Roman or any guest – though, for sure, the interviews can be hilarious. It’s really just to show how unconscious biases can come up so easily in conversation, Ziwe has said.
And they do. For example, when Ziwe asks Roman how many Black friends she has, she begins to define what a “friend” is, explaining that she has four or five Black friends who would pick her up from the airport, but there are, of course, other Black people she’s friendly with.
Ziwe can’t contain her laughter – seemingly to Roman’s oblivion. “Do your Black friends know you treat them like objects?” Ziwe asks, bluntly, before moving onto the next question.
That line made me cackle. But then it made me think. And that’s what Ziwe’s show does best.
Around the office
CNN’s Fredreka Schouten analyzes Kamala Harris’ Jamaican side and what it means to islanders to see that kind of representation on a major party’s presidential ticket.
Schouten writes: “Walker-Huntington is among the legions of Jamaican immigrants in Florida, for whom the California senator’s multi-hyphenated background is a source of pride. If elected, Harris – the daughter of two immigrants – would become the nation’s first Black vice president, the first female vice president, the first Indian-American and the first Jamaican-American to ascend to the office.”