Friday, January 31, 2014

A Spotify List of Songs That Have A Lot to Teach Us About Social Issues in America: Part 2

By T.M. Bonner

Today's blog continues highlighting and analyzing more of my picks for 10 of the best songs that have promoted forward thinking on persistent social issues in America. ( Read Part 1 Here!)

“I see ya payin' ya bills/I see ya workin' ya job/I see ya goin' to school/And girl I know it's hard/And even though ya fed up/With makin' beds up/Girl, keep ya head up/All My/B-A-B-Y-M-A-M-A/This goes out to all my baby mamas/I got love for all my baby mamas”(from “Baby Mama” by Fantasia) 
 The Song: “Baby Mama” (Performed by Fantasia/Written by Neely Dinkins, Neely, Vito Colapietro, Eugene Record, Barbara Acklin, and Harold Lilly)
The Song: “An Upbeat Black Girl’s Song” (Written and Performed by Thema Bryant-Davis)
The Social Issue: The Negative Portrayal of Minority Single Mothers and of African-American Women in General

Listen to the Songs on Spotify!

“Baby Mama” is nothing short of an anthem – a shout out to those women raising children as single mothers. The song tries to dispel some of the negativity that is directed at these single mothers by focusing on the sheer heroic strength and courage it takes for a single mother to ‘hold it down,’ so-to-speak, for her entire family.  
The term “baby mama” went from being a concept used within the African-American community to describe those in that particular situation to being co-opted by mainstream popular culture, where the catchy term is being used as a more socially-acceptable reference to any non-married woman with children, including celebrities. Ditto for “baby daddy.”
But Fantasia in her song is not talking to those single mothers. Instead, she is specifically reaching out to those single, minority mothers from poorer backgrounds who are still reviled daily in the media as lazy, useless, welfare leeches. It is those women for whom Fantasia (herself a struggling single mother before moving on to win American Idol), knows need that boost of encouragement and support – not Kim Kardasian.
“Baby Mama” will neither solve the problem of the break down in American families, nor the issue of absentee fathers. But it does ask us to reacquaint ourselves with one of the key elements of successful empowerment of people and communities facing difficulties and dysfunction: to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. For it is through the discovery and nurturing of our strengths that we are all able to discover our own power to change society, to overcome obstacles and improve our lives. It is the elixir for our spirits.  If anyone wants to know what such a strengths focus accomplished for Fantasia can just see for themselves during her current starring run on Broadway in After Midnight.
Going hand in hand with the issue of negative portrayals of minority and African-American single mothers is the extraordinarily powerful spoken word poem set to music that is called: “An Upbeat Black Girl’s Song.” Writer and Performer Thema Bryant-Davis asks “who will sing an upbeat black girl song?” to African-American women everywhere in a country and world bombarded by an almost robotic-like negative response to them and their presence in today’s society – no matter how educated or accomplished.
I have to admit that I am greatly influenced in this pick for my Social Issue Song List because I had the privilege of seeing Dr. Bryant-Davis, now an Associate Professor at Pepperdine University, perform this piece at an event in Boston several years ago. The entire room was moved to tears as this black woman told the contemporary story of African-American women’s struggles against negative stereotypes and perception. She held our hands through the power of her words, telling us symbolically that “we got this,” and we will triumph over these attempts to destroy if we can heed her advice. As Bryant says in her poem piece, the answer to “who will sing an upbeat black girl’s song?” is simply this: “we will sing it for ourselves.”
Bryant-Davis, who released the track on the Album “Sky: An Upbeat Black Girl’s Song” more than a decade ago, understands that the only viable solution to the problem of the proliferation of negative images about African-American women in society is for these same women to take control of their own images in the media and to stand up against false perpetuations of their character.
Racial and gender hierarchies in America are socially constructed to keep certain groups at the bottom and others at the top of the power and money game. The best way to accomplish this is to manipulate public opinion about certain groups of people by consistently flooding the media with negative images of them so that people will be reluctant to hire them, promote them, socialize with them, etc. Serena and Venus Williams to Oprah to First Lady Michelle Obama have been labeled as “angry,” having an “attitude problem” being “unprofessional,” or “ugly,” etc.  
I mean, who can forget the infamous 2008 cartoon cover of The New Yorker Magazine with Mrs. Obama sporting an Afro (i.e. “angry”) while holding an assault rifle and fist bumping Mr. Obama. The Obama campaign spent a good part of its first campaign for the presidency trying to dispel myths of Mrs. Obama (a Princeton and Harvard Law School graduate and healthcare executive) as being “angry,” “anti-American,” and “ugly.” 

The New Yorker Magazine Cover,  July 21, 2008
If “anger,” “attitude” and “ugliness” is what I need to rise from the hood of Compton to top tennis player in the world or from being a poor Mississippi child raised during segregation to becoming the only African-American female billionaire in the world, then where can I get those qualities?
But in all seriousness, we all can’t be Oprah and own our own OWN media cable channel, but we can certainly utilize inexpensive and egalitarian means via social media to promote truthful and positive images, as well as findings ways to become a more active voice in how we are characterized in the media. The road will not be swift or simple – especially considering that this campaign to dehumanize African-American women has been ongoing since slavery days.
But we must persevere. Bryant-Davis promises us that if we continue to sing for ourselves an upbeat black girl’s song, “the world will marvel at how long we hold our note.”

Album (not currently available on Spotify) can be purchased at
Song (kind of): The N-Word
The Social Issue: The campaign from some White Americans for the ‘privilege’ to say it again

 “The N-Word” is actually not a song, per se. But not only is it said a lot in many popular rap songs, and far too many non-blacks continue to itch to sing it in everyday conversations and public forums. For some strange reason, some white Americans wanted to know in increasing numbers in 2013 why can’t they say the N-word (around African-Americans), but African-Americans can?
That strange desire doesn’t seem to have disappeared in the infancy of 2014 either. Let’s give it up for Madonna (adopted mother of two African children, nonetheless) for starting 2014 off right by thinking it was okay to refer to her biological son (who is white) by the N-word in a January 17, 2014 Instagram post. Madonna seemed to attempt to absolve herself of perceived ill will by noting in a subsequent apology that she was referring to son, Rocco, who is white. But my concern is that a mother of two African children would think it is okay to have such a word spoken so casually from her mouth when that word has been used so maliciously to refer to people in America of the same descent as her adopted children.
The answer to this one will actually be posed here in the form of a question. Because what these people who just feel so disenfranchised by not being able to say the N-word around African-Americans whenever they want are really doing is asking: “why can’t I get permission to bring back to the overt environment the ability to call African-Americans that word without consequence?”  Trying to say that people who lead campaigns about ‘African-Americans-shouldn’t-be-able-to-say-the-word-either-then-if-i-can’t-say-it’ are concerned about the so-called damage that word creates in the black community is like trying to sell me on the earth being  flat. Read any message board comments for a story involving African-Americans (it could be a story about an African-American finding the cure for Cancer) and you will find hateful people letting out their buried desire to use the word by using it freely there in the last frontier of anonymous hatred – except with the veil of a computer screen instead of a white sheet over their heads.
That, my friends, is the real issue. It’s not some smokescreen issue about whether the word is healthy for even African-Americans to use in song or the difference in the way African-Americans use the word compared to the way white Americans have historically used the word against them. What’s next: White rappers freely referring to “N-words” in their songs with the excuse that its part of the rap genre? (don’t say I didn’t foretell this here).
So my question in response to that question from those feeling disenfranchised by not being able to openly using the N-word is this: why would any, and I mean ANY, White person in America even want to use that word in the presence of African-Americans, knowing how that word has been historically used by whites in America as acts of terrorism against African-Americans? And, how exactly will this advance race relations?
Any person bringing this ‘why-can’t-I-say-it’ whining to me will not find a forum. It will just be toodle-oo from me. Deal breaker. No you can’t and shouldn’t want to say it. Period. Now can we please move on?

Next: "1863" and "America"


T.M. Bonner is a writer, filmmaker, MBA, Social Justice Advocate, and is currently completing Graduate Studies in Social Policy/Social Service in New York City. 

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