Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Audacity to Be Both Black and Great

As I sat in typical DC rush hour traffic this morning, my text message indicator went off. It was a message from a friend. No explanation; no pre-commentary. Just a Twitter post link. As I often do, I searched for a key word in the link before opening and saw the word "Diddy." I immediately said out loud, "Oh this is gonna be good" in a I-know-this-is-going-to-contain-some-foolery-as-only-Diddy-can-bring kind of good. And yet he did not disappoint, for there he was styled in a black suit with a full-length embellished cape flanked by long-time "boo thang" Cassie in her own head-turning, full-length black gown.

They could have sashayed down the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Gala's red carpet with an equal amount of showmanship as any of the other styled-too-death couples, except for one thing: Diddy took his entrance up a notch (and perhaps Cassie's down two) when he, as he said, "got tired," and decided to rest on the MET stairs. Now, I'm sure Diddy wasn't that tired. But you don't get to be a multi-millionaire celebrity without a few calculated, attention-grabbing moves along the way. And so the photo went viral, Twitter went crazy, and I lost at least two hours of my morning once I got to work laughing at the numerous memes that were created from his now iconic move. Initially, I admit, my first reaction was of annoyance, as Diddy is never short of being, as folks say, "extra." After all, this was THE premiere fashion event of the year. Who would dare show it any contempt?

As an alum of Howard University along with Diddy, I recall the great divide between alumni over his being asked to deliver the Commencement address back in 2014. Many who knew "Sean" personally during his school days thought his being asked was a fitting invitation marking all of their "come up" from school boy to certified "Bad Boy"; however, many of us who hold Commencement at "the Mecca" in high regard were not so excited, as we held our collective breath on whether or not he would leave his "extra" at the gate of the Yard. Let's just say that in the end, both sides of the debate got a little of what was expected: a crowning moment of achievement with a dash of "turn up." But again, this is--and probably always will be--Diddy. And upon further reflection, I'm okay with that.

You see, at the same time Diddy was setting Twitter ablaze, another topic was also trending: that of Baltimore Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones, who was berated by racist taunts at Fenway Park Monday night, while a bag of peanuts was thrown at him. Jones called it one of the worst cases of fan abuse he has heard in his career and, yet, he was doing nothing more than his job. And then my attention was pulled to a Washington Post article where African-American quadruplets, Nick, Nigel, Zach, and Aaron Wade, from Liberty Township, Ohio, announced their plans to attend Yale. It was an announcement many were awaiting, as the four had each gotten accepted into every Ivy League school they applied to, including Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, Stanford, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and Vanderbilt. 

Three examples of excellence in entertainment, sports, and academics on display in one day. And although most comments on social media outlets were positive (and hilarious), as usual, there were several where race was again front and center:

On Diddy: "Why are we like this??"

On Jones: "What I learned on twitter today: Negro's get offended if you throw peanuts at them!"

On the Wade Quad: "Notice how none of them are named Tyreek, Jaquiz, or LaTron."

And then I was reminded of something my mother always said: "Damned if you do; damned if you don't." Even if all you're doing is having the audacity to be your best self, there's always someone lurking in the shadows with criticism--even if that someone is our subconscious self. 

You see, what most in our community may be too shy to admit is that America's complex history has always created an internal conflict within us as well; a juxtaposition of sorts between us "doing too much" and being "acceptable to the masses." And because we've been both equally praised and ridiculed for our (often imitated) unique flair and execution of expression, we unconsciously find ourselves struggling between being who we are and being who "society" says we should be. For every time someone acts "too extra," we mentally cringe out of fear that their liberation somehow shackles our own progress. Don't be too loud. Don't be too expressive. Don't be too angry. Don't be too outspoken. Don't be too funny. Don't be too extra...lest we all be judged as being "too Black." 

Now, I'm not saying "carte blanche passes" should be given for any outlandish or offensive behavior, regardless of race. However, if wearing outfits of meat to awards shows and riding half clothed on wrecking balls can somehow be celebrated as "trendy," then we have the audacity to be both unique, Black, and "extra" without apology, fear, or explanation. There will always be someone with something to say, but as the most expressive artist of our current day, Kanye West, said, "I'd be worried if they said nothing." So, here's to all of us with the courage to stand in our greatness, however we choose to express it, whether we're slaying--or laying on--the red carpet, excelling academically, or hitting a home run. Zero cares given. No criticism needed. Thank you for noticing.

Photo credits: N/A

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