Dr. Maya Angelou once said: “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to the loneliness.”This is one of my favorite quotes because it rings so true to my life. Music is pretty much everything to me. I go to sleep and wake up to it in my ear. When I’m in situations where I cannot completely zone out with any device that releases the sounds of my favorite tunes, there is a song (sometimes a completely random one) playing in my head through memory. I don’t have any holy books that I turn to when in need of comfort; I have music. When no one else understands, there is a song that does. When no one knows the right thing to say, there is a song does. When I’m angry and prison doesn’t look appealing, there is a song that will take the sentence for me. When I’m happy and can’t express the elation, there is a song that can. Music is like that friend that continues to evolve but will always be there for you no matter what. When the verdict of not guilty was rendered to George Zimmerman after he fatally shot an unarmed seventeen year old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012; I did the only thing that I knew would help to ease some of the pain. I unplugged the sounds of the world and plugged my ears with music.
For the people who know me it may seem as if my musical world only consists of Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton. Honestly, those four artists do make up about 80 percent of my daily musical listening but I pretty much can and do listen to everything. And like most people who ‘stan’ for certain artists, I am often invited to certain social network groups dedicated to some of my favorites. Janet Jackson is my favorite artist and there are quite a few groups on Facebook that I belong to that displays their love for the legend daily. A day after the verdict was announced an old picture of Janet with a hoodie showed up in one of the groups with a message to the Martin family. However, there was one fan who wanted none of Trayvon’s dirt on Janet’s page.
This fan, whose profile and cover photo were of Janet, pulled out every stereotype that plagues young Black men today. She called Trayvon every kind of useless thug and barely stopped short of saying that he deserved what happened to him. I imagine she was short because other fans jumped in to shut her down quickly. I don’t know the race of this particular individual, but it has been through my experience that the comments that this person so confidently typed have been coming from non people of color 99% of the time. That an artist such as Janet Jackson, who basically put her own career on the line when she released the socially conscious Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, has fans like this was a little shocking to me. Now, I’m not so naïve to believe that the non people of color, or even some of the people of color, would understand some of the struggles that Janet still suffers as a Black woman because she has fame and money. I also don’t believe that because she has denounced racism in her songs before that everyone knows that racism goes beyond name calling and whatnot. As good as Janet has been tackling tough issues she has never gone as deep to highlight the ills of institutionalized racism or White privilege to a Jam and Lewis beat. But to see someone who seems to breathe everything Janet deny the humanity of someone whose reflection, for all intents and purposes, would somewhat resemble hers is very unsettling. It got me to thinking about Black celebrities and their place in society.
It’s no secret that even in Hollywood the treatment of people based on race is still unfair. Its obvious whenever Chris Brown is anywhere on television and the stale jokes of his past are strewn across social networks, while it is the exact opposite for someone like Charlie Sheen. This is not to excuse any behaviors of Brown but to merely point out the differences in treatment and perception of America in any situation. NBA legend Charles Barkley recently came out in support of the Zimmerman verdict and several questions immediately started flowing through my mind. Do people like Charles Barkley really feel that their entertainment skill outweighs how society perceives them even with their status? Could their talent have saved them if they were out that night and no one ‘recognized’ them? Does he not know that his indifference to the young boys that he was some years ago and still resembles is harmful? Success and fame didn’t save Forest Whitaker from being stopped in a store while he was shopping. Khaki’s and a polo shirt didn’t stop Henry Louis Gates from being escorted from his own home. Some people argue that class helps Black celebrities and I find that to be total nonsense. With that being said, here’s what’s really good.
When any Black star is out and about and looking ‘regular’ you can’t see their net worth, you only see a Black woman or man. It seems for many the fact that they can remind a Jay Z or Beyonce of their permanent hoodies is a favorite pastime. And they are always on the lookout and willing to give them the reminder.