‘And to a world sick with racism’: Can Sex(y) Sell Social Justice For Black People?

The other day I was taking my walk. Just the same as I always do when I’m out — four times per week, three miles per trip, I had my ipod nano with me on shuffle. Near the end of my routine, one of the tracks from the megastar Janet Jackson played. The track is from the album Janet — a CD a good friend of mine bought me as a Christmas gift when it was first released back in 1992. Or was it ’93? Either way, I still have it, and for the past 20 years as you can imagine, I’ve heard it numerous times. But strange as it may seem, what stood out to me after all of this time was a track about racism — titled Racism — a nine second, 9-word interlude to a quite powerful song about the turning tide, social progression and ‘New Agenda’ for African American women in this country (all that we’ve been through): I’ve embedded the track below, as well as added its text underneath:

Interlude – Racism by Janet Jackson on Grooveshark

‘And to a world sick with racism, get well soon.’

Even though I’ve never given it any real thought, interestingly enough — perhaps in the back of my mind, I always felt this track was out of place. It may be because, save for a couple of songs from the late 80s, I’ve never heard much of Janet Jackson speaking (or singing) in the likes of anti-racism and social justice. The large majority of the other titles on this album are dedicated to relationships and sexual activity, and even though I have not purchased any of her albums since sometime in the mid to late 90s, it’s probably not an assumption to say given the sultry image she portrays and from the songs I have heard on the radio, this is most likely the case on those successives. But I’m not necessarily here trying to pinpoint Janet Jackson, per se; doing so would be looking through too narrow a lens. She, like many others in the business, have been propped as agents of ‘sex’ and ‘sexy’ and have been made into ‘sex symbols’ in an industry whose purpose is to make money in a society where sex can sell anything from a bag of ice to thumb tacs, a candy bar, a new tire, a flashlight — or CDs. And the track on her album is what made me think of this idea on racism and social justice, which is why I’m using her as an example. I went to an online site that allows users to create speech bubbles, and with the pictures of Janet Jackson I found online I got a little creative and put together the few below:

Be a good boy and challenge racial injustice, class elitism, white supremacy, and all forms of social inequity.
Working to end institutional racism makes me hot. I make sure to cool off.
Right now these are targeted for my baby.. supporting breastfeeding relationships really turns me on.

What are your thoughts? Maybe I’m simply trying to understand what it meant back then, or what it means even today that what I view as a seemingly contradictory message of decrying anti-Black racism is coupled with acquiescence to patriarchy and male-domination, white-centric ideas of beauty, body image and capitalism — all which have worked to ridicule Black women. And therein lies a history of stigma against Black bodies — and Black women have been commoditized, hyper-sexualized, and considered the antithesis of all things related to real ‘womanhood’ — and as I’ve heard one professor ‘Blackness is seen as the most radical form of racial ‘otherness.’ I’m not judging — at least that’s not my intent. And I know that it can and does happen often that we participate in one form of oppression while denouncing another; I know things are complicated like that. So could this work for Black people?It’s OK to laugh. I had a pretty good one putting these together, even though I’m not trying to be funny.We clearly support this industry — along its various messages. I mean, we never challenge the content, the tactics or question their marketing. And concert ticket sales, billboard charts and the various mansions and flashy cars that Janet Jackson and others live in and drive is the biggest indicator that we’re tuned in. So if we infused music, magazines and other mediums with images and slogans like the ones above with popular artists, rock stars and maybe sports figures would it mean we could expect to hear less about young Black men being brutally attacked and gunned down within this racist system that continues to depict these men as just a threat to society? Could sex(y) somehow curve Black on Black crime? Or stop the many intra-racial conflicts in the Black community? Could we expect to see more Black babies at the breast? I mean, want more breastfeeding, right?!

I personally do not believe sex can sell anti-racism or breastfeeding, or anything else for that matter. I mean, someone may buy it, but I believe it would only open up the floodgates for deeper and new forms of oppression and create more ways to strengthen the framework surrounding various exploitations — racial, gendered and others. To me, it also means continuing to conform to the idea that sex — and what we have established as so-called ‘sexy’ holds the answer to all things that we are too often led to believe — and I have a lengthy list of politics in this area, including the over consumption of sexual activity (No! I don’t believe sexual activity, that we are always encouraged to engage in with our significant other or any other consenting adult, is a natural phenomena). In fact, I believe in order to address more issues in general it must begin with the our preoccupation with sex. And even though not everyone may agree with me on this or any of my politics in this area, which is not what I’m asking, what would it mean to if this platform were used to promote anti-racism? I’d love to know what you have to say, really. Because I absolutely want to talk about it.

Update: Just to clarify, when I say I do not believe the sexual activity we are always encouraged to engage in is natural, what I mean by this is even though I believe sex is natural, of course, the way we are always encouraged to OVER-consume and always engage in it is not. But I believe it is learned behavior. I believe the issues behind our preoccupation with sex need to be addressed — which inevitably shows us the links to this over consumption — low self-esteem from the messages we receive, patriarchy, capitalism, etc. Hope that makes sense.

Now, back to the lecture at hand.

2 thoughts on “‘And to a world sick with racism’: Can Sex(y) Sell Social Justice For Black People?

  1. I agree with most of your points. I feel similarly when I see the ‘sexed’ up celebrities promoting ‘compassionate veganism’ through PETA. Just doesn’t work, in my opinion, but then again, that opinion is coming from a critical race feminist :-)

    1. Right?! Interestingly enough I initially had a few lines in here about PETA, but edited it out. Thinking of that group reminds me of what your video “Shit White Vegans Say….” — Hey, who cares what happens to humans so long as animals aren’t harmed, right? *sigh*

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