Saturday, August 9, 2014

Reflections on James Brown and his violence against women

Yes, I’m a James Brown fan.  Saying that is a bit disturbing given the Godfather of Soul’s numerous arrests for assault and domestic violence. Loving the music is one thing.  Lifting Brown as a role model is hard to concede.  His life and message leaves one conflicted at best.

Yes, I say again for undeniable emphasis, I love me some Funk music.  I’m a child of the P-Funk, and there wouldn’t have been such a thing without James Brown. From taking the beat from the top, showcasing moves that would be imitated by Prince, Michael Jackson and a bunch of others who credited Michael for the moves, to making the Funk about the band (bow down to the truth George Clinton) – everybody has been touched by the Godfather’s music.

Yes, again I say yes, James Brown deserves all due respect for introducing the Funk.  The link between Brown and George Clinton proves the point.  The list of band members who quit, or were kicked out of Brown’s band to join Clinton, resembles a messy divorce.  Bootsy and Catfish Collins took the Funk to Parliament/Funkadelic after forming House Guest.  Somebody sing I’d Rather Be With You. Excuse me as I reminisce.

Like I said, Get on Up unpacks an important part of black music history.  It exposes the sensitive, but real, connection between black gospel and R&B.  It tugs at how race denies Little Richard’s contribution in transforming American music as the real King of Rock & Roll.  Yes, again and again yes, step aside Elvis.  We could go on for days about how all American music has roots in black culture.  A critical analysis would tell the truth about the African connection to Blue Grass music. Help me out with that one Carolina Chocolate Drops.

There are layers like an onion related to the impact of cultural appropriation, and how the genius of James Brown is embedded within the context of black expression.  We could talk about how Brown got there.  What was brewing within the social milieu of black people that fashioned the groove, the movement and lyrics of Brown’s music?

This brings me to a layer beyond the beat of Brown’s music.  As powerful and meaningful as Brown’s music is in constructing the crusade of black counter-culture, how can we separate the message from the antics of the messenger?

How do we close eyes to Brown’s violence against women? Can we dismiss it all as a variable of his social conditioning, while pointing at the actions of two pitiful parents who offered him nothing in becoming a man?  Can we blame it on the pathetic consequences of extreme poverty?  Or, should we censure Brown for his abuse against women and refuse to play his music because of his pugnacious ways?

Should we dismiss Brown and his music like we did Chris Brown after he attacked Rihanna?  What have we learned in the space between these two Brown’s, and how do we celebrate both given their issues with women?

I left the theater thinking about something Bill Clinton said to Oprah after the scandal with “that woman”. 

“It’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation,” Clinton said.

I can’t excuse what Brown did, but his childhood serves as a powerful explanation.  Who wouldn’t be angry at women given what his mother did?  How do you learn to control your anger after having to endure all of that?

I felt so bad for him.  All I could think was “stop the movie and let us pray!”

But, none of that matters in the court of law and public opinion.  It doesn’t undo the rage felt by women who have felt the force of a man’s hand on her face.  It doesn’t absolve the hate and pain felt by those who endure the sting of a man’s fury.

No, you get no pass.  It’s an explanation, but there is no excuse.

I understand the context and social conditioning that fueled that rage.  I get the demoralizing enculturation packed in the souls of black men devoid of emotional strength to overcome the lies thrust against their identity.  I recognize the pitfalls and insufficiency associated with attempting to get to a place with no one to lead the way. I get being hurt, trapped and angry. But!

There is no justification for putting hands on a woman.  There is no excuse.  And maybe, no damn it, forget the maybe, we need to demand accountability from those who crossed that line.

That means you Mr. Brown.  That applies to you Miles Davis and others we celebrate for their undeniable contribution.

As for you Chris Brown, sit in a corner and get your act together before it’s too late. You have no explanation.

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