ESSAYS | Lil’ Butler
There are people outside of my apartment—neighbors I do not know and will probably never know who are lounging in white lawn chairs in the hot late-afternoon sun, trying to make their pale bodies a darker color, which is funny when you think about it—how brown bodies are despised in this society, unless you are white and lying in the sun, waiting for those rays to have an effect on you. To change you. Brown bodies are valued only when the skin is really white. Brown bodies are not valued when brown is what the skin really is, when the brown body can never be not-brown. (Make your own crack at Michael Jackson here). I wonder why no one has ever considered white people tanning their skin to be a type of appropriation. Though perhaps someone has, and I’m just now catching onto this.
It is in this pool that is a few feet away from my second-floor balcony that children played in the water for six hours yesterday screaming “Marco!”, screaming “Polo!”, making me want to scream, “You dumb little fuckers! If you had implemented the fish out of water rule when you started, someone would have won HOURS ago!” I mean, really, you can’t not-use the fish out of water rule. Without it, and as proved by the kids playing Marco Polo for six hours yesterday, the game would go on for DAYS. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
But then I think about it, and I cannot remember if one actually “wins” Marco Polo, or if the game is just a continuous series of a temporarily blind kid trying to touch the other kids who hop in and out of the water, who are trying to deceive the temporarily blind kid of their position so they do not become the dreaded temporarily blind kid (little ableists fuckwads). And while they do not want to get caught, the non-blind kids still stupidly give their location away as they engage in the call-and-response trait of the game.
And I think of brown people’s history and tradition of storytelling and singing, and I wonder once again if white people (who have enough money to live in an apartment complex that has a pool) are appropriating another fact of people of color’s lives: the call-and-response quality of a storytelling tradition.
It may sound like I’m judging. Perhaps I am judging. Perhaps this judgment is incredibly hypocritical as I sit here writing this in my apartment that is part of an apartment complex that has a pool, and my long dreadlocks are waterfalling down from my head and brushing against my pale white skin. Perhaps.
But I was talking about Marco Polo and (possibly) appropriation.
Austin, Tx. Summer 2012. I am walking to a coffee shop when I hear a woman call out, “Marco! Marco! Where are you Marco?!?” And then a dog runs up to her and she says, “Good boy,” and I relish in the fact that I am now a witness to a joke her friends have probably made since she decided to name her dog Marco. “Dude, if your dog ever gets lost and you have to call for him, your whole neighborhood is going to be screaming ‘Polo’ at you!”
I did not scream “Polo” at this woman. Though I was tempted. And now I wish I had just so I could say I did.
And about dogs. This dog Marco was not a teacup Chihuahua and its name was not Jose, but I’m sure a teacup Chihuahua named Jose is somewhere out there, stuffed in a big purse with its head sticking out, a purse that some white woman has slung over her tan shoulder, a woman who thinks teacup dogs are cute and make excellent accessories, a woman who is probably trying to make a funny by naming her teacup Chihuahua Jose. Though, I do not know if dog names such as Jose, Felix, Selena, Tecate, or Cuervo are a type of appropriation, but if the dog is a Chihuahua then it is definitely a stereotype and most likely racist.
In 2006, girlfriend at the time and I are living in Chicago, and are walking to our apartment from the train. A black man is reaching into his van to grab a stack of newspapers which he will then deliver to the liquor store behind him. As we pass by the newspaper delivery man, he says, “I like good pussy and I like good weed.” Girlfriend and I continue walking and when we are out of earshot from the man we start laughing. “Word,” we say. We agree. Yeah to good pussy and yeah to good weed. We agree this man has excellent tastes.
There is a small sampling of some Eminem song mashed-up with some Yael Naim song on Girl Talk’s album Feed the Animals. This section of the mash-up is catchy and fun to listen to even though the lyrics are:
Get buzzed, get drunk, get crunk, get fucked up.
Hit the strip club, don’t forget ones, get your dick rubbed
Get fucked, get sucked, get wasted, shit faceted
Pasted, plastered, puke drink throw up, get a new drink
Hit the bathroom sink, throw up
Wipe your shoe clean, got a routine going’
Still got a few chunks on them shoestrings showin’
I was dehydrated till the beat vibrated
I was revived as soon as this bitch gyrated
Them hips and licked them lips and that was it
I had to get Nate Dogg to sing some shit.
Being the sober feminist that I am, I know I should not like this song, but I do. Like I said earlier, catchy. It is four years since I first heard the sampling of the song on Feed the Animals, and in 2013 I’m sitting at a coffee shop listening to Girl Talk and suddenly want to hear the rest of that drunk, misogynistic Eminem song, because I have never heard the entirety of it before—just the sample mashed-up version from Girl Talk. I do some Googling, find the name of it, go to good ol’ youtube, type in “Eminem Shake That” and am soon watching the official video of the song which is a cartoon of women with big asses stripping. And after Eminem’s opening bit, Nate Dogg does indeed jump in to sing some shit. Specifically, the shit he sings is: “I like good pussy and I like good trees. Smoke so much weed, you wouldn’t believe I get more ass than a toilet seat.”
Holy shit! Old black dude newspaper delivery driver in Chicago didn’t just like good pussy and didn’t just like good weed, but he liked Eminem and Nate Dogg, too, and I realize that I like Eminem and Nate Dogg, too, because for the past few years I have been singing that good pussy and good weed line in my head, and never knew it was in reference to an ACTUAL SONG–a song, in fact, that I have found to be quite catchy, even though what I originally heard was just part of a mash-up with Yael Naim. Hott. Damnn.
And the world comes full-circle.
Because now I’m going to talk about appropriation again, specifically the way in which I have fallen in love with Lil’ Wayne solely because his lyrics are the most creative type of misogyny I have ever heard, (even more so than Eminem’s, which says a lot about Lil’ Wayne’s perfection of the art of misogyny). I mean, if you’re going to be a sexist douchebag, you might as well get creative with it.
(Side note #1: the following lyrics are all from just ONE of Lil’ Wayne’s song–“IMNAHB”).
Lettin’ all these hoes ride my dick, car pool
P-U-S-S-Y…my second home. I be grindin’ on them hoes like a half pipe
I make her take this dick like advice
Not to mention
90 billion bitches on my stick like a skewer
And I shall end with the phrase that opens the song
She said my dick could be the next black president
TERRIBLE! Right? Though I must say he has some pretty darn good and imaginative metaphors. As I listen to Lil’ Wayne now, as I fall for him just a little bit more when he says, “I’m with my killer bees. Fuck bug spray,” because anyone who can bring “bug spray” into a song is a genius in my book, as all of this happens, I am also reading some Judith Butler again, because I want to keep my feminism sharp. And because Judith Butler is the paragon of a feminist who knows her shit, and because her grammar is terrible, thus making her hard to comprehend, I feel super-accomplished when I actually understand anything Butler says. I’m reading her now to see if I can understand anything more than I did the last time I read her. A litmus test for if I have grown smarter with age.
The last time I read Butler, I was in a Feminism and Performance class in college. I was trying to act out the story of my sexual awakening through Butler quotes that I barely understood. My prof said she always wanted to see someone bring Butler into a performance. I took this as a challenge and attempted to perform Butler’s feminist theory (my performance of which somehow necessitated hanging black and white 8 ½ x 11 pictures of my vagina on the wall behind me and strapping a strip of cloth over my boobs that “vaginaterian”). Mashing-up theory with performance must have worked, or at least my prof gave me some kudos for trying, because I got an A in the class even though I had no idea what Butler was saying, and I didn’t have one word of the entire monologue memorized.
(Side note #2: it is impossible to memorize a Judith Butler sentence).
That was eight years ago, and now here I am, reading the grammatically challenging quality of Butler’s work while listening to Lil’ Wayne get all creative about power, sexism, and oppression, and by god—it happens. I read Butler, I hear Lil’ Wayne, and now the two of them are call-and-responsing to each other in my mind in the same way those little ableist fuckwads are STILL call-and-responsing to each other outside of my window. And with this mash-up of rap and theory, Butler makes so much more sense. I went years without understanding what bodies matter or what all the gender trouble was about, and who would have thunk that all I needed was a rap artist to act as an interpreter.
Feminist Theory and Misogynistic Rap Mash-up 101
In this class we will look at what it means to be a white feminist who appropriates a facet of black culture for her reading of a white feminist philosopher. Furthermore, this class will question if one can still be a feminist even though one is in love with misogynistic music.
On the subject of grief and broken relationships:
Judith Butler says, “Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something….One does not always stay intact.”
That sounds depressing. But Lil’ Wayne sure does know how to incorporate the notion and idea of grief into his life in a positive way, “Got the girl twisted cause she open when you twist her. Never met the bitch, but I fuck her like I missed her.”
On the subject of longing:
Judith Butler says, “Love is not a state, a feeling, a disposition, but an exchange, uneven, fraught with history, with ghosts, with longings that are more or less legible to those who try to see one another with their own faulty vision.”
Ooookay. Now, Lil’ Wayne, I ask of thee, how do we acutually see each other, but more importantly how do we deal with our longings?
Lil’ Wayne jumps in with, “Had my heart broken by this woman named Tammy, but hoes gon’ be hoes, so I couldn’t blame Tammy.”
On the subject of power and opressive hierarchies:
Judith Butler tells us that, “To operate within the matrix of power is not the same as to replicate uncritically relations of domination.”
Holla back, Lil’ Wayne. How do you think we can navigate power relations—such as the domination of the wealthy over the poor and how the “esteemed” white race is always acting like they own the place?
He says, “No matter who’s buyin’, I’m a celebration. Black and white diamonds, fuck segregation.”
And to those impeccably brilliant explanations, I say, word.
(Side note #3: I am dying to see an Epic Rap Battle of History between Lil’ Wayne and Judith Butler. I am positive it would surpass the bad-ass-ed-ness of Sarah Palin vs Lady Gaga, if THAT is even possible.)
(Side note #4: All of the above “answers” from Lil’ Wayne are also all from one song — “6 Foot 7 Foot”. Please commence your own youtube search in order to hear this song. That said, I will direct you to this video which is (obviously) a cover of “6 Foot 7 Foot”, and is also perhaps the BEST version of any Lil’ Wayne song, ever.)
I wonder, though, if Feminist Theory and Misogynistic Rap Mash-up 101 appropriates black culture by using an aspect of black culture for white people’s understandings of society. Though, while I cannot tell if this is actually an appropriation or perhaps just plain brilliance, I do know that Lil’ Wayne has a much more succinct and clearer approach to explaining how we live in this world than Judith Butler does or ever will. And this is further proven by this:
In 1998, Judith Butler won The Bad Writing Contest for this sentence:
“The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.”
Lil’ Wayne—what the hell? Can you understand this sentence?
And Lil’ Wayne says, “I got through that sentence like a subject and a predicate.”
And again, word.
And the Lil’ Wayne album ends as I finish writing this. And I can still hear my white-turning-brown neighbors I do not know and will probably never know engage in a call and response-style of entertainment. “Marco! Polo!” I can hear a fish out of the water, again dismayed by the non-implementation of that rule, which makes me really annoyed. I’m sick of hearing their six-hour long game, and so I get up from my desk, close my window, and sit back at my desk only to be devastated by the fact that I can hear the Marco-Polo-ers through the closed window. I guess that’s why they call it window pane.
Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has been published in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor’s Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt, as well as a Pushcart Prize nomination. Clammer is a weekly columnist for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as the assistant nonfiction editor for both Eckleburg and The Dying Goose. Her first collection of essays, There is Nothing Else to See Here will be published by Thumbnail Press in Fall 2013. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.