Tag Archives: black self-determination

Thinking about Janet Jackson’s (Alleged) Retirement

Janet with her new husband

Photo Credit: Marco Glaviano, People Magazine

I’ve been thinking a lot about the news that Janet Jackson is allegedly going to retire from the entertainment industry for a minute now.

I think if I were honest, I’d feel the need to say that Janet Jackson has run out of things creatively to say and that she’s been spinning her wheels at least since 20 Y.O, if not earlier. I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s spent the last decade doing more acting than she has really focusing on recording trailblazing music. I’m not sure she was well-served by Tyler Perry films that squandered her natural warmth on weirdly cold characters, but I could imagine how from her perspective there was something interesting about essaying characters so dissimilar from who we know Janet Jackson to be.

I could see how she might feel like her life’s work as an entertainer is complete, even though selfishly as a fan I’d like to get another album or two from her.

But I wonder if there’s something more deeply profound at work here.

Let’s remember that Janet Jackson has been performing since she was 7 years old. She’s 46. That’s 40 years in the public eye. Forty years as a member of perhaps the most celebrated, yet maligned and misunderstood, black family on the planet. Forty years being told she’s the (relatively) sane one. Forty years under an incredibly oppressive microscope. Forty years giving her life to our enjoyment.

I don’t know that we think enough about the health of black people who have to live their lives in the public eye. Michael died at 50. Luther died at 54. Rick James was 56. Whitney was 48. Marvin Gaye was murdered at 44. Both Gerald and Sean Levert died at 40.

These were preternaturally gifted black people who gave their lives to art and music. They were not always loved and adored for it. They were still black. In America. Let us remember that the life expectancy for black people is lower than for white people.

So I think there’s something profoundly healthy about Janet Jackson at 46 saying she wants to step away from all of the pressures of being a black public figure – as much as she can – and just live her life. It’s a powerful gesture of self-preservation that I don’t know black artists always feel so empowered to make.

Read this way, of course the woman who gave us Control would end her career on her own terms. Of course the woman whose masterpiece, The Velvet Rope – a dazzling treatise on the struggle to love oneself amid all the crazy of a life as a Jackson, as a black woman – would decide when she’s had enough.

In her own way, if this retirement is indeed real, Janet Jackson’s decision feels to me like a fitting cap to a career that was, in its best broadest strokes, about black self-determination and black self-love.

Race and Sexuality. Who Gets to Decide?

Frank Ocean Ezra_Miller

Ezra Miller is quite eloquent in an interview with AfterElton on why he self-identifies as “queer”:

AfterElton: You routinely refer to yourself as “queer,” which I love. It’s an old word, but it’s kind of a new form of self-identification.
EM: 
It’s true! And it’s a different form of LGBT culture for sure. It’s even almost defiant of each of those letters. It’s kind of wonderfully all-encompassing. I’m all about it. I’m all about that word. I think it’s incredibly useful just as we head into an era of a more indiscriminate and open spectrum of human gender and sexuality. I think it’s good for us to have a word that isn’t so ultimately definitive, that leaves room for people to always be discovering and exploring who they are as a loving being.

AE: It’s defiant of that expectation to narrowly self-assign, I think, but it still aligns you in camaraderie with everything “LGBT.”
EM: 
Well, right. It’s funny how quickly so many heteronormative standards have crept their way into conventional gay culture. I think already even though we’ve done an incredibly productive cycle of opening up gaps in human rights in this particular area, I think there’s a whole new recycle that has to take place.

I find it incredibly interesting how white LGBT activists and other gay-identified folks are thoroughly comfortable and deferential to Ezra Miller’s desire to claim “queer” rather than “gay” or “bisexual”, even as they seem intent (here, herehere, and here, just to name a few) on forcing Frank Ocean into the LGBT framework (is he bi or gay? did he “come out”, etc).

I mean, even the most cursory search of Ezra Miller on AfterElton or any other gay-identified website reveals a consistent use of the term “queer”, but do the same search on Frank Ocean and you find that the more standard LGBT identifiers (most notably that he “came out”) predominate. In fact, I find that there is often hostility to the fact that he refuses to claim any label at all, particularly after his GQ interview.

Apparently, black self-determination is always something to be questioned or, worse, ignored.