What’s Wrong with Obama’s Speeches on Race

(cross posted at Forbes Avenue)

Well, first. There are so few.

No, seriously — let me start by saying that the fact that we have a president who talks about race seriously at all is a huge step in the right direction.

That said, I am frequently distressed by what the president actually says when he does speak about race. Because I think he is (perhaps unintentionally) intellectually dishonest about how race truly operates, what life is actually like as a Black person, and what it will take to really create equality of opportunity and an equitable division of resources (which are two very different things that require two separate, but specific, approaches).

Unlike most people, I thought the Philadelphia speech was terrible, ahistorical, and dangerous. I thought in his attempt to appeal to both White and Black, he made a crucial mistake that many people make when discussing race — equating Black and White feelings about, and experiences with, race symmetrically. Meaning White people’s resentment at Black progress was the same as Black frustration with being oppressed.

Simply – though both are legitimate, they are not equal.

To suggest, as he did, that they are, I think is dangerous. I think it contributes to a feeling of fatigue in America. Fatigue with remedies for past wrongs. Fatigue with talking about Black people when we can talk about White people. Fatigue fatigue fatigue.

This is perhaps unavoidable. He is a politician and there are many more White people than there are Black people. He must say what will allow him to stay in power and do what he wants to do to help everyone. I get that.

But because race operates the way it does, what any prominent Black person says carries enormous weight. In this case, what he’s saying is incredibly detrimental to a concerted, real fight to end racism (it’s great, if you’re goal is bettering race relations…but yea, that’s a different goal).

We’ve got to find language that talks honestly, directly, and passionately to the specific and unique experience of being Black in America without it being assumed that, by doing so, we ignore everyone else.

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Best of the Rest: Shai’s Mr. Turn U Out

B000002OUO.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_ Shai were too smooth, their harmonies too perfect, for the early 90s in which they tried to stake out their place. But interesting, that quality is what keeps their music from sounding dated or trite, especially Blackface, their sophomore album.  It's probably the best male vocal group recording of the 90s behind Playa's Cheers 2 U.

Mr. Turn U Out isn't the best song on that album (that is reserved for The Place Where You Belong), but it's damn close.  It should have been a single because it had all the elements that would have made it a quiet storm masterpiece.  Most notably – Garfield Bright and his flawless, thick baritone on lead.  Garfield on lead will always make the panties wet, and while he was all sly come on here, he is such a good vocalist that the song sounds romantic instead of corny.  Also – listen out for Garfield and Darnell trading vocals at the end of the song.  Tight!

More:
Best of the Rest – Full List
Best of the Rest – Explained

Best of the Rest: Playa’s Birthday

Tim's Bio album cover Choosing an album track to highlight from the Playa catalog is stupid hard. They literally have not recorded a single thing that I haven't loved. I initially wanted to highlight an unreleased song, LUST, which surfaced on Black's 2004 solo debut.  Then I thought about the obvious, I-65 or Buggin' Over You, or the less obvious, I Gotta Know (which, trust me, knocks).

But, in the end, I chose this song, Birthday, which appears on the Tim's Bio album, because it highlights a point I've been making for a while: No one makes better use of a Timbaland track than Playa, Ginuwine, Missy and Aaliyah. Part of the reason for this is that the uniqueness of the track was matched by the uniqueness of the songwriting, the singing, and the vocal arrangements, which is all but missing from Tim's post-Ginuwine production. 

Here Playa literally ride this Tim track hard.  The track gives the song a rhythmic element that is often missing from romantic music of this type.  Each vocalist takes time with the words, opening the phrasing up.  Black, in particular, sings the second verse with a restrained intensity that we just don't hear enough these days.  Playa are vocalists who understand intrinsically how to evoke a feeling with every element of a song from the lead vocal, to the arrangements, to the track.  That has never been more evident than on Birthday, which does so much with so very very little.

I could go on and on because – with full disclosure – I don't think there's been a better self-contained vocal group over the last 30 years than Playa.  Such thoughts lead one to gush…but just listen.

More:
Best of the Rest – Full List
Best of the Rest – Explained