Black Culture

Summer 2014 Will Be Remembered by Pharrell’s “Happy”

Pharrell Williams "Happy"

(Photo Credit: Digital Spy)

When we look back 20 years from now, we will define Summer 2014 by Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” “Happy” is the hit track from Williams’ second album, Girl (2014), and the Despicable Me 2 (2013) soundtrack.  The song calls each individual to love being who he or she really is.  It’s becoming increasingly more lucid where we are right now in the postmodern epoch is a time when too many individuals suffer from psychic fragmentation.  Too many people have become so focused on being what others want them to be that they don’t even know who they really are any longer—it’s possible they never even gave themselves a chance to learn who they really are. With the release of “Happy,” Williams offers a valuable counter-narrative to the dominant American narrative that says who you really are isn’t good enough, and to be good enough you need to be someone you aren’t.

The challenge to the status quo “Happy” presents begins with the song’s ingenious author, Pharrell Williams.  Although we’re living in a time when people highly embrace flashy phenomena they hope will make them standout, Williams finds peace in simple elegance.  He knows how to make simple clothing, clothing that’s not flashy, refreshingly elegant.  When we see Mr. Williams, we’re witnessing a human being who has been liberated from the postmodern impulse to be someone he’s not.  “Happy” has given us an opportunity to experience the true substance that composes Pharrell.  Through his amazingly successful song, music fans are provided with a powerful alternative to the prevalent fear countless individuals have about loving who they truly are.

“Happy” has been #1 on the Billboard Top 100 and #1 on music charts in 19 countries.  Even with this song’s great success and wide popularity, it does not seem to have had any meaningful impact on changing America’s fascination with the superficial over the substantial.  One of the primary reasons for this could be how distracted we can get with hot beats that make us dance.  Unfortunately, we too often don’t want to reflect on why these beats make us want to dance in the first place. If we would engage more closely with the positive messages of “Happy,” it’s possible for us to move closer to understanding the value of diversity, and we might even start cherishing diversity.  This will require us to move past the hot beats and the dancing those beats promote and develop into a more reflective people.  Critical reflection enable us to see how Pharrell’s song can be employed as a vehicle to engender a massive wave of camaraderie and harmony among sundry people across the nation and globe who are presently divided.

For the real power of the song to be unleashed, it will take intellectuals, scholars, activists, community leaders, religious leaders, politicians, teachers, and many others to muster the courage to host nationwide forums, lectures, debates, and etc. where substantive discourse can take place about the song and how its messages can be used to instigate change in America and across the world.

Music has the ability to transform lives, to transform nations.

Even though Williams’ song may not produce the type of critical discourse across the nation and globe it merits, the song’s staying power will give us an opportunity to heed its vital messages even 20 years from now.  When we take a moment to envision a nation and world that mirrors the one offered by the music video for “Happy,” we begin to acknowledge how priceless the song is.  The song helps us to realize that our differences should unite us instead of divide us.  “Happy” seems to suggest that our differences shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of our universal longing for happiness.

History will inevitably mark Summer 2014 as a watershed moment in world history when “Happy” caused people to think seriously about the importance of simply being themselves.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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The Haves and the Have Nots’ Post-Accident Benny

Tyler Lepley

(Photo Credit: Kontrol Magazine)

Benjamin “Benny” Young (Tyler Lepley) is emerging as a more interesting and complex character since the accident he was involved in that landed him in the hospital.  Fans of Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots are witnessing a Benny who seems to have greater zeal than he had before the accident.  When he speaks now, he does not have any reservations.  Before the accident, Benny wouldn’t use profanity around Hannah Young (Crystal R. Fox), his mother, but now he says exactly what he wants to say—with little to no regret.  Hannah is even surprised by how blunt Benny is now. She frequently has to look at him and tell him that he needs to calm down.  It will be interesting to see if we’re about to see the full manifestation of his spunk, a spunk that shares deep affinities to Candace Young’s (Tika Sumpter), his sister.

Benny, the Uniter

Benny appears to be making a stronger effort to bring Candace and Hannah closer together.  One of his chief failures (thus far) in attempting to eviscerate the barriers that exist between Candace and Hannah is the omission of a challenge for Hannah to employ the powerful faith she has in God to help her to have a true willingness to close the gulf between her and her daughter.  Benny has heard his mother talk about God all of his life, and he seems to have grown a little tired of hearing her speak about God, especially when they continue to experience the struggle of surviving with very limited financial resources.

Benny’s Potential Danger

Although Benny’s new passion is refreshing, he has to be careful about seeking revenge on Quincy (Medina Islam), Candace’s baby daddy.  From what we know right now, it appears that Quincy murdered his baby.  If Quincy will murder a baby, then you know he doesn’t mind killing Benny. Benny, therefore, shouldn’t allow his anger to metastasize into wrath.  It’s clear that Quincy doesn’t mind going to prison, and Benny shouldn’t let him lead him on a path that leads to prison, the hospital or the grave.  Hopefully, Candace and Hannah will be able to communicate to him the importance of remaining calm and logical.  While it may seem to be the right thing to go after Quincy for murdering Candace’s baby (and for whatever he did to her before he went to prison), Benny is a good man and has much more to lose than Quincy does.  If Benny elects to take the law into his own hands, he could do more harm than good.

Conclusion

On July 22, 2014, fans of the show will have an opportunity to see if Benny will make tragic mistakes. Unchecked rage often leads to destruction.  Benny has to understand that Quincy is Satan in the flesh, and all Quincy comes to do is steal, kill and destroy.  Will Benny pass this test of his faith?  We learn the answer to this question on the next episode of Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Haves and the Have Nots Should Be Longer

Tyler Perry's The Haves and the Have Nots

(Photo Credit: Oprah)

Tyler Perry has just completed a successful first season of his new hit drama, The Haves and the Have Nots (2013), on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).  Although it’s an hour long show on Tuesday nights, it’s really only a 30 – 35 minute program when one factors in the numerous commercials.  With so many interesting dynamics and complexities, the show needs to be two hours long or air twice a week for one hour each of those days.  Perry has indicated that in the second season of the show he will be providing viewers with more background information about the characters that will help viewers to understand how they evolved into the characters we see today.  Viewers can certainly benefit from deeper knowledge about the backgrounds of all his characters, and I believe that he will execute the revealing of their backgrounds in interesting ways.

For those who assert that Perry’s works lack sophistication and complexity, I would love to engage in a serious discourse with them about these unfair critiques when it comes to The Haves and the Have Nots.  Of course, many people, especially many of his African-American critics, simply will not like anything he does because of his unwillingness to cater to their narrow visions of who he should be as an actor, director, writer, producer and man.

The show offers a powerful reaffirmation: all relationships and families have problems, no matter how much money they have and regardless of their race and ethnicity.  At the core of the problems that exists between the characters in the work is a failure to be sincere.  In some degree, all of the characters engender vexing quandaries for themselves and others by lacking the courage to deal frankly with their internal and external challenges.  We will never solve our problems by running away from them.  Our problems are conquered when we muster the courage to address them candidly and thoroughly.

More background information about all of the characters will enable fans of the show to increase their investment in their favorite characters, and viewers will be able to gain a greater appreciation for all of their characters, even if they do not personally like some of the characters.  I am a huge fan of the show and was eager each week to watch it.  I do, however, come away from each episode feeling like something is missing, something that’s essential.  This feeling of something essential being absent is mostly not a positive thing.  The show needs to benefit from an additional hour each week to take it to the next level of greatness.

In order for all artists to continue to advance, it’s necessary for them to involve themselves in reflective thought.  They must consider ways to ameliorate their works to keep them fresh, relevant and interesting.  Perry is not exempt from this need to engage in critical reflection about The Have and the Have Nots.  Whatever he has to do to extend the time of his episodes should be done.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

Analysis of Boyz N the Hood

A Structural Analysis of John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood

Introduction

The scholarly literature has evinced that Black males academically underperform all groups throughout the educational pipeline (Hood, 1992; Jackson, 2003; Polite, 1994; Watson & Hodges, 1991).  Jameson (1991) explains that film can be a useful vehicle for unveiling harsh realities about the lived experiences of sundry people.  In Boyz N the Hood (1991), John Singleton offers a disquieting account of the lived experiences of Black people, particularly Black males, in a poverty-ravaged South Central Los Angeles neighborhood.  At the core of the film’s narrative is the relationship and interactions between three young Black males: Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Darrin “Doughboy” Baker (Ice Cube), and Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut).  The audience witnesses how racism, indifference, rampant violence, and the increasing disintegration of the Black family in South Central Los Angeles militate against the coming of age of these three Black males.  As a contribution to the scholarly discourse on Boyz N the Hood, this paper provides an examination of how structural dimensions of the milieu in which the film is set (South Central Los Angeles) have a damaging impact on the progression of these Black males.  The structural frame championed by Bolman and Deal (2008) serves as the dominant lens through which this film is analyzed.

One of the vexing structural elements in the film that one of the Black males has to combat is a Eurocentric school curriculum.  Tre Styles learns at an early stage in his experience in the educational pipeline that the extant structure of curriculums and schools have little cultural relevancy to Black students living in impoverished urban conditions, especially when his teachers make no effort to be inclusive in their pedagogical practices.  Tre challenges the structural authority of one his White female teacher about why there is not a presence of Black people in what she is teaching.  What he challenges is the “pervasiveness of whiteness in curricula, space, and activities” that Harper and Hurtado (2007, p. 18) speak about being present at predominately White institutions (PWIs).  This challenging of her position authority (put in place by the hierarchical structure of the school’s administration) leads her to send him constantly to the Principal.  This leads Tre’s mother, Reva Devereaux (Angela Bassett), to use her position power (as his mother) to send him to live with his father, Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), who lives in a tremendously unsettling and violent neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, as punishment for not embracing hegemony and quietly conforming to the Eurocentric curriculum.  Tre moves to an environment where he has to be more concerned about survival than receiving an education, no matter how limited of an education he could have received from the Eurocentric curriculum.  He is not able to find a sense of belonging in the school because this organization exists “to achieve established goals and objectives” (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 47) not inclusive of culturally relevant subject matter and pedagogy.

Moreover, one of the most damaging structural elements in the film is the Black family itself.  The film exposes an increasing dissolution of the Black family in South Central Los Angeles.  The most troubling way in which the film illuminates this is in how Brenda Baker (Tyra Ferrell) feels it necessary to favor her younger son (Ricky Baker) over her older son (Darrin “Doughboy” Baker), because the economic structure (capitalism) dominating her family’s situation compels her to favor him (from her perspective).  For Brenda, Ricky, who is a star student-athlete with great potential to not only become a superstar college student-athlete, but also professional athlete, is her family’s only hope of moving into a more favorable position within the capitalist economic system.  The audience witnesses how the lack of meaningful economic and social opportunities for Black families in South Central Los Angeles conjoined with an absent father forces Brenda to not only commodify her children, but also to reify them: Darrin becomes her “waste” and Ricky becomes her financial investment.  Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the film, both Darrin and Ricky die—symbolizing how important the unity of the family is and how harmful the dissolution of the family is.

Conclusion

The larger significance of this film is it demonstrates how the current economic structure, capitalism, in America (and in the global milieu) is harmful to most people, especially for Black people living in impoverished conditions.  Jameson (1991) highlights how capitalism’s structure dominates all other dimensions of life, including the human resource, cultural, and (most importantly) political dimensions of the lived experience.  The significance of this film for Antonio Daniels is it offers vivid insights into why there is a need for an alternative global economic system, and it affirms that the structural is constructed from the political; that is, the political determines the structural.  When we are analyzing the structural, therefore, we have to consider the conspicuous and subtle political that comes to compose what we see as the structural.  The larger significance of this essay to organizational theory and behavior studies is it highlights that it is important to have a dominant framework that concatenates the four frames Bolman and Deal (2008) champion into a totality, a cognitively mapped narrative revealing how each of the frames are interconnected.

References

Bolman, L.G., & Deal, T.E. (2008). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership (4th edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Harper, S.R., & Hurtado, S. (2007). Nine themes in campus racial climates and implications for  institutional transformation. New Directions for Student Services, 120, 7-24.

Hood, D.W. (1992). Academic and noncognitive factors affecting the retention of Black men at a predominately White institution. Journal of Negro Education, 61, 12-23.

Jackson, J.F.L. (2003). Toward administrative diversity: An analysis of the African-American male educational pipeline. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 12, 43-60.

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism or, the cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Polite, V.C. (1994). The method in the madness: African-American males, avoidance schooling, and chaos theory. Journal of Negro Education, 63, 588-601.

Watson, C., & Hodges, C. (1991). Educational equity and Detroit’s male academics. Equity and Excellence, 25, 90-105.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

New Black Expectations

On February 26, 2009, Dr. John Y. Odom spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the “2nd Annual Black Men’s Initiative Forum 2010.”  He gave the men (and some women) of all races some great insights.  He challenged them to graduate from college as soon as they can so that they can go into the “real world” and make a difference.  His call for Black males to graduate and go into their communities and make the difference is such an important message.

Black men need to understand that we have to seize on a critical moment that we have to evince and illuminate our greatness.  Black men have to understand that we have to do a better job of helping one another to increase, improve, and further develop our skills, talents, and knowledge.  Imagine a day when Black men in America and globally are truly united with one another.  This will be a day when we can work to dismantle the damaging stereotypes and stigmas that plague our progress.  The struggle for Black male progress will not be fully realized until we have stronger support from Black females and higher expectations from them for Black males.

Too many Black women want a Black man who is a “thug.”  Ironically, these same Black women want Black men who are educated, able to provide them with the finer phenomena in life, and who will be an excellent father for their children.  This ignorance emanating from many Black females has to end if they want their Black men to be able to be the empowered leaders they so criticallly need them to be.  Far too frequently do I hear Black women talking about Black men are nothing but “dogs,” “pimps,” “drug dealers,” “players,” and etc.  My simple response to the name calling engaged in by many Black women is you all made them that way—for the most part.  When you all are constantly giving away your bodies so easily to them—this will turn them into dogs, pimps, and players.  What else did you expect?

The way that Black men and women need to correct the problems that they both face is to set higher expectations for themselves.  For example, there are people who are in college at some of the finest schools in the nation—like University of Wisconsin-Madison—who think that they have to make going to college and being successful “cool” by doing phenomena that have caused those who are not in college or who are not successful to be where they are today—like getting drunk everyday, smoking weed everyday, busting slack, wearing clothes that you know does not make you look like you are striving for success, intentionally talking in an ignorant way just to demonstrate how “hood” you are or how much of a thug you are, and etc.

A new day needs to begin where Black people acknowledge that our Black foremothers and forefathers died for us to have the right to be free.  In this right to be free came the right to be free from low expectations.  Today, I make a solemn plea to you—Black people—to demand higher expectations of yourselves, and to fight against any barriers, people, and institutions that would try to prevent you from being the greatest person you can be.  Being truly successful will demand that you not simply do traditional and popular phenomena.  You just might have to upset some people, but it’s all for your betterment and the betterment of the American and global community.  Until you give up doing phenomena that are always popular, you will always be a slave!

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Introducing Me and My Blog’s Purpose

Hello, All:

My name is Antonio Maurice Daniels, Ph.D. student and Research Associate in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My primary research interests are African-American male college student-athletes, African-American male students throughout the educational pipeline, and ecological sustainability in higher and postsecondary education.

For my first blog, I wanted to start with explaining the purpose of my blog. The purpose of my blog is to serve as an extension of my purpose in life: to unsettle, unnerve, and unhouse. This blog will be a venue for sharing information and ideas. If you are looking for discussions about serious issues, this will certainly be a place where you will be quite satisfied. I look forward to engaging with you on a constellation of diverse topics.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison