Daily Prompt

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

Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Standout in a Crowd

Effective Leaders

(Photo Credit: The Grio)

Effective leaders aren’t afraid to standout in a crowd and say something that many, most, or all people will oppose.  Being a true leader isn’t about winning a popularity contest or winning Miss Congeniality; it’s about doing and saying what you feel is truly right.  Unfortunately, too many of those we call “leaders” in the postmodern epoch aren’t authentic leaders.  This has led to numerous milquetoast individuals being considered leaders by many Americans.  We have to stop considering people leaders simply because they have a special title and/or they’re always on television.  A simple public presence doesn’t make a person a leader.

Before you consider someone a leader, be sure he or she is leading.  When a person is leading, he or she is making a real difference in the lives of people.  Don’t cheapen what it means to be an effective leader by calling those who are attention-seekers leaders.  A clear difference exists between attention-seekers and leaders who aren’t afraid to stand out in a crowd.  An effective leader isn’t going to have fear of receiving backlash about saying and doing things that will cause people to be unsettled and unnerved.  Many people need to be unsettled and unnerved about the things they believe, say, and do.

People will respect you when you’re willing to say and do the right things, even when saying and doing the right things are difficult to accept.  This doesn’t mean that people will like you or that you will become popular, however.

To be an effective leader, one has to have a commitment to saying and doing substantive things.  An authentic leader has a record of accomplishment, which includes getting things done for others.  If you’re a vain person, you’re certainly not a leader.

Effective organizational leaders don’t worry about who gets the credit for accomplishments. They highlight how it was the team responsible for the accomplishments—not themselves.  People will be able to tell when you don’t have the ability to lead an organization; therefore, you cannot fake genuine leadership.  An effective leader understands that he or she needs to employ the talents of those around him or her.  Being a leader doesn’t mean you know everything.  In fact, a leader acknowledges that he or she doesn’t know everything.

Let’s make a commitment to stop crowning people as leaders who aren’t leaders.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Comedians Shouldn’t Joke about People with Disabilities

Bill Maher

(Photo Credit: New York Daily News)

If a comedian truly has talent, he or she does not have to attempt to get laughs at the expense of people with disabilities.  While there’s nothing wrong with being a controversial comedian, one should have enough decency not to disparage individuals with disabilities by exploiting their shortcomings.  With numerous other things and people comedians can use to generate laughs, individuals with disabilities should be off limits.  It’s quite insensitive to mock people with disabilities.  Comedy fans should openly and vociferously express their disapproval of comedians who tell vicious jokes about individuals with disabilities, especially children with disabilities.

When people continue to support comedians who take advantage of those with disabilities, they’re complicit in the wickedness of those comedians.  We have to criticize the comedians who do this and those who support them.

Effective comedy is uplifting and does not take advantage of the vulnerable.  It’s okay to use race, gender, sexuality, and other things that can be controversial to use in comedy, but just be respectful when engaging those things.  One can never employ individuals with disabilities in comedy in a way that’s going to be respectful.  Individuals with disabilities should simply be left out of comedy—period.

Reckless arrogance governs those comedians who insist on exploiting people with disabilities.  It’s mean-spirited to attack those who have disabilities during comedic performances.  Comedians who feel the need to lambast individuals with disabilities need to work on ameliorating their craft and engendering new material.  When comedians resort to using individuals with disabilities in their comedic performances, this reveals their lack of comedic prowess.  When a comedian has authentic talent, he or she never even thinks about speaking negatively about people with disabilities. 

Jokes about people with disabilities are simply not funny—they are sinister.

We have to question if some comedians have any decency.

Let’s begin to boycott the shows, performances, and events of those comedians who maliciously attack individuals with disabilities.  One of the most powerful ways we can get comedians to stop saying ugly things about people with disabilities is to hurt them in their wallets and purses.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison                

What Bores Me? Reading Freshly Pressed on WordPress

WordPress Blogging

(Photo Credit: Freelance Folder)

WordPress showcases a number of blogs each day on Freshly Pressed, but there is a conspicuous lack of diversity in the bloggers featured.  When one examines the bloggers that WordPress staff members elect to feature on Freshly Pressed, those bloggers are overwhelmingly White.  One hardly ever finds a Black or other racial and ethnic minority blogger being featured on Freshly Pressed, and this is quite unfortunate, considering numerous minority bloggers using WordPress deserve to be featured.  One of the fundamental reasons why many minority bloggers aren’t being featured on Freshly Pressed is WordPress has a staff deficient in diversity, especially when it comes to staff members who curate Freshly Pressed.

If one reads Freshly Pressed, he or she may come away with the idea that most of the really good or great bloggers using WordPress are White.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Since I’m penning this piece about the dearth of racial diversity in those featured on Freshly Pressed, WordPress staff members will never select me.  If WordPress staff members never elect to feature me, I will be fine with their decision.  I have a highly successful blog and a large readership.  I will survive.  Unfortunately, many minority bloggers, especially Black bloggers, using WordPress need to and deserve to be showcased on Freshly Pressed.  A number of successful Black bloggers use WordPress and have been nominated and/or won awards for their blogs, but WordPress continues to ignore the success of their blogs.

One has to wonder if WordPress really even cares about Black bloggers, their blogs, and the issues that matter to them.

Freshly Pressed is becoming increasingly boring to read.  While WordPress staff members can assert that there are multifarious topics curated on Freshly Pressed, they cannot point to a significant number of those sundry topics being composed by minority bloggers.

As a means of demonstrating that they’re not biased to minority bloggers, I would recommend that WordPress staff members put me on its staff as a Curator.  I don’t need or desire to be paid.  I certainly have the qualifications to be a successful Curator and have an academic and professional record, which includes being extensively published, that would offer some much needed diversity to the WordPress staff.

While I very much love WordPress and posit that it’s the best blogging platform available, the way in which blogs are being curated for Freshly Pressed is unfair and unappealing to many minority bloggers.  It’s my hope that WordPress will begin to feature a tremendous number of minority bloggers on Freshly Pressed.

Many minority bloggers simply see Freshly Pressed as a boring showcase of blogs.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dr. Cornel West’s Courage Should Make You Proud

Dr. Cornel West

(Photo Credit: MTV)

Too many milquetoast Americans, especially Blacks, lack the courage to offer a substantive critique of President Obama.  With the national unemployment rate for Black people being 13.5%, one would think that more Blacks would be propounding their criticisms of President Obama’s poor record of creating jobs.  In many predominantly Black cities across the country, Black unemployment is twice as high as it is nationally.  Although one may not always agree with Dr. Cornel West, former distinguished professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and now Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary, one has to be proud of the courage he shows in his passionate criticisms of President Obama and his policies.

Dr. West’s accomplishments, brilliance, and academic work will forever make him one of the most important persons in American history.  He’s one of the greatest minds in world history.  Dr. West is one of the leading public intellectuals of our time.  As a responsible and effective public intellectual, Dr. Cornel West understands that he has a duty to speak truth to power.  He’s never been afraid to say and do things that might unsettle, unnerve, and unhouse people.

While many question the motivations of his vehement criticisms of Obama, the focus should be more on engaging in a discourse about the criticisms he proffers.  People who don’t want to enter into a conversation about his potent critiques of Obama simply desire to dismiss him as being bitter because Obama didn’t invite him to his first inauguration or first inaugural ball.  Well, after sponsoring and attending over 75 campaign events—many were located in brutally cold places—for President Obama, one would like to think that Dr. West would’ve received an invitation.  Dr. West has repeatedly stated that he’s not bothered by such an inane matter as not receiving an invitation.

One has to be proud of him for mustering the courage to take on some of the prominent liberals that have been given platforms by MSNBC to advocate for President Obama.  Dr. West asserts that MSNBC is a “rent-a-negro” network; that is, a liberal network that gives Black faces (e.g. Al Sharpton and Dr. Melissa Harris Perry) their own shows and/or allows them to make frequent appearances on other people’s shows in exchange for their puppy-dog loyalty to President Obama.  One person who is a stanch liberal and who has been friends with Dr. Cornel West is Dr. Michael Eric Dyson.  Dr. Dyson appears regularly on MSNBC and is a strong supporter and defender of Obama.  Dr. West contends that Dr. Dyson has “sold his soul for a mess of Obama pottage.”  Before Dr. Dyson became a frequent contributor on MSNBC, he was willing to critique Obama.  Now, he cannot find enough ways to praise Obama.

Dr. Cornel West’s record reflects a serious commitment to racial minorities, working people, and the poor.  He will not allow himself to be placed on the market for sale, as others have done for Obama.  West hasn’t let his black skin prevent him from criticizing President Obama appropriately.  Dr. West gives President Obama credit when he deserves it, but he’s never afraid to hold him accountable for horrible policy choices and his inattentiveness to the needs of poor and working people.

Dr. West has been on a “Poverty Tour” across the nation raising attention and support for the needs of the poor.  The poor is the only group in America without lobbyists in Washington, D.C.  West hopes to make the poor visible to President Obama and America.  His work to ameliorate the lives of poor people in America should be applauded and supported.

It’s not popular to be Black and say things in opposition to President Obama, but Dr. Cornel West isn’t willing to submit to the pressure of staying popular.  He’s working to hold President Obama, a man who has tremendous power, accountable to all Americans, especially the most vulnerable people in America: the poor.  For this, he should make us all proud.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

An Introduction to American Life and Culture in 2013

American Life and Culture

(Photo Credit: Neighborhood Love)

America is the most exceptional nation in the world.  This country continues to become more diverse: people across the world live in this nation.  From its inception, America has been a nation of immigrants and that tradition continues.  This is the only county where you can be the son of a former slave and become the President of the United States.  The diverse people from all parts of the world who live in America are responsible for diverse nature of American life and culture.

Making money seems to consume the thoughts, practices, and activities of most Americans in 2013.  Even when people are attempting to engage in activities that are creative, most of them strive to connect their innovative acts to ways to make a profit.  Any effort to introduce American life and culture in 2013, therefore, has to offer an understanding of the increasing power and importance of capitalism.

A close examination of American popular culture helps to illuminate what American life and culture is like in 2013.  When we examine television during this particular time, one finds a significant amount of variety.  One has an opportunity to witness things that are crass, such as Love & Hip Hop Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Atlanta, to valuable shows, such as Mad Men and Scandal.

Unfortunately, the federal government has not increased support for the arts, but average Americans have found innovative ways to keep engagement in the arts alive and well.  At higher education institutions across the nation, one can see how we have some of the greatest people involved in the arts than at any period of time in American history.

We have grown too divided as a nation.  We think in terms of “red states” and “blue states” and not simply the United States.  Our state and national elected officials have caused too many Americans to have a next election mindset, and this has led to numerous things not getting done.

One tremendously positive aspect about American life and culture in 2013 is there’s a burgeoning longing for innovation.  Although this longing for innovation is heavily centered on the profit motive, there’s hope that we can start thinking more about innovation outside of a capitalistic logic.  At this time, it’s becoming more difficult to differentiate creativity and capitalism.  There was a time in America when there were more artists who created things for the pure love of their craft.  Too many artists now are concerned about producing commodities—not art.  When we look at some current films, we see how they play into the profit motive by being imitations of events and people, such as White House Down, instead of striving to develop novel alternatives to the current way people behave and think in 2013.

While America is the most exceptional nation on the planet, American life and culture needs to discontinue being so self-indulgent and money focused.  With such diverse people in America, one has to remain hopeful about the potential innovations that can emerge.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Self-aggrandizing Help

Selfishness

(Photo Credit: The Cheap Place)

Even though we’re still early in the 21st century, it’s increasingly becoming a century saturated with pervasive selfishness.  One of the most frustrating things about the great selfishness I’ve witnessed in the present century is how many people will “help” people just to get people to praise them.  Numerous people pretend to provide others with genuine help but they’re really camouflaging their real dominant motivation: self-aggrandizement.  How can one tell when someone isn’t genuine about the help they offer to others?  One of the ostensible ways to discern deceitful help is to take an opportunity to witness a person in action assisting others.  When a person isn’t truly committed to helping others, he or she will pass off much of the work to others to help the people he or she is supposed to aid—while taking full credit for the results and the work itself.

Too often people are more interested in posting on Facebook and Twitter what they do for people than they are in investing the necessary time to improve the people they’re aiding.  Most authentic providers of support don’t even privately and publicly promulgate what they do for others.  When you’re a natural supporter of people, you don’t need any public credit.  The appreciation and gratitude you receive from those you help should always be sufficient.

One of the primary reasons why I love the 1950s – 1970s is these are decades in the 20th century where people were truly committed to helping one another.  They understood the conditions of Jim Crow demanded they work together to assist one another in engendering the change necessary to break the back of Jim Crow.  I’m not nostalgic about these aforementioned decades—just pointing out that my true selfless spirit is a more apt fit for those decades than it is for this century’s reckless selfishness.

Those who are phony supporters and helpers of others will try to defend themselves against those who are willing to expose their treachery by arguing that the exposers are really the ones who don’t provide authentic support and aid to others.  True providers of authentic help and support have people who are willing to express their gratitude about their help and support.   They don’t have to go to others to complete the unfinished work that phony supporters and helpers didn’t desire to do.  You will, therefore, never be able to mar the record of a genuine helper.

The bible addresses those who give for the wrong reasons as being purposeless and unrewarded by God.  The only people feeling empty about their giving are the ones who aren’t committed to being real givers.  If you’re going to help others, help them.  Don’t waste people’s time by using them as just statistics you parade around to glorify yourself.  One of the chief reasons why self-aggrandizing people want others to see them as true givers is they’re overcompensating for myriad things they lack.  Being falsely perceived as a true giver is a way to blind people from the reality that one isn’t what he or she presents himself or herself to be.

Remove all of the facades and genuinely help people.  Resist the growing impulse in the 21 century to be recklessly selfish.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison