By Legrand H. Clegg II
Nationwide — On June 28, of this year, Melissa Johnson, known professionally as “Lizzo,” won BET’s Best Female R&B/Pop Artist Award for 2020. This is of grave concern to me. However, since Lizzo cannot be viewed in a vacuum, let me pause for a moment to provide a little background.
In 1993, I attended a workshop at the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. that featured young African American rappers. It was a very revealing experience. Many of the older Black adults who set the agenda for the conference, felt that rap, as an art form, had taken an ominous turn. The language had become vile, raunchy, sexist, and self-destructive. Women were maligned, violence promoted and the N-word had reached an unprecedented level of distinction and repetition.
The largely middle-class professionals in attendance wanted an explanation for why our young people had adopted this shocking mode of expression. Of all of the answers given that day, only one sticks out in my mind: a popular young rapper stated that Hollywood executives and producers had informed the rappers that positive, constructive rap, focusing on social issues of concern to Black people, would no longer be financed by the industry. Only “gangsta rap” would be promoted. Of course, the rest is history.
In spite of the fact that courageous Black people, such as the late C. Delores Tucker, and a few others have protested the now prevalent “gangsta rap,” most of us have grown immune to it. We hear the N-word spewing forth from the mouths of our youths and watch them degrade Black women — all with pathetic impugnity. It’s gotten so bad here in California that youths of all races now routinely address each other with the rap-endorsed and promoted N-word.
Let me remind Black people that all groups in America, including Italians, Irish, Jews, Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans, etc. have been the victims of racial epithets. Yet, WE ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO TOLERATE AND EVEN FLAUNT OUR DEGRADATION! (Lest we forget, the N-word was the last utterance of sneering White mobs before they lynched over four thousand Black people in this country. The N-word was also the term that Travis McMichael recently spoke over the dead body of jogger Ahmaud Arbery after McMichael shot him three times in cold blood in Georgia.)
Let us now turn to Lizzo. This young singer has of late emerged as a pervasive presence in a self-promoted spree on social media. Morbidly obese, she delights in exposing her naked behind to any camera in sight, often gyrating in acts of simulated sex.
Two of Lizzo’s most obscene public acts received widespread publicity. On December 8, 2019, she appeared at a Laker’s basketball game in Los Angeles before throngs of fans with her behind nude. As is her custom, she shamelessly twerked before the cameras. As a result, officials banned her from the Staples Center where the game was held.
On Easter Sunday of this year, rapper P. Diddy was forced to stop Lizzo’s performance at his Instagram Live fundraiser for healthcare workers during the Coronavirus pandemic. While she was twerking to a profanity-laced song playing in the background, P. Diddy interrupted Lizzo, stating: “Whoa, whoa, whoa! It’s Easter Sunday. Let’s play something a little more family-friendly.”
For the past thirty years we as a people have literally grown immune to the vulgarity of our young rappers: cursing, degrading Black women and promoting the N-word. I truly fear that if Lizzo is not stopped now, we will soon normalize public nudity. After Lizzo was criticized on social media for both of the above stunts, there was an outcry among young people in her defense claiming that her critics were “fat-shaming her.”
“When Lizzo was twerking, it’s not family-friendly, but when a skinny girl does it, it’s all fun and games,” one person wrote on Twitter. In another indication of tolerance for this behavior, the NAACP gave Lizzo The Entertainer of the Year Award at its Annual Image Awards program held in February of this year.
In the past, Black women have been humiliated, brutalized, and raped. Later, Hollywood took over the image of African-American women and continued their degradation. From Sapphire in Amos and Andy and Aunt Esther in Sanford and Son to modern caricatures in soap, laxative and cologne commercials, Black women are rarely viewed as beautiful, soft, feminine, and demure – these qualities are reserved for their white counterparts. With few exceptions, the former are demeaned and stereotyped. Lizzo has exacerbated this practice with her multiple striptease acts.
In this age of the Coronavirus that has devastated many Black families, we must understand that obesity is one of the underlying conditions that leaves us susceptible to contracting the disease. To some obesity may be beautiful; but to others it could be deadly! Furthermore, in America and throughout the civilized world, public nudity is still viewed as indecent exposure. Let me be clear, this is not about “fat-shaming;” it’s about the shame of public nudity and vulgarity.
During this time in which Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey are the most venerated women in the world, and Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, is contemplating choosing a Black female running mate, we should all demand that Lizzo — one of our pretty and talented singers — abandon her nudity and embrace the dignity of her ancestors and contemporaries. They opened the door for her success. In gratitude, she should enter fully dressed and filled with humility and self-respect.
Legrand H. Clegg II is the City Attorney emeritus for Compton, California, President of the Western Region of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations and producer of the documentary, “When Black Men Ruled The World.” He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (562) 624-2857. To read more extensive articles covering some of the issues herein he may be contacted at Instagram @legrandclegg.
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