Erykah Badu's Window Seat: The Scary Black Body Strikes Again

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This afternoon, I found myself engaging in the time-honored tradition of students everywhere, namely, puttering aimlessly around the interwebs in order to avoid doing work, when I stumbled upon a post at Racialicious about Erykah Badu's new video for her song "Window Seat."  Turns out it has churned up quite a bit of controversy.

In brief, the video shows Badu walking down the street, gradually removing her clothes until she's wearing only a hair covering.  Suddenly, there's the pop of a gun and Badu falls to the ground.  If you are me, and you have not been paying attention, this doesn't make any sense until you realize that Badu has filmed this video in Dallas, Texas, at the site of President Kennedy's assassination.  Suddenly, the voiceover at the beginning of the video (a recording of the news anchor's narration right before Kennedy was shot) makes a lot more sense.

If you are still me, you have spent most of the video watching the dude in red about 40 yards behind her who is running around picking up her clothes, and you are wondering if anyone else noticed this, and if so, why they left it in the video.  But, apparently, if you are anyone else, you are having moral and ethical quandaries about her public nudity.

Personally, I concur with guest blogger Renina Jarmon at Racialicious, who summarized her response with the following tweet: ""When was the last time you saw a Black womans body and sensuality centered FROM her perspective in Pop Culture?  . . . Window Seat is THE embodiment of Vulnerable y Fearless. Given the historical treatment of Black womens bodies in pop culture. +And American history. Window Seat feels like a lightweight Corrective for "Venus Hottentott" and thousands of nameless video vixens."  Plus, I found it really empowering to see a healthy, normal-sized woman's body, instead of the emaciated airbrushed women that are standard visual fair in the US.

But apparently Badu may actually be facing obscenity charges for her public disrobing.  As we have come to expect, Fox news reported on this subject with dispassionate, objective, unbiased, fact-based journalistic integrity.  Or not.

Please turn your attention to the following Fox clip, where you can see a bevy of white ladies discuss Badu's "tasteless" video.  The white ladies express some concern about Badu's decision to film this at the site of Kennedy's assassination, which they seem to feel is disrespectful.  But what really ruffles their feathers is that INNOCENT CHILDREN were exposed to Badu's naked form. (!!!)  To illustrate their point, they feature the tragic story of young Cailey (sp?) Espinosa, who's ninth birthday was ruined when she found herself face-to-boob with Badu's nude body.  Cailey's mother remarked (roughly) "if she wants to make a statement, let her make a statement, but do it tastefully, don't do it when my child's standing there watching you get butt naked . . . that just totally tainted my daughter's ninth birthday" and suggested that Badu should apologize to Cailey.

I just don't see what is so harmful about your child seeing a healthy woman who is comfortable with her body make an artistic statement by taking off her clothes, and oh, by the way, she happens to be a huge, politically active star who has never been afraid to speak her mind and who has obtained considerably power by doing so.  I would be TOTALLY PSYCHED if my kid was in an Erykah Badu video!

Fox news, and apparently a great many Americans, seem to think that a naked body is intrinsically sexual, and intrinsically pornographic.  I would argue that it is specifically the female body, and especially the black female body, that seems so threatening.  The idea that a black woman's body is always, inescapably sexual, in ANY context, dredges up centuries of the racist sexualization and objectification of the Other. 

I feel that it is fairly obvious that Badu wasn't hoping to arouse anyone with this video.  Why can't Badu use her own body in an artistic, political way?  Why won't the American public give her the authority to decide how to use her body?  Why does the black female body ALWAYS have to be an object of sexual voyeurism?  I know we've been having a lot of conversations about intent and reception, and the degree to which artists can/should control the interpretation of there work, but isn't there a point at which this kind of voyeurism threatens our ownership of our own bodies? 

ARG. 

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Thanks for posting this and for your thoughts on it. The Youtube video was taken down, but here is another one, with a great commentary: "Erykah Badu--for Genital Waxing?" Apparently, a waxing salon used this video to encourage women to "be as brave as Badu" in nudity by getting waxed. . . .

I love Badu's commentary at the end, by the way. ". . . .ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. . . .They are us. This is what we have become. Afraid to respect the individual. A single person within her circumstance can move one to change, to love herself, to evolve."

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