Dr. Mark Anthony Neal is a professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of five books including Soul Babies (2002), New Black Man (2005) and the forthcoming Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (2013). He is also co-editor of That’s the Joint! (2011) and is host of the weekly webcast Left of Black. After sitting-in on one of his classes, we paused for a few questions. Read along as Neal speaks quite insightfully on Spike Lee, Nas, Black feminism, and the n-word.
Lamont Lilly: Dr. Neal, in your book New Black Man, you describe how you were first tagged a “Black male feminist” on the BET Tonight Show. Being that you embrace this tag, can you share with us the meaning of a Black male feminist?
Mark Anthony Neal: (Laughing) Well, when I first began graduate school I was introduced to something called Feminist Theory, a body of work that attempted to intervene in both political discourse and everyday realities regarding the notions of equity between men and women. The idea that men inherited a certain amount of privilege from their maleness was a privilege even more complicated when factoring race into the equation. I was taking classes in the English Department and became curious to the question, “Where are all the Black women writing about this?” There I was, reading Barbara Christian and Barbara Smith, and on my own I began to seek out sisters like bell hooks.
I remember purchasing my first bell hooks reading on me and my wife’s first wedding anniversary. It was my first attempt at critically engaging that type of material. Hooks is one of the most important figures out there on studies of gender, sexuality, and race in the last 20 years. She’s written 15 or so books and none of them with footnotes. She was taking this high theoretical language and writing it in a way that was both applicable and accessible to everyday folks. It was under this context that I was introduced to not just feminism, but Black feminism.
At a recent performance, Jay Electronica asked his audiences “Do women like to be choked during sex?” Apparently, he asks this question at every show, and is conducting an informal survey so that him, his DJ, and Nas, can decide a $20,000 bet on the issue on December 25th.
By Guest Contributor Naima-Ramos Chapman, cross-posted from Colorlines
In their new music video for “New York is Killing Me,” Gil Scott-Heron and director Chris Cunningham turn popular characterizations of the Big Apple completely on their heads. The video, which was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan last week, has one simple message: it can be a cold, brutal place. But as a legendary artist, Heron’s bitter break up letter with the city has prompted some of hip-hop’s leading players to openly challenge its evils.
In this case, it’s a matter of cleverly mixed mediums that get the message across. Heron’s raspy vocals blend well with Cunningham’s visuals of alternating shots of the city, all in constant, dizzying motion. Subway tunnels, bridges, extreme aerial long shots of the city cloaked in darkness create a menacing mood for viewers. They easily conjure up feelings of destitution and grittiness for a city that over the past twenty years has become largely represented as the entertainment capital of the world.
When I first heard the track, I immediately thought of all the other highly-touted New York anthems. There’s Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and the recent Jay-Z-Alicia Keys collaboration “Empire State of Mind.” Those types of love letters contrast sharply with Heron’s gritty city journal. This is not a song about a glitz and glam New York whose “streets will inspire you.” According to Heron, it’s a lonely, cold, and bare city. For a die-hard New Yorker like myself, the song is a hard pill to swallow but once it goes down, it’s difficult not to sober up and realize how much this city’s inhabitants are hurting.