What I Learned From Kendrick Lamar – By The Dark Skin Activist — Rashida Marie Strober
“Well, well, well would you looky here,” ANOTHER FAKE CONSCIOUS MUTHER F-KER EXPOSED. I will never support him nor his music with one dime of my money and encourage all dark-skinned women not to either!”
Those were the words that I typed shortly after hearing from a dark skinned young lady who I had been counseling for the past six months. This young lady’s issues were urgent and pressing. Depressed and alone she had been suicidal due to the numerous dark skinned female oppressive experiences she had endured. I felt it was my duty and responsibility as the dark skin activist to always have my ear and heart open to dark skinned women like her who suffered in silence.
“Rashida!” She wrote. “Have you seen Kendrick Lamar’s new fiancé?” I explained to her that I had not. I was not a follower of Kendrick Lamar’s music. I’m from the 90s era. You know, the Lauryn Hill, Fugees, H-Town, Common, SWV, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Salt N Peppa, Foxy Brown and Lil Kim era. However, knowing my track record of dark skinned activism, the young dark-skinned woman was sure that I would research this Kendrick Lamar situation. She knew that I was not afraid to call him out if need be. She knew that I was not afraid to call out any colorstruck man for that matter.
Kendrick Lamar was never the only black man that I had called out over the years for discriminating against dark skinned women. The hard-core fans of mine that have followed my work since the 90s know that I had been calling out black male entertainers who discriminated against dark skinned women for years. I had done it first in the community at the grassroots level. I started with a lecture given about dark skinned female discrimination in 1998 while an undergraduate student at St. Petersburg College. I had done it on my internet radio show ‘A Dark-Skinned Woman’s Revenge’ that I created and began hosting in 2012. I had done it on social media outlets for years. The point I’m making is that calling out what I call darkist men was not about Kendrick Lamar. My mission has always been to expose colorstruck black men like Gilbert Arenas and Kodak black. Men with such darkist mentalities have been around the black community for years.
Back to Kendrick Lamar. When I researched Kendrick I found a man full of contradictions. I found a man full of hypocrisy. Call me crazy but I’m one of those people that believe that one should live what they speak about in their music. Especially a musical artist that raps or sings about socio-political issues. I hold them to an even higher standard than your average run of the mil pop or hip-hop artist. Any musical artist singing or rapping about the issue of skin tone has a unique responsibility to adhere to the principals of their lyrics. My research on Kendrick Lamar’s brand indicates that his musical artistry in terms of his socio-political stance on colorism is not a lived reality.
Perhaps marketing is the culprit. Numerous market research and demographic studies show that black women do most of the spending on consumer items in the black community. This is a fact that is used to the advantage of black male artists who may start with a fan base of primarily black women. For some, their marketing strategy may include placing darker toned women in their music videos given that they are aware of this technique as a marketing tactic to boost sales revenue. I cannot say that all black male artists are engaging the black female audience for purely selfish economic reasons. Some artists really do love dark skinned women and they live it in their daily lives. Much love to those artists who do, like Musiq Soulchild, Anthony Hamilton and Common. However, Kendrick Lamar serves as an example of an artists that uplifts dark skinned women only in theory, as a measure of convenience. Below, I give three examples of how Kendrick Lamar’s music, and contradictive lifestyle, has betrayed dark skinned women.
KENDRICK LAMAR’S “POETIC JUSTICE”
The very first awareness that I had with Kendrick Lamar’s brand was through Facebook. Two years ago, a Facebook friend who knows that I go hard as an activist for dark skin beauty sent me a message asking me to look at Kendrick’s Poetic Justice video. She said it featured a dark-skinned woman as the lead. When I watched the video I saw Kendrick Lamar all up on this beautiful dark skinned woman. “WOW! This is a win for dark skin!” I thought to myself, “Now here is a black male artist who respects dark skinned women.” I thought to myself, “Here is an artist that promotes dark skinned women.” Kendrick Lamar gave me the impression that he was deep into dark skinned females. Fast forward two years later and this same artist chose to get engaged to a non-dark-skinned female. I, like many dark-skinned women, felt deceived and betrayed.
KENDRICK LAMAR’S “THE BLACKER THE BERRY”
Given the history of the phrase “The blacker the berry” and Kendrick Lamar’s track record of not living what he speaks about in his music, he should not have used the phrase as the title of his song. The lyrics in the Blacker the Berry are pro-blacker than black. He speaks at length about the atrocities suffered by black people, yet he himself is a contributor to the atrocity of darkism. For example, at the beginning of the song he chimes, “everything black, I don’t want black. I want everything black. I aint need black.” In this instance the lyrics are quite reflective of his confused reality. In his choice of companion, he has truly reflected this ambiguity of “wanting everything black but not needing black.” This song is reflective of how many black men want to bask in the atrocities of black martyrdom, but for many, the martyrdom does not include a union in marriage and partnership with a dark-skinned woman who has also shared these atrocities of blackness more than anyone. Having read the book, the Blacker the Berry, about a dark-skinned woman who experienced darkism within the black community, Kendrick Lamar’s use of the title, The Blacker the Berry, is an insult to me as a dark skinned black woman. I will be the first to admit that I have not the slightest idea as to whether Kendrick Lamar has read Wallace Thurman’s 1929 masterpiece, The Blacker the Berry. We have Wallace Thurman and the story of the dark-skinned Emma Lou to thank for the popular phrase, “the blacker the berry.” The deep painful origins of this phrase cannot be taken lightly. This is the reason that I cannot help but take issue with Kendrick naming his song after this historic book when his choice in mate does not reflect what he raps about.
Wallace Thurman’s groundbreaking novel about a dark-skinned woman, Emma Lou Morgan, who was discriminated against by black people because of her dark skin tone was nothing short of a black tragedy. The subject matter of dark skinned female discrimination was revolutionary for its time. Through Emma Lou’s experiences, Wallace Thurman pulled no punches in writing about the stark reality of how dark-skinned women were treated in black American society. One of the most haunting phrases from his book is when he stated in reference to Emma Lou that “the tragedy of her life was that she was too black.” Emma Lou’s life chances were diminished from the moment that she came out of her mother’s womb. This was because she was too dark skinned. I sat in my room crying for hours after reading this monumentally important book. The pain was all too real. I could feel every inch of Emma Lou’s pain. I am her. She is me. As such, it is quite disheartening to know that a musical artist has taken the title of this book as the title for his song, while expressing the same form of discrimination that the title of the book speaks about. The irony!
KENDRICK LAMAR’S “COMPLEXION”
My critics have pointed to Kendrick Lamar’s song Complexion as a defense against Kendrick’s aversion to darkism. While the song adds to the discourse on the history of darkism and how it impacts black people, the fact remains that while he speaks out against darkism he ironically perpetuates it. History has shown a pattern of some black men promoting the very thing they rant against. The 1960s black power era is a great example of this contradictory darkism phenomena. For example, while fighting for black power in the 1960s, many of the chief male proponents of black power were themselves darkist in their mate selection. This is tantamount to succumbing to the very thing that they claimed to be fighting against.
There are countless black men who consider themselves to be freedom fighters for black empowerment who suffer from colorstruckedness of the worst kind. The inherent contradictions regarding their behavior is both confusing and appalling to the black community as a whole. Their behavior is also deceptive. Darkist men have serious internal issues regarding skin tone and women. Their actions can be compared to what W.E.B Dubois termed “the double consciousness of black folks.” This sentiment can be renamed “the double consciousness of black men” who are on the one hand pro-black while on the other hand discriminating against dark skinned women in their mate selection. In essence, Kendrick Lamar, Gilbert Arenas and Kodak Black’s actions follow a historical pattern in regards to the discrimination of dark skinned women as suitable life partners. It is my hope that one day men like these come to terms with their “double consciousness” in regards to their discriminatory behavior towards their own dark skinned women one of the severest forms of darkism.
Rashida Strober is the first activist, author and actress to focus her work exclusively on dark skin. She will be performing her off-Broadway play, A Dark Skin Woman’s Revenge in Harlem, New York on November 4th 2017 at the Maysles Documentary Center located at 343 Malcolm X Blvd in Harlem New York. For tickets go to rashidastrober.com.