Monthly Archives: August 2013

Respect vs. Appropriation

One thing I’ve always appreciated about David is his “soul” potential. His ability to feel a song and make sure the rest of us feel and understand a song (Exhibit A – above video).

This week, while the new semester started and I had little time to post on my blog while preparing my classes, I still took the time to read different commentary about the disturbing spectacle at MTV’s VMA show.

The issue of race and cultural appropriation was once again raised in terms of which artists were celebrated (and which ones made fools of themselves – Exhibit B – Miley Cyrus).  What does it mean for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” to be the big hit this summer while he is also engaged in a legal battle with Marvin Gaye’s family over the similarities between his song and Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up?”  What does it mean that Justin Timberlake (already viewed by some to be an R&B culture thief) received the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award? Does that excuse the way he left Michael Jackson’s sister Janet alone in taking the brunt of the criticism of their performance at the Super Bowl in 2004?

And let’s not even get into the way Miley Cyrus reduced her black female backup dancers to “teddy bear toys,” literal props on which she could assert a dangerous sexuality that was far removed from her squeaky clean white Disney Hannah Montanna image.

What, essentially, does it mean that black music, dance, culture, bodies, etc. don’t have any real agency and currency until somebody white takes it over and makes it popular to the mainstream?  What does it mean that white performers, who want to get away from a squeaky-clean image, must associate with blackness to earn “cool” and “street” cred?

Is our culture so racially ingrained that these narratives have to be the primary ones, from Elvis Presley to present-day pop stars?

And, can David Archuleta break the mold?

I hope he can.  Because when David sings Stevie Wonder, I don’t see or hear “cultural appropriation.”  I see and hear respect – respect for the culture, the art form, and the original artists.

I hear respect when David routinely gives props to the black female vocalists who influenced his own style, as he did in his memoir Chords of Strength – from Natalie Cole to Tamyra Gray – and from those blue-eyed soul singers  like Eva Cassidy.  I hear respect from a guy who doesn’t think he’s too macho to give a shout out to the women who taught him a thing or two about vocal stylization.

It’s that respect that is so very much missing in the music industry today and which perhaps propelled David to take a break and remember what respect and the purpose of music is all about – even if he does so in the context of his own faith upbringing and practices.

The VMA show revealed to the world how the music industry doesn’t respect cultures or persons, let alone the music which sprang forth from certain persons and cultures.

Real music and artistic influence springs from respect.  Without that, we have no culture. Just meaningless signifiers that ultimately signify nothing but disrespect and artlessness.

Let us hope David will continue to grow from the roots of musical respect – which he has often graced us with each time he opened his mouth to sing.

Happy Birthday, Michael Jackson!

If he were still alive, Michael Jackson would have turned 55 today.  Here’s a montage tribute! 🙂

50 Years Later…

After such a long day, I’m finally sitting back and taking in this speech as if I’m hearing it for the first time:

Remember When…


Miley Cyrus was a bit more innocent, especially when she sang with David Archuleta?

I had to do a flashback of “remember when,” because I needed something to rinse my mind from that awful, simply atrocious performance at last night’s VMA awards show.  So, if you watched the VMAs last night, who here felt tremendous embarrassment watching Miley Cyrus?

*Raises hand.*

vmaUm… “twerkin” up against Robin Thicke?  Sticking out your tongue?  Grabbing some black woman’s behind?

Not a good look!

To think she promised to be “more shocking” than Britney Spears ever was on the VMAs.  Except she forgot the one main ingredient: to stay sexy while being shocking (which Britney never failed to do when dancing with a snake, pulling a strip tease, or locking lips with Madonna).

This here Miley looked drunk, high, and worse: She looked like a girl pretending to be a grown woman, when she clearly has more growing up to do. Oh, and Miley, stop pretending you’re lost in the hood. Get thee back to thy privileged luxurious neighborhood that I’m certain your “Hannah Montanna” money can still fund.

At least Justin Timberlake was there to show that yes, one can mature from Disney’s clutches to a sexy-keep-it-classy grown up. (Let’s hope Kari will get David an opening gig for JT’s tour).

Or do guys have it easier (oops, not always: See the other Justin [Bieber]).

As usual, these moments of pop culture make me miss David (and hope for his more successful transition from teen crush to grown man stardom).

Lessons in Grace

Picture 1This photo that Fans of David shared made me smile. It also made me wary of those fans who may be troubled by the sheer religiosity of this image, a David on his mission, a David “trying to be a lot like Jesus,” which is exactly the point of this feet-washing meeting.

But how many of us can distinguish between mere religiosity and simple grace?

I’m thinking about this of late since I was inspired by the story of Antoinette Tuff, a school clerk in Atlanta, who single-handedly prevented another Sandy Hook mass shooting school tragedy earlier this week, as she talked down the perpetrator and got him to surrender his ammo. Just listen to the 911 call and judge for yourself.

It’s a beautiful story.  And in her many interviews, Ms. Tuff constantly gave credit to God.  “It’s only through his grace and mercy,” she said about the situation: about how she engaged the shooter, Michael Hill, calling him “sweetie” and “baby,” and telling him that she loved him, that she understands him because she’s been through her own personal tragedies.

How many of us could react in a similar fashion? More than that: how many would draw on love and grace and faith and put it into action through this empathetic display of human touch and compassion?

As James Wellman notes on the Patheos blog, Ms. Tuff “was loving this man back into being; treating him not as an object to be manipulated, but as a soul to be healed and saved.”

He also said this, which I think is critical:

Why did Michael listen to her? One can imagine that he has heard every single type of psychological language used on him to deal with his mental illness. He knew the script by heart. But with Antoinette this again was no script, it was the language of love in action. Antoinette recalled the pain of her own life—her severely disabled son, her recent divorce, her despair and attempted suicide. She too had seen the dark side of life. And yet, in the midst of it her pastor had taught her, to “anchor” in the Lord.

This idea is a spiritual one—it appeals to a type of consciousness in which one focuses on a source of power and love, “the Lord,” who opens up space in a person, both psychological and spiritual, so that grace, or unconditional favor, can flow through… Antoinette has experienced a radical sense of grace that gives her space to survive tragedy, and this in turn makes her able to speak and love Michael with a deep and radical sort of empathy. She loves this lost soul because her soul has been loved.

antoinette-tuff-700This is such a poignant argument that many, especially those who don’t come from a faith background, tend to dismiss and even scoff at (if you can believe the uncharitable comments online that are quick to pull Tuff’s “hero” card because she dared give credit to a higher power instead of to herself).

While different journalists and pundits are quick to use Tuff as an example, even a “textbook” case on how to talk down a madman bent on mass murder, they all keep missing the point: This is not behavior that can be “trained,” you either have the capacity to love and empathize, or you don’t.  And sometimes, we have to reach beyond ourselves to find that radical care, that radical love.

The picture of David washing an elderly man’s feet and the story of Antoinette Tuff are lessons in grace.  I know I’m not anywhere close as these genuine souls are to letting in divine grace into my life, but their powerful examples remind me of what is still possible if I would only open my heart and let the soul work begin.