On SZA, Ferguson, and the New Black

Categories: Essay

Screenshot of SZA's Tumblr comment

In her final comment, a Tumblr post, she backtracked, but stumbled, conceding that the situation in Ferguson was "absolutely" racial but asking her critics to stop seeing race: "Stop trying to make us different for the sake of frustration. I mentioned earlier that I've been saddened by ALL spectrums of hate and death be it black on black or white on black my mother raised me to believe ALL lives are valuable... I'm aware some of you will find a way to turn this into something negative as well. So be it."

See also: Exclusive Premiere: Stream and Download SZA's New EP S

Elsewhere in social media land, artists Jhene Aiko and Childish Gambino were also getting branded as New Blacks for their opinions on Ferguson. Aiko urged protesters to "pray for your enemy" while Gambino wrote a strange Twitter poem dismissing hashtag activism. Of course, The situation in Ferguson has, for the better, prompted many black artists to speak out - John Legend has been especially outspoken via his own Twitter while rapper J. Cole recently traveled down to Ferguson to join in the protests.

What's most interesting about these artist-fan exchanges is how passionately and vehemently fans react to artists who apparently fall in line with a kind of "we-all-bleed-red" or "I-don't-see-color" post-racial ideology that derails conversations about racism rather than contributing to them.

In a way, it's as if they feel lied to when an artist is conceived of as one "kind of black" -- conscious, deep, political -- and disappoints by seeming to be the opposite. In most of these cases, though, it's the myth of authenticity, the very myth that there can be any kind of right "blackness," that causes the confusion. Should SZA have anticipated the backlash and online hate she received for sharing her feelings on the tragedy? Probably. But the question also remains: should the fans have been all that surprised?

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