The prince of hurt

I never meant to cause you any sorrow

I never meant to cause you any pain….

Prince, “Purple Rain”

Recently, Donald Trump—despite being asked not to do so—played Prince’s “Purple Rain” at a Minnesota rally. Prince’s estate immediately sent yet another cease-and-desist request.

On Oct. 15, 2018, Trump said he would not play the song again at his rallies but, like all of his promises, this one was designed to build you up in order to hurt you even worse the next time around. It was not even the first time a musician had asked Trump to stop playing their music, and it certainly won’t be the last.

What makes this time so egregious is the fact that Prince is the antithesis of Donald J. Trump—Prince was dedicated to elevating art and beauty to their rightful places atop of the reasons to be alive, and he did this through his music.

Trump, on the other hand, is dedicated to the elevating Trump and the Trump brand. There is no art in what he has to offer, and most people who have dealt with him would agree that what he is selling is shit. This is a man who lives in a literal gold palace because he associates gold with beauty and class. Prince was a champion of women artists and dedicated his social and political cache to the advancement of women songwriters and performers. Trump, well, where do I begin?

Trump’s use of Prince’s most iconic song is a calculated move. It is one that is designed to subvert and co-opt. Trump and his team didn’t just pick a song from any well-known artist from Minnesota. Trump and his team know damn well what Prince stood for, what people think of Prince, and (more importantly) they are hyper aware of what using “Purple Rain” signals: We (TRUMP) are of the people, for the people, for the “Real Americans.” While there is, unfortunately, a minority of zombies who believe Trump’s gaslighting, the rest of us know damn well that there is nothing even remotely true about that. Trump needs artists like Prince, Neil Young, REM, Adele, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, and Pharell to project a sense that he is a man of the people. He needs them in order to project an image that links humanity, compassion, and activism to him—a man devoid of any of those traits. It’s not just that he has no empathy; it is that he has negative empathy. He is the living embodiment of the opposite of empathy.

What’s maddening is that this is how Trump has operated from day one. He hasn’t worked for it; he hasn’t worked for anything really. By co-opting artists who have spoken for those without a voice, artists who have elevated minorities and communities on the fringes, Trump hopes to place himself right alongside them and their messages without ever having to do anything that actually displays those qualities and virtue.

Art is the lens which we use to translate, convey, and converse about the issues of our day. Great artists create great art by dedicating themselves to the medium. It’s about passion; it’s about putting yourself out there—making yourself vulnerable. Art is speaking to truth to power. By co-opting artists who have spoken for those without a voice, artists who have elevated minorities and communities on the fringes, Trump hopes to place himself right alongside them and their messages without ever having to do anything that actually displays those qualities and virtues. By using these artists Trump is fraudulently signaling to his base that he and they are the forgotten ones and that these are OUR anthems.

“On the day of the mass murder of eleven human beings at the hands of a deranged ‘nationalist,’ you played his song ‘Happy’ to a crowd at a political event in Indiana,” Pharell Williams’ attorney Howard E King wrote in a letter. “There was nothing ‘happy’ about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose.”

Trump knows this. He wanted to send the message: Fuck your happiness. Your art is disposable—I will use it as I see fit, and then I will discard it.

Trump has a series of rape allegations against him. Right now. New ones keep popping up even as I type this. As our president on the verge of a possible second term, there are still unprocessed rape cases that clearly name him as the perpetrator. Now, I’m not a lawyer, nor am I a judge, but if you look at his use of other people’s art, you can clearly see how this is not a surprise.

“I did try and fuck her. She was married…I moved on her very heavily… I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married….You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything…” – Donald Trump

Trump’s use of these artists’ music, many of them having asked repeatedly that he stop using their music, is designed to make sure that those of us who are opposed to him know he does not care one bit. When he decided that he would play “Purple Rain” again, Trump’s intent was to cause harm. It is the same as when he calls Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” despite Indigenous advocacy groups requesting him to stop it. It is the same as when he mocks people with disabilities. It is the same as when he demonizes the press. It is why he forces himself onto women. It is meant to cause pain.

When we say “stop,” it is that much more delicious and irresistible to him. It is about creating sorrow—look what I can do. Look at all the ways I can hurt you. “I heard you,” he is saying, “and I just don’t care. I will take things that you hold sacred, like songs of struggle, sacrifice, and solidarity, like norms about decency and respect, things like advocating and supporting our vulnerable and often invisible brothers and sisters, things like your body, and your privacy, and I will use them in the same way I use everything around me—with no regard to fallout or repercussions, and to achieve MY goals, MY means, MY needs.”

But just like the dumb-ass schoolyard bully from your childhood, Trump is conflating inflicting pain with gaining power. Trump believes in his own power, and he believes that a great leader leads with power alone, but it takes more than that to lead us through the storm.

Prince once explained the meaning of “Purple Rain” as follows: “When there’s blood in the sky—red and blue, those equal purple … purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.”

Lord knows it feels like the end of the world right now, but we’ve got to continue the pushback. We’ve got to continue to love one another and let our faith in justice, equity, and community guide us through this noxious, toxic, and debilitating orange fog. We must not go crazy, at least not right now. We will prevail, and then we will party like its 1999.


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Forgiveness is expected (even required) from Black people

When I saw Brandt Jean hug his brother’s killer I felt my face get hot. Rage. Pure. I was in an airport, and since I couldn’t react with the volume I normally would have at home, I just sat with it. Silently. I forced myself to examine my rage. Admittedly, I found that some of that rage was from knowing that as soon as he hugged that murderer, every Black person in America was going to have to deal with at least 2.5 white people saying, “Well, he forgave her, so you should, too/you’re so angry/it’s not that bad/etc.” Somehow, in times of need there is never a shortage of white people to set our examples for us.

Shamefully, some of the rage was at Brandt for not taking the rest of us into account in his decision to publicly embrace a killer. Then I wondered if I was abiding by that very same white supremacist setting of examples. This man should get to grieve however he feels to be necessary. He shouldn’t have to set an example for the rest of America. He shouldn’t have to hold back his compassion because of how it’s perception might affect the rest of us. White people don’t have to worry about that. White people aren’t told to grieve a certain way because of how Black people might perceive it. They have a freedom in their grief.

Then, in thinking about freedom I remembered my father’s letter from George HW Bush.

It was a thank-you letter signed by the dead ex-prez himself. My father got it by donating to Bush’s campaign. He kept the letter in a frame on the wall in the living room just under his own eye level. He placed it there because he wanted his friends to see it and my father was taller than his friends.

Lest you get the wrong idea, my father was not a fan of George HW Bush. He thought Bush was the racist milksop war criminal history shows him to be. But my father was a veteran and his community was made of veterans. White veterans. In a white town. In the whitest state. This meant, for my father to feel that he and his family were safe, he needed to do certain things to shield himself and us from that whiteness. In this particular case, that meant sending $10 to the 1988 George HW Bush Presidential campaign.

My father grew up walking through colored entrances and using colored bathrooms and drinking colored water in a white world that that would kill him if he did otherwise. If he even said what he thought about Bush, there could be consequences, but not just for him.

My father was not free to speak his mind and neither is Brandt Jean. Both my father and Brandt Jean are from a country in which the police are a leading cause of death, in which white supremacy continues to run rampant—especially throughout law enforcement, in which law enforcement officers continue to be the most punitive, petty and vengeful members of society, yet the only ones permitted to kill.

Brandt Jean lives in a country in which his own brother was just murdered by an admittedly racist police officer. He lives in a country in which there are ruthless consequences for not being nice to white people and those consequences aren’t only paid by the individual. They are often paid by an entire family.

I am not saying that Brandt Jean’s compassion is insincere or implying anything about his motivations. This is not about him. This is about a country that demands white humanity be constantly and vibrantly visible while commanding Black humanity to be silent, worthless and invisible. This is about the outcome of that inverted relationship; their inhumanity encourages them to kill us while our humanity forgives them for it. This is about a system that only goes in that specific direction. This is about a pattern that must stop because the forgiveness will eventually stop, either because the violence has ceased and/or simply because there will be none of us left to grant that forgiveness.


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The two Dave Chappelles

Cancel culture isn’t real. There are no victims. Nobody is actually getting canceled. Sure, people might say, “you’re canceled,” but what is actually happening to these so-called victims? Nothing. Insofar as I can tell, only one dude even got fired and he actually got his job back.

What is happening is that the internet has given voice to people who were previously voiceless and some motherfuckers from a protected class can’t stand to be criticized. That’s really about it. You’ve got a bunch of damn babies everyone had to be quiet around who then grew up to think that that was the natural order of things.

This brings me to Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special.

OK, look. Dave Chappelle is two different people. First, he’s a Black person, a point of view with a necessary diamond-sharp clarity, culturally handed down generation after generation just as a means of survival. When Dave speaks on Blackness he is as breathtakingly hilarious and existentially profound as he’s ever been. I am endlessly thankful for that Dave Chappelle. That Dave Chappelle has informed and enlightened me as far back as I can remember and I feel incredibly lucky to live in the same time as him.

The other Dave Chappelle however, is a celebrity. That point of view is an all-encompassing fog of unimaginable privilege. In his latest special, Dave Chappelle speaks on almost everything other than race from the point of view of a celebrity. That is to say in those moments he is as oblivious, thin-skinned, spiteful, dull and shockingly unoriginal as just about any random 4chan post.

Like, he sticks up for Louis CK. I’m not going to get too far into that, as others have spoken about it so well, but Louis took his dick out in front of people who didn’t want him to and traditionally, that shit should at least put a stop to whatever career you have. Unless, of course, your career is Supreme Court Justice. The point is that ain’t nobody responsible for that dude’s life but him.

And the trans jokes. Jesus, Dave. First of all, the history of trans representation in American pop culture has placed them mostly as either the butts of jokes or abhorrent sexual deviants. Secondly, the government is constantly trying to legislate away the rights of trans people. And thirdly, trans people are killed just for being trans all the time all over this country. Those three things should sound familiar if you have any historical knowledge of any minority group, but just to give you a hint of which side of history you’ll want to be on for this one, when he got into power in 1933, one of the first things Hitler did was seek out and destroy the medical records of trans people.

Before you pin my PC Policeman’s badge on me, no, I’m not likening Dave to Hitler. And no, I’m not saying “Censor Dave Chappelle!” I’m not saying Chappelle shouldn’t be allowed to say certain things. I’m saying I just wish he didn’t want to. It just seems to me that, if you are being paid tens of millions of dollars to write and tell jokes to an audience of untold millions of people, maybe just don’t write ones Hitler would laugh at.

I’m not going to go through his act bit by bit, but yes, I understand that these jokes are meant to be offensive. The problem is Dave’s whole thing is that he’s offended that people are offended. Weird, meta-irony aside, when you deliberately set out to offend people, it’s just some real crybaby bullshit to whine when you succeed.

 In the end, I am hopeful that Dave will eventually figure it out. He does get so many things right.


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Photo by Greg Jeanneau on Unsplash