Erykah Badu’s School and Addressing Rape Culture
Guest Post by barakanoel
I doubt Erykah remembers meeting me. I was dreaming. Badu always had me feeling like a dream. Well, well, well. They said Hip Hop was dead before we even heard about Bambaataa. Before I ever memorized a rhyme. Always tryna take down our Black heroes. Whitney. Cosby. Kelly. Martin, Tracy Morgan & Katt. They killed Cosby’s kid.
Always want to take our heroes down. Malcolm, Martin & Fred. We know they’re gunning for us. Trayvon. Grant. Diallo. Till. Black folks been property for a target like the Westfield mall. So forgive my skepticism as the media clutches for relevance, dragging legends of the diaspora. People I know speak of Separatism, Queer Nationalism, Socialism, Secession and anarchy.
Folks been talking shit about Badu. Like she’s the problematic figure in Hip Hop. If you ain’t heard, here’s what happened. People got mad when Erykah tweeted on adolescence – the transformative power of puberty. She said it was natural for adults and teenagers to notice one another, physically. And – if she started a school – she would want a dress code to keep everyone focused on learning. This was controversial: Everybody freaked out. It was right around when Bowie died. And I get it. I went to Catholic school. America has a sex problem. Folks were upset because they felt Badu was shaming young girls, encouraging lascivious behavior among teachers, inflicting patriarchal values through puritanical and outdated policies. Now, Erykah doesn’t have a school. But I’d like to work there.
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I went to Catholic school. Dress codes, uniforms and – from 9th-12th – Boys only. “Learned” a lot about the Bible and about dogma – not as much science. History was spotty too. I recall in sophomore year, my World History teacher stood in front of 26 of us and said; “We’re all Anglo Saxons here”. From 3rd through 6th grade we learned and relearned the same progression of History. An ancient pilgrimage across the Bering Strait. Papal division of the globe. Ponce de Leon. Balboa, Magellan & Columbus’ supposed discovery. Plymouth Rock. Jamestown. A Trail of Tears along the pilgrimage West. Every year, they hastened us through the Civil War, emancipation, reconstruction & the industrial revolution. The Depression and the New Deal – they would take us up to Kennedy, Malcolm and Martin – never the Black Panther Party – and then quit around Vietnam. This was History every year at a Blue Ribbon school, whatever that means.
I don’t trust the government with my child’s mind. Figured I would have to home-school. Consider this my application to the Badu School. I have a vision for revamping education. If it was up to me…
I would give Derek Waters thirty million dollars to design a comprehensive historical program. I’d put Jesse Williams at the head of Speech & Debate. One of the most impactful assignments I can recall from high school, involved autonomous research. People learn better when we choose our own path. I went to a college library and spent hours wandering the stacks. I literally cannot recall the subject of my project. I remember rows of Shakespeare, neatly organized, ceiling to floor. The sense that anything I might want to discover lay somewhere barely out of reach. Today, with instant access to infinite information, we seem to hold little use for speculation. For wonder. Better to troll the depths of Google and blindly accept what we read than discuss anything with one another – certainly not in person, who has the time? And social media is hardly the ideal format for sincere discussion. Let’s just go with whatever Wikipedia and Snopes can tell us. Why think beyond that?
I remember in high school, I found it hard to focus. I spent most of the day hiding erections and day dreaming about sensations I had yet to experience. This was in an all male environment where the primary interest I could muster in my surroundings revolved around one or two women on the faculty or in administration.
I didn’t have a name for it, but rape culture ran rampant. Multiple faculty members were released under allegations of sexual impropriety. And as difficult as it is to say, the word rape was thrown around like confetti – unselfconsciously – as a synonym for “fuck”. I don’t recollect talking that way, but I probably did – everyone did, more or less as I recall.
I remember school wide surprise and outrage at a student’s suspension after he emailed a girl at another school to say he wanted to rape her. I didn’t particularly have friends at my school and I thought it was a stupid move – but I hadn’t heard anyone discuss consent in the context of sex. We never particularly thought about what the word meant.
In our culture today, alongside problems of police brutality, homelessness, public unrest, barely regulated industry, and sexual violence – some kind of space has begun to open up for a new liberatory deconstruction of Patriarchy. I believe this is a male conversation. Men, by and large, are the perpetrators of violence and we must take responsibility for our masculine problem.
And this requires talking. Most likely, talking in a way that doesn’t feel safe for everybody. Examining childhood sexuality becomes dangerous – because we don’t understand consent, and because age of consent holds cultural elements that are near impossible to pluck apart.
Memories of oppression, fear and ethnocentrism complicate discussions & keep them limited – keep them from functioning intersectionally. Erykah pointed to something true: grown adults are, at times, attracted to children. Clearly. If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t need the regulation of vice laws to protect minors from sexual exploitation.
Artists don’t always get it right, but we try to process the pain. Louis CK has several bits regarding sexual violence. One in particular comes to mind. He claims that, if we as a culture were not so revolted and angered by pedophilia, more of our children would live. He can get away with this, only through a particular confluence of circumstances; but he isn’t wrong.
Our fear of certain taboos render most of us inarticulate. As a nation, we have problems so terrifying – we can’t admit they exist. We can’t discuss them. Figuring out constructive conflict; grappling with the world around us; Logic, Rhetoric and problem solving; knowing what has already happened so we may decide how to proceed – this is the purpose of school. And – as much as I hated dress codes and uniforms as a student – I see their purpose now. I will say this:
If I had any say in the Badu School, there would be no homework. I always thought it was unfair as a kid. How my parents left their assignments at work, while I carried mine as an albatross.
Children understand the new media better than any of us – factory education has no place in the world today. We need to teach our children about the world as it functions – in order to solve the problems we are no longer willing to accept. And the first step, as always, must be to admit we have a problem.