More Than Music: Little Richard Is the Architect of Flamboyant Southern Black Queerness

“Tutti frutti! Oh rudy…”

My granddaddy loved him some Little Richard. Throughout my childhood, he’d walk around the house and randomly break into song.

“Ah-whop bop b-luma b-lop bam boom!”

I cannot think of Little Richard without thinking about my grandpa. As I type, the world is mourning his death and I am in the number. It feels like another piece of my childhood died with Mr. Penniman. Little Richard has been in the periphery of my entire life.

As I came of age, I started to grapple with my sexuality and my perception of him changed. He became part of my mental handbook I used to navigate my sexuality. He was Southern, Black and queer. He was also loud as hell. Just like me.

Little Richard GIFs | Tenor

Richard publicly struggled with his queerness and although I considered him a queer possibility model, he was also a cautionary tale. Until my early 20s, I thought I would have to live in the closet. I was scared what people would think if I came out. I surmised playing straight would keep me out of hell, real Bible belt shit. It took years but I was able to get over that, for the most part. I still struggle with internalized heteronormativity but I’m comfortable with my love of women.

I’m able to be proud of my sexuality because of Black, queer ancestors like Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde and now, Little Richard. In 2017, Richard denounced homosexuality due to his religion after spending decades being open about his desire for men. I was sad when I heard that news, but I never had any contempt for him. It wasn’t the first time he acted out his self-hatred.

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Source: Little Richard on Facebook

He was born in 1932. Little Richard had to leave his family home in his early teens because his father refused to accept Richard’s effeminate nature and sexuality. In the late 50s and early 60s, he bounced between secular and gospel music due to his religious convictions.

The “Tutti Frutti” singer spoke openly about feeling ashamed of his desires.

“My whole gay activities were really into masturbation,” he said, according to Billboard. “I’d always be mad after I finished. Be mad at myself, don’t want to talk about it, don’t wanna answer no questions.”

There were times when he spoke about his sexuality and gender expression with relative ease.

He once expressed belief in sexual fluidity to his biographer, Dr. Rock.

“We are all both male and female,” he said, per GQ. “Sex to me is like a smörgåsbord. Whatever I feel like, I go for.”

In 1995, he flat out admitted he was gay.

“I’ve been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not of hate,” the singer said. “How can I [put] down the fisherman when I’ve been fishing all my life?”

Most LGBTQ people know about that back and forth, in varying degrees, especially our elders.

Richard came up in a time when being LGBTQ was a dirty secret. He knew a world before the Stonewall Riots. He once lived in a world that wouldn’t have dreamed of allowing a Pride parade. Richard also experienced a world with an active Ku Klux Klan. A world where being strung up was a real possibility. He saw Jim Crow, segregation and the 1960 movements.

Twenty-first century Blackness and queerness ain’t no crystal stair but it ain’t got nothing on the 20th century. I have empathy for people like Little Richard because their pain is responsible for my possibilities. There would be no Prince Rogers Nelson, Zaya Wade, Lil Nas X or Ashleigh Atwell without Richard Wayne Penniman.

He was the prototype.

Now, Richard is an ancestor. I hope he found the peace that eluded him in this realm.

He better give my grandpa an autograph, too.

 

Uncomfortable: My First Impression of Netflix’s Self-Made

Netflix’s selection usually sucks, in my opinion, so I rarely use the streaming service. Usually, I only watch something if it’s recommended by someone else or there’s social media hoopla. In this case, it was the latter. Since I’m stuck in the house on an extended Spring Break, I decided to write about it.

I purposely avoided reviews and didn’t do research before I wrote these thoughts. I wanted to give my raw, uninfluenced opinion of the pilot episode of Self Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madame CJ Walker. When I’m done watching the whole season, I’ll give a more informed opinion.

Wanna know what I think? Keep reading.

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I’m glad it was in the top 10, regardless of reviews.

We’re allowed to be mediocre. That’s how we get better. If Black movies and shows keep performing like this, more will be greenlit. Black people have made Netflix a lot of money so I doubt they will stop making Black content any time soon. Black actors, producers, writers and crew keep working if we keep supporting new movies and shows. We’re also allowed to critique the mediocre. Constructive criticism works for most creatives. We learn by making art and the feedback it receives.

I’m getting Spike Lee teas, in a bad way.

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The boxing scenes were really weird and he has a habit of randomly inserting shit that doesn’t fit. She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix version) was heavy handed with that with the preachy monologues. Like, what was the point? We know there’s already conflict. We don’t need to see the women dancing around like Muhammad Ali. Also, the pictures used in the montages are beautiful, they’re unnecessary. Reminded me of those music record covers in “She’s Gotta Have It.” They were beautiful but threw me off.

Speaking of Spike, this show needs to borrow his music taste.

I talked hella shit about SGHI but that music was on POINT. The music in Self Made was too modern for what is supposed to be a period piece. It’s okay to use modern music but make it fit the imagery. A cover of Seven Nation Army was played during one scene. That is one of my favorite songs and although the cover was beautiful, but it was distracting. There’s plenty of modern music with vintage touches that could add to a period piece.

The Addie Monroe storyline was tew murch.

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Credit: Carmen Ejogo/Instagram

Monroe is the woman who introduced Madame CJ Walker to the haircare business. Addie made a hair growth tonic that she sold door to door and encountered Walker, then known as Sarah Breedlove while making her rounds. A hard life left Breedlove with bald patches and after sessions with Monroe, her hair came back. At first, it seemed like the women were friends but problems became evident as the episode progressed.

Viewers were beat over the head with the colorism. Monroe was significantly lighter than Sarah and used her looks to sell her product. She also hired mulatto women to sell her merchandise and was quick to remind Breedlove of her supposed undesirability. Most Black people know about colorism from experience. Believe me, I was taught how the world viewed me when I was in elementary school. As a darker woman, I didn’t feel validated Self Made’s efforts to hold a conversation. I felt like it was just a reminder of how unattractive the world thinks I am. When Addie said “Colored women would do anything to look like me” line, I was lowkey triggered. The plantation line made me cringed. Even the way Addie was styled compared to Sarah was telling. All of Sarah’s clothing was drab and colorless while Addie looked fab. I get that Addie had more money, initially, but Black creativity can jazz up anything. Even after Sarah started making money, her fashions didn’t improve.

The hair in this show was on point, despite the questionable quality of the wigs.

I loved the elaborate updos that showed the versatility of Black hair. That’s why I wasn’t into the montages. The actresses’ hairstyles were gorgeous on their own. There are countless pictures of Black women from the early 1900s and it looks like the show studied them.

I don’t get Tiffany Haddish’s character.

I’m not sure if it’s her acting, the material or both. She came out of nowhere and didn’t add much to the story. I side-eyed the scene in which she claimed all women experienced the same issues after noticing Monroe had a Black eye. I refuse to believe a woman with Haddish’s complexion would be unaware of light skinned privilege, especially in the 1900s. They were only four decades removed from slavery.

Honestly, the whole episode did a shoddy job of introducing characters.

If it weren’t for expository comments made by the other people in the scene, the context would be completely lost. I think the show would do wonders with an additional 20 minutes of runtime.

The Black men in the story weren’t valuable.

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Credit: Blair Underwood/Instagram

John, Lelia’s husband was dead weight; Sarah’s first husband was a faceless abuser and CJ was just aight. I also felt a way about Cleophus, CJ’s father lecturing him about working for his wife’s business. It just framed Black men as haters who hampered Black women’s success. This is a common trope but that’s a topic for a different article.

My first impression? I felt uncomfortable and not in a way that fosters learning. It feels like yet another piece of content that used Black Twitter to write its script. I’ve largely avoided reviews but someone told me it’d get better. Pilots are a mixed bag so I plan to watch the rest of the season.

Stay tuned.

Leave Summer Walker Alone.

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I thought I would have a Chris Crocker moment over Beyoncé, but here we are.

Honestly, I didn’t know who the girl was until a few weeks ago, and I still can’t name one of her songs. I didn’t hear one of them in full until I watched her Tiny Desk Concert.

Her performance was decent, but I knew something was off. Her body language was tense, and she was clutching a stuffed animal.

 

Summer shared she had social anxiety, and it clicked. Since then, I’ve been protective of her like she’s my little sister. At 23 years old, she’s only a year younger than my actual baby sister.

Her rise to fame has been quick, thanks to a combination of talent and social media fame. Sadly, she’s already experiencing the pitfalls of fame.

In late October, the “Over It” singer shared a picture of her washing bowl with her Instagram followers.

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“My washing bowl lol. I get to wash in my bowl, I hate shower,” Summer wrote in the caption.

She caught hell for that picture.

Summer eventually explained her hygiene habits after the dragging.

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“Stay out my comments with that dummy shit. I take showers, I don’t like them because I like baths in very nice Jacuzzi or garden tubs,” she wrote. “If I don’t have time or whatever I’ll take a hoe bath in the sink (something that every female has taken in their lives), yes, I use soap.”

Despite the explanation, people are still picking on her for not bathing.

She found herself in the middle of some more drama last week when a fan complained about her being standoffish during meet-and-greets.

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“Such an anticlimactic and disappointing experience meeting Summer Walker yesterday,” the fan wrote on IG. “Not only did she move the meet and greet last minute to after the show, the meet and greet itself was literally five seconds. We were informed to have our phones out, ready with flash, and not sit too close or touch her. She barely spoke to anyone, every couple of people she’d say ‘Hi.'”

Once again, Summer ended up explaining herself.

“For those who’re upset b/c I don’t give hugs idk what to tell you… I’m an empath, and that transference of energy from that many people each day would literally KILL me. y’all may not understand what I’m talking about, but for example,” she wrote, again, on Instagram.

Fast forward to today, and Summer canceled her remaining tour dates to tend to her mental health.

Frankly, I don’t blame her. She’s nowhere near perfect, but she doesn’t deserve all the crap she’s been getting.

Like Summer, I suffer from social anxiety. I’ve changed trains because I saw someone I knew and didn’t want to engage. When I go to conventions, I have to take multiple breaks in my hotel room because being around crowds causes panic attacks. I wear headphones in public even when I’m not listening to music to avoid talking to people. I’ve paid 40-50 dollars to get into an event and didn’t go because I had jittery at the last minute. I missed a FREE Outkast concert because of social anxiety.

I can’t imagine going on stage to perform in front of thousands of people. I would probably spontaneously combust.

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Also, I’m no shrink, but I’m willing to bet my next paycheck her bathing habits could be attributed to her mental state. I also deal with depression, and there are days I consider bathing and brushing my teeth in the same day a victory. I can go damn near a month without washing my hair if I’m not careful. Like Summer, I have my methods to make up for days when I don’t feel like putting effort into my hygiene. Baby wipes are great when hopping in the shower is too much work. I can lie in my bed and wash my face thanks to cotton pads, micellar water, and a caboodle.

Every time I see Summer get dragged for these “quirks,” I feel insulted for her. It’s even worse when I see people I know join in. I can’t speak for every person with a faulty brain but watch what you say. You never know who’s watching and internalizing your jabs. It’s all shits and giggles until someone hurts themselves.

Leave Summer alone, y’all.

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