(FADING) BACK TO BLACK:
THE VICTIMHOODIZATION OF AMY WHINEHOUSE
By: Black Canseco
Let’s see… Can’t find a good man worth a damn. Self-destructive substance habits. Parties too much. Needs love, settles for sex. Always dipped in gaudy apparel. Loud. Daddy complex. Drama is her best friend… Engages in old-sounding soul music stylings as a catharsis.
Hmmm… I liked Amy Winehouse much, much better when her name was Mary J. Blige and I liked Fade to Black was great when it was called 411.
Be real: If Amy were black, wouldn’t we all just laugh her off as another “ghetto sistah girl” who just needs to? She would soooo never be taken seriously—not even as an artist. But because she isn’t we throw around Billie Holiday-ism and “tortured soul” metaphors.
But hey, Amy ain’t the first. The industry and society at large has always been overly partial to white girls and white boys with soul and hood mannerisms, whether they push units or not. (We see you, Joss Stone, Janis Joplin, etc.) There’s just something addictive about the mix of latent (and often hackneyed) cultural co-option by the perceived innate innocents of white skin privilege that’s oh so intoxicating.
Why else would we expect the likes of Foxxy Brown, Lil Kim, Keyshia Cole, Kelly Price, Angie Stone, Whitney Houston to simply “get their ‘ish’ together” and “grow up” —or face the wrath of uncaring consumers, critics and labels, but Amy Winehouse—in the vein of Britney-Jamie Spears, Paris, Lindsay, Marylin Monroe, Janis Joplin, etc. remain coddled as some sort of fallen white-girl ingénues who simply can’t be left alone until they prove beyond and reasonable doubt that they are beyond help.
For some reason we’ve chosen to reinforce the notion that like the suburban kid on scripts, Amy Winehouse’s drug problems are more special. Amy’s failed relationships are more tragic than say Whitney Houston’s. And her soul is more tortured; therefore overall, she’s more deserving of our confused theorizing and frustrated prying. It makes you wonder if white women have been put on such a pedestal of perceived innate femininity and predestined normalcy that even the most obviously screwed up among them must still be automatically vouched for as victims of circumstance?
By the way, as an artist, Back to Black and Frank were nice albums; but don’t be surprised if in a couple years we close our eyes and while forgeting what she looks like, give ‘em second listen and all realize that her music isn’t as “authentic” as first touted. And don’t be surprised if maybe, just maybe had the name and face of the sleeve been Ledisi, contemporaries like Chrisette Michele, Maya, Sharon Jones & the Mighty Dap Kings’ or [Insert Black Female Singer Here] get a little more, “how-did-we-miss-them”-isms.
The truly unfortunate part of this long-standing double-standard is that it often not only elevates white artists and celebs for less-than-stellar work, but also rewards them for self-destructive behaviors that at best drive them to “party like rock stars” until they’re 40 stumbling on 75; and at worst leads to some overly romanticized James Dean ending.
Conversely, it’s this exact same hypocritical enablement hustle that automatically marginalizes and makes spectacles of black artists, athletes for a lack of “personal responsibility” and “playing the race card/blame game” as soon as something goes wrong in their lives. Note the recent contradictions in the coverage of Heath Ledger vs. Pimp C—or Brad Renfro, for that matter. Pimp C was just some “drug-glorifying rapper” who O.D. while Renfro and Ledger were “huge talents lost battles with their inner demons.” (Note: Whites have ‘inner demons’, black folks have niggers.)
Maybe Amy Whinehouse/Whinehouse just needs to get over it, learn what it means to be a grown ass woman… and learn how to sing. (Again, see: Mary J. Blige.) Or maybe Amy’s got some serious emotional issues and needs a shoulder to cry on. Then again, maybe she just needs a foot up her ass and to stop acting like some innocent little red riding hood who just got mauled by the big bad world.
And while we’re at it: maybe we could all use some shoe leather to the backside. After all, we insist on riding shotgun on this mess.
The worst thing to happen to Winehouse--besides winning a 2008 New Artist Grammy despite having released full lengths on majors since 2005 (WTF!)—is having this much attention now. Success validates process; and what this shows is that being screwed up and bumpin' yayo on ever other YouTube clip makes you a great artist in the eyes of the world--provided that you're white. And while that last point maybe be debatable, one thing's clearer than meth:
She has no incentive to change her behavior. And neither do we.