I knew there wasn’t any hope uptown. A lot of those men, they got their little deals going and all that, but they don’t really have anything, Mr. Charlie’s not going to let them get but so far. Those that really do have something would never have any use for me; I’m too dark for them, they see girls like me on Seventh Avenue every day. I knew what they would do to me.
There was only one thing for me to do…hit the A train. So I hit it…I used to see the way white men watched me, like dogs. And I thought about what I could do to them…you could do any damn thing with them if you just led them along, because they wanted to do something dirty and they knew you knew how. All black people knew that. Only the polite ones didn’t say dirty. They said real…But they [are] smart, they [know] that they [are] white, and that they could always go back home, and there [isn’t] a damn thing you could do about it…there weren’t any…colored men, I was afraid, because look what happened to them, they got cut down like grass!
-Ida Scott, Another Country, James Baldwin (418-419)
While I find the entirety of “Blurred Lines” to be problematic, let us start with the chorus, being sure to read the (w)hole text of the situation (the lyrics to the song in its entirety can be found here). For starters, Thicke is the Euro-American son of the wealthy and famous actor Alan Thicke. He was born into a lifestyle of economic wealth and the privilege that such a situation affords one in America. Robin is currently married to and expecting a child with Paula Patton, an American woman of color. Patton has routinely been praised for not only her acting skills, but her astonishing beauty and well-endowed, well-sculpted derrière (ass, buttocks, badonkadonk).
Now the chorus. Thicke sings:
OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you're an animal, baby, it's in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
You don't need no papers
Hey, hey, hey
That man is not your maker
Left to right: Thicke and actress/wife Paula Patton; Thicke with hand up woman's behind (see reflection in mirror); Thicke and one of the animalistic women of color on the set of the "Blurred Lines" video shoot.
If you are reading this blog…if you engage in conversation with your friends…if you are an upstanding, die-hard American patriot, then you are already domesticated. If you exist within anything acknowledged as culture, then you have been domesticated my friend. To escape domestication, one has to return to Rousseau and the state of nature, and our good friend the “noble savage.” Now, while the noble savage was naturally endowed (you know by nature) with many characteristics worth mentioning - brute strength, rugged physical appearance - none of those characteristics came in helpful when the highly advanced and civilized European nations began colonizing and exterminating noble savages all over the world. So, when you talk about characteristics being in one’s nature, you are treading upon dangerous ground. This explains the castigation Thicke has received regarding the song being “rapey.” To suggest that f*$king Robin Thicke is in one’s nature, opens one up to all kinds of sexual mistreatment at the hands of Thicke: because, animalistic sex is in the woman’s nature.
You getting warmed up yet? I am just getting started. Consider the following in relation to the chorus:
Evolutionary theory [Darwinism] tended to reinforce the notion of racial hierarchies through the ranking and ordering of bodies according to stages of evolutionary “progress.” The theory of recapitulation often summed up by the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” emerged as a crucial concept, holding that in its individual maturation, each organism proceeds through stages that are equivalent to adult forms that have preceded it in evolutionary development. Thus the children of “superior” groups embodied phases equivalent to the mature adult phase of “inferior” groups [noble savage, Blacks, Latinos, etc.]…adult African Americans and white women were at the same stage as white male children and therefore represented an ancestral stage in the evolution of adult white males. (Somerville 24)
Pictorial representation of the Hottentot Venus. Pay particular attention to the woman's steatopygia.
Still, in 2013, Americans believe that there is a difference between white Euro-Americans and all other Americans; the literature of our official government documents reflect such thinking (consider the ethnic and racial choices on documents of a nationalistic nature). Accordingly, in our collective history, “any attempt to establish that the races were inherently different rested to no little extent on the sexual difference of black” (Gilman 112). And let’s face it, we still hold to such an understanding. Right now, I will bet: if you stand up and start a conversation about the black penis, the old stereotyped understanding of its immense size will rear its ugly head. And, the situation is just as bad for black African American women. For centuries there has been a mythical understanding of the sexual and reproductive organs and anatomy of the black African savage-woman; her sexual and reproductive anatomy is what made, and continues to make, the black woman different from the white woman. For example, ever since the Hottentot Venus, Europeans and Euro-Americans, especially the males, have been enamored by what they labeled steatopygia – the protruding buttocks of the black woman (that phat ass!). Not only that, Europeans and Euro-Americans have been continuously mesmerized by what they claim is the “unusually large clitoris” of the black female – usually a sign of homosexually (Somerville 25). And last, but not least, let us not forget the remarkable development of the labia minora shared by all women of color, especially the black women. For its part, the labia minora of black women is easy to “distinguish” “from those of any ordinary [read white] varieties of the human species” (Flower and Murie 208). Unbelievably, according to preeminent doctors and scholars of the nineteenth and early twentieth century: “the labia minora of the “peculiar black race,” allowed black women to flutter between genders, at one moment masculine, at the next moment exagerratedly [sic] feminine” (qtd. in Somerville 29).
The connection that the dominant world made between the physical anatomy of black women and how they should be represented and treated in the world is almost impossible to believe. According to historian Jennifer Morgan, in her piece entitled, “Some Could Suckle Over Their Shoulder,” “European travelers [to Africa] represented African women as strange, animalistic, and hypersexual.” Rachel Swarns, in “Mocked in Europe of Old, African is Embraced at Home at Last,” suggests that, regarding the black woman, “because of her voluptuous figure, people saw her as inhuman and thus treated her like an animal” (3). When such understandings of the historical representation of black women in western cultured are coupled with the fact that Thicke is married to a woman of color, the innocence with which he discusses the lyrics of the song and their impact reflect either his ignorance of, or, his fullest expression of, his white male privilege in America. Neither understanding of Thicke is promising for the treatment of and representation of women, especially black African American women.
I believe that my points have been made; there is no need to gloss the rest of the song. I will just add that the participation of T.I. and Pharell on the song only serves to further complicate the role of the song in working to strengthen old stereotypes and misunderstandings of black women which only furthers their marginalization and ill-treatment in our society ( and yes, T.I.'s interactions with the white female models coupled with the content of his lyrics are just as bad as Thicke's chorus). The fact that Thicke is married to a woman of color and yet feels completely comfortable in expressing the sentiments that are reflected in “Blurred Lines” sickens me. I never really internalized the saying, “Those ignorant of their past are doomed to repeat it,” when I was first introduced to its meaning. Thicke, T.I., and Pharell have done an amazing job of modeling the saying. Those of us who look, smell and talk like people who were once, in our nation’s past, classified as animals seemingly have no problem advocating a position in 2013 which stresses some animalistic, oversexed character natural to us, black people. But, when I reflect on the enthusiasm with which my female relatives shake their asses – I mean steatopygia – to the song, I realize that it is not just Thicke and T.I. and Pharell who are doomed to repeat an unpleasant past, but all of us. Dance on you signifying monkeys…dance on!
Baldwin, James. Another Country. New York: Vintage International, 1962.
Flower, W.H. and James Murie. “Account of the Dissection of a Bushwoman.” Journal of Anatomy and Physiology I (1867): 189.
Gilman, Sander. Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.
Morgan, Jennifer. “Some Could Suckle Over Their Shoulder.”
Somerville, Siobhan B. Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.
Swarns, Rachel. “Mocked in Europe of Old, African is Embraced at Home at Last.” New York Times (May 4, 2002): 1-3.
Thicke, Robin, Clifford Harris and Pharell Williams. Blurred Lines.
Vogt, Carl. in The Mismeasure Man by Stephen Jay Gould. New York: W.W. Norton, 1981.