The video for Erykah Badu‘s latest single, “Window Seat,” is a stunning recrimination of the policing and exploitation of black women’s bodies in America. Hey, what a great opportunity to sell a bikini wax!
In the video, Badu walks through the city of Dallas, removing her clothes piece by piece as she passes the city’s confused, gawking tourists. Badu’s stage is not far from the site of the JFK assassination; the video is shot in the faded colors of the Zapruder film. After she strips down to naked skin—-with only blurring pixelation covering her breasts, genitals, and eyes—-Badu falls to the ground, and a blue substance reading “GROUPTHINK” oozes from her head.
District beauty salon D’Brows, which offers eyebrow design, eyelash extensions, and a $68 Brazilian bikini wax, decided to capitalize off of the buzz around Badu’s video with a promotional press release. “Erykah Badu must have read this before shooting this video,” the release said. “Erykah Badu has the confidence that comes with a good waxing and so can you. . . . Watch this Erykah Badu video [VIDEO] and then arrange your waxing at D’Brows today!!”
A few thoughts:
(a) How could Badu have read this e-mail before shooting her video? This e-mail is about her video.
(b) Since Badu’s genitals are obscured by pixels in the video, you really can’t tell what’s going on down there.
(c) To my knowledge, Badu hasn’t delivered her opinions on genital waxing, but she has said this: “I love my natural hair, I love my skin the way it is, I love my breasts the way they are . . . I don’t want to be augmented in any way.”
(d) Badu hasn’t said much about the intent of her video, beyond clarifying that JFK “was one of my heroes, one of the nations heroes . . . He was not afraid to butt heads with America, and I was not afraid to show America my butt-naked truth.” But I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Badu’s message has little to do with razing your pubic mound in order to achieve a socially acceptable vulva, and more to do with defying a social order that exploits black women’s bodies as dangerously sexual. Badu’s point was confirmed when Dallas police stuck her with a charge of disorderly conduct for performing the shoot in public. John Cheney-Lippold, writing on the differing cultural responses to Badu’s video and the similar Matt & Kim video on which “Window Seat” was based, notes that Badu’s strip was seen as a disturbing erotic display, while Matt and Kim‘s disrobing in Times Square was regarded as a childlike and lighthearted stunt:
So is it that our society still reads sexuality through blackness, providing an eroticization of Badu that Matt and Kim’s video doesn’t have? (Yes). Is it that two scrawny naked white musicians can appear to us as childish in Times Square, while one naked black musician can appear dangerous and disorderly in Dallas, Texas? (Yes). And is it that race still matters in our society—that we should constantly think not just of how we personally understand race and racism but how race itself is constructed to mean things other than a group of people with a certain skin color? (Of course). Here’s to hoping Badu fights the disorderly conduct charge.
(e) In an unrelated note, Wanda Sykes is hilarious: