R&B and beyond: Is Black the new Basic?

Whether it's music or dating, black women are not being looked at and valued as new, unique, rare and extraordinary entities, but rather, as common ones.

Image from Bryson Tiller's music video "Don't." (Screen grab from YouTube video)

LOS ANGELES, September 5, 2015 – Okay, so I am seriously in love with Bryson Tiller. Before I even saw his face, I dug this artist’s unique raw nature and genre-shattering R&B edge. The R&B genre itself seems to be shifting in a new direction, thanks to the likes of crooners such as FKA Twigs, SZA, and The Weeknd, a.k.a. Bae #1. We’re talking The Weeknd’s “House of Balloons” here. There is a difference.

So back to Bae #2 Bryson Tiller, who recently released a new music video for “Don’t,” one of my favorite Tiller tracks. I was a little more excited than I’d like to admit when I hit the play button, and when I did—I paused. While matching the hypnotic opiate of the audio track, the video had me at “Hello,” until I noticed that the leading lady was not black.

Now hear me out. Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal for me. I don’t get too caught up in colors and shades. And I don’t particularly care to see black women pussy-popping in degrading music videos. However, this music video was different. The leading lady was depicted as the kind of Asian exotical chick whose racially-ambiguous look is heavily trending at the current moment in popular culture. In the video, she’s looking longingly at the camera, out the window, on the street, at the wall, and in a tunnel all dressed in white.

Let’s be honest. It looks like she just broke up with somebody, or like she was waiting for that deposit to hit her checking account. There are no speaking parts, no Oscar-worthy performances, and no real talent needed for this. Just a face.

I couldn’t help but wonder why this leading lady role couldn’t have gone to an African-American woman. For this video, I was expecting something different and unique, something that breaks the same mold that Bryson Tiller breaks as an artist.

Seeing an African-American woman hand-picked from the popular #FlexinMyComplexion hashtag, for example, would have been perfection. She’d be fully-clothed like this Asian exotical chick was, and could convincingly look out the window like her dog just got hit by a car or something. Something like that would be bold, raw and edgy, just like the artist. That couldn’t be too much to ask for, could it?

Then the answer hit me pretty hard. Yes, Aziza, it was a stretch. A big stretch. It was a stretch because black women are looked at as the new Basic, especially among young black men.

Hear me out on this one.

In “Don’t,” Bryson Tiller is wanting, longing, crooning for someone he wants “bad as ever.” He is the solution for the time she spends longingly staring at walls. It’s clear that he wants her, adores her, but that he, for whatever reason, can’t have her.

The racially-ambiguous trend has been going on for some time now, so please don’t think I’m trying to break new ground here. This is more than just a freaking music video. For guys, there is something about getting a girl that not everyone else can have, a girl that you don’t see often in your natural environment, a girl that is not common, not regular, not—well, basic.

Exoticals, also known as multi-racial or mixed-race women, have emerged as a sort of Super Bitch. These women identify with several different races and ethnicities, something easily seen in their distinctive physical features. Someone like this may even speak all the languages in her ethnic mix if she’s extra special.

For example, I once witnessed a black guy go on and on about a “fine ass girl” who was Spanish, black, and Russian. “She even speaks Spanish!” he exclaimed.

When he asked me if I was mixed, I said “Nope, just black,” and his whole demeanor changed. Amidst all his praise for this Super Bitch, all I got was an awkward “Oh,” and a quick side-eye.

Please understand that there isn’t any hateration or holleration in this dancery. People like what they like how they like it. Douchey McDouche was neither a boo or a love interest. But his reaction to the words “Nope, just black,” stuck with me for a minute. I was no longer interesting, and I was no longer worthy of conversation. I was, in a sense, dismissed.

Now I know that my black is beautiful and all that jazz. But I can’t help noticing that black women are being continually left behind in the search for racially-ambiguous unicorns. This is indeed not breaking news. But I see it as a problem when African-American women are being made to feel as if being black isn’t enough to be considered beautiful or interesting unless they are from an island or have a drop of European blood in their genetic makeup that they can identify with. Even R&B golden boy Trey Songz has a track and a remixed track named “Foreign” that features Justin Bieber and expresses Songz’ love for foreign women.

Does checking the “Other” box automatically put you on a pedestal and make you rare and interesting to many young black men? I think it does. Exoticals have indeed become the unicorns of the young black dating world, and I can’t help but feel as if Bryson Tiller’s latest music video for “Don’t” strongly perpetuates that idea.

As we approach a new wave of R&B, and along with it the slow shattering of the genre for future generations, I see black women being further left behind in the pages of music video history where twerking and rump shaking once reigned supreme.

Black women are not being looked at and valued as new, unique, rare and extraordinary entities, but rather, as common ones. It seems as if black is basic, unless it’s adorned with and by exotic things such as European designer clothes, cars, shoes, and last but certainly not least, the kind of women who check that “Other” box in order to become anything other than “just black.”

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Aziza Jackson
Aziza Jackson is a native Californian born in Los Angeles and raised in Los Angeles and Oakland. Equipped with her AP Stylebook, Aziza has braved the tough wilderness of rural Alabama, saving lives, and kissing babies all while writing about, advocating for, and connecting with east Alabama residents through the wonderful world of public relations and community outreach. She has served as a compelling storyteller, austere copy editor, social media guru, rigid gatekeeper, creative project manager, marketing whiz, and human encyclopedia in some special cases. She also writes for The Oakland Tribune, and in her spare time likes to write her bios in third person. Don't judge her, it's her journey. "Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light." --Joseph Pulitzer