Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #940 - Erykah Badu - Empathy
As you know, I am a huge fan of Erykah Badu.
So when I spotted this interview via EW that was published on VULTURE, I knew I was going to re-publish it to my blog.
Badu is stirring up some controversy with her empathy, claiming that she can see good in everyone, even Adolf Hitler.
I find this a great point to make to challenge people's strong feelings that lead them to be very closed off. Hitler is an extreme example. Though he might not have been the worst of the Nazi regime, he was the leader and one could argue that many of the atrocities committed by the Nazis may not have occurred without Hitler.
And yet, was he 100% consummate evil with no goodness or redeeming qualities?
This argument is not meant to exonerate or forgive Hitler for what he did. He is one of the greatest villains in all of history. For the Holocaust alone, he deserves no forgiveness and no compassion.
And yet, if one is going to make the argument that there's goodness in everyone, that statement would include Hitler.
And that statement is going to upset a lot of people. And it should.
Yet, I do not want to be so closed off to possibility that I cannot see the argument Badu is making.
So, here's a quote from the following:
"I’m an observer who can see good things and bad things. If you say something good about someone, people think it means that you’ve chosen a side. But I don’t choose sides. I see all sides simultaneously."
People are afraid that acknowledging anything good about someone who committed such great evils condones those evils.
I hate absolutes. So I can acknowledge the good things about someone like Hitler as an intellectual exercise (he was a brilliant orator and he achieved a regime that was and still is unmatched) without losing my abhorrence for the atrocities he committed.
Other situations get stickier.
Badu mentions Bill Cosby, who is someone so many of us admired, and now is forever tarnished because of the horrible sexual assaults he committed. But do those crimes negate my enjoyment of his comedy albums, Fat Albert, and/or the Cosby Show? They affect my enjoyment. I will never look at them the same way, but those were good things. Cosby is a great comedian and performer and had a huge impact on our culture.
Likewise, when I learned that Orson Scott Card opposed gay marriage because of his religion, others chose to boycott, to stop reading, to boycott the Ender's Game film. But I have invested many years in reading his work, and I have enjoyed the Ender series and all its off shoots immensely. Do I need to give that up because I just found out that I strongly disagree with his religious convictions? After all, the convictions existed before I found out about them, and surely, I like the art of other people whose opinions I would not share. Given that Card has committed no crimes, and actually tries to not be hateful or vicious in how he professes his views on the subject, continuing to support his work is easier and more benign than the seeing the good in Cosby or Hitler.
But all these examples bring up the issue of whether art can be separated from artist.
I believe it can.
And once again, Erykah Badu is leading the way for me down a dark path carrying a bright and shining lantern of light.
This is a great interview.
Thanks, Erykah. You inspire me.
ORIGINAL LINK: http://www.vulture.com/2018/01/erykah-badu-in-conversation.html
If it’s anything, it’s that I understand where young people are coming from. I don’t try and fight it. What’s interesting to me about music and the younger generation is that what we hear on the radio is more about frequency and sound than words. People talk about “,” but that’s because they don’t understand that the important thing is the vibration, not the words. The kids need vibrations, because their attention span is about three seconds.
I think so.
You named a hip-hop artist and hip-hop is the people. Hip-hop is not separate from the people. It goes to where the people go, and part of what moves people is vibration. People pray for that kind of movement, they pray for a Kendrick. Kendrick getting his thoughts out plays a big role in other people’s thoughts. That thinking becomes a collective thing, something that comes out of a need, and that exchange is a vibration, too.
As much as the people have changed. We’re in such a different place. My son, , is 19. I’m seeing him evolve into this creature that I never thought I could create. Without even trying, he’s an improvement on his father’s design. His thinking. His logic. His compassion. It’s an evolutionary cycle. People acted out in new ways when rock and roll first came out, and the blues, and bebop. Here’s how I think of it: My favorite cartoon is The Flintstones. It’s the funniest thing to me. But when my children are sitting with me trying to watch it, the whole frequency is too slow for them. Everything has sped up and recalibrated; the children are vibrating faster. They’re way ahead of us. That’s how hip-hop has changed.
You can’t roll a joint on the cover of a digital download.
I’m listening to new things I’ve recorded — seeing if they might lead to bigger ideas. I’m also listening to D.R.A.M. and Lil Uzi Vert. All new stuff because of Seven. is another one.
I would never suggest that I have the popular opinion on this. Because I don’t.
It takes me back to a story my grandmother told me about Jesus and Barabbas. Jesus is standing on one side, Barabbas is standing on the other side, and the people have to choose which one of them could go free. Some people started yelling, “Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!” Then so many people were doing that that the others found safety in numbers, and they also started yelling, “Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!” People walked up who didn’t even know what was going on and they also started yelling for Barabbas to go free. I always think about that. It’s so important to me.
That I don’t want to get scared into not thinking for myself. I weigh everything. Even what you just asked me, I would have to really think about it and know the facts in each of those situations before I made a judgment. Because I love Bill Cosby, and I love what he’s done for the world. But if he’s sick, why would I be angry with him? The people who got hurt, I feel so bad for them. I want them to feel better, too. But sick people do evil things; hurt people hurt people. I know I could be crucified for saying that, because I’m supposed to be on the purple team or the green team. I’m not trying to rebel against what everybody’s saying, but maybe I want to measure it. Somebody will call me and ask me to come to a march because such and such got shot. In that situation I want to know what really happened. I’m not going to jump up and go march just because I’m green and the person who got shot is green. The rush to get mad doesn’t make sense to me.
People can be bad for certain things. They could be bad around children. They could be bad with power. Are those people all “bad”? Could be. Maybe they need to get kicked off the planet. I don’t know. Each thing is individual. There aren’t rules for how we can or should think about something. We don’t have to believe everything we’re hearing. At least I don’t think we do. I’m glad I don’t watch this stuff.
Everything. I read the description of an empath and I think I fit the description pretty well. It’s about absorbing people’s feelings.
You can ask me anything.
Absolutely. But I never made a statement about Louis Farrakhan — ever. What you’re talking about happened in Palestine. At the time, the working title of my album was Saviours’ Day — which is a holiday for the Nation of Islam but also my birthday. So and journalists asked me, “Do you believe in Louis Farrakhan? Do you follow him?” Sure I do. I’ll follow anyone who has positive aspects. He single-handedly changed half of the Nation of Islam to clean eating, clean living, caring for their families. He has flaws — like any man — but I’m not responsible for that. I said I’ve appreciated what he’s done for a lot of black Americans. I mean, I’m not Muslim, I’m not Christian, I’m not anything; I’m an observer who can see good things and bad things. If you say something good about someone, people think it means that you’ve chosen a side. But I don’t choose sides. I see all sides simultaneously.
We’re not, and I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with anything I had to say about Louis Farrakhan. But I’m not an anti-Semitic person. I don’t even know what anti-Semitic was before I was called it. I’m a humanist. I see good in everybody. I saw something good in Hitler.
Yeah, I did. Hitler was a wonderful painter.
Okay, he was a terrible painter. Poor thing. He had a terrible childhood. That means that when I’m looking at my daughter, , I could imagine her being in someone else’s home and being treated so poorly, and what that could spawn. I see things like that. I guess it’s just the Pisces in me.
Maybe so. It doesn’t test my limits — I can see this clearly. I don’t care if the whole group says something, I’m going to be honest. I know I don’t have the most popular opinion sometimes.
Why can’t I say what I’m saying? Because he did such terrible things?
You asked me a question. I could’ve chosen not to answer. I don’t walk around thinking about Hitler or Louis Farrakhan. But I understand what you’re saying: “Why would you want to risk fueling hateful thinking?” I have a platform, and I would never want to hurt people. I would never do that. I would never even imagine doing that. I would never even want a group of white men who believe that the Confederate flag is worth saving to feel bad. That’s not how I operate.
You got that Pisces in you, that two-fish.
I thought so. So am I. One fish is swimming upstream, one’s swimming downstream. We are all living in a cognitive-dissonance reality. We want to live a certain way or do a certain thing, and we don’t because we are emotionally attached to how the group thinks. The hive mentality takes over. But you know what’s right in your mind and your heart, and if you’re strong enough to detach from the hive then sometimes, just sometimes, you may be able to do the right thing.
Back in Catholic school in . I was raised Baptist, but I went to Catholic school because it was better than the public school where I grew up. When I was there I thought it was odd that we didn’t question what we were doing. What is this “blood of the lamb”? What does this mean? And whenever I would ask questions, I would either get manufactured answers or get in trouble for asking questions. I just thought I was not fit for society.
I guess at the time I discovered psychology in high school. I came across a sociologist named .
Yeah. Coming across his work, I realized what was happening to the other people and wasn’t necessarily happening to me. That’s when I said, “Okay, I am a part of this, but a different part.”
I take advantage of it. It’s a good thing if people think I’m supposed to be some mystical creature that controls people’s minds.
I keep the prestige going. I keep up the idea that I’m mystical. The thing about this legend is, I get blamed if rappers do good or do bad — people think these rappers get all confused by my presence.
That I take rappers to . I don’t think that’s what I do. I hope it’s not.
It’s all part of the same thing. In both ways — whether it comes from men or women — some people talk about me like I’m a sex goddess, a magical creature, a unicorn. Those things are part of how people perceive me. I never think of it as derogatory. Even when there is an element of sexism to it I find it all hilarious. It means you’re powerful — in a loving way.
You know what’s funny? I’m thinking about music, but it’s all about tuning forks, singing bowls, bells, drums. I went to South Africa and recorded drums from Soweto, from Johannesburg, just gathering sounds. That’s what I’m interested in right now — sound vibration. If I put out another project, it’ll be like that. Maybe I’m humming or primal wailing or tribal moaning. You know, .
That’s right. If I’m not inspired to write, I don’t. Whether it’s me as a singer or a dancer or a writer or a painter or a filmmaker or on Instagram or a mixtape, everything I do is coming out of a real need. I think Joni Mitchell is the one who said that singing, laughing, and crying come up out of the same need: to get stuff out. I just haven’t had anything to say. I can’t really force it. If I did, what I’d be saying wouldn’t be coming from an honest place. Or maybe I’ve said all the things I feel like saying.
They haven’t. I feel the most like me when I perform. That’s why I do it so much — never had a vacation. No matter what’s going on in my life or the world, performing feels new every time, and I can get to where I need to be to have a good show every single night.
It’s about becoming a living, breathing organism with the people. And it always happens. I never have a bad show.
I don’t want to speak for those people. I know all of them, and there are individual circumstances for why each of them were quiet in different moments.
When you say unfulfilled potential, wouldn’t that have to be determined by the person? Whose fulfillment are we talking about?
D’Angelo did what he came to do. He never had to make another record. Lauryn continues to make music. I don’t think she’s putting it out, but she’s always recording. I think we have something in common, us musicians, and that’s honesty. Making music hurts, or it feels good, and we do it when we have to. And sometimes we don’t.
Life happens. Shit happens. Family members die. Your relationship gets fucked up. Your record label does some shit. Lauryn has five children. There are so many different circumstances why someone might not make music. It is selfish of you to want more from those people, and that’s fine. Everybody has their own shit.
I don’t have no shit right now, and I’m so fucking happy about it. I don’t have a lot of needs, so maybe that’s why I don’t have any shit.
That conflict makes sense, because change is hard. The culture is changing and people are resisting that. The world is sick of the old shit. The people are sick of being angry. They’re sick of hate. They’re sick of color. They’re sick of race. They’re sick of age. But you’re always going to have people who are resistant to progress. People have such a hard time being uncomfy for a minute.
They talk with me about it. They say the typical little girl things like “Trump’s a mean man and he wants to send my friends back to Mexico.” We don’t elaborate any more than that, because that’s all that they need to be preoccupied with right now. But I’m not a political chick at all. I’m macrocosmic in lieu of microcosmic. I see a whole big picture. I see freedom for the slaves and the slave masters. For everybody. We’re just emerging into a new state of being altogether, and the anger now is about people scared of that change. What I’m talking about is , and I see Trump as part of the resistance to that.
The way I see things.
I’ve learned so many things since then. I’ve changed in a way that involves elimination for the sake of evolution. There’s less emphasis on trying to figure things out. It’s about letting things be. I’m focusing on listening to the silence underneath everything. That’s what I try to connect with. I can listen to the silence right here, right now while we’re talking, and it feels so good. I’m in love with the silence.
The thing about Trump is that he’s a bad guy to the point where it looks manufactured. Are we playing games here? He can’t really be that bad. I’m not a conspiracy theorist at all — I don’t give a shit about that stuff — but it looks like Trump’s just trying to spark division. It looks like a game. Why are we being toyed with?
We can’t help but to engage. There’s no way I can live without engaging and doing service for others. I’m a doula. I’m a health practitioner and a Reiki master. These things come easy to me.
Serendipity. It’s always easy to find someone pregnant that needs me. It just happens, you know? I met one lady I worked with at a restaurant. I’ve assisted births at home, at birthing centers, at a hospital, in the woods. It all depends on the person and their story. Like Bruce Lee says, you have to be like water, and fit in any container. I also sit at the bedside of people who are dying. So I do the opposite of birth work — it’s beings coming in and beings going out.
Depends on the person. Some want to listen to Richard Pryor. Some want to listen to gospel. Some want to talk. Some want to cry. Some haven’t seen their children in a long time; I’ll go find those children and let them know what’s going on. Whatever service is needed, that’s what I’ll do. I just want people to be at peace.
I lead with my emotions, my feelings, and my thoughts — I like to describe that as spirit. When I’m meeting people, it’s about the spirit first. I think in the Hindu religion it’s called Namaste: the divine in me recognizes the divine in you. No matter what our background was or what we were programmed to think or what our egos want us to believe about each other, there’s something about looking in someone’s eyes and connecting with them, their struggle, their whole shit — that’s what I want to do. That’s spiritual to me.
I’ve never had a manager, and it’s so I could be as lazy as I want and procrastinate whenever I want. I also want to be able to live outside of the music business. If I want to take off a year and raise my child, or pace myself in some other way, I can do it without having to explain it to anyone. And I’ve been blessed with organizational skills. I’m always late, though.
[Laughs] I know. I’m sorry. When it comes to my business, though, I’m very organized. I just want to be able to do things without guilt. I used to operate out of guilt.
When I first got a record deal, I felt guilty that I was able to do certain things that the people I grew up with were not able to do. It was no fun going back home to Dallas and driving a new car. It was always a heavy, nervous feeling all over my body when I’d come home, feeling like I’d be judged by the people in town if I was seen as flaunting my success. Or people would expect you to do something for them, or think you weren’t doing enough. Oh, you know what? I spun out of that when I went to Cuba, illegally, in 2000.
That trip was the trip where I left behind the big headwrap I used to wear. I got a story about that. Want to hear it?
I was dating Common. After André [Benjamin] and I split, Common and I fused into a couple in some kind of way. And he took me to Cuba. He said he wanted me to get a Santería reading there.
[Laughs] That line works! I was into Candomblé back then too. And . That kind of thing was so exciting to me. And at that time, I was wearing all white, with a towering white headwrap — I thought that if people saw white, it would attract great energy. So Common took me to Cuba, and we went to meet an interpreter named Pablo who led us to where the Santería reading was. And we got there and were waiting in line on the curb with everyone else who was there for a reading. On my right was this man smoking a cigar, and he had on the dirtiest Pumas I had ever seen in my life. On my left was a man who had on the tightest white shorts — you could see his nuts. I was okay with that. I wasn’t okay with those two passing a cigarette back and forth over the white shit I was wearing. But we were in Cuba, and it was their home, so I went with it. Finally, this short little lady in a long yellow dress came out and said it was my turn.
So she brought me into a little room in a house with no ceiling. I was kneeling on the floor and she was washing my headwrap; it was a ritual, to soften my spirit. Pablo was explaining everything to me. Then a girl came in, without knocking, and reached over me to grab something off a clothesline. And I’m thinking, This reading is a dream for me, and people are just coming in like that? So we kept going, and then the man with the Pumas came in and was just standing there with a beer. And I’m like, Wait a minute, this is not what I had in mind. And Pablo turns to me and says, “He’s the priest.” Then I changed. I didn’t need the headwrap anymore.
In that moment, I realized that you don’t have to meet anyone else’s expectations. You don’t have to conform to anything other than who you are. The guy in the Pumas came from a long line of healers, and he didn’t have to look like one to be one.
I don’t. Maybe it was something like “Don’t get with Common.”
One of my children was asking me, “Mom, when we die, do we come back?” And I said, “I don’t know. But that sounds good.” “Do we choose the people we want to be with when we come back?” I said, “I don’t know. But maybe we do.” She said, “Well, when I die, I’m going to choose to be with you again.” It was easy tears. It made me think that all that matters is how she sees me. But, I’m sorry, did I offend you in any way earlier when you thought I was defending anti-Semitism?
“Is she about to get in here and Black Power me to death?”
Okay, I could tell.
Just, you got a whole Jewish thing.
It is. A thing.
Oh good. That makes me happy.
And I wasn’t trying to put you in one. I was so surprised when I read that people thought I’d said something anti-Semitic. I went to Palestine because I cared about the Palestinian children, and I was there doing work for them. Then someone twisted what I’d said around and made me into a villain or something.
I’m over being scared. When I feel the heart rate going or the palms getting sweaty, I start looking for the silence. And when I’m calmed down, I realize I’ve been thinking about the past or the future, which is not even here. I just come back to the moment. I remember watching Star Wars —
One of the ones from the ’90s. This relates to what we’re talking about. I saw this one scene in Star Wars — the guy was fighting the Sith Lord with the red and black face.
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. There was one scene where they were fighting, and they got to these doors that would close and then open up 30 seconds later. So at one point, the guy — who am I talking about?
Yeah, and he turned and flipped and he and Darth Maul were on opposite sides of a door. So you have Darth Maul standing there, ready for that door to open, and Qui-Gon Jinn does this [Badu briefly kneels on the ground with her eyes closed] just for a few seconds, then he gets up. He took a deep breath and then started back fighting. That must’ve been the scariest moment of that man’s life and this motherfucker just got down on one knee and took a breath? That’s some Jedi shit! I fell in love with that. Whenever I’m afraid, I do that: Take a minute and breathe. No matter how scary something is, doing that helps it go away. So it’s not that I don’t have fear, but I manage fear pretty fucking well.
You can build a whole fucking world on the shit I don’t know. I used to want to appear like I knew everything, and now my favorite answer to give is “I don’t know.” I just love to say, “I don’t know.” It makes life a whole lot easier.
Reflect and connect.
Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you, Mom.
I miss you so very much, Mom.
Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.
- Days ago = 942 days ago
- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1801.31 - 10:10
NEW (written 1708.27) NOTE on time: I am now in the same time zone as Google! So, when I post at 10:10 a.m. PDT to coincide with the time of your death, Mom, I am now actually posting late, so it's really 1:10 p.m. EDT. But I will continue to use the time stamp of 10:10 a.m. to remember the time of your death, Mom. I know this only matters to me, and to you, Mom.