I’ve been thinking a lot lately or should I say that I’ve been provoked into thinking about identity and the factors that have informed the way that I perceive my self and the way that I am perceived by others. Thinking about W.E.B. DuBois and his concept of the veil and the double consciousness that Black people posses in america. The ability to see your self through your own eyes and also through the gaze of white america, what he describes as the “two-ness” in The Souls Of Black Folk. I started to conceptualize the veil beyond the concept of race, not erasing it’s importance and the fact that it is rooted in racial identity but to further push the trajectory of black identity through what Patricia Hill Collins describes as “intersecting paradigms” within Black identity. In other words, to further complicate the idea of Black identity by examining the complexities of my own as an immigrant, as a woman, as an Afro-caribbean, as an Afro-Latino and so on and so forth. All of these different yet intersecting parts of my identity affect the way that I navigate my world and it also informs the way that others perceive me. I know that I am not alone and by “alone” I mean that I am not the only one that wears “the veil”.
A song that really speaks to me in terms of identity is “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae in one song she addresses political issues, Black identity, Sexuality, patriarchy and a plethora of historical/political violence against the black community. Part of the song is performed as a spoken word piece in which she questions:
"Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they'll never make us equal
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel
So why ain't the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy
But when it's time pay they turn around and call us needy
My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I'm trying to free Kansas City
Mixing masterminds like your name Bernie Grundman
Well I'mma keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman
You can take my wings but I'm still gonna fly
And even when you edit me the booty don't lie
Yeah, I'ma keep sangin', I'mma keep writin' songs
I'm tired of Marvin asking me "What's Going On?"
March to the streets 'cuz I'm willing and I'm able
Categorize me, I defy every label
And while you're selling dope, we're gonna keep selling hope
We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope
Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep?
Or will you preach?"
Janelle addresses her own layered consciousness, as a black woman, as an activist and the struggles she faces as an artist. It also features the great political philosopher Erykah Badu with her classic lines:
Ohh, shake 'til the break of dawn
Don't mean to sing so tough, I can't take it no more
Baby, me and tuxedo crew; pharaohs, it ain't my tomb
Crazy in the black and white; we got the drums so tight
Baby, here comes the freedom song, too strong we moving on
Baby this melody will show you another way
Been 'droids for far too long - come home and sing your song
But you gotta testify because the booty don't lie
No, no, the booty don't lie, oh no, the booty don't lie
In one verse Erykah connects the historical importance of the drums to African culture and music as well as their inextricable connection to freedom (especially protest songs). To analyze Monae’s lyrics as a poem through DuBois concept of double consciousness is to understand both the beauty and the struggle that exists within her layered identity.
In what ways do you possess “the veil”?