One of the best things that came out of this pandemic was Jasmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales. The songs are interlaced with interludes of women telling stories of their romantic escapades.
I have a confession to make. I can’t personally identify with a single song on the album. That doesn’t stop me from blasting the music while I clean up on Saturday mornings. It doesn’t stop me from singing along when the lyrics get good to me, and it doesn’t stop me from pointing other people to the genius that is Ms. Sullivan.
There’s been a lot of talk about lived experiences in my time-line of late. It all started with Jennifer Buck’s book: Bad and Boujee: Towards a Trap Feminist Theology. Now, several things caught my attention here. First, I don’t trust anybody who spells bourgie that way. Anybody with serious middle class pedigree knows better. (I, personally have not yet reached that level yet, but I do have bourgie aspirations.) Second, I have no idea what Trap Feminism is. I know a little bit about trap music, and I know a little bit about feminism, but I’ve never put the two together. Third, was the girl on the cover with an afro bigger than mine. I am always jealous of anybody with a bigger afro. And then there’s theology, and you cannot have spent any time around me in the last 10-15 years, and not know that I have a serious interest in all things theological. If I could get a sponsor, I would absolutely enroll in somebody’s seminary as soon as possible.
The book definitely had my attention at this point. So I googled the author. She’s got all the right degrees: BA, M.Div, and Ph.D. This isn’t even her first book. And then I saw her picture.
Deep sigh: Now listen, I believe that Dr. Buck is fully capable of writing a scholarly work about the intersections of hip-hop, female empowerment, and theology. I think her title was tragic. I feel like her cover art was a tad misleading, and I think maybe, just maybe, Dr. Buck, missed an opportunity to lift up the voices of black women theologians, who are underrepresented in seminaries across the country, as both students and faculty.
Let me go back to Heaux Tales for a minute. Sometimes, I find myself singing the opening interlude. (Google the whole album if you haven’t heard it. Be warned, it is definitely R rated. If you have heard it, then you already know the first few lyrics.) Nothing on the album even remotely mirrors my own testimony. I know nothing about that life, but if you think I don’t blast that album when I’m cleaning my house you would be very wrong. I can recognize the beauty in the art. I can buy the album and look forward to the upcoming tour. I could even try to write fan fiction based on the album’s interludes. I could even attempt to fool people into thinking I identify with the narratives. But anybody with a discerning ear could tell I wasn’t speaking from personal experience.
I haven’t read it, but I imagine that’s the problem with Dr. Buck’s book. It doesn’t quite ring true, not because her information isn’t accurate, but because it is lacking an air of authenticity. It’s because her target audience knows something in their bones that the writer can only study from the outside looking in. I do not believe that lived experience is a prerequisite for scholarly work, or for ministry for that matter. IF that was the case, I would never be able to sit through the sermon of another male preacher, or listen to the wisdom from an unmarried friend.
I believe that Dr. Buck appreciates hip-hop music, feminism and the work of black women theologians. I think there was a better way to show that appreciation. I think she had an opportunity to listen to and amplify their voices, to sing along, and to tell other people to listen to them. I hope she does that next time.
In the meantime, she should check out Jazmine’s Sullivan’s Heaux Tales, Mo Tales, and look for concert tickets.