PND & Kehlani (Black Masculinity in Relationships)
“After all her shenanigans, I got the R&B singer back in my bed.”
When I read about Kehlani’s suicide attempt on Twitter, I instantly took to Google in search of information. What I found was the above quote from PartyNextDoor’s Instagram post (now deleted), describing his reunion with his ex-girlfriend Kehlani. It was these words that set the Internet ablaze with shut-shaming, which in turn triggered Kehlani to act as she did. Although I am a huge fan of PartyNextDoor (and probably because I AM a huge fan), I found his language offensive, problematic, and irresponsible.
A few of my friends and followers have suggested that this entire fiasco is Kehlani’s fault, that she cheated (which Kyrie Ivring disproved, read here) and her suicide attempt was nothing more than a cry for attention. I cannot disagree more, and I think it is extremely dangerous for both young Black men and women to believe this. PartyNextDoor posted some very inflammatory language that aligns strongly with patriarchy and toxic/ hyper masculinity.
Below, I’ve parsed through Party’s words, giving short critical readings to each of the three phrases that comprise his sentence. I invite you to read, analyze at your own will, disagree, and discuss. I think it’s very important that we hold Black men accountable. Reading Twitter reactions to the recent Nick Young incident in comparison to Kehlani is bizarre; an engaged Black man is caught on tape talking about sex with other women and receives little to no backlash, while a rumor about a woman cheating sets hellfire to everyone’s moral foundations. There is a blatant double-standard that has proven to be life-threatening, Black women’s mental health is severely suffering from RACISM, SEXISM, and MISOGYNY.
*If you would like to read more think pieces on this subject, check out Tajh Sutton’s excellent piece on For Harriet*
- “After all her shenanigans”
Trickery, skulduggery, machination, intrigue; teasing, ‘kidding’, nonsense; (usu. pl.) a plot, a trick, a prank, an exhibition of high spirits, a carry-on.
- Oxford English Dictionary
Party’s use of the word shenanigans is one-sided, it blames Kehlani for their break-up, when all relationships are two-sided, and it is both unfair and unrealistic to chalk up her relationships after PND to “shenanigans”. PND is implying that Kehlani belongs with him, and that any other relationship she has is a joke, or side plot to their romance. His language is belittling and inconsiderate of Kehlani and her autonomy over her body.
- “I got the R&B singer”
For years, female R&B singers have been pedestaled by rappers.
“Dreams of fucking an R&B bitch/
I’m just playing… I’m saying/”
- The Notorious B.I.G., 1994
Rappers imagine both sex with and being in relationships with – high-profile, mostly Black- women in entertainment. In the case of PND, who is also a R&B singer, his status as an entertainer in the same genre does not lessen his glorification of Kehlani. Calling her “the R&B singer” instead of her name, objectifies her and reduces her worth to the success of her career as an artist. PND’s language treats Kehlani as a trophy or prize, instead of his equal.
- “back in my bed”
“Bed” is representative of many different things. First, PND means sex, he is having sex with Kehlani, he is her primary (assuming their relationship is monogamous) sexual partner again. Second, the bed space for Black men symbolizes emotional intimacy and vulnerability; the bedroom is the one space Black men feel comfortable sharing themselves. Lastly, this is the problem with PND’s masculinity, it hinges on control over a woman’s body to affirm masculinity.
If you look at the lyrics for PND’s soundcloud song, “Things & Such (Kehlani’s Freestyle)” it seems to exclusive be about sex with Kehlani, he croons
“I can’t say that I do better/
But I can’t say I never knew better, no, no, no, no/
If I ever had you, think I coulda had you/
All your exes mad too, cause somehow I just bagged you/
Crushing girl, I’m glad too/
Fuck you ’til you cum, girl I’m glad to/”
Party is mostly concerned with his sexual conquest of Kehlani in this song. I’m not claiming that he does not have strong romantic feelings for her, instead I’m further pointing out how sex is inextricably tied to love in the Black man psyche. In a song about a break-up with the love of his life, Party is able to only discuss the details of their sex life. You can read the rest of the lyrics here for yourself, and see if you find any lyrics without descriptions of sex or sexual undertones.
I want to say here that I am not perfect, and that I have perpetuated many of the things this article calls out. So often Black men believe their job is to solely be tough, defend, bread win, dominate and control. That is not true. There are alternative, healthier ways to express ourselves as men, ways that do not depend on dehumanizing Black women.
As Tajh Sutton writes “Black men should to react to the words “hoe,” “slut,” “thot,” and “trick” the same way you would if you heard a woman call a man a “dog.” I want Black men to realize your sisters, mamas, cousins, and, yes—one day your daughters—will make use of their vaginas and like it. This will occur with multiple men (and perhaps some women.) This is the natural order of things”.
We are not allowing Black women to be fully human, to live, love, enjoy themselves, feel pleasure, make mistakes, have fiascos, be forgiven, forgive, dance how they want, dress how they want, be who they want. If we Black men are restricting and limiting Black women, then we are also restricting and limiting ourselves. Black people are not the sexual deviants white supremacy has named us, Black women are not jezebels, Black men are not brutes, we are human, and have always been such.
As a child, Sean Avery was a military brat who kicked his grandma because he thought he was a Power Ranger, but that’s a story for another time. Today, Avery is a rapper, poet, actor, First Wave Scholar, contributing writer for the Black Voice UW Madison, and senior studying English Creative Writing and African-American Studies, by way of Avondale, Arizona, better known as, the Sun. His work has been featured in Buzzfeed, Blavity, AFROPUNK, the Wisconsin Film Festival, special topics courses at ASU, and he has been published in Wisconsin People & Ideas and Illumination: The Undergraduate Journal of Humanities. In 2014, he released his debut mixtape, EMOFUNK, available online at bandcamp.com. His work embraces both his imagination and journey towards defining his own Black masculinity, and in 2016, he is exploring how rap music affects the formation of Black male identity.