Akon Did Not Abuse Girl At Zen
Akon and Danah on stage at Zen
April 22, 2007
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is a response to the many racist comments about the Akon/Danah video clip, especially those that were initially posted on YouTube, among other websites. The two clips that were initially posted on YouTube were removed together with hundreds of racist comments.
Much of the discussion surrounding the Hip-hop/R&B singer Akon's performance at club Zen on Thursday 12th April, 2007, is really based on racism, unreasoned sexual hang-ups and hypocrisy. The reactions of many who have been buzzing on the radio and the internet are clearly based on their racist and colourist views that paint Akon as a black animal who assaulted a minor and the female as a young, misguided innocent, who was taken advantage of. This is really quite ridiculous. Harsh reactions have also been fuelled by the fact that many knew she was a preacher's daughter and she was acting contrary to what her father preaches.
Akon is a performer whose act is well known and has been widely publicized on the internet and other entertainment media. His song "Smack That" leaves little to the imagination as to its theme and as part of the performance for that song, he dances, appearing to simulate sex with willing female participants, who voluntarily come onstage to be a part of this act. Fans of his certainly could have been aware of the act as there were videos of similar performances easily available on the internet and on some television shows.
Several females took the stage at Zen that night to be a part of this 'wining competition' where it was stated that the winner would win a trip to Africa. Certainly, Zen played up the idea that Akon is from Senegal by having people in African attire doing African drumming at the entrance of the venue and by starting the show with a similar African theme. It is then not surprising that Akon would be tongue-in-cheek and set himself up as the embodiment of Africa and be the 'prize' for a young lady who won the competition. They were quite okay with receiving the attention from the crowd, the media and the artiste that would come with that. No one was forced. Furthermore, anyone who has been to a concert, party or event that features a 'wining competition' where girls are invited to wine either for the audience or with the male star, should be well aware of what awaits them - a hyper-sexual performance that glorifies the sexuality of the star and can end up being totally humiliating for the female. In light of this it is hard to really say the girl was totally unaware.
Akon and Danah on stage at Zen
The extent of the racism that has pervaded this discussion internationally cannot go unaddressed. The idea of Africans being sexually potent, virile and uncontrollable is one that is part of a whole set of racist assumptions that have been bandied about for centuries about Africans. Some Africans in the Diaspora have inherited these ideas about continental Africans to the point that there is now a distinction, where continental Africans are seen as more 'undiluted', more potent and animalistic. Many on internet forums have commented on this issue in very racist ways about African sexual proclivities as a way to condemn the way he danced with the female. The discussion has taken a turn to sound like a replica of plantation and colonial attitudes where the constant fear by the White male population was the violation of their White women by sexually potent and deviant African males. There is a long history of this 'fear' that can be traced throughout history and has certainly been expressed up to this day by East Indian groups and spokespersons in Trinidad who claimed at one time that African men were targeting Indian women for rape. These ideas have influenced the way many people have viewed this incident.
In addition, for many, the light-skinned look of the girl defied their own ideas of 'the kind of girls that do that', i.e. blacker, poorer ones, and to see their racist ideas of a black, sex-crazed stud brought to life in their vision of Akon was just too much to take. People are often fine with seeing Black females dancing and doing all sorts of things that they may find lewd and inappropriate, as they find it quite normal for them to do so. They, however, find it shocking that a light-skinned one would dance in ways that they deem lewd and furthermore with an African male. This speaks directly to their own racism and colourism and very little about the act itself or about Akon. It suits them to see the light-skinned young female as innocent and blameless and the African hip-hop singer as guilty and licentious regardless of the truth of the matter. Much of the discussion that has been going on the internet is full of such racist sentiments.
Akon and Danah on stage at Zen
The truth is, the female willingly came to a club, dressed in a way that is typical of older females who are used to the club scene, was allowed in, despite what Zen says are its rigid age checks, and willingly volunteered herself to dance on the stage in a competition for a prize and then with a male artiste. Regardless of whether she could have anticipated the kind of dancing that would have ensued, every step leading up to it was as a result of her own choices. The young lady in question was interviewed by TV6 news last night and in her own words she explained how she got carried away and was embarrassed to see herself afterward as the event was over so quickly that she did not realize that was what had happened or how it would have looked. Nowhere did she blame the artist or say she was abused. Nowhere did she chastise him for the way he danced with her and nowhere did she indicate that she was innocent in the affair. She clearly stated that she went to these clubs against her parent's advice and that while at the time she did not see any big deal in the dance, when the clips hit the internet and she saw it, she then felt embarrassed and ashamed of the hurt she caused her parents and herself. This seemed to me like an honest recognition by an obviously young teenager, now stripped of her revealing outfit, makeup and fingernails, of an impulsive action that resulted in embarrassment for herself and others only after the fact.
The media, however, does seem to be attempting to distort what was said by the teenager or at the very least carrying contradictory reports. In the Guardian story carried today, the headline reads "I Was Cajoled Into Sexy Dance" which is a direct, deliberate distortion attempting to leave the casual reader with the impression that the teen was cajoled into dancing by the artiste Akon. The article continues:
My parents had no clue I was going to the concert or how I was dressed. I told them I was going with my cousins for ice cream. When I left the house I had on a jacket.
This contradicts what was said in the Newsday article, which states:
Danah said two days before the concert, a friend sponsored her a $450 VIP ticket. She said her parents, who were not present at the interview, knew she was going.
Newsday's article also states:
Danah, daughter of Pastor Dave Alleyne, of the Flaming Word Ministry in Chaguanas, described her ordeal as shocking and humiliating. She insists she and other girls were deceived into entering a dance competition in which the first place winner would receive a trip to Africa.
While in what seems to be a different attitude, the TV6 interview with the girl herself gives the impression that at the time she did not think it was a big deal but it was only afterward when she saw it that she felt embarrassed.
Now I am sure the girl did feel embarrassed after seeing the video and after some members of the public began condemning her dancing, but it is a bit misleading to give the impression that she did not approve of the dancing while she was doing it. It seems to be a fair assessment that she was carried away in the moment, as she said, and did not think of the consequences. This is quite normal for many young people and many older people and in this case is not even a matter of condemnation and censure.
Akon and Danah on stage at Zen
People who have been commenting on this story have been claiming that the dancing was disgusting, lewd and even abusive to the female. Certainly people can claim to be disgusted by certain behavior; that is their right. People tend to express their disgust for many things; sexual expression is one that certainly raises much commentary. However that really is a matter of personal choice for people to decide what is appropriate for them. People are often quite dishonest and find that many things should be banned, including open truthful discussions about racism, colourism and African history, so it is not really smart to buy too many of their arguments about what is appropriate and what is not. The discussion however, becomes distorted because many comments on this matter have certainly been coming from people who don't support these kind of expressions anyway: from Carnival to Dancehall Passa Passa to even the bare-breasted dancing of a well-respected South African dance troupe that performed in Trinidad a few years ago. Many people who comment on appropriateness of dancing at these kind of events do not even attend such events, concerts, parties or performances, and like many of those who have commented unfairly on the Akon concert, they have no real legitimate way of judging whether this is normal, whether many females do volunteer to go on stage for these wining competitions or not. They are quite content to blame Akon; an artist who was doing the job that he was paid to do by the nightclub, who should certainly have been aware of his act.
Now, ones could certainly object to what they may see as a particular performance style that is quite common in Hip-hop, Soca, Dancehall as well as some Rock acts and other musical forms; the idea that sex and sexuality must be dealt with in a context of domination, humiliation and the perpetuation of the illusion of dominant über-masculine sexuality. All are participants in that - the males that embrace those attitudes and the females who buy into it and allow themselves to be part of it. This was seen particularly at the end of the dance where Akon ran off and left the young lady on the ground where they had been dancing previously. However up to this point, if ones look at all the pictures from this event, it becomes clear that at the time of the act, the young lady in question did not appear to be distressed or trying to get away. She appeared to be enjoying herself, as did the other females who volunteered to enter this competition. That is their right. Certainly this is an area that can be discussed and reasoned. There are certainly reasons why some may see sexuality in this way and why it is commercially viable for music industry executives to sell this image. However, even in that discussion one has to see that once participants are willing and no one is hurt in these encounters it still remains a matter of taste and personal preference. Once all parties are willing then one cannot talk of anyone being taken advantage of or abused in that context.
Akon and Danah on stage at Zen
One thing that is crystal clear however, is the role of the nightclub, Zen, in the whole affair. It is illegal for nightclubs to admit people under 18 years of age. While Johnny Soong has stated that Zen adheres to a strict age policy where they ask for ID from patrons, the comments of the teenager do not show this at all. In the Express article she says:
"I know a lot of my friends who were my age and were there," she said.
In the Guardian article it states:
"They asked for ID in VIP because you have to be 21 years and over to go up in VIP, but anyone was allowed to go in the general admission area."
When they got to the club last week Thursday, she said, they proceeded to the VIP section but were stopped by the bouncers who said they had to be 21 years and over to enter, and asked for their identification cards.
While Johnny Soong, owner of the nightclub states that this young lady may have "slipped through the cracks" many who do attend this club and many others can state clearly that many underage females especially are allowed into the nightclub. As a matter of fact, this nightclub in particular seems to be more concerned with admitting, light-skinned and brown-skinned females with a particular look, body shape and dress than about the age of the females. The club has come under fire many times for what some patrons have seen as racist and colour-biased practices in their admission policies. In light of this, it is not hard to see how this female could have been admitted despite the fact that she clearly stated that she did not have ID and was admitted anyway. It is in fact, the same colour bias that many people have displayed in commenting on this issue that led to the underage female being in the club in the first place. I suppose we can wait to see what action, if any, will be taken against the Zen nightclub for clearly breaking the law.
Danah said, "We did not have it so they told us we had to go into general admission and we did."
At the end of the day, the discussion of this issue has been riddled with distortions, which have made it difficult for some to see the issues clearly. Akon has been vilified because of his race, black skin and clearly stated Senegalese roots, as a sex-crazed fiend that took advantage of a young girl and cajoled her into committing lewd acts. The girl has been seen as innocent because of her age, her colour and her look that for some may not fit their idea of a 'dancehall queen', regardless of her own statements where she admitted her culpability and stated unequivocally that she got carried away and went voluntarily and now sees it as a mistake. In addition, as I previously stated, some commentary has been from the perspective of those who find that she was acting out of character as the daughter of a preacher. Some commentary has also been from the perspective of those who find that any sexual dancing is lewd anyway and should be frowned upon. While the dancing might not have been to the taste of some, that is really their affair and until people deal with their own sexual hang-ups they really cannot effectively judge another's sexual expression. Issues of racism, colourism and sexuality rear their heads all the time in a variety of discussions because these issues are so fundamental and have remained unreasoned in the public space for too long.
Let us not continue to be hypocrites and see this issue for what it is.
Danah's Conduct at Zen: What's the Big Deal? by Heru
Zen: Dancing Around the Issues by L. Paul
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