Cover art by Michiel Rolffs // Back cover by Marlowe Dobbe
Damedeeso / Getty Images
Wow! You ask such great questions! As a public service, I’ve been asking you to ask me anything you’d like about Wm. Steven Humphrey or the exciting world of newspapering—and you have not disappointed. For example….
Tom writes, “On a scale of one to 10, what is your current sexual orientation? (One is totally straight and 10 is totally gay.)” I love this sexy question! As previously mentioned in this column, I identify as a “heteroromantic bisexual”—meaning I fall in love with women but enjoy the occasional juicy boner. So on average, I’m a three or four on the queer scale, but this morning I saw a picture of Channing Tatum’s nipples and jumped up to a 6.5. Thanks for asking!
Meanwhile, Taylor writes, “I’m just curious how, as someone who claims progressive politics, you’re okay with Ariana Grande? Doesn’t her continuous cultural appropriation upset you?” Ooooh! Good question successfully designed to make me feel uncomfortable! LET’S DO THIS.
Yes, I proudly espouse progressive politics. Yes, I’ve repeatedly (to the point of annoyance) proclaimed my love for Ariana Grande. And YES, I am upset by cultural appropriation… BUT! With Ariana, it’s complicated. So instead of ranking my upset-ness with her on Tom’s “one to queer” scale, let’s judge it on a “give Ariana a pass” to a “put her in the same prison as Bill Cosby” scale—in which case, I’m a pretty solid three. Is Ariana guilty of appropriating Black music? Well, she’s white and sings R&B. And white people have a long, icky history of making buttloads of money copying the sounds and styles of Blacks, queers, and other cultures. Worse still, white people rarely provide the space needed for these artists to have their own successful careers.
That said, do we really want Ariana Grande to stay in her white lane and become another Celine Dion? Is the world better served if Ariana’s fantastic, soaring voice (one repeatedly lauded by respected Black artists as Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle) is limited to the grating, honky style of Maroon 5? I SAY THEE NAY! And unlike other artists who refuse to acknowledge and pay tribute to the Black creators that came before, Ariana has publicly and loudly given credit to her influences (Brandy, India.Arie, and Whitney Houston, to name a few).
So what have we learned? There’s not an easy answer here. Ariana Grande is not perfect, and I’m a white dude who can always do a better job of identifying privilege in myself and my heroes. But since Ariana is also a huge proponent of queer rights and progressive politics, I’m not ready to throw her into Bill Cosby’s prison either. That’s why I’m giving her a three on the cultural appropriation scale and encouraging all my friends/readers to continue listening to Ariana, as well as enjoying, purchasing music from, and educating yourselves about her contemporaries whom I also love, such as the amazing SZA, Queen Naija, and Tinashe.
Teammates! I love, love, LOVE your personal questions that initially make me uncomfortable but ultimately educate and make me happy! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with any Channing Tatum nipple pics.
Yer privileged (but working on it) pal,
Wm. Steven Humphrey