I got cable last summer just to watch Being Bobby Brown. More than I am fascinated by the drug use among Whitney and Bobby, I was more intrigued by the politics of respectability – this idea that Black public personas, especially Black women, need to be “respectable” and represent the race well in all aspects. That means, for women, being “done” all the time, and conducting one’s self based on all the bourgie (pronouced BOO-zhee) social norms that come with being a “lady.”
People watched Being Bobby Brown for the reasons people watch most celebrity relaity shows–to make fun of the celebrities. With Black celebrities, and particularly the narrative around Whitney and Bobby, it takes on the “even with money they’re still a bunch of n****s.” Suddenly, to me, it’s not so funny.
Furthermore, the narrative of the “tragic Black diva” is something all Black women vocalists have had to deal with since Billie Holiday, including Chaka Khan & Mary J. Blige. Writer/scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin writes brilliantly about in her work about Lady Day,If You Can’t Be Free Be A Mystery.
Whitney was one of the few Black women artists who had not had that narrative placed upon her for many years, until she married Bobby Brown. But what I learned from the reality show was, whether due to the drugs or tiring of the public pressure of being that “Black Girl Next Door” persona (which people close to Whitney have said that it was JUST a persona), it was clear that Whitney is over and done with pretense. I was, though, holding out hope that she was in recovery, but recent reports (namely a story by Tina Brown, Bobby’s sister, in the National Enquirer) seem to suggest that Whitney is in worse condition than we may have thought. If what Tina Brown says is true, it is a testament to how devastating drugs, and in this case, crack, can be.
Now, I’m not one to be promoting Fox News, but I did find this piece about Whitney that was at least sympathetic, and explains alot about what’s going on with her, and some other details about the music industry that you may not know. Read it here