Open Letter to Usher
I recently heard you on Los Angeles’ 92.3 iHeart radio talking about your latest song, “I Don’t Mind,” and I felt compelled to write you. In the interview, you said your hit song is not about encouraging women to become exotic dancers.
Okay, but here’s the funny thing. That track is singlehandedly responsible for the half-dozen or so talks about “poles” and “dancing” that I’ve had with my 7- and 9-year-old daughters every time your song comes on the radio. Which is a lot.
The melodic beat, combined with your soulful voice, caught us all off guard the first time we heard “I Don’t Mind.” It goes down easy, and it’s catchy. And then the lyrics:
Shawty, I don’t mind If you dance on a pole
That don’t make you a ho
Shawty, I don’t mind when you work until 3
If you’re leaving with me
Go make that money, money, money
Your money, money, money
Cause I know how it is, go and handle your biz
And get that money, money, money
Your money, money, money
You can take off your clothes
Long as you coming home, girl, I don’t mind
I quickly changed the station, hoping my girls wouldn’t notice.
They heard every word. And then the questions began to fire.
“Mom, why did you change so fast? I want to hear that song,” my 9-year-old said.
“That song is not for your age, honey.” I replied a little embarrassed.
“I don’t understand. What’s a pole? And why doesn’t the guy mind if she dances on it? Can you turn back?”
I paused and took a deep breath.
“A pole is like the one you slide down at the park, but some women dance on them for adult entertainment in clubs.”
“I still don’t understand, Mom” she repeated.
“Can you just give me a break on this one? Because, you know what? I really don’t want you to understand!” I said forcefully.
She was bewildered.
My youngest, picking up on the tension, decided to chime in.
“Am I going to learn how to dance on a pole in my ballet class, Mom?”
In the rearview mirror I could see her crooked smile.
“No,” I said loudly.
During the months following, I drove my daughters to and from school with one finger on the radio, ready to catch the song and change the station as soon as I heard the opening melody. But since “I Don’t Mind” rose up the Billboard charts and stayed in heavy rotation, if I switched from one station, it was undoubtedly playing on another.
What ensued were conversations with my daughters that I wasn’t prepared to have for at least another decade! Conversations about sexism, the objectification of women, career choices, and my dreams for the type of mates my girls would have in their lives.
Finally, I had to turn off the radio altogether.
Which takes me to your BET Honors Award last month, when you spoke about our community’s lack of role models and your awareness that an artist can use his or her voice to make a change.
I totally agree, but am left scratching my head. You do see the irony here, right?
Then you ended your speech with a big smile and the following words: “You haven’t seen anything yet. Stay tuned.”
So, uhm, yeah about that.
With two little girls in tow—girls I hope to keep off the pole, as Chris Rock said—I realize the smartest thing for me to do is tune out.