If you want to ruin the eulogy of an iconic, inherently gifted, overwhelmingly bodacious legendary black female powerhouse of a musician, get a man to do it.
That was the message I got from Aretha Franklin's incredibly long funeral service – as is fitting for someone of her status – when it was all said and done. I missed the beginning of the service, but I caught the last seven hours (the service was initially supposed to be five hours long. It was nine hours long. And because it was Aretha, there were still people left in the church at the end of the service). Outside of the wonderment of the entire service, there were two major happenings that, unfortunately, marred the whole event for me.
HE KNEW WHERE HIS HAND WAS
First, of course, was the way Pastor Charles Ellis was playing piano on Ariana Grande's breast after her amazing performance. I just want to be clear here that there is no way that man did not know where his hand was. Why do I know this? Many reasons. One, he didn't grope anyone else like that. None of the other female singers were so severely manhandled. Two, that woman was clearly leaning away from him nervously, so either he lacks discernment completely or he's a predator. (Hint: He's a predator.) Three, footage shows that he adjusted his hand, even almost massaging her side as he continued to make a silly joke about her name and Taco Bell, in reference to what he assumed was her Hispanic heritage (she's Italian-American, so...I don't even...anyway). Even after this offensive man apologised, his apology was still stupid. He said he may have crossed the border – again with the silly Hispanic undertones – but it wasn't a maybe. He did 'cross the border'. And the fact that he has put so many people in an uncomfortable spotlight – Ariana herself, his poor embarrassed wife, his children who are not much older than Ariana, his congregation and his liturgical career – tells me that indeed, not all men of God are as perfect as we once thought they were. And that needs to be addressed, not only for this service, but also in the Catholic Church, predominantly. Being ordained does not automatically mean you are sinless.
Two, the ridiculousness that was the entire eulogy – main sermon, in American terms – done by Rev Jasper Williams Jr, who waxed nonsensical for 50 minutes about everything that had nothing to do with the great that was being laid to rest. I was willing to listen in the beginning, but when he started spouting venom, I was only listening so that I could have the sufficient information to write this piece with. That eulogy was so bad, so far off mark, so irrelevant to the issue at hand, that when Stevie Wonder came on stage to perform afterwards, he said that what the pastor had said was not true. This was in reference to when the pastor said Black Lives Don't Matter – to a predominantly black congregation, mourning the death of a black history maker. He was saying this to get to some tripe about how if black lives don't matter to black people, then black lives won't matter to anyone else. The (silly) politics of this can be discussed later, but that was NOT the place. This was not the platform to be releasing such tomfoolery. Then he said a black woman cannot raise a black boy to be a black man – this, at the funeral of a black woman who raised four young men, by herself.
In his sterling apology, he said, “I just wish someone would understand my heart and understand what I’m trying to do instead of making mockery or creating difficulty or spins opposite of what I am intending. That’s what hurts me more than anything else.” Interesting, because he had 50 minutes to be clear and somehow could not manage to get his point across.
This trickles all the way down to almost every society in the world – men's pathological disrespect for women. We see it when women are alive, in how men choose to treat us. We see it in the slights and assaults they perpetuate, and ignore. We see it when a woman is being buried. Even at her death, she cannot rest. We see it when a pregnant university student is murdered. Even in her death, she will not get rest. What Aretha sang for, for women, is still a pipe dream. But people wake up from dreams. The day of reckoning comes for us all.