In defense of Ms. Patti LaBelle owning her overall pie success

Last weekend the internet, i.e. the known world, turned against Patti LaBelle. The weekend prior to last Patti’s new pie venture with Walmart sold out across the country. The Patti-pie craze was ignited by a humorous, but irreverent video by a Patti LaBelle admirer and voice mimic, James Wright (11/12/15). On Nov 20, TMZ posted a video of Patti stating, “I did it myself,” when asked about James Wright’s contribution to her successful pie sales over the weekend. All over the internet, people loss their minds. I read numerous posts calling for a boycott of Patti’s pie. There was even a photo of a full boxed pie in the trash. Most disturbing were the people calling her names and vilifying her for being ungracious about James Wright’s contribution to her pie success. People insisted she was taking “all the credit” when someone else basically put her pie on the map. I became offended on her behalf and on behalf of every woman who has ever been maligned and castigated for representing herself fully and unapologetically. I became offended for every woman who didn’t think for a second she needed to cede her work, her life, her efforts and her value to a man.

I am of the opinion that Patti LaBelle is right: she did do it herself (inclusive only of giving credit to one person; not excluding God at all). As I shared in my own Facebook comments: it’s her life, her name, her legacy, her reputation, her recipe, her pie. It was the public’s collective knowledge and familiarity with all of her public self that had them rushing to buy her pie at Walmart. Yes, James Wright took word-of-mouth to another level with a video that went viral, but it was still word of mouth. How many millions of people over the last five decades have sang her praises or encouraged others to go out and purchase something of hers? How much does she owe all of those millions of people? Other than a sincere “thank you” and continuing to be her true self, she doesn’t owe us anything. And even that, she actually owes to herself and her Creator. I’ll note here: she has been thanking James for his video since nine minutes after he posted it. But apparently, people all over the internet don’t think that is enough.

Shade 1: No one knew about Patti LaBelle’s pie until James Wright did a video about it.

The video is not viral because James Wright is singing in his own voice. He’s singing in Patti LaBelle’s voice and hitting her notes with impressive ease. His whole premise was: Patti’s pie will turn you into Patti LaBelle!

This is a certainty: If not for Patti LaBelle, we would not be talking about James Wright right now.

The backlash against Patti LaBelle makes it sound as if James Wright put her on the map. No one in the world would know about her pies if he hadn’t enlightened us? Really? She’s been putting out cookbooks for decades and she talks about her cooking – as her true blessing – every where she goes. Not only that, other celebrities talk about her cooking!

No, I did not know about the pie being on sale at Walmart before I saw James’ video, but I certainly knew Patti was well known for her cooking and I’ve been wanting her cookbook for years. That said, I didn’t know about James Wright at all until I saw his video about Patti LaBelle. I’m not dismissing James Wright or his contribution to bringing awareness to Patti’s pie at Walmart. What he did amounts to word of mouth on a social media viral scale. If James Wright had sang about LaShawnda’s pies in my voice, there would be no internet sensation. That’s my bottom line. He sang about a legend in her voice and, in her own words, hit her notes higher than she did. That’s why he’s a sensation right now. That’s why I don’t think she was being arrogant or ungracious or rude or dismissive by stating, “I did that.” She was simply being herself.

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Shade 2: Patti LaBelle is ungracious for taking “all” the credit for her pie sales.

The primary complaint is that she isn’t grateful enough for what James Wright’s video did for her. She said “thank you.” She called him and thanked him personally. In Mr. Wright’s own words on The Roll Out (warning: there’s a great deal of profane and offensive language in this video), they spoke for about 15min before she went on stage in London (mark 6:17-30). That would have been before she received weekend sales data following his review post on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 (The Roll Out is showing an interview date of November 13).

My point is: the impact on his life is much greater due to his review than it is on Patti LaBelle’s life. And that’s okay. We all look for a star to hitch on to. And James Wright picked a tried and true star to hitch himself to.

Devaluing Patti LaBelle because she owned her own success is amazingly arrogant on the public’s part. Unfortunately, the internet bashers are not the only ones who think Patti LaBelle is unworthy to claim responsibility for her own success. According to Fortune.com the sales are due to Walmart’s retail strategy: “Sales have soared since the retailer has improved its baked goods.” Their “retail strategy” consisted of dumping their own pie and purchasing rights to Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie recipe. Key words: Patti LaBelle. Apparently that doesn’t matter because corporate America will continue to focus on Walmart’s “retail strategy” and the public will focus on James Wright’s viral video. No one is focused on giving this woman credit for building and sustaining her own name and reputation over a fifty-plus-year career in the public eye. That’s amazing to me.

Please notice in the statement below, that what appears like a huge deal out of context (i.e. with context: Walmart sells two pumpkin pies per second during this time of year and Patti LaBelle’s lifetime legacy excites generations of people), is just regular business for Walmart:

Walmart representative John Forrest Ales confirmed to Yahoo Food that the sweet potato pies are selling like hot cakes (er, pies) at locations across the country. “For 72 hours, we were selling one per second,” he told us. Ales wouldn’t go into specifics about sales figures, but at $3.48 a pie, that works out to just under $1 million in sales over the weekend. The pie’s product page is currently the most-visited food site on Walmart.com, Ales said. (For a bit of context, Walmart might sell two pumpkin pies every second in the month of November. But still, $1 million in sweet potato pie sales is a lot of pie.) ~ Yahoo News

Keep in mind the pie came to market in September and as far as I can find, neither Patti LaBelle nor Walmart were promoting the pie. However, it’s safe to assume that had either one done so, the result would have been the same.

Gripe 1: Who you callin’ a bitch?

I understand that colloquial language is all about applying degrading monikers as terms of endearment, however I don’t appreciate it, nor do I agree with any instance of it.

I watched James Wright’s video and I laughed and clapped when he burst out in song. He does sounds like Patti LaBelle. I didn’t share the video because he referred to Patti LaBelle as “bitch” and used the word several (8) times throughout his video in addition to a MF bomb, ending with: Patti, bitch, you are my friend! (3:08)

To many, calling a woman a “bitch” is just another word for female or woman. Not to me. So for that, I did not share the video. What I did do was enjoy Patti LaBelle’s and other’s songs from the 1980’s and 90’s. James Wright inspired me to go back to the original and enjoy her voice directly.

In none of the reading I’ve done regarding this video have I read one comment about James’ irreverent and disrespectful language. Maybe no one remarked because it went unnoticed. Maybe it went unnoticed because “that’s how black people speak”…or… because it was said in a playful tone…or…because it wasn’t meant as an insult…or…because, perhaps, all black women are bitches…. Heck, even Queen Latifah said “When we playing, it’s cool,” in U.N.I.T.Y., a song all about a woman calling out those who call her a “bitch.” Who knows what the individual or collective reasoning is? Patti LaBelle as “bitch” didn’t cause a stir because the video was entertaining and hilarious. Yes, I enjoyed the majority of James Wright’s performance, but I also cringed each time he used derogatory terms. However, there was no enjoyment at all in hearing a living legend, a woman I’ve admired my whole life, referred to as “bitch” simply for clicks…and humor.

It should be noted that though James may not have intended any harm with his use of the word, the same word being used in comments all over the internet is indeed intended to be offensive. This is the world we live in. People will boycott a singer’s pies (from a recipe she’s been talking about for decades) because her “thank you” to someone who liked it didn’t sound grateful, but an ecstatic review by that same someone peppered with bitches and MFs receives no comment at all. No correction. No admonishment. No update after the widespread viewing. As a Black Woman in America, I take issue with the hatefully dismissive and belittling words whether they are coming from outside the community or from within.

Gripe 2: Flexing economic muscle

My first Facebook comment about this situation stated:

….I think the way the black community is turning on her for “not being gracious enough” is representative of our issues as a community. What’s the bar for graciousness? Who sets it? If we can throw Patti out with her pies, why are corrupt and abusive city governments and police departments still standing in this country? This is what blows my mind. We will flex our economic power to build one of our own up (unintentionally, of course), then flex harder to tear her down. Yet we continue to shop in the same cities where we are being slaughtered in the streets.

It has long been estimated that by 2015, the Black Community would reach $1.1 trillion in buying power. Buying power is said to be the amount of money people have to spend after taxes and does not include savings or money that can be borrowed in the future (Humphreys, 2014). Basically, our buying power means: it matters how, where and when we spend our money. We can shut down communities or build them up. We can fund businesses or watch them dry out. How Black America spends its collective dollar matters overall to the economy of the United States of America, but most especially to the communities and cities we live in. We have not focused on the larger picture – elected officials, public servants and corporations that have usurped our rights and our lives. But we should focus on them. We think we’re powerless against the government and its agents as well as against corporations and their mighty dollar, but we are not powerless. They are all fed by what we choose to give or give up. As long as we, as a community, turn on each other in pettiness, there will be nothing left of us for others to destroy or oppress.

The Black Community will never be able to live within its power and exercise its communal authority as long as we continue to devalue our women (no matter their accomplishments) and worship our men for what they do while disregarding who they are (character). We have to harness the experience and wisdom of everyone who has come before and everyone who currently is.

In her fifty-plus years in the public eye, Patti LaBelle has given us only joy and an enduring example of the beauty of self-expression, as well as whatever personal memories we individually attach to her songs. All that was disregarded when she took ownership of her own life and accomplishments when the media wanted to give the credit to someone who was mimicking her and calling her out her name in a thee-minute video. Many of the comments on Ms. LaBelle’s recent page posts are disgraceful and truly emblematic of the emotionally distant and chronically disrespectful social media-based society we’ve become.

We can do better. We have to start doing better for each other. We have to stop being our own worse enemy.

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