The Post-Racial Eyed Peas: Race, Robots, Ladies, Lumps

The Post-Racial Eyed Peas: Race, Robots, Ladies, Lumps

Does the success of the new Black Eyed Peas show support or refute the argument that America has moved beyond race? Also: robots.

The full title of this article is "You'll Own Slaves by 1965"

On the “America is still pretty damn racial” side of argument lies the fact that seems to have felt the need to hide himself inside a full-body robot costume in order to play Journey songs at a bunch of folks from Philly and southern New Jersey. His face was covered with a robot mask while his voice was so autotuned as to be inhuman. Something just felt a little weird.

will kept the mask on for a while. Fergie, the hot white girl, wore no mask, or, for that matter, pants, for most of the show.

The word “robot” was introduced by Czech playwrite Karel Capek in his 1921 play Rossum’s Universal Robots. Capek’s robots were made of flesh, but were literally built by the Rossum Corporation (for which Joss Whedon named the villainous corporation in Dollhouse) to serve as a servile caste for human beings. Like their predecessor, the Golem of Prague, Capek’s oppressed robots rebel and bring an end to humanity.

In fact, most robot stories are stories of slave revolt. From the Cylons to the Replicants to the I, Robot robots to the machines in the Matrix, popular culture often warns us of the danger of subjugating a conscious race. It’s an old story, one that goes back to the Spartans and their Helot slaves or the Romans and Spartacus.

I’m in no position to judge anything or anyone and I respect as an artist and as an activist, but it does seem strange to me that the politically aware African-America front man of the most popular band in the world would dress as the modern cultural equivalent of a slave.

When I first started talking about this concert, Fenzel introduced me to Afrofuturism as a potential explanation of’s performance. Afrofuturism, as defined by Wikipedia, is “an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color.” When Sun Ra puts on the shiny metallic crest of the Pharaohs or when George Clinton goes up to the Mothership, that’s Afrofuturism.

Afrofuturism also gave George Clinton the power to funk in a vacuum.

But in those cases, neither man covers his face and both artists are being taken up in one way or another. Afrofuturism is about the ascendance of African Americans and about seeing their history and traditions through new lenses. Sun Ra styles himself after a god ascending to the heavens, but it’s still Sun Ra. George Clinton is getting up for the down stroke with higher beings, but there’s no mistaking that George Clinton is doing the funking., meanwhile, hides his face behind a mask, putting forward the public face of an artificial being created specifically to serve others.

Looked at this way, it’s hard not to believe that race played a major role in this costume choice, making the concert a counter-example to the concept of post-racialism.

I don’t have an answer here. I don’t know what intended with this costume, but I do believe that he intended something.

Was it a comment on technology and the way it can break down traditional barriers to create a post-racial society?

Was he portraying the end of the usual robot story, when robots have lifted themselves out of slavery and taken over?

Or was it just a cool costume?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

PS: For another look at music and robots, check out Sheely’s post about Kanye West and Robocop

PPS: One of my favorite things that ever happened was the CNN coverage of the 2008 election night. Around the country, they set up tents with dozens of cameras inside so that guests could appear as a 3D hologram in the studio to talk to Anderson Cooper. Millions were spent so that we could watch news anchors have 3D conversations on our 2D TV screens. appeared as one of those guests. He missed an incredible opportunity to become the personal hero of geeks like us by ignoring Anderson’s questions and repeating over and over: “Help me Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope.” gives Anderson Cooper the plans for the Death Star.

9 Comments on “The Post-Racial Eyed Peas: Race, Robots, Ladies, Lumps”

  1. lee OTI Staff #

    So, a black man, puts on a robot costume to perform white rock music from the 70’s. To me, that’s less a racial thing as it is a temporal thing: as a futuristic robot, he brings old music to the present through technology.

    Okay, that’s not really Overthinking It, and I’d be remiss in my duties as the token OTI minority if I didn’t address the race angle:

    I tend to dismiss this idea of the imminence of “post-racial America” as the fantasy of white people who wish that America’s awful history of racism and present of racial inequality can be easily swept under the rug and forgotten about.

    “Hooray, there’s no more racism. Obama’s the President and I’m listening to the Black Eyed Peas. Fight’s over. Now can we stop talking about race? It’s making me uncomfortable.”

    Electing Obama to the Presidency and listening to the Black Eyed Peas? Those are easy things. Hiring African Americans in positions of authority in major public and private institutions? Not so easy. Allowing your daughter to date a black guy? Not so easy.

    That is to say, it’s going to take decades upon decades for some deeply embedded, subconscious racial prejudices to be extricated from our minds, if they ever will at all. Hopefully, things like a black president and multiracial pop acts can help chip away at those things.

    That is to say, Obama and the BEP are “leading indicators”; i.e., the shape of a future that is not fully realized in the present.


  2. lee OTI Staff #

    Totally unrelated side note 1: the website actually exists, and I’m sure the cybersquatting owner of this site is desperately hoping to cash in on this thing.

    Totally unrelated side note 2: “From the Cylons to the Replicants to the I, Robot robots to the machines in the Matrix, popular culture often warns us of the danger of subjugating a conscious race.”



  3. Jon Eric #

    I tend to dismiss this idea of the imminence of “post-racial America” as the fantasy of white people who wish that America’s awful history of racism and present of racial inequality can be easily swept under the rug and forgotten about.
    “Hooray, there’s no more racism. Obama’s the President and I’m listening to the Black Eyed Peas. Fight’s over. Now can we stop talking about race? It’s making me uncomfortable.”



  4. Aaron #

    Beyond lee wrote, I don’t even know what post-racial is supposed to mean. I mean, how does writing about race (through anti-racism, etc.) make race not exist anymore? How can posts about being “post-racial” talk so much about race?


  5. Gab #

    While I agree with the notion that there is no such thing as “post-racial,” from an advocate’s perspective (and sort of to play DEVIL’S advocate), the multiculturalism in the BEP phenom. is a step in the right direction.

    I couldn’t help but think of the possibility that the robot costume is a race-neutral skin: he’s not hiding his race so much as eliminating the possibility of it being a label, for robots are non-racial. But the song choice while wearing it makes that one a little hard to easily swallow, I’ll admit.


  6. Becca #

    Nobody cares about race, if the person in question has already proven him or herself sufficiently talented, entertaining or useful. You can’t look at the way people react to an extremely successful musician and the president of the United States and use that to draw broad conclusions about the prejudices of ordinary people against other ordinary people.


  7. Brimstone #

    I honestly know nothing about this but weren’t the Black Eyed Peas a critically acclaimed, ‘conscious’ hip-hop group before Fergie joined?
    like how Chumbawumba spent decades as anarchist punks


  8. Jesse #

    I just discovered this website and let me say for reading this article first it’s incredibly accurate to some of my thought flow as of late.

    I recently stumbled upon the old 2007 incident of a white teacher using the N-word on an African American student in school and strangely enough even later that night saw the Boondocks episode of that same situation. Now being that it was 3 years ago it’s still rather relevant compared to the history of this entire issue. My stance on the subject is simply that I can’t believe many African Americans have not heard or have not used this word in a positive way with one another simply to carry on conversation just like anyone would with their friends. Now the fact that it is said by a white person should be of no issue because bringing up that point is racist on its own. Now I’m entirely denying the fact that he is a teacher right now because that is entirely another matter quite honestly and isn’t really the point of this racial situation.
    The point is people are people and should act and be treated as people and just because one race may act in one way it does not give them sole rights to act that way and not expect it to possibly be mimicked. I’m not making any accusations that either the student nor the teacher was technically breaching any racial situation because by noticing and bringing out the situation is racial, I can’t say it any other way really =/.

    In the same sense I’ve recently thought about some of the illegal immigration going on in the U.S. (because racism is not solely a white vs. black idea) and how there is the growing issue of Hispanics illegally immigrating into the U.S. Granted this has been going on for many many years but is showing no signs of stopping and to some extent it may seem racist or inhumane by U.S. citizens to say “Stop illegally immigrating to our country” when the Hispanics say “Our families are starving and we need money to live that we aren’t getting in our country.” In this situation both sides have a completely valid point but it generally may seem racist for U.S. citizens to criticize Hispanics on the issue when truly it isn’t. I think the issue is that we recognize the trouble that Hispanics are going through but the fact is this country is its own country with an operating government that sets laws for a reason and our law sets a limit on immigration that occurs in the U.S. and sets up a method of legally becoming a citizen. I think we all understand this process takes time and it does so for good reasons so as to maintain a stable growth and create balance in our economy. Because of this, I don’t think it gives anyone the right to break this process regardless of the situation.
    Even in this sense the conclusion I still come to is that people are people and should act and be treated as people with decency. I think it’s great to take a dualistic approach to all situations and it’s a must in racial situations especially because there are always two sides of a story.

    As far as the BEP’s, I went to their concert in Norman Oklahoma when they opened for U2 and I’m in the same boat that I’m not a huge fan but it is surely entertaining to watch and they do have some excellent music. I think they are doing a great job of establishing a post-racial America and are definitely helping by breaking that barrier but the issue still is young in the process but is coming along rather quick in my opinion.

    I’m sure there’s several other issues that could be looked at and discussed that are relevant to this topic yet sadly this is only a comment not a forum -_-, but great article I enjoyed the thoughts and ideas :).


  9. laserbl'ast #

    1. white supremacists: still exist in the u.s. and violent groups have been on the rise since the recession/election.
    2. the border policies ARE racist, and mexican poverty is a direct result of united states imperialism.
    3. what do you think a lot of soldiers (i’m not just blaming them personally) call afghans when they shoot them? ragheads, sandniggers, etc etc. islamaphobia is a serious racist phenomenon encouraged by state, media, christian fundamentalists among others.
    if americans are becoming post-racialist, it is because they are denying the racism going on all around them. look at how many black people are in prisons as a proportion of prison populations, look at how angry so much hip hop is. the black eyed peas had to tone down political edge to get record deals, it’s very simple. look at what happened to public enemy after ‘fight the power,’ and you’ll see how the industry works.


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