Unlike a lot of black artists, Janelle has no problem being unapologetic about her blackness. She doesn’t dismiss her experiences as a black woman or make light of them. Nor does she water down the reality of what life is like for her. That’s one thing that often gets left out of the conversation in terms of Dirty Computer. Mainly that happens when non black critics of color and white critics mention the album: that Janelle is being vocal about her struggles as not only being queer but being black too. Since her identity is intersectional – it makes life that much harder.
The intro of “Crazy, Classic, Life” is very important for the song itself. It’s an interpolation and excerpt of “The Declaration of Independence.” Following that is one of the boldest lines in the song – “Young, Black, Wild and Free,” then “Naked in a Limousine,” which highlights nakedness as freedom. The idea of actual freedom is lost, especially for those of us who are black. The world consistently reminds me that I’m not really free. It dangles that idea and the idea that we live in free countries (US + Canada).
In Verse 2, Janelle highlights her lack of desire for marriage. She just wants to live her life without being held back and told by the world that she can’t be herself. To live in this world means a lot of compromising of self, and this world becomes more and more dangerous for black bodies. The world in Dirty Computer’s short film, while fictional, is a depiction of the world. And how it treats “dirty computers.” We’re only “free” if we conform and suppress what makes us “dirty.” Unapologetic blackness is seen as wrong.
Yet here Janelle is, here a lot of us are, not suppressing our blackness. Not silencing ourselves. Even if we may not be completely free.
Vanessa Maki is a queer writer,artist & other things. She’s full of black girl magic & has no apologizes for that. Her work has appeared in various places like Really System & others. She is also forthcoming in a variety of places. She’s founder/EIC of rose quartz magazine & is involved in other spaces as well. Follow her twitter & visit her site.
The definition of a “dirty computer” is very much similar to what Janelle’s description happens to be. Everyone can come up with their own definition, of course. Regardless, in the eyes of ignorance and hate, I’m a dirty computer.
There’s a sense of internalized shame in being seen as someone who has corrupted files in a sense. It’s even more prominent in those of us who have grown up in religious spaces. Such as Janelle I’ve been surrounded by religious people all my life. That’s something that’s brought on a lot of resentment towards the universe. The “why couldn’t I have been born in a life where I can be myself fully?” passes through my mind too often. This has fractured how I look at religion quite frankly.
“Searching for someone to fix my drive
Text message God up in the sky
Oh, if you love me, won’t you please reply?
Oh, can’t you see that it’s only me?”
This part of the song explores Janelle’s confusion about her own religious standings. She’s a black queer woman that grew up in the Baptist faith. She also said in this interview:
“A lot of this album is a reaction to the sting of what it means to hear people in my family say, ‘All gay people are going to hell.‘ ”
Verse 3 is so very important for the album itself. It’s pointing a huge finger at the idea that queer folk who may believe (this term takes on different meanings) in the Christian God , are no longer loved. That their queerness in itself makes them unloved and doomed. For me verse 3 causes me to get introspective (this album does in general) and it makes me think of my own personal experiences. How this album would have been even more powerful during my teen years. How it would have changed how I saw myself.
Being black or any other person of color also comes into play and dances hard with the shame of being queer. The world hates you double time. It slaps the label “dirty computer” before it even realizes you’re queer. Then once it does you get the same label again. While I’m hated for more than one reason, I wouldn’t want to get someone to fix my drive.
Vanessa Maki is a queer writer, artist & other things. She’s full of black girl magic & has no apologies for that. Her work has appeared in various places like Entropy & others. She is also forthcoming in a variety of places. She’s founder/EIC of rose quartz journal, interview editor for Tiny Flames Press, & regular contributor for Vessel Press. She enjoys self publishing chapbooks. Her experimental chapbook social media isn’t what’s killed me will be released by Vessel Press in 2019. Follow her twitter & visit her site.