I’ve been thinking a lot about redemption and grace, and how we as people in general struggle with granting ourselves these things, let alone others. As I’ve grown in both age and spiritual awareness, I’ve been leaning heavily into both. Being able to see the power in redemption, the peace in grace — both can be not just signs that we are growing as individuals, but also holding fast to the idea that we ultimately are one global community.
So Greenleaf is my show. Yes, I know, it’s been off the air for a couple of years now, but through the magic of Netflix, you can watch it whenever you like. In case you don’t know anything about the OWN-featured God(ly) classic starring Merle Dandridge, and featuring the voiceover king Keith David plus the incomparable Lynn Whitfield, here’s a little bit of tea on it.
At any rate, I’ve been finding myself binge-watching it again recently. I know that when I’m called to re-watch a show that I’ve watched enough to let the proverbial tape pop, it’s because there’s a message in it for me, either for myself or to share with the collective. Sometimes I jump around episodes, and this time was no exception — I kept hearing the gospel song “Starting Over”, specifically the way that Charity (Deborah Joy Winans) sang it, and so I went right to the episode of the Sunday before their church was set to be torn down, and started watching from there.
In the watching that follows, one of the moments that stick out most in my mind is soon after Bishop Greenleaf (Keith David) lays himself bare on the altar for the congregation to see, and Grace (Merle Dandridge) runs after Rochelle (Letoya Luckett) to say thank you to her. If you’ve watched the show, then you know why many of us side-eyed the conversation — up until the moment Rochelle says, “You know God can use anybody, right? Even a mean ‘ol sinner like me”. Redemption. And she’s right, of course — words of wisdom and insight from the divine can come from anywhere.
Even from people like Supahead.
I may be telling my age a bit here, of course, and the truth is, I’ve always hated that name, but us late Gen Xers, Xennials, and elder Millenials who were heavy into the golden era of rap, hip-hop, and R&B, all know who Karrine Steffans, otherwise nicknamed “Supahead”, is. Aptly named because of apparently her top-tier‘ knowledge’, Karrine became a household name when she wrote a book about her escapades and outed many of the biggest names in rap and hip-hop at the time. It was a huge scandal then, and it had us looking at many of her faves out of the corner of our eye.
Except for Da Brat. Baby girl, we always knew. It’s okay. Live your life.
She came to mind in particular because her name came up again recently in my browsing history, but for a different reason — she’s dropped her pen name. Apparently, Karrine Steffans was always a fake name, and her real name is Elisabeth Ovesen. She recently launched a podcast called Asking for a Friend to mixed, well, reviews. After becoming a New York Times Bestseller with her Video Vixen book series, some are surprised by her views, as she taps into topics such as body dysmorphia, self-esteem, and value. (I’m not that surprised, tbh. I also have always had a healthy respect for her. But I digress.) Of course, with a personality as dynamic as hers has been for the past 20 years, it would be a challenge for anyone to see her and others like her in a different light…
But that’s what makes me think about redemption, and grace, and how we as John Q Public can be selective about who we offer it to, and not just in the case of SupaHead. I think of women like Jennifer Lopez, who always gets so much flak for her dating history and subsequent marriages. I think of Chrisette Michele, whose questionable decision to sing for the former president resulted in her being “canceled” by the public at large. I think about Belcalis Almánzar, better known as Cardi B, whose path from stripper to Grammy-award-winning rapper, wife, and mother, garnered a lot of criticism, even from fellow female rappers in the industry. I even think about Kim Kardashian, who, while I have other issues with her (her penchant for culture vulture-ing being high on the list), is often openly dragged for “building an empire off of a sex tape”.
A sex tape, for the record, of her and her boyfriend at the time. Essentially a private moment made public.
Meanwhile, I think of the ever-troubled ‘Ye, who people willingly and openly defend, even as he consistently proves that he is deep within a bipolar spiral that he has no intention of coming out of. I think of Robert Kelly, a prolific songwriter, a massive talent — who finally has been sent to jail for his numerous crimes — and who many still insist that half of the women he sexually assaulted “asked for it” or “wanted it”. And let’s not forget the beloved Heathcliff Huxtable, Bill Cosby in real life, who, though by his own admission, raped and sexually assaulted dozens of women because “it was what we did at the time”, people insist that he was being set up because of him wanting to purchase NBC or whatever the case may be.
What is in us that struggles to offer grace for some, but not others — particularly women?
I think that one piece of the puzzle is that the public, overall, takes a sort of perverse pleasure in criticizing and gossiping about those that they don’t know. It’s much easier to judge someone’s life based on what’s reported, to not only distract you from the comings and goings of your own life but even to be heard. Social media outlets have made it such that everyone is of the impression that because something is posted, an opinion must be shared about it, whether the opinion is based on fact or not.
That said, I also often wonder if people, deep down inside, do not believe themselves worthy of grace or redemption, or perhaps exist within a bubble that is only popped when they themselves are in need.
I could also go into other themes, of course — general misogyny and indirect effects of colonialism being a huge part of it — but that’s a whole other horse of a different color for another time.
Back to SupaHead for a second.
Of course, with her new podcast, the comments were ablaze. A regular dumpster fire, if you will. And it made me think of why folks felt a way about her. Was it because of her having apparently slept with all of these industry people? I’d wager that she’s by far not the only one — maybe she’s just the only one who wrote about it? Is it that she is vocal and public about her sexual desires…at least at one point in her life? And not just her, but other women like her, women who are unabashed about their own sexual needs? Again, I’m sure a good amount of it can be chalked up to the age-old back-and-forth about being a “lady in the streets”…but there’s a part of me that sees the flip side of the coin as well, the part where once people are placed into a specific category, that this is the only space that they can ever belong.
They’re not allowed to change. They’re not allowed to grow.
It is true that when you live a public life, you (unfortunately) open yourself up for criticism that perhaps you might not have had to worry about if you were not a public figure. Then again, look at Mrs. Knowles-Carter and her husband. They lead some of the quietest, private lives public figures could possibly live, and if she breathes wrong, well…we all know how that goes. Maybe the key is in how we view what is worthy of redemption…and grace.
Where is the line drawn?
Part 2 to come…