#BackChannel: Black Women In The Penal System, Michelle Obama’s Memoir, & Lauryn Hill's Impact

Dec 18, 2018

The demand to #FreeCyntoiaBrown is growing. Celebrities and activists are joining forces to amplify the request for clemency for the 30-year-old sex trafficking victim. Brown is a Tennessee woman serving a life sentence for killing a man who hired her for sex. Outgoing Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he is considering the clemency request and will make a decision before he leaves office in January.

In this episode of #BackChannel, the State of Things’ recurring series connecting culture and context, popular culture experts Natalie Bullock Brown and Mark Anthony Neal talk to host Frank Stasio about Cyntoia Brown’s case and what it illuminates about the treatment of black women in the criminal justice system.

They also talk about the controversy surrounding Prada’s monkey figurines that many have compared to racist caricatures of African-Americans. Brown and Neal review Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming,” which is among the fastest selling nonfiction books in history, and talk about the new HBO documentary ”Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland.”

I am from Chicago. I know the Southside, and that code-switching that [Michelle Obama] talks about is something I learned very early. There's a lot about her experience that resonates. That's one of the things I miss about the Obamas-I felt like I could relate to them. — Natalie Bullock Brown

They pay tribute to Nancy Wilson, a Grammy-award winning jazz singer who died last week at the age of 81. Plus, they share their thoughts on scholar and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill losing his job as a commentator for CNN after a controversial speech at the United Nations.

Nancy Wilson is a favorite of mine. She always described herself as a stylist, not as a vocalist. There's not an African-American man or white man who didn't have a crush on Nancy Wilson in virtually every decade of her public life. — Mark Anthony Neal

They are joined by hip-hop journalist and author Joan Morgan to discuss the cultural impact of Lauryn Hill, a topic explored in Morgan’s new book “She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (Simon & Schuster/2018).

Natalie Bullock Brown is a filmmaker and teaching assistant professor at North Carolina State University, and Mark Anthony Neal is the James B. Duke professor and chair of the department of African and African American studies at Duke University in Durham.