To many people, blackness looks like one thing. For Prince Nelson Rogers, who died Thursday at 57, blackness could take any form.
Prince rocked eyeliner. He wore sequins and rings and skin-tight spandex in the wildest colors imaginable. He strutted like a peacock on the stage and in music videos. He oozed sexuality from posters on the bedroom walls of teenagers across the country.
He was also openly kooky and didn’t care that you made fun of him. When he dropped his name for a symbol in 1993 and went by The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, he became fodder for jokes in late night monologues.
But, as he said in 2004 after he went back to Prince, “When I became a symbol, all the writers were cracking funnies, but I was the one laughing. I knew I’d be here today, feeling each new album is my first.”
He said things like this, which both made no sense and perfect sense at the same time:
“There are no accidents. And if there are, it’s up to us to look at them as something else. And that bravery is what creates new flowers.”
In his unavoidably dance-inducing hit, “I Would Die 4 U,” he sang, “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand.”
Just as the late David Bowie influenced gender-questioning and queer kids during the height of his career, so did Prince, especially for brown kids who relished being different.
He was an example — perhaps even the goal — of sensual, confident androgyny, and blackness.