Prince and the Competition of Grief


by Teeba Khan

While taking a short break from work one afternoon, I logged onto Twitter and the first tweet I saw was from a friend of mine retweeting a TMZ tweet reporting Prince’s death. I first couldn’t believe it because for one, it’s TMZ and I have a very hard time believing anything from that “news” site and two, it’s Prince. Mr. Purple Rain himself. The legend. The icon.

Before jumping to conclusions and using the infamous “@” symbol, I immediately Googled Prince and waited five minutes to refresh my Twitter feed. Sure enough, five minutes later I saw tweets from AP, Reuters, CNN, and People Magazine confirming his death.

After coming out of my state of shock, I continued to scroll down my newsfeed. One half of my social media became flooded with beautiful lyrics from his songs and memorable pictures of him playing his infamous purple guitar while the other half had status updates like, “Why don’t we have the same reaction when a Syrian child dies or a country is bombed?” I was immediately unsettled by this because time and time again I see people bringing up such tragedies when a prolific person has died.

I saw it with Robin Williams and I was seeing it again with Prince.

Immediately I felt a pang of guilt for not caring about the tragedies going on around the world and a slight rise of irritation. With my brows furrowed, I continued to scroll and thought to myself, “Am I not allowed to grieve an artist that changed the music world?” The irritation was getting to me because as humans, we have the ability to care about multiple issues at once. We have the emotional capacity and intelligence to distribute our sympathy. We are capable of being emotionally multifaceted.

Taking a breather from social media, I shifted my thoughts. Being the scrutinizing person I am, I just had to analyze this situation. Why is that people emphasize these horrific tragedies when some pop culture icon dies? Are people wrong in caring so much about a person they don’t even know? I still don’t know the answers, but I came to this conclusion -- to understand people’s attachment to pop culture icons, it is also important to understand what these people symbolize.

For many people, Prince represented the idea of freedom. The freedom to be yourself in a world that tells you how to dress and act. Here we had a black male artist who questioned and defied the conventional rules of race, gender, and sexuality. Prince transcended what it means to be a “black male” in America. He dressed how he wanted to dress; he redefined what it meant to be masculine with his tight pants, open blouses, and ever so provocative music videos. Because really, what does it mean to be a “man”? This is something I could really get into but not right now. Right now, my simple answer is that there isn’t.

There isn’t a set way or a proper way to be a person and I think Prince understood that. He was himself despite the social constructs. He was not confined by anything and neither was his influence. He became a beacon, a role model to the kids who felt they didn’t belong. Till this day, he is one of the most iconic musicians in the world. Sorry, Kanye.

Mourning the death of a pop culture figure does not make a person detached from the other atrocities going on in the world and recognizing the death of those innocently murdered does not make a person worldlier.

Death is not a competition. It is not something that needs to be prioritized.

We are beautifully complex and so are our emotions. To limit our emotions to focus on one particular situation limits us from growing and understanding the many issues that surround us today. I am able to care about Prince, Syria, and police brutality at the same time. I am able to find happiness and sadness in a fallen icon. I am able to distribute my sadness and happiness because if I wasn’t able to, I wouldn’t be able to get through this thing called life.

Teeba Khan lives in Southern California and says ‘dude’ way too much. While currently working in print publication, Teeba hopes to move further into the media spectrum and work with people who are pushing for diversity in the media. Working with Kenya Barris, the creator of blackish, or Nahnatchka Khan, the creator of Fresh Off the Boat, doesn’t sound too bad. Immersing herself in pop culture and the media, Teeba is driven to speak out against the inequality actors, writers, and artists face in their industry and is hopeful to see change.