Pop Culture, Social Justice and Race: When Black People Love Whiteness More Than Fellow Black People
I truly wonder how many Black people are going to spew vitriol at me in defense of their favorite plagiarizing, cultural appropriation-loving, exploit for dollars doing, professional ally career-having Whites? And the way it’s done? It’s like they want me to die for speaking against their White favorites and heroes. People who exploit Black people for a living matter more than fellow Black people to them.
I’ve never had anyone curse me out in defense of anyone Black, not even President Obama. Some close calls with Obamabots who reject nuance almost in the way that racist Obama haters do, but still not of the level that some Black people willingly do for: “rape culture lyrics and ‘angry’ Black women are the problem not Black men” Robin Thicke, “dip in and out of Blackness whenever need be” Justin Timberlake, “Black women are nothing but a costume to exploit for profit” Miley Cyrus, “all Black people are ugly and people falsely associate racism with mental illness as if these two aren’t separate so she can be off the hook” Amanda Bynes, “long hateful misogynist rap sheet and years of online harassment of women of colour” Hugo Schwyzer, “I speak for all Blacks using the words and writing of people of colour as if I invented them” Tim Wise, “anti-intersectional, ridiculously large platform size by age 21” type of White feminists that I call Dunhamites (after Lena Dunham), and various White plagiarizers (of women of colour) who some Black people retweet and share with glee while ignoring Black women’s objection to this. Just some examples of the many.
(And do not even come here with the mental illness reports regarding Amanda Bynes and Hugo Schwyzer when Black mental illness and our pain itself are disregarded entirely. Don’t even try the “you’re ableist” argument when mental health is being used to deny their White privilege and excuse their racism and in the latter’s case, sexism, misogyny, misogynoir and bullying.)
Certainly I understand why some Black people defend them. At the base level, people like the idea of “fandom,” “teams” and “brand loyalty.” It’s an offshoot of how capitalism and brand consumerism are marketed as typical American values. Thus, most Americans can get like this about certain products, brands, experiences, celebrities or icons. But in this case, there are other factors.
First of all, there’s the myth that exploitation of Black people is how Whites show interest, appreciation or approval. Thus, when this occurs, because we live in a White supremacist society where White approval and being viewed “positively” in the White Gaze is the most important goal to reach, naturally when they exploit us for fame, platform, cash, position within Black society and power, some Black people view this as “love” for Black people. Whites like this can especially improve their “cred” by sleeping with or marrying Black people or even better, make themselves professional allies where they speak for Black people as a monolithic group where a White microphone is required. Some Whites are considered rather mediocre or irrelevant among the White masses but because of their White privilege and internalized White supremacist thought by some Black people, they become pillars among Black culture.
Secondly, there is the “White man’s ice is colder” problem. Thus, when a White person does the exact thing that a Black person has, even if with less talent, intelligence, insight or experience, some Black people view this as “superior.” Because of centuries of degradation of Black bodies, culture and lives, a White person doing something associated with Black culture is viewed as an “improvement” or “proof” of the “goodness” of Black culture–as if our culture isn’t already magnificent, nuanced, resilient, forward-thinking, and innovative. Sadly, some Black people aren’t sure about this unless someone White cosigns. The problem is that such a cosign often comes at a price where Black people celebrating our own culture and its nuances by regions, countries, ethnicity, styles and histories are shamed, reprimanded, punished, fired or literally oppressed and destroyed for what Whites are applauded for appropriating.
The third issue is the myth of reciprocity. Some Black people think that we are culturally on “equal” footing where for a example, a Black woman forced to perm her hair to avoid intraracial and interracial shame, to gain employment opportunities and because of internalized notions of inferiority after centuries of racist beauty propaganda (and not “all” who perm do/feel this, of course) is “equal” to a White woman copying Black women’s box braids and getting employed by a hair blog to brag about “urban” styles. They fail to realize White supremacy and racism are responsible for both of these situations. There is punishment and oppression associated with Black women forced to assimilate into Whiteness versus White women praised for appropriating Blackness as a costume. How this applies to these liberal/progressive White plagiarists, cultural appropriators, culture vultures, professional allies and bullies to any Blacks who won’t applaud them is that some Black people behave as if there is an “even exchange” of culture. There isn’t. The outcomes are most certainly not even. Whites are always praised and always profit from Black culture, even while Black people engaging in our own culture have to deal with the politics of respectability lectures from Whites and some middle class Blacks and justification of all sorts of oppression including rape and murder for simply embracing our own culture.
The absolute worst is when some Black men curse me out (they always do, over anything, of course) to defend White men. I expect them to do it for White women, *yawn*. I expect them to do it for other Black men. I do have to say that when they do it for White men who are culturally appropriating not me but them–appropriating other Black men–I’m stunned. And I’m rarely stunned.
Obviously Black people like this can like whomever they like and support whomever they want to support. However, the myth that “preferences” are random or superficial in a society where the question is always “how” is race involved not “if,” is a myth that cannot be ignored. Black people who will argue to the death to defend Whites involved in exploitation that they view as “appreciation” need to figure out why their liking (which often times mimic worship) of these White figures matters more than being kind to, supporting, liking, or loving other Black people. Because sadly, I already know the answer.
Of course it is possible for White people to enjoy Black culture without exploitation, but to do so, they must recognize that it is occurring in a context where they have White privilege and are in a White supremacist society. Don’t steal/plagiarize/dehumanize/fetish. Give credit where due. Embrace the specific Black culture (by region, nationality etc.) where the “inspiration” comes from. Actually communicate with Black people beyond who they’re fucking (if that person is Black) and commit to that culture without fetishizing. Do the research. Make space for Black people who want to do the creative cultural work–of our own culture–that Whites (and Black people like the ones I’m describing in this essay) are so eager to only see from Whites. Acknowledge the privilege that allows Whites to copy, perform and profit from Black culture in a way its originators cannot. Engage in consistent dialogue on this. Don’t treat the culture as a costume or aphrodisiac. I dunno…be a fucking decent human being. Also view Black people as human beings, not objects solely for consumption. And Whites can literally marry and breed with Black people and STILL not view Black people beyond their partner versus the one-dimensional monolith of the rest of Black people.
It’s just ironic that Whites who understand this are usually not the ones on the stage, the ones worshiped, or the ones that some Black people gleefully defend to the death while spitting in other Black people’s faces. It’s as if though the latter’s awareness of structural, institutional and systemic racism and how White supremacy facilitates the power to plagiarize, culturally appropriate and bully dissenters escapes their thought process, but knowing this is occurring and aligning with who they see has power doesn’t escape their thought process. This might be a part of American victim blaming culture meets popular culture that is under-explored, though psychologically, it is partially explained by identification with the aggressor as a defense mechanism.
I am truly tired of the “untouchable” White liberal artist/social justice voice and their Black cheerleaders. And certainly not all Black people take the stance that I critique here. Not at all. But some do. I’ve been attacked by some of them. And I am sure that everything I just stated here will be disregarded by them because after all, I am not White.
(And OF COURSE Whites ALSO defend problematic White stars who exploit Black people. Tragically so. They unite over White supremacy in a plethora of ways, even over class when wealthy Whites exploit poor Whites. But this essay is not about that.)
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