At times like this, when Black people across the nation are rallying to promote the alarmingly simple viewpoint that we don’t deserve to have our lives taken from us by racist police forces, I am reminded of how very much has already been taken from the Black community. Some things, like our culture, are viewed as mere trifles to be had by all. Others, like our very bodies and the movements we used to have those bodies recognized as valuable, aren’t even spoken of–lest they incriminate those who profit from them. Yet, the United States public uses them all the same and often in ways black folks themselves cannot for fear of ostracization, taboo, and further marginalization. To these people I say, have at it. Use our goods with reckless abandon since it seems we can’t stop you anyhow.
There is just the matter of our payment to discuss…
What do Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, USA Today, Brooks Brothers, Aetna, New York Life Insurance, AIG, Canadian National Railway, Barclays (UK), Rothschild (UK), the U.S. Economy, and just about every building or monument built in the U.S. before 1865 all have in common? They were all made what they are today through the enterprise known as slavery. White people love to imply that slavery was such a long time ago, long enough for its effects to have passed and been forgotten. The only thing is, the United States is largely the super power it is today because of the wealth it acquired via all of that free labor it stole for nearly 250 years. So you don’t necessarily need to be able to trace your family history to some pre-emancipation date to be complicit in profiting from the brutality of slavery in the U.S. (although, if you can, you should prolly just write us a check). In fact, you don’t even need to be white to migrate here and profit from this economy in ways the Black people responsible for building it often cannot.
Does this mean black folks are getting free insurance from the companies that got rich offering property insurance on their ancestors backs? Will we be lining up for interest-free no-fee bank loans from the financial institutions who once used us as collateral to secure the loans that would build this nation? Are the wealthiest 1% of this country, most of whom can trace the start of their fortunes to pre-emancipation era business, just waiting for the calculations to come back from their accountants on those checks they’re writing out? Do we at the very least get a free trip to DC to see our architectural handiwork?
It would seem that all we actually DO get for our legacy is a society committed to a colorblindness that blames us for lagging behind in a race in which most other folks had a 400-year head start.
While building our fine nation (under duress), Black Americans also took some time out to spearhead nearly every major American music movement in the U.S. since the 19th century. Even so, white people have continued to be the main profiteers, record executives, and often the majority of the consumers of black work since the minstrel era. And if Iggy Azaelia’s recent American Music Award win for Favorite Rap/Hip Hop album is any indication, minstrelsy is still America’s delivery method of choice for the consumption of black art.
What are white artists doing with all the money and social capital they’ve been rewarded as a result of their culture jacking (or, more precisely, what are they doing for black people)? Are they funneling any of it into the struggling musical communities they’ve borrowed (stolen?) from? Are the Black musical trailblazers that are credited with inventing these new ways to make sounds being placed into executive leadership positions at the record companies getting rich off of their innovations? Are white artists hiring black musicians and sharing the spotlight, fame, and most importantly money, with the people who inspired their work?
Or are we still only fit to play the role of ethnic prop when a white musician needs to look edgy and exotic?
Speaking of minstrelsy, what would a song be without the accompanying dance moves? While Black folks don’t have the same dominance of popular American dance styles as they do of music, you wouldn’t know it. Whether it’s twerking, a dance movement drawing from West African dance and modern strip club culture, becoming suddenly popular when done (poorly) by a white body or voguing being brought into the limelight by a white pop artist, America loves a Black dance form. That is, as long as it doesn’t involve any of the Black folks who have been discriminated against, sexualized, and laughed at for creating and perfecting these moves.
And what about the non-black folks getting paid to choreograph these moves into paid-for approximations of Blackness? What about the white and non-black people-of-color dancers hired specifically for their “mastery” of our hip gyrations? What about the celebs racking up street cred and album sales for their insider knowledge of Black urban booty-shaking? What do they have to offer the black community? Are the Harlem youth who invented the original Harlem Shake getting royalties every time a group of white kids start tossing themselves about in fits of collective seizures to the “new” Harlem Shake? Is a donation made to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater every time Miley Cyrus “discovers” a black dance move?
Nope, if it isn’t our dances themselves aren’t getting appropriated, then it is the very language we use to describe those dances getting plastered onto some unrelated and white-centric nonsense and always for free.
ON AFRICAN AMERICAN VERNACULAR ENGLISH (AAVE)
And since we’re discussing language, thrown any “shade” today? Or maybe you “carried” in that look? Were your eyebrows “on fleek” and your outfit so “swag” that you had somebody “basic” “gagging”? Good. Even Justin Timberlake is snatchin’ wigs nowadays so why not you? I’m glad that blackness could supply you with all the vocabulary you need to describe your morning. Even as that same vernacular has been used as an excuse to justify our exclusion from everywhere from academia to the workplace. In spite of that, kudos to you for making a fashionable statement of your queer identity via black femme linguistic ingenuity, staying relevant in this ever-changing entertainment industry with the latest in black youth lingo, and shutting down those haters on your social network of choice with the choicest black reads.
Now how about hiring a black person who doesn’t speak “proper English”? Or you could actually pay for some of the written work and spoken word of some of the non-academic black community whose lingo you love so much. In lieu of that “share” button next to the post on your favorite black-run blog (ahem), tumblr feed, facebook page, or twitter account, why not search out and press that donate button instead?
Or would you rather just quote our dialect word-for-word without credit and then write essays on how the words we invented to describe our struggles (and which you misused) are suddenly oppressing you?
ON THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
Who can’t relate to the black struggle? If it’s not gay rights advocates calling themselves the “new black” or feminists calling themselves the n-word, then it’s your favorite people-of-color activist organization selectively quoting Martin Luther King Jr or Audre Lorde. It’s gotten to the point that even animal rights activists are forming direct comparisons between Black oppression and the way animals are treated. That means the Black American Civil Rights Movement framework, built from scratch and paid for by the very blood of so many dead Black activists, is now officially a cross-species platform!
It begs the question, what are these groups doing for the Black folks whose movement they’re co-opting? Are gay rights activists centering the needs and concerns of the black transwomen who are 4 times more likely to experience police violence compared to cisgender people, 2 times as likely to experience discrimination, and who make up over 60% of LGBT homicide victims? Or how about just the entire 77.78% of LGBT homicide victims that are black? Are feminists focusing on resolving the wage gap that has black women making only 67% of what white men are making? Or maybe even just the gap that has black women making 86% of what white women are making?
Are any of my non-black readers viewing this from some rally, fundraiser or action that they are involved in protesting police brutality against black people in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Mo and the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Or perhaps you’re reading this in between calls or emails demanding that your local representatives and police officials to commit to putting an end to the violence by developing and acting on real solutions to racist over-policing rather than through lip-service. Or maybe you’re not reading this at all because you’re rioting, shouting at the top of your lungs, and raging at the mere thought of one more of us dying–the people from whom you’ve taken so much and have given so little back in return.
If not maybe you should consider it. Or else, you could always just give us our shit back.