On Being the “Blackspert”
Have you ever been an entire company’s “Black Friend?” I have. And tbh, it’s really tiring.
I’m officially on the clock right now, Just Being Black and Excellent. Like we do … It’s after 5 p.m. on a Saturday and I’m listening to soca and trying to continue having the will to live through this 2020-slowpocalypse while blissfully ignoring my children. I’ve given myself the homework of creating something like A Proper Artist Statement for this collaborative project that will shortly be in the public eye: Keep It 100: Black in America.
Remember when every single company was signaling their virtue by touting #BLACKLIVESMATTER all over Rihanna & Beyoncé’s internet because the idea that Black people should not be sensely brutalized and murdered by police was ‘suddenly’ en vogue with the White-identified mainstream?
Sure you do.
Well, it was around that time that CUT reached out to my consulting company, NONWHITEWORKS, for some hands-on anti-racist guidance through the process of backing up their bold #BLM Statement, which among other things states that CUT “cannot continue business-as-usual,” while the systems in place continue to reveal the violent anti-black dehumanization that America has ignored/relied upon for too long.
As a general rule, I really don’t go in for all this virtue signalling because the exceptionally virtuous folx I know (e.g. single Black moms) are typically too busy actually doing the work to stop and signal their virtue, but hey … I took the bait anyway … because nepotism. I’m friends-slash-cousins with the former CUT CEO, Mike Gaston, who built from nothing the kind of super-team who churn out viral videos the way Donny Trump makes asinine tweets and irresponsible claims.
[Watch] CUT is a media company based in Seattle, WA and has worked with mega-corporations like Netflix and Google and has over 10 million followers on YouTube. For a company that exists mostly to entertain and with many of us on Day 199 (no hyperbole!) of being mostly at home with our families … CUT offers a necessary escape with hours of short, easily consumable content.
Given the opportunity to be CUT’s go-to “Blackspert” I offered the following deceptively simple suggestions for producing antiracist content:
Step 1: Center and Amplify Black Folx.
In real life this means reaching out to Black filmmakers, video editors, and talent (130 Black-identified individuals) to launch an initiative that includes voices from Seattle, WA; Montgomery, AL; Austin, TX, and Pittsburgh, PA in the middle of a global pandemic.
Initial talent outreach in community returned the feedback that CUT’s standard talent rate was too low for the real live Black people I connected with, who often face unique barriers to accessing these sorts of opportunities. So, for starters, each participant was paid double the “normal” rate.
Step 2: Where in your budget do Black Lives Matter?
Selecting Black filmmakers from outside of Seattle as collaborators on this particular project also had its challenges. But of the 99 problems we might have thought we had, not a single one sounded like the blatant racist oral-flatulence escaping the gaping orifice of Wells Fargo CEO, Charlie Scharf this week:
“While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from,” Charlie Scharf wrote in a memo.
And that is because every single Black filmmaker who expressed interest was absolutely qualified. That’s kinda how we roll though … Black Folx just stay overqualified and inexplicably underemployed/underpaid. I helped CUT make the final selections based on who would benefit most from the opportunity. Femmes, Womxn, Trans and Non-binary Black Filmmakers have fewer opportunities to work on professional projects with the potential reach of Keep it 100: Black in America, so two of the three filmmakers we selected as collaborators identified as Black Womxn.
Step 3: Let Black Womxn/Femmes lead.
CC Stinson (Austin), Chris Ivey (Pittsburgh), and Sydney Foster (Montgomery) directed two-day shoots in their respective cities, interviewing approximately 25 Black Folx each. Each filmmaker/director had the autonomy to build their own support teams, cast who they wanted, and approach the prompts with their own style. Co-Director, Brooke Montgomery (CUT) and I had 4 days of COVID-safe shoots in Seattle, WA and focused our efforts on amplifying the voices of LGBTQIA+ Black Folx.
Step 4: Blackness is not monolithic.
The time and attention it takes to vigilantly protect the likenesses of Black friends and strangers can not be underscored enough. If left to its own devices, White Supremacy is upheld by some of the nicest people on Earth because nice ain’t got nothin to do with it. During post-production I concentrated on finding the happy place between showcasing the many phenotypes, genders, sexualities, regional associations, languages, religions, etc. of Blackness, while also pushing against the editorial team’s completely subconscious need to center the lightest and the brightest among us. No shade to the editorial team whatsoever because my eyes bleed when I just think of the work they put into this project, but no matter what your identity is, I promise you are upholding White Supremacy too at every moment you aren’t trying to smash the shit out of such delusional ideations.
Step 5: Black Folx are demographic gold.
Nary a one of the approximately 130 people we interviewed adhered to any stereotypes. In fact, the CUT editors on the project often remarked that “this was the best content they’d had a chance to work with,” and several reported back crying real tears and laughing out loud while reviewing the raw footage. In Seattle alone, we managed to represent Black Immigrants, Black Folx with Disabilities, Neurodivergent Black Folx, Black Refugees, Black Youth, Formerly Incarcerated Black Folx, Afro-Latinx Black Folx, Black Indigenous Folx, “White-Passing” Black Folx, Black Folx from the Motherland, Black Parents, Childfree Black Folx, Mixed Race Black Folx, and LGBTQIA+ Black Folx. And absolutely everything and I mean everything was done in a span of 3 months.
My very cautious hope is that these 10 or so videos centering and amplifying the diversity of Black Folx in America will be viewed and shared even more than CUT’s hella popular “normal” videos, which make no such specific or concerted efforts and easily garner half a million or so views each.
Please subscribe to CUT’s Keep It 100 Channel and amplify Black voices!
NONWHITEWORKS thrives in community with other visual storytellers who can connect important messages with those who need to receive them most. An anti-racist approach to visual storytelling means, centering those most vulnerable.