The Trouble With Blackness.
…beneath the excuse of genuine intrigue with black stories lies the root of pleasure. There is an interest in our pain that exists as a subconscious motive, which many people either deny, or simply fail to acknowledge and confess.
There is now more space for black people on various platforms and fields than there were years ago; particularly when it comes to the retelling of our stories. However, I can’t help but question the root of this phenomenon — that being why there is so much interest in our stories. Here, I am focusing on the part of our audience that isn’t like-minded black people.
I am grateful that the world has shown a consideration of our lack of privilege by compensating through a means of new opportunities, positive discrimination and programs that are set up for minorities, or minority females etc. However oftentimes when applying for these schemes, being black and coming from a low-income household or a disadvantaged area are placed in one bracket — these applications often synonymise blackness with financial difficulty.
It suggests a mental assumption that being black is equivalent to suffering, pain and disadvantage. Although blackness may rightfully be associated with such, the synonymy between the two is the problem.
As such pain is expected from black people, there is a worldwide fixation on hearing the stories of black struggle as this is what sells to consumers. For example, although Django Unchained is ultimately a liberating story for black slaves, one shouldn’t forget that the liberation comes as a result of the chains they were in in the first place. The struggle is the root — the cause, and the liberation is the cure. However, there is now a gradual shift in films starring black actors where struggle is no longer the focal point of the piece, which is something that we aren’t accustomed to seeing.
We experience such realisations with the release of films like The Photograph (now in cinemas), a film about black people falling in love. Such narratives are refreshing as they simultaneously inform us on the amount of pain that is usually injected into black narratives. I see this as a reason why films such as Love Jones and Love & Basketball are so treasured — they are a break from the focus on pain. Although pain is a part of us, we have reached a point where it has consumed us, hence the increasing synonymy between blackness and suffering. This should not be the case.
There is a fine line between pleasure and pain and people enjoy witnessing them; this is why horror and action films are so successful — they sell. In the same way, sex sells — it’s vicarious pleasure through the medium of a screen.
Now, if pleasure and pain are closely related, and pain is increasingly synonymised with blackness, one can understand why blackness sells from this particular perspective: it is pleasurable to see black people suffer.
This is not to say that one loves to see it happen, but more that beneath the excuse of genuine intrigue with black stories lies the root of pleasure. There is an interest in our pain that exists as a subconscious motive, that many people either deny, or simply fail to acknowledge and confess.
I don’t accept any excuse for this interest in our narratives, that speaks of black people’s experiences as simply being more intriguing, engaging and colourful than any other, because it denies the truth behind the intention.
Yes, people want to hear about my blackness and the struggles I may face as a result, but do I always want to talk about it? Where is the line to be drawn between a genuine desire to be educated on blackness, and the indulgence in, fixation on, and obsession with black struggle?
If being black is the main thing that makes me marketable, is that good, or am I to just hush and be grateful that my story is being listened to — regardless of why? Because now, when I want to write about my feelings, it becomes my feelings as a black person, or better yet as a black woman.
It is difficult for us to write objectively, for we have already been objectified in our self-expression by our skin colour. This has a great influence on our experiences, which blackness has now become inextricable from, seldom separating it from hardship. Many only listen to us to hear this ball drop in our stories.
This speaks to a mindfulness of the audience and why they want to hear about our experiences. Are they obsessed, or merely willing to learn and understand from their place of privilege (mostly), as I am not addressing black readers? This is a question for all non-black people to ask themselves when they hear the retelling of black stories.
Though the stories are being heard as they rightfully should, how would they be received if the black side of our identity was removed?
Is it the responsibility of all black people to educationally incorporate race into our discourses, and is it my duty to educate the world on black womanhood, whether I like it or not?
Such questions come with no defined answer and I understand that fully. Therefore I simply encourage a conscious reception of stories from black people, and an evaluation of how correct it is if our blackness is the only thing that intrigues non-black readers.