Blackness is not a fad
For How Long?
We’ve seen how Katy Perry, The Jenner Girls, and Miley Cyrus behaved this year. We’ve seen big brand cosmetic companies, soft-drink giants, and and even digital publications adopt, appropriate, abuse, and misuse black culture, at what seem like un-coincidentally high-rates. Simultaneously, we see more and more black and brown people killed via state sanctioned murder, without conviction of the perpetrators to boot.
All this tension has given way to something beautiful, though. There has been a resurgence among young black people of Black Pride and Power. I see and hear many people each day uplifting each other and confirming and affirming blackness in ways that are healthy and positive. I’m thankful for it all. But I’m worried. Every chance we get, we call out abusers of the culture to let them know that being black is not a fad. But we must remind ourselves too.
The world is all about #melanin #blackboyjoy and #blackgirlmagic right now. But for how long?
The Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s was a tumultuous time with many different viewpoints and strategies for the advancement of black people in America. Some believed in integration — that seeking equal access to spaces and opportunity would serve as a tangible sign of progress in racial relations in America.
Others believed in separatist societies that would, hopefully, empower black people by circulating black wealth and resources within a closed loop, or, as closed of a loop as possible. Some folks believed in violence against oppressors, some, self-defense against the violence of oppressors. Others still, peaceful, non-violent protests and activism. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did many things, most namely “ending” segregation. It seemed that at the very least, we all could agree that integration was a step forward for black people, and for the country as a whole.
The next decade rung in the Black Arts Movement, a marvelous time in history where writers, musicians, dancers, and all other manner of artists espoused and celebrated black culture. From my research, it reminds me much of the time we are in now. After (during) such a tense time in American history, black people retaliating with black pride and affirmation. We created our own spaces and movements within the greater context of history, and held them dearly, so it seems.
So, what happened?
Not to say this zeitgeist, this, “spirit of blackness” has been nonexistent in preceding decades, but I don’t remember it like this. I’m sure there were those dutiful parents that taught their children that all shades of black were valid and beautiful. I’m sure there have always been teachers and speakers and writers that have heralded the value in black people banding together to support art and culture. I’m sure, even before the advent of social media, that there were black people who went “viral” in their communities with cheeky quips about how blackness impacted the world.
Even still, we got comfortable.
That’s truly what I believe. We got comfortable with the relatively less overt attacks on blackness on a national scale. I mean, hell, even OJ was acquitted! How could any level of discord with regard to race relations measure up to the Civil Rights era? Things weren’t as bad. And so we mistook them for being good.
I don’t remember an overarching collective consciousness of the value of blackness from my childhood and adolescence. As I learned that I was black, and what that meant, it was more about acceptance. Accepting the terms on which my people had been enslaved and brought to this land. Accepting the disproportionate power structure in America and all of its effects. It was fine to be black, mainly because that was my only choice. But a look around could easily spur thoughts that it might be even better to be something besides black. Better for my health, well-being, and self-esteem. And I don’t remember many arts, culture, or political leaders working to combat those ideas in youth around the world, whom I sure were having similar thoughts.
Black people (generally) have seen increased social mobility, access to education, and earning potential over the last five decades. There’s a whole middle class of black folks now that truly believe we are in a post-racial society, that class was always the culprit, and that as long as someone can transcend their class by whatever means, the effects of the invisible hand of white supremacy won’t reach them.
The people who believe that are in a dangerous place. And they raised a younger generation of black Americans that were surprised when their white friends grew up and grew into their discriminating, derogatory discourse. It’s okay. You’re not BLACK, black. When they realized they were “the black friend” that racists use as their scapegoat, emotions were set awhirl all over again. Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
There’s an appeal here. It’s not for re-segregation. I’m not asking for Black Wall Street to be rebuilt. It’s not for militancy, or resistance, or even activism. I want us to remember. Remember earnestly. As quick as we are to condemn others for commodifying blackness, we must examine our own treatment of our culture. We can’t forget what an amazing, painful, joyful, complicated experience it is to be black in America. We can’t forget to stand firm in our identities, those individual and those collective, no matter the circumstances around us.
We must uplift ourselves when our leader looks like us, as well as when they look completely different. When we are rich, poor, healthy, sick…no matter how far away we float from perilous conditions, we will float on our black backs and stomachs, and when we wash ashore, our skin will glisten in the sun. Blackness is not a fad for us. It is an every-day blessing, an every-day struggle, an every-day teacher. Let us not forget. And let us celebrate and educate accordingly.