While our outward appearance showcases only a portion of our character, accessories work to showcase the concealed components of identity. Upon saying the word accessory most think of bracelets, watches, rings, scarves or some other tangible material goods. However, contemporary society has depicted a transition from accessories as inanimate object to living thing. This transition was initially debuted through the toting of small dogs, most notably seen by socialite Paris Hilton and Grammy award winning singer Mariah Carey in the early 2000s. Currently, this transition is most commonly seen in celebrity children, who are often toted like the latest designer bag.
With regard to the transition of accessories from inanimate to human, this post will evaluate the ways in which black bodies are used to accessorize intention and ideology. For the validation of black presence does not come in the form of action, but with an association. This association often veils racialized violence, and a conduit to urban appeal.
I. The Black Arm Candy
To have a black spouse is a political statement. Despite the reasoning behind the choice, the pairing of individual speaks volumes. A politician can claim to be an advocate to the poor or the disenfranchised, but this advocation achieves a new level of credibility if his significant other is from a disenfranchised faction.
The influx of black partnerships within popular culture is particularly telling. This partnership is particular interesting with regard to black women. Despite full lips and round derrières being of contemporary intrigue, the attachment of these attributes to black woman has rarely been seen as beautiful. Thus the black woman as “arm candy” should work to assert the placement of blackness into the realm of beauty, but instead makes a statement about whom the black woman stands besides. As mentioned in a previous post, a black woman can never be arm candy, as her presence is plagued with politics. Thus, her presence is often a conduit for those who she stands beside to transcend the politics associated with her blackness.
R and B crooners Jon B and Robin Thicke appeal to the black female buyer through their smooth sound, but mostly because they both were in unions with black women. Would their “down” persona be as believable if their wives looked less like the women of their targeted demographic? The answer to this question is issued with two words : Justin Timberlake. Justin has been waiting by the mail for his “black card” since he wore cornrows on the red carpet over a decade ago. Every solo album has featured his endless collaborations with countless black artists and producers, and he has yet to shake the pop label. The closest JT has ever come to a black woman is in the Love Sex and Magic video that co starred singer/dancer Ciara. Because of his failure to possess a “black accessory” JT’s urban attempts lack authenticity, as his attempt at being soulful appears as faulty as it is.
The credibility of public figure personas is solely based on their image, which thoroughly relies on whom these artists surround themselves with, making the presence of these black bodies not only prevalent, but essential in this transition.
II. The Black Creator (black producer)
This concept is best illustrated by non black artists who consult black producers and choreographers to draw from the influence of the African diaspora. These producers and choreographers allow these acts to achieve an “urban” appeal, while still being mainstream. This is seen in former Disney star Miley Cyrus, who hired famed producers Pharrell and will.i.am to foster her transition from Disney to dancer. These associations mark an alleviation of past purity through presumed sullied black bodies. Due to the black influence being in the background, these acts still appeal to a mostly majority audience who craves an “urban” or even slightly soulful sound from someone who looks like them. This has also been seen in acts like Jennifer Lopez, who sought to capitalize on the profit of the black community, so she embarked on a number of collaborations with rappers from Ja Rule to Jadakiss. Also in the early 2000s we saw NSYNC try to expand from their majority adolescent fan base through their collaboration with rapper Nelly on the girlfriend song.
III. The Black Surveyor
This is perhaps the only item on the list that is more vastly seen in everyday life and not in popular culture. This person is often employed by a non black to oversee the actions of black people. I suppose their black body is used as insight into what is presumed to be innate behavior. Because the person following you down the aisle shares the same skin color as the presumed offender, business owners attempt to alleviate themselves from the reality of their racist practices.
Although, it didn’t make sense until much later, I was a black surveyor myself . At the tender age of 19, I worked my first retail job. The retail position was slightly upscale as my paycheck was more money than I had ever earned at that point in my life, but with more money came more problems. One of the managers, a Kate Beckinsale look alike, always asked me to “help” the black and Afro Latina shoppers. As my senses grew more keen, I realized I was only asked to help or greet the clients believed to be black, as a means to shield the racist intentions of my employer. This manager was later fired for her actions.
The black surveyor is a common sight in many black neighborhoods, and the commonality of this behavior has in many ways desensitized its significance. However, the act of mirroring the victim in an act of further disenfranchisement is an act of racial terrorism. The act of coercing an oppressed person to oppress those kindred to their struggle, harms the part and whole of a disenfranchised faction, simultaneously.
IV. The Black Friend
But some of my best friends are black!
With regard to popular culture, the black friend surfaces in movies with a predominately white cast. In this case a black character is inserted to present minimal diversity, in an otherwise entirely white or non black movie/show. These “black friend” characters are typically one dimensional, as their presence lacks purpose outside of filling a quota.
In life outside the movies, these “black friends” are often mentioned as a means to substantiate and individual’s self proclaimed engagement with diversity. The term “friend” is often used very loosely, as it often references a classmate, mail man or service provider that the speaker treats cordially and uses as an example of his or her humanity despite not actually seeing these people as friends. The very idea that treating a black person cordially, or even categorizing friends by race, veils a racist ideology that would suggest that it is normative to ignore or treat said people poorly.
V. The Black Skin White Mask
This category is very similar to the previous section, as it pertains to black presence solicited for a particular purpose. In order to fulfill a network or company’s “commitment to diversity” a black body is planted in said environment. This black body is solicited for commentary on any and all racial issues despite his or hers personal detachment from the politics of blackness
Perhaps it is easy for those outside the black diaspora to assume affiliation based on skin color. While these black faces initially draw in black viewers upon the belief that they will be represented,these black faces veil white ideologies which only help foster white superiority, and further alienate black audiences on news stations, talk shows and other outlets that commonly feature said blacks.
VI. The Occasional Black
This person is typically of “mixed” ancestry, possessing a racially ambiguous look. Due to the absence of what are seen as traditional race attributes, this individual is placed and displaced from blackness as deemed necessary.
Despite their temperate affiliation with the black race, this actor or actresses will be cast a lead in a black movie as their presence will enable the feature to embody a mainstream appeal. This individual’s complexion and features are often altered depending on the targeted audience. This actor of actress can be placed in movies intended for black and non-black audiences as their blackness as their level of blackness is often deemed non threatening, and therefore not alienating to majority audiences. Specifically, skin tone may be darkened or lightened depending on the audience, nose and lips may also be contoured to look more or less full to establish phenotype allegiance to a designated audience.
While this occasional black may certainly have his or her own issues with identity, their presence in popular culture, and even the workplace represent an anxiety around truly diversifying a traditionally homogenous environment. Thus, having an individual that can be attributed to the black and non black diaspora as needed, prevents some from having to properly acknowledge and resolve their anxieties surrounding blackness.
Social and Political Terrorism earned its prevalence thirteen years ago following the devastating yet humbling acts of 9/11. However, racial terrorism has been present since the first slave ships docked on the coasts of America. Blacks have been terrorized by race traditionally and continued to be impacted by the bounds of race, possibly more so in a society that feeds fallacies of racial resolution.
Being black in America, places a black individual in a constant state of looking for themselves. In the initial bliss of finding yourself in a seemingly positive or harmless place, many blacks are placed in a position to be racially terrorized by a strategically placed black body. So while the engagement with black bodies, be it for business or pleasure may appear to be a testament to the changing times, blackness is inevitably political. As demonstrated in this post, the politics of blackness has provided a means for some to shield ill intentions with a promising gesture.