Much emphasis has been placed on overt appropriators like Rachel Dolezal and Miley Cyrus—white women who have overtly appropriated attributes of black femininity to their own advantage. Yet, the more subtle means of appropiation are too often unnoticed and even supported by members of the oppressed faction.
Case in point: Appropriation of the black narrative, in its entirety does not receive enough attention or protest.
This post will examine two examples of whites attempting to control the black narrative in an academic setting.
I. The “Interested” Oppressor
I enrolled in a course on literacy this semester, in an effort to examine how composition courses disenfranchise black students.The instructor, a non- white male who confronts white supremacy in his lectures, organizes the course with a student presentations on each text. In preparation he sent around a sign-up sheet, and by the time the sheet reached me, two white students had already signed up to present the sole black text on the sheet.
The black woman I was sitting behind, seized the last slot in this presentation—meaning the sole text authored by a black female would only be presented by one black female, and two whites. This made my blood boil, because in a doctoral class—I, a black female student was gentrified out of telling my own narrative. What perhaps made this most upsetting was that the first seat was taken by a white male—who most likely solicited this seat to prove his pseudo liberalism.
A white male taking a spot from a black woman in rendering the black narrative—reflects the white male appropriation of the black female body—an act started in slavery, and resurrected in contemporary culture and academia.
Shows like How to Get Away Murder and Greenleaf, black narratives told from the perspectives of white men to a black audience, dominate twitter feeds and the prime-time gaze. Similarly, flamboyant white gay males also adopt a caricature of black femininity in their fashion choices, dialect, and candid attitudes. Yet, whether cisgender or gay, the “black female caricature,” when appropriated, does not function negatively when attached to a white body.
So what most would deem angry or aggressive when aligned with black femininity, now becomes artful and strategic. The appropriated gaze tokenizes the black female narrative, issuing a unique objectification. The objectification occurs in suggesting an ability to understand the black female collective in presenting an oversimplified caricature of an identity too cumbersome to be properly conceptualized by an oppressive gaze.
As a collective it is imperative that we make note of the grave efforts implemented to maintain control over what is currently being used to control us. By controlling a narrative, one maintains control over the gaze. Scholar bell hooks notes “there is power in looking,” and there is, but there is also power in controlling what a particular gaze sees.
In selecting the sole text authored by a black woman, my white classmates made a play to control the conversation in the same manner that the white creators and producers of prime time series strive to control conversations of the black narrative induced by oversimplified images.
II. The Covert Conversationalist
In a similar act of white supremacy, a middle-aged white man took it upon himself to state that discussions of blackness must remain anchored in a historical context. By this he meant that whiteness must be understood as it was centuries ago—not all inclusive.
At the risk of sounding prejudice, I will say this is a very white way to redirect the narrative of global racism. In a predictable paradox, this act functions to make oppression “inclusive.” Or, to say that this is not “just” blacks who suffer.
Admittedly, the whites who migrated to the states had their “struggles” if we must use this word, but they were not oppressed. Migrant whites had the budding state of western whiteness—a state that fomented their travels, would blossom over time, and make their American dream a reality. In summary, these white migrants may not have grown up wealthy—but they did not grow up black.
Selective migration is also a sensitive area for blacks here by way of abduction not choice. It was the labor and sacrifice of these abducted Africans that made America what it is today. It was black labor and sacrifice that birthed the opportunities migrants enjoy in their stride towards whiteness.
What happened in this conference room is the same thing happening in contemporary media— a consistent deflection from the black plight. In the past, discussions of migrant whites functioned how discussions of the LGBT and feminist plight function in a contemporary context.
This deflection is most commonly implemented in the following ways:
Aligning the black struggle with factions whose struggle pales in comparison to those of African descent functions as a pseudo effort to compose a “we.” This suggests that “we” suffer as Americans due to the act of white supremacy. This “we” is a pseudo act of inclusion as suffering may have befallen other factions, but no other faction has endured the cyclical disenfranchisement of the black collective.
But as a white or non-black who either implicitly or explicitly exploits the black collective, denying the extremity of black suffering and systemic mistreatment is a central component of fomenting white and non-black advancement.
Let us also address the veiled initial injustice of my colleagues’ remarks.
White people should not dictate the context in which any racial discussion occurs. Yet, this is the pervasive climate of our contemporary world. In academia, popular culture, and other subcultures within the American terrain, white people remain the decision- makers, determining what blackness is, how it is taught, what is taught, and in what context. This truth exposes so-called black history as white history with blackness as a footnote in most scenarios and a header of a sub-section in others.
It is also imperative to note that these actions are not accidental, but intentional. The white male in my literacy seminar, signed up with complete intention of depriving the three black women in the course an opportunity to tell their own stories, just as the white man in the second example made his comment to a group of black women and other people of color in their discussion of blackness. The acts were guised as participation, but function to illustrate white need to include themselves by way of control. This control enables whites to deflect and otherwise thwart black ability to reflect on white supremacy.
The societal act of deflection functions as yet another effort for those who disenfranchise the black community to avoid looking at blacks, and look through them instead. To look at blackness, is to see the truth of this country and all those who have benefitted from her imbalance. To truly look at blackness, is to reveal your self- worth as sullied by an evil guised as excellence.
I share this scenario with hopes that this will enlighten someone to the subtle injustices, veiled as intellectual commentary in their own lives. Unveiling said behavior exposes contemporary colonialism and yet another means for whites to take the reigns on a black narrative and cast themselves as victims in the saga of white supremacy.
Black Power ❤