In the final days of June, a post entitled “The Truth About Essence,” witten by multiple authors under the title #blackfemaleanonymous appeared on medium.com. The authors remain nameless, though they identify, behind a virtual veil, as black women. The post delineates Essence magazine as a hyper-site for negativity under former Shea Moisture founder and CEO Richelieu Dennis’ venomous leadership. The post is not all talk as asserts specific demands for its audience. The “black women” demand that all Essence’s major sponsors withdraw their support from the magazine until the toxic work environment becomes more plausible for what the authors call black female empowerment. This post surfaced at an odd yet strategic time. June 2020 proved a pivotal month for black culture. No, the black collective is nott in the midst of a revolution, but we are in the midst of a revolutionary shift of power. The waves of white supremacy rise and fell over the black collective’s heads in June, and on the heels of this aquatic avalanche is this “The Truth about Essence,” which, in many ways, requests white action to dismantle “black on black crime–” a plea that reeks of plantation politics.
By plantation politics, I speak specifically to the ways the contemporary world mirrors the dynamics employed to cast the enslaved Africans into mental bondage. The contemporary plantation takes many forms: corporate America being the most linear manifestation. Thus, the glaring contention that this post exposes is the enslaved taking issue with their plantation rather than their enslavement. Plantation politics engenders a white hegemonic space masked by black faces typically appoints white to influential positions to socially reproduce the plantation dynamics. So while a worthwhile abduction, the behavior corresponds to praxis that does not seem to burden the writers. This is an issue because black who merely want the right to interact with the world as white people mist not hide behind the label of black franchisement.
Though supposedly reflecting the sentiments of black women, the article mirrors the galvanized efforts of anti-black agents to expose the conversation for the deviation which informs its intentions. The black collective observes this praxis with the recent comments Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made in light of an eight-year old’s death over the holiday weekend. She mentioned that for this “we,” meaning the black community, “could not blame the police.” The comment mirrors the intentionality behind the resurfacing of the “light” and “dark” girls documentary on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, or even the recent sparring between Don Lemon and Terry Crews on CNN, as all these examples, taken alongside the Essence post, posits a statement that frequents anti-intellectual cultural debates: you can’t blame the white man for this one. In tandem, Bottoms, OWN, and the CNN debate between two systemized black men, purposely shift the gaze away from the systemic struggles black people continuw to endure to intra-racial conflict framed as autonomous from its racist roots.
Case in point, the post proclaims Essence as “fraudulent” in the same paragraph that lists Bruno Mars, Queen Latifah, Don Lemon, and Tamika Mallory, black people who exhibit diversity in overtly wounding the black collective, as highlights at the magazine’s annual festival. It speaks volumes that this truth escapes the authors’ criticism. Appropriators should not have access to African spaces, let alone take center stage at events where black people compose the majority. Queen Latifah, though beautiful and talented, played several roles that adhere to black female stereotypes. Don Lemon, who overtly took an antagonistic stance against a systemically violated black woman, along with fence-riding feminist Tamika Mallory should be banned from any black female spaces; these contentious behaviors, however, fly beneath the authors’ radar. Essence’s alignment with figures antagonistic to the black collective as a whole illuminates its status as a present-day plantation that decorates its “holiday” with those who exude behavior they wish to inspire in the masses.
It is also worth mentioning that in addition to featuring black bodies cast as bullets onto the black psyche, the post calls out Coca Cola as a sponsor. While countless corporations began by harboring black bodies as commerce, Coca Cola’s early branding featured caricatured black people in its imaging. Because they began their brand on the back of black caricature, it is imperative to question whether the company could or would ever invest in images that inspire and reconfigure black identity. It seems Coca Cola remains true to its inaugural “essence” as an Essence investor.
Yet, despite these riffs, the post consummates its agenda in two pivotal moments. The first is referencing public efforts to lynch Russell Simmons and the second is its call for the white world to sanction black behavior.
Every black person must maintain an adversarial stance to any media imaging that casts black people in positions that mirror a violent past. Simmons, like Bill Cosby, and countless other black men in the contemporary world enduring sexual assault charges that attack their freedom and livelihood, mirror Jesse Washington and Claude Neal, black men lynched in the early twentieth century for identical accusations. The Russell Simmons and Bill Cosbys function to illuminate black men as a poison to white society while white men continue to systemize and villainize the black collective. I say this will full knowledge that blackness is not solely consummated by skin color and that there are some skin-folk who are not kin to the African diaspora in ideology or praxis. I bring this sentence to your attention to highlight these self-proclaimed women as pointing to backlash following a contemporary lynching as a reason for their ambiguity. This reference exposes the authors as those seeking to actualize the very anti-blackness they supposedly oppose.
The second claim illuminates the issue with blackness as a globalized phenomenon. Anti-blackness as a globalized phenomenon does not function to extinguish racism; rather, it universalities racism, providing new ground for racists to stand. What I mean here is that anti-blackness as a globalized phenomenon does not regard most white people as culpable, only some, and upholds this truth for blacks as well. Again, this is not to ignore intra-racial conflict. Rather, this point functions to criticize white ability to discipline black people on racial matters. The white collective remains born into the system of racism as racists, and socially inherit prejudice as well. Therefore, as a constinuency, they are unable to reinforce anti-racism beyond a racist, or anti-black gaze. It is only a small minority of those within the black collective that prove a formidable means to enforce what few understand. Additionally, looking to white individuals, or white laws, to sanction black people upholds white supremacy as a civilizing agent for the black “beast.” This myth, though not often overtly articulated, continues to operate a truth conceptualized in the western world as American– a term that has contiously proven synonymous with anti-blackness as a word, space, and praxis.
Though autonomously problematic, “The Truth About Essence” post elucidates the core error with the contemporary moment. I used “moment” advisedly here, because, to return to a point I made earlier, the black collective is not in the midst of a movement. Instead, the black collective in the midst of being moved, our Africanist presence abducted just as our ancestors were centuries ago. A core component of this abduction is resurrecting and perpetuating the myth of black on black crime as fact.
Black author Ta-nehisi Coates says that to reference black on black crime is to “stab a man and blame him for bleeding.” Here, Coates implies an imperative point: the myth of black on black crime is to stab a man and ignore the assailant. These myths of black on black crime authors a significant page in a revisionist history that in a few years will tell a story where blacks abducted themselves and merely hitched a ride to the Americas from “friendly” white “settlers” looking to visit indigeous friends.
While blacks can certainly enforce and practice anti-blackness, blackness is not the hue of hegemony. Blacks experience a similar deflection with the argument that the blacks on the continent “sold blacks into enslavement,” as if this statement somehow negates the irretrievable damage and inhumanity the transatlantic slave trade. Similarly, the social reproduction of plantation politics in spaces dominated by black bodies does not distort the plantation as honing a traumatic space in the mental and physical black past. Therefore, this post is not to say that we do not have problems. This is to say that we didn’t get here alone. White supremacy informs the issues of the black collective. So it’s not about “blaming the white man for our problems” as the racially confused love to state; it’s about holding the white collective, and all the other colors who benefit from black subjugation, accountable for their deeds.
Furthermore, the implicity accusations of black on black crime in “The Truth about Essence,” delineates the move the African-adjacent need the black collective to take to maintain their societal position. Specifically, “The Truth about Essence” illuminates the truth, or “essence” of the current moment is to maintain division amongst the oppressed–an essence the post betrays through virtually- identified blacks preoccupied with the fruit, not the roots, of a noxious tree.