I grew up in a world without Tiana. In my youth, all the princesses were white. This dearth revealed the western world as regarding princesses like it did Christmas, only worth adulation when white.
The sole exception was Jasmine from Aladdin.
Jasmine had brown skin and thick black hair, so my childhood eyes saw her as bearing the aesthetics most similar to my own.
Jasmine, though, wasn’t my shero; she was merely the most interesting to look at.
Not having black representation in the early years of my childhood encouraged creativity. I wrote stories with black girls as the lead, not seeking to find myself, but to write myself into a world that wished to cast me as a spectator.
Nevertheless, whether created or consumed, representation means a lot to a child, as it helps etch together their dreams, and becomes the foundation for whom they become. To like Jasmine was the closest thing to choosing the black doll, but for black kids looking to find themselves in an anti-black world, the result is too often a loss that births a lost identity.
Tiana, who debuted a decade ago in Disney’s The Princess in the Frog (2009), offers the black girl an ability to find herself in the white-washed world of Walt Disney. To some, this movie marked a step in the right direction. Regardless of the sentiment, the movie was certainly a step, a step toward using the black body to ensure the black child remains vested in white representation to determine their worth.
The current contention surrounding a “black Ariel” reflects said vestment.
The social media world exploded this week when reports that Halle Bailey, a 19-year-old black actress, would play Ariel in an upcoming project. Many people from the black community appeared elated that a black actress would play Ariel. Contrarily, the African adjacent seemed to be angry and dismissive to the upcoming project. In short, the African adjacent launched the hashtag #notmyariel, vowing not to support the film, while those of African descent expressed interest in the film for the opposite reason. This tension revealed a vestment in representation on both sides. On one hand, the tension showed the African adjacent’s espousal to segregated representation. On the other hand, this tension exposed the contemporary diversity project as masking a stagnant segregationist ideology that affords the black community a pseudo-liberation engendered through black casting.
The original Ariel, though a cartoon, cast a fair-skinned white woman with blue eyes and red hair as its lead. The film seemed more of an allegory about the migrant (Irish, German, Polish, etc) white assimilating into American culture. Specifically, The Little Mermaid reads more of a “coming into whiteness tale” non-parallel to the black experience. Ursula, the film’s villain, evokes a caricatured version of the black collective summoned to the margins of the world, a fact illustrated by Ursula’s literal placement in the sea’s underground.
I provide this assessment to state that casting a black lead in an initially racist film seems more like damage control, in addition to yet another celebration of black women applicable or exoticized by western beauty standards. Additionally, given the not-so-subtle racial undertones of the film, there is cause to question why any black person would want to be a part of the film, or support any contemporary adaptation.
Casting an Ariel of African descent does not make the little Mermaid a black narrative.
The hashtag #notmyariel should have been perpetuated by the black collective because whether Ariel is black or not, she remains a product of white creation designed to execute a white agenda. The black Ariel functions similarly to black faces solicited to diversify white space physically.
These faces lead many off the cliff of a contemporized present that is only disparate from the past in date. Specifically, seeing a black face in a white space deflects many from creating their own. Casting a black lead only reflects capitalistic creativity. Meaning, a black Ariel does mean that black lives matter; a black Ariel implies that black lives matter when equating to white currency.
Furthermore, turning white princesses black only festers an inclusionary narrative that perpetuates cyclical disenfranchisement. Creation affords linearity and linearity marks significant strides toward liberation.
A black Ariel doesn’t solve racism, if anything the deflection she brings gifts racism a venomous continuity.
Moreover, this is #NotourAriel, not our story, and quite frankly, as a collective, this is not our battle nor our victory.
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour. Frederick Douglass, “What To The Slave is the Fourth of July? (1852)
In 1852, Frederick Douglass spoke the sentiments that all those who descended from those enslaved in America should cognitively echo. His now famous speech confronts the paradox of those who bear an ancestral testament to America’s original sin celebrating their oppressor’s freedom. Centuries after Douglass’s speech, The Fourth of July continues to orchestrate human behavior, engendering barbecues and family get togethers. For those whose lineage speaks to what America repeats in gesture, The Fourth of July is to remember America but to forget that there ancestor’s were America’s property—to forget that Americans owned their ancestors. The red, white, and blue therefore, becomes the foundation for a selective history.
Yes, Independence Day, an acknowledgment of America’s divorce from Britain, celebrates America; however, what this holiday underscores most is exactly who is American.
July 4th, like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, document American status for Americans. While the DOI and the constitution make it possible for Americans to be American, the Fourth of July celebrates this feat. Specifically, The Fourth of July celebrates the American identity severed from Britain.
For the displaced African in America, the Fourth of July delineates that though there is an “I” in America, there is also a “me.” The “I” correlates to the inclusionary narrative perpetuated by the myth of the American dream, a myth that selective amnesia substantiates. The “I” and “me” appears to include any and all, but there is also a reason why white is central on the flag. Irregardless, of who America comes to house or even accompany in identity politics, the “I” and “me,” consistently aligns with the African adjacent.
There is reason why July 4th is a holiday, and it isn’t because we are all American. It is because this too is a showcase of power where those who aren’t even allowed a fair entry into the race, or their race) are to cheer for its consistent victor. This analogy is perhaps most pertinent in considering the now cliche call to return America back to its indigenous state, or for America to be what it promised to be, is to return to 1776 when America was a free nation, whose espousal to external control did not preclude the enslavement and legal dehumanization of American people. My ancestors, Africans ripped from their mother continent, watched these fireworks from bondage and its various manifestations. As American sang of its independence, my ancestors knew this was not a shared victory. They knew that to celebrate America was to celebrate America, but that this was not to celebrate themselves or their collective.
Yet there would be no victory without the enslaved ancestors of those now compartmentalized by the term “black american.” There would be America without those kidnapped from Africa, stripped of their names, their tongues irretrievably severed. July fourth celebrates the birth of a nation, which form my viewpoint is a convenient lie. America was pulled from womb of Africa, birthed from those kidnapped, whose labor and mistreatment would birth, to borrow a term from the late Zora Neale Hurston, the awful beauty that is America. The abducted’s blue blood turned red birthed the whiteness that continues to oppress the black collective perhaps most diabolical in celebratory fervor.
For clarity, this celebratory fervor does not cast the descendants of the enslaved as victims. Rather, it articulates that we are the victory.
That is what the fourth of July means to the Displaced African in America.
With the spirit of the ancestors and the power of blackness,
Before I begin this post, please allow me to state what I am sure will get lost in translation. To those whom race was cast upon like paint on an assembly-line car, or like sprinkles on ice cream placed to intensify the flavor absent in what lies beneath, race is not a card. Specifically, those Americanized by western influence as opposed to those who seize and adopt an American identity, cannot and do not employ race as a card.
This statement is not to mark victimhood, but to note that which has been cast upon the black collective for the benefit of others, that which enters the room before personhood arrives, is not a card to be played, but a “play” in a rigged game. To those who pursue and implement a raceless body politic, race is a card embodied by the model minority our shared oppressor grants the black fruit who has forgetten its roots. This performance is precisely what the world witnessed with California Senator Kamala Harris’s performance in the second democratic debate.
During the debate, when a mirage of candidates spoke over one another in an effort to both prove their presence and solidify their right to candidacy, Harris inserted a scripted line so strategically placed that it appeared impromtu. Harris jumped into the verbal melee with now trending line:
“Americans don’t want to see a food fight, they want to talk about how they’re going to put food on the table.”
So while Senator Harris may not bring food to the referenced political food fight, her seat at the table makes her an avid participant–an avid participant who knows she is unlikely to win a food fight with food. Instead, Harris seeks a victory in siding with those without food. Particularly, Harris’s words resonated with many because it exposed the other candidates as self-centered Americans vested more in hearing themselves talk then in hearing the needs of the American people. Harris, as a woman and self-proclaimed person of color, inserts herself as she who remembers what the other, paler, candidates forgot.
This “foodless” victory is perpahs best personfied by those who smiled or gloated in Harris’s words, those seemingly oblivious to this performance reflecting strategy not empathy. This movement proved merely a warm-up for an exchange with candidate Joe Biden that made Harris a memorable candidate and debate standout. Harris’s heightened status as viable democratic candidate translated to virtually everything for America and nothing for the black community.
When asked about a police shooting, Harris transitioned to a discussion about bussing. This transition enabled Harris to employ a personal anecdote which exposed Biden as a political segregationist. The message was clear: Harris pre-selected Biden as her biggest competition and precisely executed a plan to take him down. Specifically, Biden’s proximity to Former president Obama is possibly his most valuable asset. This proximity allows Biden to embody a sort of political and even historical nostalgia that supersedes his past political acts. Harris sullied this nostalgia with an anecdote of being the little girl bussed to what would become the foundation for her political presence. This ancedote illustrated Biden as embodying the obstacles non-whites must overcome to thrive in America. Harris’s curated move cornered Biden and pulled his political pedestal from beneath him on national television.
Harris’s move was a brilliant one, enabled by her self-categorization as a black person deprived of American status and human rights by a powerful white man. Though noted as a victory in the press, Harris’s move employs race as a card Harris plays to dismantle her white opponent when she isn’t even running as a black candidate. If we are being completely honest, Harris is not even a black senator, nor was she a black prosecutor. That is of course if “black,” means for the black community, but I digress.
Truth is, Harris is only taken seriously as a candidate because like former president Barack Obama, Harris embodies an incidental blackness. Harris, like Obama, bears no direct linearity to America’s original sin, western enslavement. Thus, America can look at these candidates and look past not directly at America’s unabridged narrative. Instead, Harris’s blackness is an occassional marker to be played like a card in a game of spades or poker.
This is not to say that Biden’s hypocrisy and racism was not worthy of exposition, it was. This is to say that Harris’s actions are not about educational equality for black youth. No, Harris’s actions, specifically, her evoked blackness, reflected a selfish attempt to win by any means necessary. To put it bluntly, Harris’s bussing comments tossed black people under a bus enlisted to run over her white opponent.
I’ll be honest, I was previously an adamant believer that race could never be a card to anyone of African descent. However, when a black person pursues and attains relevancy or prominence from their American status, but evokes race to avoid losing to the very faction they attempt to imitate, race is a card actualized as, not as a core identity factor.
This idea of race as a card exploited by those who pander to the black community on the basis of re-presentation, is not something to take lightly. Specifically, though Harris employed her race as a means to usurp Biden, should Harris make her way into the White House, the black collective will remain on the back burner as non-black women, lgbt rights, and migrants remain central, while Harris’s incidental blackness functions to display America’s “progess.” Harris illustrates what the white world, in its contemporary fixation on black representation, seduces the black collective to forget–that black candidates are only as black as the issues they pursue.
For race is not a card, convenience, or even a color—it’s a circumstance, an experience, a visualized violence personified in a cyclical disenfranchisement only altered in a refusal to look back its detrimental effect on its first victims.
San Francisco native Jimmie Fails is the force behind The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a film about his experience in the gentrified Fillmore District. The film follows Jimmie Fails, a character Fails’s names and molds after himself. Literally equipped with only the clothes on his back, Fails is a young black man seeking to re-acquire the home his grandfather built in 1946. Fails’s grandfather, who is also named Fails, built the home that would house his family. Once the property falls from the grasp of Fails’s descendants, the familial ties dissolved shortly after. The loss displaces Fails’s father onto the street, his mother into obscurity, and his aunt outside the city. Fails’s displacement anchors the story in a tale of brotherhood conveyed by his relationship with best friend Monty. Monty becomes his brother’s keeper by taking on his friend’s struggle. Monty, who houses a displaced Jimmie, illustrates that no one is without a home when encased in true friendship. Fails seizes his own space when the white couple who occupies the Fails’s former family home loses the property following the loss of their matriarch. Fails then moves into the vacated home to resume a narrative to which his grandfather literally laid the foundation.
Jimmie Fails, architect and executor, exacts the black man in America whose bodily labor birthed what would become a contention in their oppressor’s estates. Credited as the first black man in San Francisco, Jimmie Fails the first proves that Africa is not a place but the spaces created by her descendants. In a world that only made a space for black people at the foot of a pseudo pedestal, Jimmie Fails made a place for himself. Grandson Jimmie Fails takes on a similar stance in seeking to re-claim this space.
Rather than wait for the very system that abducted his familial property and collective personhood to give back his grandfather’s house, Fails takes what has been taken from him. This act provides an interesting conversation surrounding reparations in structure and content.
Fails, as the author of this project, also takes ownership of his collective narrative, well at least partly. Fails pairs with white childhood friend Joe Talbot who directs the movie. This appears more than ironic as white direction appears to be the catalyst for criticism within the film. This irony proves bothersome as the film’s conception reveals only a partial retaliation. Namely, the film’s conception suggests that there are parts of white supremacy that Jimmie Fails dislikes. To dismember white supremacist conflict into parts is to individualize both the systemic struggle and the solution. Our systemic disenfranchisement and systemic solutions as black people was never about individuals and nor should our solutions. In proceeding toward progress, it is imperative that we do not individualize a collective epidemic, and it is even more imperative that we as a collective view non-black roles in telling our narratives as an opportunities taken from a black person.
This individualized approach to a collective conflict correlates to a recurring line spoken throughout the film. Particularly, white characters consistently state that they “do not want to call the police” on Fails. This statement alludes to the direct threat the soldiers of white supremacy pose to black people, but this line also supposes that calling the police is an extremity to which they desire to remain estranged. Here, “calling the police” equates to lynching,cross-burning, or any conspicuous b act connected to terrorizing black people, but as evidenced in the contemporary displacement that conspicuously follows gentrification, calling the police is not the sole way to pose a threat to black people. Here, viewers also witness an attempt to individualize a collective demon. Commonly, those who individualize white supremacy and its many manifestations downplay its pervasive evil, and almost always revel in individualized solutions that do virtually nothing for a larger issue of racism that remains unsolved.
The film attempts to illustrate the black collective by intertwining themes of the black experience, homelessness, self-medication, premature death, and severed familial bonds. These themes all come crashing together in Monty’s one-man play that functions as a wake for a fallen friend and an intervention for what Monty views as his friend’s myth-making. Because documents omit Jimmie’s grandfather as the brains and muscle behind the revered Victorian home, like the black families evicted from communities built to nurse their systemic wounds, western documentation erases Jimmie Fails the first. To clarify, Monty states, in front of his audience, that the first Jimmie Fails did not build his family home. The announcement results in upset and an pervasive sour reaction from Monty’s audience. It does not, however, matter whether Fails’s grandfather built the familial home. Individual achievement garners clout, but obscures the collective contribution made by black people. What I mean here, is that slaves did not build this county; black people build this country. Therefore, the victorian home in the film, represents a constructural contribution black people collectively consummate.
So while Fails’s title revises the “first black” honorable mentions that continue to suggest a progress yet to arrive, The Last Black Man in San Francisco appears a cautionary tale. While Monty’s grandfather, played by veteran actor, and San Fran native Danny Glover, exudes a physical blindness that obscures the changing reality around him, The Last Black Man in San Francisco exposes that others remain equally as blind to gentrified spaces. It is perhaps Grandpa Allen that provides the breadcrumbs to contest the general consensus that this film is about gentrification. Gentrifcation correlates to the countless attempts to spatially and biologically remove black people from the white hegemonist’s “pinky and the brain” attempt to take over the world. Moreover, this systemic disappearing act that the contemporary climate banally references as gentrification is not gentrification at all but genocide.
As Neely Fuller Jr once stated: “If you don’t understand Racism/White supremacy, what it is and how it works , everything else you think you understand will only confuse you.” –Neely Fuller, Jr.. Dr. Francis Cress Welsing resumes Fuller’s teachings in The Isis Papers, with the bold assertion which informs the systemically asphyxiated that this lack of understanding could very well lead to our collective genocide.
So for now, it’s the last black man in San Francisco, Brooklyn, Oakland, Atlanta, or Washington D.C., but if our conflicts remain individualized or a systemic oversight, it may very well be the last black man (or woman) in America, or period.
On the surface, Spike Lee appears to deliver a revolutionary protagonist in his Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) is not only outspoken, intelligent, and artistically provocative, she’s brown-skinned. She isn’t even an Ashley Banks or Dionne Davenport type that intrigues the European gaze with a blackness that simultaneously appeases a European and African aesthetic. Though her eyes are hazel, Nola functions to symbolizes a purposeful blackness illuminated by enlightened artwork. Nola intentionally subscribes to a presumedly African aesthetic with her cocoa brown skin, braid extensions, and a struggle she makes beautiful with her art.
Despite her very intentional casting and characterization, Nola Darling failed to resonate with me. Simply put, I didn’t believe her. This incredulity speaks to the series’s conception, not the acting. Nola, a character resulting from a systemized gaze, deeply contemplates every aspect of life but her sexuality. Notably, in season 2, a seemingly resonant racial conversation with a black man about art and identity leads to casual sexual encounter that lacks the critical engagement of the conversation that preceded it. Though I do not mean to prescribe sexual chastity as an end goal for black women, I do I find it odd that Nola is so unique intellectually but exudes the same sexual behavior consistent with how the media consistently depicts black people. To be blunt, how is such an artistically and intellectually curious person so sexually basic?
I’ll return to these points later in this post.
I wrote a review of Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It almost two years ago. In the review, I mentioned Laura Nelson, a black woman hung over a bridge alongside her son in a public death largely erased by his story. Her murder, a spectacle and portrait of American horror, serves as a summation for black femininity. Interestingly, the second season of She’s Gotta Have It concludes with a provocative portrait painted by Nola Darling that channels Laura Nelson. Both woman inevitably hold hands in a shared narrative; however, their overt connection ends the series where it should have began.
Moreover, the final episode of the Netflix series revisits the query: Who owns black pain? Famed novelist Zadie Smith tackles this query in essay “Getting In and Out: Who Owns Black Pain” where she examines Jordan Peele’s film Get Out and Dana Shultz’s Open Casket portrait which recreates Emmett Till as he lay mutilated in his casket. In examining these examples, Zadie Smith inquires who, if anyone, has a right to black pain? Her argument meditates heavily on an identity she labels “biracial” and even intertwines her children who she references as historically “quadroons.” Her prose, though eloquent and resounding, like the final episode of Spike Lee’s Netflix series, illustrates the peristent query-conflicts surrounding representation, authority, and black pain.
Smith’s essay, addressing the peculiar pain that follows deriving from rape, evokes a common contemplation regarding what is means to be biracial. But, who is to articulate the pain of the woman forced to look into the face of a child who resembled her oppressor? I pose these questions to preface the following: It is hard if not impossible to take the contemplation of black pain seriously from someone who has made the oppressor her husband. Smith does not own black pain because she does not hone black pain; rather, Smith re-creates a specific black female pain in her conjugal choice. I say this not to reprimand Smith or castigate her choices, but to underscore that re-presentation remains a central yet under-discussed discourse with regards to black identity, the black experience, and black pain. Smith re-presents black pain in a contractual sexuality, as does She Gotta Have It through protagonist Nola Darling.
While Lee is not married to the man in a conventional sense, his “art” delineates an espousal to western ideals. Lee is unable to divorce western ideals due to an overt inability to acknoweldge their influence on him as director/creator. Specifically, Lee creates black characters whose sexuality and sexual behavior reflects a systemic trauma. Sexualized physically and mentally, black sexuality is not to be taken lightly. Black sexuality constitutes a performance that though seemingly rooted in pleasure, remains anchored in black pain.
She’s Gotta Have It, illustrates multiple black woman attempting to hone a sexualized pain: Nola as an artist, Clorinda as a young professional, and Mekka as a budding businesswoman. All the black women featured on the series have a dissonant relationship to sexuality. Clorinda, who sleeps with an older man who is also a leading force in gentrifying Brooklyn, realizes her sexual commerce actualizes professional and personal bankruptcy. Clorinda’s sexual performance delineates a black woman attempting to see herself on the other side of oppression. What happens, of course, is that she engenders a cold reminder that she is perhaps worse off then those in her collective. Clorida’s false belief that her position beside white men under the covers detaches her from societal oppression, deals a hard blow when she realizes her systemized subjugation is not only outside of her window but in her bed.
In season one, viewers witness Mekka opt for butt injections to enhance her occupational performance. The result proves catastrophic as Mekka’s injections fester her physical and psychological disfigurement. This depiction re-presents the black female mutilation that follows systemically induced pursuits to acquire what the black woman naturally possesses.
Nola depicts this shared pursuit in her portrait, where she paints herself as hanging by her braid extensions. These braids re-present the black female body and black female personhood as lynched by the beauty industry and on a larger scale, American culture. The hair industry, an industry built on black female emulation, strips the black woman of her beauty and creates black pain. She’s Gotta Have It re-creates said pain and re-presents she who is systemically raped. Re-presentation though, is not freedom; rather, representation functions as a re-manifestation of white hegemony.
Nola’s re-manifestation ruffles feathers in illustrating a pain Mekka views as private. Nola’s portrait resonates with Mekka because their pain is a shared pain; both women, however, individualize a collective pain. This indiviualized scope becomes obvious in Nola’s use of the word “my.” Individualized pain or trauma is a privelege, a shared pain mainfested seperately marks a systemic and cyclical disenfranchisement. Similarly, Mekka’s trauma marks a detachment from other black women who don’t share her physical scars. Mekka’s words illustrate that she fails to see her physical condition as reflecting a scarred mental state. Black people actualize the wounds of a colonized past physicality personified by our last names and our English proficiency. So when Mekka asks Nola why why she chose to sexualize black female pain, this query, while valid, separates the part from the whole. Black pain is inherently sexualized just as sexuality inherently connects to trauma. Re-presentation, as depicted through Nola and Mekka’s discussion, fails the black collective time and time again, because it dismembers a collective pain into a digestible form fit for entertainment.
To own black pain is to “present” black pain. To present is to endure decoloniation and seek to solve, not to re-present what the oppressed already know to be true. Re-presentation dominates She’s Gotta Have It. Nola represents Laura Nelson and all the other faceless black women subject to the horror their blackness imbues; she does not, however, progress this narrative. If anything, Nola’s characterization proves that though Nelson’s body was eventually cut down, she still phantasmocially sways in the wind; the disdain to black feminity a public sight consummated by re-presentation.
Nola, re-presentats a particular kind of black female pain that follows a cognitively free protagonist who performs a traumatized sexuality that functions as libratory. This trauma is perhaps best illustrated through Nola as a home wrecker to a black family; here, Lee re-presents a pervasive image that follows the black woman in her contemporary casting. The black woman of course is not a homewrecker but she who derives from a home wrecked by the very systemic issues to which her continual re-presentation places her on the wrong side.
What is perhaps most interesting about re-presentation as it appears in the series, is that it underscores Lee’s selective imagination. Particularly, Lee re-presents an idealized relationship between blacks and Puerto Ricans. This is an obvious play to insure the series appears “inclusive;” however, as a black woman born and raised in New York City, I have never felt a kinship with the Latinx community that did not attempt to exist on denigrating the black collective at large. This though, is not the point. The point is that Lee presents an idealized diasporic relationship between black people throughout the diaspora, but fails to imagine, or “present” a black woman as detached from systemized forces he overwrights to unite the displaced Africans in New York City and Puerto Rico. Or, and admittedly this is likely the truth, does Nola Darling embody this attempt to “present” the rebellious being of black female form in a contemporary frame?
Now, I return to Smith’s query: who owns black pain? Though the answers remain numerous, re-presentation surrenders ownership to he or she who gazes. Nevertheless, as Laura Nelson showed us 1911, black pain is not a pubic matter to interpret; black pain interprets a global demon strengthened in the re-presentations of its power.
Re-presentation casts the being of black female form as she who “gotta have it,” whether “it” is sex, power, or color-induced consequences. Futhermore, as long as these re-manifestations of the chains that shackle us remain the voice of a shared struggle, “she” will never have anything it all.
It was a beautiful Sunday— a dichotomous backdrop to the tension that accompanies my weekly trips to acquire the fruits and vegetables on my grocery list. No longer dwelling in the predominately black, middle-class environment that nurtured my childhood (and a number of years in my adulthood), the grocery store functions as a hyper-site for racial violence. As a member of the black collective, I am expected to be happy to be in any establishment. In America, I am not a customer; I am a consumer who exists solely for monetary gain. The African-adjacent customers who frequent this establishment illustrate these sentiments in the cavalier disregard for black personhood they exude without thought or apology.
While selecting some vegetables, a child ran his cart into mine, and his white mother, without as much of a glance or mouthed apology, moved the cart to continue her stride down the aisle with her chin and chest poked out. In this instance, this white woman taught her black child not to respect black women. Now, I know this stems from the reality that white women must impose invisibility onto black women to imbue their visibility. This visibility, often compromised by the very standards that exist to uphold it, incites what often proves a lifetime journey for the African-adjacent woman to create her desirability. What I mean here, to put it bluntly, is that through western standards exist to uphold white female beauty and virtue, few white women actualize these standards. Thus, the African-adjacent woman must denigrate her African counterpart to comepensate for her own deficiences.
The “link” below illustrates an identical scenario. The featured example depicts a white defendant with a chip on her shoulder when addressing both the plaintiff and the judge. The defendant must ignore the romantic relationship the black female plaintiff had with her son in order to construct a reality where the black woman lacks chastity and parental certainty. Similarly, she must continually challenge the black female Judge’s authority and expertise to compensate for her non-existent accomplishments in a setting to which everything is in her favor. The defendant’s actions illustrate the gallant strides taken to make the black woman disappear; the defendant engenders and imposed invisibility that the African-adjacent woman employs as a means to survive. It is the African-adjacent’s desire to survive by any means necessary that makes lumping females together under the “woman” umbrella a violent praxis that demands black women cosign their invisibility. This invisibility praxis is even performed by those within the black collective who are espoused to the ideology that blackness must subscribe to specific inaquedacies that if defied must be ignored. A few years back, I boarded a bus and a black woman around my age told her 8-9-year-old son to walk in front of me to board the bus. My reaction was to step aside and allow her and the child she wore in a carrier to board before me. Then it was, of course, no interest to be in front of me. This experience personfied something said to me years earlier during a freelance interview I conducted. In the interview, a black female entrepreneaur articulated the praxis among black women where black women pretend not to see one another. In this instance, the same experience that made me and this young lady sisters of the same struggle, proved a catalyst for an invisibility that she internalized as a necessary component to the black female experience. As a young black woman, with multiple children subject to the perils and unkindness that too often burden commuters, she attains hyper-visibility in terms of stereotypes but a diminished or abused personhood due to her blackness.
I use these personal anecdotes to sketch and shade an experience shared by those of the African diaspora. Mainly, I divulge these experiences to illustrate what I call “the politics of black female invisibility.” Though invisibility is a core component to the black female experience, the politics of black female invisibility do not actualize conventional invisibility. The invisibility politic proceeds with the ambition to make the black women see herself as invisible, to engender an internalized black female denigration that becomes merely a way of life. Instead, this politic functions as a reaction to a hyper-visible state that must be fantastically altered by an foisted invisibility. This post examines some the many forms of the black female invisibility politic.
Racist Against White People
I suppose you do not have to be a black woman to experience this phrasing, but I do think black women in closer proximity to African-adjacent women are more likely to experience this phrasing than black men. Personally, I’ve heard this phrasing countless times from white, or non-black people of color, a phrase that obscures racism with a racist narcissism that refuses to acknowledge that racism is not a two-way street. By this, I mean that you cannot claim to be a victim of that in which you benefit. This phrasing, “racist against white people” casts blacks as assailants in a social, economic, and cognitive assault cast against them. Thus, the phrase “racist against white people” imposes a collective invisibility manifested in an individualized encounter.
The word “woman” has become one of the most common and socially accepted ways to ignore the being of black female form. Films, or even policies that appear rooted in female exclusion, overlook that gender challenges remain a unique conflict for those who share origins with the Harriet Tubmans and Sojourner Truths. For example, the diversity initiatives that we see in movies and other industries, remain anchored in the white female ideal whether hiring the African-adjacent or a person of African descent.
Women of Color
Though this term functions with more specificity than “woman,” it performs a similar assault. This term, in its contemporary implementation, replaces black and joins blackness with other non-white factions. “Woman of color” seeks to universalize the non-white female struggle. This violent universalizing makes it so that that the black woman functions as a non-white, not a black person, which ultimately compromises her personhood.
Oh, Didn’t See You There
It was a hot summer’s day in July, and I was excited to enjoy a movie night with my family in the city (what New Yorkers call Manhattan). The theatre was packed with city dwellers and tourists, so we were apparently not the only ones with this idea. As I stood at the kiosk and attempted to purchase tickets, I was startled to see a pair of pale hands begin to navigate the screen as if I were not standing there. Shocked, my aunt came to my defense. The damage, however, had already been done, a damage sealed by the equally shocked look on her face. “I’m sorry” she said, but she was not sorry. We were not invisible, but insignificant to a white woman in a world where acknowledging black people remains optional. In a world painted white, to show any respect for our person or body was just too inconvenient .
The Reach Around
This kind of black female invisibility is a unique kind, because it reflects the highest form of visibility countered by coerced invisibility. Here, the invisibility functions as a shield from feeling lesser to someone who is to function as subserviant. The reach around is not only performed by the African adjacent but by the African who, circumscribed to a collective inferiority, strives to reduce their kinfolk to an inferiority expected of their people. The reach around occurs when a black woman demands visual or intellectual acknowledgement seen as incompatible with her blackness. Not only is blackness supposed to occupy a space of invisibility, but blacks are to command said invisibility as well. Black women are not to occupy spaces of beauty, intelligence, or confidence and if they do, they often encounter the reach around— a praxis that functions to erase their attributes to salvage the fictive superiority of whiteness. The reach around occurs when an agent enthusiastically acknowledges those around a black woman deemed hyper-visible to attack the self and esteem of a black person perceived as having too much in their favor to warrant overt recognition by those who need her to be invisible in order to maintain relevancy.
Where you are spoken to as if you are not there.
The wallflower functions similarly to the Mascot syndrome the late Malcolm X delineated in his Autobiography. The wallflower literally casts the black person on the margins in order to centralize the African adjacent person. For example, if you’ve been in a predominately white environment, or even watched a reality or scripted series that features this dynamic, you can attest to the African-adjacent discussing the person of African descent, or something they said, as if they were not there. This behavior attains a new height in that the assailants are often serial offenders who view their actions as an innocuous acknowledgement that, of course, is not an acknowledgment at all.
The Isolated stare
Staring as a part of your body to dismember your totality
This typically occurs when a speaker stares at a black woman’s body, hair, etc, as she speaks or performs a task. This behavior is always done in a conspicuous manner seeking to make the black woman feel self-conscious about an envy-inducing attribute.
Focusing on an exterior form.
The material gaze imposes the invisibility politic by imposing a superficial gaze onto the black body. Two consistent examples of this would be Michelle Obama and Serena Williams, both of whom are black woman of notable achievement yet are often violently circumscribed to berated physical attributes.
No recognition; just comparison.
This black female invisibility politic occurs when a black woman is constantly compared to another person or to other people. This praxis functions to ignore a black woman’s individuality and accomplishments and to convince the black female subject that they are “common.”
Individual Scenario: “So and so does (insert positive attribute or accomplishment associated with the subject) Collective Scenario: She’s the black (insert African-adjacent person)
In writing this post, I hope to form a sister circle that validates what can function as confusing in isolation. However, while I can not ensure what, if any, effect my words may yield, it is most significant that the being of black female* form remains central. In examining the black female invisibility politic, it becomes imperative to underscore that black female invisibility is not a fact but a function; a function the being of black female form can overcome and divert in a collective awareness.
Note: I use the phrase “being of the black female form” as a means to detach from the western phrasing “black woman,” as the contents of this post illustrates the term as an oxymoron.
Ma, presents a nuanced mammy figure in leading lady Octavia Spencer, who uses complacency as a means of entry to implement her retaliation. Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer) is a psychologically scarred girl inside a middle-aged woman’s body. Sue Ann, in love with a popular white male, believes she is to perform oral sex on him but services a random white male as part of a cruel joke to which her entire cohort is privy. The cruel joke, though an element of Ellington’s past, makes its way into the present through flashbacks seemingly invoked in the company of her adversaries’ children. Ellington, named Ma by the sole black boy in a class of middle-class white children, comes into contact with her adversaries’s children in their plight to access alcohol. Ma does the underage drinkers one better than their initial request and not only supplies them their requested poison but provides a setting for their indulgence. The space becomes a hyper site for Ma to reenact her revenge.
Viewers eventually learn that there is someone absent from Ma’s parties, her daughter Jeannie. Ma convinces her daughter that she is too ill for school, forcing Jeannie’s detachment from her white peers. Ma drugs her daughter to maintain a control that ultimately detaches Jeannie from Ma as well. It becomes clear throughout the movie, that while Ma is not overtly kind to her daughter, her actions do reflect the love that she professes every time she leaves her child. Ma loves Jeannie but her commitment to protecting her daughter from the crippling horror that haunts her into a vengeful stupor complicates her motherly love. Ma, of course, creates trauma in trying to circumvent its wrath, illustrating the fickle space black victims of trauma experience in reactionary attempts to self-medicate.
Ma appears to heal past wounds in what seems the opportunity to live a second youth through her newfound friends, but it is not long before the apples begin to resemble the tree from which they fall. Specifically, Ma maintains her position as the sole black female amongst an all-white group that sees her as a means to an end. This abusive dynamic appears countless times throughout the film. Ma works as a veterinary assistant, her boss is unkind and unprofessional, using expletives and a dismissive disposition to address Ma. Ma takes her frustrations out on animals—mirroring abuse as cyclical, but also illustrates that the dehumanized are often place in similar proximity to the non-human oppressed. The film, like countless other films like Fruitvale Station (2013) and even The Intruder (2019), juxtapose black people to animals to illustrate a systemized dehumanization. Unlike Fruitvale Station that delineates a gruesome comparison between pit bulls and black men, and The Intruder which uses white male brutality toward a helpless deer as foreshadow for the doom that awaits a young black couple, in Ma, whites treat their dogs with more decency and regard that they do black people. Ma’s classmates visit the clinic, which institutionally requires Ma to show their pets more respect and care than they have ever taught her. It is also worth mentioning that Ma is called a bitch twice in the film by two white women. Though the term bitch, which means “female dog” is said to encompass a general insult to women, the film’s use illustrates the black female as embodying this pejorative term. Mainly, though Ma cares for female dogs, she is the bitch.
Though a victim to white cruelty, Ma uses her increased proximity to the next generation of white youth to negotiate her victim status. However, the reasoning behind her actions complicates her alignment with the term “villain.” Ma, who exists as both entertainment and experimentation for her peers, illustrates that to be black is to be inhuman, yet her characterization delineates blacks as more human than their oppressors. Specifically, Ma’s rage and retaliation are highly reactionary. She is traumatized, and there is a reason for her behavior; however, her white classmates lack proper motivation for their callous actions. Though Ma’s past assailant uses the excuse that he was a child when he mistreated her, Ma reminds him and the audience that she was a child too.
Ma’s statement not only brings her seized agency to the forefront of the film but illustrates that white childhood imbues an innocence that black childhood does not. Just as serial killers often torture animals to precede their attacks on humans—the white children use the black female body as a hyper site for dehumanizing black people to the status as “other,” an ideology they will pass on to their children. While whites pass their spoiled seeds onto their children, Ma does not harm Jeannie in the same way. In fact, it is Jeannie who enables the white youth to escape the literal burning house set ablaze by Ma’s wrath. Jeannie does not socially reproduce her mother’s sins because Ma is not evil, she is hurt, yet the opposite reigns true for her adversaries.
The literal burning house that concludes the film aligns with the burning house Dr. King aligned with integration in a conversation with Harry Belafonte shortly before his murder. Ma, the token black female, illustrates the issue with black children attending predominately white schools. Ma tells Darnell, who is the sole black person in a white social circle, “there can only be one of us,” as she paints his face white. As haunting as this depiction was, the opposite is true. Black presence at a predominately white space enables white people to possess a whiteness only illuminated in the presence of other. Just as a master isn’t a master without a slave, whites cannot be white without a black to “niggerize.” It is essential to note that the opposite is true for those of African descent; black people do not need white people to culminate their identity. To paraphrase theorist Frantz Fanon from his book The Wretched of the Earth, whites must dissipate a black national consciousness to create and stabilize white supremacy. To encounter a white person in an environment where they are the majority such as America or one of its smaller institutions that mirror its imperialistic intent, is to ensure the black individual does not develop and cannot nurture a national consciousness. White dependency on the oppressed other depicts power as starting at the bottom. The film mirrors this dynamic through flames that begin in the base of the home and work their way up. Ma’s climb from the bottom to the top of her home with the flames following her, personifies the heat that accompanies those charred black by white supremacy as rising, not evaporating, with upward mobility.
The burning house, in which Ma willingly remains, mirrors the prison or capital punishment that awaits her on the other side of the flames; specifically, Ma’s fate does not vary whether she literally or figuratively burns in a white supremacist institution. The burning house illustrates what the institution strives to make of blacks who take their justice— a nigger. The black person, therefore, can never integrate into white society as anything other than another, personified through the term and ideology encompassed by the word “nigger.” Ma, however, seeks to negotiate what for so long functioned as the inevitable, a negotiation that falls flat due to her white conception. Specifically, the film’s conclusion actualizes King, and every black freedom fighter’s worst nightmare– a niggerized black who, with her head affectionately placed on the source of her suffering, seizes a niggerized version of freedom in which the fate the oppressed envisioned for their oppressors, becomes their own.
I am not friendly, and I seldom smile when among gentrifiers in a diluted black space. I have high expectations for those given the gift of melanin, yet I am frequently disappointed by those who consent to the various manifestations of our collective disenfranchisement. The portrait of being eaten alive, drawn by the white bodies welcomed with effortless comfort and inclusivity, does not amuse me nor prompt my involvement. Sears of rage shoot through my body as I watch a white person, appointed by a melanated person, handle the money belonging to a black organization at a historically black institution.
I cannot and will not eat, drink, or trade stories with those who study my delivery and my thoughts to one day appropriate as “esteemed intellects” with an “incredible ability to relate.” My detachment and critical space complicate their inevitable imitation, exposing the devilish ways antithetical to the white saviour space they have already resumed. Their interpretations and “analysis” are inevitably flawed because to theorize about what you will never encompass incites an irreversible emptiness. The efforts of the African adjacent to interpret the black experience and black artistic expression do not sound better because it can not be better. The same feeling overcomes me as I listen to my favorite artists who are increasing paired with the African adjacent. To the onlooker, this non-black is merely a feature, but to the critical gaze, this musical presence foreshadows the same fate as a Starbucks in a predominately black area. Their presence features doom, not diversity—their performance occupies the mimetic space theorist Homi Bahba marks between mimicry and mockery.
It is between mimicry and mockery that you will find those who praise the African adjacent for merely being non-black. Some skinfolk, bound to mental bondage, believe the African Adjacent access the African better than the African. I wish I could turn a blind eye to the violent invitation my elder extended when he told me to speak and think more like my white male peer, but all I see is how this white world continues to place blacks with no self or esteem in high places. This comparison functions to convince the oppressed they are to be compared, deterring from the truth that to be black is to be beyond comparison. I wish the words “he does not know what he’s doing” would appease the disappointment that follows his violent invitation. I wish that knowing these actions reflect the subconscious did not make things worse.
Efforts to dialogue with who color designates as my kinfolk expose them as a skinfolk. To articulate preserving black space as integral is to encompass an anti-whiteness that, to the hegemonically influenced mind, must be refuted by claims of the “nice” and deserving whites who inhabit our black spaces. These attributes as aligned with those who invade black spaces insult the reality that their presence symbolizes an absent black body; their presence symbolizes black opportunity seized by a faction in close proximity to every global luxury. The gentrification of black space is a mentally violent praxis that, though newly acknowledged for its physicality, is seldom engaged for its psychological effects. Conversations surrounding black spatial invasion is perhaps most significant in the contemporary context as both black neighborhoods, and black colleges find themselves inundated with a growing African-adjacent presence. Some interpret this invasion as diversity; however, the African adjacent come to conquer not to congregate, yet fear too often precludes any discussion that connects the dots between the two.
The linearity between black erasure and contemporary integration presented itself in smaller but equally violent displays in my undergraduate career. I recall from my undergraduate days at an HBCU, an interracial couple. She aesthetically channelled Mary J. Blige, and he resembled the lead from Save by the Bell mixed with a Ken doll. They paraded around campus together in an ostentatious display of their relationship that always seemed to garner hyper-visibility along the trajectory of the hill. This sparked animus reactions from onlookers, to which my younger self found herself on the wrong side. I see now that what I initially saw as hecklers were those reacting to the stealth agenda of a white man. His presence as a white man on a historically black college campus, via full scholarship, embodied a systemic violence that assaulted the black collective in image and act. This individual threw salt in a collective wound by parading around the campus with a black woman as his trophy—as a violent mark of his penetration of black space, as a flag to mark his colonial conquest of the black female body. His presence on the campus was not enough. No. He had to recruit the black female body as an accolade of his seized acceptance and authority in a predominately black space.
A growing fraction of the students at historically black institutions are whites, whites who are being trained to teach primary pages of the black narrative to black students. It is a mode of violence for any member of the black collective to occupy the same air as those who systemically disenfranchise the black community behind a fake smile and performative empathy. To the gentrifiers, the black university, the black community, and the black sound are just another means to symbolize their fictive power. Their acquisition holds no regard to our story, our legacies, our resilience encompassed in our spaces. For them, it is just another school, lover, neighborhood, or song cleaned up by their presence; whereas to the black collective, gentrification festers an unhealed wound of displacement.
Thus, to welcome gentrifiers is to welcome the flames in this burning house that is the “black” institution. Some fight these flames with a normalized inferiority manifested in phrases like “Well, what are we going to do?” and “nothing will ever change.” Things, however, will change. In ignoring the attack on black space, the historically black college will become like Harlem, Brooklyn, Oakland, Washington DC, Atlanta and many other cities in the United States—markers of a black past. Gentrification is unfortunate and unfair, but it is not a force beyond our means to fight as black people.
Others buy into a different systemic spell, and use discussions of the gentrified college to pacify their regret in being unable to experience the HBCU, or any college, first hand. Thus, hearing of the HBCU’s “imperfections” proves the perfect opportunity to isolate a common problem. Just as white presence in black space, be it a community or school, possesses a positive in revealing the seemingly black person as melanated; similarly, these adversial comments by skinfolk illustrate those lured into a systemically endured inferiority as allies to the African adjacent.
Others whom I encounter, regard the truth of gentrification as an inconvenience they must shun with silence or bluntly state that they fail to understand the problem. The often unasked question is: why is she so angry? My question remains: Why aren’t you?
The African adjacent, be it white people, or non-black people of color, observe an advantage the black collective does not. These groups understand and implement the value of nation. Despite this truth, the African adjacent purposely integrates and work to dismantle the black ability to create or maintain what Frantz Fanon called a national consciousness while diversifying how the black diaspora must apologize for any attempt to reassemble our collective consciousness. We are to invite the colonialism socially reproduced by our oppressors. We are to remain bound to past the white world continues to demand that we forget.
Gentrification exposes that black space was at worst not black at all, and at best not black enough. The melanated or those with black skin, who, sick with white hegemony welcome the African adjacent, mistake the flames of genocide for friendship or franchisement. The need for black spaces vested in a black ideology remains central in attaining both value and victory for the black collective.
Whether the black college, the black neighborhood, or the black family, the black community remains under attack. This attack promises to obliterate our existence—an assassination through gentrification veiled as integration. An integrated or gentrified space follows a gentrified or integrated mind, poisoned by the illusion of progress. Separatist, though connotated as unfavorable, bears the remedy to our conflict, or the key to our cage. Separatism, though a physical state, must follow a mental psyche separated from systemized infiltration. Blacks must separate from white values, standards, and modes of identification. We are not Americans; we are Africans displaced in America. Our last names are not surnames; they are dots that connect to a colonialism that still systemically suffocates us. We are not free via the Emancipation Proclamation, because many of our ancestors were not slaves despite being enslaved. Many of our ancestors separated from those who thought they had power over them. History won’t tell us about the freedom we took; instead, in adopting a gentrified ideology, one becomes satiated with the “giving” white world who only gives life to themselves via a serial mental murder called his-story. The gentrified space promises a different form of blackness embodied by the charred remains that mark what was once a black body. Therefore, we must separate, not for equality but survival.
The Intruder marks the latest edition in the predictable suspense genre perpetuated by attractive non-white actors. The film casts Meagan Good as Annie, a leading yet color blind role alongside a similarly colorless Michael Ealy who plays her husband, Scott. They play a young couple seeking to start a new chapter of their lives and marriage outside of the city. However, their purchase, a large home in Napa, comes at a cost. Charlie, a middle-aged white man, embodies this cost. Charlie, the home’s original owner, appears to give Scott and Annie a reasonable price for the large property; however, Charlie never actually leaves the house he sells to the young couple. The film proves an allegory for racialized space. In Audre Lorde’s essay “The Master’s Tools,” Lorde employs a house to symbolize the systemic paradigm white hegemony constructs, and uses tools to represent its various manifestations. The house in The Intruder represents a colonized white space that encompasses both white sin and white status. Charlie’s house symbolizes his status but also houses his sin. The sin, viewers learn, is that Charlie murdered his wife, a white woman, who sought to take his house. This failed acquisition on the part of Charlie’s late wife places white male anxiety as a catalyst for thwarting a feminist agenda. Charlie’s late wife attempted to very upward mobility Scott and Annie seek in attempting to purchase Charlie’s home, yet Scott and Annie’s move into Charlie’s home actualizes their movement into a white hegemonic core. This transition disrupts the upward mobility narrative that many falsely believe carries the systemically disenfranchised away from their oppression. Instead, the film depicts blacks who adopt this ideology as becoming further immersed into systemic oppression through what appears to be an upward climb. For this reason, the film illustrates a unique intrusion represents in both praxis and theory.
Though Scott and Annie do illustrate a unique form of invasion, the Intruder in the movie is not Charlie. Scott and Annie, colorblind roles brought to life by black actors, represent intrusion, not inclusion. Inclusion would reflect tasks that take into account the black experience. Intrusion marks imposing a white hegemonic agenda onto a black body at the expense of black personhood. Hollywood, like the many institutions that compose the Americas, have implemented initiatives that only appear to revise its overtly racist origins. Now, as seen in films like When the Bough Breaks, and Collateral Beauty, black actors more avidly appear in starring roles, but not as black people. Specifically, Hollywood employs physical blackness as a means to superficially encompass diversity in image without bothering to include variety in script or characterization. This act functions stealthily for the viewer just seeking to see his or her reflection and encompasses a violent invisibility that foreshadows a colorless world that creatively implements a racist methodology. Another important dynamic that the film illustrates, is the white male pursuing a second chance or second life through the black male. Charlie, who murders his estranged wife, loses his children and his business as well. He seeks to rebuild his life through Scott, a black man who possesses a promise that he no longer does. Scott, in this instance, represents the black space white realtors seek to perpetuate white hegemonic power. These investments prove a means for white franchisement by abudting black spaces to rebuild their lives. It is also worth mentioning that Charlie wishes to replace Scott in a life he has built with Annie, a black woman. Annie, initially unaware of just how much anger and danger lies beneath Charlie’s seemingly innocuous behavior, encompasses a means for Charlie to reappropriate his white masculinity in the contemporary climate. Here, I reference the number of white men who exude their white hegemonic placement in interracial relationships with black women. These relationships convey a dynamic identical to Hollywood’s relationship with black actors. Notably, in these interracial relationships, the white male appears to appreciate black people and culture, just as Hollywood appears to appreciate blackness through what seems to be inclusion. However, these white men, like Hollywood, intrude on the black narrative by using the black body, or blackness in general, to appropriate a common white agenda manifested in individual solicitation of black bodies. It is the coercion to ignore what makes us different that makes this solicitation successful. In her essay “The Master’s Tools,” Audre Lorde confronts the white hegemonic pedagogy that instructs the oppressed to adopt this dangerous ideology. She writes: “we have been taught either to ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change” (Lorde 112). Though Lorde speaks specifically of women in her prose, this statement proves true for the black collective. Blacks are too often subject to the idea that we must ignore our blackness to enable progress. This statement ignores that the western world literally burned blackness as a pejorative contruct into our flesh. To ignore our blackness because it is inconvenient to our oppressors does not change anything, it merely neuters our collective power. Lorde goes on to bluntly state that “ the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about positive change” (Lorde 112). The Intruder illustrates this very dynamic, as Ealy and Good personify the master’s tools as black actors in a colorblind roles, and characters Scott and Annie illustrate this dynamic as black people seeking upward mobility by acquiring a white man’s space in a white country. The coupled performance Scott and Annie/Ealy and Good provide both on and off the big screen appear to beat the master at his own game. However, though Ealy and Good appear to hone leading roles in a widely distributed film, and Scott and Annie kill Charlie, they commonly embody the master’s tools whose actions paint the master’s house white. Scott and Annie, like the black actors who portray them, remain lost in a labyrinth of white supremacy who culminate the master’s victory in believing they attained a freedom they never truly attempted.
Aladdin, in its most recent adaption, merges theatre and Bollywood on the big screen. Though inundated with Indian actors who possess brown undertones (to be generous), generally have fair skin and features consistent with western beauty. The film attempts a feminist core with a nuanced Jasmine who is even more determined to emerge from her subordinate placement. The most prevalent component of the film is the hidden lessons it holds for the black viewer, or, the black voter.
To be clear, I am no way suggesting that Aladdin has any other agenda than the “diversity agenda” consistent with the society that encases it. Diversity occupies a violent space for the black collective. Specifically, contemporary diversity standards make it so that the African adjacent must attempt or perform diversity, but black spaces and black people must actually implement diversity initiatives. For example, the film appears to include a black cast member through Will Smith, but the black character is also the only one to pursue a love interest outside of this demographic; thus, the film (directed by Guy Ritchie who is a white man), must only pretend to seek a diversity that Smith’s character must implement.
Diversity takes on a very different manifestation with regards to the film’s targeted audience. Particularly, Aladdin targets adults seeking nostalgia and kids seeking “magic.” The film aims to to penetrate its audience’s psyche with a discourse on westernized ideals veiled by non-European bodies. This discourse, as it so often does, manifests in color.
For example, though Jafar, the Sultan’s advisor, has the same skin color as the rest of the cast, he remains paired with the color black. He has dark facial hair that covers the lower and sides of his face, wears dark clothing, and when he is temporarily Sultan, the kingdom becomes blackened in its presumed evil. This not-so-subtle color narrative is of course not unique. Child favorites like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King also assign dark colors and ambiance to its villains implementing a silent discourse on white superiority withered in a color narrative.
Will Smith, as the film’s genie, appears to anchor the film’s diversity initiative yet actualizes a white supremacist narrative authored in color. A black man as a genie adds another dimension to the role simultaneously exposing the ideology behind its initial conception. The genie emerges from a stimulated phallic like instrument that engenders the every wish of its master. The master-slave dynamic of course mirrors a colonized Africa, but the power contingencies also evoke a fictionalized “past.” The genie is easily the most powerful character in the film, yet his power remains circumscribed to a master. This dynamic reflects the general ideology that surrounds black talent, that black talent is best when paired with a master. This dynamic is often manifested in institutions that turn the wonder of black talent into workers employed to literally make his or her’s master or boss’s dreams come true.
Ironically, relegation is precisely what happens to Jafar, who becomes a worker when trying to supersede the genie’s power. Thus, though Robin Williams initially provided the voice for the genie, its conception seems anchored in the general perception of black people. Specifically, the genie mirrors the black friend, the sidekick, or what director Spike Lee called the “magical negro” seen in critically acclaimed films like Hitch, Bruce Almighty, and The Wedding Ringer. Even during Aladdin’s grand entrance as Prince Ali, his entourage featured the talents of black people, who though cast in the background like pictures on wallpaper, most likely went largely unseen by the audience.
The film also corresponds to a recent fixation fed to the American public, particularly the black female. The film highlights the Sultan seeking a husband for his daughter that will aid the kingdom’s agenda in maintaining its status. Though Jasmine and the Sultan are not black people, it is imperative for blacks to realize that empires seek power with their every move and marriage. Meghan Markle is part of an agenda, and those who cosign her “placement” also become a part of this agenda. Her placement in a European monarchy, like Will Smith’s placement in a European conjured tale, cast them as celebrated figures who re-present a portrait of white hegemony that appears revised by their pseudo inclusion.
Therefore, while Aladdin appears to offer a revisionist history with a female leader who marries for love and not power, the victory is for the African- adjacent woman not humankind. Blacks remain circumscribed to a traditional supporting role in ensuring the non-black lead learns his worth while teaching the black viewer to learn their place. Thus, the plot in many ways, illustrates the dynamic present in the upcoming election. Aladdin depicts blacks as the literal background to female leadership, a destiny that awaits a constituency espoused to a supporting role necessary to every earthly victory but their own.