Detroit: A Systemized Suffocation of the Black Narrative

In recent months, I have written extensively about Dr. Christina Sharpe and the wake work initiative ignited by her book In the Wake: Blackness and Being. The book epitomizes Afro-demia, where blackness is placed in the forefront of formal discourse. Although difficult to point to a single moment in the text as more significant than the rest, Sharpe’s discussion of black aspiration, or the black struggle to aspire, proved quite significant. Sharpe uses the term “aspire” in the most elementary sense–which simply means to breathe. To illustrate the concept, Sharpe references the physical and systemic suffacation of Eric Garner preceded by eleven exclamations of the clause that would become his last words– “I can’t breathe.” maxresdefault

Garner is the epitome of the figurative chokehold that encapsulates black life. Not all blacks will personally experience a physically fatal embrace. All blacks are however born into a system designed for their suffocation. One of the most persistent manifestations of a cholkhold is appropriation, namely, the metamorphosis of the black struggle into a white narrative.

In 2011, the world rejoiced in Katherine Stockett’s novel The Help’s film adaptation.help3face   Despite elevating black actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer from obscurity to center-stage—the film is an ode to white female supremacy—casting the white female outcast as the saving grace for black female oppression. To some, the film proved ground-breaking in featuring a white female gaze that scrutinized her own kind. The conscious gaze, on the other hand, sees the one-dimensional black female characters as the backs to which the black female castmates stand in their three-dimensional portrayals. This book and film, like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, function to humanize white evil at the expense of dehumanized images of blacks in moments of heightened oppression. The black female potential stifled in the domestic demands of the segregated 1940’s and 1950’s, forced many black women away from their own homes into the homes of whites to resume the mammy role established in slavery. As a domestic worker, the black women encountered unfair wages, emotional and sexual abuse and long hours. Similarly, Henrietta Lacks, a physically ill woman, would die while two of her children were still in diapers. Most problematically, Lacks would be robbed of the  pearl-like cells that took her life, but in their abduction would save countless others. Telling these stories from a white gaze, compromises the integrity of the black narrative.  These white productions function as an antiracist effort to some, but in execution perform the very racism they seemingly denounce. These abducted narratives, and others like them, suffocate the black narrative, resurrecting incidents essential to black advancement as appropriated stories of our oppressors.

Kathryn Bigelow’s upcoming film Detroit, is no different.

Detroit-5-www.nothirdsolution.com_

The upcoming film has garnered abundant press from black and white media for its coverage of the the Twelfth street riots and the cold-blooded murders of teens Aubrey Pollard, Carl Cooper, and Fred Temple at the Algiers Motel in the summer of 1967. Lost in the media coverage of this upcoming film is the actual story. Instead, director Kathryn Bigelow basks in a media glory for her Oscar-nominated culturally appropriative film. The film does not function to provide context to contemporary murders that mirror a tragedy that seized the lives of these young men. Nor, does the film discount the contemporary murders of black youth as isolated incidents.  No, this film exists to permeate American culture with yet another white savior image.

White abduction of black stories poses a conflict to the black narrative for many reasons—the most prevalent being that this appropriation epitomizes racism. In Black Power Kwame Ture states the following:

Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: Individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism (Ture 4).

Bigelow’s Detroit, like Katherine Stockett’s The Help, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and every other adducted page of the collective black narrative, illustrates institutionalized racism. A system existing solely to attack black esteem and control black action.

Institutional racism relies on the active and pervasive operation of antilock attitudes and practices. A sense of superior group position prevails: whites are ‘better” than blacks; therefore blacks should be subordinated to whites. (Ture 5)

Abducted black narratives appropriated by whites desperate to consummate their own journey to conventional success is an act of anti-blackness in its promotion of racist ideologies. This abduction and appropriation of black narratives suggests that because whites are “better” than blacks, only they are capable of accurately and appropriately rendering the black narrative.

Instances like these often prompt the query as to whether it would better if these books, and films were never made–the stories destined to obscurity. In response, I fail to see the difference between a black narrative appropriated by whites and an untold black story as both fail to reach the demographic to which this narrative is essential. “Untold” simply conceptualizes the relationship to mainstream media, or white access. A black narrative is essential to black consciousness. Thus, our stories need not be mainstream, but made available to those spiritually and physically elevated in acquiring knowledge of a shared experience.

The black experience is a compilation of stories shared by those across time and circumstance. Black stories are like air to a black people, providing a means and context to physically aspire. Moreover, the abducted black narrative is not only appropriative –it impedes black aspiration.

To see this film is to smother black aspiration, to toss dirt on top of the black body buried alive by a veiled anti blackness, better known as white supremacy.

As W.E.B. Dubois once said:

Through history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness.

Detroit is yet another means for the white female body to illuminate in the glow of white supremacy. It is yet another means for the white female body to aspire, and indulge white supremacy in the same manner as her male counterparts.  In contrast, the light cast onto the black body has often blown out too quickly, if illuminated at all.

Rather than provide yet another platform for whites to shine in our glory, let us support our own art, written, produced, and brought to life by us. Let us breathe life into our collective identity. Let us aspire the only way we can, as Africans.

Black Power ❤

 

 

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Cultural Appropriation 101: White Men and The Man Weave

While female weaves have been popular for nearly a decade, the man weave is a fairly new phenomena. The assemblage of this fairly new hair option is nothing short of amazing. In the process—a false hairline is drawn and weave is glued (or sewn in some instances) to the scalp then shaved and styled accordingly. This process transforms the negative connotation of hair loss to a positive.

Before-and-After-Man-weave

The man weave, offered mostly by black barbers for black clientele, alleviates the black man from appearing bald, negating the burden of visible hair loss. It is fascinating that spirituality, a practice that still dominates much of the black community seldom cures the need to cover up attributes that deviate from conventionality. A prevalent component of consciousness is belief in oneself— a belief nurtured in acknowledging a collective identity. The conscious black adopts black nationalism as his or her religion, and thereby garners individual esteem from a collective appreciation of his or her indigenous culture. Thus, to the conscious black, hair loss is a form of vanity—placing the individual before the collective—a divisive and detrimental act. Furthermore, soliciting an inauthentic mane as a male or female, reflects a deficient collective understanding and failed attempt to assemble what Dr. Wade Noble referenced as a “shattered consciousness.”

Beauty as transformation is generally problematic, as it festers inferiority to bolster capitalism. To the black body, transformation poses multiple problems. Namely, to further oppress an oppressed people is a crucial step closer to the edge. Dr. Christina Sharpe discusses the trans identity through a fresh lens in her masterpiece In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. In her book, Dr. Sharpe asserts the trans identity as an identity handed to the black body in their coerced voyage over the transatlantic. This journey would transition some black bodies to shark food, some to enslaved Africans, and others to coerced mothers of children forcibly deposited in their wombs. The journey would transition beloved husbands into castrated field hands severed from their family in a forced abandonment. It would transition the beauty of African people to the ugly and incompetent binary opposite to their white oppressors.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-4-11-21-pm-e1487193274607Moreover, the trans identity is a prime attribute of past and present blackness. An attribute exploited by the western gaze.

Similarly, the trans identity remains paramount to whiteness. Namely, while the voyage over the trans Atlantic transitioned majestic blacks to inferior beings, this trip did the opposite for whites. Somewhere over the transatlantic, whites transitioned from inferior genetics and physical strength to the top of a global hierarchy.

The man weave serves as a contemporary “trans” opportunity for the white collective.  This became quite apparent when I came across photos of white boys and men opting for man weaves that transformed their straight locs into an African texture.  Donning an ethnic hairdo is a means for a white person to season their whiteness with an “urban” flavor without relinquishing their white privilege.
side-viewMan weaves, offer the white man an opportunity to don the beauty of black hair without the ridicule or systemic disenfranchisement it affords those born with these very attributes. Whether bearing a receding hairline or one in full effect, a black person remains systemically disenfranchised; whereas, the man weave presents an opportunity for the white man to transition from conventional to exotic in a manner of minutes.

A white man donning an “Ethnic” hairdo consisting of coarse curls and the infamous part, locs, or braids, may also fill an ethnic slot in lieu of their racial ambiguity. Namely, companies or any opportunity seeking a “diverse” look, may solicit the racial ambiguity of fair skin, small features, and ethnic hair to exclusively hire their own but overtly appear to value those with unconventional attributes.  A black man on the other hand, whether donning straighter hair, braids, or a close caesar, is solely allotted access to the few and far between opportunities available solely for those of his demographic. Black_hair_9s

Others may argue that blacks appropriate white culture with straightened tresses, chemical treatments or inauthentic hair pieces. Blacks who adopt European aesthetics be it a Malaysian weave or chemical treatment, due so to appease the standards of whiteness imposed upon them as abducted Africans centuries ago. The conk, a means to process texturized hair to resemble that of a white person, like the pressing comb popularized by entrepreneur Madam CJ Walker,   aided blacks in consummating what they are nurtured to pursue as Africans in America–whiteness. Assimilation, while certainly a choice to the conscious gaze, is a way of life for those not yet on a journey to consciousness, who assimilate as easily as they breathe. The abducted African, in a coerced separation from his or her mother continent, does not know Africa as home. Thus, assimilation is not assimilation to the abducted African, it is simply a way of life.

Alternatively, for whites, taking is a way of life. But taking is not conceptualized as thievery or chicanery, but veiled by entitlement.  Whites who don aesthetics common of Africans, do so to capitalize on the beauty of African people without the systemic encumberance. These actions are immeasurably different and catastrophic to a collective who continues to be exploited.

Accusing a black person of cultural appropriation is a lethal ignorance essential to foment racism in America.  A black president, a few black billionaires, or some black bodies in traditionally white spaces, does not negate the epidemic of global racism. To this many blacks and non-blacks will point to the dictionary and their definition of racism which reads as follows:

  • a belief or doctrine that inherit differences among various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement

  • A policy, system of government, etc based upon fostering such a doctrine, discrimination

  • hatred or intolerance of another race or other races

Racism is not limited to a single belief, policy, or hatred. Yes its bad to call someone a “n*gger,” but racism is the system that created the n*gger. It’s the feeling in the air, the reason whites, hispanics, and nearly every other faction can murder and systemically disenfranchise blacks to no penalty. The same dictionary who defines blackness as a “stain” cannot be trusted in compartmentalizing racism. In order to truly be racist, one must employ other beings as their power, to be a victim of racism, your body is the power one uses to assert their dominance. Furthermore, blacks cannot be cultural appropriators because they are not racists and lack a position of power. In contrast, whites are inherently racists, and thereby predisposed to  cultural appropriation.  Cultural appropriation is facet of racism enabled by a global racial hierarchy.

Although cultural appropriation is a term frequently used throughout the diaspora, those with a distorted perception of racism misconstrue the term as applicable to anyone on western soil. It is these same individuals who label blacks the same as they do their racist oppressors in moments of prejudice. These mishaps are not minute, but monumental in perpetuating the racist supremacy that consumes our past and present.

Whites opting to don a man weave do so as a means of exercising their power. Donning an ethnic hairdo is a means for a white person to season whiteness with an “urban” flavor without relinquishing their white privilege . Whether bearing a receding hair line or one in full effect, a black person remains systemically disenfranchised. Furthermore, any white man who dons a man weave to “change up” and don the hair texture of a black man, is a cultural appropriator. This also goes for white men who don locks, or cornrows.

Cultural appropriation is not about hurt feelings—it is about the sheer insult of waving c3d44f72898896834058f59de912214d--dreadlocks-men-thin-dreadsprivilege in the face of systemic  disenfranchisement. Accusing the black collective, a demographic who has been exploited as appropriators, is not an oversight but yet another example of societal deflection. This deflection functions as an act of racial terrorism, burying the anxieties of racism in a fictive equity that does not exist for blacks anywhere globally.

In closing, while the man weave may appear innocuous or even flattering to some, cultural appropriation isn’t harmless or flattering– it’s assault. Cultural appropriation, employs fashion as weaponry, assaulting black esteem and identity. Fashion, although commonly regarded frivolously,  proves a gateway to racist assertions that intensify black subjugation through an implication that black beauty is only truly beautiful and noteworthy when paired with whites.

To be black is to have textured hair, fuller features, a possibly fuller figure, and deep skin tone. To be black is to also face adversity for these features. Cultural appropriation does not change the appeal of African features, but allows whites another path to beauty, highlighting the ongoing struggle for blacks to have anything, even their own beauty, unsullied by white greed.

 

Amandla the Great: What Amandla Stenberg Teaches us About Loving Blackness

A Pattern of Appropriation

Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg (Rue) made waves this week after confronting Kardashian Klan member Kylie Jenner for her cultural appropriating ways. While Jenner has a history of cultural appropriation, her latest act- donning cornrows in an Instagram picture prompted yet another discussion of cultural appropriation.      amandla-stenberg-hunger-games

kylie-jenner-cornrowsCultural appropriation is of course no stranger to Miss Jenner. In fact, cultural appropriation is no problem for her, as it is the foundation for both her livelihood and relevancy. Jenner’s elder sister Kim Kardashian spiraled into superstardom following a highly publicized sex tape. In said sex tape, Kardashian starred alongside singer Brandy’s younger brother Ray J. A budding singer and actor at the time, Ray J was not afforded the career advancement Kardashian experienced following the release of the tape. Ray J, as a black male, actions attributed to the unwavering stereotype of black men as  hyper sexual and enamored with the creamy flesh of white women. Kardashian on the other hand, would experience the height of fame following the release of this tape. Her shapely derriere, an attribute possessed yet ridiculed on black women for centuries, was deemed attractive once detached from the black female body. kim-kardashian-and-ray-j

So, while I do not anticipate Jenner’s interest is engaging with the morality behind her millions, her initiation to appropriation by sis Kim Kardashian bears an unsettling pattern rightfully confronted by Stenberg.

Confronting the Cash Cropped Cornrows

Prior to confronting Jenner on Instagram, Stenberg uploaded an insightful Youtube video that sought to enlighten viewers on black culture. Entitled “ Don’t Cash Crop on My Corn-rows,” Stenberg, a beautiful and courageous youth of just sixteen, uses her amandla-stenbergcelebrity to foster cultural awareness. Rather than feature a superficial fascination (like clothes, hair or suggestive poses) common in today’ society, Stenberg takes a stand for her culture.

Despite the depth of analysis and explanation offered in the brief yet poignant video, Stenberg received a number of disturbing responses. Perhaps the most disturbing of the comments were accusations that Stenberg herself appropriates white culture with her straightened hair.  amandlagreybraids

Admittedly, I have never seen Stenberg with straightened hair before this video. Her roles in The Hunger Games and as a young Cateleya in Columbiana featured the beauty donning her natural curls. Even in a recent picture alongside actor/musician Jaden Smith, Stenberg wears braids. I bring this up to say, Stenberg dons a series of hairstyles. The ever changing looks of Amanda Stenberg are most likely a reflection of her youthful experimentation- a common practice of teenagers and young adults. Nevertheless, whether Stenberg dons straightened locks sometimes or all the time does not negate the reality that blacks do not appropriate white culture, simply because to do so is impossible.

Appropiation v. Assimilation  

To appropriate is to benefit from white privilege. Thus in order to appropriate one must benefit from systematic racism. Jenner, a white girl, benefits from the disenfranchisement of all those darker than her. Her acquired millions and popularity is gathered at the expense of millions of faceless blacks who can barely eat, yet alone maintain shelter. Thus, her taking from the disenfranchised to obtain likes, attention or money is in itself an act of racism and furthermore appropriation.

Blacks, on the other hand, do not systematically benefit from whites. However, blacks in America are largely consumed by white culture. Thus, from speaking english, wearing mainstream clothing and styles, to the practice of Christianity, blacks are immersed in Western customs and behavior. Straight hair is another aspect of Western culture imposed onto blacks, specifically black women. Collectively, these practices embody the assimilation, not appropriation of blacks.

Assimilation is the overt and covert behavior of an oppressed group performed with the common goal of melding into the dominant culture. Conversely, appropriation is almost always intentional, selfishly implemented to scratch the itch of envy without offering a tinge of appreciation or acknowledgement to the source of which they steal.

Loving Blackness

Stenberg resoundingly ends her video with the query:

“ what if America loved black people as much as it loves black culture?”    amandlatumblr

This query, as intended I’m sure, prompts limitless responses. My response is that America does love black culture. It is the awe of black culture that inspires the endless imitation of it. Whites created the construct of blackness to deflect their own feelings of inferiority. For in this myth of white superiority whites made it so that blacks would look at them in a way that they truly saw themselves. From our culture, to our strength to our insurmountable beauty, blacks are everything whites can never be- which inspires their jilted affection. But in their battle against their own inaquedacy,  whites complicate the ability of blacks to love themselves.

A contemporary example of this lack of love is Andy Cohen’s Bravo. This week, the show fostered a response to Stenberg’s accusations of culture appropriation. Seeking token blacks to validate Cohen’s discussion of race, he invites Orange is the New Black actress, and transgender activist Laverne Cox and former Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley. Their inability to love themselves in an environment that trades culture for coins, causes both Talley and Cox to distance themselves from Amandla’s perspectives. While they may have intended to remain neutral, their passivity and indifference to an attack on black culture  epitomizes the danger in blacks not willing to take a stand against injustice.

An Attack on Black Culture

The consequences of systematic racism vary in form and execution, and cultural appropriation is yet another a non-violent means to attack black culture. As yet another means to devalue blacks, cultural appropriation (not so) subtly states that everything is better when removed from our grasp.

laverneandreleonSo I commend Stenberg for her courage and willingness to combat the attack on black culture. Despite being sixteen, her knowledge and bravery counters the cowardice of Talley and Cox that sadly reflect a large portion of our diaspora.

However, Sternberg too is symbolic. She embodies the small but impactful minority that despite its limit in numbers will make the greater impact. We’ve never had 100% compliance, but we never needed it either.

From Instagram to the Supreme Court- no battle is too big or small.Victory also exists beyond quantitive measurement. Thus, no victory is too big or too small as victory isn’t measured in medal but in impact.

Amandla wins this battle simply because she chose to love herself, and inspires others to do the same. To unconditionally love blackness in a society that seduces us into hating ourselves, is a victory of no comparison.

Cheers to Amandla for embodying not only black beauty but our bravery…