Consuming Black Culture – Eloisa Kienast

Consuming Black Culture 

After attending the event “The Black Present and Presence” at The University of San Diego my peers and I were enlightened about many important aspects of African American Culture. Specifically about how people that are not African American have been consuming Black Culture. We heard many examples and stories from presenters, Dr. Channon Miller, V. Dozier, and Khalia Li. The event was focused on how people that are not African American, mostly White people, consume Black Culture. There is not any consideration for lending equality or compensation after consuming Black Culture. Dr. Miller brought up examples such as, nameplate necklaces, the dap; which is a form of hand communication developed by African Americans, and the shoes; Air force ones. Each of these are large parts of Black Culture. When these objects are seen on Non-Black people it becomes largely more accepted by the community. V. Dozier brought up how digital spaces allow for Black People to recognize each other. These digital spaces also bring attention to  circumstances when Black women are not getting cited for their work. The narratives and themes brought up during this program “The Black Present and Presence” are significant in understanding African American History because a huge part of African American History is Black Culture. As a White female it is important for me and others that are not African American to learn about Black Culture, what parts of it I can and cannot embrace, and how I lend credit to Black Culture. These narratives and themes also help me learn and shape my actions as an ally.

In the presentation, Dr. Miller elaborated more on how different Black Culture is seen differently on Black women versus White women.  She gave the audience an example of acrylic nails. Nails are specifically something that people can use to express themselves in a visible way, kind of like accessories or clothing. Nails are a big part of Black Culture, and when a Black woman has long nails, society refers to her as “ghetto.” On the contrary, it is seen by society as acceptable for a White woman to have the exact same nails. This is hypocrisy. Black Culture is not regarded nor respected in this example. Non-African Americans seem to miss that appropriating Black Culture has consequences that impacts society and culture as a whole. Stylish trends like wearing long acrylic nails are so often appropriated with no thought to give credit to the culture that brought the fashion forward. 

To quote Rachel Mckenzie from The Daily Trojan and her article “The Afterword: White people take everything from Black Culture but the burden.Mckenzie makes many points about how White people consume Black Culture and how it becomes so normalized that most White people never have to come to terms with the fact that they actively engage in consuming other races’ culture as if it’s there for the taking. “Like systemic racism, appropriation of Black Culture is so ubiquitous and normalized that most white people can actively engage in it and never, not once in the course of their lives, be forced to confront that fact — not that that’s anything new. The infatuation with Black Culture by white people has historical roots; look no further than the whitewashing of the rock ‘n’ roll genre and hip-hop culture, along with other cultural thefts, for evidence. The enduring influence of Black Culture in America as well as white people’s enduring exploitation of it is not a matter of opinion — it is fact.” Mckenzie brings attention to this problem that has been occurring within our society for years and years. Most people that consume Black Culture are not recognizing the damage that is being done when it is appropriated. In V. Dozier’s presentation, she mentions a tweet from her community on Black Twitter that says, “They want our rhythm, but they don’t want our blues.” White people will wear, dress, and listen to all things that are a part of Black Culture, but refuse to acknowledge that the group of people they are taking it from continuously are oppressed by our society.

V. Dozier gave important examples of the appropriation of Black Culture going around in today’s society and the lack of credit given to Black people. She explained during her presentation “Erased in Digital Spaces” that there are online communities for Black people and Black women to come together. She brought up how on Twitter there are spaces such as “Black Twitter” where Black women specifically can have a safe space to talk about certain things going on in the world. Black women are writing in affirmation because of the vulnerable positions that they are put in. There was one instance in particular where a Black female author, Tera Hunter was not cited for her work. Someone plagiarized her work without giving her credit. Thankfully, it was brought to Hunter’s attention. Dozier mentions that digital spaces give power for people to control the narrative in real time. This is important because without the conversations occurring on the digital platform people would not be able to connect and shine the light of awareness on what is happening. Hashtags are a helpful tool, brought to use on Black twitter to help spread awareness. For example, the hashtag #Citeblackwoman amplifies the voices of Black women and the importance of giving credit where credit is due. People can use this hashtag to call out people who do not cite black women in their work. 

Another example of how Black Twitter formed and rose up was in response to white author Jennifer Buck, who wrote a book titled “Bad and Boujee.” A book that was published about Black women’s lives. Buck specifically wrote about being a ‘trap queen’ and life in the ghetto. Even more misleading, the cover of the book shows a picture of a Black woman, so naturally one would think that this book was written by a Black woman. Buck seemed to think she herself was a part of the Black community. As V. Dozier puts it, Buck thinks she “could go to the BBQ” all simply because she taught a Hip Hop dance class in the past. In no way does this action qualify Buck to write a whole entire book about life as a Black woman. It is important for people that are not Black to understand where they stand when talking about Black people’s lives and experiences especially because White people will never understand what institutional racism feels like for those who’ve lived through consistent oppression and racial aggression. Buck also never cited the specific Black women who coined the term, “Trap Feminism” in her description of the concept. Respectfully, if one is going to write a whole book about being a Black woman, one might think to quote Black women and aid in giving dignity and power to the voice of an entire group of people instead of capitalizing on it. A conversation about Buck’s appropriation of Black feminist culture happened on social media, in the digital space via Instagram and Twitter which showed many how Buck failed Black women. V. Dozier shared that she believes that the entire publishing committee on this book also failed Black Women, and I have to agree. However, the book was soon canceled by publishers; it still was published in the first place when it never should have gone to first edition print. Without Black Twitter bringing this to social media many people would have never heard of how this occurred. 

Hip Hop and Rap are one of the most profound developments by young African Americans during the mid 1970’s in New York City. Rap music became very popular among Black communities. It was a way for young people to express and to deal with the violence and poverty of their neighborhoods. “Rap music allowed for the expression and release of frustrations, and as an industry, it also functioned as an avenue to escape the poverty that produced it.” (White, Martin, Bay pg. 988) As rap music became more popular among mainstream entertainment, there were people that did not understand what rap music and hip hop meant to this generation of people. “But as hip-hop moved into the mainstream, it became, in the minds of older Black and White Americans, a symbol of everything that was wrong with the underclass, and that thinking had a negative effect on all of Black America.” (White, Martin, Bay pg. 988) Rap music was not for these groups of people that had a negative connotation. It was there to help African American Youth connect to their culture and to develop positive identities. When a Non-Black person is listening to a rap song, there are certain things that are important to keep in mind. For example, never saying/speaking the N-word and importantly, to take into consideration that these songs and their lyrics are a way of coping with the racism that this population has endured for generations. 

The Black Present and Presence event opened my mind to how rooted Black Culture is in our society. It’s in jewelry, accessories, clothing, music, shoes and much more. It saddens me that people have been consuming it without the thought to lend any credit. After learning more about this topic, I see new ways I can lean in as an ally; I can spread the word to other people in my life. I believe that every person that is not African American can take a step back and look at how they have consumed Black Culture. It is an important opportunity for society as a whole to make sure people know how to respectfully interact with one’s consumption of Black Culture and in V. Dozier’s presentation she shed light on rules for people that are curious and want to learn more about Niche communities. Such as, if people want to observe, do not engage without invitation. People in these niche communities are not a part of it for anyone else. No one is obligated to explain things that you don’t know or understand. If there is anything someone wants to know, Google is free. Independently researching areas of interest related to Black culture, instead of asking someone questions is far more respectful. Instead of placing unfair assumptions that it’s a person of color’s role to educate. As time progresses, it’s my personal hope that all people will grow in awareness and take into mind how appropriating Black Culture can be damaging to Black Culture and therefore all society. I hope that as awareness grows we can together progress toward authentic equality, cultural sensitivity in a respectful, just, and diverse society. 

 

Works Cited

Mckenzie, Rachel. “The Afterword: White People Take Everything from Black Culture but the Burden.” Daily Trojan, 10 June 2020,

https://dailytrojan.com/2020/06/09/the-afterword-white-people-take-everything-from-black-ulture-but-the-burden/.

White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021. 

 

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