I had the pleasure of attending the “The Black Present and Presence” event, led by speakers Professor Channon Miller, V. Dozier, and Dr. Khalia Li. They discussed the lack of recognition for black women and the cultural appropriation of African American culture.The issues stem from the ignorance and entitlement of white people who believe they have a right to use black culture without acknowledging its root source-African, Americans.Black Presence has influenced and infused a large part of fashion, such as sneaker culture and sports.This blog will discuss how African American women are exploited within our society, though this exploitation has become more covert in recent times in comparison to the past. It will also explore the development and transition of the black community over time and how it serves to protect the African American woman.
Prof. Miller discusses the exploitation of black women, a reoccurring theme within American society. African Americans faced much scrutiny under the public eye, “like Olympian runner Florence Griffith Joiner who was often ridiculed throughout the 80s and 90s for wearing her nails as an athlete”. However, as the wearing of nails shifted from a distinctly black feature to that of a mainstream practice; used by white people, it suddenly became acceptable. Kylie Jenner adopted it, and as a result, she was “praised and credited for the way she wears her nails,” stated Professor Miller. She was given credit as the pioneer of a style utilized by black women for years prior, as though the separation of the class from black culture makes it visually acceptable and removes the layer of racial bias, which makes it ‘ghetto.’
Dozier brings up this phrase “They want our rhythm, but they don’t want our blues.” White people are always quick to indulge in African American culture, which they didn’t deem worth fighting for, akin to bandwagon fans. They are only there to reap the fruits of black labor, as they have been continuously doing from the enslavement and abduction of our people from our motherland, Africa, in the early 1500s.
However, as I stated earlier, the exploitation is done more covertly now. An example of this in recent times is hip-hop. The rise of hip-hop was phenomenal and took the world by storm; it was initially “a socio-cultural movement that sprung up in New York City, specifically in Bronx and Harlem, by and among young African Americans. Cultural anthropologist R.H. Codrington traces hip-hop back to three antecedents: the West African griot tradition of wandering storytellers, the black church with its ‘call and response style of music” akin to the “Black arts movement.” However, what was once a means of empowering black people, has been commoditized by white corporations who own the majority of record labels. Black culture has influenced and translated into the world and society immensely.
The white male is a default. This concept struck me personally as a black man carrying that quantifier.I cannot refer to myself as a man as I am black; being black in America impacts my livelihood and how I must present myself. However, a white male is simply the standard; they don’t have a quantifier, as they don’t have any socio-economic restrictions. They do not face discrimination, they are the target audience, and every policy is passed with their well-being as the top priority.
Dozier illustrated her google search findings, in which it was seen that all scholarly papers with the term white man in the heading were papers comparing other races and gender to that of the white man. In American society, the white man is “normal’; the expected result insinuates that to be non-white is to be abnormal. This concept hurts the non—whites, especially African Americans, who demonstrate the most distinct features from white of any race. Dr. Khalia discussed her childhood. For instance, hair struggles surrounded by white girls made her feel insecure as she felt her hair was “nappy” as it was not straight and wavy like white hair.
Dozier highlights the importance of community and high levels of unity and positive affirmation within the African American society. This emphasis on support within the community of black women reflects this notion of uplift, which was on the rise during the antebellum era of 1843. African American women like Sarah Mapps Douglas, who founded a high school for girls, used her education to teach those within her community. Douglas and her peers promoted uplift activities such as “using women’s role as guardian of the family, home, and culture more broadly” towards “social reform” with the “particular aim of improving black communities and elevating the status of blacks.”
The community had grown from the past when black power had just emerged. In chapter 17 of Freedom of my Mind, the black community aims to “disseminate new ideas about blacks being a proud people, a nation within a nation that needed to exercise more control over its economic well-being and be more militant in the exercise of political power.” This is still the goal of the present community.
However, our community’s voice is now much more potent. Technology has allowed for a digital community to traverse physical boundaries to be formed. This provides support to African American women specifically who lack support within America, as their individuality and cultural identity have been repressed and scorned from the tender ages in school to the workplace. It is situations like this in which we see the effects of unity among African American women forcing legislative changes, such as the passing of the C.R.O.W.N. act, which “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, “makes it illegal to discriminate against a person based on their hair.”
The emergence of black Twitter was a community where African Americans joined and united their voices. Black Twitter is black power; it is a strong community surpassing the organizations formed in the past, such as the Black Panthers, in terms of effectiveness. Dozier depicts the event in which a white theologian, Jennifer Buck, wrote a book titled” Bad and Boujee,” with the image of an African American woman with an Afro as the front cover. Jennifer Buck believed there was nothing wrong with her writing a book about ‘Trap feminist theology’ as a white woman to profit from black culture.
Moreover, the cover causes the illusion that an African American woman was the author. In response to Buck’s book, black Twitter investigated the book and discovered within the first chapter Buck’s words on why she has the right to write a book on black culture. She claims that she is a feminist and thus entitled to discuss feminism. She quotes Audrey Lord, “I am not free, while any woman is unfree even what her shackles are very different from my own,” then states that she had a job “as a hip hop dance teacher in my teens.” Buck believes that her love for hip-hop gives her insight into black culture and an “invitation to the black B.B.Q.” Black twitters African American theologians were incensed, one of which coined the term ‘trap-feminism,’ which she utilized in her book. Beck states, “I included you in a footnote. When my research team pointed out your work to me”.
She demonstrated the exploitation of African Americans, attempted to monetize our culture, and failed to cite the Black women whose research formed the foundation of her book.The power of Black Twitter reared its head as the book was eventually withdrawn from circulation, and an apology was issued, stating that they had failed black women as it went through multiple hands.The concept of African American voices being strong enough to punish affronts to their culture in modern times shows the empowerment of Blacks over time.
Professor Miller, Dozier, and Dr. Khalia demonstrated how people intrude into the Black cultural space while not “invited to the barbeque.” Like caricatures that Jim Jones acted out, African Americans are seen as a character that can be mimicked and a source of entertainment! To the extent that a term called ‘black fishing’ came into existence! Non-blacks pretend to be black to increase their appeal and popularity(a reverse form of “passing”). The article states, “these women have the luxury of selecting which aspects they want to emulate without fully dealing with the consequences of Blackness. . . With extensive lip fillers, dark tans, and attempts to manipulate their hair texture, white women wear Black women’s features like a costume”.I found this quite ironic as Black culture was viewed as barbaric just a few decades ago! A multi-talented artist like Michael Jackson resorted to attaining the recognition he deserved due to his skin condition and the bleaching of his skin which made him appear ‘white.’
White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021.
Cherid, M. I. (2021). “Ain’t got enough money to pay me respect”: Blackfishing, cultural appropriation, and the commodification of blackness. Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, 21(5), 359–364. https://doi.org/10.1177/15327086211029357
postscriptpublication, A. (2019, January 8). Going black: The commodification of hip-hop culture. P O S T S C R I P T. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://postscriptpublication.wordpress.com/2018/12/03/going-black/