The title of the Black History Month program that I attended was “The Black Present and Presence” hosted by Dr. Channon Miller through the University of San Diego. This event featured two panelists Khalia Ii, A Ph.D. Candidate and Program Supervisor for SOLES and Student Affairs who presented Done and Undone, a Black Woman’s Hair Journey. The second panelist was V. Dozier, an Assistant Professor of the Copley Library whose presentation was titled Creating Community in Digital Spaces. This presentation highlights black women’s cultural (In)Visibility within America by bringing together these panelists to explore the present and presence of blackness in day to day lives. This ultimately facilitates a greater understanding of blackness in the US and lends to our understanding of how it is marginalized and erased by society. This presentation revolved around the core narratives and elements of black culture, black achievements, and black traditions and how it is common within the US Society to commodify the eating and consuming ‘The Other’. It talks about how the “unconscious fantasies and longings about contact with the other… is embedded in the secret not so secret deep structure of white supremacy” (Miller). This lends into an understanding of the second core narratives of this presentation which is how this fascination with “the other” oftentimes does not come with justice or equality as many would believe and instead is cultural appropriation that negatively impacts the black communities while lifting up the white counterparts in society. Yet throughout this presentation there was another core narrative about the importance of creating communities, especially in digital spaces as these communities can enable the oppressed to hold people accountable for their actions and fight against the wrongs that have and are being committed towards them. From this presentation I realized that the narratives and themes of this program are important because they provide an understanding of, as well as highlight the importance and prevalence of many different aspects of black culture past and present within American society and how these aspects of black culture are able to create wonderful communities and contributions to society. to which. Together these communities are able to challenge, resist, and deconstruct the racist and prejudiced views that are embedded in our society such as mass media’s cultural appropriation of minorities, the sidelining of black scholarship, and the idea that the white male is the central archetype of society.
In opening this presentation Dr. Miller highlighted some of the many contributions of black culture to our society in which an acknowledgement of the roots of these practices might not come from. One of the first contributions that was discussed was the dap up or handshake, a practice that originated out of black communities and has become a standard way of greeting people in American and international societies. This handshake was a way to close the physical gap between people in the black community and was an extension and articulation of black power. In learning about the roots of the handshake I was provided with a greater understanding and appreciation of the handshake and black culture which is important in breaking down the boundaries between the communities within the us. This reminded me of the documentary shown in class in which they discussed the rise of hip hop and how it was a way for blacks “to express their rage and hopes about what was going on around them” and how different artists such as “Chuck D had grown up with the black power movement [and now] with his group public enemy he received the message of group resistance in the language of a new generation” (Gates). These are some prominent examples of important elements of black culture that have integrated and caused a lasting impact on the larger society. However the “Consumption of black culture and practices does not necessarily mean seeing black people as human, or seeing black people as active members or contributors to our society or to our culture and doesn’t necessarily lead to black equality” (Miller). This consumption of ‘the other’ does not come with compensation for black people’s contributions. Far too often black people are marginalized for these practices and then, once it shows up on bodies or utilized by white people, that is when the cultural practice becomes elevated. Blacks “are seen as characters who can be reproduced and repackaged with the stamp of whiteness that makes our lifestyles acceptable” (White). This speaks again to the inherent and subtle racism built within our society in the sense that for something to get elevated and normalized white people have to adopt it. This discrimination occurs on an individual and community level as well as being driven by corporations and mainstream culture. A perfect example of this highlighted by Dr. Miller is black woman’s choice of nails. Historically black women have worn long acrylic nails as a style and beauty choice and a prominent example was the Olympian runner Florence Griffith during the eighties. However in choosing this style she was ridiculed because the nails were seen to be too ‘ghetto’ or not what a prominent figure should wear. Yet when Kyle Jenner, a white celebrity from current day, decides to take this appearance choice from black culture she is celebrated and praised for having a bold and unique style. While these two people lived in different times and there are different societal views regarding long nails the prejudice is still there. When white people decide to adopt black people’s culture, society accepts this cultural element and praises it, when that same element was a matter of ridicule for the black culture. Through all of these examples in the presentation Dr. Miller demonstrated some of the really important and unique aspects of black culture and how they have been adopted by the larger society, often without the proper recognition that they deserve.
These sentiments and themes were further articulated in Kallia Ii’s presentation Done and Undone, in which she talked about her personal hair journey. She opens up about how natural black hair is often seen, even in the black communities, as being nappy and difficult to work with This comes from a white centric view because “For black women in particular however we look, we are not going to look like we’re white, which is always going to be what the ideal is in pop culture, the media, political debates and political conversations and everywhere you turn the ideal is based on something that we do not look like” (Elle). As she grew up she discussed how she did not have the desire to wear her natural hair, to have her natural curls, the ‘medusa, that her mom called it, and this was because she felt that the style of her hair was not accepted by the wider society. Through school and even beginning her professional life she had the belief that her natural hair would cause harm, that it “would impact her lived experience” so instead, she decided to get things done to her hair (Miller). This story that she detailed is very similar to those discussed in the documentary Braided. They mention about how for the black society “Getting our hair done is a celebration of who we are and a part of our identity outside of what you actually look like when you leave this lot” and how “Black woman in America have been braiding their hair since there have been black women in America” (Elle). Yet braids became important in society once made popular in the white media when Bo Derek in 1979 brought it into the mainstream by wearing it in the movie 10. Then fashion magazines and hair salons and the wide stream culture accepted it, and the white women who used this style were “heralded as trendsetters” (Braided). Bo Derik was not trying to do cultural appropriation or anything nefarious however how society consumes culture, and the widespread racist undertones that persist only made braids acceptable, beautiful, or something that could be done once a white woman pioneered it. A similar situation is occurring once again, famous white individuals are adopting braided hair styles and giving them names. “It’s the audacity to confidently name something that you did not create that has existed for years. That’s something that’s problematic…. Correct it, say something like you know what we didn’t come up with that, but it’s cool like we like it. But this is not ours” (Elle).
So what can be done, how can this problem be addressed when it is so wide spread, so far reaching. The answer, community. This was the presentation by V. Dozier detailed; creating communities in digital spaces, and how these communities can aid the uplifting of blacks. Dozier’s presentation detailed two main things, first how blacks have been erased and marginalized from online communities. The second was how blacks and black women can create and build online communities to garner grassroots support and facilitate awareness that further the black causes as well as share and uplift many different aspects of themselves and their culture. She discussed how in mainstream society in the US the central archetype is a white man. As seen in this photo everyone else included in it has some sort of qualifier to be included in the photo, a beard, glasses, is black. This idea in American Society is then reflected in digital spaces as well. For example on Twitter there are different communities that have been created and given names such as Black Twitter, or Librarian Twitter. Inherently and subconsciously we know that in these spaces the white man is the default, because every other group has a label on it signifying it as something else. However because these digital spaces have a different qualifier they then enable people to be able to create a community. Within these spaces, these communities that have been created online, people are able to find groups of similar mindsets to then work together and unify in ways unseen in physical spaces. “Social Media gives black women a platform to amplify their voices in ways that are previously unseen” (Miller). A perfect example regarding the core narratives of the presentation and the repression of black scholarship and cultural appropriation is from the book Bad and Bougie by Jennifer Buck, a privileged white woman. In writing this book Buck erased the scholarship of the black community by building on ideas coined by other black feminist and had “the audacity” to not reference the works of the black women who coined the terms and ideas. Further Buck was the recipient of a research grant to write that book when in reality it should have been a black woman writing it. Here is the important part, Black Twitter amplified the knowledge of this wrong, and provided an amazing way to enable the black community to rally and speak up. It worked, and “was announced by the books publisher that the book was going to be pulled and they issued an apology” (Miller). From these communities black people are able to have the power to voice their concerns over wrongdoings that have and are being done while also providing knowledge and understanding of their communities and the wonderful things going on in their cultures.
Throughout this presentation these presenters were able to provide a variety of different ideas regarding the condition of black people and black culture both past and present. I was able to walk away from this discussion with a greater understanding of the different cultures and communities that black people exist within and are creating while learning about a variety of different cultural aspects that I had not previously known. Through this I am able to enter into the world a more informed individual with a greater awareness of the racist elements within our society such as mass media’s cultural appropriation of minorities, the sidelining of black scholarship, and the idea that the white male is the central archetype of society. Yet the most pertinent part of this presentation was being educated on how because of social media and communities existing within the digital structure there is a greater ability to bring to light the wrongdoings that have existed in society as well as giving a stronger voice to the fight back.
Elle, director. Braided: An American Hair Story. 2017.
Gates, Henry L, and Donald Yacovone. The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. 2013. Internet resource.
Miller, Channon, Dozier, V, and Ii, Kalia. “The Black Present and Presence Series.” University of San Diego 21 Mar. 2022.
White, Brooklyn. “Our Nails will Shine Forever.” Bitch Media, 7 July, 2017.