Stop Selling Out Our Blackness
I will be the first person to say that we need money to live in amerikkkan society. Being Black and trying to live ethically and with minimal toxic bullshit in your life is one of the most daunting tasks we have as Black people. We fail the moment we turn on our television or go outside and interact with any popular media. We fail when we interact with whiteness in virtually any way – from the government, your neighborhood, your job, what you eat, and where you shop. For some of us, it starts as soon as we look in the mirror and realize that we will never be this society’s standard of beauty – that we even question it is whiteness in action. And it’s painful to experience. It’s impossible to conform. Navigating it is a necessary evil and sometimes it’s so overwhelming that it seems hopeless.
Lately, I find myself seeking out spaces of Black joy. Areas where I can see varied interests and activities and creations of Black people, interacting with one another and co-existing. It’s not always a smooth ride – we are not a monolith. Yet, we can curate shared spaces that are for us and center ourselves in them. We can create safe spaces where we nurture one another and build collectives that don’t seek to model themselves after exploitative practices. We can acknowledge that we contribute to the bullshit, but it’s unwilling and learn how to stop. It’s constant work, but shit. I’m fucking tired of watching the same shitty ideas, practices, and eventually murders happen to sustain a bullshit system that only benefits a tiny few. I want us to start working towards creating a future that supports and sustains instead of exploiting and oppressing. Can we start working on that?
I spend a lot of time looking at the Black geek/Blerd landscape. I pay attention to what events have developed and how they came to be. I read their messaging and research their leadership. If I can, I attend the events. I talk to other attendees and the event planners. I ask questions and I listen when they talk about them. And I believe them when they tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly.
There’s been a lot of good but too much ugly.
The good is when you go to an event and see the joy Black people find in having a space curated for them. A space that appears to celebrate all their differences. Black geeks and Blerds gaming, cosplaying and, geeking out over 8-bit music together. Spaces where pink, purple, and green hair are not even considered quirky; where they can dance just as off-beat as they want and not feel self-conscious about it. Spaces where we don’t hear ourselves referred to as “Black Wonder Woman” or “Black Deku.” It’s a space where our Blackness isn’t contentious, debatable, or problematic. It’s a safe space. At least, it’s supposed to be.
But it’s not. They rarely are because the mere act of declaring a space “Black” is treated as an act of aggression or something so heinous that it should never be spoken aloud. Despite the fact that Black spaces exist because white people don’t want Black people around, they feel as though they have the right to insert themselves in Black spaces whenever and however they want. We know this. This is how whiteness functions – obnoxious, narcissistic, and faultless in its own eyes. Which is why it’s our responsibility to set boundaries on our spaces. They will kick, and fuss and demand entry. They will call it reverse racism (which isn’t a thing) and they will accuse us of being discriminatory without ever acknowledging that we created these spaces for ourselves because we were barred entry into the “neutral” ones. That whiteness seeks to dominate, oppress, or obliterate Blackness when it cannot be controlled.
And it is about control. It’s about telling us whether we are allowed to have spaces. It’s about us expressing any control over our environment. It’s about us refusing white people anything. It’s about us refusing to cede space.
And when Black people let whiteness into their spaces, not only do they relinquish their narrative to whiteness, but they take a trusted sanctuary and make it into a poisonous pit. Unless you control your space, and at most allow whiteness to be an observer and not a participant, you are surrendering your autonomy and making your space unsafe for your Black audience and Black participants. Now you’re doing the job of white supremacy for them and offering people who trusted you as their fodder.
Congratulations. You’re the betrayer.
I am tired of having this conversation. I’m tired of seeing Black people gain power only to become the newest iteration of the oppressor. I’m tired of seeing this perfected model of exploitation be repeated in small groups, interpersonal relationships, community actions…it doesn’t always happen, but it happens enough. I’ve seen it in Black-centered conventions where the misogynoir plays out in multiple ways, from Black women being the behind the scenes labor for zero recognition to vendor rooms being almost 100% male. Not to mention the art that often overly sexualizes women to the point of dehumanization.
We see it in Black spaces online that allow white people into them. At some point, a white person’s feelings get hurt by Black reality and suddenly the group is at odds about whether we should give a fuck. For the record, we shouldn’t. Fuck their feelings.
We see it when Black-curated content gets sold. When Tea With Queen and J Podcast stated that the Nappily Ever After screenplay was written by a white man, you instantly saw it. He changed the narrative around the protagonist’s hair and many of the interpersonal dynamics of Black people into how he sees Blackness. This move took a Black-centered experience and shit whiteness all over it and while I’m not mad at the author for getting paid, I am mad at what happened after she got paid.
BlerDCon was so worried about scaring off whiteness that they tried to erase Blackness from the word “Blerd” which literally means “Black nerd.” New York Comic-Con’s Black panel was so corporate that they literally made a space to welcome whiteness into the conversation. The Black Geeks at DragonCon decided that interracial laughter at a serious issue would be cathartic and basically ambushed the photo shoot attendees with a BBQ Becky cosplay photobomb that got some traction on the web because Black trauma is funny.
And now we have AfroPunk, a space that was curated for alternative Black people – all the one who don’t fit with respectability politics. The rebels. The goths. The nerds. The pansexuals. The non-gender conforming. The Black people who defied assigned labels and chose their own. The original creators of AfroPunk sold the name and this formerly safe space became unsafe, exploitative and disgusting for the attendees. Photos were used without permission. Artists and creators weren’t paid. Attendees were expelled for being too rebellious for this event that was created as a form of rebellion.
But I’m not supposed to say shit cuz it’s for Black people, some of it actually created by Black people, and I’m hurting all Black people when I criticize this stuff. To be honest, I used to worry about this. I still have reservations because I am fully aware that the white gaze extracts a heavy cost from Black people and that we need to get paid. Well-paid Black people are paid to sing a different song. That’s just the reality of living immersed in white supremacy.
I’m not conflicted anymore. I’m seeing too many Black people who want better, who are trying to learn following these Black folks who are selling their hunger, rage, and pain to the first bidder. I’m seeing Black people using white supremacist tactics to capitalize on Black pain. The shit is unethical and it’s frustrating to watch. People say “be the change you want to see” but we quickly learn that a lot of motherfuckers seriously lack imagination and only repeat the shitty lessons they’re being crushed by. I’m seeing colonialist group-think being manifested over and over and over for the benefit of a certain few.
And then people wonder why shit doesn’t change.
I know that we have grown up in a shitty society, but we need to use our fucking imagination to envision a different future than this dystopian bullshit we keep sloughing off like dead skin cells. We need to take our tiny ass spaces and implement boundaries and standards and rules that protect the most vulnerable among us. We need to use our spaces to make shit better for ourselves and those around us, especially those with less access and less resources available to them. We need to work to create a society that includes and protects all of us instead of this one that exploits, oppresses, and kills the most defenseless.
We need to fucking build a better world ourselves. Cuz people with power are only truly invested in maintaining that power. Michael Jackson sang it best, “All I want to say is that they don’t really care about us.”
They can afford not to care about us, but we can’t. Stop trying to be the Black exception and fucking change the game. Our future depends on it.