This is part of that (1)ne Drop photo documentary (the video about it is on my blog). Definitely one of the most powerful images in the group. (And this is obvious evidence of why I was so intrigued…)
This is a quote from the girl in the picture that they share on the website:
“A lot of people just look and see skin color. I’ve actually had people ask me was I Black or was I White first. A White gentleman came up to me and said ‘I thought you might be White, but then I saw your lips.’ One girl said to me ‘I’ve been wanting to ask you this question, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking you because I thought that you might be offended, but are you Black or are you White?’ And I was just like, ‘Well, I’m always Black.’ When we were done with the meat of the conversation, she laughed and said something about my hair and my butt gave it away. People definitely let you know that they view being Black as being very literal – the amount of pigment you have. ‘Your skin is White, therefore you’re White. Or are you?’
I’m only sharing these things not only because I’m interested in them, but because I feel they are things people should know about. It was only in 2000 that people of mixed ancestry were allowed to classify themselves as more than one race on the U.S. census. And when you think about it, the end of black discrimination in America really wasn’t that long ago.
I’m writing an exhibition review paper on this project, and I really found it fascinating…I’ve mentioned it on this blog before; it’s a project by a visiting Africana studies professor at my school, Yaba Blay. They don’t need funding anymore, though.
If I can manage to get the file off my phone I’ll post the recording of her lecture on it soon enough. I remember laughing so much, because she mentioned the #TeamLightSkin and #TeamDarkSkin nonsense on Twitter, and I was like, ohhh my goodnessss, lol, this woman gets it. She’s really cool. I’m so sad I can’t get to be in her class because she’s leaving next year.
Last week I wrote about how the Recording Industry has systematically targeted Black communities as a way of testing talent designed for marketing to a broader demographic. In a nutshell, they promote artists who can develop “street cred” in the Black community but will be acceptable to White people. This doesn’t come from an understanding of a globalizing society where the classic walls of race, ethnicity etc that have historically divided us are finally crumbling in the face of transcendent, uplifting artistry. Rather, it plays upon an understanding that you can reduce your risk of investing in new talent if you focus on what’s easy to sell (ie. sex & violence), and tough-looking Black dudes from the “hood” are impressive to rebellious suburban teens.
Thus Hip Hop has been transformed from the voice of urban youth rebelling against a system that didn’t provide them the opportunity to learn to play instruments, much less respect their humanity and artistry - to a caricature of what White suburban kids think hardcore Ghetto youth must be like.
Sounds like a domestic problem, but it’s not. It goes way further than the borders of the United States and the implications are far more insidious than some suburban kids patterning their rebellion on the actions of some fake gangstas.
A few years ago I was on a trip home to Ghana & had an experience that put a lot of this in a new perspective for me. I was walking along when a young bruh approached me & apparently prompted by my manner of speech or maybe the way I was dressed, rolls up and says “wassup my nigga” in a full Accra accent. I was stunned. That isn’t a word used in my home culture, and I couldn’t remember ever having heard it there before. In that moment it ight as well have started snowing in our equatorial hometown, it was that out-of-sorts.
Why would a young Ghanaian kid in Accra, address me using an American racial epithet? Maybe for the same reason why other dudes were walking around town wearing baggy jeans, timberlands & Triple Phat Geese, in the 90 degree heat. The cultural influence of Hip Hop has been pervasive worldwide. And for good reason - it’s a music that lends itself to people literally “making it their own.”
But what happens when the template for “what’s cool,” “what’s authentic” and ultimately “what’s ‘Black’” is based on a stereotype manufactured for sale by a company looking to make a buck off the Black community? It sounds sinister, even hyperbolic, but the implications are real & they are serious. For years I’d travel around the world & the dominant image I’d see of young Black men would be of Gangsters & thugs. And so for young Black men, growing up in such a world the archetype of “authenticity” has actually been a stereotype marketed by industry executives who most likely, don’t live anywhere near the “hood.”
Sometimes keepin’ it real goes wrong on a global scale. But the real gangstas aren’t necessarily the ones you hear in rap songs. If you want to hear artists promoting something more than guns & girls, perhaps it’s time to take the beef out of the streets and into the board rooms…