If you look at any of the most popular Nigerian hip hop music videos of the past two years, you’ll notice the curious similarity to American Black culture. Except for one thing.
The culture that is commodified and exported as “Black Culture” from the United States is actually not.
Instead, what we see as Black culture is a performance of something abstract and far removed from the reality of American Black stories. This is not new. In fact it’s a natural evolution of blackface and minstrelsy in the United States. What is represented to the rest of the world is a mockery of the American Black struggle. And, as such, all Black people everywhere must negotiate around that crude stereotype of Blackness, consciously or unconsciously.
What’s curious about this performed Blackness is the performer. Who performs this modern blackface? Well, Korean, South Asian and Mexican boys in SoCal. The Nigerian hip hop scene. And, yes, Black folk, too.
Hold up. Black people perform Blackness?
Yes. Remember, it’s exported Blackness. Whatever comes to your mind whenever you see the term “Black person” or read the names “Niceysha Johnson” and “Tyrone Brown.” That’s how subtle this mimicry is. It’s got the originators of cool adjusting their entire demeanor to become this product.
I mean, Black people and others at the margins make things look good. You ever see a Black man walk? He’s had swagger since the earth began! You ever hear a Black woman laugh? Nations were created from her altos and tenors.
Exported Blackness is rude, arrogant, saggy pants, weavy-haired women. It was ‘gangsta’ then it was ‘bling’ now it’s ‘swag’ if you’re keeping up. And along the way Blacks were complicit. There’s no letting anyone off the hook here. We are the best preservers of a stereotype that consistently robs us of our deep histories. So, not only does this packaged and commodified Blackness misrepresent American Blacks to the rest of the world, it also misrepresents American Blackness to American Blacks.
As my sisterbear @Mdotwrites would say, “It’s bugged.”
When I realized that American Blackness was a misrepresented phenomenon, I was free to shake off the pressure to act and talk a certain way. I was free to “sound white” (because whiteness is a performance, too) and I also freed myself of the task of trying to catch up on an entire canon of Blackness I missed out on as a daughter of immigrants.
And I began to see the way Blackness was performed not only by Black Americans, but by others at the margins. The Vietnamese boys who called each other niggers in San Jose. The Korean and Mexican boys who would never kick it in the Black LA hoods of the late 1990s but would use Black slang to communicate amongst themselves. The Nigerian hip hop videos of the past few years. Nicki Minaj’s barbies. Tyler Perry’s Madea. Performance. Straight up.
We know there’s no black owned media that can vouch for our myriad voices. And since we don’t own or control any distribution channels, we have no say over what stories are told in film, in music, in the news, in the courts… anywhere. If you scroll through the shows featured on Hulu‘s front page on any given day, you’ll notice the disturbing lack of Brown faces and the overwhelming whiteness of 21st century mainstream culture.
It becomes clear that Chimamanda Adichie’s danger of a single story was also relevant to the American Black experience. This American Blackness, as exported to the entire world, is nowhere near the nuanced Blackness of our everyday lives.
What, then, can we do to transform this? Stay tuned for The Case for Multiple Narratives Part 2!
In the meantime, do you have examples of Blackness performed? How do you perform it yourself? Am I wrong; is there a major Black-owned media outlet in the United States?