“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real” - Jessie Williams
Jesse Williams delivered an awe inspiring speech on Sunday night at this year’s BET Awards. He touched on a variety of issues that plague the Black community from White supremacy to patriarchy, to appropriation. He captured eloquently and passionately how this country has mined both our intellectual and cultural experiences for profit simultaneously failing to protect us. While I deeply appreciated the shout out to Black women, I wanted to praise Jesse for highlighting that Black American culture is indeed a tangible thing.
With the emergence of social media we have seen the Black Lives Matter movement expand globally. Born after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. While BLM is not the only organization bringing awareness to the global phenomenon of anti-Blackness, it is a phrase that has proven to be controversial for many reasons. “Black Lives Matter” became a political statement, the idea of calling oneself Black became political also, but for Black Americans, or traditionally called African Americans, Black is far from political, and it represents a cultural connectedness the descendant of North American African slaves can only experience.
Descendants of chattel slavery in the U.S. are unique because of the sheer brutality and terror that was inflicted on its victims. Black Americans were stripped of all cultural connections to their native lands and given a new religion and customs. Since our forced transport here, we have managed to take virtually nothing and create something new, inventive, and life changing. When we were left with scraps of pork and produce we created Soul Food that is still time honored in our families today. From the coded Negro spirituals that aided our ancestors in sending messages via song, proved to be origins of Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll, R&B, Disco, and Hip Hop.
The breath taking creativity of the Harlem Renaissance gave birth to the beatnik style of the 50s and 60s which later gave way to Hippie culture which is present day hipster culture. Jesse Williams articulated the frustration of serving as the cultural bread and butter in a land that attempts to erase us at every front. The Civil Rights movement set the foundational blueprint for many groups to find their own liberation. Yet we as a people are still being brutalized, victimized, and marginalized every day.
Today, the United States has become a melting pot of cultural identities. The immigration has muddled the fine line between slave descendant and American born Africans. Stating that Black is a strictly political construct erases the numerous scientific, cultural, and economic contributions that Black Americans have made through the decades. African Americans (1st or 2nd generation African immigrants born here in the states) have their individual tribal or national traditions to fall back on, West Indians and Caribbeans have a similarly prideful traditions to illustrate, Black Americans are left with decades of attempts to shame us for being Black.
In 2016 we see the mainstream emergence of nail art, colorful hair, colored contacts, and plastic surgery that grow non-Black women’s lips and butts, long standing identifiers to what we previously called ghetto, is now trendy and fresh.
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment, like oil, black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius, and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.” -Jesse Williams
They told us we were Niggers, then they called us Negroes, to later call us colored, we decided that we were Black. That you could strip us of everything that makes us whole and complete but we will prevail with something of our own creation. Hip Hop is global, it touches every corner of the world and it started right here in the United States among Black Americans trying to articulate the pain of being a creative genius in a country that refuses to recognize your collective greatness unless your skin is devoid of color.
Do not tell us Black is for everybody, when I can see through my family history, and the collective history of our ancestors that Black was all we had. Black was never political, it was proclamation of a people telling the world, you don’t get to tell us who we are, we get to tell you who we became. Thank you Jesse for articulating these thoughts so beautifully. Someone needed to say it.