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March 2013

White Responses To Black Creativity

Whites who assume that everything is about or revolves around them and if not, should be approved by them or doesn’t matter as much are engaging White supremacist thinking. The sheer act of endless White consumption (and appropriation) of Black art does not mean that said artists created with White consumption in mind. At all. (Conversely, some Black artists create with the presumption of “universal” consumption. Others create specifically for White consumption, assuming that said consumption reveals the “quality” of their art, and such an assumption is the manifestation of internalized racism.)

I know that Whites who appropriate don’t care—entitlement and arrogance are a part of the cycle of cultural appropriation. For Whites who solely consume, many still seem confused about the fact that Whites may not truly be a Black artist’s intended audience…at all. Thus, before becoming obsessed with or offended by said art, Whites should examine whether or not they actually understand said art, and not solely through the White gaze shaped by White supremacy. Are they endlessly consuming Black art on some sort of perverted binge without any actual knowledge of (beyond stereotypes, which are NOT knowledge) or connection to Black people? That art, whether visual, auditory, performance or literary may actually be a love letter to, reflection of, or story about the same Black culture (i.e. the American South, the American North, Caribbean, Brazil, Cuba—all have specific aesthetics and cultural facets) that the artist originates from themselves. The reason why many Whites automatically feign comprehension and if not, retreat to disdain is because of White privilege; it’s a challenge for them to accept that solely being White confers no actual special skills or talent in cultural comprehension; consumption, appropriation or destruction actually require much less work than creation. This challenge exists since they’ve clearly received the opposite message in a White supremacist society.

Many Whites read books or listen to songs by Black artists solely to look for key words or language styles that they dislike (and deem usage of them to be conferral of Black inferiority) because of the context in which they use (or don’t use) the words, ignoring the cultural contexts particular to that Black artist’s life (by region, or nationality etc.) which could differ from theirs. Art has to be viewed as whole works with multiple layers, not as bits of layers floating randomly through space without context or meaning and if so, only ones ascribed by Whites.

Black creativity, especially when it’s not solely about reaffirming the status quo or not solely about White consumption is usually approached by Whites with fetish-like consumption or antagonism. Many Black people know how fetish-like obsession of Black creativity by Whites can be just as annoying and polarizing as thoughtless, anti-critical thinking, White supremacy-reaffirming negative approaches to Black creativity.

Reclamation of words (i.e. nigga) even if the validity of the reclamation process itself is problematic, poses a direct threat to White control. Notice the overwhelming outrage many Whites feel about being told not to say nigga? How dare any Black people suggest something Whites should not do, in a White supremacist society? This is the origin of the outrage. Notice how antagonistic Whites can be about us code-switching in corporate workplaces, actually articulating the nuances of African American Vernacular English, as language, not as the slang of the “inferior” that they want it to be. Notice the consistently virulent outrage towards and destruction of Black Studies programs, despite the notion that if all Humanities programs are "useless", why do Jewish Studies, American Studies and even Women Studies face fewer attacks than Black Studies? Ah, because the former still presumes White control and Whites as the center of study. White responses to Black creativity rarely step outside of the need to disdain if the ability to dominate, let alone interfere is not possible.

Much of Black creativity is born in genuine love but also born in response to racism and White supremacy. Whites who view Black creativity as a threat to Whiteness never seem to be clued into the fact that this creativity which supposedly antagonizes them is born in response to them being antagonistic, oppressive, exclusionary and White supremacist in the first place.

Because we live in a White supremacist society, Blacks are usually significantly more educated on White artists (than Whites are on Black artists) because they aren’t ever even considered “White” (one of the subversive ploys of White supremacy is to present Whiteness as raceless and “universal”) and are considered people that “everyone” should know.

How many Whites and Blacks know Emily Dickinson not Phillis Wheatley? William Faulker not Toni Morrison? Ernest Hemmingway not Richard Wright? Gloria Steinem not Alice Walker? Tennessee Williams not Lorraine Hansberry? Eric Clapton not Howlin’ Wolf? Elvis not Muddy Waters and Little Walter?  How many think Adele and Amy Winehouse are amazing yet have no time for Jill Scott or Janelle Monáe? (I could go on like this for hours…) How many are going to focus on this one paragraph trying to rationalize why the Whites mentioned matter more or are “better” and miss the point of this essay?

It seems that some Whites will remain in a perpetual state of obsession, confusion or disdain where Black creativity is concerned. This doesn’t mean that no White person can ever understand Black artists, Black art and Black processes of creativity. It does mean that rejection of White supremacist thinking, some actual introspection and also some cultural immersion (without obsession, fetishistic actions or implications of dominance) are needed for them to do so. It also means acceptance of the fact that some art simply was never intended for them. They exist as acts of resistance to White supremacy. Their quality doesn’t need White approval or consumption for them to be relevant or good.

Related Post: White Responses To Black Literature

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