Share Cropping Blackness

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Share Cropping Blackness: White Supremacy and the Hyper-Consumption of Black Popular Culture

by Nyambura Njee

This qualitative study will explore the impact of the way that “Blackness” is constructed and commodified for consumption within a White supremacist culture, and examine the effects of this construct on the Black community. According to Leonard and King (2012), in their book Commodified and Criminalized: New Racism and African Americans in Contemporary Sports, “The process of commodification is not simply about selling an essentialized Black culture, but rather a particular construction of Blackness that has proven beneficial to White[s]” (p. 10). This paper will discuss some of the twenty-first century consequences of this phenomenon. The methodology will be conducted through a literature review and a content analysis of various cultural texts including films, interviews, and art that depict Blackness. Nyambura Njee‘s belief is that the popular consumption of commodified Black images is related to the maintenance of White supremacy, and thus the systemic oppression of Blacks in the United States.

Introduction

New racism, although articulating dominant White narrative and stereotypes, is equally defined by the consumption and celebration of commodified Blackness. – Leonard & King, 2012, p. 8

Color-blind and post-racial rhetoric and ideology underpin the notion that the voracious consumption of Black popular culture is a testament to the acceptance of Black people. This qualitative study will explore the process and the impact of the ways that “Blackness” is constructed and commodified for consumption within a white supremacist culture, and examine the effect of this construct on the Black community. As consumption of Black popular culture remains popular in the United States, Black people lose their lives daily to systematic anti-blackness. These two seemingly unrelated phenomena should be best understood as interconnected facets of contemporary White Supremacy.

Glossary of Key Terms

Agency: An individual or social group’s will to be self-defining and self-determining (Hill-Collins, 1990, p. 298).

Appropriation: the “use of a [historically subordinate] culture’s symbols, [language], artifacts, genres, rituals, technologies” etc., by members of a historically dominant group (Richard, 2006). Combining three interrelated frameworks, I will also define “appropriation” through bell hooks’ notion of “eating the other” (hooks, 1992), Bill Yousman’s concept of “Blackophilia / Blackophobia” (Yousman, 2003), and Watts and Orbe’s conception of “Spectacular consumption” (Watts & Orbe, 2002).

Blackness: the construct of an essentialized Black culture, “or Black cultural identity [that] involves [and relies] on persons and other symbolic and material representations socially and historically constructed as ‘Black’ (e.g. speech and phonetic conventions, folklore, style, fashion, music, use of the body and Black physical form)” (Crocket, 2008).

Black community: “A set of institutions, communication networks, and practices that help African Americans respond to social, economic, and political challenges confronting them. Also known as the Black public sphere or Black civil society” (Hill-Collins, 1990, p. 298).

Blackface/Minstrelsy: “The first appearance in U.S. history of black culture as property was blackface minstrelsy”; “Minstrelsy was an established nineteenth-century theatrical practice, principally of the urban North, in which white men caricatured blacks for sport and profit. It has therefore been summed up by one observer as ‘half a century of inurement to the uses of white supremacy.’ While it organized around the quite explicit ‘borrowing’ of black cultural materials for white dissemination, a borrowing that ultimately depended on the material relations of slavery, the minstrel show obscured these relations by pretending that slavery was amusing, right, and natural” (Lott, 1993, p. 3).

Black Lives Matter: A movement based “on a response to the anti-Black racism that permeates our society and also, unfortunately, our movements. Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression” (Garza, Tometi, & Cullors, n.d.)

Blackophilia: Used to describe the ambivalent interest in Black culture by non-Blacks as a source of both pleasure and anxiety (Yousman, 2003). Characterized by consumption and simultaneous fascination/disgust, attraction/repulsion, hypervisiblity/invisibility of Black pop culture. Equally, Blackophobia will refer to irrational fear, dread, and anxiety toward Blacks (Yousman, 2003).

Colonialism: “A practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. The practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory. The term colonialism is frequently used to describe the settlement of North America, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, and Brazil, places that were controlled by a large population of permanent European residents” (Kohn, 2012, para. 1).

Commodification/Commodity: For the purpose of this study, “commodification” and “commodifying” will refer to the process of turning unconventional entities into a marketable good that can be bought and sold. For example, referring to the commodification of the Black male body in contemporary sports, Leonard et al. (2012) stated that “Black male bodies are increasingly admired and commodified in rap, hip hop and certain sports such as basketball” (p. 8). Thus, a “commodity” will refer to anything that has been transformed into a buyable and sellable good. “In capitalist political economies, land, products, services and ideas are assigned economic value and are bought and sold in market places as commodities” (Hill-Collins, 1990, p. 298).

Cultural imperialism: Used to describe the phenomenon where around the world “the same kind of knowledge, fashion, music and literature, the same kind of metropolitan mass culture is manufactured, bought and sold. Western ideologies, political beliefs, western science, western laws and social institutions, western moral concepts, sexual symbols and ideals of beauty, western working methods and leisure activities, western foods, western pop idols and the western concept of human existence have become objectives, examples and norms everywhere in the world” (Sarmela, 1977, p. 1).

Essentialism: “Belief that individuals or groups have inherent, unchanging characteristics rooted in biology or a self-contained culture that explain their status. When linked to oppressions of race, gender, and sexuality binary thinking constructs ‘essential’
group differences” (Hill-Collins, 1990, p. 299).

Hip Hop culture: “Encompass[es] more than just rap music— hip-hop has created a culture that incorporates ethnicity, art, politics, fashion, technology, and urban life” (Smiley, 2013).

Ideology: “A body of ideas reflecting the interests of a particular social group. Scientific racism and sexism constitute ideologies that support domination. Black nationalism and Feminism constitute ideologies that oppose such domination” (Hill-Collins, 1990, p. 299).

Institutionalized racism: “As a system, racism is an institutional arrangement, maintained by policies, practices and procedures— both formal and informal—in which some persons typically have more or less opportunity than others, and in which such persons receive better or worse treatment than others, because of their respective racial identities. Additionally, institutional racism involves denying persons opportunities, rewards, or various benefits on the basis of race, to which those individuals are
otherwise entitled. In short, racism is a system of inequality, based on race” (Wise, 2014).

Oppression: “An unjust situation where, systematically and over a long period of time, one group denies another group access to the resources of society. Race, gender, class, sexuality, nation, age, and ethnicity constitute major forms of oppression” (Hill-Collins,
1990, p. 299).

Rhetoric of color-blindness: “A view of the world that resists talking of race because to do so is believed to perpetuate racism” (HillCollins, 1990, p. 300). Also, post-racial: the belief that America has moved beyond racial prejudice or discrimination to create a “color-blind” society.

Sharecropping/Peonage: “After the Civil War, former slaves sought jobs, and planters sought laborers. The absence of cash or an independent credit system led to the creation of sharecropping. Sharecropping is a system where the landlord/planter allows a tenant
to use the land in exchange for a share of the crop” (Pollard, 2012, para. 1 & 2). The development of the capitalist state is integrally related to the underdevelopment and oppression of Black America. “Development was…the institutionalization of the hegemony of capitalism as a world system. Underdevelopment was the direct consequence of this process: chattel slavery, sharecropping, peonage, industrial labor at low wages, and cultural chaos” (Marable, 2015, p. xi).

White supremacy: “White supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintain and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege” (Martinez, n.d., p. 1). “Furthermore, ‘White supremacy’ is a much more useful term for understanding the complicity of people of color in upholding and maintaining racial hierarchies that do not involve force (i.e., slavery, apartheid) than the term ‘internalized racism’” (hooks, 2014, p. 113).

White/White People: “WHITE (as in ‘white people’): The term white, referring to people, was created by Virginia slave owners and colonial rulers in the 17th century. It replaced terms like Christian and ‘Englishman’ [sic] to distinguish European colonists from Africans and indigenous peoples. European colonial powers established white as a legal concept after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 during which indentured servants of European and African descent had united against the colonial elite. The legal distinction of white separated the servant class on the basis of skin color and continental origin. The creation of ‘white’ meant giving privileges to some, while denying them to others with the justification of biological and social inferiority”’ (Martinez, n.d.).

White privilege: “Refers to any advantage, opportunity, benefit, head start, or general protection from negative societal mistreatment, which persons deemed white will typically enjoy, but which others will generally not enjoy. These benefits can be material (such as greater opportunity in the labor market, or greater net worth, due to a history in which whites had the ability to accumulate wealth to a greater extent than persons of color), social (such as presumptions of competence, creditworthiness, law-abidingness, intelligence, etc.) or psychological (such as not having to worry about triggering negative
stereotypes, rarely having to feel out of place, not having to worry about racial profiling, etc.)” (Wise, 2014).

White supremacist capitalist patriarchy: Used to describe the interlocking
systems of domination that function simultaneously at all times in our social experience (hooks, 2006).

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