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The “Black” Pass


justin-timberlake-cornrows

(Before I start, I feel it only right to say that JT isn’t what prompted me to write this post, he just happened to exemplify the point of it with an ill timed tweet last night. So, it’s only right he fall on the sword.)

History repeats itself and that’s just how it goes. In the same way that rappers often mimic each other’s flows. The same thing that Elvis did to rock n roll, Justin Timberlake,Eminem and Macklemore (to contemporary urban music). While myopic rappers squabble over who will wear the crown, they fail to realize white artists have snatched the sound….I’m just playing, but all good jokes contain truth….word to Jermaine Cole, who uttered these prophetic words on Firing Squad.

From Jack Daniels, to Colonel Sanders, to the artists named above, there has long been a tradition of black people sharing our culture with white people and getting little to nothing in return for it. Nearly every popular trend in the last 30 years and almost every form of music in this country today, were derived from black culture. Everything black people do in this country is emulated, from hairstyles, to slang, to hashtags on twitter. We are, and have been for a long time, the trend setters and taste makers for pop culture. So, why is it that we see so little benefit from it?  Because we let white people in with no questions asked.

Just look at what Miley Cyrus did with twerking, or what white people did to the harlem shake, or what the Kardashians did to cornrows, big lips and big butts. These are things that have been around for decades but caught fire when we let a white face “unveil” it to a larger white audience. Yes, I know, it’s “dope” to see white people embracing our culture (meh), but it’s sad when they make money off of it and do nothing to give back to that same culture.

So, how does JT play into this? Well, last night (06/26/16) Jesse Williams accepted the humanitarian award at the BET awards. His acceptance speech was both powerful and scathingly true, taking both white america and black entertainers to task. I’ll spare you the details, as I have neither the skill nor the space to accurately convey his words, and only part of it has to do with the content of this post (but do yourself a favor and go watch it). The part of the speech that stuck out to me, was Jesse stating “whiteness uses and abuses us…gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.”

JT, who was “inspired” by the speech, quickly made a huge misstep by replying to a tweet claiming he “appropriated” black music with “we are one race.” So, basically, Jesse said “black lives matter” and JT replied “all lives matter.” Now, I am a fan of JT, but he showed exactly why giving every artist that embraces our culture a black pass, is problematic. JT, who regularly collaborates with black artists, producers and has cited MANY great black artists as his influences, is not now, nor will he ever, be black.

For all of the times he has made money from black culture, I have never once seen or heard him speak out against the issues that the people who founded this culture face each day. JT remains silent on black issues because he knows that speaking out would alienate his white audience and limit his opportunity to make money on that side of the fence. Last night, was an example of JT trying to play both sides by hailing Williams’ speech about black empowerment while, at the same time, shouting that “we are all one.”

JT, Miley, Iggy, Bieber and even Post Malone all have this revolving door between black culture and white money that allows them to come and go as they please. No matter how “down” they may appear to be, they are still white. JT can abandon urban music whenever he chooses to and go do songs at the Country Music awards tomorrow and not miss a beat (he’s done it before).49thannualcmaawardsshowesgangyvskzx

Black artists are rarely, if ever, afforded this same leeway to come and go as they choose and even when they are, they’ll be quickly reminded of their place once they speak out (see: Beyonce after Formation). And make no mistake about it, JT knows this and that’s why he tried to play both sides.

Am I saying that white people shouldn’t be allowed in the culture? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that we allow anybody who wants in, full access to the positives of our culture without vetting them or having them experience the negatives. Think about it, could you walk up to a Shaolin temple and be taught the ancient secrets of the monks who live there simply by shaving your head and watching a few kung-fu movies? So why do we allow anybody in despite centuries of evidence that these people aren’t here for us. I mean, think about it, all JT had to do was rock cornrows and dance on beat and we stepped over one another to give him a “Black” pass (I was guilty of this myself a few years back).

Jesse Williams, the product of a black father and a white mother, could EASILY have never opened his mouth and chose to take the easy route of not identifying as either race and espoused the same rhetoric as JT. Instead, he has stood up, repeatedly, for black people and, in all likelihood, cost himself some money in the process. JT, in replying to a random tweet, not only showed that he’s not here “for the culture”, he showed us the difference between himself and the likes of Jesse Williams, who some would question the blackness of (ironic, right?). Both have voices and platforms, one chose to use his.

Hip-hop and black culture are a valuable asset and clearly profitable. It’s time for us to take back some measure of ownership and build up our own people instead of watching, time and again, as whites come in, learn it from us, then turn around and sell it to other whites without lending so much as a voice to our plight, let alone a dime. Once we do that, then it’s time to take these blacks to task for doing the same shit.

-AJ

 

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