Shuck and Jive 2.0: The Epidemic of New Blacks
By Jay Dodd
Among Azealia Banks’ unfortunately few poignant and meaningful clap-backs is the occasion she came for Clifford “TI” Harris’s life for defending Igloo.In her 140-character shade, she called TI a coon. A humorously archaic “slur” is made relevant again as we see its residual mindset permeating many Black men in the music industry. Black folk have created many languages for folks found betraying Blackness. Coon is Uncle Tom isDon Lemon— Black folk who have taken on an ahistorical burden of appealing to White supremacy. Coons not only embarrass but reaffirm systemic erasure. As high profile pop cultural makers have proven, from the minstrel to the misinformed, wealth and access for Black folk does not always benefit Blackness. New Blacks, as (Black) Twitter has masterfully coined, perform these jigs away from more “controversial” Blacknesses as a symbol of progress. The shuck and jive for maintaining accepted (read: White) norms of success. Now, as per usual, our faves provide necessary complications to these narratives. While some attempt to gain access to wealth as success from erasing black folk, there is also an unfortunate erasure is Black exceptionalism. Our faves do a work for radical aspiration but their successes are often uncomplicated as markers of progress.
Erasure does a work in both, the embarrassing acts of Black minstrelsy and mythic post race neo-Blackness; we have many scripts for the former. The latter is born of respectability politics (the recurring impossibility). The heartbreaking crutch of respectability politics relies on the fear Black folk have of being embarrassed; in “being” the way White folk think “we all are”. These stratifications of acceptable Blacknesses only reproduce widely (mis)understood structures of power. While for some, Black folks of a particular demeanor, dress, or class location can embarrass, others see the greater disappointment, appealing to White values. It is when Don Lemon, though a potentially historic figure for Black queer men in popular media, seems to go light years out of his way to undermine and disarm Blackness. When Bill Cosby, on top of completely benefitting from White fandom and a culture of misogyny, can be defended as a trailblazer. When notable Black figures create abandon against Blackness, they embarrass because we are fighting so intently to be seen as human. When not undermining Blackness directly, the 21st century coons among us strap on the most luxurious capes for Whiteness.
Returning to my early statements around TI’s coon-dom, we have seen an overwhelming number of Black folk violently dismiss histories, facts and generations of Blackness in this country, (read: Kendrick). Like some toxic elixir has made them drunk on the realities of Black America. In his measly defense, TI even offered that because of Itchy’s Australian heritage, she is somehow placed outside of racism and white supremacy. Noting the clear ignorance around how global both settler colonialism and anti-Blackness is, Brother Harris is quite literally just wrong. However, our faves don’t always embarrass with ahistorical nonsense.
Our modern era of the #NewBlack can be marked by the litany of often ridiculous yet ultimately dangerous quips of Black celebrities essentializing or minimizing Blackness, it’s rage and celebration. Notable grievances include: Common’s extended hand in love to white folk “finally” getting to the root of racism, Raven’s colorless Americana, and Pharrell’s whole Other movement. Black folks who achieve some cross-cultural notoriety make lavish attempts to re-sale or re-package Blackness. It becomes just an aesthetic, a check box, a coffee order. In what seems like the most cognitively dissonant rhetoric I’ve heard in this era, Isaiah Washington, noted homophobe and “newest” Black, says that the best way for Black folk to survive is to #adapt. As splashed across Twitter, Washington confessed to changing one’s life style is the only way to stay safe. These cultural figures have the semi-awareness of the danger but choose to take the onus of attempting humanity in the eyes of folk refuse to see you. When we position, modify, perform our beings for the gaze of whiteness, we are doing a violence to ourselves.
And, for the rafters, hurting our people.
However? Our faves are doing much for us either.
The press conference forTidal was in many ways a collection of some of the most excellent Blackness this world has documented. Favorites from across the board gathered to “begin a moment” and combat the status quo. In days previous, Twitter and Facebook washed over in the ugliest aquamarine announcing Tidal’s arrival. The mantra #TidalforAll rang from update to retweet and the mobilization sprang up from nowhere. One of the centrally important things about Tidal is that the owners are Black folk. Few enterprises as lucrative and culturally relevant as Tidal are owned and connected to Black people who look like Nicki, Rihanna, and Kanye. They are Black people getting necessary coins, and we should imagine translating this on our bodies. Still, a dissonance forms when our favorites who have been (un) remarkably distant from current movements around anti-Blackness and institutional violence can so quickly mobilizing around retaining wealth. While they are committing to expanding iconography of black excellence, their location in the out cry for Black humanity is ambiguous, if not destructive? Though there is a power in Black folk using this language of resistance and independence, to mobilize around retaining wealth while across the nation Black folk are mobilizing for their humanity. In the way that Black folk who take on the values of White folk disarm our diaspora, our faves stand in the place of folks who require conversations of liberation. To use the mediums, rhetoric and framework of subversive resistance, in this season, for anything but the movement, hurts.
Blackness is expanding. Blackness is speaking across the globe, building new worlds and conversations around solidarity. In the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement has centered Black Trans/ Queer folk in ways earlier iterations were lacking. Blackness is speaking in more tongues and we are seeing shifts from appeals to White supremacy. We have a wealth of popular Black icons who disrupt spaces of white power and popular culture. Unfortunately, white supremacy still seeps in to many a Black conscious. It’s patriarchy instills misogynoir in BM. It’s sexual morality polices queer and trans Black bodies. It’s promise of relative power siphons Blackness of its exponential potential. If we could consider this an era of “New” Blackness, we must continue to imagine greater for ourselves.