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Re-imagining Black Love

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By: Cody Charles

Black love,

a bursting speck of gold dust

sunrise waking us

to us.

~Megan Pendleton (Badass Black Queer Poet)

I’ve been thinking about Black Love for a while now, and how it is both felt and intellectualized. As a Black fat queer cis femme, love has always been complicated.

I have been in community with beautiful Black folk who uplift me, challenge me, hold me accountable, induce hearty laughs, and often finish my sentences and interpret my infamous side-eyes.

I have been in community with resilient Black folk who hold me when I have nothing left, who cook my favorite meals in times of celebration and grief, who massage my shoulders and administer hugs that heal the soul, and who I trust passing the baton onto when I’m in need of rest.

It is worth mentioning that when I feel this radical prioritization– this space created where my full self is welcomed, and can be explored- it is often with my Black queer and trans family.

In addition to the above, I have felt extreme isolation and violence in the name of love, often caping behind the veil of organized religion (informed by Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist CisHeteroPatriarchy).

Re: someone does and says something really awful to me, and using the above framework, I’m supposed to respond with love and forgiveness.

Nope.

The word love is complicated, and often goes untroubled.

I am curious.

I am curious about how we engage love outside of the aforementioned toxicity.

I am curious about what love even means? Isn’t it a made-up word steeped in violence and manipulation- a tactic to keep the powerful in power? Am I off here?

But, I am most curious about the following question…

What is Black Love outside of Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist CisHeteroPatriarchy? (What is Black love minus the standards/expectations of the cisgender white phukshyt?)

Below I have asked a few of my brilliant friends to chime in.

Enjoy, and share.


Bulaong Ramiz-Hall– Educator, writer, community builder, granddaughter of the resilient survivors of enslavement and colonialism

Black love is the magic of our ancestors existing in our bodies, minds, spirits and souls. It is the deep and direct rejection of all things that tell us we are not beautiful, brilliant, worthy, and free. Black love is what makes us human, what allows us to access the deepest parts of ourselves, its that love that separates us from all others and connects us to each other.

I had to learn to love blackness, mine and others. I had to train myself to find the beauty in my people, to feel an affinity with my culture, to let the connection to both intergenerational trauma and intergenerational thriving sustain and guide me.

Black love is the antithesis to white supremacy, it is the cure to imperialism, it is a return to the fluidity of our roles in community, it is a rejection of hierarchy that allows for some to have more than enough and others to have nothing, it is the elevation and celebration of women and femmes, it is what will free us all.


Robert Jones Jr.- Creator of the Son of Baldwin Platform

To me, this kind of black love would, first and foremost, be built on a foundation that neither fetishizes nor recoils at the sight of jet-black skin. It would know that dark-black skin is something to be adored and treasured, like the cosmos itself, rather than covered up or bleached away.

Nor would black love understand or accept violence in the face of black queer desire and black queer bodies. Rather, it would celebrate, given their unpopularity in this current white supremacist cisheteropatriachal moment, any consensual romantic black bonds.

Black love would not be afraid of black children’s joy and would not seek to police it. I use that word “police” intentionally. Black love would seek, instead, to un-train itself from art of corporal punishment because black love would push out the fear and sadism that drive such practices.

Black love, outside the scope of the pathologies mentioned, would make untrue the rap verse (“And when you get on, he’ll leave your ass for a white girl” — Kanye West, “Gold Digger”) describing the phenomenon of black men who select white partners over black ones because black would be seen as more than enough.

Black love would eschew respectability for humanity, choose humility over pride, select gratitude not ego, seek to be spiritual rather than religious, make whole not half, restore as opposed to damage. It would never assume, but would always ask permission, move forward only when permission has been granted, and would not whither from rejection, but would rejoice at the mutual respect left in its wake. Rather than seek to narrow, confine, and exclude, black love would seek to expand, liberate, and include.

In short, black love is potentially the complete opposite of imperialist white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy.


Zerandrian S. Morris– Anti-Academic and Ivy League Professor

Hmm…black love outside of the phukshyt is…Hell, I have no clue, as I’ve never experienced it. But I would imagine it to be exceptionally liberating and a deeply creative space. A place where it’s ok to phuk up and the fear of relationships dissolving at whim, wouldn’t be there. It would be women liking me for me, not because they’re curious about what its like to date a non-binary person and a year later, they’re engaged to a cis-person.

Sorry let me try and stick to what it is, versus what it’s not.

It is freer. More liberatory. It’s both hood AF and elegant like a quarter pounder with cheese with a side of sushi from Masa in NYC.

Damn. That sounds dope AF!


Romeo Jackson– Black Queer Femme Educator, Learner, and Thinker.

This is such a hard question to answer given most images we have of Black love are Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist and deeply invested in CisHeteroPatriarchy. Even the few public images we have of Black love are often coded as white and placed in proximity to gender and sexuality norms (think: Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade or Michelle Obama and Barack Obama). Where are the expressions of poor Black love, of Disable Black love, of trans Black love?

Black love has the potential to be the transformative power to liberate all Black people. This liberatory Black love understands that love is a way of being versus a feeling. Yes, love can be a feeling, but what if we imagined love as a place we can never reach, a way of thinking, as praxis? In thinking about Black love this way, no where can the cis-het-college-educated-upper-middle-class couple with two cis-het children be seen as the model for Black love? It is then, how we start to imagine the Black trans femme couple fighting for survival while mothering an entire community of queer and trans youth as Black love, because at its core Black love is a rejection of Black death, pain, and suffering.

Lastly, we must begin to understand Black friendship as Black Love. Love is more than the people we fuck, go on dates with, and enter into romantic relationships with. My friendships, often with Black queer and trans people, have been my greatest source of Black love. Black love that sees you in your wholeness. A Black love that is there to call you out while honoring your humanity. Black love is seeing another Black person as human, always deserving of love, support, and community. Black friendship is the past, present, and future of Black love.


Black folk, what is Black love to you outside of these toxic systems? #ReimaginingBlackLove #BlackJoyWeDeserveIt Click To Tweet

 

Black love,

a bursting speck of gold dust

sunrise waking us

to us.

~Megan Pendleton (Badass Black Queer Poet)

If any of my writing helps you in any way, please consider tipping here =>cash.me/$CodyCharles (Square Cash), @CodyCharles(Venmo), orpaypal.me/CodyCharles<=

This is the work of Cody Charles; claiming my work does not make me selfish or ego-driven, instead radical and in solidarity with the folk who came before me and have been betrayed by history books and storytellers. Historically, their words have been stolen and reworked without consent. This is the work of Cody Charles. Please discuss, share, and cite properly.

Bio: Cody Charles is the author of Getting To Know Rosa Lee: An Overdue Conversation With My MotherBlack Joy, We Deserve ItThe Night The Moonlight Caught My Eye: Not a Review but a Testimony on the Film Moonlight5 Tips For White Folks, As They Engage Jordan Peele’s Get Out. (No Spoilers)A Letter to Black Greeks Who Happen to be Black and QueerStudent Affairs is a Sham, 19 Types of Higher Education Professionals, and What Growing Up Black And Poor Taught Me About Resiliency. Join him for more conversation on Twitter (@_codykeith_) and Facebook (Follow Cody Charles). Please visit his blog, Reclaiming Anger, to learn more about him.

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For The Culture

“Instagram Impostors: Twitter Exposes White Womens’ “N*ggerfishing’ Tactics”

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On election night, while the nation waited with bated breath over poll results, Twitter user, Dee (@yeahboutella) shared a series of Instagram screenshots on Twitter regarding their dismay and shock over a white woman outed for being white. Now you may be asking yourself how is someone is outed regarding race in 2018 and especially as white? Evidently, a Swedish white woman Emma Hallberg, who goes by the username @eemmahallberg on Instagram, was accused of sleeping with braids to give her hair a fuller and more textured look, spray tanning her skin until it was five or six shades darker, and using foundation to deepen the appearance of her skin.

These white women are physically altering themselves to look like mixed-raced women of African descent for social and monetary capital. Click To Tweet

Replies to Dee’s thread consisted of equally shocked Twitter users, and one tweet even featured a stark contrast between @eemmahallberg’s appearance in 2016 and 2018. Another tweet revealed a shot of her Youtube video showing the disparity between her darker foundation and her naturally fairer skin. Writer Wanna (@WannasWorld) who has masterfully framed Black women in the hood and their direct influence on fashion, asked her followers to add more women like Hallberg, who essentially cosplay racially ambiguous mixed-race women of African descent to showcase the Instagram phenomenon. Moreover, she brilliantly highlighted it as a “ni**erfishing epidemic.” Replies flooded Wanna’s tweet and even prompted accounts dedicated to exhibiting what can only be described as something along the lines of racist body dysmorphia.


So what is the issue here besides the complete absurdity of it all? Well, for one, there are multiple issues with this. Let’s look at the most obvious: these white women are physically altering themselves to look like mixed-raced women of African descent for social and monetary capital.

Due to the vigorous erasure of unambiguous Black women in mass media, the market for mixed-raced and racially ambiguous women has skyrocketed. To illustrate this point Black women’s representation drastically shifted from the Afrocentric look in the 1990s to what we have seen and continue to see in contemporary eras of the 2000s and 2010s, which is a more “universally appealing” look generally found in women who are not monoracially Black. The abundance of Black women who cannot be cosplayed by white women such: members of En Vogue, Blaque, Brownstone, SWV; Brandy, Lauryn Hill, Tatyana Ali, and Nia Long dwindled in preference to: Zendaya, Kehlani, Alexandra Shipp, Amandla Stenberg, Jhene Aiko, Cassie, Yara Shahidi, and Cardi B.

The high demand for women with features that are Black enough to provide the exoticism and white enough to appeal and provide accessibility to white women created the space for literal imposters — or ni**afishes. ‘The look,’ popularly known as ‘Instagram Baddie,’ relies on Black women as its foundation, but because Blackness fails white beauty standards it has to be adequately removed from Blackness to appeal to white women. The Instagram Baddie aesthetic for non-Black women results in more likes on social media which operates as social currency thus inadvertently; however, more times than not, intentionally garners recognition from beauty corporations invested in exploiting the insecurities of women for profit.

The high demand for women with features that are Black enough to provide the exoticism and white enough to appeal and provide accessibility to white women created the space for literal imposters — or ni**afishes. Click To Tweet

 

Brands reach out to non-Black Instagram baddies, at remarkably higher rates than the Black women whose looks create the foundation for the aesthetic. These corporations provide the “universally appealing” women with lucrative opportunities such as brand ambassadorships; all expense paid trips, advertising deals, and free products. The business becomes cyclical: white and non-Black women alter their appearance to become ‘Instagram Baddies,’ they gain social validation through likes which subsequently increases financial profits on both the woman and brands side, and it reinforces a beauty standard at the ironic exclusion of Black women.

Disappointingly, because the Black folks — en mass — continue to uphold and adhere to the racist one-drop rule, racially ambiguous mixed-race women are seen as Black although their sociopolitical and economic experiences are measurably different in comparison to Black women. The differences between the two groups of women is an iteration of the colonial three caste system in Southern Louisiana, a part of U.S. history that isn’t as widely interrogated as it should be although it set a precedent for colorism the United States.

Now, in the modern-age, racial ambiguity has afforded mixed-raced, and consequently white women, the privilege of trapezing a broader demographic. For whites and non-Black people of color Instagram baddies are ‘exotic,’ and to Blacks, these women are still seen as Black because there may be a little bit of Black in them, even when it turns out there isn’t any at all. This more expansive demographic translates to higher opportunities for marketability and monetary profit because diverse groups of people will consume the image of these women more favorably.

The preeminent non-Black women to ni**erfish in the contemporary era are the Kardashian-Jenners. They may not have been duped the public into believing that they are Black; however, they tap into Black women’s aesthetic for their marketability as well as steady proximity to Blackness by way of their male partners and high-profile Black women friends. It is not by chance that Kim and her family have dominated ‘urban’ blogs like Bossip and The Shade Room and have become household names among Black America in comparison to other non-Black and white celebrities like a Sofía Vergara or Jennifer Lawrence who are also positioned as standards of beauty.

Rapper and ex-boyfriend of the youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner klan, Kylie, recently spoke about the deliberate efforts the Kardashians make in co-opting Blackness. Regarding Kylie’s drastic shift from ordinary white girl to an Instagram baddie, he said, “you gotta look at the before and after. She always had a platform, and she was always destined to be what she was going to be regardless, but, when I stepped in, there was a lot of codes being taught.” By codes it can be inferred he means Black codes, presumably the way Black women pose in pictures, dress, and wear their hair and makeup. He followed up by saying “…it was like, you could do this, you should start this, you should start doing your hair like this, you should add that because you need black people to f— with you…” “…if you ain’t got Black people behind you, you ain’t got nothing.”

It was one thing for the Kardashian-Jenner family to satisfy the Black Male Gaze but by donning the entire custom of racial ambiguity and signaling cues of Blackness is how they fascinated the community as a whole. Their shape-shifting allowed them to not only sell their products to white women desperate to look more interesting, seen in the timing of Kylie’s lip kits and her lip filler debacle but also to Black women who also aspire to attain a look that receives widespread approval, particularly from Black men.

A hard truth in this trend is the complicity of Black people. As Tyga truthfully articulated, “…if you ain’t got Black people behind you, you ain’t got nothing.” There has to be a substantial investment in racially ambiguous mixed-race women and an affirmation of their Blackness even when it is not being asked for by them in order for them to pull the con off.

For Black men, their internalize anti-Black racism is projected through implicit and explicit violence against Black women. They shame and vilify Black features and characteristics on Black women with colorism and featurism yet praise and seek out white and non-Black women who have transformed themselves into caricatures of Black women. Moreover, because they are still men, the act of women contorting themselves to appease them is an added ego-boost. Partnering and creating progeny with these women ultimately fulfill their white male penis envy and erases the parts (or entirety) of Blackness they wish did not exist in themselves.  

For Black women, their participation in the elevation of these women is a more woeful tale. Because they desire to be desired by Black men they follow whom they see appealing to Black men. Because patriarchal domination transcends sexual orientation, the desire is not solely based in cisheteronormativity but rather the general oppression of women. Their added media erasure — which has not yet happened to Black men — creates a void in healthy self-esteem building. Thus, allowing for any representation no matter how fictitious to serve their need to be seen and affirmed. Capitalism, racism, and patriarchy become the driving forces that create the environment for Black women become reliable and loyal consumers for racially ambiguous mixed-raced women and now white women who advance their erasure and sell their image back to them.

So, yes the ni**erfishing trend is ridiculous, and the name — coming from a Black woman — may make you let out a hearty chuckle, but the implications are dire. Not only have mixed-race women replaced Black women in spaces designated for them thanks to the one-drop rule but because of their easily mimicable features, white women and non-Black can now take up space and opportunities that were already hard for Black women to access and now make it all but impossible for Black women to do so. More importantly, outside of the monetary and social capital, the diet blackface only further complicates an already complex sense of self among Black women. Unlike women like Hallberg, Black women’s race-based body dysmorphia has not and is not met with light-hearted Twitter jokes or compassion but instead vitriolic shaming and silencing. Since social capital, in this case, is controlled by users of social media platforms, shifting your following and likes to unambiguous Black women is an excellent starting point to remedy the damage caused by ‘ni**afishes.’

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What’s Beef: Rap vs. Feminism

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There is a serious lack of solidarity in rap/hip-hop despite the third wave of feminism that’s swept mainstream culture. Why do you think that is?

 

Rap/Hip-Hop has been a mainstay within Black culture since its arrival in the mid-70s. The colorful art of spoken word over beats was no different than 50s beat poetry and to many, it provided a positive means of expression. As a genre, rap/hip-hop gave many the voice to speak truth to power while inspiring and encouraging the community it was birthed from. But as time went on, the genre changed, adopting many of the societal tropes that saw women as objects, victims, and targets to exploit. This misogyny, while easily recognizable when coming from male aggressors, is incredibly nuanced, particularly when its perpetrators are female.

“The misogynist lyrics of gangsta rap are hateful indeed, but they do not represent a new trend in Black popular culture, nor do they differ fundamentally from woman hating discourses that are common among White men. The danger of this insight is that it might be read as an apology for Black misogyny.” – Leola Johnson, Academic

Genesis

At the dawn of a rap era with hits like “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre, Queen Latifah’s anthemic “U.N.I.T.Y” was a breath of fresh air. Directly attacking the unconscionable language and endorsed behavior directed at the sole demographic that has always been the pillar of support for men of color, Latifah proudly questioned a growing trend of oppressive black male patriarchy. Standing strong at a small but mighty crew of female emcees, “U.N.I.T.Y.” was a call to action in a genre that did not respect women, let alone provide them with opportunities to shine. From the inception of gangsta rap, female rap artists have spent their careers fighting for their place in a genre where their success is contingent upon subordination. But the addition of in-fighting as a means to assert dominance leaves many disappointed in the wake of the most female empowered era of the game.

Internalized Misogyny

Aside from the lack of solidarity among female artists, more troubling is the complicity of rapstresses who stand by men who maintain misogynist ideals. Remy Ma really sat on a panel in silence with Joe Budden as he was gaslighting Scottie Beam and claimed, unintelligently, that the false female empowerment movement was devoted to picking [women] up when they are wrong. Her ability to sit idly by as Scottie provided opposition and depth on the topic is exactly the type of cosign that enables men to continue that negative behavior. Never mind the fact that she would later defend R.Kelly, who faces decades of accusations of assault exclusively against Black women.

We live in a time where people argue that silence is acceptance and that we should separate the art from the artist. But we are asked to do the latter when the targets of violence are almost exclusively female. Imagine being asked to give your assailant a pass because they write good music. When we examine why there is a lack of solidarity in the Hip-Hop community, we must consider that it’s due to the long-term effects of misogyny/misogynoir.

Learn From This

Seeing popular female artists pitted against one another in a genre where 22 to 37% of the lyrics contain misogyny is painful. Hip hop’s authenticity is traditionally graded on a scale of masculinity, where even the ownership of one’s own objectification works against the artist and leads to further marginalization. Female rap artists are victims of an industry that forces them to take the side of their oppressors and attack artists who fit their style as a means to find success. This most recent blow-up between Nicki and Cardi is proof of that, but this problem dates back to the origins of female rap.

Emcees like Mc Lyte, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Trina have all contributed to the complex legacies of rap artists with music that detracts and affirms the worth of Black women. How is it possible that in a time where we sing “Formation” and “God is a woman” we are unable to find positive female relationships among rap artists? Name one mainstream female only rap collaboration from this year. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

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French Montana Creates Preschool Classrooms in Morocco

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The Moroccan born rapper, French Montana, is following in his boss Diddy’s footsteps. The “Pop That” musician is working with the Sabae School of Fida-Mers Sultan district to fund two preschool classrooms. His contribution to the classrooms will do wonders for the school by making sure they have all of the supplies they need and that it can stay open for years to come.

This is not Montana’s first humanitarian act for Africa. According to TMZ, he raised $500K to build a hospital in Uganda that is now helping serve around 300,000 women in about 40 villages.

Let us hope this trend of building schools and other resources continue in our communities.

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