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Commodifying, Consuming, and Appropriating “Blackness”

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Within a capitalist economic system, Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities or objects of trade. A commodity at its most basic, according to Arjun Appadurai, is "anything intended for exchange," or any object of economic value. Wikipedia

We should recognize the Blackophobia that lies behind much Blackophilia, and that both may be representative of the continuing ideological and cultural power of White supremacy in the 21st century. (Yousman, 2003, p. 371) There is a direct and abiding connection between the maintenance of White supremacist [capitalist] patriarchy in this society and the institutionalization via mass media of specific images, representations of race, [and] of Blackness that support and maintain the oppression, exploitation, and overall domination of all Black people.(hooks, 1992, p. 2)

In American popular culture Blackness is both hypervisible and simultaneously invisible, and “While Black youth prominently figure in the war on drugs and in prison populations, they are equally prominent in film, music, TV, sports, and advertising.

All kinds of commercial industries use their creative expression to remain commercially viable” (Watkins, 2014). From stars such as Elvis, Madonna, Eminem, and Iggy Azalea, to teenagers in distant nations, to powerful corporations, there is a racialized fascination with Black people and Black popular culture. Indeed, we live in a society and culture that believes itself to be “post-racial” and “colorblind,” yet we are seemingly color-struck with “Blackness” (Rose, 2014). 

Despite Black people’s hypervisibility within pop culture, and the unprecedented consumption of Black images, our contributions to American society are often ignored, and Black culture is still viewed as deficient. This comes with the disregard of, and refusal to acknowledge Black cultural contributions and enrichment to American culture (Ford, 2003).

The notion that consumption of constructed images of “Blackness” will bring about reduced anti-Black feelings, attitudes, and prejudice in a White supremacist culture is spurious; it is telling that slogans such as “Black Lives Matter!” have been appropriated by White culture and, without acknowledging the painful reality that generated the term, altered it to “all lives matter.”

The simultaneous fascination and dread, attraction to and repulsion toward Blackness can be described as the “Blackophilia / Blackophobia” conundrum: Blackophilia (manifested by White consumption of Black popular culture) is linked with Blackophobia (fear and dread of African Americans). Coexistent with White youth fascination with hip-hop culture and African American athletes and celebrities is the continuing manifestation of White youth resistance to programs that challenge institutional racism…

[T]hese phenomena may be best understood as interrelated aspects of White supremacy. (Yousman, 2003, p. 366) These interrelated aspects have been present within the historic blackophilic consumption of Blackface, which was speculated to have assuaged blackophobia. Through the derision of Blacks, simultaneous fear and fascination of Blackness could be mitigated and contained. Consequently, White youth adoption of Black cultural forms in the 21st century is also a performance, one that allows Whites to contain their fears and animosities towards Blacks through rituals not of ridicule, as in previous eras, but of adoration. Thus, although the motives behind the performance may initially appear to be different, the act is still a manifestation of White supremacy, albeit a White supremacy that is in crisis and disarray, rife with confusion and contradiction. (Yousman, 2003, p. 369)

As spectacular consumption of Blackness runs rampant, critiques of the adoption of Blackness by non-Blacks without the “burden,” or consideration of a racialized Black experience, have grown. Blackness is rampantly consumed, commodified, and appropriated, while Black people daily lose their lives to police brutality and systemic racism.

Being the object of spectacle, “the meaning of ‘authentic’ Black life and culture is partly generative of mediated and mass marketed images” (Watts & Orbe, 2002). Upon its release, the rap song “CoCo” by O.T. Genasis gained quick and widespread commercial support, climbing the top 100 charts in little time.

"To this day!"

At the time of the Michael Brown killing in August, 2014, and during the November 2014 trial of the police officer responsible for his death, the music video for “CoCo”–released in October of that year–depicted large, dark-skinned Black men in plain white tees wielding guns at the camera while consuming illicit substances. There was a strong similarity