POPSUGAR’s Folly: A tale of casual racism and marketing

On July 3, POPSUGAR posted a piece about natural hair that completely removed Black people from a movement that was for and about them. Although there are cries of appropriation surrounding this article, what is actually happening here is the causal racism of marketing and an obvious lack of diversity in media.

There are a few things to note here. One, this is a sponsored post to advertise hair care products. This means that the post was more or less just an advertisement. That being said, it’s important to note that the particular line that was being sold, OGX, is one that is used quite often by Black people who have natural hair.

Two, they used only staffers from their office to review and share their experience with the brand. This happened to be all white people. Now, I don’t know if that is because they did not think to ask their Black staffers to participate or if it was because they do not have any Black people on staff. It doesn’t really matter though because both of those are problems.

Three, in reading the original article, they obviously don’t apply any weight or meaning to the words they’ve chosen to use. Likely because they were suggested by the company who paid for the ad. The use of “natural” and “texture” do not appear to hold the same weight for these women. What they mean is “My hair without a flat iron” not “Accepting my hair in its natural state as an act of rebellion and rejection of colonial beauty standards that wants to force me to internalize anti-Black beliefs and sees any and all proof of my Blackness as something that must be subjugated, hidden, and destroyed.”

If they had asked a Black person, they probably would have been tipped off about that slight difference. They also likely would have known many Black people use these products as an alternative to Shea because they are bit less expensive.

Which takes us back up to point one. This was an advertisement.

If you follow it back to the company you will see a page that has many white women but if you scroll down, you’ll see Black women using it on their hair because this is a moisturizing product and our hair tends to be very dry.

POPSUGAR likely had no idea about the demographics of this product, it was clear that the staffers had never used these products before. Which means they’ve certainly never entered a hair shop and purchased them. But the company knew what they were getting when they asked for this ad: White women.

They’re intentionally marketing this product to appeal to white women in order to make more money. White women don’t have a concept of natural hair, not in the way that Black people do, to white people it’s just hair. They may do other things to it, like color or process it, but that doesn’t change how it’s “natural” state is described. It’s just hair.

For Black people, our hair’s natural state is the one that must be identified. This is my natural hair means I don’t have chemicals in it to make it straight. It has a very specific meaning in the Black community and it is that definition that spawned a movement.

When these sorts of articles are written and this sort of marketing is done by a company, it is to open up the language to include white people so that they will feel more comfortable in using these products. However, it also serves to erase the reality of the Black people who use the same products because our experiences are very different.

This isn’t to say that white people shouldn’t use this shampoo and the various lines of products. It is only to say that when engaging in discussions about the products they should not co-opt the language of Black people to discuss it.

Write about how it reduced your frizz and increased your volume. White hair care has a dictionary full of words and phrases they use to sell hair products. Use those to expand your market base. Avoid the ones associated with the natural hair movement which is one that is centered on Black people.

Although I think that the people most strongly at fault was the brand, this doesn’t absolve POPSUGAR for their huge oversight. They obviously need to work on their diversity and if they have Black people on staff, to run these sorts of articles past them first or at least do some reading “natural hair” before you publish and article. A quick Google would have shown you that the women featured in the article are not the demographic that most commonly uses the phrase.

“Those Guys Hate Me”

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I enjoy hearing someone say “Fuck you” to Milo as much as the next person so I watched the recent clip from the Bill Mahler show with a certain amount of glee because, seriously, fuck that guy. And before you come all up in my comments, yes I still think the ACLU is correct in their stance. Just because I don’t want to hear what someone has to say doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to say it. That, however, is besides the point because Milo said something that I think everyone by and large missed.

When the discussion turned to his ties with far Nazi right which is different and separate from the “not Nazi” Alt-Right (it isn’t) he said that those guys hate him. And this gave me pause, not because it’s not true (it probably is) but because this is the SAME thing Richard Spencer said before he got sucker punched on camera a few weeks ago.

“Those guys hate me.”

This is an important thing that both of these people have said and we need to pay attention because this is how they’re sliding their views to the masses and gaining legitimacy and followers.

“Those guys hate me,” which translates handily into “I am not those guys.”

Those guys are clearly reprehensible. Everyone understands being a skin head, Nazi, white supremacist is a problem unless you are straight up those things. People like Milo and Spencer give would be racists a third option. A way to excuse them from being the racist villian. An alternative to the right. An alt-right if you will.

It’s a way for them to say, “Whoa, I’m not like those guys! Those guys are BAD GUYS! I’m this other thing that those people hate!”

The people who identify with these movements are doing so because they think the rebranding of their hatred and ignorance makes it into something else. That just because the original brand hates the new packaging somehow it makes the contents of it different.

It doesn’t. The enemy of your enemy is not your friend, as much as they would like you believe. They are exactly the same bullshit as the far right. They’re just more ok with gay people and have better taste in clothing.

“Those guys hate me.”

Yeah ok, that’s nice. You’re still awful.

Zootopia is about what Conservative White people fear

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Zootopia came out over the summer and blew everyone away with its metaphors for race relations in the United States. I just watched it last night with my children and I agree, it’s about race in the US. Specifically, it’s about what Conservative White people fear will happen if they were to become the minority in the country.

This is a children’s film and that’s important to note because one of the criticisms of this film is that the metaphors are messy. Even though I think most of the reading of this film’s meaning was off base, particularly that they assigned the predators as the people of color, and the prey as white people, and that is part of what leads to the less than perfect allegories, I also think that there are things that don’t work perfectly simply because this is a children’s movie and we have to arrive at a happy end.

So I acknowledge that it’s not perfect but it does read cleaner when you look at it as metaphor not for today but for a future time when White people are a minority and that they are portrayed as the predators in the film, not the prey. We also need to understand that there are multiple things going on with this storyline, some of which do not fit into the overreaching racial metaphor, some that speak to other issues in our culture, and some that are just children movie story building.

The story line is about a bunny, named Judy, who is the first rabbit to be allowed on the force. On her first day she finds out that 14 predator animals have gone missing. She ends up working the case and discovers that these animals have gone savage and are dangerous. Once this news gets out, the populace begins to distrust predator animals, even though only a small handful have done anything bad. Eventually, they uncover that the animals have been drugged due to a plot by prey animals to frame predator animals. Everything is resolved in the end, Shakira shows up and sings a song, roll credits.

The inclusion of Judy on the police force reads as affirmative action and is likely why so many people read prey as Black people. The lion mayor calls it the “mammal inclusion act” which is so blatant. However, this is the first instance of the race metaphor not working. If you look closely at the animals you will see that the force contains a lot of non-predator animals. They may not be prey, but elephants and rhinos aren’t known for their hunting skills either (although hippos are VICIOUS). What is actually going on here is that only big animals are allowed on the police force. Her species isn’t left out because she munches veggies, but because she’s small. This is sometimes read as sexism but it’s important to point out that Judy’s drill sergeant is ALSO a woman.

Her inclusion is actually read better as allegory for disability (far from perfect as she’s not actually disabled in any way) and the inclusion of differently-abled people into all walks of life as they can add their own unique abilities to the greater whole.

In any case, you can shed her relationship to the police force as a server for the race metaphor. What we can deal with, however, is her relationship with foxes.

Foxes eat rabbits. That’s what they do. If you watch this movie with the understanding that predators are White people then foxes, all foxes, are White people. Early on, Judy is attacked by a fox when she is a child. When she’s an adult she meets Nick, a fox, and they become best friends (there’s a lot of plot and not being BFF but that’s where things end up).

Judy experienced metaphorical racism at the hands of a fox as a child and although she tries not to let this color her view of ALL foxes, the fear is still there, that they will turn on her or that they are just waiting to reveal their true nature. It is a fear that is shared by her parents who warn her against them. This works really well as a metaphor for how Black and other people of color exist in White spaces. Many of us have experienced racism growing up and now look for signs to avoid it as adults.

What doesn’t work so well is Nick’s, the fox, counter story. In fact, this part illustrates the ways in which this being a children’s movie, gets in the way of the overreaching message. Nick’s counter story is basically “reverse racism” 101.

Nick tells a story about how he wanted to be a cub scout which in this reality is something that only prey animals do. When he shows up at the meeting, they laugh at him and put a muzzle on him. Because he’s a dangerous predator. So you know, he too knows what it’s like to be profiled and we should all just see people for who they are, everyone’s guilty and we can all do better. Only the whole thing pretty well glosses over the reality of what happened.

What happened to Nick was emotionally painful and likely would haunt him for his life (if he wasn’t a cartoon) but what happened to Judy was actually physically and emotionally scarring. The fox that attacked her as a child slashed up her face, he very easily could have killed her. What happened to Nick was sad but what happened to Judy was a step away from homicide.

When they found out what is causing the animals to go postal in the film, a certain type of blue flower (very Through a Scanner Darkly) it’s also revealed that although only predators have had the problem in the city, it can also happen to prey animals. This is, again, not a race/species thing, it’s just some bad luck. But it again ignores the fact that the one prey animal we’re told about who had eaten this plant only left a bite on their victim but the predators that have gone missing by and large can and will KILL the people they attack. Savage bunnies aren’t great and can certainly hurt other bunnies or small animals but savage tigers will kill bunnies, wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, and other tigers who get in the way.

This is noteworthy because it speaks to the conversation about police brutality vs Black on Black crime. People with more power and influence can do greater damage with their violence than those without. A criminal Black person has a much smaller reach than a violent cop. A gangbanger can influence a neighborhood, a cop that sees all Black people as violent can influence policy that keeps people of color oppressed.

Before it’s revealed that the animals are going savage as a plot by, of all heavy handed metaphors, a sheep, it causes the populace of Zootopia to fear and distrust the predator animals in their society, of which, are only 10% of the population.

This is where the metaphor of the future of all scared White people really takes hold. Even though the population of predatory animals is very small, the prey animals shy away from them, for fear that will revert back to a more violent version of themselves because it’s in ALL of their nature (all White people are racist).

Then we find out that they are being poisoned by sheep to bring out this violent side. This is an allegory for the Black Lives Matter and really any discussion of race by people of color. The predator animals weren’t violent until they were poisoned by the prey animals.

The sheep enacted this plot after years of mistreatment by the larger predatory animals in the city. It’s not a perfect metaphor, again, because this movie is for children and in children’s movies, your villain must be a bad guy. There isn’t time in an hour and a half to peel back the layers of motivation and see how the person with the gun got to where they are. But it’s easy to put together.

The sheep, being small and not able to access the upward mobility that the larger herbivores had access to due to their large size, organized and worked to overthrow the system that kept them at the lower levels. This is what Conservative White people think BLM is doing (it’s not, we just want cops to stop shooting people which doesn’t seem like it would need a whole movement but this is America and cops NOT killing people seems to be controversial) and this entire film is an allegory for what would happen if White people and Black people switched population sizes. At the root of that is if POC don’t say or do anything to draw attention to racism then we’ll see those distasteful parts of the Whiteness begin to disappear.

Ultimately, none of the overreaching issues are resolved in more than face value. The flower is identified, the sheep that started it all is locked up, we can all learn to get along, Shakira, Shakira. Still, it’s a good place to start.

Zootopia was not a perfect movie. It was a very fun children’s movie however it does rely on a good deal of racism 101, we’re all equal and can learn to love our differences which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for young children. It does serve as a very subtle, albeit less than perfect, metaphor for the concerns of Conservative White America but it leaves a lot unexplored and sacrifices a stronger point to make a better children’s movie.

You’re Conditioned

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I was talking to a white guy about speaking on the protests and why they shouldn’t put focus on the looters they replied, “I can’t talk about an issue without addressing the full matter.” At that point I checked out of the conversation because even though this guy was a “good White person”, I was exhausted from trying to educate them. But after some rest, I want to address this idea of the “whole issue” because claiming not to be able to compartmentalize is bullshit. We all do it all the time, there’s no reason it can’t be done here EXCEPT for our social conditioning.

When you talk about dropping by McDonald’s you don’t also have to discuss how ranching has destroyed the rain forests before you order a large fry. When you buy a new shirt, you don’t also discuss how the fast clothing industry is creating more trash than we know what to do with or the slave labor practices that many companies employ before you hit order now.

All of us compartmentalize every single day with no issue but suddenly when it’s people of color we have to talk about EVERYTHING. Especially the things that are negative. This isn’t because the vandalism is greater than the protest itself or because a years old criminal record excuses the death of an unarmed man, it’s because those things help to demonize Blackness.

We are socially conditioned to find the wrongness in Black people to make their problems their fault. If they weren’t a criminal, they wouldn’t have been shot. If they protested peacefully they would get more attention, if, if, if. And all that does is excuse the institutional racism that created these situations in the very first place.

Your social conditioning and culture are why you “can’t” speak on the protests without speaking about looters. Your social conditioning and culture are why you look for a criminal record when an unarmed Black man has been shot but you look for a sports record or charity when a White dude gets caught sticking his dick somewhere it doesn’t belong. You’ve been taught to demonize Blackness and uphold the goodness of Whiteness.

Unlearn that.

All Things Aren’t Equal, Stop Discussing Them That Way

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Right now there are protests going on in Charlotte, North Carolina because yet again, another unarmed Black man was shot by the police. During this protest some people have chosen to use this time destroy property and loot. You might be compelled share some opinion about how you feel about that in relation to the protests that are happening. Don’t do that.

You may be thinking that it’s only fair to discuss the looting in as well, to bring attention to the problem. But you’re wrong and you’re likely compelled to speak on it, not by fairness, but by unconscious racism.

There will always be people who are opportunistic and use a time of unrest to be violent or to engage in some sort of criminal activity. That doesn’t mean that protest itself is about violence or that the people who are protesting are violent. However, when you focus the discussion on the violence, especially when it is in relation to Black protest, you are in fact helping to contribute to a narrative of antiblackness.

You are taking focus away from a needed conversation and discussion on racism and directing attention instead to something that fits the narrative of Black people as violent. There are people who would say that I am trying to distract from the TRUTH of how Black people REALLY are but I’m not talking to those people, because those people are openly racist. I’m talking to people who would like to work on their own internalized racism, especially white people who want to be better allies.

I want to address, here, something that I see all repeated that ignoring this violence would be like ignoring ISIS or ignoring police brutality because those are the minority of larger nonviolent groups but this is really just really one of the most common logical fallacies, the false equivalency. I talk about it a lot because it happens so often.

At first glance, protesters to rioters vs cops to cops who shoot unarmed people, for instance, seem to be comparable because they are both these minority groups inside of a much larger collection. But this breaks down when we start to look at it further.

People are protesting and some people are using the opportunity to commit crimes. The second thing has nothing to do with the goals and the drive of the first thing. But when you spend time focusing on illegal activities of that minority, you’re taking part in a narrative that supports the culture of antiblack racism.

Police officers are shooting black people while the majority of officers are not. Although the majority of officers have never shot anyone, black or white, when we pull back from these incidents and look at a larger view of the system as a whole, we can see how multiple issues feed into the end result of unjustified shooting of people of color. And honestly, we are looking at and discussing the ENTIRE justice system, not just the cops that pull the trigger.

The first step in really doing antiracism work as a white person either as an activist or just for your own self, is stepping back and realizing that you can’t discuss everything on equal terms because everything is not on equal terms. The push to make things, as they are now, seem equal in discussion is a way to discredit and undermine the oppressed.

For example, if two people go the ER and one has a crushed finger and the other a crushed ribcage, we wouldn’t just say they both have some broken bones and make them both wait for beds. Similarly, if the family of the ribcage victim is screaming and crying for help, the finger victim wouldn’t turn to them ask why they couldn’t just pipe down and wait their turn. When you look bigger picture, it becomes clear that although they have a similar issue at the most basic level, once you pull back, you can see that they are in fact very different. You have to consider the larger narrative and ask yourself what does this discussion serve?

Why are they looting and breaking things? Because those people are opportunistic individuals who have chosen to commit criminal acts. Now, what does that have to do with the protests? Does it add anything positive to conversation? Does it foster greater understanding between people? Does taking time out to discuss this minority in relation to the greater whole do anything other than support a narrative of antiblackness?

Apply that strategy to all your interactions regarding race, gender, ableism, etc. We all enter into spheres carrying our own biases and we need to do the work in reviewing them and confronting them. This post dealt with racism but the same practices need to employed by people of privilege when engaging in discussions with and regarding the needs of marginalized people. Even if you’re a marginalized person in some other way, if you hold privilege in the space you are in, then you need to do this work.

Black on Black Crime Isn’t a Myth

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Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve heard it from people in relation to #BlackLivesMatter because how can Black lives matter when we’re out here killing each other? So, as a Real Life Black Person™, I am going to clear up this whole discussion for you.

Yes, Black people do kill other Black people. Yes, you are more likely to be killed or otherwise harmed by a Black person if you are a Black person. That being said, you can replace Black with White and that sentence is still true. Black on Black crime isn’t a myth anymore that than White on White crime is but the narrative that surrounds it and makes it seem like this unique thing that is only true of Black people is basically racism 101. And furthermore, it has nothing to do with whether or not trained police officers have the right to harass, profile, and murder Black people at a disproportionately higher rate than White people, which is what #BlackLivesMatter is about.

Black on Black Crime (hereafter referred to as BBC), is the idea that Black people are violent by nature to the point of killing each other. The fact of the matter is that people tend to be violent, especially those who live in high stress situations, such as poverty which we know also disproportionately affects people of color.

That being said, crime rates are pretty steady across the board for both White and Black people. Just as many White people are committing violent crimes against other White people as there are black people. This is because crime is largely intraracial. People, generally, aren’t leaving their close surroundings to commit crime.

If you’re going to rob a store, it will be in your neighborhood or close by. If you’re going to murder someone, they will likely be someone who frequents the same places you do. Because the United States is still largely unsegregated when it comes to housing this means that Black people live with other Black people and White people live with other White people.

So if someone has a criminal intention, it will more than likely be carried out against someone who looks like them.

BBC isn’t a “thing” because Black people are more violent or because White people are better. It’s merely a manipulation of facts to fit a racist narrative. That’s it.

It gets even murkier when you consider that the metric that we use to create crime statistics is inherently flawed. BBC generally refers to homicides but that is just one piece of the overall issue. Across the board, Black people are more like to be arrested, convicted, and given harsher sentences for crimes than their White counterparts which help to skew reporting statistics.

Again, this isn’t because there are higher rates of crime in Black communities, this is because there are higher rates of arrests and convictions in Black communities. These are not the same things. Broken Window policies and racial profiling have helped to ensure that Black people are arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate.

This has a devastating effect on the community as families are torn apart, they are thrown deeper into the clutches of poverty and are more likely to engage in criminal behavior to get by. This all feeds into why you see a larger number of Black people incarcerated.

This isn’t a victim mentality. This isn’t about not being able to function in civilized society. Black on Black crime is a narrative device that cherry picks facts and uses limited information as a way to further oppress Black people. By making it seem that we are inherently violent, it makes it OK for us to be handled violently. That is the truth of Black on Black crime.

Speak Up

Omar Mateen was not an Islamic terrorist. He was a normal, home grown American terrorist. He didn’t decide to murder those innocent people because of Allah. He did it because he lives in a country that supports hate against those that it considers “other”.

He was a brown Dylan Roof.

The biggest threat to America isn’t some group across the ocean. The biggest threat to America is America and it will stay that way as long as groups that support hate are allowed to continue to fester. It will stay that way as long as people are silent when they witness friends and family make causal remarks against Muslims, LGBTQ people, Black people, Indians, etc.

It will stay that way until people in this country stop letting the worst of us decide how the rest of us are going to live.