By Torraine WalkerSam Phillips, legendary owner of Sun Records who first recorded Elvis, famously declared, “If I could find a white boy who sings like a colored man I’d make a million dollars.” Some decades later, it seems his vision is realized in that the appropriation of Black culture, from music to fashion to language, is a business model that has allowed white dominated industries to generate billions of dollars annually in cultural capital while leaving the original creators forgotten and broke.
The latest example of this extraction of cultural resources occurred over the weekend when the news broke that Sam Whiteout, a white man who pledged the historically Black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, contributed to a paper on “wokeness” that was published at Harvard. Predictably, the most dominant forces of Black twitter erupted in outrage. Frequently, many raised that his writing wasn’t good enough to be published in such a prestigious journal, and that his inclusion took up space that could have gone to a Black academic.All that is true, but we must be honest in reckoning that his inclusion in our spaces came by way of those of us who yearn for white approval. Sam White gained viral attention after a video of him shimmying with his frat brothers went viral.Ever since, he’s been crowned as one of the leaders of the “woke” social justice movement that began taking shape in current form following the execution of Michael Brown, Jr. And Black folks crowned him. It was one of the first examples of a phenomenon that now happens on social media on a regular basis: a white person does something or wears something connected to the culture, or says something “woke,” and we act like Jesus came back. It’s embarrassing to watch.In the past, white people looking to exploit Black culture had to come into Black spaces and actively search for talent to co-opt. But now thanks to the decentralized nature of social media, white people no longer have to actively search for co-optation of our brilliance. Social media allows them to take it because some of us offer it up freely. When we invite white outsiders to our proverbial “cookouts” because they’ve done the subjective bare minimum, we bring them to the attention of gatekeepers who have the power to resource them in ways that we don’t. These gatekeepers do not interact with Black culture on a daily basis so when they see us praising a white outsider, they assume he’s endorsed by the collective and they quickly bring them into their circle to monetize his expertise. This is how the culture gets stolen, and the the authorization of Black gatekeepers allows this cultural theft to continue. There would be no Justin Timberlake without Timbaland’s co-sign. Miley Cyrus wouldn’t have been able to use hip-hop like a cheap jacket she discarded once it was no longer useful if artists and producers respected in that world hadn’t draped it over her shoulders. When you have gatekeepers who see the short term bag as more important than the long term goal of preserving the culture, this is what happens. There’s also the question of why we give these people platforms. We live in a society that teaches us that anything authentically Black is of lower social and economic quality, and some of us have internalized this white supremacist mistruth. For some of us, regardless of how we posture, whiteness or objects and resources closely affiliated or connected to it, is christened as superior. Further, the common practice of white Americans “listening” to Black brilliance once a white co-signer advocates to a certain degree, lends itself to our desire to find the lone white savior who “relinquishes their privilege” on the behalf of the one or few Black culture makers they deem credible. The mentality and pursuit of the lone white savior is so common that is may be considered instinctual, and inhibits almost all social sectors from the academic to the professional, and even the most vocally pro-Black organizations. It’s time we unlearn and admonish such behavior. Thanks to social media, it takes very little effort to get a huge number of us to uplift you like Daenerys at the end of the 3rd season of Game of Thrones.I see Black creatives who make skits that are funnier than most of the hot garbage on network television, and writers making threads that deserve to be books. And we should continue in our elevation of their endeavors, and cease bestowing undue praise on the cultural visitors who net fame, fortune, and opportunity from their mediocrity.Black Twitter is an undeniable cultural force. And this power attracts people who use our brilliance for self-gain. And while these actions are inexcusable, we need to hold some responsibility for their elevation. For every share, like, or retweet of a white person dancing on beat or arguing with a racist, we make way for the Sam Whiteouts who profit off the extension of our grace. The continued indifference to whiteness that some of us are holding ourselves in principle to, must outweigh the continued thirst for white validation. We need no more Sam Whiteouts when so many Black people are living, existing, and surviving with the brilliance white folks will never have the range to hold.Suggested Reading
“Erica Garner: ‘I’m in This Fight Forver’” Kirsten West Savali, The Root (December 31, 2017)
“What to Say When ‘Wypipo’ Bring Up MLK” Michael Harriot, The Root (January 16, 2017)
“Only white men are heroes” Arielle Iniko Newton, RaceBaitr (June 2, 2017)
“For every white woman who appropriates Blackness, there’s a Black man behind her” Daniel Johnson, RaceBaitr (June 15, 2017)
At the end of therapy this morning, I felt like the lone Samurai at the end of a Japanese movie. His warlord has betrayed him, his fellow Samurai have fallen into dishonor, and the rice crop failed. After a last meditation, he emerges from his tent, sword flashing, to die fighting 10,000 men. I told this to my therapist and we both laughed.
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Crypto-cartographers hope to use it for spatial verification—confirming that things are where they say they are, when they claim to be there. How might this be useful? Well, you could know precisely when an Amazon delivery drone drops a package on your doorstep, at which point the charge would post to your account. No more unscrupulous delivery drivers, and no more contested charges for packages lost in transit. Or when opening a new bank account, you could virtually confirm your permanent address by physically being there during a particular verification period, rather than providing copies of your utility bills. You could also submit a photo of your flooded basement or smashed windshield to your insurance company, supplementing your claim with time- and location-verified documentation. Or, as you pass by your local family-owned coffee shop, the owner could “airdrop” some Bitcoin coupons to your phone, and you could stop by to cash in before the offer expires a half hour later.