“Fleek,” “bling,” “lit,” “swag,” “throwing shade.” All words and phrases that have been created by Black folks, particularly underprivileged Black folk. At this rate, by 2030 when you look up 70% of the words in the American English dictionary, the etymologies will no longer say “from an Indo-European root shared by Latin”. Instead it’ll read, “from Black urban collequial.” Black culture is American culture. I always flinch when I’ve hear one of these words in use by a White person. Not because they’re white but usually because they don’t understand the culture of which it came from. Thus, I’ve been very careful about exuding my “blackness” around certain white folks who may be intrigued by the exoticism of my speech.
Privilege Oh Privilege
White people have always had this privilege: the privilege of picking and choosing what they like from a culture and discounting what they deem to be the undesirable aspects. It’s like love, right. If you are going to love someone, you should love them unconditionally, that is you should love all of them and not just the parts that you like. Sorry to get deep and metaphorical. Actually, sorry but not sorry.
“Girrrrrrrrrl,” Black vernacular and fashion isn’t the only thing being commodified. Gay fashion trends and languages are commodified as well. We could have an intellectual debate about where some of their fashion and vernacular trends originated but no need to get that deep. Asian and other ethnic ( for lack of a better word) foods are often commodified and exoticized as well.
Though all of these cultural aspects are being commodified, I don’t have a problem with the commodification of gay and ethnic foods. Why?
The difference is, some folks are getting compensated for aspects of their culture becoming commodified. In the fashion industry, gay men are considered to have an eye for fashion and thus gay men have access to jobs and even power in the industry perpetuating their stronghold in this industry. That is, gay people, are at least straight gay white people are cashing in on their value in fashion. Similarly, though most do not make it, many talented athletic Black men try to capitalize on their perceived American value of athleticism and aim to go pro in basketball or football. (Hence the argument, that college athletes should be compensated).
Restaurants that serve “ethnic” foods are mostly owned by minorities from the food’s respective country of origin. Hence they are also reigning in capital for the commodification of their foods.
In contrast, Black culture, which continues to be the flavor and backbone of American popular culture, continues to be stolen. Everyday new slang is created in the most marginalized of communities. After a few months, popularized by young white kids, these words hit mainstream culture. Yet, the originators do not see any income and are not rewarded for their creativity.
How do we change this dynamic? Many companies struggle to stay current, especially as it relates to marketing. Why not create culture think thanks in impoverished hubs around the country? Southside Chicago, Brooklyn, Bronx, Oakland, and Miami are just a few places to start. “Yaaaaasss!” Companies can find an at-risk high school and college students, equip them with the necessary skills needed to function in a think tank and watch them go to work.
Originators would be compensated for their creativity and companies working with these think tank hubs would be at the forefront of marketing and innovation. Twitter is an example of a company that could benefit from this. Black Twitter is one of Twitter’s strongest influencers yet the company heavily lacks Black talent. Why not seek to hire popular Black tweeters? As Obama once said, “Black Culture is American culture.” Let’s first start by acknowledging this and now let’s be constructive and proactive about it.