A lot of people have criticized the Black Lives Matter Sacramento chapter for its latest strategy toward healing and Black liberation. Particularly, Black people. Among the critiques have been charges of the chapter’s supposed focus on “the wrong things.” But when you say that BLM is focused on the wrong things, how would you know what the right things are if you don’t understand what liberation truly looks like? Several people have their own ideas about what BLM’s goals SHOULD be. They seem to be stuck in their own heads, wanting us to protest without strategy, or march without organization and without knowledge of the system that oppresses us. Remember, BLM members are human beings, with families, students, teachers, and connections to people from several walks of life, several ethnicities, and several social classes. We have family members who are impoverished, imprisoned, or deceased, family without access to mental health resources and/or treatment. All of these are the effects of oppression. And we still listen when you have critiques. But we also know that many of the critiques come from people who are socialized by the same white supremacist system that we are trying to dismantle.
And those same people criticizing our strategies are the same people who MISSED the training on the Movement for Black Lives, which explained in depth how procedures to address reparations (a defunding of institutions that characterize our people as culturally inferior) are as important to the overall goal of restoring dignity and economic justice to our people. We also understand how the defunding these institutions is linked to a halt to police murders of our brothers and sisters. Yeah, you missed that workshop, didn’t you?
And you also missed the Community Alternatives to Police meetings where we deliberately unpacked the history, the REAL history, of policing in the United States. We showed how policing is a means of maintaining racial economic inequality by inducing fear into upper class non-Black citizens through characterizations of Black people as intellectually inferior, crafty, and dangerous. And it’s also funny how you just happened to find other things to do while we were holding Freedom Schools. In one Freedom School on education, a linguistics professor explained in detail the ways in which Black language is negatively characterized, though it is more complex than “standard English.” You also missed medical doctors and psychologists explaining how Black people have been brainwashed to ignore culturally relevant signs of self-care by an institutionalized racist health care system.
You missed discussions with teachers and professors explaining how the education system constantly, methodically segregates black and white, rich and poor, to infantilize, patronize, and otherwise negatively characterize Black boys and girls, creating a preschool-to-prison pipeline that citizens without knowledge (Black and non-Black)are brainwashed into believing is justified. And yes, you MISSED how every one of these highly intelligent individuals used evidence to show community members how Black culture and Black life has been misappropriated, mishandled, and used against us for centuries, while rich white capitalists strategically used our own culture, our creativity, our labor, our language, our love, and even our heritage foods AGAINST us in this capitalist combination of systems that we call the United States.
But instead of coming out and listening, instead of doing the work of educating yourselves on the real history and systems of physical and psychological racial oppression, you sit with your utter lack of knowledge and complain, criticizing BLM’s tactics and political strategies, shouting out against our energy and intellect, the ones who love you so much that we would risk our lives and well-being for you. We are the ones who dedicate our time, who constantly learn more, then share what we learn, so that we can fight for YOUR dignity and self-respect with not only our protests but also with our intellectual acumen. We know that you need dignity to continue to create. We know you need a fighting spirit from your community so that the fruits of your creativity and labor will not be stolen from you, your children, and your children’s children. We know that when they are stolen, you begin to believe the centuries-old hype that says you and we are not worthy. Most of all, we know that you internalize the oppression that the racist capitalist system heaps upon you, telling you that we should be concentrating on the EFFECTS of a racist system (police shootings), rather than also exposing its CAUSES and associated mechanisms such as residential segregation, occupational discrimination, gentrification, and yes, my people, cultural appropriation. You shout against us without knowledge. You criticize without a complex critique.
So listen while we try AGAIN to school you on why cultural appropriation is so damaging. First, a clear working definition: Cultural appropriation is:
“…taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture's dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It's most likely to be harmful when the source community is a [marginalized] group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive...” (Scafaldi 2005)
Cultural appropriation takes too long to say, so some people just call it “borrowing” or “building.” Borrowing from the cultures of oppressed peoples, or “building” on their cultural traditions, invalidates the experiences of the already marginalized group. Borrowing has been a common historical tactic of oppression in the United States, usually for capital gain. This practice is a perversion of the group’s cultural practices, a cheap copy designed to distort the public’s view of the group through stereotypical imagery. The perpetuation of negative stereotypes is easily and craftily promoted by the dominant group’s lack of knowledge about the culture that they copy.
For instance, in the 1950s, white musicians regularly borrowed the musical stylings of their Black counterparts. Because Black people weren’t widely accepted in the U.S. music industry, record executives chose to have white recording artists replicate the sound of musicians from oppressed groups. This led to musical forms such as rock-n-roll being largely associated with whites, in spite of the fact that Black and Brown musicians were pioneers of the art form. This move also had financial consequences, as many of the oppressed musicians who helped pave the way for rock-n-roll’s success never saw a dime for their contributions to the music. Now this is just the 50’s; we haven’t even mentioned the minstrel period, jazz, blues, and yeah, hip hop… And this is just music. What other creative art forms have been stolen from us, changed to fit a different audience, and then sold for more money than anybody would have paid to a Black man or woman?
Now let me ask something else, here. What could Black people have done with the money that we lost out on while non-Black folks were stealing our creativity and using it for their own capital gain? Could we have kept more of our homes? Could we have sent more of our children to college, or funded alternative educations in our primary and secondary schools? Could we have started new businesses and sustained them through recessions and depressions? Could we have fortified our communities and protected them from gentrification? Y’all keep thinking about the short term, but we need for you to think about the history and long-term consequences! What condition would Oak Park be in right now if the music and creativity from Black people in that community had been rewarded justly 50 years ago? If Black people had been paid justly over the last 60 years, wouldn’t they have been able to keep their homes and protect that community from interlopers and capitalists? When we fight against cultural appropriation, we know what we are fighting for. YOU are the ones who don’t seem to understand! So please hear us, critical brothers and sisters, as we say this with all the love in the world:
Sit yo’ asses down, shut da’ fuck up, LISTEN to what we are trying to tell you, and LEARN something before you open yo’ inaccurate, uninformed mouths about why BLM Sacramento does what we do!
Scafidi, S. (2005). Who owns culture?: Appropriation and authenticity in American law. Rutgers University Press.