The Putting On of Blackness
Cultural appropriation is nothing new these days. Celebrities and just plain ole’ regular people do it every day without flinching. It’s part of the same system of oppression as police brutality against Black people. When a non-Black person dresses or wears their hair in a way that one would attribute to Black culture, it’s “just fashion.” However, the Black person whose style is being imitated is seen as a non-existent or criminal. These stereotypes are part of the reason Black people are more heavily targeted by police, to begin with.
A couple of weeks ago, we were introduced to Jessica Krug – the former associate professor at George Washington University who posted a confession on the Medium platform explaining she is not who she claims to be. “To an escalating degree over my adult life,” she wrote, “I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.”
Well, her admission is light on the details. We still don’t know how and why she got to this point in her life and what she expected to gain. More importantly, she doesn’t apologize for the harm she’s caused or explain how she plans to make amends. She exposed herself to avoid being exposed.
How does a White Jewish girl from Kansas City wield herself into an Afro-Latina woman from the Bronx (accent included)? Being a Black woman from Kansas City, this story not only intrigued me but angered me.
We’ve been through this before with Rachel Dolezal. Do you remember? She’s the white woman who perpetrated being Black and held the position of NAACP chapter president in Spokane, Washington. Her White parents outed her and then the media frenzy broke loose.
Unlike Jessica Krug, Dolezal’s claim on Black womanhood is still non-negotiable. She unequivocally identifies as Black, despite the reality she is not. She has an impressive knowledge of African American literature, its writers, and the history of the Civil Rights movement. She even attended the historically black Howard University. She dawns long braids, and her skin is unnaturally kissed with melanin. She's still not Black.
What makes both situations insulting is that Black women have to work twice as hard to obtain the same, if not fewer, benefits as White women in certain spaces.
It’s called blackfishing. And it’s more than making themselves look Black. But it’s the lives they are perpetrating and taking away real opportunities from Black women. The development of Black women’s bodies is another issue that is completely dismissed. Being Black is not an aesthetic. Being black is not something of convenience. It’s not an accessory you can take on and off when it’s suitable.
It’s okay to be Black, until it’s time to be Black.
So, where do we go from here? This fine line between appreciating and appropriating, sprinkled with blackfishing and disrespect. We all have to really own who we are and BE THAT. Black women don’t have the luxury of putting our Blackness on when it fits.