Friday, March 31, 2017

Who owns Aunt Jemima? (Appropriation of the black image/culture) & March Madness is White Madness

While I was listening to the Natural Blues song remixed by Moby, I found the original song that Moby sampled from Vera Hall called "Trouble so hard." And of course I reconstruct and analyze everything I do, so I started thinking about Moby using a song and reclaiming it as his own while turning it into a multi-platinum album. This reminded me of Alice Walker's story '1955' that I read a while back. Her story was about a woman who wrote a song that a young white man bought from her to use in his shows and concerts. He made so much money off of her song, he didn't know what to do with all the money. And he gave the woman a car eventually, and tried to offer her other things that would try to make him feel better for profiting off of her song. Eventually the man began to ask her the meaning of her song because even though he sings the song publicly, he didn't know what the song was about. The story by Alice was actually based on Elvis Presley reclaiming Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" song. Similarly, this dynamic comes from the white dominated entertainment industry that approves of a select group of people who is given permission to succeed or not.

Often today, people are making money off of other people's work--especially media outlets and advertising. You begin to question: why is this particular image being used? And, who owns this image? Who owns Aunt Jemima's image? According to M. M. Manning, Aunt Jemima originally came from a minstrel show (white people in blackface) as one of their pantheon of stereotypical black characters. The character appears to have been a Reconstruction era addition to that cast. Several women have portrayed the Aunt Jemima character such as Anna Short Harrington, Lillian Richard, Nancy Green, and Ethel Ernestein Harper, but the Aunt Jemima character comes from the ideology of the Mammy who cooks and cleans for the white masters. And certainly when you ask now 'who owns Aunt Jemima's image?'-- it certainly isn't the descendants of any of the women who portrayed her. Because Aunt Jemima's image is owned by Quaker Oats which is owned by PepsiCo, it seems that the image has been historically owned by white men who are made the profits.

From what is described above comes from appropriation that exploits culture, language, and images from minority groups to be used for the majority. I must admit my own cultural appropriation and analyze it: my brothers play Korean and Japanese video games, sister is majoring in Japanese language, my partner watches anime, and I watch Korean TV shows. I have culturally appropriated in what I eat, my hobbies, or how I speak, and there is a fine line of cultural appropriation when the white majority groups appropriate images and songs for profit. I admit I too use black culture in my everyday language. This is on the spectrum of appropriating culture because it's a signal or a sign that black culture is wanted and adopted; but it's noticeably acceptable for whites to use and profit from black culture while black entertainers themselves are up against an industry that is owned and operated by the white elites.

Think of any popular slang word or phrases that are currently used today: bae, swag/ger, Yas Queen, or slay-- and you'll see that it all comes from black culture. I use all these words and my little white bro calls himself a "thug", and I find that to be absolutely disgraceful like when that white vegan couple made a recipe book called "Thug Kitchen." White people get away with calling themselves "thugs" and profiting, while some Black youths get labeled a thug for life and it's used against them. Recently in the news of my home state, a young Black female student was told that she was not allowed to wear her hair a certain way. I can't find the news article now, but the fact that a girl cannot wear her hair a certain way just because of the way it is for one racism, discrimination, but also it is a signal that black girls are not allowed to wear their hair a certain way while white girls do not have to have that concern. This continues to be a sign that there is a system that tells people of color that what they do is not allowed unless if white people do it, it is then acceptable.

Again, I think deeper on the culture dynamics of the United States specifically, considering there is greater diversity of cultures in the US. I wanted to write a separate essay on college basketball because March Madness is almost over, but it will work just fine as an example here. March Madness is White Madness, and this is because I see a sea of white people in the stands watching Black bodies compete with one another. I see hints of slave fights where White slave owners would watch and bet on their slaves as they fought to the death. Basketball isn't slavery, nor is it slave fights, nor can it ever compare to such. But as I watch the White fans in the crowd looking down on the basketball teams that are competing for something I don't understand, I am quick to recognize this dynamic. These same fans are defiant too--even making death threats to coaches when their home state team loses. But beyond the fans, there is a hole industry that profits off of the young students of college basketball from sponsors, advertisements, investors, teams, and the college students don't get a penny of it unless they go pro.

But what does that say about the industry that tells college students to quit their education in order to make millions for a sport. I ask to myself: do these fans only love their team or do they idolize the players? Do they know the names and lives of these young students who play basketball? Do they realize the players are only 18 and 19 year old boys? Do they question if they're doing good in school while they work relentlessly for their team? One thing is for sure: basketball is corrupt like any other sport or entertainment industry. Someone was quoted saying "What if Black people were loved as much as Black culture?" And when I ponder on that statement, I wonder if Black bodies would still be used for sports and entertainment, asked to forget about their education, caged within mass incarceration, or shot down by the people that's job is to protect them.

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