Alternately, I could have named this post “On How America Taught the World to ‘be Black’ ” and not be too far off from either sentiment. Of course, it’s about more than simply language as spoken communication, but the specifically unarticulated as well. A language of knowing and understanding in a plethora of ways. As I was reading through the real time tweets of those epic #AskRachel memes, I kept thinking about this, how a kind of blackness becomes codified through popular culture and all the rest of us, black people from elsewhere — know the answers too.
It’s knowing that even though I have never been to a family reunion before,* replete with matching t-shirts and a rounds of the Cupid Shuffle, I feel as though I know what it might be like. And even what I think I know probably pales in comparison to the real experience. I understand also, that black Americans are not always singularly in control of or ultimately responsible for the way those cultural images of themselves are reproduced and disseminated. I’m not going to delve into whether all the images are nuanced enough or multifaceted enough. But I will say in many parts of the world where black people reside, seeing glamorous black people in daytime soaps or movies — in fact, kinds of reflections of ourselves in any form on screen — took place in American movies.
I grew up primarily on American pop culture and occasionally, British. When I was younger, we paid one price to see double features from Hollywood, sometimes Bollywood. Every wave of fashion and music rooted in African American culture made its way to the West Indies. Though the boys in my secondary school worshipped at the altar of dancehall, with original songs, “dollar discos,” and chanting sessions accompanied by poundings on the desks mimicking riveting basslines — at my graduation dance, someone also breakdanced. Although breaking was no longer in vogue then, unexpected dexterous dancing was always cool. We got in a circle like we’d all seen on TV, and we whooped and cheered him on.
That the cultural blackness of the Rachel memes was instantaneously recognizable for segments of the English speaking black diaspora should come as no surprise. We all greased and sprayed with African Pride and coated strands slick with Pink moisturiser at some point, because it was being done in black American culture. And the ways in which capitalism spun blackness into products and encoded blackness into branding found markets far beyond the United States for those who had access to them.