I always try to allow folks their own agency and voice.
Question: is this style of "black" dancing proof of Herskovits's theories about the Africanisms at work in Black American culture?
Who gets to decide what is black popular culture? Must we always embrace the good and discard the bad? Or is the "black" in black popular culture something multivalenced, complex, at times enriching and artful, and in other moments, debased and grotesque?
One of the perils of the digital age is that black popular culture (and that of other communities) can be widely circulated, subverting the policing of borders and boundaries. Conversations that were once confined to barbershops and hair salons in the black counter-public are now a click away, available on Youtube, for any person with an Internet connection.The Black Superpublic is real--the gatekeepers are unable to contain access and argue for an "authentic" black voice.
The young women who are "getting their hustle" on by dancing in Mr. Ghetto's Walmart video have no shame in their game. I wonder if these "queens" understand that while their performance may be some type of "expressive culture" offered up by people who happen to be "black," (I would suggest) it is not in fact Black Popular Culture.
These are old arguments about the politics of black representation that go at least back to the Harlem Renaissance, the New Negro, and Zora Neale Hurston. The great cultural theorist Stuart Hall masterfully outlined these complexities of the black in the black popular culture when he famously observed that:
However deformed, incorporated, and unauthentic are the forms in which black people and black communities and traditions appear and are represented in popular culture, we continue to see, in the figures and the repertoires on which popular culture draws, the experiences that stand behind them. In its expressivity, its musicality, its orality, in its rich, deep, and varied attention to speech, in its inflections toward the vernacular and the local, in its rich production of counternarratives, and above all, in its metaphorical use of the musical vocabulary, black popular culture has enabled the surfacing, inside the mixed and contradictory modes even of some mainstream popular culture, of elements of a discourse that is different -- other forms of life, other traditions of representation...
It is this mark of difference inside forms of popular culture -- which are by definition contradictory and which therefore appear as impure, threatened by incorporation or exclusion -- that is carried by the signifier "black" in the term "black popular culture." It has come to signify the black community, where these traditions were kept, and whose struggles survive in the persistence of the black experience (the historical experience of black people in the diaspora), of the black aesthetic (the distinctive cultural repertoires out of which popular representations were made), and of the black counternarratives we have struggled to voice.
Here, black popular culture returns to the ground I defined earlier. "Good" black popular culture can pass the test of authenticity -- the reference to black experience and to black expressivity. These serve as the guarantees in the determination of which black popular culture is right on, which is ours, and which is not.Black people ought not to always operate under the assumption and threat of the White Gaze. But, where is the critical intervention and reflection which suggests that Mr. Ghetto's world of culture and style may not be the best way to represent the black community? Or are matters of representation purely secondary to pleasure?