One of my favorite Key & Peele sketches involves two buppie businessmen meeting up in a soul food restaurant in an old, forgotten neighborhood. (Yes, I know the show has issues. Just stay with me, ok?) The two fall into a game of one-upmanship to prove how down they are. Here, watch:
This, my friends, is what popped in my head upon reading this Ms. Magazine essay by Janell Hobson, and this piece by Salon/Crunk Feminist Collective writer Brittney Cooper. From the looks of it, these two brilliant, accomplished black women have–unwittingly, perhaps–fallen into the same sad game. With the Key and Peele sketch, we knew who the intended audience was: the buppies and the sweet, folksy owner/server. But in this case? We’re not exactly sure who the target audience is, and both essays read rather poorly. Cooper spends half of her piece blasting white feminists for attacking the First Lady, then politely finishes their job in the latter half. Hobson spends most of her piece agreeing that there is, indeed, a solidarity problem within feminist ranks and then…calls on “all of us” (read: angry feminists of color) to channel our anger and snark into more positive things.
A lot of people who claim to love black women (some, black women themselves) seem to only love them in the abstract. We can be counted on to provide page hits for the latest “oh no they didn’t” outrage or as fond remembrances in charming little essays we write when we want to regale readers with beautifully crafted tales of our humble beginnings, neatly wrapped in a Nikki Giovanni poem or an Audre Lorde quote. Depending on our usefulness and socioeconomic status, we rank somewhere between God and the nameless sista who bags your collection of Lean Cuisine entrees every week. But here’s the thing: demanding that people recognize our humanity only works if you recognize it, too.
I get that it’s a struggle. There are days when I have to check myself, days when I have to remember that the bathroom attendant I’m tipping isn’t a charity case in need of saving, days when I have to remember that the teenage girls cursing each other out on the train platform probably grew up in a better financial situation than I did. Days when I have to remember that the First Lady is a real flesh and blood human being, not a blank screen on which I can project my hopes and dreams. As others have said, the fact that we dare to exist is an act of defiance. I don’t need to make shit any harder.
There are enough people attacking black women for the lives we lead and the choices we make on the daily. We needn’t any more voices joining the fray. If we’re going to be about the business of improving the world around us, let’s do so without the performance art.