How the Internet Quickly Consumes Black Culture

It happens every few months: black youths create a new dance phenomenon or phrase, share it on social media, and it becomes a hit in the black community. A few weeks later, however, mainstream media has once again caught up with the trend, drives it into the ground, and the cycling mill of genius black creativity is put to work creating the next craze.

In the past year alone, we have seen the creation and passing of the Terio dance, the Nae-Nae, the Yeet, the Harlem Shake, and now the Shmoney dance. Twerking was our thing until Miley Cyrus got the credit for decades of black creativity, and now the term of endearment “bae” is being over- and misused. “Ratchet” has been dragged by its hair through the metaphorical mud, and “thot” is now in the hands of Katy Perry.

Why is it that black culture in America is so highly in demand that the mainstream media (i.e. white media) is dependent on blackness to keep the gears running? Why does it seem like black culture is the only culture up for grabs? Herein lies the eternal issue of non-blacks commodifying “black cool” – a term coined by writer Rebecca Walker – and how it relegates facets of black culture to bastardized versions of their former selves. Blackness is cool, but black people are not unless they serve as liaisons into the popular parts of the community. We are expected to entertain, and that is it.

My frustrations lie with the fact that black people can’t enjoy their own creations without being expected to share with the rest of the world. There have been many times when I’d been minding my own business when a white or non-black colleague has randomly assumed and demanded that I teach them how to do the popular black dance of the time. Perhaps this is an unpopular opinion, but I don't believe in sharing every aspect of who we are with those outside of the community. I enjoy having things stay ours and only ours, and it is not selfish to think or feel this way.

The prevalence of those outside of the community who don’t care how the trend began or how to even do said trend correctly is what leads to the demise of an original black creation. The issue is not that blacks place their creativity and talents online for the world to see. The issue is the entitlement of non-blacks who see the culture as a costume or entryway into an “exotic” space, and social media has only sped up the process. Black people have known for centuries that our ideas have since been appropriated by non-blacks, but the recent immediacy of how the culture is being consumed seems to be on hyper-drive.

The instant gratification of being able to view the perceived lives of black folks on sites such as Twitter and Vine gives non-blacks the illusion that facets of black life are free for the taking, when they are not. I'm tired of black creativity being used as a idea mill of which others take advantage. When all is said and done however, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: we are always in the lead and our ability to adapt and express ourselves through an ever-evolving style is an example of our resilience.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Kinsey Clarke is a senior at Michigan State University. She enjoys aerial silks and solo trapeze in her spare time. You can follow her personal Twitter account here.

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