When George Floyd, a 46-year old black man was brutally murdered by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, many Americans and people all over the world opened their eyes to a very harsh reality. Black lives are constantly disregarded, anti-black sentiment continues to exist in many communities and systemic violence against black people is disturbingly common. In 2020 alone, 88 black people have been fatally shot by the police in the US.
The death of George Floyd served as a wake-up call to many. Instagram feeds usually full of models and their sartorial choices were flooded with the horrifying 8-minute 46-second video of Floyd’s death, #blacklivesmatter, MLK quotes, and heartfelt paragraphs of support towards the black community.
But to many of us, the question remained — why should I care about this?
Your rap, R&B, or hip-hop playlist — 95% black artists. The hoop earrings you love to wear every day — brought into popular culture by black women like Lauryn Hill. The sneakers you love to collect? Sneaker culture was popularized in the US through black people– it was a way to express themselves when their voices were silenced in every other way. The slang that we use so commonly in our everyday lives? Most of it is derived from colloquial black language, known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) .
In 2018, Kim Kardashian wore cornrows and called them “boxer braids.” For her, it was just a hairstyle, a fashion statement. Meanwhile, a federal appeals court passed a law that allowed employers to ban dreadlocks, a common Afro-Caribbean hairstyle from the workplace. Black people are discriminated against for expressing their culture unapologetically, while other people doing it are considered cool.
Black culture dominates popular culture, and as international students, we are avid consumers of this culture. It is unfair for us to constantly enjoy and exploit elements of black culture while we choose to ignore the very real issues that black people face today. We take whatever parts of black culture we want while conveniently avoiding the challenges that come with being black. Because, in our little international bubble, we are never confronted by these racial realities.
Having black friends is not enough. Being a Cavs fan is not enough. As people who consume black culture, we cannot just enjoy these “trends.” We must be aware of the context that has made way for them, which is inextricably linked to the systemic injustice and racism that black people have always faced. If you don’t have the slightest clue of the obstacle-ridden road that your black idols had to navigate to get to where they are, you’ve ignored a crucial part of their identity. You have conveniently ignored their blackness.
At this juncture in history, we simply cannot turn a blind eye. Our understanding of racism needs to transcend our history classes and into our lives. We listen to, read, wear, and watch black expression in the form of music, Youtube, fashion, and culture, but fail to embrace the complexity of it. If there is even one thing we can do, it is to connect the dots between our ideals and our lived realities.
Aadya Aryal is the features editor of The Woodstocker
Edited by Janvi Poddar