‘Black Outrage’ Isn’t All Bad.

Words: Danielle Dash

Black outrage is bankable and it’s on time like a Stormzy No. 1 single. A company or a person will do or say something steeped in misogynoir or anti-blackness, and black people on social media―from your auntie’s WhatsApp group to the upper-echelons of Black Twitter―will congregate to pass judgement. During the process, there’s a relatively common agreement about 1) what the crime was 2) how we collectively feel about it, and 3) what the punishment is. And, of course, it’s not as cut and dry as that because black people are not a monolith. Black people, contrary to popular opinion, are not a (Bey)hive mind sharing one consciousness. Like all communities, within blackness there are competing schools of thought. From feminist critical thinkers to your vegan pick-me’s, hoteps to your homophobes (maybe they’re the same thing but I digress), depending on which pool of black thinking you dive into, the focus of the discourse of the day is going to have a different emphasis.

All this is to say; I’m not offended by black outrage, you know? It’s an integral part of the development of our critical thinking. More importantly, the constant rage, the ceaseless righteous anger, is an invaluable weapon against those seeking to commodify racism. I’m tired of Piers Morgan, The Daily Mail, Gucci, Adidas and Prada (to name a few) picking at barely-scabbed-over colonial wounds in order to gain traction and media coverage. However, I cannot deny anyone their right to analyse racism and raise their voice in descent, especially since doing just that is part of how I made a name for myself.

Don’t get it twisted: I’m not saying it’s right that Katie Hopkins and Ann Coulter consistently fan the flames of racism and xenophobia, but I also know simply ignoring them won’t have them shrieking “I’m melting!” like their sister in The Wizard of Oz. The formative years of my understanding of race and gender were spent reading black women feminist theorists like bell hooks and Ingrid Banks, but also watching American white men political commentators like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher bask in the “post racial” light of President Barack Obama’s sun. The test for white liberals, however, wasn’t how they’d behave during Obama’s tenure but who they’d blame for his aftermath. Shortly after Toupee Fiasco’s inauguration, the left across the globe turned on itself. The rise of right wing global populism needed someone or something to blame and according to well-intentioned liberal whites (the ones Dr. Martin Luther King warned would be blacks’ greatest stumbling block on the road to freedom), identity politics was the real culprit.

Laura Maguire defines identity politics as “people of a particular race, ethnicity, gender, or religion forming alliances and organising politically to defend their group’s interests.” Really and truly, what is the problem here? See, identity politics is fine when you’re electing the first black president, but according to Bill Maher, those same identity politics are to blame for America’s current president. “[Identity politics] made white people―who are still the majority in this country―feel like a minority, or at least enough of them to swing the election,” Bill said. The real problem is that small taste of what it was like to be the minority, the (let’s be clear) imagined inferiority felt as a result of not always being the centre, the default. This was enough for the whites to, at worst, vote Brexit or entrust their politics to a maniacal racist, sexist bigot, and at best blame that irrational fear on the identity politics of the real victims of oppression.

Look, what all that noise boils down to is that marginalised communities, the “black community” included, are expected to suffer their indignities quietly lest they upset the whites. Despite the violence (both physical and intellectual) able-bodied heteronormative whiteness inflicts upon others, white people and those hoping to benefit from their ill-earned privileges demand black silence in exchange for the maintenance of their status quo. And I’ll tell you this for free: they’re never gonna get it.

They’re especially not gonna get it from Big Mikey. “You lot have proper turned into a pathetic, trampy publication with these sly patronising headlines tryna bait your white indie audience into poking fun at me,” Stormzy tweeted in response to an NME headline that read: “Stormzy tells doubters he’s on the Glastonbury bill ‘because I’m a serious musician.’” Their tweet was accompanied by a picture of Stormzy on stage slapping his chest, the chords in his neck standing to attention as he grimaces while delivering some of his award-winning bars. NME lean on antiquated tropes of the “aggressive, dangerous black man” to insinuate this aggressive black man couldn’t possibly have a clue what he’s talking about; it is purposeful, it is calculated and it’s a tale as old as time. What’s new is black artists invoking the spirit of Zora Neale Hurston’s quote from her seminal novel Their Eyes Were Watching God: “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Stormzy could be quiet and not give it any attention, but the message is clear: silence is complicity, and he’s not going to co-sign being mugged off by this magazine that have already tested his patience before.

It’s clear that the NME have no black journalists with decision-making power on their staff, because anyone with even the smallest amount of melanin would have made someone in their office aware no clicks would ever be worth the outrage generated by an article entitled, “Now that it’s finally on Spotify, I’m gonna say it: Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ actually isn’t that good.” Being a bigger star than Stormzy means Beyoncé didn’t have to lift a finger or raise her voice; the naked audacity with which they targeted her was like digging their own grave, and now when you click on the link it’s ‘404 this page doesn’t exist’. It is possible to engage black people en masse without dehumanising and/or denigrating hyper-visible black people. If these brands and publications would simply hire a few blacks, they’d learn this for free without consistently being on the wrong side of history while simultaneously alienating a British community who, as of 2018, have a spending power estimated at £300billion.

Black outrage doesn’t only work to support musicians and singers: recently, black people across the diaspora came together to support Caster Semenya, the embattled athletic champion fighting for her right to race unimpeded by racist rules that would force her to take drugs to decrease the naturally occurring testosterone in her body—to benefit losers like Lynsey Sharp. While those leading the resistance online are often witty, funny and scathing, it takes an extraordinary amount of intellectual labour to do the very real work of pushing back against the machines that support racist platforms belonging to Morgan, Hopkins, Coulter. The work is made even harder when resisting against white women like Paula Radcliffe and Sharron Davies when their cause appears, on the surface, to not be racist and also be in aid of cis gender women (with the right chromosomes). It is the job of the diverse voices who make up black outrage to not only support and affirm Caster Semenya, but also identify the hidden racism, transphobia and misogynoir therein to ensure that history remembers we weren’t silent in the face of violence. And make no mistake: it is a form of violence for Sharron Davies to celebrate “a good day for female sport” on the day a black woman is denied the right to compete, then encourages civility and kindness as if there is anything civil or kind about what she’s had a hand in doing to Caster Semenya.

Does black outrage always move discourse onto the next evolutionary phase? I doubt it. Do brands, fully aware that black women are major trendsetters who influence mainstream culture, purposefully dip their gnarled toes into racism to get the kind of promotion money can’t buy? Absolutely! However, in my reading of the pros and cons of black outrage, the positives far outweigh the negatives. In the interest of preserving my mental health, I cannot afford to be outraged by everything that happens, but the fact that there are so many people equipped, ready and able to do the work of being outraged means that activists (whichever form they take) can share the burden of resisting the white supremacist patriarchy. It often starts with something as simple as “have you heard about this foolishness?” That spark is often enough to light the flame that will get things moving in the right direction.

Posted on May 09, 2019