Being young, successful, and oppressed by the notion of blackness

by Jeremiah Johnson

An open letter to companies who would like to be allies
What were your very first thoughts when you saw this image?

If you are a person offended by the notion of blackness, one way to please a person oppressed by the notion of whiteness is to make them money. Leaving home at seventeen, I realised the values of hard work which my parents instilled in me and began to showcase this in my attitude towards life. If you think about it, it makes sense. In an age where cultural appropriation is rife in the media, it has become easier to spot the two things companies hold closest in their hearts. Money is one of them – but, of course, this goes without saying. The other is how the public views them. So, picture this: you have an employee who not only works hard (the result of which is ultimately you bringing home more bacon), but is also black? Killing two birds with one stone has never been easier. However, upon closer inspection, many companies have realised that improving the latter increases the former, and companies who are aware of this aren't shy to use this layer of advertising unashamedly.

It is also easy to see that fulfilling quotas beneficial to social status is the bigger driving force, as opposed to social change and the betterment of societies. One interesting thing to notice the next time you see an ad containing multiple people, is the singular person of colour. In my experience, they're typically male, due to just as atrocious patriarchal sensibilities. When considering ads of the past, racial discriminations can be seen even more noticeably in marketing campaigns. They're drenched in a distinct lack of representation, with some ads overtly enforcing racist narratives that people of colour are dirty and/or primitive. Whether it's Dove or H&M, the racialised sensibilities of Western Capitalism are plain to see. The blatant tokenism of black bodies has also morphed from being a "get-out-of-being-called-racist" card to a "let's-tap-into-this-market" card. This change sees companies using this technique more aggressively, as it becomes a catalyst towards higher profits as opposed to just a prevention mechanism used to secure social standing.

Nothing's changed.

The recent commercialisation of the Black Lives Matter movement has seen this layer of advertising present itself more openly. It can be difficult to spot the difference between companies who want to become allies and those who are simply paying lip service. Case in point, Starbucks recently posted that they 'will confront racism to create a more inclusive and just world' but then requested that employees not wear BLM articles of clothing (https://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/502252-starbucks-bans-employees-from-wearing-anything-in-support-of-black-lives). For those searching for hope, this policy changed once the word got out to the public and Starbucks came under fire. One way to sift through those simply jumping on the bandwagon is by asking them what sustained changes have been made within their company culture to show they truly believe Black lives matter, and what actions have they taken to create a more inclusive and just world. These changes and actions should be proportional to the company's size and influence. ​

*We will not be bystanders once our profits are threatened.
Let's keep threatening the profits of companies who are only paying lip service...who knows what will come out of it...
Jay Johnson - Preconceptions (premiere)

Lyrics

It was early in the morning

the day clearly was still dawning

I was fairly busy yawning at the view

she rolled over on my chest

she moved closer then she pressed

her lips lower, on my neck and then she flew

I was so glad we were a team

I thought this had to be a dream

wanted to go back to sleep and rest my head

but before I could close my eyes

she came back and froze the skies

for a moment life was still and then she said

 

she said I’m so black she said I’m so beautiful

but I’m just wondering which she noticed first

told her I am trapped she thought I was delusional

but why are preconceptions of me always the worst

 

Loneliness is a knife that’s been in my back all my life

and no matter how much I strive to pull it out

it feels like it’s too deep when the night falls I cannot sleep

I use pillows just for my tears and quiet shouts

I know I’m not a saint but these colours we seem to paint

have done nothing for me but taint my self-esteem

it is a mental virus, am I conscious of my bias?

now I don’t only feel lifeless in my dreams

 

she said I’m so black she said I’m so beautiful

but I’m just wondering which she noticed first

told her I am trapped she thought I was delusional

but why are preconceptions of me always the worst

 

Jay Johnson Productions ©

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© Jay Johnson