Ears Wide Shut
This piece is sponsored by Ashlee and Stavros Karatsoridis whose generous gift on Kickstarter directly supported this creator.
The Constant Effort to Silence & Steal from Black Voices
There are only a handful of movies I can sit down and watch on a loop…and the dazzling 2006 film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, Dreamgirls, is certainly one of them. With a star-studded cast of singers/actors like Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Jamie Foxx, it’s no wonder I consider it one of my all-time favorites! Set in the 1960’s, the film is not only filled with music reminiscent of the time, but the racism as well. This can clearly be seen in the film when the song, “Cadillac Car”, is created, recorded, and distributed to local radio stations. “Cadillac Car” is written, produced, and performed by all Black artists; but as the song grows in popularity on both the R&B and pop charts, it is cruelly ripped from the original artists’ hands, reconstructed to fit a white audience, and then showcased on a national stage by all white performers.
From the Black group’s initial excitement of witnessing the rise of “Cadillac Car” on the charts to their pure shock and utter confusion of watching others take ownership of their artistry, this moment in the film effectively showcases the juxtaposition of Black joy with the devastation caused by racism. Upon facing the realization of the loss, the original composer of “Cadillac Car”, passionately shouts out, “They act like we don’t even exist! Is that how it works? The man decides he wants something, so he just takes it?!” To understand the dynamics intersecting here, it must be acknowledged that in his statement, “the man” can easily represent an agent of white supremacy, patriarchy, government influence, or all three; each one is a representation of systems that have a history of manipulating their power for access to more power, capital, and influence – especially over marginalized groups of people.
And, unfortunately, yes, that is how it seems to work! Even though the Dreamgirls scenes are fictional, the systemic racism and the shady tactics are factual and still occurring today. More specifically, it has become quite common to see white individuals not only attempt to silence Black people, but to also steal (take without asking permission or giving credit/compensation) from the very voices that they try to erase. For example, in 2020, Black creators on Tik-Tok expressed concerns that their accounts were being suppressed and that their content was being deliberately censored on the app. Now, one might imagine that Tik-Tok would be showcasing and even paying their Black content creators considering how much of the app’s popularity relies on the dance challenges spearheaded by Black users. But, quite the contrary … the Black creators on the app tend to experience the same shock and confusion as the Black group in Dreamgirls when they see white app users gain huge social media fame by trending with the very ideas that the Black creators originated. Even when Black users create content about these racial differences they’ve experienced on the app, their videos are flagged and swiftly taken down. Although some may claim that Tik-Tok is simply controlled by an algorithm, there are still individuals (predominantly male and white) behind these apps; and they are not exempt from being held accountable in the suppression of Black voices.
It has become quite common to see white individuals not only attempt to silence Black people, but to also steal from the very voices that they try to erase.
Even when Black people lead social movements that specifically speak to their experiences of marginalization and anti-blackness, white folks still manage to maneuver their way into the space and take center stage. A few years ago, we started to see a surge in discussions about anti-racism. From published works, podcasts, and television specials, it was very noticeable that many of the faces and voices seen and heard leading these anti-racism discussions were white or non-Black people of color. Black people have been teaching and preaching on anti-racism even before the term was coined! To consider any other group of people more experienced or knowledgeable of racism than Black people, is quite frankly … ridiculous! While we applaud and support the various Black authors, scholars, and experts who receive recognition for their work in anti-racism, it is still a field heavily dominated by white academics who refuse to acknowledge how their demand for space silences Black voices and in itself is racist.
Let’s not forget the body positive movement!! No, sugar, this movement wasn’t started by white “wellness” influencers on social media! Historically, fat, Black women have always been the main target of attack when it comes to anti-fatness bias. While defending themselves against attacks on their femininity, beauty, and character, the voices of fat, Black femmes consequently set the foundation for the fat liberation movement. Their voices became the most prolific in the movement against fat discrimination. In the article, “The Black History of the Body Positivity Movement”, Briana Dominci states, “Body positivity went on to be a product of the fat liberation movement of the 1960s. It was created by fat queer Black women and femmes — a space by and for marginalized bodies, for anyone who felt cast aside compared to the strict beauty standards of the time period.” Sounds like a kickass space, right?! Yet, look at the “body positivity movement” today…it barely resembles the space it originated from because we tend to see that fat, Black femmes’ voices are some of the most silenced and suppressed in the community. We incredibly respect, support, and love the Black folks who have carved out their own path in the body positive space, but a quick hashtag Instagram search will do much to reveal that this movement still does not prioritize and center the voices of our most marginalized identities. However, steps can be taken to make a shift and turn this boat around — as long as we change the course of direction and change the voices guiding us to liberation.
Not only are Black voices suppressed and then appropriated from within various forms of media and today’s culture, but this act of silencing is oftentimes an everyday occurrence that Black folks experience in their daily lives. So, when we witness this happening to each other in entertainment, on social media, and in our communities, it can trigger memories in us from the times we experienced the same oppression. As we know, oppression includes the deliberate attempt to control a group of people — especially when it involves their voices. And the lies of white supremacy fooled many into believing they had a right to control Black voices — but what they didn’t know was that you can never truly control what does not belong to you. With each new generation, Black voices have continued to overcome the obstacles set up to deter them from being seen and heard. Individually and collectively, Black voices continue to grow stronger, louder, and bolder on their journey to true freedom.