The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Cast, from Wiki Images

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Cast, from Wiki Images

A recommendation from a friend led me to a comedy web series that stemmed from the short film, ‘Ackee and Saltfish’. It’s about black sisterhood in the U.K, which mirrors that of the U.S.

The creators of ‘Ackee and Saltfish’ have created a documentary style web series called ‘Strolling’ that attempts to connect stories of the African diaspora from around the world.

Though the cultural context makes the stories different, the series has gone to the U.K, the Netherlands, Italy, France, and is making its way around the Americas, and there is so much overlap in the stories of anti-blackness and racism. I think what complicates the conversation about blackness and being black is the conflicting ideals of sameness and invisibility that exist at the same time. A lot of this, it seems, comes from the fixation on America and its issues with race. This fixation is damning to a lot of people around the world because America becomes a scapegoat for anti-black sentiments, which prevents many other countries from looking at themselves and realizing the racism within their own institutions. It also perpetuates the illusion of sameness amongst black people. ‘Strolling’ was created to string stories together on a global scale in order to talk about anti-blackness in the way it needs to be discussed.

 

It’s the wishful thinking of people in general that time erases devastation and trauma. It’s as if people believe that history is an illusion with no present repercussions. And so we live in a world where, because of political jurisdictions and the passing time, the oppression of people is over. The different and subtle ways in which bigotry manifests has created the illusion of justice and equality. Bigotry is an aspect of our reality that some people wish didn’t exist because it makes them uncomfortable. In order to establish this comfort, black people and their issues have been continuously ignored and belittled and have been forced into stereotypes where the only hope for tolerance is the assimilation to whiteness, which is a source of ridicule in itself. If the discomfort of a group can’t be seen, the rest can go on believing struggle was a thing of the past. The whitewashing of black history and identities on a global scale, leaving the world with the impression of a lack of presence and accomplishment from the black community, has been the world’s greatest illusion.

 

Examples of this mass whitewashing turn up everywhere. Black people existing anywhere but in the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa are considered anomalies. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is used by people to combat current issues of anti-blackness as if he was merely a gentle peacemaker who spoke of nothing but integration and being brothers and sisters instead of a radical considered an enemy of the state. Styles of music and dance created by black people are ridiculed until taken and popularized by white people, giving no credit to the originators in doing so. New slang seems to pop up randomly, popularized by mass media, by seemingly unknown origins, but when the black community speaks up about white media popularizing their culture, people get defensive about how this culture is for everyone. Black media is consistently not remembered for the work it does for the black community, but only for the entertainment value for mainstream audiences.

 

‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’, for example, is remembered as being a really great comedy that consistently got laughs for breaking the fourth wall and putting Will Smith on the map as an actor, but that show was incredibly pro-black. It discussed racism all the time and it took issues seriously. Phil and Vivian were civil activists, which prompted Phil to get into law in the first place.  There is a whole episode about blackness and the police. The show constantly looks at the way class difference affects how blackness is viewed, with Will and Carlton at odds about what being black means and how the world interacts with them because of it.

 

The erasure from culture and the warping of history to benefit the majority has been the legacy of black people and various other minorities around the world for centuries. This erasure is not seen as racism because it doesn’t seem to hurt anyone. The dictionary defines racism as oppression or discrimination of a person because of the color of their skin. This is not accurate. Racism describes systematic oppression that is deeply rooted in the institutions and ideology by which a society runs. This explains why certain groups cannot actually experience racism but merely discrimination and prejudice. This also explains why laws alone do not end racism. Though we are years past slavery and Jim Crow, we have not eradicated the ideology racism stems from. Part of that ideology is silencing the marginalized, trivializing their pain, and stripping their autonomy by taking their culture and belittling it when they practice it. And, there are several areas of the world that pretend not to have this ideology in the first place, as is evident in the stories told in the ‘Strolling’ series.

 

The African diaspora is a discontinuous narrative with many people trying to pretend it doesn’t exist and many more living vastly different realities within it. The African diaspora is a problem to be solved. It is a problem that black people all over the world have been trying to solve but get little credit for because people don’t accept the problem as valid. As a way to combat this problem, and other systematic problems, exclusive spaces for the people facing these issues are created. Almost ironically, (white, cis, straight, able-bodied, neurotypical, men) people get angry because of this divide since, to them,  there are no other issues that need to be discussed, while these discussions only exist in these exclusive spaces or when marginalized groups are given agency in the media. This is why media created by and for black people is so important. They provide a space for reflection, whether fictionally or not. It’s a way to combat the illusions created by eurocentrism.

 

In terms of the popularity and importance of shows like ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and ‘Ackee and Saltfish’, it proves that marginalized groups can be emotionally relatable and will address the issues they face. But the issue with emotional relatability is that it humanizes the subject. How can you continue to systematically oppress and belittle a group–so much as to globally establish them as a less worthy people–if you’re forced to see them as human? The media created by black people often serves to create a continuous narrative instead of letting black people live in separate spheres, uninformed by the specific issues they can face. They allow black people to humanize themselves and create clarity from the haze.

 

I suppose this is a long winded way of saying I will continue to support works like ‘Strolling’ as long as these projects are needed. I will continue to be entertained by shows like ‘Ackee and Saltfish’ and ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ so long as I have to dig to find people who look like me and deal with similar issues as me in the media. I will remain an angry black woman so long as I will be called an angry black woman for demanding that I, and other black people, will be treated with respect. I will continue to speak on the erasure of black identities until black people are given the right to own their history and identities.