British actress Cynthia Erivo seems to be doing damage control for her upcoming film Harriet, a film based on a Black American historical heroine who was born into slavery and helped others escape to freedom. In recent interviews, she’s contributed the backlash she’s received for being British. If we are being honest, that could be the case with the ADOS (American Descendants Of Slavery) crowd but the majority of her backlash comes from uncovered tweets disparaging Black Americans.
You’re now probably wondering what could she have possibly said. Well, as you know, receipts are forever.
We’ve all said some foolishness on social media, however, what I’ve learned that when it comes to intersections and identities some people have a hard time evolving past their bigotry — it’s not impossible to grow though.
There’s a section of Twitter where some are just casual users and some are media influencers with best-selling New York Times books who have made a career on elitism and casual anti-Black American tropes, jokes and stereotypes. The anti-Blackness stems from the notion that Black Americans have no culture or are a lost tribe within the Black diaspora. The anti-Blackness is also attributed to the proximity to whiteness; Black folks from anywhere but American are embraced more by whites than Black Americans. That’s just game and the game is to be sold, not told. But the issue that takes place is when these said people are offered a seat at the table for speaking for or representing a face of Blackness that they’ve ridiculed themselves for likes, retweets and visibility. I’m also aware that there are Black Americans who can be ignorant, naive and some are even xenophobic when it comes to Black people abroad. The stark difference here is even when they are ignorant, they don’t try to speak for them. Do you know how things can be both right and wrong? Being an American comes with privileges however, as Black Americans we don’t get treated like other Americans despite us being an intricate part of building this nation.
So when people like Erivo and her friends are using social media to advance their reach, they have a tendency to punch-down on Black Americans because it’s common practice and acceptable. The issue is when their social media allows them the opportunity to take up space despite their anti-Black American attitudes. It’s almost if they can’t be seen unless they verbalize they aren’t like us Black Americans. It’s hard to imagine Erivo playing Harriet Tubman and not apologizing for her comments. How can you study, research and embody a woman whose nickname was Moses and still double-down on your previous tweets? If anything, she should have taken full accountability and apologized which would have set a good example for other Black people who want to partake in Black American culture for a profit. I don’t have any issues with Black people who aren’t American that go after Black American roles. I do have an issue when they display typical anti-Black American rhetoric and when they get called out they try to sweep it under the rug and accuse Black Americans for being xenophobic. That’s not only dishonest but it erases a real conversation that needs to be had. Black Americans’ hyper-visibility isn’t a Teflon to fight against anti-Blackness from other Black people throughout the diaspora. Claiming that Black American children teased you because of your nationality when you were a kid is no excuse either. Imagine at your big, grown age still harboring resentment from your childhood years. That’s how school shooters are made.
I’m not suggesting or asking Black people who aren’t Americans to educate Black Americans who are ignorant and I’m definitely not asking you all to tolerate their xenophobia when it’s displayed, however, I am asking that you all not perpetuate white supremacy in parroting the same sentiments that have been said and used against us for hundreds of years.
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