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No Apologies Necessary: Determining What Is "Good" in Black Popular Culture

by Ethan Tussey

by Mark D. Cunningham for IN MEDIA RES

In thinking about the essay I wrote concerning the importance of the “black” in “black popular culture,” the silencing of voices became clear. I immediately recognized that my initial draft of the essay saw me withholding certain ideas and being incredibly apologetic for the comments I made because I simply did not want to offend the white scholars and friends. Of course, this hesitance compromised my writing and made changes necessary, and I am a lot happier with the finished product as a result.

My concern about offending people is very much akin to the Hollywood practice of adding a singular white cast member to an all black cast. Just as I feel the presence of that lone white character is intended to make the narrative accessible and comfortable for mainstream audience members, the same was true of my initially “saying, but not really saying” what I wanted to about seeing black popular culture as this beacon of universality. In her essay “Identity Crisis,” Racquel Gates discusses her guilt about choosing to study “less respectable” fare like rap videos and films like Breakin’ (Joel Silberg, 1984) over film and media deemed more credible. I felt a kinship with Gates because, once again, the dilemma of silencing black voices became noticeable to me.

I have a strong affection for much of writer/director John Singleton’s work, particularly his self described “’hood trilogy,” but felt, even during the dissertation process, I should be writing about a more “substantial” director, black or otherwise. Even now, when asked about my research focus, despite all the work I have done on his films, I have continually aimed to deny focusing my research efforts on Singleton because of how it might be perceived in the discipline. But, again, in my attempt to silence and apologize for my scholarly interests, I was, from my perspective, making the “black” in “black popular culture” reductive in some ways. Why not Singleton? Though I did not believe it, I still made a valiant attempt to silently discredit his voice as a less authentic representation of the “black.” In any case, the writing of this essay has taught me that all of the voices that comprise the “black” in “black popular culture,” are worthwhile for study, and I need not concern myself with feeling apologetic, less than or defensive.

Cinema Journal and Black Popular Culture

A clip from Breakin

from Breain (1984)
Creator: Joel Silberg
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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