“Everybody wanna be a nigga, but nobody wanna be a nigga!”
The comedian extraordinaire, writer for Richard Pryor and social commentator Paul Mooney said it best, but you might have also heard it described as “America loves Black culture, but not Black people.” Anyway you slice it, we are back to Act 1, Scene 1, Square 1 with the recent Waffle House and Starbucks arrests of young Black customers in what seems like a rinse-and-repeat cycle.
By now we all know the story: Two young Black men walk into a Philly Starbucks to sit down and wait to meet their business partner. They choose not to order anything as they wait, as millions of Americans freely and often do. After some time, they ask to use the bathroom and are refused entry without a purchase. More time passes, and they are asked to leave by the Starbuck’s manager because they have not made said purchase. They refuse to leave and continue to wait on their friend as is their universal consumer right, as well as a common American practice. The manager then calls police, who arrive and begin to arrest, cuff and remove the two young Black men on grounds of trespassing—all while White customers and others vehemently protested and verified their innocence and right to wait on a friend, who finally arrived just as they were being arrested.
The whole incident was filmed and tweeted out by a good, White Samaritan who correctly noted that White customers are not treated this way. The rest is national social media and cable news viral sensation history. Uproar ensued and Starbucks, led by its CEO, did a commendable job of apologizing and trying to right the immediate wrong, all while answering the corporate call towards macro level leadership in addressing America’s persistent, pernicious and unconscious [and conscious] bias problem.
The world’s obsession and revelry in Black culture juxtaposed with its same degree of loathing for Black people and consumers poses more than a cultural and color conundrum. If we are ever to share the symbolic lunch counter of consumer equality and more, we must probe deeper into this contradiction. We can’t let this dynamic tension off the hook so easily, because it is inherently the source of cognitive dissonance. You can’t love chocolate ice cream, but hate the cows who make the milk. Or can you? It appears America has done exactly that since the days of the Jamestown settlement. Happy ice cream smiles, but kick, hide and banish the cows!
How can Black culture be so global, pervasive and loved? It’s like Beyoncé owning, redefining and slaying Coachella while slamming into the hard windshield of truth when two brothers in Philly try to wait patiently for a friend in Starbucks, while committing the egregious crime of not ordering a cup of coffee?
Nielsen, the global consumer insights powerhouse, published a recent article on the “cool factor” that permeates the Black consumer halo effect. Like the Midas touch, the study concluded that Black consumers’ cool factor is a deep and echoing effect in global consumer behavior that is emulated and repackaged for downstream general market consumption. To put it simply, this is neatly and politely packaged cultural appropriation and diffusion for the masses. The factory formula would be to add one drop of chocolate to each glass of milk on the assembly line to give it that hint of sweetness and yum, but not enough to alter its homogeneous and bland character; or, Miley Cyrus using hip-hop music, dress and dance to kickstart her “cooler” adult image and break from her Disney child star chains before turning around and slamming rap music as she ascends.
“Our research shows that Black consumer choices have a ‘cool factor’ that has created a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of color but the mainstream as well,” Cheryl Grace, Senior Vice President of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement, Nielsen, told Fortune earlier this year. “These figures show that investment by multinational conglomerates in R&D to develop products and marketing that appeal to diverse consumers is, indeed, paying off handsomely… Black consumer choices are increasingly becoming mainstream.”
Moreover, if we want to break out of the data driven consumer world and into anecdotal everyday observations, Grammy sensation Bruno Mars said it best long before he himself was wrongly accused of cultural appropriation:
“When you say ‘Black music,’” Mars begins, “understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, Black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag.”
Yes, Black people and Black music, and Black slang, Black fashion, Black boy joy and Black girl magic have given America its swag. And by the magic of global consumer demand-osmosis, this same Black consumer halo effect has been gladly absorbed by the world.
As a current world traveller on a year-long research, writing, eating, praying, loving global sabbatical for 2018, I can personally vouch that after spending the last 3.5 months in eight Asian countries there was not one small Bali cafe or Filipino hot spot where some form of Kendrick Lamar or Cardi B. wasn’t playing and a Stephen Curry jersey wasn’t being rocked.
I scooted through a tiny village on the island of Cebu, Philippines, on my moped, only to have a young local dribbling his basketball stop to Dab on me as a warm greeting instead of a wave! Yes, that’s how universal a culturally specific salute created in the SWAT (South West Atlanta) as part of Trap Music culture has become in the age of global social media.
So in that same vein, let’s “put our thing down, flip it, and reverse it” in honor of Missy Misdemeanor Elliot and try to understand why one small group of global citizens can create so much shared culture of joy and unity that binds, but can’t be respected as a consumer force on the most basic level of service interactions?
How can we continue to toast a group of people with supreme revelry as some of our best memories are made to the soundtrack of life they provide, yet pour that same drink of bubbly all over their heads when they come in our shared stores and spaces?
I call this the “humanity gap.” I don’t profess to coining this term, so I’ll quote it to be safe! I simply profess to understanding that there exists a gap in the level of humanity afforded to Black consumers and in turn people when they enter these shared spaces. The humanity gap goes further to illuminate police interactions, work place hiring, school disciplinary results for youth, as well as interracial dating bias and the most basic assumption of innocence or guilt along with the inability to forgive the slightest of transgressions.
In short, I want all Americans, and all global citizens to ask themselves who they “rock wit” on their iTunes or SoundCloud; the last time they saw major cable news anchors use the term “throwing shade” or “clap back;” the last sports hero they rooted for; the last pair of Jordans they purchased for their sneaker head tween; the last time they wished our president was still “cool as a polar bear’s toenails” like Barack Obama meeting the famed OutKast lyrics? Then ask themselves the last time they extended that same sense of wonderment, awe and enjoyment to a Black applicant named LaQuanda seeking a job, Trayvon Martin in a hoodie, or two brothers in a Philly coffee shop simply waiting to meet a friend?
You can’t ask Black people to simply keep creating timeless treasure that the global masses enjoy, consume and mark life’s high-water moments with, then turn around and see those same treasure creators as transient trash.
Kwame Jackson is a NewsOne contributor and noted MSNBC/CNN political commentator, professional speaker, leadership development and diversity and inclusion corporate strategist, and the Season 1 finalist on NBC’s hit show “The Apprentice.” You can follow him on Twitter @kwameinc.