Anti-blackness, Part I: Wot Do You Call It?
words by Shanté Carlan
If you have yet to hear of RAY BLK don’t fret, you can click here for her badassery. I found out about her while scrolling on Twitter and read an article about the Gully Queens of Jamaica starring in the music video to her song, “Chill Out.” Captivated by her sound and the video I clicked for more and watched another visual for her song “5050.” Filmed out in London where she’s from, the video opens with a group of black women walking through a council estate [their version of the hood] and a black hair salon. Through punchy colors and hood aesthetics, I had an epiphany; I only like hood shit when it has an accent and is wrapped for consumption.
When I was younger, I was raised with the notion that anything ghetto was negative. My Caribbean heritage was celebrated at both home and school. I watched the elders in my home call criminals of the day on the local news “black fools,” and understood that to be of West Indian descent meant being a part of an exclusive club of prestige—and no African Americans were allowed.
I inadvertently drew a line between the parts I would accept as my identity, to the point where I wasn't allowed to drink quarter water and hang out with the kids in my neighborhood. My mother had the belief that if she kept me inside and away from the suspected wayward children around my way, I'd be driven down a different, better, path. My mom was also enamored with UK culture which passed down to me. I watched “Eastenders” with her as a child, and “Skins” as a teenager. The first explicit album I bought was Ms. Dynamite’s “A Little Deeper.” The only account I follow on SoundCloud is Rinse FM. I’ve seen Skepta twice. You get the deal.
I grew up in a culturally diverse home where all genres of music played, including hip-hop. As a child, I didn’t understand all the concepts that were mentioned in my uncle’s favorite songs, but I knew the importance music held for him. I can say without a doubt that my musical faves were shaped by watching MTV at 3AM and copying my uncle.
As I grew older I found out about grime through Myspace and random music forums. Grime, though an offshoot of many other musical genres including hip-hop, has stronger Caribbean roots as it borrows heavily from the DJ and soundclash culture in Jamaica. Grime gave me a sense of familiarity I didn’t have in American hip-hop because I felt a common ground with the first generation rappers from both West Indian and African families. Coupled with my identities and love for UK culture, it was easy to pigeonhole American rap for being aggressive and misogynistic while waving the flag for overseas rappers who did the same, just with a different accent.
Anti-blackness rears its head in different ways: it’s in the diaspora debates on Twitter, it’s in shunning 'Slob on my Knob' but wining to Vybz Kartel, and it was in my love of grime. The shit Deadly and Newham Generals rap about are no different than what’s done stateside, the only difference is in the slang and the fashion. I wholeheartedly believed I was an intellectual for my love of grime because it came from the UK [which speaks to imperialism’s long-lasting effects but that’s a different story]. But it’s all the same, especially with social media bringing everyone together. Grime is on its way to crossing over into the States successfully, with Stormzy and Skepta selling out venues on their first attempts. Everybody’s in the trap, everybody’s in the club, and everyone’s likely to be a feature or an interlude on Drake's next project. My love of grime will always stay with me, but I can take my head out of my ass and enjoy the music without needing to vilify the other.
May my growth as a feminist and woman be abundant, and my affinity for hood shit be global.
Shanté is an American-Trinidadian photographer based in NYC, and founder of FLASH. Her 'Bad Feminist' series is centered around her newfound shortcomings, and understanding that the world doesn't revolve around her. When Shanté isn't shooting she's drinking at least three 24oz bottles of water a day and learning to love herself. Follow her on Instagram @shazthephotog and view her work here.