The first ten minutes of this post has been brought to you by me utterly losing my mind over a half-eaten package of trail mix. I somehow misplaced it in my 1.5 square foot radius and my emotions immediately went from “oh, geez, it was righthere!” to “HOW DID I LOSE IT?! HOW DO I KEEP DOING THIS TO MY SELF?! WHO AM I????” I mean, I didn’t shed tears or anything—but I definitely had to call my mom and reevaluate who I am as a person.
Which got me thinking about the sad state of disrepair our society is in. This is a natural train of thought for me, as I have oft’ been told how wonderfully worldly and smart and thought-provoking I am. I could discover a whole universe in a grain of rice, people tell me…
…Okay, fine, that’s possibly something I might’ve read in a fortune cookie, and this might all be a clever ploy to link my sad trail mix story into an analogy I haven’t quite worked out yet but my point is that I’m about to drop a knowledge bagel with a side of cream please tell me more, so put your bagel bibs on because it’s about to get crunchy.
Remember that time TaySwifty totally thought Nicki Minajaypoo called her out on Twitter because she oh so casually remarked about the lack of curves and color in this year’s VMA nominations? And then Taylord Swiftycakes was all like “oh no you didn’t! Yes all women, right?? *sobs quietly in strategically dark corner*” and then Nickinacki Minibagelbites—and also every other person in the world was like “Um. Sit down, TayTay. You’re drunk. How did you even get this number?”
Well, for several days I know we all lived in what I like to call Eager Beaver Popcorn Time wherein you live in a constant state of disarray, with Butter Flavored Topping Oil all over your face, because you can’t even function properly until this spectacle is resolved, preferably with tears and a prison break involving a chicken and a baseball bat.
No? Just me? Okay.
For the cool kids (read: poets) in the room, hopefully you all know that a few days before SwiftGate 2015, there was RattleGate where basically the exact same thing happened with Rattle magazine and honestly, we all barely survived that near-apocalypse, right? How could one person be expected to keep up with the wildfire blaze of rampant digital battles? What was this world coming to?!
For those of you who don’t let social media feuds fuel the campfires in your hearts, let me break it down for you without the supes clever nicknames. Rattle posted a poem by Jon Sands, regarding the death of Trayvon Martin. All well and good. Jon Sands is a great poet. But then Joey De Jesus was all like “I find it frustrating that you rarely publish work by black/brown writers. But you turn to Jon Sands for commentary on race.” – which is valid criticism, as it was later pointed out that the New York poets issue Rattle recently produced only published white poets.
Rattle’s editor-in-chief came out swinging, with a totes snarky “I find it frustrating that you submit the kind of overwrought poetry that we try to avoid, and then blame your rejection on race.” (Oh snap.) “Two of our five most frequently published poets happen to be black. Most often I have no idea the race of the poets we publish. Ironically, I always thought Jon Sands was black until I saw the video above…”
To which the universe very promptly exploded and I very promptly replied:
I won’t rehash the entire war (the full sordid affair was posted on July 16th) but let me wipe the popcorn grease off my fingers to say this. Taylor Swift? Rattle magazine? White people who still think reverse racism is a thing? What else would you like? Should we offer you hugs? Pat your backs as we assure you that nobody is against you until it makes you feel better? Should we apologize for not staying silent as more and more of our culture is pilfered and reimaged for your own gain?
When these things happen, most times it isn’t the individual being spoken to. It’s not you, white person. It’s the entire reappropriation as a whole that becomes evident when the specific individual of the moment, Taylor Swift, editors-in-chief, not only can’t see what they’re doing, but refuse to see when it's pointed out. Nobody’s saying these people are racist – but they’re definitely contributing to a system that can simultaneously shame people of color for what they’ve built for themselves out of necessity - while also reshaping and glorifying it for the very people it was never meant for.
It would be like me spending a couple of hours mixing and creating my own kind of trail mix. (Yes, this again.) And it’s pretty yummy/unique/beautiful/and, well, downright amazing. And I’m so prepared to show it off to the world, except, everybody’s constantly telling me nobody would eat my kind of trail mix, it’s not that great, and it’s basically garbage. But while I’m wondering what’s wrong with this wonderful thing I’ve created someone steals it, repackages it and makes millions of dollars from it. It’s that. (Except in real life, I was just sitting on my trail mix and that’s why I couldn’t find it. But my point still stands!)
What I’m saying is: if you can profit from something black culture cultivated like, say, sporting a gold chain while you have cornrows in your hair (Yes, T Swift, this time someone is calling you out) – then good for you, I guess. But don’t then play innocent when a black person points out that they were overlooked – and have been overlooked for years – because where they call you “edgy,” they call us “ghetto.”
And what I’m saying is: if we’re asking you to let us take the tape off of our mouths – the tape that you’ve put there whether you realize it or not (‘Sup, Rattle?) – and your response is basically, “well, I have two black friends and they’re cool with it!” then there’s a problem. You can’t just decide that you’re not hurting us when we tell you that you are. Our issues and our culture isn’t yard sale fodder for the masses to pick up and put down as they see fit. If you want to publish all-white poets, that’s your prerogative. Just don’t act so surprised when people of color take exception to your decision – especially when a poem you publish deals directly with an issue plaguing the very community you ignore.
And what I’m really saying is: Black culture is totes trendy. But black issues? Not so much.
Keayva Mitchell is a twenty-two year old currently living in Long Beach, California. Among the many jobs she holds she is an associate editor for a female executives magazine, as well as a sometimes blogger for The Poetry Lab. Her favorite poets include Terrence Hayes, Cristin O’Keefe-Aptowicz, and Rachel McKibbens. She thinks you're cool.