Friday, June 15, 2018

Context and Appropriation

The other night I found out that a friend of mine had used a solid green background on his Twitter profile picture. A few weeks ago I bought a video editing suite. This seemed like a good chance to learn about video editing and have some light hearted shenanigans. I needed a video that I had on hand which contained a scene that I could insert the profile pic.

A recent video that I downloaded contained a short scene with a choir singing. It was straight forward enough to clip out just ten seconds of the video and then apply the editing magic. A short while later my friend was an extra in the choir and dancing along in the back row for ten seconds.

Sounds fun and harmless. That is what I was thinking during my light hearted shenanigans. I showed my friend and he laughed. A few others saw it and laughed. So I posted the fun to share.

Not everybody enjoyed the edit. I didn’t tell the whole story above. I stripped my actions, the video clip, and everything from context. This is a very white American thing to do. Context is too often just minor flavoring or entirely optional. But that is not true. Actions, symbols, art, history, and people never exist wholly separate from their context.

The video I had downloaded was Childish Gambino’s This is America. I had extracted out from 1m 42s to 1m 54s. At 1m 56s a gun is tossed into the frame. By 1m 57s the choir has all been shot dead. I stopped the clip before that happened, but doing so did not make it a wholly unrelated thing.
Trying to understand the depth that I mocked

This is America is deep. If you search just that on Google then you will find four articles trying to dissect all the symbolism, allegory, and imagery. On the first page of search results. I’m not going to rehash any of those articles here. The important thing is that the clip cannot be removed from the video and the video cannot be removed from the allegory. I could ignore it while I focused on the exercise, I could ignore it while sharing the video, but I could not remove the association.

Did I intend to cause harm? No. Did I intend to make light of the abuses perpetrated on black bodies in America. No. Did I intend to ignore those abuses to instead focus on something I found fun. No.

By making and sharing the video that I did, I did all three of those things. Intent doesn’t matter. I caused hurt to my friends, I made light of and ignored the abuses carried out regularly across America. For this I am sorry.

I will end with a quote from the Insider article though: “black cultural production is often commodified and appropriated by white audiences”.

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