The Case For Reparations Over Representation
KIANA MICKLES // NOVEMBER 30, 2018
In liberal discourse concerning solidarity, representation is often conflated with racial justice. In the past several years, liberal ethos has valorized the bare minimum from progressive celebrities and companies, recently Rihanna and Nike, leading to mindless consumption from liberal supporters wanting hard-earned purchases that reflect their social values. Following this trend, inclusivity campaigns are mistaken for acts of solidarity, despite a coexisting lack of commitment to address the fundamental structural issues oppressing working-class Black and Brown people. All the while these individuals and companies sit on massive heaps of wealth, anticipating the exponential profit they will see from strategic marketing towards “woke” POC.
Given the latticework of historical repression Black and Brown bodies have endured within white dominant, capitalist media, it is essential that we bear in mind the ways in which rhetoric praising “representation” produce harmful, as Sarah Banet-Weiser terms, commodity activism.
Since Rihanna declined the Super Bowl’s offer to perform the halftime show, her decision has garnered positive response from liberals, interpreted as an expression of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and by extension the movement for Black Lives. Meanwhile, the singer-turned-entrepreneur has remained hush on this, choosing instead to take to social media days later where she encouraged her followers to “#VOTE.”
This ensuing silence communicates that Rihanna is a businesswoman first and foremost. The form of liberalism she leans toward, as displayed in her famously “inclusive” Savage X Fenty Fashion show, is easily palatable to the demographic most profitable to her, that being socially-conscious Black millennials. While we may love Riri, it is critical to note that her acts do not address or combat the structural systems of violence that affect the oppressed peoples she profits off of; these efforts are self-serving business tactics and must not be read as acts of solidarity.
Solidarity is not a photo campaign nor is it checking off a diversity box. Solidarity is a genuine commitment to listening to and providing for the needs of marginalized people. It is showing up whenever possible to provide for communities most directly and consistently affected by structural violence.
What would the world look like if we, rather than rewarding lucrative businesses and highly-paid public figures with our funds for mere “diversity” and “inclusivity” efforts, we expected nothing less? If we funneled our money into community organizers doing direct work that reflect our personal politics?
While public figures like Rihanna and Colin Kaepernick have allowed increased visibility for the movement for Black lives, heightened visibility via elite representatives has never liberated us. The palpable lure of representation in this political climate may be appealing, but we must look beyond this trap in order to envision what reparations and justice would look like in a sustainable society for people of all classes, races, and genders.