However, our dialogue about twerking reflects a larger system of cultural appropriation, commodification, and sometimes exploitation that has resulted in the birth of “ratchet culture.” Ratchet has become the umbrella term for all things associated with the linguistic, stylistic, and cultural practices, witnessed or otherwise, of poor people; specifically poor people of color, and more specifically poor women of color. (Yes, ratchet is a very feminine gendered term. See: Ratchet Girl Anthem). Remember when people who weren’t actually from the ghetto started to use the word “ghetto” to describe everything from their friend’s booty to a broken blender (real life examples)? The same phenomenon is happening with ratchet, even for those who do not use the word itself. It is super easy to borrow from the experiences of others as a way to be “fun,” or stretch boundaries on what is “acceptable,” without any acknowledgement of context or framework.
But being ratchet is only cool when you do it for fun, not if those are valid practices from your lived experiences. We watch shows like Basketball Wives, Real Housewives (of all the cities), and Bad Girls Club where women act ratchet as hell all the time. But they do so in designer clothes and at 5-star restaurants, and this paradox acts as a buffer for the ratchet that is the real reason for the shows’ success. Internet sensations like Sweet Brown are the perfect example of how “ratchet culture” is appropriated and commodified. “Aint nobody got time for that” has made its way to memes all over the internet and is used by folks from different backgrounds as punchlines and witty retorts. Sweet Brown has been contracted to sell everything from real estate to dental services. We witnessed the same trend with Antoine Dodson. It is becoming more and more common for folks to use “ratchet” to sell their not-at-all-ratchet products.
On an (inter)personal level, ratchet works to simultaneously police and defy gender, class, sexuality, and respectability norms. Folks with certain privilege are willing and able to float in and out of ratchet at will. The term ratchet became popular for me when I was still in undergrad about three years ago. All of us young, black scholars (constantly trying to justify the black side of the coin or the scholar side, as if they are polar opposites) were enamored with this term as a way to distinguish when we were or were not on the “right side” of the respectability table. When it was time to party we would say, “Let’s get ratchet!” But when I would go check my mail with my hair still wrapped in a scarf or was overheard talking to my friends from “back home” in our local dialect, I was just ratchet. Another example of the fluidity of ratchet was playing double dutch on the quad. At our predominantly white institution we were presenting a form of community building and fellowship that fell outside the boundaries of “appropriate” and “acceptable.” But our privilege as collegiate scholars allowed us to present ourselves in that way without the same push back we may have received if we were just black girls playing double dutch in a predominantly white community park.
I know that for me and many of my friends, the use of the term ratchet was a constant navigation of our identities as young, sexual, inner city hood Chicago-raised, black girls and privileged, college educated, Western women. I can’t stress enough that pop culture trends like twerking, “aint nobody got time for that,” or even just using the word ratchet to define the wild things that happened at last night’s party are all rooted in someone’s lived experience. Sometimes it’s your lived experience, but if it’s not, please stop for a moment to consider your privilege and what role you may be playing in the appropriation of someone else’s exploitation.
If ever I were in need of a self-diagnosis of the mental kind it would be now. This is probably one of the most difficult forms of diagnosis to make, but once seen, it should allow you to change your life quite a bit – if you’re interested. For me, this is quite a personal post…
So I’ll do the whole Alcoholics Anonymous schtick:
Hi, my name is Vatt and I strongly believe I have Little Brother Syndrome.
I have Little Brother Syndrome not only because my brother is fourteen years older than I am, and so I had to watch him living his life from a distance even before we could relate or have a decent conversation. I have the syndrome because I take people’s advice too earnestly, too sincerely, meaning (albeit unwittingly) I have a strong predisposition to please. This is a problem, I figure. Being earnest and sincere is not a bad thing but steadily it’s becoming something the modern world doesn’t chase after, something seen as more of a handicap than a positive trait. I used to think that looking up to my older brother was a great way to shape my own life. Learn from his mistakes, better those things which he did well, listen to his advice attentively, and attempt to put everything into practice. But life is a lot more complicated than that. After a while not only did it become glaringly obvious that my brother and I don’t share the same personality, we also approach life from completely different viewpoints. Yes, I value his advice but I can’t stick to it religiously.
The problem with true Little Brother Syndrome is that it extends to all people who are older than me. I desperately look for the little nuggets in our conversations through which I can steer my own life. Not realising that that’s actually putting me in multiple ethical and logical quandaries. Firstly, I am the first in my family to get an honest to goodness university education, meaning there is nobody else who has had the first-hand experience of varsity that I have. My brother may try to relate but it’s not the same. My mother may try to relate. I mean, why not? She went to a teacher’s college and that’s fairly close. Yes, it’s close but it’s still no friggin’ cigar. So where do I look to next? Friends would be the obvious one because grandparents are clearly out of the question and random people too. But the problem with friends is that we’re all pretty much in the same damn position. I have friends who are looking for jobs, childhood friends who are incarcerated, childhood friends who didn’t even finish school… Nobody has as yet achieved any of their highfalutin dreams as they said they would. And this is nobody’s fault really. How can we all come from the same varsity and expect to make it within the year? Graduation was basically yesterday and you want people to have a Top Billing house? That’s ludicrous.
You could say our thoughts are time-stamped for a reason. There are times when you find yourself in the same situation, alternating through the years, because of the human predisposition to bad communication. It’s a -tropic relationship that spices as much as it dices, and you only have to guess how many times people are cut into pieces before their lives get the addition of flavour. Flavour, real flavour is rare. You might sense a dash of it in a given week, perhaps you got that promotion you’ve been gunning for, or a new vacancy just opened at that apartment block you’ve been eyeing – all these are different. However, they do share one thing in common and that’s the ability to make you happy, even if it’s just for a moment. And even if the spice hasn’t been added yet and you can only sense the barest whiff, the promise lingers.
They told him, “You don’t start in the kiddie-pool where your swimming paddles are.”
I read somewhere that a lot of people can’t actually tell you the time and date when their lives changed. And because we always have these mini-epiphanies (I actually blame it on TV and movies), people are actually confused as to which was life-changing or which was simply inevitable change. Also, a tautology because all change is in essence life-changing; however, I mean changing life drastically. If I were to ask you now to name a recent life-changing event, some wouldn’t be able to. And there’s a common reason for that: you’re still waaay too close to the action. It’s like watching a friend and someone else fight on a drunken night out. When you’re asked about it in the morning, you won’t really know where to start. Do you tell them how you think the fight started, factoring in all the different viewpoints of those around? Do you tell them about the fight itself, blow-by-painful-blow? Or do you just shut up and let the friend tell (and probably embellish) his own story?
“Don’t you know that slavery was outlawed?”
“No,” the guard said, “you’re wrong. Slavery was outlawed with the exception of prisons. Slavery is legal in prisons.”
I looked it up and sure enough, she was right. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution says:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Well, that explained a lot of things. That explained why jails and prisons all over the country are filled to the brim with Black and Third World people, why so many Black people can’t find a job on the streets and are forced to survive the best way they know how. Once you’re in prison, there are plenty of jobs, and, if you don’t want to work, they beat you up and throw you in a hole. If every state had to pay workers to do the jobs prisoners are forced to do, the salaries would amount to billions… Prisons are a profitable business. They are a way of legally perpetuating slavery. In every state more and more prisons are being built and even more are on the drawing board. Who are they for? They certainly aren’t planning to put white people in them. Prisons are part of this government’s genocidal war against Black and Third World people.
“I only appear to be dead” - Hans Christian Andersen
I’m not one for writing lengthy philosophical tractates, as much as I’m not one to indulge in blog posts at one in the morning but here I am. I spent most of my Saturday on one website and one website only. I will admit that tvtropes.org is a labyrinth unto itself. You end up with so many tabs open and wanting to absorb so much that hours flit by, as if you’re not doing anything. But you are doing something: you’re learning, changing…
The past two months have been exemplary in terms of change. I moved to a completely new place (which, ironically I’ve always wanted to live in. The irony being that I had lost all hope of ever living in Cape Town), I’m making new friends and expanding my network of contacts, I started a new job (my first ever), and I’ve had to adjust to living and relying solely on myself (well, pretty much). There’s only been one snag really and it’s not something that I would’ve considered beforehand but which now rules my life: from the background of being a humanities student I now have to manage my funds. I’m also realising that my self-discipline was fed on cake and crisps, never fully getting off the couch or even bothering to make it to the fridge, while I was a student. Of all things this is the most depressing. When you finish school and embark on tertiary education you see yourself one way. You know that you’ll meet new people and you’ll have new experiences but idealistically, you expect any changes to be minimal at best. Or barring that, you expect that they will be peripheral and not much to do with your core self. The joke there being as an 18-year old you don’t really have a core self but the beginnings of one. Even now, I won’t say that I’m fully developed but that’s a story for another day.
“And you, Mr Writer, exist two worlds away from the sun…” - own words
We can remember swimming in December
Heading for the city lights in 1975
We share in each other
Nearer than farther
The scent of a lemon
Drips from your eyes
We are the people who rule the world
A force running in every boy and girl
All rejoicing in the world
Take me now
We can try
–Excerpt from ‘We are the People’ by Empire of the Sun
When you write you always have so many options. It’s not a lie when people say that creativity is akin to unmasking the infinite. I don’t know if that’s actually how it’s been said before but for the most part I think that’s a damn good gist. Sitting down to write this I have so many thoughts buzzing through my head. Where to start? Do I write about coming to a realisation that the present is the future you always imagined, except not at all the way you had imagined it? Do I write about what I am discovering about friendship, love and life? Do I write about my journey as an artist and realising the fact that beauty is priceless is one of the most accursed things in the world? Or do I, as the average unfocused artist would do, try and mix them all into a ghastly hodgepodge, somewhere between an ode and a memorial?
Now I listen to ‘Lacrimosa’ a part of ‘Requiem for My Friend’ composed by Zbigniew Preisner. When I heard it the ‘Tree of Life’ montage with all the planetary effusion, the dinosaurs and the restrained heartache of the main characters, I practically gasped at its beauty. But the movie didn’t do well at the cinema. A great many people said they didn’t understand why an art-house film was given such a sizeable release. It’s similar to the problem people had with ‘Cosmopolis’ based on the Don DeLillo novel of the same name. I actually read the novel and I admire the film director’s tenacity to try and capture the postmodern angst in the movie. I think it did a fairly decent job even though I have a problem with the casting of Robert Pattinson as the lead. The ‘Tree of Life’ montage was a surprising change of pace – so languid in its cinematography that I don’t doubt a few audience members more comfortable with rock ‘em-sock ‘em flicks walked out. Probably most of them did so not realising that it’s rare for people to be afforded beauty on that scale in a film.
So… What follows is a conceptual piece originally entitled ‘Danger Suit’ which sounded really stupid after a while. So I used a word from the last written line. I planned on submitting it somewhere but I just realised that I don’t know how to end it. Endings are proving a great stumbling block in my wannabe writing career and they are (unsurprisingly) an issue which I am directly addressing. So, without further ado, I bring you ‘Avant Garde’:
It wasn’t so much the taste of success but rather the stench of competition that he sensed among the four of them. He could imagine it dripping from their pores, dampening the dark cotton of each of their bespoke tuxedos. He couldn’t understand how Monde withstood the pressure. They had decided to enter the competition together, knowing that their chances of success were basically guaranteed. They weren’t really, but he liked to think of his and Monde’s partnership as a natural match of brains and brawn. He figured himself the brawn. He was sure that if all civility had to cease and they were all involved in the inevitable tussle, it would be up to him to push Andile and Xavier out of the way. What was it with those two? Xavier got enough attention with his high cheekbones, his godly smile and the rest of his ‘come hither’ good looks. His position in the ranks of flawlessly attractive men made Ngezi mad. The man had no place looking like a walking Calvin Klein advert. It really got in the way of business.
The competition hadn’t started in earnest yet. Out of the dozens of people in the room, only a few were looking at them. The others minded their own business, busying themselves with the placards explaining the rules of the game and each entrant’s statistics. He wondered if they got all of his stats right. Would they know that he only completed his MBA last year or would the company have listed the information without dates and sundry? He doubted the relevance of timeframes in this competition. Everybody behind the glass understood that this was a grudge-match, something to be attributed to the wild whims of animals, not sophisticated businessmen with things to lose. But when heaven drops all of its bounty at your doorstep and instead of just walking away, waits on the porch with childish fervour to present you with more generosity, you answer the door with a smile.
And that’s exactly what he did. When the chairman of the board approached him with the plan, everything from the schematics of the cage and the details of his possible opponents, he was blown away. Nothing he had done before warranted such unmitigated faith from the company. However, Ngezi understood that the chairman would not have approached him if he didn’t think that there was an ambitious streak in him, a sense of towing the moral line to the extent of depravity. For, what was corporate life if not another opportunity for the crowds to sate their bloodlust? It would be another test of the same prowess he couldn’t have learnt anywhere else but the street, the hidden life force of his pauper’s rationality, the nucleus of his maleficent glare…