In this, the 2014th Year of Our Lord, on the 23rd day of the month of July, at 6:55 p.m. EST, TIME Magazine ran a story. It’s headline read:
Yes, stupid stories happen. Stupid headlines even more frequently. But TIME Magazine, once a premier weekly magazine (the first of its kind, actually), made space for 500 words under the protection of its elite-level masthead to write about the word "bae". And I have so many questions about how this story came about. Was it pitched? Was it assigned? I’ve asked all these questions via Twitter to the piece’s author, Katy Steinmetz. I’m awaiting a response.
Steinmetz, who also wrote the cover-story feature on Laverne Cox in May, now has a byline in TIME Magazine for writing about the word “bae.”
Really, this is Pharrell’s fault. Because that fucking “Happy” song. Because between their fascination with “Black Twitter” and the fact that Miley Cyrus won’t go quietly into the night, white folks’ predilection for minding the business of other cultures is totally aroused.
What’s perhaps most frustrating about this piece is the fact that its written as just another flash in the pan, pop culture moment, complete with know-nothing ass Google charts that are supposed to make readers believe they are part of something. It's cool. It's trendy. Not at all rooted in the way that people have addressed each other for generations. Bae is “slang that Pharrell likes enough to put in the titles of his songs.”
Nevermind the fact that my parents have been calling each other “bae” since long before I was ever a thought. Or that Black southern grandmas use it to pass their love on to their grandbabies. TIME Magazine (of all places, SMH) is passing out “primers” on cool.
Ask any cool person and they’ll tell you that cool can’t be explained. Cool either is or it isn’t, and trying to explain it, even being asked about it aloud, makes a thing decidedly less so. ?uestlove said (in another TIME Magazine headline, no less) that “Black people have to come to grips that hip-hop is a contagious culture,” and I agree. But Blackness ain’t.
Blackness as performance sho’ is profitable, though. Internet clicks. Units, moved.
My issue isn’t with Pharrell (at least, not in this particular instance) but with journalism’s internet culture. The internet has done two things: (A) Lowered barriers to entry into professional journalism, which in turn produces a lot of terrible content masquerading as “innovative,” “interesting,” or “thought-provoking,” or “well-written” and (B); busted the door wide open for the Culture Vulture’s favorite pastime: An Inside Look At the Secret Life of Negroes.
If you’re even remotely entertaining or can turn a phrase on Twitter, you’ve experienced this first hand. My tweets have been jacked by Esquire (as the lede to somebody’s story on Brooklyn’s gentrification, no less) Buzzfeed, and some other places, with no ask made and no permission granted.
Having traveled abroad, it’s my belief that the primary export of “Black America” is cultural — music, song, dance, style, art, writing, and the list goes on. It is how we are identifiable in the world. Even traveling as far as South Africa, someone wanted to talk to me about “Jigga.”
And because our culture is our output, it should be ours to protect, to profit from — hell, to write about! There are lots of complicated (and often unproductive) conversations about the ownership of culture. Of language. Movement. Dance. Last week, TIME (gotdamnit) ran a story that responded to University of Mississippi senior Sierra Mannie’s essay about the co-opting of Black female culture.
“Black people can’t have anything,” she wrote.
Not doobie wraps. Not the Nae Nae. I am bored, people of the journalism community. Bored with these lazy-ass pieces that try to explain the idiosyncrasies of my household, my experience, and my fucking existence. Bored with the microscopic lenses that exoticize Black love and Black expression.
Meanwhile, I'm timing my watch to see how long it takes white folks to find out about the jar of cooking grease on the back of the stove.
Maya K. Francis is a culture writer and communications strategy consultant. When not holding down the Black Girl Beat for VSB, she is a weekly columnist for Philadelphia Magazine's 'The Philly Post' and contributes to other digital publications including xoJane, Esquire, and EBONY.com. Sometimes TV and radio producers are crazy enough to let her talk on-air, and she helped write a book once. She cites her mother and Whitley Gilbert as inspirations.