An unknown band looking to shoot an edgy, feisty video for their latest song found themselves the perfect, budget-friendly, labor-light way- piggyback off an existing event for which someone else had already done all the legwork.
Civil Saturdays are a weekly event in Pittsburgh, PA created by Black, Young, and Educated, an organization formed to educate minority youth on topics that affect their everyday lives, to give them better/more accessible opportunities, more productive things to attend in Pittsburgh, and support for anything they will need. Civil Saturdays have grown to include attendance by hundreds, in locations throughout the city, with the specifics of objectives varying but the mission remaining the same.
This particular Civil Saturday was in Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood significant to Jewish people living in Pittsburgh for being the cultural center of Jewish life within this city, the home of the Tree of Life synagogue where eleven people were slaughtered in an anti-Semitic hate crime.
This band showed up at this protest, not to engage, lend their voice, or support. They showed up to take what they could and use it for themselves.
They took advantage of the empty and blocked off streets to shoot a video, not as participants, not in conjunction with the carefully scheduled and planned activities, but in a completely unrelated distraction that colonized the work already done and took it for their own purposes.
Without prior interaction with the organizers, which would have been easy enough; they’re accessible and responsive on social media. Without conferring with protest participants, which would have been easy enough; though Civil Saturdays actions have a set starting time, there are always early arrivals who would be willing to discuss things. Without considering that monumental amounts of work have been put into these actions, not only the one this week but all the ones leading up to it, which would have been easy enough; take five minutes and use it to look at something without centering your own wants.
They came to a protest and they appropriated it, and they reaped the harvest that was planted through the labor of Black youth.
As you might be able to guess, this band received backlash for their actions. It initially wasn’t particularly aggressive, but confused and frustrated. But then they released a statement on their FB page claiming they were at the protest “to support BLM movement”, and defended their actions by describing the ideas contained within their song. The song, which they came to the Jewish cultural center of Pittsburgh to film, has a name that is a known and easily identifiable anti-Semetic dog whistle. According to the band, they were using that phrase in an artistic way, which according to them made it acceptable. Not only did they claim the environment of one group, they also commandeered the language of another.
Predictably, this lack of accountability fell short of satisfying anyone and further objections were made. They initially responded by telling all in the conversation “Please read our statement carefully”, regardless of whether or not their statement addressed what was being said. It felt a lot like being on an automated customer service line not offering an option to press for one’s particular difficulty.
And things got worse.
Instead of admitting they fucked up, this band kept doubling down. At one point, they even defended their choices by citing that legally they were doing nothing wrong. Everything disintegrated as they refused to take ownership for the mistakes made, and things got worse and worse. At one point, a band member who claimed to have been a supporter of “the movement since day one” posted that he might be changing his politics due to the blowback their colonization of a protest prompted, which doesn’t speak well of his commitment to those politics to begin with.
Eventually they published a rote and gaslighting apology that put the burden on those that felt things in response to their actions rather than taking up any responsibility for their actions themselves.
No one is satisfied.
No one is happy.
Mindless behavior from white people is not something with which BIPoc (I use the inclusive term for all people who aren’t white here with intention; although this particular instance is specifically related to Black people I don’t want to exclude those that aren’t) are unacquainted. It’s constant and ongoing, and as stated, mindless.
It’s not the position of this writer that the members of this band deliberately said to each other, “hey, we can co-opt and corrupt this for our own use!” There is nothing to show that there was malice aforethought. There doesn’t seem to have been any aforethought whatsoever. There wasn’t a deliberate and measured assessment of what was necessary to bring this environment into being. They fucked up. They didn’t fuck up on purpose. But they fucked up.
If you’re a white person not harboring malicious intentions that has fucked up, I have something to reveal to you.
ALL WHITE PEOPLE HAVE FUCKED UP.
Every single last one of us. And we will continue to fuck up. It sucks. We are never going to reach an anti-racist Nirvana where we attain perfection and are without the capacity to fuck up any more. We are products of an environment of systemic racism that goes beyond our bones into our marrow. So we fuck up, and fuck up again, and fuck up yet another time. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
And hopefully, we learn something from it.
I have an online friend who I’ve never met in person who I absolutely adore for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that every single time I fuck up, she is just right there to tell me about it. Frequently I fuck up with language; I love language and I love words and I love rhythm and I want to own all of it for myself. But it’s not all mine. And one of the ways I fuck up is that I use words that I have no right to because they’re AAVE.
Why do I use them? BECAUSE I LOOOOOVE THEM.
Does my loving them give me claim to them? NOOOOOOOO.
She has not only taught me that I can’t say this word and can’t say that word, sometimes gently, sometimes not the fuck gently at all thank you very much. She has made me aware of thinking about this before even employing these words. She has made me do better, and be better. And I think that maybe, early on, I might have argued with her about it because I wanted access to those words so badly (I’m sure she can tell you in detail.) But then I stopped, and I listened, and then I got better.
No. That’s wrong.
I began the process of getting better, which is an ongoing journey that will never be over.
We are not and will never be perfect.
That is not an excuse to stop trying.