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  • Dr. Obari Cartman

Lessons my armpits taught me about liberation

Stick with me, this is going somewhere. I’m real real Black. Had 2 sets of locks, know all 3 verses of Lift Every Voice and Sing, got 2 African middle names, I play djembe, got shrines in my house for African gods, been celebrating Kwanzaa so long it feels cliché now. I’m so Black I don’t like to use the term “Black” because it emphasizes a socially constructed race idea devoid of proper cultural contexts. I don’t like “Afric(k)an” either because it has Roman origins. And “Alkebulan” is Arabic. I been schooled in Black. We referred to my Kindergarten as Pampanua, its Swahili equivalent. We sang “we have done black things today & we’re gonna do Black things again tomorrow” in a circle every day after school. I carried that all the way through a dissertation on African-centered identity development. But my education didn’t save me. I realized a few months ago, that in the deep dark corners of my mind, part of me still worships whiteness.

I used regular deodorant when I was a kid. That Speed Stick gel was my joint. When I got older my pits desired a more mature antiperspirant, something consistent with my organic granola persona. So I did what most of my conscious friends were doing, I invested in Toms. He’s from Maine. And he makes natural shit, maybe. I still use their toothpaste despite knowing there may be toxic stuff in there, even though they haven’t been a mom and pop operation since Colgate-Palmolive bought them almost a decade ago. Those aren’t my most pressing concerns. My biggest worry is that most who read this didn’t flinch when I used the word ‘regular’ in this paragraph’s opening sentence. Because for most of us regular still = white.

I bought a box of Black manufactured everyday products. It’s called The Black Box, it’s sold by The Black Mall, a Chicago based Black business directory. The box includes a month’s supply of necessities: paper towels, tissue, soap, and deodorant. It’s pretty common knowledge that Black folk give all our money away (and in this society money = power). Black folk have 1.1 Trillion dollars worth of buying power in the U.S. but we give 98% of it to other communities. Don’t nobody else do that. A dollar circulates in Asian communities for a month, in Jewish communities approximately 20 days and white communities 17 days. In the Black community a dollar is gone in 6 hours. I figured I was gonna use tissue anyway and buying it from Black people felt more fulfilling to me than marching. Maybe even voting. But I never actually intended on using the deodorant, until one day when I ran out of my Tom’s, from Maine.

The Black deodorant company is called Nine Essentials. It has ingredients like apricot oil and arrowroot powder. They don’t have a website or FB page. I used it one day and I didn’t lose any friends. So I used it again. After a month it hit me, I suddenly realized I was surprised that it worked. Ouch. My Black ass didn’t trust that we could create a product as effective as the chemicals majority white corporations put in their stuff. Which is a simultaneous subconscious diss to Black people and to nature.

I was at a Black economic empowerment symposium last week in Chicago. Speakers Dr. Claud Anderson, Dr. Boyce Watkins, Dr. Dennis Kimbro and others spent hours telling a sold out audience to buy Black. The aesthetic of the room was very corporate, lots of suits and ties. The myth of white supremacy is sneaky. I would be surprised if one fancy shoe, hat or jacket in the room was bought from a black company. The organizers seemed to want the event to be very classy. Classy as in classic. For too many of us (i.e. jidenna) classic still = white.

The devil is in the details. We want our revolution blockbuster. We want credit for it. But the real work ain’t never been glamorous. Lasting change happens in the mundane, the everyday. You won’t get no awards for it. Nobody’s gonna tweet about it. Before any of the outside work can be effective we all gotta do the inside work. Surgically removing the myth of white supremacy from the nooks and crannies of our mind. It’s hiding in crevices, like armpits. It’s folded in tiny pieces of paper tucked away in the hidden flaps of our wallets. We carry it everywhere we go. It feeds off our preferences, we say stuff like straight hair just feels better on my fingers. Brand names are probably safer. It sounds more legitimate coming through pale lips than from baggy pants. Won’t no amount of Black business directories matter if we automatically associate us with shabby. Surgically removing that from your spirit is constant work. It tedious. It’s the prerequisite. It’s embarrassing. But that = liberation.

*If you're in Chicago you can get that deodarant from Culture Connection @400 W 71st St, and now that you know about it why would you get anything else?*

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