Transracialism vs cultural appropriation, via the medium of wailing pop music.
Estelle California is a French singer with a particular racial identity obsession. While the press release for her new single Black is the True Light perhaps skirts around the issue (understandably, as you’ll see), it does point out that the song is an anthem for the African American and other black communities of the world, a heartfelt cry against racism. Indeed, blackness is at the centre of her being, the thing that drives her and is her life’s passion. Facebook statements like this from her are not uncommon:
And, most dramatically of all:
By now, I imagine some of you are way ahead of me on this, but in case there is any doubt, this is Estelle California:
Now, there is nothing at all wrong in appreciating the culture of another race, and wanting to celebrate it. Let’s be fair, the world is much happier place when we can open our minds to the music, the art and the creativity of people outside our own cultural bubble, no matter who we or they are. But at some point – and I think that point might be a white French woman posting ‘I love being black’ statements online – it would seem to be be less admiration and more a combination of self loathing and fetishisation, with a large dose of white saviourism thrown in. I mean, really: “my love, my duty and my purpose to spread the black glory” – how condescendingly superior can you get? And let’s not even get into the thorny subject of cultural appropriation – if such an idea has any traction at all, then surely it is here.
Identity politics are one thing. False identity politics are another thing entirely. There is, it might be argued, a point when anti-racism becomes so fervent that it actually tips over into becoming the very thing it opposes. Where that line is might vary, but I can’t help but feel that a white European pretending to be Afro-American is dancing all over it.
Estelle California is a white woman and under normal circumstances, nothing could change that. But we live in curious and volatile times, and what might have recently been seen as self-loathing to the point of delusion, much in the manner of the infamous Rachel Dolezal, is now being floated as an identity choice – in the last week, the idea of transracialism, of being born in the wrong skin and ‘black as an belief, not a colour’ has been tested out by cultural radicals and would-be agenda setters.
I’m not at all sure that transracialism will be as embraced as quickly as transgenderism has been by authorities and cultural bodies – I would imagine that there would be a definite blowback from people of colour to the idea of middle class white folk co-opting their racial identities and history, their struggles against racism and discrimination. I suspect that most people will see white people pretending to be black as condescending and delusional. But I might be wrong. Perhaps in a few years, racial identity will join pronouns on the Twitter profiles of the future Wokesters. Stranger ideas have taken hold, and perhaps Estelle California will be hailed as a pioneer in years to come.
Of course, to add injury to insult, her paeon to blackness is – of course – a caterwauling drone of such lyrical inanity that at least guarantees a certain racial unanimity – black and white can unite in shaking their heads at the sheer awfulness of it all, and that’s something I suppose. In the end, her self-identification as a talented singer-songwriter might be the biggest delusion of them all.