The Choices that Creatives Make

Image via Metro Times

Dedicated to Jonzey and our conversations about Hennessy / Carol’s Daughters sponsored art.

This post is about money, artists and how corporations are deliberate and never neutral.

Spending the last few months teaching a multiracial group of young people about race, art, class, history and feminism, I have learned a lot about how challenging it is to teach people about topics that force them to question basic assumptions that they have held nearly all of  their lives.

Especially when it comes from a body that reads as one that some are not socialized to see as being “an authority” on intellectual topics, ideas and teaching.

Some were clearly resistant to learning how race, hue, class position and gender structure our day to day lives. Others LOVED being taken seriously, Loved examining their own social position as it relates to others, Loved thinking about questions of agency and gender roles.

They also wanted to derail on sexuality, but I was not going there, not yet.

The topic that arguably it was most challenging for my students to understand is that corporations are not not neutral. Now, they KNEW that corporations are set up to make money, but they had a hard time making the connection between the fact that they are set up to make money and how the desire to make money means that corporations will and have looked the other way when a crime or many crimes occurred as a direct result of the pursuit of profit.

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me “How Do I make money”? I waited before I responded because I was unsure where her intentions were. I thought, why, you have a freelance writing job for me? I also thought to myself, and I didn’t know if it was true, so I kept it so myself, clearly the daily labor invested in teaching and writing original knowledge production is not being seen as all encompassing as it is.

Having taught about corporations, I am very clear about them. As someone who studies the political economy of Black cultural productions, which is fancy way of saying that I study Black pop culture (Beyonce, Tyler Perry), how much money they earn, why they are allowed to earn the money they they do, the ideas conveyed within their productions, how their work relates to the history of Black movies and music, and how these ideas shape how we see ourselves regarding gender roles, race, sexuality etc.

The older I have gotten I have come to the conclusion that “all money ain’t good money and all head ain’t good head”. I say this to mean that while we do all have bills, and we have all done what we have to do to keep the lights on (I have waitressed), having taught how  corporations are not neutral and HAVING taking the course “corporations” (<<<the fucking irony) I am particularly sensitive to how creatives may be inclined to make choices, in a political economy in 2012 which forces individuals to align with a corporation who at best, can only see you as temporary, expendable and replaceable.

What kind of facts are those?

What kind of terms are those?

This is not to say that folks do not align with them, or I have judgement if they do. No. Going into 2012 in some ways, aligning with one is a means of survival.  What I ask though, is that we acknowledge they are not neutral. That we acknowledge that you can learn a lot about a corporation based on who they protect, who they exclude, who they include. That we can acknowledged that you can learn a lot about a corporation based on how they deal with systemic patterns of harm that are premised on age, race and class. Penn State.

In fact in teaching the students about corporations not being neutral, I had to do a 5 min South Africa, Apartheid, Coca Cola explanation. Geez, laweese, I was not ready for that. And I had to say that I am NOT an expert on South Africa, but you all are too young to remember this AND it serves as an example of young people leveraging pressure on corporations (Universities and Schools) in the 80’s who were invested in upholding racist and oppressive regimes in South Africa. They couldn’t believe it.

I think that learning early on that a corporation isn’t neutral is an incredible tool. I also think that in 2012 creatives, it may benefit us to think about this seriously, especially creatives of color.


You accept the idea that a corporation is neutral?

You remember Coca Cola & South Africa?

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  1. says

    I appreciate this post because of how clear it is. About 50-eleven things clicked for me as I was reading through!

    I’m not as familiar with Coca Cola, South Africa, and apartheid as I am with Coca Cola, Nigeria, and Abacha’s dictatorship during the 1990s. In both cases, investing in these countries at those different points in history meant being complicit in the often brutal acts carried out by those governments.

    Acknowledging Coca Cola’s role in supporting Abacha’s governance meant my family drank Pepsi instead of Coke in the 1990s. In some ways, that was enough to assuage my parents’ working-class guilt (also complicated), where I remember them always shaking their heads in silent disgust when news of his recent evils trickled down to us.

    I think realizing how pervasive corporations are in overdeveloped countries is one of the first steps of critically thinking about how to transgress their reach. Until recently, it never occurred to me that corporations are invested in constructions of race, gender, sexuality and culture as it relates to their bottom line, not because I didn’t know these things were constructed, but because I didn’t know understand invested corporations are in constructing them in a particular way.

    In the 1990s, my parents transgressed by actively boycotting Coca Cola. They definitely have about four 2-litre bottles of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero chilling in their fridge right now, though. LOL

    So I can accept corporations as non-neutral entities, but first I must accept corporations as pervasive and embedded organizations as well. This means universities, prisons, and even cities.

  2. Renina says

    Hi Erica,

    There are a few posts here and on Racialicious.

    I am in the middle about writing about Perry, so those posts are not up, in fact they may just make it into my book:)

    This is a bit older and I do not agree with some of the reasoning because it is rather, ahem crude, but it shows some of the conversations that we have had here.

    Enjoy. And let me know what you think.


  3. john says

    i never did accept the idea of a corporation, or any business, being neutral. i say the money is neutral while the holder has a position. as far as the coca-cola/ apartheid conflict, i do remember that different world episode where kim turned down her full-ride scholarship because the sponsors supported the apartheid practice.

    on another note, if the courts ruled corporations as living entities, while given incentives that makes them equivalent to an a-list celebrity, then as a “living entity”, they must accept the negative consequences along with the positive. however, just like the country which gave birth to celebrity culture, their transgression will be lessened or hand-waved as if it never existed.

    hope this made sense

  4. Renina says

    @John….You took it back with the Coca-Cola reference…So you are saying that the corporation is like an A-List celebrity. I can rock with that. Because the issue isn’t the actual body (celebrity or institution), but institutional power and the relationships of power that shape how institutions run.