Coconut Culture

Here’s to anyone who’s ever been called a Coconut, Peppermint Pattie, Oreo, Klondike Bar, or what have you. Apparently one must be either candy, a delicious cookie, or a fruit…or whatever coconuts are.

This is a discussion on the Coconut Culture present in our society, and here’s what those that have been labelled as such have to say about it…

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Cookies & Coconuts

A tall, ten year old snot-nosed girl with frizzy relaxed hair yells at a short five year old snot-nosed girl with dreadlocks, “Wena you’re such a coconut!” To which the dreadlocked girl replied with frustrated passive-aggressiveness, “Coconut? That’s a fruit!”

That little social interaction was between an old friend and I in a rural town called Bothaville in the Free State, circa 2001. I was the short one with dreadlocks. The reason my friend accused me of being what I believed at the time was a fruit (which is actually a seed) was because when I spoke Sotho it sounded weird. The problem was that my tongue wanted to say Sotho phrases in English. The intonations were off and I emphasised the wring syllables. You see, up until that point I had been living in Maryland, Virginia where there weren’t a lot of Sotho-speaking children I could play with (I doubt that there are today).

The video I am blogging about this week is one that resonates completely with this topic. It is a slam poetry session by one of the poetry channels I have subscribed to: Button Poetry. The video is entitled “Tucker Bryant – ‘Oreo’ (CUPSI 2014)”. The poem itself speaks to my heart. It is a strong reaction to the slap on the faces of many non-white people who have ever been called either “Oreo, Klondike, York bar and Peppermint Patties”.

Bryant addresses the stereotypes of "Oreos"

Bryant addresses the stereotypes of “Oreos”

Tucker Bryant starts off the poem by reciting an anecdote about his candy-eating habits as a child. This then brings him to eating his first Oreo. He then started “swallowing them whole, while the other kids would twist them apart, licking off the cream while discarding of the brown shells. Stacy said the white part just tastes better”. This is also a metaphor for the way he perceives the mind-set of Stacy (who would later on call him an Oreo); ignorant and prejudiced towards a certain colour. Bryant also addresses the way in which she told him he was an Oreo. She said it as if it were a compliment. As if he would be crazy to be offended at being called an Oreo. That being an Oreo would be the closest he would come to “touching white privilege”.

Bryant expresses heated emotion as he talks about the issues with being called an Oreo. His opinions seem to be that; firstly, it is offensive to call someone an Oreo, Peppermint Patty or any interchangeable term. Secondly, he feels as if Oreos are tamed/watered-down black people that are “easier to swallow” for white people. He used the metaphor of someone loving caffeine but needing to add creamers and sweeteners to their coffee because they can’t stand the bitterness of the “blackness [that] the binds to [their] tongue”. Thirdly, Bryant believes that he shouldn’t have to “leap out of [his] own ancestry”. He believes that acceptance should not involve looking for oneself in others. In other words, personality is not necessarily liked to skin colour. Now. I can relate to this poem on many levels. However, there are other levels to which I cannot.

First and foremost, we need to translate the term “Oreo” into the South African equivalent: Coconut. Typically, coconuts are determined according to hobbies, preferred music genre, their English accent and how many African languages they can speak fluently. For example, I myself prefer listening to Indie and Folk music to House or Kwaito. My love for water is ridiculous, seeing as I have partaken in numerous galas throughout my high and middle school careers and have always begged my mother to get a house with a swimming pool my entire childhood. Not to mention, I have a certified scuba diving license. These are all the signs that you are a coconut, according to the general consensus of the people of South Africa.

Much like Bryant, I am fed up with the fuss over Coconuts. I believe it is simple: people are brought up in different environments and thus have adopted various cultures over time. Being the daughter of a diplomat, I grew up in three different countries. As a child I never had the chance to recognise the difference between black, white, brown, and yellow. I guess I had too many sleepovers with girls of Arab, English, Pakistani and Indian ethnicity to acquire the mind-set that would help me place labels and racial boundaries on the things I found fun, such as music or hobbies. I was immersed in too many cultures and spoke too much English. I did not eat enough Kotas, the taxis I rode in were not Quantums and my Egyptian next-door neighbour did not speak my mother tongue.

I had to get accustomed to different languages, and here are some of them: Arabic, French, Spanish, my mother tongue Sesotho and of course English.

I had to get accustomed to different languages, and here are some of them: Arabic, French, Spanish, my mother tongue Sesotho and of course English.

Whenever I visited home—South Africa—I was confronted by fellow black people using Coconut to accuse me of abandoning my roots. The age ranged form elders and aunties to my peers. More often than not, these individuals did not hesitate to point fingers and slap labels on my face, not knowing I did understand them whispering in Sesotho, that I did know how to play Dikete and that I did know how to cook pap.

Therefore the prejudice and judgements towards individuals labelled as Coconuts is unjustifiable. From my experience it is usually other black people labelling black people, which differs from Bryant’s experiences. However, the lesson that must be learnt is the same: people need to accept people for who they are. And this is presented in my own project entitled Coconut Culture which directly confronts assumptions made about those labelled as so-called coconuts.

I would therefore like to acknowledge Button Poetry for their video of “Oreo” by Tucker Bryant this week because it helped to make my stance on the Coconut issue clear. Indeed, South Africa; a country that runs on a highly liberal national constitution, and calls itself the Rainbow Nation, still has a lot of learning to do when it comes to social awareness.

Be sure to check out Button Poetry on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/ButtonPoetry. They are a channel based in Minnesota dedicated to the distribution of live performance poetry.

Also, please check out Coconut Culture, I promise you will learn something worthwhile.

As always, stay fresh.

YouTube: Old Media Vs. New Media

I would like to bring your attention to something I stumbled upon on YouTube the other day that really got me thinking. In fact I would say it sparked a powerful bout of defensiveness for the realm of YouTube. I had never known I harboured so many sentimental values for the space and its members. For the first time in my life I felt as if I were part of a brotherhood, camaraderie, a revolution, if you may. Allow me to elaborate.

The video that got me all riled up was an interview of one of the most popular (and one of my personal favourites) YouTubers at the moment: Jenna Marbles (her real name is Jenna Mourey, Marbles is what she named her Chihuahua) conducted on Good Morning America. Jenna Marbles posts weekly videos on YouTube that are mostly comments on mundane day-to-day activities, parodies of celebrities and she plays on the dominant discourses and asocial constructs in society.

Her videos include How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking, Pumpkin Carving With Miley Cyrus and How Guys Take A Shower. Jenna Marbles is an extremely successful YouTuber and content creator; she has “more Facebook fans than Jennifer Lawrence, more Twitter followers than Fox News and more Instagram followers than Oprah”.

I was minding my own merry business, binge-watching Jenna Marbles’ videos when something caught my eye. I looked at the side bar and I noticed a video entitled Jenna Marbles Interview – Queen of YouTube Reaches Billionth Click… posted by DAILY BEAST last year. I clicked on the video and was delighted to discover her on Good Morning America; traditional mainstream media, which I, up until that point, thought every YouTuber dreamt of doing. My glee was short-lived. The clip consisted of the interviewer—Celia Vega—patronising Jenna by asking condescending questions such as “do you think you deserve to have as many fans as you do?”. Jenna was also described as “the most famous person you never heard of” …according to who? Her 13 million subscribers would beg to differ. Good Morning America proceeded to turn the interview into a game of “how many times did Jenna say the word ‘ridiculous’?” when Cecilia Vega made a jibe on how often Jenna used that word in their hour-long interview. This was a clear attempt to ridicule Jenna, and in doing so, making a mockery of the entire YouTube community.

Celia Vega ridicules Jenna Marbles on Good Morning America.

By disrespecting one of the most successful members of what Jenna (and the general youth) refers to as the “new media”, old media is looking down upon them. This makes sense, because members of old media in America, such as Good Morning America, CNN, Fox News are struggling to grasp the youth’s attention as younger people are moving away from watching TV and buying newspapers.

Fewer and fewer people are interested in buying newspapers and listening to radio news as sources. Online sources are quickly becoming mainstream.

This interview brought many Jenna Marbles’ fans as well as supporters of new media together in the reaction to this instance. Many were offended (and rightly so). There were a few video responses, and one that stuck out for me was one by Ana Kasparian entitled Jenna Marbles vs. GMA. Ana Kasparian has a history in both television and the YouTube workplace Kasparian seems to agree with me and the rest of the community of YouTube (at least the fans of Jenna Marbles), and goes into detail about how most news stations are not as free to cover the stories they want to cover, they are restricted to present themselves in a certain way, and the bear the weight of higher powers (such as advertisers) on their shoulders.This is why they might behave coldly towards YouTubers or media groups based online because those groups are much more liberated in that they have the freedom to cover the stories they want to. They can conduct themselves the way feel (using swear words and racy skits) without worrying about their bosses terminating them. Ultimately, social media moguls and YouTubers have complete control over their content. Sadly, this is something the employees of mainstream media will never have, at least not in the near future. What is worse is that stunts like these will deter young people from fully embracing old media.

A valuable thing to note about the culture of YouTube is that there are a multitude of niches that are relevant to certain demographics. The founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, created a platform that opened many doors for everyone who has a decent internet connection, a computer and a camera.

Classic Jenna Marbles.

One must acknowledge that we are living in changing times and that techniques that used to work for the media are becoming out dated. This is not to say that YouTube will one day rule the entire sphere of mainstream media, but it is simply a suggestion that the old media make room for newer forms of media to thrive.

As always, stay fresh.