Which, in English, means:
On the Internet, nobody can see your face or body. So black people on Twitter use black slang or talk about rap music, so that people will know that they are black.
The trouble is that this trick works for anybody. Anyone with a free weekend and an Internet connection can spend a few hours on Urban Dictionary, Rap Genius, and WorldStar, and make a pretty convincing imitation of a black person. And that’s exactly what is happening today.
The Daquan Test
Back in the 1950s, people were pretty concerned about technology. We’d just finished a massive war that exterminated about 2.5 percent of the world’s population, largely thanks to technological advances such as computer-guided aiming and the atomic bomb.
But the thing that really creeped people out was computer intelligence. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics in 1942 had made us realize that robots were starting to get pretty advanced, and after that whole atom bomb thing, people were starting to worry that if computers became self-aware, things might not work out so well for humans.
People were freaked out: was it possible for a robot to become self-aware? Could a computer think?
In 1950, a scientist named Alan Turing came up with a sort of non-answer. Defining “thinking” is too hard, he said, so instead we should concentrate on whether or not it was possible to create a computer that could trick us into thinking it was human.
I think Turing might have been onto something.
Maybe defining “blackness” is something we should stop doing. We’ve been trying for years, and it’s never worked out. Maybe we should stop arguing about whether or not someone is black enough to appropriate black culture. Maybe we should stop worrying about who the n-word belongs to.
Instead, maybe we should just stick to the Daquan Test
That is, whereas the Turing Test requires that a computer has enough of the trappings of “humanity” to fool us 70 percent of the time, the Daquan Test simply requires that a person display enough “cultural competence” to function as an entertaining “black” person. They might actually fool us, like Ms. Daquan has done for the past week or so. Or, they might just be culturally fluent enough in commercial “blackness” to provide an entertaining spectacle, like Iggy Azalea does.
Just to be clear: I’m not saying that the appropriation or definition of “blackness” are completely irrelevant issues, but I am saying that, as a society, maybe we aren’t ready to have this conversation yet.
Maybe we need to take it a bit slower. Maybe we need to think about Daquan himself. Maybe we need to think about what it is that is so interesting about black people. Maybe we need to think about why certain fringe elements of a tiny fraction of a few black people’s lives (rap, dancing, or singing) have come to represent an entire population of people.
And then, maybe we should think about why we’re so protective of those things.
The future of black entertainment
In 1988, a play called M. Butterfly hit Broadway. It was based on the true story of a relationship between a French diplomat, and the male Peking Opera singer that seduced him. One of the play’s weirder lines is spoken by the opera singer: “Why, in the Peking Opera, are women’s roles played by men?…Because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.”
Maybe that’s why Daquan has been so successful. Because really, as funny as we black people are, and as well as we understand our Caucasian brothers and sisters, there will come a point at which they will decide that they’d rather call the shots themselves. People creating their own, customized “black” entertainment will once again be the norm.
I’m not really sure what this means for black people. I also don’t have any real suggestions, aside from maybe that we should consider abandoning rap music like we did jazz. Let them have it, along with everything else—Black Twitter included. We lost this battle. Retreat, make something new, and try again.
The machine moves
For Turing, the holy grail of computer science was a machine that could “produce more ideas than those with which it had been fed.” So, in other words, this would be a computer that could receive input—and then output a series of unique ideas and thoughts. A creative computer. Technological Singularity.
We might not have gotten there yet with machines, but it looks like black culture has probably hit a point of Cultural Singularity. We’ve spent the past 400 years as a society generating data points about what black people are supposed to look, think, and act like. Now, finally, the machine that is capitalism has begun to move on its own. It is creating its own content.
Don’t get me wrong: the idea of black people is still entertaining, but black people are no longer required to provide that entertainment.
The future might not be just, but if we keep it up, it’s probably going to be funny. If you’re white.
Dexter Thomas Jr is a scholar of hip-hop and contemporary culture at Cornell University. California-born and Tokyo-based, Thomas is finishing his book on Japanese hip-hop this year. He tweets at @dexdigi. This article was originally featured on Medium and reposted with permission.