“Jess La Bombalera” and the Pathologies of Racial Authenticity

During the uproar surrounding Jessica Krug’s revelation that she had “passed” for Black and Afro-Puerto Rican for years, what really obsessed me was this, “What does this say about our institutions and their predilection for performance?” Touré F. Reed’s “’Jess La Bombalera’ and the Pathologies of Racial Authenticity” is absolutely on point. He writes, “Simply put, Jessica Krug was a minstrel act, a racist caricature. But while Krug’s persona was certainly offensive, what’s far more offensive is that there is a demand for this kind of performance in liberal academic circles.” Here are excerpts; please read the full article in Jacobin Magazine.

I don’t know George Washington University history professor Jessica Krug. I have no special insights into either her motives or personal struggles, nor do I have any reason to feel personally betrayed by the recent revelations that she had been passing for black for many years.

But while the court of public opinion has already found her guilty of at least one, perpetual count of “cultural appropriation,” in my view this conclusion misses the mark. To be clear, if I did not find “Jess La Bombalera” offensive, I wouldn’t have bothered writing this essay. Still, if one considers, first, that culture — the folk’s shared sensibilities informed by common experiences — exists, on some level, to be appropriated, second, the variety of black experiences precludes the existence of a singular black culture, and third, the implications for mass culture of thirty-years of mainstream hip hop, then calling Krug’s performance “appropriation of black culture” only compounds the problem Krug personifies.

If Krug is not guilty of appropriating “black culture,” she is guilty of attempting to establish her bona fides as a scholar of black people through a persona that both pandered to and reinforced commonplace stereotypes about black and brown people. Simply put, Krug was a minstrel act, a racist caricature.

But while Krug’s persona was certainly offensive, what’s far more offensive is that there is a demand for this kind of performance in some liberal academic circles.

Because I’ve lived most of my life either on the near periphery or within academia, I’ve had nearly four decades of experience with the creepy essentialist language of “racial authenticity” that lives and thrives in more than one corner of putatively liberal academia. As a result, I learned a long time ago that some white liberals expect black and brown people to “perform” in ways that comport with their well-meaning, usually underclass-informed, and fundamentally racist expectations of black people. [. . .]

However offensive Krug’s act is — and it is very offensive because it was a front — the demand for her performance is even more offensive. Indeed, the demand for the product Krug was selling merits far more attention than she does. Why? Well, Krug may have done damage to some people herself. But some of the people who bought her performance of blackness will continue to do damage to black and brown people, precisely because Krug tailored her racist performance to mesh with her intended professional audience’s racist presumptions about “black authenticity” — whatever that might be. [. . .]

[Jessica Krug, aka “Jess La Bombalera,” is a white academic from Kansas City, Missouri who claimed to be black and from “el barrio.” (Photo by Samira Rashid/Embassy of Haiti)]

For full article, see https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/09/jess-la-bombalera-and-the-pathologies-of-racial-authenticity

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