May 26, 2021
Prompt #14: Does some knowledge belong only to particular communities of knowers?
Object 1: Louis Tomlinson’s Triangle Tattoo
Louis Tomlinson had this triangle tattooed on his ankle around 2016 and is controversial because some queer fans see it as a hint at his sexuality, as the triangle is used often in queer spaces and spaces. However, some fans outside of the queer community classify the tattoo as simply a trendy minimalistic shape with no meaning.
The tattoo is interesting because Tomlinson, who is very active on social media and often leaves cryptic hints for his fans, has never spoken about the meaning of the tattoo. He has shown over his 10 years in the music industry that he is not afraid to call people out publicly when he disagrees with their perception of him. This suggests that he is both aware of and accepts the rumors. Moreover, in 2020, Tomlinson was a guest in an episode of a recurring series on GQ Magazine’s youtube channel in which celebrities explain their tattoos. In the video, Tomlinson addresses a few of his dozens of tattoos, not including the mysterious triangle. Most of his explanations boil down to forgotten meanings, leaving fans to wonder why he agreed to feature in the series at all.
The tattoo is most often discussed by fans who are members of the LGBTQ+ community in the context of queercoding. The pink triangle was first used as a symbol during the holocaust when homosexual or suspected homosexual prisoners in concentration camps had it sewn onto their uniforms. It has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community recently to show gay pride and is often showcased in queer art and tattoos for that purpose. This explains why many of Louis Tomlinson’s queer fans have interpreted his tattoo as a sign of his sexuality. From an outside perspective, however, the tattoo appears to be a simple shape with no meaning. Within the LGBTQ+ community, it carries a deeper meaning due to past knowledge and significance. While this knowledge currently belongs to the LGBTQ+ community, it is not necessarily meant to stay this way. History is available to everyone if they are willing to learn and share.
Object 2: Blackbird by The Beatles
This object is the song Blackbird by the Beatles. Every listener interprets music differently and often the confirmed or intended meanings behind the lyrics are overlooked. In this case, the intended meaning- as confirmed by songwriter Sir Paul McCartney- was to call attention to and honor the resilience of Black women in the 1960s who were fighting for civil rights while carrying the weight of both misogyny and racism. However, most of the classic song’s listeners are unaware of the true meaning.
The song is often featured in school concerts, television programmes, and other events, and the past is frequently forgotten. One might say that the historical context is only a welcoming Easter egg for black women while others may view it as an important detail that should be addressed each time the song is performed.
The song is a product of its time and would not exist without the Little Rock Nine’s efforts to end segregation and advance civil rights for all people. However, the song has not disappeared- it exists in a time where many do not experience segregation and civil rights are further ahead. Some may see the song as something that belongs to Black women as a symbol of their resilience over time due to its history and creation. However, it is unsure if anything—a song or knowledge—can ever really belong to one person or group of people. While it seems to belong to a small group of those who care about something as trivial as the intention behind a song, anyone can gain this knowledge with a simple search.
Object 3: Tweet from 16 March 2021
The final object is this tweet from 16 March 2021. The tweet describes the creator’s feeling of discomfort as a member of the Black community when non-black people use AAVE (African American Vernacular English), a language created out of necessity when african enslaved people were forced to assimilate to english-speaking environments during slavery. They comment on the fact that “chile” is often misused and can make african american people feel mocked or unwelcome.
In order for languages to survive, they must be used continuously. For this reason, many say that using AAVE is not appropriation of culture, but they key to keeping the language alive. On the other hand, some languages are the foundation of cultures as is the case with AAVE. In a time of social media and globalization it is difficult to maintain ownership of anything, let alone a language. While the language belongs to the African American community, the knowledge of the language is actively shared constantly. If those who use it in a way that makes those whose culture revolves around the language uncomfortable spent more time listening, the knowledge would be universal.