The Best of Being Black
Sometimes it’s discouraging. It really is. You get one email forward too many of an overweight woman in see through clothes or news account of a black brother murdering another black brother and you wonder if you are out of lockstep with your own people and culture or if it’s even your own culture anymore. Youth culture is not synonymous with black culture. Neither is hip hop. But a lot of the youth don’t really understand that because too many people my age are too busy bobbing their heads to the radio to remember what to pass on to their kids.
Black culture has become a parody of itself in the mainstream with shucking and jiving entertainers, pseudo intellectuals who are really pop culture surveyors and cult of personality babblers who run in front of any camera to get attention for themselves. Then it becomes cyclical, with people portraying fake ideals of blackness for the media, insecure directionless people watching and imitating the behavior which just reinforces what was never true in the first place.
“Is this what’s hot? Is this what’s poppin in the streets?”
My daughter asked me what did I like about black culture. I take a few seconds to reflect, then I’m stumped. Not because I want to be anything other than black but wondering what can I point out to her of blackness that I like that hasn’t been adulterated in recent years. What was it I wanted her to take pride in and pass on to the next generation to strengthen them? What did I think was cool about blackness… still?
“Let me get back to you on that,” I begged off.
Sometimes one needs to just disconnect, regroup and reconnect to realize that what is merchandize as blackness is not necessarily blackness, even if it’s a black face/group that is trying to sell it to you. True blackness can be mundane because the quotidian aspects of everyday life can be boring as paint drying. Also ideas/notions/thoughts that are sagacious aren’t soundbite worthy as the things that are incendiary or vacuous. So although they aren’t in the forefront it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or isn’t true representations of blackness.
Even in my city, as staid and complacent as the black folks are (more of that in another post) I can see glints of creativeness among my friends. Like my friend Napoleon’s group IsWhat?! mixing rock, jazz and rap or my other friend Idrissa trying to create a mini black cultural shift, first with poetry slams, rock music, healthy living and now his new venture yoga in the hood. There is a black life, contrary to what some blacks think all blacks are living. And it’s not less black. Or really different black. It’s just as black, rich and creative as those who want to “keep it real”.
Which is why I’m excited about Rob Fields’ Festival of the New Black Imagination to be held on 15 October 2011 in Brooklyn (yeah, I know everything is always in NYC). A kickoff and fundraising event will be held this Tuesday with journalist Farai Chideya and Fields leading a panel discussion. On his blog Fields writes about cultivating a “revolutionary aesthetic”.
What is more powerful than an aesthetic moment where art or music meet politics? Think of Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the national anthem, one which echoed the distortion and confusion around American identity; or the raised Black Power fist (from the Olympics to Elizabeth Catlett’s sculpture); or the gender/race analysis within the visual art or music of some of our forward-thinking artists.
Words are tricksters. “Revolutionary” here is meant more in the sense of a turn of history’s wheel, and a new understanding of our circumstances, than as an overthrow. Life — art, politics, fashion — is often cyclical, and we go through both radical and conservative phases as a society. Aesthetics are an engine that turn that wheel, and combine the visual, the political, and the social. We speak to three thought-leaders about what the next revolutionary aesthetic will be; who is creating it; and how blackness shapes and relates to it.
I would be so there, if I wasn’t so here scheduled to work. Like I said every dang thing seems to take place in NYC:-( But if you are in the area please go and bring 10 bucks with you (and an additional 10 bucks for me, too –I’ll get you back) so we can meet in October for a new type of black collabo.
The “best of being black is yet to be”. If you believe it, be there.