The My-Stery: We Must Value Our Own Stuff Even in the Face of Doom Part 2

Source: Hot 97

If you have been following the news, you most likely have heard about Azealia Banks’ interview on Hot 97, in which she gave an honest critique of appropriation of the cultural forms that originated in black cultures: “I feel, just in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like Black issues, or Black politics, or Black music or whatever there’s always this under current of a ‘Fuck you.’ Like ‘Fuck y’all niggas. Y’all don’t really own shit. Y’all don’t have shit…Like you’re trying to smudge out…it’s like a cultural smudging is what I see. And when they give these Grammys out all it says to White kids is ‘You’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to Black kids, ‘You don’t have shit, you don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself.’ And it makes me upset in that way (Source: Madam Noire.).

She continued: “What bothers me is when you have the media [which] is really evil. I told you that undercurrent of like “fuck you” and the sensationalization that comes around it. There was this time in the summer where I picked up the New York Post, and the cover was ‘Hip Hop Is White.’ They do that on purpose. They’re trying to erase us. They’re trying to erase all of our books and scripture. Everything that we’re supposed to know about ourselves is gone. Completely fucking gone. Never to be seen again.

The fact that metallurgy was started in Africa – agriculture, all those things that created the world are ours. It’s really upsetting when you read your social studies textbook and all you see is stories of you under some White person’s foot or you failing… I don’t wanna share [Hip Hop] with y’all. I’m sorry I don’t…This little thing called Hip Hop that I created for myself, that I’m holding on to with my dear fucking life – I feel like it’s being snatched away from me. It’s not, but they do that just to fuck with you. Why y’all trying to fuck with me?” (Source: All Hip Hop).

But as others have said before, this is nothing new. We have had to confront cultural exploitation for a while now. The only issue I had with what Banks said is I wanted her to continue putting it in a larger context of the twinning of white supremacy and capitalism not give personal attacks. White supremacy favors whiteness over everything and everybody else, and with capitalism, it can suck dry the cultural traditions and productions of local cultures like an invasive species, breaking them from their origins and deeper meanings for empty shell trends to sell to the highest bidder. It is through these erasures of origins and decontextualization of cultural art forms that we have difficulty claiming our cultural traditions, that they were cultivated in our communities. The mainstream will quickly disregard our right to claim and benefit from them for their own greedy, personal gain. As Greg Tate said “black culture matters” and so does black contributions.

The Azealia Banks interview fit well with a recent panel I attended about our communities moving forward our presence into the future, whether it is our art forms, our rituals, our values, or our institutions, and below is the recap from the event:

Futuring the Presence of the Blackness in Arts by the Renegade Performance Group

 The Renegade Performance Group, who is premiering the project The Afrofuturism Series in January, hosted a panel a few weeks ago at Brooklyn College, discussing what Afrofuturism meant to them and what does Afrofuturism mean in the face of recent events. The panel included moderator Brook Stephenson, artists Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Micheline Hess, Whitney V. Hunter, and Andre M. Zachery.

Opening with the anonymous Hyperallergic piece, “Blacked Out in the Art World,” about the indifference of the art world to black lives even as they promote “black art,” the panel mentioned the conflicted and problematic position of the author, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from her white peers, who did not want to be perceived as angry and black implying that black anger is threatening and the space for it is not permitted, and her lack of acknowledgement on who benefits from “black art” – the community or the art world. As Toussaint-Baptiste asked, why are we surprised that the art world does not value us; it reflects the function of a capitalist system and is not as romantic as we think. So, two of the main questions of the night was how do we move forward? How do we benefit from our art?
For the panelists, part of what afrofuturism is about is us and our community benefiting from our work. On a broader scale, they described it as envisioning new futures through present experience and is also informed by the past executed in different way, Jeremy stated. Both ideas involve how we will survive in the future. Basing his answer of the title of the panel, Hunter saw afrofuturism as a movement, the presencing of the future of blackness. He believed we must proactively create a plan that ensures our presence, especially since they are killing us or finding us dispensable. If we do not have a plan, then afrofuturism will only exist in theory and so it is about now, dealing with what we have now, and projecting ourselves into the future, making it to that now. Instead, he wants to call it “afropresentism” or “afronow.” One example he gave was how do we project forward our rituals (he did a dance project with Haitian veves on the floor) without mediation by others.
Hess, who worked with Milestones Comics before it closed, feels that afrofuturism represents our continued fight to have presence; she is disheartened sometimes with always having to “crowbar” or wedged our way into the future. For instance, why is it that our presence in movies, like Star Wars or Hunger Games, becomes a problem for some people.
Zachary also agreed that it is dealing with the now, and that our expectancy and assertion of having image and representation is a test of humanity in the world lineage, a test to see how people who oppress us become more human as time goes on and realize our survival is dependent on one another. He declared it as a statement of “if you’ll be here, so will I;” that we have a right to imagine and construct futures and to extend beyond our presence and known spaces. into the unknown. Stephenson also suggested that it was a movement where there is no I and the other, but just us.

Toussaint-Baptist continued by comparing it to Coltrane and Davis’ musical work as well as Butler’s Patternist series, in which they created their own frameworks for their own language and spaces contingent on us and not on the acceptance of others or who want it. Hunter emphasized that Afrofuturism should be considered a movement not just an aesthetic anyone can adopt. A movement stresses that it is more than a style, but has a reason or ideology meant to make something happen; a movement looks at our current situations, critiques them and analyzes them. However, he also added that he finds the name problematic because it has always existed in

Micheline Hess’ comics

some form and the name implies it is derivative of something else.

Hess again noted how much of media has not diversified in the way she would like, which is why she focused on creating comics like Anansi Kids, or asked why Orisha are not included in mythological-based media works. As the daughter of a St. Vincent parent, she wanted to see aspects of her Caribbean culture in comics. Her main goal has been to try to get kids interested in our own stuff, not just works of other cultures, so they can carry it forward. In mainstream media, interaction with black characters are minimal or not realistic, such as in Bio Shock. She wants a world where there is no reaction or is enjoyed when black people are present in speculative fiction.

Agreeing with Hess and Hunter, Toussaint-Baptiste warned against the neo-liberal actions of mainstream culture that desires to extract the political and social context for personal gain and mass consumer culture. Both him and Zachary wanted a shift of values from capital-oriented, mediated, mass consumer culture to removing the limits that oppressive societies have placed on our imagination and valuing ideas in our communities, tapping into our own resourcefulness for our own well-being. If we don’t we will keep neglecting the craft that comes out of our cultures and be fearful of the representations presented to us (ex. Viola Davis in The Help, Lisa Bonet in Angel Heart). One of the last things Hunter added before the q & a was that he wants us to hold onto the consciousness of who we are and came from, retain our cultures that belong to us and take them to the future, so that we will not become simply like drones or androids. Yes, we are hybrids born out of a toxic mix of history, but it is our responsibility to sift through and interrogate that, and to see what is ours to take, to pass down, and to exalt.

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