From its beginning almost 40 years ago, Hip-Hop culture has had afrofuturist tendencies, from costumes and sounds of artists like Afrika Bambaataa and Ramellzee to later Missy Elliot and her videos with Hype Williams; to the hacking of street lamps to power sounds systems and other innovative rewiring to create the music; to the otherworldly movements of breakdancers and the artwork of graffiti. Well, choreographer and leader of the Renegade Performance Group, Andre M. Zachery, decided to pay homage to that spirit of Hip-Hop culture highlighting the power and politics of graffiti culture through dance. In the first work of Renegade’s AFROFUTURISM Series, called The Inscription Project, the piece takes inspiration from the art and philosophy of Ramellzee; it seeks to reignite the original purpose of the art movement as a politically empowering means to give voice and shed light on those who are on the margins of society and the social injustice they face everyday.
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:
I feel genuinely weakened and tired from the not guilty verdict given to the George Zimmerman case. I was not shocked by it, but it did feel like another painful smack in the face after you’ve already been beaten several times.
During the whole trial, two quotations from Malcolm X came to mind:
“If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn’t even begun to pull out the knife.”
Here is another version of the quotation where he says they won’t even admit the knife is there.
The second quotation is:
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
Angela Davis is more than an afro and if you think wearing an afro is radical and revolutionary enough, then you do not know much about Angela Davis’ life. Having grown up in Birmingham and knowing the girls who were murdered in the Birmingham church bombing, Davis seemed destined to want to make a change in the world and she did. Here was a black women who received a Ph.D. in philosophy, spoke out against the Prison Industrial Complex long before it was a popular phrase and in the mainstream, was tracked by the FBI for her outspokenness and links to communism and the Black Panthers, and later came out as a lesbian. And she did this all as a black woman!
Living in a world where power and knowledge is equaled to mainly male, white and heterosexual, all of that was quite a feat. We need to know about her and others like her as a part of our history, and the many aspects of them that connect to us. As Erykah Badu said in The Black Power Mixtape, what we need to do is read, write and document our stories because if we do not, we allow people to twist those stories in their favor. Shola Lynch’s film Free Angela and All Political Prisonersis another chance for the hunted to take back their story from the hunter. Happy Women’s History Month to Angela Davis and the film will be in theaters April 5th.
Now that the glitz, glam and hype about the Democratic National Convention is over and I think we need to come back to reality. Although I do respect Obama, his good intentions, and what he has accomplished, I still have fears for the future of this country and the world. With his new campaign slogan, “forward,” I wonder what kind of forward are we stepping into.
Watching veteran actor Clint Eastwood’s “act” with an invisible President Obama in a chair may have been the highlight of the Republican National Convention, but as several commentators have mentioned, it ironically represented the Republican platform and treatment of Obama in this election. Through their words and actions, this is what I have heard from the Republicans: “I don’t matter.”
To be rendered invisible is to be treated as if one doesn’t exist and the issues that matter in that life doesn’t exist. Jamil Smith writes in his article, “The President, rendered invisible in a chair,” part of the right-wing’s agenda had been to call out in any way possible the illegitimacy of Obama’s presidency; basically to erase his presence as the president of the United States. But it has also been about erasing the realities of “others” in general. Instead of caring about the people who live down here on earth, I feel as if right-wingers’ heads are always in the sky or at least their noses are so turned-up that they fail to see the rest of us.
Most of the issues that republicans either ignore or want to legislate in their favor will greatly affect the material lives of people of color, women, LGTBQ communities, poor people, elderly, immigrants, the sick, the disabled, students and the unemployed. I am included in this. I am a poor, right now unemployed, post-grad, black woman. All of this will affect me, but all I saw at the republican convention were people who were not speaking to someone like me. I was rendered invisible as well.