The Mask as Technology Part 3:
Although I tried not to add onto the dozens of think pieces that are already out there about Beyonce’s latest video, “Formation,” sometimes I like to jump on the bandwagon to either use it momentarily like a free ride to a needed destination or to veer it off into my own direction.
The video has opened the door for much conversation and possibility of new connections, which to me is the main benefit of it, and there has been valid thoughts on all sides about it from the possible meanings of its symbolic artistic imagery and bringing some focus to black cultures that often have been forgotten, marginalized or denigrated, even by black people themselves, to the critiques that highlight the problematic centering of a cis-gendered, non-queer, high class, wealthy, light(er)-skinned, thinner celebrity against the marginalized realities of poorer, lower-class, heavier-set, darker-skinned, queer and transgendered people. Looking at the video and listening to the lyrics, it is difficult to ignore its use of Western capitalistic and white-centric measures of power, including Givenchy and Bill Gates, and their stark contrast against the images of disasters that affected those marginalized communities and black traditions that helped us to survive the violence and trauma created by the former. It does appear on the surface to be a form of capitalist opportunistic exploitation, appropriation and a softer silencing/erasing of marginalized cultures despite the “inclusion” of their imagery.
But as a creative writer/artist myself, I tend to look at culture and imagery more ambiguously. In trickster philosophy, various contradicting realities and meanings exist at once; we all wear various conflicting masks to negotiate with and maneuver through society at large. At the end of the day, Beyonce is a pop artist, not an activist per se, and just as I can learn and be inspired by various sources, I can be inspired by her work and apply it back to my own work.
Certain aspects of “Formation,” and responses to them, kept stirring thoughts in my mind, especially in relation to recent posts I had on this blog. Not saying all the thoughts below went through Beyonce’s mind, but these are the thoughts her video inspired in me. Let us look beyond Beyonce because it, for me, is not about her but the larger symbolism and archetypes that are part of human psyche and social cultures.
Here is a list of my (random) thoughts:
For the first post of the new year, here is a short manual of lessons I was able to tease out from reading Toni Cade Bamabara’s The Salt Eaters. The Salt Eaters is a novel about a small Southern community of Claybourne who are searching for the healing properties of salt while also preparing for a carnival. The book centers on two characters, Minnie Ransom, the community healer and leader of a group of healers, and Velma Henry, who has suffered a nervous breakdown and near suicide, undergoes a healing session. At its base, The Salt Eaters is sankofic its nature — looking back, moving forward and every other way weaved in between. If you want to read more pieces about Bambara’s work, The Feminist Wire recently did a tribute forum for her.
1) “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?” The opening question of the book and warning from the healer Minnie Ransom, reminds us that healing and moving forward takes work; it takes processing through a lot of hurtful trauma. Healing is proactive not reactionary. Not only that, when you are well, you are not done. There is responsibility after that (“a lot of weight when you’re well”) (10).
2) Everything is interconnected. One of the characters said, “the material without the spiritual and psychic does not a dialectic make” (64). All parts of life intersect and shape one another (laws of reciprocity, attraction and repulsion, supply and demand on 133). One of the reasons The Salt Eaters is a difficult read is that it cannot be read like a traditional linear novel. The book works more like a webbed-matrix, interweaving in and out of various stories, people, and signs who are all connected to Velma, the main center. The entire community is an extension of Velma and Velma is an extension of them, as we journey through the “master’s mind.” Velma’s healing will affect the entire community It also interweaves various aspects of life from myth to spiritual ritual to science that underpin the book as they are versions of each other and shape each other. If one area is sick or lacking it impacts the others.
This year has been packed with a lot of ups and downs, but it has also open a few unexpected doors for me that I cannot wait to see come into form next year. So here is a list of my favorite posts I did this year, so you can look back too before we head into the New Year. Thanks for joining me on this ride.
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
During the past few week after witnessing the no indictments of Darren Wilson,for the killing of Mike Brown and Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner, in addition to the numerous cases of police violence, brutality and negligence acted upon black people before and after the two incidents, I have wondered how do we move forward and find hope and refuge in the face of so much destruction.
The one thought that came to mind over the past few weeks has been that we need to value ourselves and our own stuff with more force. I have seen efforts such as #NotOneDime, #BlackoutBlackFriday, #BlackonBlackFriday and #BlackDecember. I have seen several posts on The Anti-Intellect Blog about how we don’t as a whole value our own schools, like HBCUs, and our own awards and recognitions. I was watching News One Now and Roland Martin was having a similar discussion with Cornel West with Roland mentioning that someone had told him that they needed to get him a “real show” on a “real network.” Saturday I attended the Afrikan Poetry Theater’s Buy Black Market. But it wasn’t until Sunday at J.P. Howard’s Women Writers in Bloom Salon where poet Amber Atiya led the workshop and introduced June Jordan’s essay, “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan” that it clicked fully in my head.
On Wednesday night after watching American Horror Story: Freak Show, I tuned in to watch the latest of TV One’s Hollywood Divas episode, “Five Black Witches.” One of the opening scenes is the de facto leader of the group, Paula Jai Parker, presenting to producer Carl Craig the idea agreed upon in previous episode for a supernatural film about five black sisters who are witches who each would have their own special powers.
Parker acknowledged that there is no film she was familiar with that deals with the supernatural through the experience of the black community, although it can be argued that several exist (Beloved? Sankofa? Several independent films?), but Craig’s immediate reaction was an obvious aversion to the concept. He looked as if he was wondering what the hell Parker just give him. Although he did say this was cutting edge material, he felt that black audiences would have a difficult time embracing this type of story, that they will look at it as “demonic” (here we go).
Ever since my mother received her smart phone, she has constantly been coming to me with numerous questions about how to use it. She has such a difficult time adapting to how it works no matter how many times I show her. No matter how much she uses the smart phone, I don’t think she fully connects or pays attention to it in order to learn. She cannot learn how to use the smart phone if she does not open herself to learning how to use it. Half the time when I am showing her what to do, I am not exactly sure what I am doing myself; I am figuring it out as I go along based on a set of knowledge I have learned already from smart phones and just playing around with it. I try to work with the phone based on how it might move or based on the signs it gives.
Sometimes, I think she sees technology as a magic device that will just do for her and she doesn’t want to take the energy to work with it, to move with it. Sometimes, I think that she thinks of God in that way, too. God is somewhat detached from herself as much as the technology is and she lets it remain that way. This experience with my mother stirred my thoughts on our interaction with God (or higher spirit) and technology. Maybe we should see God (or higher spirit) much like the character Lauren Olamina does in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. If “God Is Change,” I have to learn its fundamentals and adapt with it. I have to interconnect with it as if it is a part of me, as if we are extensions of each other, that I have to attach it to me and bend it to my image to survive and grow as much as it bends and changes my image. As for technology, it should be looked at in a similar fashion. It adapts to you as much as you adapt to it.
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A couple of days ago I was searching for blues artists that I haven’t heard of and I came across Willie Brown and his song, “Future Blues.” The song inspired me to create a short playlist with blues songs of a speculative nature. As for the title of the playlist, it comes from a book I stumbled across while looking for songs, Mark Winborn’s Deep Blues: Human Soundscapes for the Archetypal Journey. Also, for additional reading, here is Victor Kennedy’s essay called, Magic and the Blues. Enjoy!
Songs in Playlist:
Wilton Crawley and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Futuristic Blues”
Willie Brown’s “Future Blues”
Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious”
Willie Dixon – “Seventh Son”
J.T. “Funny Paper” Smith – Seven Sisters Blues
Junior Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues”
Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train”
Memphis Minne’s “Hoodoo Lady Blues”
Bessie Smith’s “Blue Spirit Blues”
Bessie Smith’s “Cemetery Blues”
Bessie Smith’s “Spider Man Blues”
Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working”
Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”
Muddy Waters’ “I’m a Man (Mannish Boy)”
Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman”
Koko Taylor’s “I’m a Woman”
John Lee Hooker and Carlos Santana’s “The Healer”
I have not done this post in a while, so here it goes:
Recently, Shadow and Act reposted an essay from last year, “African Renaissance, How The Prefix ‘Afro-‘ May Arrest Imagination & Manifesto Salesmanship,” by . I had a few thoughts about it that I formed during a private conversation with Cosmic Yoruba last year, but I never published them. So, I decided to do it now, especially after seeing Pumzi director Wanuri Kahiu’s TED Talk about labels:
Brief break from regular programming:
Last year, I went to Blogging While Brown conference and I learned a lot. In fact, I am still learning a lot from the conference, following their facebook and twitter. So since the conference will be in New York City again on June 27th-28th, I will definitely like to go again.
1) To be re-inspired: There are times when writers and bloggers feel less motivated to continue blogging. Conferences like this give us a chance to meet and see other writers and bloggers who understand what you go through, form new connections, and get new inspiration for posts and how to build up your blog.
2) A refresher course: Since I am relatively new to blogging on my specific blog platform and all the tools and information related to blogging, it is easy to forget that information between the times of the conference, coming up with posts and doing other activities of daily life. The conference is a good way to remind me of all that information as well as learn new information.