Young, Black, Radical: Turnings

Standard

For one of my classes we had to submit turnings, or short reflections on aspects of our class, which is giving us a broad overview of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa.

Here are the three poem-ish things I wrote. I also did a bit of a critique, but I’ll be expanding that into another YBR post soon:

1. You strike a rock. You’ve struck a woman.

To hurt a woman is to hurt your mother.

To hurt a woman is to hurt your daughter.

To hurt a woman is to hurt your aunt, your sister, your grandmother, and your cousin.

You strike a woman, you strike yourself.

I’ve had the privilege to understand a little about Mother Earth from my Lakota/Dakota roommate.

What does it mean to strike Mother Earth? To strike the true provider of life and sustenance.

You strike a rock. You’ve struck a woman.

Moses struck a rock. He was banned from the Promised Land.

He did what was easy.

You strike a rock. You’ve struck a woman.

2. What does it mean Black Consciousness?

Some called it radical. Some called it hateful. Some called it reverse racist.

I call it human. It takes a mixture of superhuman and supernatural to turn the other cheek and forgive. It is very human to neither forget nor forgive. It is sheep-like to forgive and forget. For it is in the remembering that we grow and evolve.

As a whole we’re in a state of amnesia of the past. Oral traditions get lost when the original tongues are ripped out. Written traditions merely recall the pain of the past when the educated mind only finds a culture of collective forgetfulness. Human is to continue walking down the path of forgiveness while refusing to forget how the past has made you. And it is human to falter.

3. 

BC.

Escape from Foucault.

BC.

Escape from Baudelaire.

BC.

Escape from Leopold.

BC.

Escape from Hobbes.

BC.

Escape from Socrates.

BC.

Escape from Kant.

BC.

Escape from Hegel.

BC.

Escape from Kierkegaard.

BC.

Detour at Ghandi.

BC.

Detour at Confucius

BC.

Detour at Amaru.

BC.

Detour at Sitting Bull.

BC.

Stop at Mandela.

Stop at Du Bois.

Stop at Biko.

Stop at Malcolm.

Stop at MLK Jr.

Stop at Kwame Toure.

Stop at Angela.

Stop at Assata.

Stop at Huey.

Stop at Fred.

Stop at Bobby.

Start again with yourself. 

This was definitely a fun exercise. I’ll be back soon,

Peace

-Raƒi

My Body is My Paintbrush

Standard

The transformation of my own art from external mark-making mediums to physical body and voice.

Some six years ago, I took one of the most frustrating yet fulfilling art classes in my life. It was my junior year of high school and like all juniors at my school I was enrolled in AP Drawing with Ms. A, an AP course that involved the submission of twenty-four pieces of drawn art-work for review by the college board. Up until that course, I did work, but the amount of thought and concept that effectively went into my work was minimal. I painted what I saw. When I grew bored of what I saw, I abstracted or made design pieces from the shapes and images. Art was something I loved, but also something that, in the scholastic realm, always left me drained.

Teachers always pushed me in one direction or another. My design teacher wanted glorious illustrations with amazing use of perspectives. My former art teachers wanted an intersection of technique and thought that I found impossible to meet with my limited skills. I was not a bad art student by any means. I was a good art student with above average technique and a dedication to improving my craft, but a lot of times I just couldn’t hang. I wasn’t comfortable enough with the materials I used to finish pieces when my passion was at its peak. I wasn’t disciplined enough to put other things aside to make sure I could hit that finish line. The year before, my mini-concentration, or a series of pieces around the same central idea, was marred with incompleteness. My best charcoal drawing at the time was unfinished. My best painting: unfinished. My best self-portrait: unfinished. The most conceptual piece I had done: unfinished. They were all great for the time, but there was always a feeling of incompletion. I wasn’t completing my fine arts work. I had a problem.

Ms. A changed that. She was never afraid to attack work for being wishy-washy, inconsistent, or convoluted. She pushed all of us to stand by our natural marks, the way we put pen, pencil, or charcoal to paper and drew. Though I never got to the conceptual and technical level that would have made getting a full scholarship to an Art or Design school possible, Ms. A really changed the way I looked at the creation process. Especially now that I am extremely removed from the throes of fine art, I realize how much she was able to pull out of me. Undeniably, she is the most influential arts educator in my life. Now that I’m older and more perceptive to the process I realize this.

My junior year was the peak of my Art and Design work. Whether the summer right after where I learned under Art Center’s Stan Kong, or the time I spent drawing ATVs, Haitian relief packs, or many of my friends, I was about as far as I would go in drawing and conceptual skills. That was the last year it really mattered.

Once I graduated from high school, I stopped drawing. My skills, no longer being pushed by the desire to be a designer, dropped considerably. I really let myself go my senior year, and I wanted nothing to do with it in college. I was done with art. I would do film and that would be the end of it. I was wrong.

Hip Hop became my new fine art and design. The hours I spent analyzing freestyles, learning new flows and cadences, picking up beat-making and sound design replaced sketches completely. In order to get more comfortable performing my own work, I began taking acting more seriously and took on several interesting, and challenging, roles. Poetry and writing have become a major focus. Social justice has become a major focus. Arts education and creative expression have become integral to a career that I would define as successful.

None of this would be possible without my eleven years of magnet art education. Cracking the code of different mediums and disciplines would have been much harder if I was unable to recognize the common denominators between these forms of expression. I was talking with a friend one night about how I’ve developed to the point of being able to recognize different possibilities for one idea. I am now beginning to see what “ingredients” or steps it would take to turn a concept into a film, a play, a poem, or a song before I even begin working. With time I’m sure that I’ll become even more adept at this. With time I may even pick the visual arts side of things up again.

Whatever the future holds, I no longer feel bound to one mode of expression. Now, when I want it to be, my body is my paintbrush and you can watch, listen to, or feel the marks that I make.

Young, Black, Radical: Excellence At All Costs

Standard

A’s, outstanding recommendations, and rave reviews are not be used to dismiss “lesser” products, ideas, and people. 

(Warning: This is going to be a bit anti-capitalist)

I’ve had the terrible privilege of ingesting elitism in large doses. As a child I used my “higher” intelligence as a defense mechanism against my peers in church and other social institutions. Once I was accepted into the Ivy League PWI I currently attend, there was a bit of the same. I’ve been humbled a lot in the past four years. In America we maintain the notion that bigger is always better, that quality determines functionality, and that progress is always linear, whether vertically or horizontally. But I’d like to address these notions of competition where everyone is always after the same prize whether that is an A, 5 Stars, or money. Stop thinking them. Or if you continue to think them, at least be mindful of why you believe that grading and ranking things are important. And no, this isn’t going to be a “mediocrity is fine” or an “everyone is special” rant. At least not as we typically have them.

We only want the best. That’s human nature. If you can get a five star chef to run the kitchen in your restaurant why would you settle for a three star chef? If you can have the former president of student government why would you settle for the former vice president? It’d be more work to deal with the latter. They might need more grooming. It might take more time. Time is the most precious commodity, we want people to hit the ground running because it gives us the peace of mind to focus on other things. This is fine, but the desire to save time by only choosing the most “excellent” less difficult people and things is forcing us to miss out on many gems. And sometimes (really all of the time) you have to dig to find gold. It doesn’t just show up on your porch.

Time and effort are key. In a course I’m taking, I’ve had to engage with a large number of cryptic and hard to read text from Black intellectuals, scholars, and media-makers. I was ready to dismiss them because they were too difficult or I felt like I had better things to do. I honed in on the only “clear” points they made and prepared to discuss them in class. Any sentence that made me stop and mull over meaning was tossed. And you know what happened in class? All of those sentences were the ones with real value. Once deciphered and contextualized, they overpowered the distractions, noise, and mess that made their points easier to dismiss. They were sharing novel and powerful insights. Insights that were only made clear when I stopped trying to process the information as quickly as possible and really began to engage with the material as a young scholar and as a human being. If you’re hungry enough, you’ll cut off the bruised skin and make the most of the fruit.

Now don’t get me wrong, clarity is important, both in the real world and in the “real” world. If you’re giving instructions, clarity is crucial. If you’re trying to convince people of something, clarity is crucial. If you want people to just take in what you’re saying, clarity is crucial. But clarity is not always excellence. An A paper is not always the best standard, at least if an A paper is only one that addresses the topic and presents its points in a clear manner.

I think our society could benefit from using dialogue more often. Instead of mass dissemination of filtered down ideas and ideals, we need a stronger feedback loop where writers and speakers who aren’t the most eloquent can share and not be shut out. When style trumps substance in every instance, we’ve got an issue. It would behoove all of us to deal with a messy article, film, or speech every now and then. If we can find gold anywhere and everywhere it exists, we’ll only be the richer for it. If new ideas are articulated and if work gets done, they have value and worth. We shouldn’t ignore them.

Peace,

Raƒi

Young Black Radical: Politics are Prominent

Standard

What do you think of when you hear the word politics? Does your mind immediately draw images of a victorious Barack Obama, elected by considerable margins in both of his presidential elections? Does it imagine your local mayor or commissioner who is shown unfavorably by your local news outlet? Or are you brought to images of ancient Greek political systems? There are no right or wrong answers in this, but today I’d like to challenge how we think of politics.

The origin of the word extends from the Greek politika or “affairs of the state” a definition that certainly includes the bureaucracy, the day-to-day running of congress and other systems of government, but I one that I also feel should include the affairs of the state outside of the institutions of governance that have been constructed. In communication and other social sciences, we have come to an understanding that everything is political. When we say that we mean nothing exists in a vacuum and actions which are supported, rejected, or neglected by the state have a hand in shaping everything within said state. While it is easier to digest and straightforward narratives and arguments that are not cluttered with all of the information necessary to understand the nuances of issues and histories, these simplifications negate context.

I recently had a lengthy Facebook discussion with an old friend about the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Mike Brown verdict. I had seen some statuses from him that were problematic, but this was the first time I engaged with him to get at the underlying beliefs that were informing his posts. In the end it boiled down to a belief in individual actions, more commonly associated with the American Dream, and the myth of the meritocratic American democracy. In his mind, Mike Brown was an individual who “got what he deserved” for behaving like a thug and aggressively engaging with Darren Wilson, the police officer. For this person, if Mike Brown had just been minding his own business and the officer had used deadly force, then his death would not have been justified. However, his murder should not be justified in any just legal system. Our argument became derailed due to both my old friend’s assumptions about my rationale for engaging with him and his misunderstandings of the historical context of the moment. In his mind, the civil war was a war where multiple groups of people fought for the abolition of slavery due to it being a moral wrong. He presented the Civil Rights movement in the same way.

The majority narrative of these events has been de-politicized. I don’t fault my old friend for believing these narratives and using them to build a counter-argument. I don’t fault him for getting riled up and angry about the protests. I don’t even fault him for posting “fuck Brown”. Public school education has been de-politicized. Mathematics and strict Verbal and Writing requirements do not require the nuanced understanding that history and social studies do. The former can be used functionally without the nuances to make new discoveries and build new understandings. The latter are little more than facts to be pulled out during educational bowls and Jeopardy!

In order to raise the awareness of people, they need to be taught to engage with history critically and develop nuanced understandings. In reality, politics is nothing more than history and tradition expressed through people who live and work within the state. When we say everything is political, we mean everything is interconnected. Everything is tied to history and traditions. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Politics are prominent and in order to truly understand politics, we have to critically engage with our own history and traditions. Let’s get to work.

Peace,

Raƒi