Sunday, September 19, 2010

Black is Black ain't

In my Afro-American Communities class Professor Cox posed the question "what was your first encounter with black culture?". I had to wrestle with this question for a moment as I didn't want to draw from a TV Show that my peers might deem stereotypical or offensive. I reflected on my childhood for a moment and realized that I should be honest with my answer and free myself of judgment from others. My most memorable encounter with "black culture" was one of my all time favorite movies..."Bebe's kids" (We don't die we multiply!). In that cartoon movie I recognized the patterns in rhythm, the customs, the food, and the jokes to be reminiscent of my neighborhood in Brooklyn. After I watched the documentary "Black is Black Ain't" I had an even better understanding of what black authenticity is. As an African American, it can be hard to put into words the complexity of what blackness means to you. Marlon Riggs captured the true essence of black folk in his documentary where he interrogated the question "What is or constitutes blackness?". He touched on all aspects of our community including the cuisine, church, divine nine organizations, the changes in language, class differences, skin tones, hair texture, and the ever present issue of homophobia. As a gay male dying with AIDS, Marlon Riggs gives a very unique perspective on what it means to be black. Historically, a black man choosing to be openly gay is without question, isolating himself from the black community. A community that prides itself on being so loving and kind and accepting, yet makes no apologies for its view on homosexuality. Riggs pointed out prominent figures that have made a significant impact on the African American community such as the organizer of the March on Washington Baynard Rustin. Without his contributions to the struggle, who knows where we might be as a people...

I particularly liked the way Riggs kept showing Gumbo in the documentary. One of the central foods in African American Cuisine, Gumbo does not only represent a Macro fusion which in New Orleans includes the French, Haitian, African American, Spanish, and Native American experience. Gumbo also represents the microcosm that is black culture. Just like a gumbo that incorporates many different ingredients to create a dish from heaven, black culture works the same way. The different people, accents, regional foods, churches, family traditions, neighborhoods are all different, and one example could never adequately represent the whole, but they all work together to paint a picture of the black community. Riggs raised the bar in terms of opening our minds to new concepts but this film is about fifteen years old. I would like to ask my readers, do you think that this film is still a relevant resource in studying black identity? Are some aspects of African American Culture moving forward or staying the same?

Ya Basta,



Anonymous said...

To answer these questions I must first ask myself if my ethnicity can be founded within the gumbo. Society tells me I am physiologically distinctive because of my racial ethnic group. Therefore, it tells me that I am different from northern African Americans who l lived amongst. I can recall countless of times I heard in middle school that I was not “black enough” because my parent were from Haiti. My ethnicity did not qualify me to be “black,” so I thought maybe I had to wait for clearance. The documentary "black is black Ain’t” that Professor Cox showed last week clearly illustrated not only am I in the gumbo stir; my racial ethnic group is entwined in the African American ethic group. It is ironic that a gumbo can encompass a wide variety of ethnic group influences. Not only did Marlon Riggs capture the true essence of African Americans, he establishes the root of African Americans to Africa. Also, Riggs talks about the African American “identity” that tends to exclude the contribution of gays and females. The blackness of a person should not be challenged based on his/her sexuality, education or gender because it limits the diversity within the “black race.” The difference should not separate us because the struggle for equality across the board remains the same in the African American community. The closed mined approach only hampers us from unlocking the true black identity.
From my point of view, the black identity is changing into an inclusive form when it referring to female equality due to the political climate we are in today. However, I feel the perception within the African American community remains the same regarding homosexuality.

Briel Granger (3) said...

Out of all the film and readings given by Professor Cox, I have to say Marlon Riggs "Black is, Black Anit" documentary was most relevant in addressing all the key issues involving blackness and our identity. Riggs shows a variety of subtopis throughtout the film, but the essential theme was to clarify the pre-conceieved notions of the "blackness" and our communtiy within every category and experiences. Riggs was concerned with sexual identities, representation, relationships, gender, roles and identity. He used several prominent African Americans for testimonies such as Angela Davis,Bell Hooks, Cornell West just to name a few. I feel they well contributed to the cultural renewal of the black community. I also felt that Riggs wanted to show the transformation of the "BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL" theme indicating politics of struggle to a strong pride among the black community. Starting off with the gumbo being prepared then cooked was extremely gratifying. This was a form of Riggs clearing up the stereotype that "all black people are the same". The gumbo was very symbolic in showing the diversity within the black culture. It shows our community being made up of a variety of different things, in which we cannot be classified as one.
One point that really caught my eye in the film was the history of man and women. Most importantly, men and fatherhood. Riggs being a black gay rights actvist effectively shows and explains the hardships that come along with this in the black communty. Back then women were seen as strong. However, men were seen as weak, funny, and having no knowledge of thier identity. Furthermore, if you were a gay male of the black community,you were no longer considered "black". This aspect of our community showed a major culture change. Lesbianism and gayism is excepted by many more people in today's black community then ever before. As a whole, black men and women suffered a major opression. I especially liked when Riggs stated that when a black male has a comfortably, slight feminie side and a dominant manly side, he has achieved manhood and is considered "human". This clearly shows how homosexuality causes outkast in the community, and how your "blackness" can be diminished.
The film accurately shows alot of aspects of the black community moving forward. For example, they gay church that was showen in the documentary. Back then, there was no exceptions made it just wasnt allowed under any means. However. today it is openly excepted in the community. In this situation and various others, the black culture is progressing. However, many rejections and stereotypes among "ourselves" still remain the same today.


Before viewing Marlon Riggs documentary “Black is, Black Ain’t I often asked myself what constitutes being black? What doesn’t represent blackness? Despite the stereotypes that exist, whether negative or positive, I’ve come to the realization that ‘blackness’ cannot be categorized because the black identity is one that is so diverse, complex, and constantly evolving. Isaac Julien while examining the complexity of black identity in “Black Is Black Ain't: Notes on De-essentializing Black Identities, says, “It is for the sheer joy of the joke to challenge those who presume, across the psychological distance created by race manners, to know his identity.” Black identity has been plagued by the damaging effects of racism, hatred, and stereotypes which have lessened the already narrow perception of black culture, black womanhood and especially black masculinity. Rappers such as Ice T have denounced black homosexuality and claimed, “true niggers aren’t gay or yuppies” Many rappers, writers, filmmakers, and other forces in media share these sentiments which have not only “made it difficult for more complex representations of blackness in popular [art],” as explained by Julien but has also made it difficult for diverse representation of blackness in real life. To this day Marlon Riggs film, although made several years ago, still remains relevant. He takes the viewer on a journey to the roots of ‘blackness’ and continues his route to show the diverse, culture, religion, history, family and so forth that encompasses the black identity just as the bowl encompasses the gumbo, which Riggs used to symbolically represent the many flavors of what black is and ain't.

Tiarra Lee said...

Yes, I think “Black Is, Black Ain’t” is still a relevant resource in studying black identity. Marlon Riggs did an excellent job dispelling the preconceived notion that there is a need for black authenticity. Marlon interweaved a wide selection of themes (black masculinity, fatherhood, gender roles, etc.) in his documentary to highlight the idea of intersectionality; sociological theory suggesting that various socially and culturally constructed categories of discrimination interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality. There is no monolithic black identity instead there are several variations of individuals within black culture.
Although Riggs’s film is rather old, today there are some aspects of African American culture staying the same. I still feel that African Americans are obsessed with naming ourselves to reaffirm who we are. One way that I have noticed that this claim holds truth is with the branding of one’s body with tattoos. It seems like everyone, everywhere has a tattoo of their name, mom’s name or dad’s name somewhere on their body that can be easily viewed by the public. I don’t believe that it is a “black” thing I feel that every culture has become overjoyed by tattoos. I am not saying that name tattoos are pointless instead that they should not be used to reaffirm one’s identity (sexy, bitch, strong, loyal). The way that male masculinity is reinforced in modern society stayed the same especially in the hip-hop industry. BET and MTV still show videos where rap artists are draped in expensive jewelry, driving fancy cars and surrounded by beautiful women where damn near no clothing on. Rap artists have also used tattoos to authenticate their “realness”. This idea of “real” black men being strong, powerful, rough and tough is still prevalent especially in the music industry.
Homosexuality is becoming more acceptable in modern society. In the past, individuals that were homosexual hid their sexuality however today individuals are uninhibited and headstrong about discussing their sexuality. The media has the power to sway public opinion based on what they show on TV. Broadcast television is incorporating more and more shows with homosexuality as a common theme. On BET, the show, “Truth Hall” and one of my all-time favorite movies, “Holiday’s Heart” explores sexuality. On LOGO, “Noah’s Arc”, an American cable television dramedy with gay black and Latino characters integrates socially relevant issues as same sex dating, same sex marriage, HIV and AIDS awareness, infidelity, etc. The embracing of all people regardless of their gender, sexual preference and economic status is transforming society.
Awareness of HIV/AIDS and acceptance of those with the illness is another aspect of African American culture that has moved forward. In high schools, AIDS prevention practices are discussed in health classes. In college, there is free HIV testing at health centers on campus and information sessions that students have the opportunity to attend. On television, there are commercials advocating for donations to help individuals infected with the deadly disease in impoverished countries. Celebrities are also a part of programs that raise funding to go into research for medicine for AIDS patients. Riggs would be happy to see how society’s perception of AIDS has drastically changed for the better.

Anonymous said...

My first encounter with Black Culture probably occurred in a family tradition that I know "Oh" so well now. Whenever a new baby is born into my family we gather at the home of said family member/or the first Thanksgiving after that baby is born and we lovingly pass that baby ALL around the room. Not just too anyone though...Only to the elder women (on occasion an Uncle or husband may get in)...This time is for the Mother/Sisters of our family. Lovingly we recount stories of our grandmother who is now deceased, we tell stories of how we raised our own "chilluns" and we give as much instruction to the "newest" momma in the family as possible. Black culture is something that I have lived, breathed, and was born into as was Griggs. I like Griggs have a family as colorful, spicy, aromatic, hearty, and healing as Griggs. Like that Gumbo our Rue (family story) is one that has been passed down from generations filled with prideful and secret ingredients that would never be shared outside of the confines of sacred kitchens. Black culture is one that is rich enough to share with anyone; yet it's poverty is what seperates us from the rest of the world. Black culture is what sends me to this course; to make sure that I am armed with enough facts, fiction, and forseight to continue this great culture. - Thurse Noir(TC)

Anonymous said...

Hey Malcolm,
I'm glad to see you're engaging with these questions. I haven't seen the Marlon Riggs you're referring to but I might add that to my syllabus for next semester. Let me give you something to think about though.
So, you know that I was born in Oman, right? I remember mentioning that in class. As a colonial power for awhile, Oman has a substantial African (Tanzanian/Zanzibari) influence. In fact, modern Omani culture is as much African as it is Arab. Many Ibadhis believed and still believe that letting your slaves integrate into the community via marriage etc. is the highest good possible and a sure ticket to heaven since it directly emulates the Prophet Muhammad. However, black families, though considered fully Omani, end up less well off than the ruling classes though I suppose you could say that with the decline of shipbuilding, that is to be expected. My first exposure to black culture came from the sea shanties/work songs called Mudhainas which descendants of slaves still sing in the Sharqiya region of Sur. As many Muslims look down on music as a cultural tradition, it was left up to the black populations to propagate culture via song. I find it interesting that it seems incumbent on black culture to provide the musical soul of so many such nations, the US, Brazil, the Caribbean etc.