10 reason why we are amidst the next Black Renaissance.
A Renaissance is a time of rebirth. Finding new horizons, new exploration, and a resurgence of the arts. By many indicators, Black Americans are in the throes of a renaissance. Drawing an unconscious inspiration from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s this is a new age of discovery. A different time in that it is one of internal excavation. Painful soul-dredging that is unearthing new modes of thinking, living and being. African Americans are rallying to the cry of their own souls. This cacophonous cry is one of pain, despair, heartache and awakening. In what has become normative for Black people in America. The pain becomes transmuted. What starts as a wail of injustice. Reverberates as heartfelt art and purposeful releases of an abstracted soul. Some would intonate that we are falling into old slavish reactionary modes. I’m saying vwe are dancing, singing, marching. Writing, thinking and rethinking for the healing and enlivening of our souls. And the soul of the nation.
We’ve been here before. As we’re known for our rhythms. The Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, with each beat we are deepening our progression. “Constant elevation causes expansion,” to quote Rakim. The eighties left us with the sense that we’ve made into polite society. With decent wages and 80’s era Cosbyisms and entrenched American lifestyles. The Nineties brought a deepening of the illusory accomplishments. We embodied American decadence to the fullest. With our conspicuous consumption and rampant materialism. Sofa-sets, clothing fetishes and ever-increasing rim size. We lived out the strengths and ills of Hip Hop culture. We watch others emulate, theorize and dichotomize it to no end.
In what has become normative for Black people in America. The pain becomes transmuted. What starts as a wail of injustice. Reverberates as heartfelt art and purposeful releases of an abstracted soul.
The early 2000s recession gave us a nudge of reality. The 2007–08 was the was the type of alarm that leaves you woke AF. Then we found ourselves disillusioned with our situation and groggy from the dream state. But nonetheless; woke.
At this trough of disillusionment in the most curious of manner, we dance. Still bleeding from the original umbilical rip. We dance. Because we know how to heal from the most violent concussive states. We reestablished our rhythms.
What you see on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and even live-streaming, are all lagging indicators. All movements are spiritual. All art is ethereal. They’ve usually happened in the streets. And you are having a facsimile expressed to you. Black people are harnessing the power of art, media and spirit, tech, and their own voices. To change their world and others for the better. Attempting to reverse trends of widespread public squalor and elitist private opulence. We’re using everything we have as tools of creativity. Leaning towards the universality of everything. It’s Jaden in a dress. It’s FKA Twigs contorted interpretations (yes, we make interpretive dance cool). It’s Kendrick at the 2016 Grammys and Beyoncé at the Super Bowl. These artists who are trying to break our agreement of not televising the revolution. I think Gil Scott-Heron would be pleased.
What you see on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and even live-streaming, are all lagging indicators. All movements are spiritual. All art is ethereal. They’ve usually happened in the streets. And you are having a facsimile expressed to you.
Now we egress the Blackest History Month ever. I see more and more evidence of a new iteration of a conscious movement. People of African descent in America reclaiming in many ways their Africanness. Imploring ourselves for the deliverance of both physical and mental hindrances. Reassuming the economic and political struggles. Here are just a few ways the racist pressures are producing black diamonds.
1. Black Lives Matter.
Because we say they matter. Because we believe they matter. Subsequently, we are willing to act in a plethora of ways to get that message across to the masses. Through sheer force of will and of our own volition. Black people’s lives didn’t matter until we said they did. We have quite rediscovered and reinvented activism, protest, and boycotts. Movements are now redefined in a matter of few short years.
2. Social Saavy
Black Twitter, Podcasting, Vlogging, Snapchat, Periscope, Instagram, Blab, Live Streaming etc. We create and new interest. New movements and new cultures in and around what could be cold and austere platforms. In a word we bring humanism. Social platforms either fit or we make it fit our chosen forms of communications. With wit, charm and verbal tenacity and acuity. It’s in the meme magic, It’s the hashtag wizardry. Social media has been like a new printing press for the Black community. We are reaching out and connecting. Going forward we need our own platforms and are more than capable of creating our own. As Omar Wasow proved with Black Planet. Once the most visited website in the world. More this, please.
3. Celebrations of Self
We have, quite frankly, peeped the game. And we will not create a new game. Instead young people are big upping themselves. Without the approval of past kingmakers. It can be as simple as a selfie. Or as impactful as boycotting the Oscars. What’s important is that we do things, not just for the optics. We are doing things that are affirming and congratulatory. What a time to be alive.
4. The Artist/Talent
D’Angelo. Kendrick Lamar. Kehinde Wiley. Kara Walker. Mickalene Thomas. Hank Willis Thomas. Fahamu Pecou. Misty Copeland. Ava DuVernay. Ryan Coogler. Jessie William. Saul Williams. And so many, many more. These nascent and ancient conjurors are the tips of the spear. They represent and embody the best of the old and the new. They bridged the ages and are future forgers.
5. A new consciousness
A consciousness of plurality and intersectionality. We have begun to accept and express our nuanced understanding. We more often include diverse ways of thinking about things in general. We can love the works of Cosby and hate actions he may have committed. Still enjoy the remix to Ignition and loathe an R. Kelly. Sort of like the ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ tenants we learned in church, now in praxis. Although this train of thought is far from perfect. It seems like a small thing. But it’s big in the conservative Black community. We are beginning to recognizing and reconciling this cognitive dissonance.
6. Self-acceptance and a deeper self-love.
A broader self-acceptance and a deeper self-love. We are black. We are light and dark. We are straight. We are gay. We are nerds. We are athletic. We are the artist. We are male. We are female. We are breaking. We are healing. We are feminist. We are womanist. We are stagnant. We are an accelerant. We are universal. We are all these things at once. This reevaluation of self-worth is priceless. Moving forward without the internal encumbrance we can literally get out of our own way. As a people, we desperately need to embrace mental health and all it’s positives. Self-acceptance is a start.
Tech pioneering and adoption. Even without broad acceptance to or acknowledgment from the greater tech community. Black people are as present as ever. Our presence at every level will only flourish. From Microsoft Chairman John Thompson, Tristan Walker of Bevel and Jewel Burke are just a few. There are greater numbers forming. The interest and excitement for tech are palpable. Contrary to the poor numbers amongst the big players, Apple, Google, Twitter (of all places), Facebook, etc. we are making strides. Look forward to real revolution as we permeate and enliven this sector.
In 2008, 20% of Blacks over 25 had four-year degrees. Showing exponential growth over the 1990 numbers of just over 11%. What’s astounding is the untraditional learning and self-taught. We are finding and exploiting niche opportunities. Self-professed experts in hair care, digital art, tech and many others, are coming online. Homeschooling, knowledge sharing, groups, and forums are creating deep and unquestionable knowledge bases. We’re getting it in.
9. The Natural Hair Movement.
Not a small thing, hair. It’s more than cosmetic. It’s so much deeper than that. Natural Hair Care has left the beauty industry shook. Black people had been poorly represented for years in the Health and Beauty industry. Products for black women, in name alone. Black women demanded more. Then went out and made it happen. Destroying the relaxer industry in the process. Getting the attention of the largest Beauty brands in the world. They built cottage industries around their own hair care needs. Researched and formulated. Studied and perfected. Creating techniques, videos, gadgets and products for themselves. They have created more than a few new multi-million dollar companies. And given rise to online stars that have self-supporting online ‘broadcasting’ networks.
10. New black intelligentsia
Ta-Nehisi Coates. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Melissa Harris-Perry. Jelani Cobb. Jamilah Lemieux. Salamishah Tillet and more coming online daily. In no way are they here to replace the old guard luminaries. But to build on thinkers of the past. To update and contextualize common or outmoded schema. Their voices united with the common folk. Bloggers with unique POVs and incisive commentary on the smallest of issues. Or the direst of plights. Yes, I’m referencing the ubiquitous think pieces of now. They come hard and plentiful at the drop of a new song or national social unrest. From poets, unlikely preachers and part-time politician. We laugh, loathe and chide them. But we need them. Because at least, we are thinking. And thinking in a the public space. Something we haven’t always done or been able to do.
These are all movements in their own right. And the confluence of these creates what I believe to be a renaissance. Only time will tell if we can carve out a time or era and say this is what it was. We should do our own culture mapping. And define our history, frame our conversations and define our destiny.