Now Read This! Ms. Kenya Robison exercising that good free will!! Tis a beautiful thing… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kenya-/soul-seasoning_b_2219178.html
Many thanks for motivating me to get this down….
Things I AM INTERESTED IN: (Specifically those things I believe I can further in the world via my artistic life practice.)
JOY as it is derived from beauty, justice, and nourishment of the human spirit.
KNOWLEDGE the most empowering acquisition here on earth, period.
IDEAS the pursuit of which being the most empowering actions to be taken here on earth.
SELF DETERMINATION which is to say, when I wake up in the morning I check-in with myself via the one who created all-a-this. The New York Times is not my guiding light. Nor the MoMA or The Studio Museum for that matter. If they wit it, cool. If they’re not, well like I say with my ladies: Girl Bye! I’m very fortunate to have the relative capacity to decide what motivates this time I have on earth and I’d be damned if I handed those reigns over to anybody’s institution.
Things I am NOT interested in:
MAKING RICH PEOPLE RICHER
TRAINING OLD DOGS there are so many young ones to teach new tricks to.
SPENDING ENERGY ON ANY OF THE NOTs
Congratulations America! Impressions from Brown People Abroad on the US Presidential Election and Why Black American Activism Matters.
I spent the two months leading up to this year’s U.S. presidential election in England, the nation from which the United States was originally thrust. From the British the U.S. has adapted and carefully curated it’s quintessentially Anglo identity that begs anyone considering the concept of America to imagine Ward and June Cleaver smiling back at them from a green lawn behind a white fence. England’s more refined would-be ideal is a couple of the same complexion with more upright posture, buttoned-up fashion, and oh, across the pond… nix the smile. While these poster types were developed long ago and far away, and never reflected the fullness of these nations populations, they have reached new levels of demographic inaccuracy in today’s world, a lesson that the U.S. Republican party is finally being forced to come to grips with today. In spite of carefully maintained value standards that credit and reflect western European genealogy above all others, the actual populations of these nations are peppered with shades of brown from Mexican and Pakistani burnt sienna, to the chocolate mocha complexions of the Gold Coast and Southern India. While the years of occupancy and circumstances that brought these brown colored people to their respective “United” nations differ, their shared status as marginalized “others” is as consistent as Mitt Romney’s paper stacking. Fortunately the reelection of President Barack Obama demonstrates that even as deluded whitewashed national identity projections insist, non-white citizens cannot simply be avoided out of existence or positions of power. Discussing this impending election with brown people living in the U.K. during my stay proved to be a sure fire way to identify just how shared our brown experiences are.
As a regular collaborator in U.S. Artist Aisha Cousins Story Skirt Project A.K.A. The Obama Skirt Project I keep some form of fly African textile embellished with my President’s face on it close by or on my person often. The 2012 edition skirt I brought with me to England sparked a number of the election season conversations I was privy to or, simply elicited general affirmations of Obama support and shared African pride. I wasn’t sure of the reaction the skirt would garner since I noticed early on far less brightly colored African textile garments in England than I see at home in New York. Although there are definite exceptions, it does seem that the conservative, seasonally governed fashion sensibility (fall/winter means put away ALL you color) of old England has made a definite impact on plenty of the newer inhabitants. Still, my brightly colored, Obama printed skirt drew approving stares, oohs, and ahs and helped me understand early on that within England’s African, Caribbean, Arabic, and Indian communities I was generally among fellow Obama fans.
In one conversation with an elder woman who’d moved to London from Jamaica roughly 50 years ago I felt that if I closed my eyes and auto tuned her accent from Wes’ Inndian to West Virginian, I could have be talking to my own Grandmother. Via the same form of elegant truth telling that my grandmother imparts this woman’s words rang with polite courtesy as they deftly alluded to the massive injustices and racisms perpetuated by the global power structure. She expressed frustration with Obama for maintaining wars of aggression, along with a simultaneous understanding that in spite of his title there is much that is simply out of his control. Did she hope he would have been able to turn the whole world around as the West’s first African Diasporan President? Yes, absolutely! But she reciprocates his often disappointing first term with gentle forgiveness and understanding of the goliath forces with which he must contend. In her evaluation I happily recognized the same sense of ultimate knowing that is reflected so often in my racism weary Harlem neighbors. Indeed, most Harlemites and Black Americans afford Obama the same gentle forgiveness for our many disappointments, cite the Presidents 93% support among Black voters.
If Obama could have collected votes from Black Brits I suspect he might have garnered similar numbers. From a London based Ghanaian television producer I heard a seriously savvy political rundown of Campaign 2012 that could have come from my older brother who has actively campaigned for both Obama elections. From another man of Jamaican descent I heard the disenchanted yet well informed voice of a young man who has accrued enough knowledge of this world to see his enemy clearly, and who counts Obama as his ally. An English doctor with an Egyptian mother and a Pakistani father expressed an utter inability to comprehend the reality of poor disenfranchised American red state residers who irrationally maintain support of super wealthy republican elite over an incumbent president seeking to provide them health care coverage. Brown people in the states have a fuller understanding of the historical circumstances that allow for this situation (*clears throat* KluKluxKlan), but the net feeling and allegiance of support is the same. While the war in Afghanistan was number one on my Grandma doppelganger’s list of Obama beefs, I was somewhat surprised to find an Obama fan in an elder Afghani imported beads salesman. He just has a feeling that “Obama is a good guy.” He seemed, in complete earnest to be looking to me for some sort of official confirmation of his character reading.
This seems a good time to point out a prevailing sentiment form my election conversations: an overwhelming consensus of concession that Obama would simply have to be better than Romney. My general sense was that England had not been exposed to a complete profile of Mitt Moneybags, and that his candidacy was granted a greater sense of legitimacy than it deserved. But even without a full understanding of infinite contradictions of the Romney campaign there was still an overwhelming sense that Romney would be too much like Bush and that Obama hadto be better than that. It was in opposition to this lesser-of-evils sort of stance that I found the most critical brown-skinned opinion of Obama. A Manchester musician of Pakistani descent expressed a position that certainly swung far left of anything remotely close to Mitt Romney but was by no means willing to make a hero of Obama. He is unsatisfied with military/anti-terrorism operations of the Obama presidency, both those that are well known as those that are kept as close to the administration’s chest as possible. Just because Obama is black and talked a good game about change, does not mean that this particular brown liberal is drinking the cool-aid. While I debated the aspects of his argument that diverge from my own position that certainly does not mean that his opinion is not commonly shared with a great number of non-white Americans. In fact, it was another Black American artist present for this conversation that supported his arguments the most.
So as in the U.S., U.K. populations of color reflect varying degrees of support for Barak Obama for varying reasons. And as in the past, the world continues to attentively follow U.S. political movement. Likewise, as in the past today there is a high profile Black American politicized figure who’s efforts are so significant he has drawn the eye of the world. This last point is one that I am particularly interested in: Barack Obama’s global position as an addendum to the politicized Black American’s history of impact first in the U.S., and by extension the world.
Black American Activism and the World— The most deeply resonant impression left on me by my past two months in the UK (and my sub trips to Germany and Holland) is a newly understood recognition of the profound impact Black American social justice workers have had on my home country, AND the glaringly significant void of any similar would-be impacts on the fabric of European culture. Europe simply has never had a civil rights, black power, or a black arts movement, and the reality of this is abundantly clear in the way it functions today and treats it’s newer residents of color. Obviously, Europe did not HOST 200 years of slavery or build it’s cities off of the physical backs of Africans, but it certainly did manifest 200 years of slavery abroad and profit royally (pun completely intended) off of this racist history, a reality that contemporary Europeans are all too willing to compartmentalize in a tidy pocket of irrelevant hopped over history. But native Europeans have as many racist misimpressions of African Diasporan people as the European Americans who actually cracked whips 150 years ago. Thankfully, these misimpressions are not organic. Just as new world European-Americans had to be taught to hate and dehumanize the Africans they enslaved in order to rationalize their behavior, so too did Europeans learn to hate in order to comply in the trade. What the African Diasporan social justice workers in the U.S. have done through their extraordinary efforts in art, education, politics, organization building, and protest is REeducate European Americans on how to conversely, RESPECT Black people. This has yet to happen in Europe. Because non-white populations are still relatively new to the European landscape, having only made major population influxes over approximately the last 60 years these groups of people simply haven’t had the time yet to conduct their collective anti-colonialism re-education campaigns. Thankfully though this work is under way and is developing in its own ways all the time (cite huge communities of Arab, Indian, and Pakistani people too numerous, economically strong, and close-nit to be ignored, artist protest, and athletics protest). The circumstances of people of color living in Europe and of Black Americans who literally are at home in the U.S. vary widely in ways both nuanced and statistical but these differences do not have to diminish the positive influences that the work of Black American social justice workers can have on populations of color abroad.
Allow me to back up, and describe the REeducation efforts of the Black American social justice worker community: Thanks to Harriet Tubman the underground railroad system freed thousands of slaves and made a way for clear seeing European Americans of the time to liberate their souls by freeing others. With their infinite talents, and enigmatic dignitary flyness Frederick Douglass and Paul Robeson emphatically disproved for all watching eyes (of European and African descent) the calculated myth that Africans were intellectually inferior. Garvey proved the might of our unified potential. Hurston demonstrated the heights of humanity we can reach when we trust ourselves to be ourselves and place value on the pieces that make us who we are. Martin opened the widow to reveal to the entire world the depths of our spirits. Malcolm demonstrated rebirth in the highest order and fearlessly let white people in on the great secret that the effects of European born racism are beyond inappropriate and unjust— they are actually really Fucking Infuriating!! And do not merit forgetting and simply moving on. The Panthers backed the former with the demonstration of our ability to comprehend and activate laws of a given nation or state for the benefit of our own interests and defense. James Baldwin, Jacob Lawrence, Lorraine Hansberry, and Elizabeth Catlett broke ALL of this all the way down and made it sound and look oh-so-good! Amiri Baraka is still doing it…
These efforts make America the still flawed but greatly reformed country that is today and have modeled righteous indignation and change making for oppressed people around the world. The efforts of these individuals and many more who go unmentioned have made a way conceptually and physically for oppressed people of other ethnic groups to move to and make livable communities in U.S. These REeducation efforts of Black American social justice workers have in fact informed, developed, and made possible the U.S. electorate that has voted in the Western Worlds first African Diasporan president not once but twice, and damn if it doesn’t feel good to say it loud!!
It is wonderful that such affinity is felt for Obama abroad and that a woman from Michigan can connect with people from Jamaica, London, Ghana, Uganda, Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan over these feelings. What is most important though is that as the warm feelings move around so too does the inspiration of empowerment. The newly established brown communities of Europe are not so different from communities descending from Latin America in the U.S., and that’s right Mi Gente— they just swung the vote! That is power! That is the evidence of the value of social justice work and of the endless benefits that it begets from those who suffer injustices in one place on earth to all the others in every other corner. As we have shared this jewel before we must continue to do so in compassion, patience, and respect. In Peace, Love, and Souuuuuul!
Congratulations America! Congratulations Barack and Michelle! Go on and dust ya shoulders off…