Black Men And The Arts: Where Are They? Pt. 1

Black Men And The Arts: Where Are They? Pt. 1

Deconstructing the stigmas preventing black men from pursuing creative fields.
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National reports overwhelmingly reinforce the well-known and unfortunate reality that black males face incredible barriers as they strive to achieve in school and social settings (Whiting). Life for many African American males is no easy task. As each passing day goes on, there are many black men who feel as if they are at a standstill in their lives—forced to do what it is they have to do by means of survival instead of actively living and loving their lives. Because of poverty, fragile masculinity, lack of exposure and societal pressure, African American males are not pushed to pursue the arts, leading to a smaller presence in the creative field. Often when talking about black men and the arts, rap music is seen as the only acceptable form of art they can pursue. By limiting their abilities to this one form of art, society is in fact preventing the next great actor, musician, painter, or graphic designer from reaching their full potential. Many African American males have to grapple with internal identity issues because they failed to learn what it takes to be a man at a young age. These men then go on to improvise what it is they think it means to be a man. This leads to them behaving in ways that are perceived as thuggish, misogynistic and aggressive, to name a few. These are not the only qualities black men possess, but only a few positive paths away from that image have been made available to them, pursuing the arts and education being less prominent. For far too long, black men have been told that they must stay inside “the box.” One who chooses to step out in any way, shape or form is seen as an outcast, or worse—not a man. This idea comes into play in terms of arts education among black men. What many fails to realize is the positive benefits that come from appreciating and partaking in the field out of fear of what others may think.

Black males are less likely to share their feelings and emotions, to disclose with teachers and others interested in their welfare (Bonner, 2001; Grantham, 1998, 2004a, 2004b; Hébert, 2002). To repeat, these youth may avoid institutions and activities that are considered "uncool" - schools, libraries, bookstores, museums, and churches (Whiting).

According to Gilman W. Whiting, Associate Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies, impressionable youth may find it hard to express themselves and their passions because their interests may not align with society’s preconceived ideas of who it is black men should be. It is important to instill a sense of pride and self into each and every black man and child—allowing them to discover and redefine what it means to be a man of color pursuing the arts in America. Whiting then gives an example of how an African American teen masked his true self in order to fit in with his peers. The author states:

School personnel were transporting Black students to an awards event in which students were to be honored for outstanding academic achievement. One Black male, a junior named Keith, approached the school van dressed in baggy pants, an overly large sweatshirt, and headband. Upon entering the van, he proceeded to pull off the outer layers of his outfit to expose a crisp dress shirt and creased khaki pants. He swapped tennis shoes for casual shoes. Before anyone could question him, the young man asserted: "I have an image to maintain." Being smart isn't part of that image. Not surprisingly, after the event and before returning to school, Keith went back into what his peers would accept him in, the original "urban" outfit (Whiting).

In the example above, the boy believes that attaining good grades and being honored for that accomplishment will be poorly received by his peers because those are not common goals for black men in their neighborhood. The boy longs for acceptance from his peers, so much so, he is willing to dumb himself down in front of others—Instead of being the role model his peers may need to see in order for them to rethink their own images and promote the importance of education among those his age.

Roots of African American Art

The idea that education is seen as “uncool” in the black community and that ignorance flourishes reveals the true issue. This revelation is in stark contrast to early African Americans, those who were captured and brought to the United States and used as slaves across plantations around the south for hundreds of years. Had these slaves been afforded the chance to get an education in the western word, history may have shifted. There are now those who are willingly participating in the ignorance and fail to see the true harm it does overall. Throughout history, there have been many instances where African Americans have had to make do in difficult situations. Slavery for instance was a time plagued with hardship and struggle.

Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. That’s right: a tiny percentage (pbs.org).

The very slaves who were thought to be uneducated were the same people who found creative solutions to everyday life on the plantation. By using secret codes in a variety of mediums, they were able to transport messages that may have gotten them lynched if discovered by their masters or overseers. Codes were used because most slaves couldn’t read or write. The codes took many different forms, including quilt patterns and even dance, and that secrecy was a form of protection, with even children being taught the codes.

“They (slaves) used the language of quilts to talk about their plans,” said Lethonee Jones, a retired associate professor of social work at Western Michigan University. “Quilts taught people the signals that told them when to leave and what was a safe house. They also were instructional and gave directions” (Meehan).

Since African Americans did not have the ability to read or write, they relied heavily on visual cues to help them navigate their journey to freedom. One false interpretation of these freedom quilts could have damaging consequences, including being captured by slave owners, being severely tortured or even death. These quilts further solidify the importance of art and how it provides commentary on the social injustices in the world at the time.

Since it was illegal to teach slaves to read or write, Jones said, use of these visible signs was especially important as a means of communication. “Before people ran away, they would get together and learn what the symbols meant," she said. "It is so important to understand what freedom meant," Jones said in an interview. "The effort to get away was enormous and dangerous and cloaked in secrecy”(Meehan).

A fundamental part of understanding the oppression of a group of people is knowing what lengths their oppressors went through to keep them oppressed. African American culture, traditions and dialects faded as time went on, and slaves were conditioned to act subservient to their white owners. If they decided not to, they faced the fear of being subjected to harsh punishments or having their basic rights taken away. The slaves that ran were willing to put their lives on the line to ensure that they were able to live their lives in a way they were not able to do prior. Although many did not find their freedom, their determination and drive lives on through the freedom quilts and hymns that were produced in this period of history.

"There was this sense that they (the slaves) were savages and were taught everything they needed to know once they came to this country," said Jones. "But in West Africa, they had rich fiber traditions of making praise clothes, religious clothes and other items," she said. "These vestiges of their past went into production here" in the making of clothes and quilts, Jones added (Meehan).

Not only were these slaves stolen from their native land and forced into hard labor, they were seen as inhuman which can have damaging effects on the human psyche. Being thrown into unknown territory is not an easy task to undertake, but with much preparation and an internal fire embedded in all who chose to run at their own expense—these quilts provided a map hidden in plain sight that would lead to the freedom they so desperately desired. Song was another outlet for African Americans to discuss and strategize among each other what next steps should be taken in the quest for freedom. Hymns have been passed down for many generations and have become a standing testament to the horror and sacrifice these people of color endured at the expense of their white counterparts. The arts have played a poignant role in preserving the history and traditions of black people. These visual representations of history have been passed down for many generations and showcase what kind of beauty can come from pain and strife. Although slaves had very little, they were able to create and form beautiful work that is still important in today’s day and age. While slavery has been abolished, poverty is an ongoing issue around the world that has yet to be successfully addressed. What are the factors that contribute to the perceptions of the arts and their appropriateness for young black men? There are a number of significant forces at work, and one of the most significant is economic.

Cover Image Credit: Tumblr - Kerry James Marshall

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I'd Rather Be Single Than Settle – Here Is Why Being Picky Is Okay

They're on their best behavior when you're dating.
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Dating nowadays described in one word: annoying.

What's even more annoying? when people tell you that you're being too "picky" when it comes to dating. Yes, from an outside perspective sometimes that's exactly what it looks like; however, when looking at it from my perspective it all makes sense.

I've heard it all:

"He was cute, why didn't you like him?"

"You didn't even give him a chance!"

"You pay too much attention to the little things!"

What people don't understand is that it's OKAY to be picky when it comes to guys. For some reason, girls in college freak out and think they're supposed to have a boyfriend by now, be engaged by the time they graduate, etc. It's all a little ridiculous.

However, I refuse to put myself on a time table such as this due to the fact that these girls who feel this way are left with no choice but to overlook the things in guys that they shouldn't be overlooking, they're settling and this is something that I refuse to do.

So this leaves the big question: What am I waiting for?

Well, I'm waiting for a guy who...

1. Wants to know my friends.

Blessed doesn't even begin to describe how lucky I am to have the friends that I do.

I want a guy who can hang out with my friends. If a guy makes an effort to impress your friends then that says a lot about him and how he feels about you. This not only shows that he cares about you but he cares about the people in your life as well.

Someone should be happy to see you happy and your friends contribute to that happiness, therefore, they should be nothing more than supportive and caring towards you and your friendships.

2. Actually, cares to get to know me.

Although this is a very broad statement, this is the most important one. A guy should want to know all about you. He should want to know your favorite movie, favorite ice cream flavor, favorite Netflix series, etc. Often, (the guys I get stuck on dates with) love to talk about themselves: they would rather tell you about what workout they did yesterday, what their job is, and what they like to do rather than get to know you.

This is something easy to spot on the first date, so although they may be "cute," you should probably drop them if you leave your date and can recite everything about their life since the day they were born, yet they didn't catch what your last name was.

3. How they talk about other women.

It does not matter who they're talking about, if they call their ex-girlfriend crazy we all know she probably isn't and if she is it's probably their fault.

If they talk bad about their mom, let's be honest, if they're disrespecting their mother they're not going to respect you either. If they mention a girl's physical appearances when describing them. For example, "yeah, I think our waitress is that blonde chick with the big boobs"

Well if that doesn't hint they're a complete f* boy then I don't know what else to tell you. And most importantly calling other women "bitches" that's just disrespectful.

Needless to say, if his conversations are similar to ones you'd hear in a frat house, ditch him.

4. Phone etiquette.

If he can't put his phone down long enough to take you to dinner then he doesn't deserve for you to be sitting across from him.

If a guy is serious about you he's going to give you his undivided attention and he's going to do whatever it takes to impress you and checking Snapchat on a date is not impressive. Also, notice if his phone is facedown, then there's most likely a reason for it.

He doesn't trust who or what could pop up on there and he clearly doesn't want you seeing. Although I'm not particularly interested in what's popping up on their phones, putting them face down says more about the guy than you think it does.

To reiterate, it's okay to be picky ladies, you're young, there's no rush.

Remember these tips next time you're on a date or seeing someone, and keep in mind: they're on their best behavior when you're dating. Then ask yourself, what will they be like when they're comfortable? Years down the road? Is this what I really want? If you ask yourself these questions you might be down the same road I have stumbled upon, being too picky.. and that's better than settling.

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?

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This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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