Saturday, April 5, 2008

there's a lot going on in this post: on mlk and blackness and wanting

jalylah over at hello, babar/she real cool is always teaching me shit. this morning is no exception. her post commemorating dr. king and discussing her own body politic is insightful and feels painfully familiar. the way black women's bodies are simultaneously hyper- and in-visible is one of the most painful aspects of my personal struggle against oppression- sometimes it just feels impossible to change the way people (can't) see you.
anyway, beyond providing an incredible chance for reflection, jb's post also sent me to this link on the kerner report by bill moyers. it's worth a watch. structural racism lives on.
on another note, i want to say something about the theorizing blackness conference put on by the africana studies group at the cuny graduate center yesterday. finding the words, though, is the hard part.

i'll start by saying that the 12 pages of notes i wrote speak to the absolute profundity of many of the presentations yesterday. mark anthony neal is amazing. there were two concepts that stand out amongst the many quotes of his that i scribbled during his keynote, and i'll share them here:

1) we need to, when we think about "blackness" in 21st century USA and in the diaspora, think about the distinction between african-american and black.

we cannot continue to assume a shared history around the civil rights movement in the US if we hope to truly galvanize movement toward dismantling structural oppression. our blacknesses are distinct though connected and we have to learn to be comfortable with learning the topography of our differences, not just those between our race and others.

this idea leads to the second i can't really let go of:

2) "unity is a myth. solidarity is a strategy." ~m.a.n.

i think this is so deep. deep! and obvious. and true. but it is also something i think we often forget. standing in solidarity with one another has always been the strategy of successful civil rights movement. there was nothing unified about the american black community in the 50's- there has always been and always will be class/color/location stratification. we never have been and never will be a monolithic, homogeneous group. we have to choose to stand up with one another to make change. solidarity, though, begins with knowledge of one another and ourselves. you have to know who the other is in order to trust her.

as i try to wrap up this post i find myself at a loss. i want to talk about the paper on lauryn hill and madness, the one about transnational translation of black feminism in english, the one minstrelsy and madea, the one on something new and cheryl dunye, the one on racial uplift in the 21st century. i want to talk about bill cosby and oprah winfrey and how they are irrevocably human and how they are rich and how they've been rich for a really long time and how that means they don't know much about the reality of the lived experience of poor black people in the 21st century at all. i want to talk about the ways that tokenism (and the inability for wealthy black people to remember how difficult finding success can really be) works to make solidarity across class lines in the black community almost impossible.

i also want to talk about black women's literature and the importance of our voices. i want to talk about the cute boy i met who i also saw at the black feminism conference. i want to talk about my own ignorance that led me to question the "blackness" of a black man who didn't strike me as being "black enough" at first glance.

i want to talk. to you. and to my former students. and to my family. i want to hear what blackness means to us, and start a conversation about its power.

i want to start a school where visiting scholars come and speak to young students of color about these issues. i want to build the ties between and among black people so we can then start talking with our other allies with confidence.


that was my day off :).

**funny last note- i google image-searched for "black enough?" and the first twenty images were all barack obama (dr. nassey-brown of hunter college had some awesome things to say about barry at the closing plenary yesterday, btw. keep your eye out for the journal of af-am studies, because some of the papers from the conference will be published there?)! oh wait, you're not surprised :).


B! said...

thank you for sharing your notes & insights. the discussions, we, as black people, as african and hyphenated african people have begun and yet to begin are endless - and the potential depth of these discussions is exciting.

havestrength said...

thanks for reading my notes and insights :). i babble into the abyss...

i'm just thankful for spaces like this one that give me a place to share. i hope you're well.

dianacolbert said...

Hey, I had to miss the Theorizing Blackness conference, and I'm so glad to read your post on it. What a great event, and it's fantastic that you're writing about it. We all need more days like that to share our work and hard-won insights, keep the creative and intellectual fires burning in solidarity.

great post! thanks!

havestrength said...


thanks for your kind words. i'm flattered :). i just had a lot in my head that i had to get down on "paper." i look forward to similar conferences in the future...