Community Discussion (May 2017)
SEGMENT I (Across the Diaspora)
GB: I think the second question is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Like how Black and brown people - but in my mind, specifically Black people - are bound together. And I think initially we’ve been bound by violence, but we’ve grown through resilience. I think that relationship has continued as a form of ally-ship across the diaspora, in terms of what binds us. I don’t think we would have been bound together without the effects of colorism, and the effects of racism and colonialism and imperialism. At least…well, there’s no way to know. This is the reality in which we live. But I’ve also been thinking about the ways in which we’re fractured. And one huge thing is who qualifies as diasporic Africans. I know as a Black American, we are technically a landless people, like a rootless people, in the sense of like unestablished…like, we’re not indigenous to this place. When you think about Black people trying to claim an origin. Even thinking about the origins of Haiti, in a class I’m taking with some people in the room. We talk about how the Haitian people, when they were establishing their nation, tried to put themselves in the place of indigenous people, and claim an indigeneity to the land, even though they were Africans transported there by slavery. When Black Americans try to find their roots and take claim, I find there are a lot of rifts between Black Americans and Black Africans.
WK: I have a question about the second point…what is essentialism?
NI: This also speaks a little bit to what Gabby was talking about. Just this idea of thinking of all of ourselves as a similar person, or coming from a similar history. Essentialism does that in a way that blanks out any difference than might exist.
WK: Conflating Black people…
NI: Yeah, so like my experience as a British Nigerian is in some ways similar to that of a Black American woman. While there might be overlaps there, it’s just not the same. That’s something I realized a lot coming to school here. Just having access to spaces that Black Americans didn’t have access to. Or thinking about things slightly differently. It’s just not the same…I really do believe that we hold our histories in our bodies, and the trauma of those histories. Me being on this continent is just not the same as someone who descended from slavery. Sometimes that can be conflated, and that’s inaccurate.
TM: I think on the whole idea of essentialism or romanticization…I think it becomes that if there’s no willingness to understand what each person's identity is, and how that contributes to how they form their identity. If you just assume “okay, I see this person, and they’ve probably gone through the same experiences that I have.” And you conduct yourself, and engage with this person in that way, you’ll find that there’s this miscommunication that can happen. There has to be the conscious effort to understand this person’s background first.
XK: I think it’s kind of funny, because the term ‘essentialism’ is what the Greeks tried to do with elements, like essences. Like this is what a thing is, and therefore this is how it reacts. They were even wrong when they differentiated the four elements. As if identities are essences, and thus, everything is the same. Kind of like the same essence is in every person, or something like that. The Greeks were wrong even when they tried to look to that.
NI: And I feel like part of the issue there is that the desire to create an essential Blackness really comes from how we are viewed by the world outside of us. So whether you are a Black African or an African American, or a Black person from London, when you come to this space, you’re black. Unless you start speaking, that’s who you are. So you will be approached in a certain way. The world outside of you will put that history onto you, even if it’s not what you are. So how do you recognize that, and give space to that, and create affinity with Black Americans? But then also be like, this isn’t totally mine.
PI: A comment to the second question. The shared identity of Blackness, as she mentioned being inherited from violence and oppression, not necessarily agency on the part of who is identified as Black to identify as Black. There’s that which I would say is forced onto us. Sometimes it’s a struggle to outgrow that societal position. How do you regain your own agency? I mean, the society defines you, but you also define yourself. How do we define ourselves in a way that doesn’t essentials our identities. We are Black. In a way that celebrates our diversity; we are all from different backgrounds, different experiences. But also emphasizes…celebrating our identity in the spirit of unity…I guess like no conflict against each other. I think something that happens is sometimes we are all trying to define ourselves outside of the umbrella of what’s black. We’re getting outside of it, but…I’m not in a place to judge but…what is a constructive way to define our individual diversity in a way that’s constructive for everyone?
BS: I agree…making sure we separate Black American-ness from being African is very important, in a sense. It is a way to take agency in your own culture, and you should understand that your culture is important. But nonetheless, when you’re here in the US, what a fact is that we are in a sense bound. Because we are both bound in aesthetics, and we’re bound stigmatically. That’s something that is pervasive, and we’ll never be able to escape, without doing so very actively, and almost in a destructive way. In a sense trying to assimilate too hard, and kind of lose yourself in a negative way. For example, I know some Africans friends that I have that struggled in the past with trying too hard to separate themselves from Blackness, and trying to only hang out with white people, because they didn’t want to be a part of that stigma that Black people all stick together. When in reality, all races really stick together, and it’s not just a matter of Blackness. It’s a matter of whiteness, it’s a matter of being Asian. Everyone kind of sticks around their own races. And in a sense that’s destructive. It is important to delineate yourself. I think it’s important for your mental health to have your own culture, and care about where you’re from, but I also think it’s important for us to be bound.
GB: I don’t wanna speak too much in this conversation, but nobody really wants to be Black. End of the day, nobody… It’s not a valuable currency in this capitalist, White supremacist society we live in. I find that those who can, distance themselves as far as they can from Blackness. And most of the people who are able to do that are people who are not Black American. And also people who may be Black, but are of mixed race heritage, and present differently. I’m of mixed race heritage, but I have an afro, so it’s harder for me to distance myself from Blackness, right, that’s like a visual marker of Blackness. Whereas my sister, who has fairer skin and really light hair, is often able to distance herself in ways that I cannot. I think choosing Blackness is a very political statement. And choosing to identify as Black, even when you don’t have to, is kind of a marker of why I think our bodies are so political inherently. And why I think being bound together is such a choice. Because you can always disinvest from Blackness. that’s something that white supremacy & capitalism has made very easy to do. It’s easy to disinvest, and so I think that…I don’t know if it’s essentialism or romanticization to opt into Blackness, I think it’s a political choice.
ND: I think that point is really interesting. But I think in my experience at least…growing up in an environment where everyone around me was Black, my ideal standard of beauty was, for example, my mother. The smartest people around me were Black. I think I grew up in a space where Blackness was not a negative thing. And so, I think, I’ve never not wanted to be Black. But coming here has been an interesting experience, to say the least. Whereby everything you grew up knowing and loving about yourself is now something that’s labeled as something that you’re not. It’s been difficult to navigate my Blackness within this space. However, I still think it’s something that I would not give away. Being Black in a space where Blackness is appreciated, and doesn’t have so many negative connotations associated with it.
SEGMENT II (Womanhood/Beauty Standards)
NI: I’m really interested in how features that are considered Black women's’ features tend to be more acceptable, or are capitalized on, when they are not on Black women's’ bodies. And Kendrick Lamar’s new song, maybe we could talk about that.
TM: So in regards specifically to features that are considered conventionally Black on non-Black bodies, this ties into the whole thing you see on Twitter “white girls are evolving.” (laughter) That’s something I’ve always found strange. Even growing up, even though I’m from a country that has a majority Black population, I would have conversations with some of my other Black friends friends…even just the idea of you engaging with a white woman in some context. I always had this argument with them. There was just this idea that “oh, you’re in an elevated position because you’re able to have — quote on quote “have,” because even saying have is just… — but like, have this white woman.” And I always wondered, what was it that resulted in this elevation, and degradation of our own Black women? It was something that never made sense to me.
DJ: I mean the entire notion of white womanhood, and their idea of perfect femininity, is literally based on the degradation of Black women. And so I think that’s why there’s this idea of white women coming and co-opting the physical features of Black women. Once Black women claim their femininity for themselves, away from whiteness, white femininity is threatened. In order for them to try to reclaim their own womanhood, they not only co-opt the features of Black women, but also continue to degrade them as well.
TM: Okay I’m just going to speak again. I will co-sign this by saying I am a Kendrick Lamar stan. But when I was first watching that video. When it got to the lines “I’m so sick and tired of the photoshop.” I will be honest, I was kind of like…we’ll come back to this (laughter). For me personally, because it’s something that I guess I wouldn’t have to deal with personally. I’m guess I have that ability to be like, okay we’ll come back and look at this properly. I’m just gonna enjoy the rest of the song. But then, I hop on Twitter a few hours later, and see all of this discussion happening. There’s this back and forth. On the one hand, it’s like…just how those particular lines were framed in the video, and just the fact that he was saying this. And then also, on the other hand, I had some people on my timeline saying he’s making an effort to challenge the normal standards that are portrayed by mass media. Do we give him points for trying, or should he have just left it alone…?
DJ: He…he should’ve left it alone. (laughter) It’s not the place of men to be telling women how they should or shouldn’t dress, wear their hair, carry themselves, or anything. That’s actually a weird trend in music. All these songs where men love women who don’t know that they’re beautiful, or let me tell you why you’re beautiful, or no, I like your natural hair, it’s okay. It doesn’t matter. We don’t need anybody’s permission to be the way we are.
NI: Both of these trends kind of speak to different things that Black women have to deal with. So like, our Blackness making us undesirable in a way. And then also, this desirability being created by a lens that isn’t ours, a male lens.
GC: You put words to what I was going to say. Females aren’t for men. And so when men talk about it, it’s like, where is it coming from? Why are you concerned with the way women look or don’t look, or how they should feel about the way they look? This is not for you.
BS: That’s a very powerful statement, because that’s a sense of ownership you’re talking about, that a lot of Black men seem to feel as though they have over women. But when it comes to us actually defending women unconditionally, and without hesitation, we struggle with that. Historically that’s just a fact. We have doubts, we don’t jump on the bandwagon. And the fact that we have that duality of wanting ownership, but also not fully and unconditionally defending our women, it doesn’t make sense.
GB: I would also just say the active destruction of all that is femme. Black men, and men in general, actively destroy and attack femininity. The number one killer of Black women ages 13-26 in America is Black men. From intimate partner violence. The number one killer. It was number two next to cancer or something, and then it bumped up. So thinking about the rates at which Black trans women are killed, oftentimes at the hands of their men, or intimate partners. And thinking about the ways in which femininity threatens ownership, masculinity, and ideas of power.
NI: Yeah, it’s important to think of Kendrick’s lyrics. It’s nice, but they’re coming from a place of Black men still thinking that they own Black women. I need to tell you that it’s okay if you… (have stretch marks) yeah, perm your hair, but only if you’re slim still, and light-skinned. So that kind of ties into this question about what are some ways to combat violence against women. I guess it’s recognizing that a lot of that violence stems from ownership. Men feeling entitled, as though women aren’t their own beings, that can exist as themselves, and not in relation to someone.
WK: This is really difficult, but we also need to re-socialize me. That instinct of ownership over women is something you get accultured into. It becomes a cultural thing (like anti-Blackness). I can’t say for sure, but I’d love to think that it’s not. It’s not something internal to humanity, but that it’s a cultural, social thing that has been carried forth through generations, and it becomes this ugly, complex thing, that we need to find the key to undo. And that’s very difficult to do, because of just how complex the idea of being socialized into a way of being is.
SEGMENT III (Beyond the Music)
NI: I think this made me think about not just music, but cultural creation across the diaspora in general. Even just memes on the internet, or seeing videos of Nollywood films turned into gifs, and that being used by people who are not Nigerian. They aren’t answers, but there is something about that cross-continental creation that makes me feel comfortable, or makes me feel answered, or validated, or a sense of home in the diaspora. Like Drake’s new album made me feel that way (laughter). Just because he’s Canadian, and has this African American background also, and he’s on an album with Black people from London, and there are people from the continent on it. He’s making sounds that I listened to growing up, as a 10 year old in London. It has artists that no one is America has ever heard of, but that I know from my childhood. It’s not that there is anything super woke about any of that, but just bringing all of that together as one piece is powerful to me.
PI: So I’m going to talk about the first question. Whether art can remedy anything, or whether art can change hearts. So I think a lot about where I turn when I feel down, or when I have unanswerable questions. When I’m asking questions that down have answers, most of the time I go to art. Music…I don’t think it necessarily answers questions, but this spirit that you’re not alone, it touches some point, and it gives you a certain reassurance depending on the feeling or mood you’re in. Specific to our situation as diaspora Blacks, just seeing the success stories of Black artists…it’s something that moves me. Just learning someone’s story, a Black artist. If I love the song, I just go to Wiki see their interviews, and hear their stories. It’s something that moves me a lot, and pushes me to be my best. So I think there’s that power in art; it goes beyond even what it’s portraying. The fact that it’s there, it’s out there, and you can go to it whenever you want to. One example is the Nigerian-American Jidenna. For some reason, he’s a motivation of mine these days. He has good vibes, good music, and he combines a lot of things, like hip hop, and all kinds of music. But also the story behind his music. Art has that power to elevate people.
TM: There was this discussion on basically this war between art and the state. You can even replace the state with just establishments in general. So with a lot of establishments there’s this idea of providing laws and rules, and saying these are the answers to what life is supposed to be, do this. Whereas you have art, which may not even come up with answers to the questions. It’s almost necessary for art to exist, so that these establishments can be questioned for their very nature. Art is this…force I guess, which serves as a balance between this entity called the establishment. Because the establishment itself does not want to be questioned. The establishment has set these rules in place, and just expects everyone to follow them. Art comes in and looks to question…without providing any answers sometimes. Just looking at…you’re saying I should do this, but why? What’s the reason for doing this; why do I have to follow your rules? I feel like that’s just highly necessary. Even if we’re not going to find some kind of resolution, or some cathartic…I just think that’s important, to have balance.
WK: On the same topic of the power of art, I think something that can get understated is the economic power of art. It feels good to buy Black art. I’ve never felt as good playing for a movie ticket, as I did paying for the ticket to “Get Out” (laughter). Twice! The fact that as a community we are enabling an artist to say what they need to say, we can give them economic power, which is powerful. Was it Chance or Childish Gambino who donated a million dollars to…? (Chance). People have real, tangible, economic power because of their art. It just feeds back into itself.
NI: I really like this idea of art as a disruption. I’m thinking about the music that I’ve been listening to lately. I don’t think it’s consciously music that being made to disrupt, or to resist. I don’t think Migos is getting in the studio like “okay, how can we move the movement forward?” (But “Bad & Boojie” though) (laughter). But it sparks something inside of me that’s linked to my Blackness, and linked to what I care about as a Black person. And the fact that we can create something that’s just so…I don’t even really have words for it. That music as disruption. Even because it’s also not necessarily…class wise as well, like respectability. In so many ways it’s a disruption.
AH: One thing that definitely did come to my mind in terms of the role of art. Sometimes when we invest in art, it isn’t very effective in addressing the societal problem. For example, when they made that announcement that they were gonna make a Fling, Michigan movie about the water crisis. But Flint still doesn’t have water yet. So it’s like wow, you’re willing to invest in doing this project, but still doesn’t fix the problem that people don’t have water for years. It really makes me question like, what was the…at this point people know that they don’t have water, because we’ve been talking about it. Maybe not enough but…you’re gonna use this budget to create a movie about the situation, but still not try to fix the situation. It really makes me wonder, like what is the purpose. Sometimes people use art in a way to try and fix the problem, but are not really trying to actually fix the problem.
NI: Yeah, like who’s behind that? And it comes back to that question, who is in power?
XK: I think it’s hard to go right off of that, but just going back to TM’s point, and NI you were talking about this. As…well, obviously as an artist…I guess if I didn’t care about this I wouldn’t be doing art. As an artist, I would even argue that art enables communication in ways that even regular language does not enable. Because language is still a construct. Words…who defines what words we are able to use; they often still fall so short. That’s why it’s even hard to talk about this. But I really love the idea of composition as a question. I think that everybody has this insatiable desire to be validated, and known, and loved. And words cannot do that most of the time. But in seeking beauty together — true beauty, not beauty in the shallow sense of the word, that I think is most often used when people say beauty. But in really seeking beauty, which can be messy, can be dirty, but is really beautiful. That truth that we get a glimpse of in great art that brings us together, I think that communicates more than so many well-researched, surveyed things can. And I think it’s also something that the state is very afraid of, because it doesn’t want people to be able to communicate. One thing it does want to do is keep people kind of suppressed by lack of communication. I really do think that the communicative power of art is so clear.
CM: Also, on the subject of validation. I feel like on a smaller scale (fixing systemic problems is not this at all)… But on an individual level, I think that music can be an ivy line of nutrients if you don’t have community that you would like to have around you. I know being here — part of this is my fault, but there have been times when I’ve been like, I do not have a community to support me through this issue. The community I have around me is just so unable to support me during this time. And during those time, music that reminded me of people that I have at home that I knew would get me. Or talked about things in a way that I was like “yeah, this is me too” …was extremely valuable when I didn’t have face to face, interpersonal people to rely on.
MA: I just think nothing beats making music together. And the last question here is “what gives you hope,” and that’s what gives me hope, like every time. Toshi Reagon said this in a talk this earlier week, and I just couldn’t agree more. That anytime we’re singing together, you feel everything, and you forget all of the problems at the same time. You acknowledge that they exist, and you feel pain, and you feel happiness, and you feel joy. And that’s what music does, and what gives me hope.
JK: The way I think about music and art…it has great power to bring people together. Even if you think about back when Blacks and whites were a lot more segregated…I think it was the beginnings of jazz. There were clubs where jazz singers actually brought Blacks and whites together in the same place, enjoying the same music together. In that sense, even in those dark times, music was able to melt some of those walls, and bring people together, and realize that we actually have more in common than we think. Another thing that gives me hope is when people write songs and gain popularity from all different types of people. Somebody might right a song for a particular part of their life, to express something they might have been going through. Even if someone is listening to that song who didn’t go through the same thing, they might take certain things from that song, and be able to apply it to their life, and then use that song as a source of support for themselves. Just seeing all the different ways that a single song can speak to so many different lives at once, with a single set of lyrics. It helps us all understand how we do have a lot in common in certain ways. And how that can kind of bring us all together in this single human race.
FR: Yes, I was going to add something on art. When you think about art, something that is important to think about is the audience. Because art is created for an audience. Because it is representational, people are sensitive to art…so people react. I feel like people react to art more than they do to other things. And for Black people for example…or let me speak for Africans, from my own experience. When people have gone to the continent to create something, to create a film for example. Usually they will write a very good story, but then, it’s for a different audience. I think that it’s good to see art that’s created by Black people and for Black people. Which is something I’ve begun seeing recently, and I appreciate that a lot.
GB: I just have to say Beyoncé’s visual album, “Lemonade.” Exactly what I think about when Faith said art that is by Black people, for Black people. And I also think about a question you had in another section about sisterhood. I think about how much Black women care for Black people in general, and care for one another. And how a lot of that is done through art. I feel like hair is a form of art, and so much of the culture around Blackness is around hair, and taking care of hair, and taking care of each other. Even in Beyoncé’s Lemonade, the different types of hair that she had, showing different standards of beauty…was specifically made for a Black girl and Black woman audience. And so things like that give me hope.
CONCLUSION (General Reflections)
WK: So in section one we talked about cutting across diaspora, and Black people with different histories and different cultures working through and navigating how to be Black, especially in a context like America. We talked about that whole experience. And it reminded me of…I read…why am I forgetting her name? (NI: Chimamanda?) Yes! Sorry…I was gonna say Chinua Achebe… (laughter). It reminded me of Chimamanda’s Americana, which I would highly recommend. It was the 20’s first year seminar book. And that was someone of the African diaspora navigating those exact issues. I think a big part of the reason for its critical and commercial success was that having someone navigate that and talk about that experience was a valuable way to showcase Black voices to the world in a way that didn’t essentialise or romanticise, but actually complexified the story. So that was a really (NI: And it also didn’t provide any answers. It was just like this is the experience.)
SM: At least for me, I always look at art as really good aspirin. It helps ease the pain in the moment. I think it brings a lot of relief and hope to a lot of people. But at least in my life, I don’t try to say that art can solve anything. As an artist, I don’t necessarily believe that art has the power to solve things. Maybe people have different opinions, but I think a lot of the time we put our hope in art, but it’s kind of just like an opiate. And it doesn’t have answers. It brings up more questions some of the time. Just realizing its role, and where it’s appropriate, and where it’s not. You can make suffering beautiful through art. But that doesn’t ease the suffering in any way. And it’s important to remember that when we’re making art, and making use of suffering to make great art, and make people feel something for a second, that we don’t forget that we’re actually using the people in that situation. There’s a place for art, and there’s also a place for action. So just not confusing the two. And for across the diaspora. I feel like a lot of peoples’ experience coming to Dartmouth has been less Blackness. And I think for me, I actually found more, because I’m from Asia. I think that was an interesting turn for me, because I didn’t grow up around any Black people except my mom and my brother. So coming to Dartmouth was a discovery of what it means to be Black. I also think it was interesting, the statement that no one wants to be Black. I didn’t grow up around Black people, and more than anything I wanted to be Black, because I didn’t really have anything else to claim. Coming here has been a process of trying to define what my Blackness even means. I remember as a kid, when I had to straighten my hair I used to cry so much and refuse, because I was like then I won’t look Black. And if I’m not Black, then what am I? So I think being Black is something that I hold on to very strongly. Even if I’m more culturally Asian.
GC: I’ve really appreciated this discussion around the power of art, because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, as someone who’s hoping to do that after graduating from here. I also liked what you said about the fact that it can be kind of an opiate. But also, it can maybe provide some space for political reanimation. There’s this book I’ve been reading called “Cruising Utopia.” It’s about being able to reimagine the future. I like that art can maybe create space that doesn’t exist in the present, in order to let hope in. But then it’s how you fill that space that ends up being important. Both things are necessary.
EA: Something interesting we talked about in class, regarding art and Black people, was if art for art’s sake exists. Because it’s always a response to something that is imposed on them, like oppression. Black people have the privilege of creating something just for the sake of creating? Or does it always have to have some suffering that we say, oh it’s beautiful, amazing. But it goes back to SM’s idea, that that is through suffering.
ND: In thinking about the diaspora, one thing I would advocate for is just giving each other space, especially in our Blackness. So just acknowledging and being okay with the fact that my Black doesn’t look like your Black, and that’s okay. We all have histories; our Blackness, our identities, have been constructed in very different ways. I think it’s important to allow people just to be who they are.
ZI: Umm…so I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t make it past the first question in the first segment. The question on generational and geographical rifts. I think geographical rifts is an easier thing, because we have that here right now. But generational rifts, it’s like…it blew my mind, like…it’s such a crippling thought because I just have such a large family. I know you all probably have families as well. I’ve just been like…frozen since then (laughter).
BS: I’m just so happy about the time that I’ve been born. Because I think back to a time when I wasn’t born…so I probably can’t really think back to it (laughter)… The lack of opportunities, and the struggle that Black people before us had to go through. We’re going through nothing, compared to that. Right now we have the fantastic opportunity and build our own communities that can even compete with some of the other races, as well as assimilate and combine. To make us, as Black people, seem normal, in a sense. In America. I’m so happy that we have so many artists now who have come up. Whether it’s through singing, vocation, dance. Something I was struggling with a little bit in the conversation was… Once they reach this level, once these successful Black people become more prevalent, I’m hoping they can bring it back to the community they came from. And further help develop us as Black Americans.
JR: I can relate this discussion that I was able to hear to my family, and overall peoples’ experience being undocumented, in the community I come from. For my Migrant Lives and Labor In my class we’re visiting undocumented Mexican farm workers in Vermont at a dairy farm. They’re living isolated from everything else; they don’t have an avenue for anything. It’s almost like they live where they work on the farms, and they don’t have access to anywhere. They fear going out and getting stopped and being deported. It’s just a very scary time to be undocumented. So we’re gonna be working with them, visiting them. Our goal for the class is very ambiguous. But I ask myself the question, how can our interactions improve their experience? One of the things that came to mind was writing colitis together. Because they tell the story of each other. I really appreciate the fact that this is encouraging, and makes me think about what I have to gain from creating art with them. I think music is an avenue to tell the story, like Faith was saying, in a way that you can’t in words. It just helped me think about that, and how much I appreciate the genres we have in Mexican music, like hip hop, to tell our stories of suffering.
AA: So recently, I went back to Ghana; that’s where I live. I had not been there since I had matriculated to Dartmouth, so about 2.5 years. When I got there, the original ticket was to stay for about a month and a half. But when I got there, the environment was so soulfully soothing, that I decided to make it the entire four months. I learned so much in my time there. One of the things I was reminded about, was the structure of my very identity. When I was at Dartmouth I was very confused about what it meant to be a Black human being. Going back to Ghana made me much more cognizant of the differences that exist between us. And it made it much easier to accept the type of Black person that I was. When I came back to US , and saw how Blacks are all clumped together in the same pool, I thought it was ridiculous. I think that in some ways it allows us to have a social movement, to try and fight the issues that plague us. But, as noted, it mutes our differences, and people fight from different viewpoints, and have different agendas, in the very same movement. It makes a stratified or split movement. It’s terrible for social justice, and sometimes it’s terrible for people in the movement trying to understand who they are. It made it clear how I should appreciate myself as a different person in the whole mass of Blackness. Something else I want to talk about, is what TM also mentioned, when he had his time back in Zim, is how people seem to have this elevated pedestal for whites, in terms of beauty. When I went to Ghana for the first time — I actually was born in the US — I went to Ghana around 10 years old… I was very confused about how people did view the whites in that way. And I could never put my head around it. I feel like it was a thought that everybody pushed for, so that made it reality, if that makes sense. Also something I want to mention… One thing beautiful about art now is how art has become democratized, and now everyone can make art. It can be as simple as a ridiculous meme. And then everyone is imbibing it on Twitter. I think it makes ways to take in information incredibly fast. Art can have a bigger movement, faster. You can now in hours have movement across campaigns. Like the pepsi ad, for instance. That thing went down in seconds. I think there’s a bright future for art.
FR: The second question in segment one about whether there’s something that binds us together as Black people. For those who know me, I like to travel a lot. And until very recently, I hadn’t thought about how traveling as a Black person is a completely different experience from traveling as any other race. I felt like it hit me right in the face. This past December I was in China, and I’ve never felt so Black. We visited a lot of rural places, and to have almost all the people in a space staring at you…it’s just…I can’t even describe it. It’s uncomfortable on some other level. Sometimes I understood that some of these people had never seen Black people. But then, there was also what it was doing to me as a person. I remember I was on a train, and I think I was the only Black person on the train. And then this other Black person walked in. And I looked straight at him, and he smiled. There was just this moment of seeing that one other person that looks like you. And he talked to me later when we got off the train. And it was something very good. I don’t know if there is something that binds us, but…when you’re the only Black or brown person in spaces that are dominated by other races, there’s just that connection that I appreciate.
HS: I’m gonna go back to segment two, about womanhood and beauty. The last question about a woman in your life who’s a role model. That just made me think about when I was growing up. I have two older brothers, and I got hand me downs with clothes, with toys. All I played with were hot wheels. I kind of got over that when I was six years old, and I wanted barbies. But my mom just would not allow it. She was not into buying me a blue-eyed, blonde-haired doll. I think her decision really framed my ideas of what I think is beautiful, and my ideas about beauty. I guess I’m really grateful to my mom in that sense. In terms of people of the diaspora…I remember during the London olympics, my cousins from Djibouti came to visit us. And we were watching all the athletes, when they walk around and you see all the countries. We were speaking in Somali, too. And my cousins were like “look at how beautiful the Swedish people are! Look at their blonde hair and blue eyes.” I think Djibouti came by too, and we were like “oh guys, it’s your country, wow! I didn’t know they had olympics.” And they were like “oh my God, we’re so ugly.” And I was so shocked. I knew that people want Black people to think that they’re less beautiful, or that they should be. But I guess in my family there that kind of militant idea of needing to reject that, and it being important to reject that. And hearing people who I thought we my family, and had the same background as me vocalize the complete opposite…we basically attacked them like, why are you guys saying that? that’s awful; you shouldn’t bring yourself down like that. Just to see that the negative view of our own beauty in the world is so internalized by some people, is really shocking. It made me really unhappy. I was so upset that people who are from an African country can think in that sense. It just speaks to how white peoples’ beauty standards are so in the public realm.
TM: I feel like each of these segments is something that could be discussed for hours and hours and hours, without any underlying conclusion. I’ve been trying to think of a way to find a way to condense everything into one phrase. I basically came to the conclusion that life is just a complicated mess (snaps). And we need to continually strive to find beauty within that mess.
Josée: I really appreciated this discussion. I think one of the main takeaways for me was the idea of art questioning the establishment that is already in existence. It’s easy to say that this exists, let’s just go. Usually art hits us in the face — “I’ve been following this, without knowing where I’m going.” So I took away that as the main appreciation we should have about art. And I wanted to talk about segment three. The second to last question says how can we support each other / start the process of healing. Sometimes you feel like asking help is more beneficial for you, but when you try to be vulnerable to other people it also kind of helps them as well. It helps them, to help you. You can think of asking help as also being helpful to someone.
MK: You guys are beautiful. I don’t know where you get this stuff about not being beautiful. But anyway, I wrote a few things down. I was raised to see people as individuals. And I don’t listen to the culture. I’m careful not to judge each other as groups, but as individuals. I don’t know you guys, and I hope when I talk with you, I could get to know you as individual people. Art breaks boundaries, and art speaks to the world. Art brings humanity together, to share what we have in common, as members of the human race.
XK: To be honest, and to be a little vulnerable. Thinking about segment two and segment three… I was thinking a lot about the concept of fear, and shame, and a throwaway culture. One of the hardest things is to accept your differences in a world that’s always telling you to be one thing or another. Honestly, our culture — and I’m saying “our culture” in a very cynical, general way — doesn’t have room or space for weakness. Either weakness that is a true weakness, like literally not being as strong as another person. Or cultural weakness, like I don’t have this thing that’s valuable. But as a Christian, I’ve been thinking a lot about how one of the biggest hindrances to being able to accept God’s love, is that it’s hard for us to accept love in general. And this comes from Father Minestroff’s podcast if you’re interested; that’s where I got this from. There’s so much shame that I carry from the weaknesses that I perceive in myself. That makes it difficult for me to understand how other people might want to love me. That kind of coldness and isolation. Instead of one outlet where accepting weakness lets you empathize with others, which is humility. The outlet of shame says that your weakness makes you unloveable, unable to truly connect with others. So I was thinking about this a lot. Like what it is to think that I might not be as good as I want to be in other peoples’ eyes. But instead of internalizing that as something that makes me unloveable. I try to see that I can take an honest look, realize I’m not perfect, and therefore that no longer has control over me. Even for the things that I think are my own fault, I’m trying to not be controlled by them. But it’s honestly something really hard. Shame is something that continues to plague me, that every day I have to break down, and open up, and heal and connect. And kind of get over myself in a way. And accept the love that people will have for me. And also that others can accept the love that others have for them.
TF: I’m just gonna say one word. And it’s gratitude.
NI: I guess in a similar vein, I just really appreciate the ability to have this conversation. There’s so much in this room, because there are so many experiences in this room. Hearing from all of you has been so comforting and filling, in a way that this space wasn’t always for me. So that’s really nice; thank you.
CM: I would say in terms of how to heal, and thinking about Blackness too… I didn’t go home this past term, but I went to where my parents are from; I have a lot of extended family there. Just being able to commune with older Black people, was sort of a similar experience to Anthony. Everyone’s not as confused as college students are about their identity. This is a very unique kind of space, where we’re like “Blackness, and other people's perceptions of me…” Whatever the intersections may be; there’s a lot of intersections for all of us in here. But just to hear from older people who are not so in the fog, is a healing experience, and realizing I don’t have to figure it all out. Because people have also been thinking about this, and figured out some things that I can glean.
MA: This conversation reminded me a lot of a recording of Young, Gifted & Black. In the vamp, Nina said something like “this song is not for white people; it just ignores you.” And I am so grateful that that music exists. I’m so grateful that this conversation exists. And I know that it doesn’t exist for me, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to listen.
AH: A lot of people went back to segment one, second question. What binds us together as Black and brown bodies. Our existence is one of resistance, and our resistance comes to be of the form of culture, whether it be food, music, clothes, our names, our language. For me, I put African American vernacular English. Growing up, that’s something that I was taught to speak. Being that I’m from NY and went to school in the US, it’s something I was taught not to speak, because it was considered uncivilized, improper. To me that’s very important because it’s something I can relate to. Someone who grew up in Queens NY could be Black, and we still have that connection. Our resistance is not always the same, and that’s okay. A part of the diaspora is the fact that we do show our form of resistance in different ways. The reason we have this resistance is that without it we wouldn’t exist right now.
JK: For me, I was reflecting on some of the rifts observed across the diaspora. I was born here in the states, but my parents are from the continent. So I consider myself American, and I went to a middle and high school that was predominantly Black. But I feel like I’m in the middle, where I’m not quite African, but also not quite American. In the sense that most other African Americans, their parents and grandparents have all been here as well. So it’s like different upbringing…it’s related to what Alissa was saying. There are different certain things in terms of speaking, and the way I carry myself. Even when I was in spaces that were predominantly Black, I feel like there were certain dominant narratives in the space that I didn’t necessarily apply to myself. Partially because of my upbringing. There have been cases for me personally where my Blackness has been invalidated by other Black people, due to the fact that I don’t subscribe to the dominant narratives of those around me. To the extent that me and my sisters would be called Oreo. Or stuff like “you’re on the more white side of the spectrum because you speak a certain way, or you have a certain affinity for being smart.” All these things that ultimately bring us down as a whole. Because it’s like you’re saying Black people can’t speak properly, or can’t aspire to be smart. So I feel like the way to cure those rifts is trying to think more holistically about what it means to be Black, and not trying to pigeon-hole people. Realizing that even if you’re in a space that the dominant narrative for Blacks may be this, realizing that other narratives can fit into that too. And that there are other ways that people can be Black. It’s not like “because all of us speak this way, if you don’t do that, you’re not Black like us.” Another rift I definitely saw back in the day was like petty arguments over shades of Black. I would literally see people comparing hands like “oh, you’re darker than me,” and being proud of that. Being proud of not being as dark as somebody else. it also just speaks to those standards of beauty, like the more light-skinned you are, as a Black person, the more desirable you are. The darker you are, then the more names you get called, and I guess generally the less beautiful you can be. Being in that environment kind of messes with you a little bit sometimes. And another thing I was reflecting on. Kind of similar to what Sam was saying…for her coming to Dartmouth was defining, kind of adding to her Blackness. I think before coming to Dartmouth I was exposed to people who were, in a sense, more American than I was. The only people I was really exposed to from the continent was my family, and maybe one other family friend. Coming here, I was a lot more exposed to other people from the continent. So it was definitely enriching being here at Dartmouth, to be exposed to that. And start to rediscover what it means for me to be African in that context as well. Not just African American, but really African. Figuring out what that means for me and my identity.
PI: I guess I’ll talk about two things. One is the idea of spaces, space itself. Coming here, it seemed like finding a space where I feel comfortable to speak, and share, be vulnerable, be heard, hear others. I don’t know, it feels like the school, the institution just doesn’t have that for everyone. So I’m just grateful to be here, be having these discussions. Which in themselves…they’re enriching. This is an extension of your art. You’re using it to bring people together, and have discussion about the different topics. Which I think is something commendable. And my second point… Coming here…so many people talked about how there’s a pedestal for whiteness, and attraction to whiteness, especially in African countries. It became clear to me most recently. I used to wonder, what’s my role in the struggle? There are all kinds of protests. Like what’s my stance? I’ve never had to protest about any kind of whiteness, because I didn’t have any proximity. Definitely there was systemic pressure, and powers operating. But that wasn’t too close. So coming here I was kind of confused about where I stand on so many issues that are just opening up in my eyes. Recently taking classes that sort of unpack history, and talk about these colonial issues. And you realize how… We talk about how our own people don’t feel proud to be who we are. Like to be Rwandan or to be from Djibouti. That’s sort of a colonial thinking. Like I want to be like the white, I want to be like the master, in a way. And that has to do with entertainment, and what you see. There are all kinds of products you get, and there are images on them and they’re white. There’s just so much in your proximity that programs you to think in a certain way. Now I’m realizing where I stand in the struggle. The fact that there are still systemic issues going on, although we are 50 years… colonialism ended, but things are still going on. reclaiming our identity, and our proudness. I’m proud to be Rwandan. I think that’s an ongoing thing, and I’m grateful to be discovering that. Thank you.