Sunday, October 10, 2010

canonical black lit

there are many factors shaping the aesthetics and acceptance of the black creative in this modern era.
mostly, we are affected by the loss of a common, communal plane of existence to house our muses.
in this overly-assimilated era we've lost our own cultural mt. olympus from where our creative gods
held fish-fries, rent parties, and shot dice before heading to church.

to fit into 'the mainstream' america asks its subcultures to streamline their baggage. if you can not
fit your heritage into a carry-on (or is over 2 megabytes of memory), then you have to get from
here to there all on your own (not impossible to do, but once you arrive you'll find no welcoming
reception). so, if a black creative is to ride the uncle-sam-express he's less the history of his people.
or if not 'less' then at least very simplified. you can not enter their boxcars with your convoluted
community ties. come 'clean and articulate' or not at all.

you can opt for 'not at all', but there are no publishing houses or exhibit curators flipping through
their rolodex searching for your contact information. black narratives no longer seem to channel the
communal black experience before being funneled into the wide open world. we sieve our creativity
through the institutionalized avenues of acceptance: art schools, mfa programs, the assembly lines of
writing collectives.
when's the last time a completely 'unknown' forced his or herself onto the social scene?
because our avenues for success are now narrowed by academia our creative geniuses are no longer
recognizable to the common people: popular black writers and artists are no longer marketed to
the black communities where legacies are fostered. black creatives chase after 'legitimacy' which is
now the sole-property of higher institutions. 'legitimacy' is what pays the bills. unless you ply your
trade in coffeehouses and cafes, no one leaves a legacy to inspire the common people in their own

now, i know this is not exclusively the problem for black creatives. i'm not saying it is.
all i'm doing is discussing how the monopolizing of the creative process has specifically hindered
our cultural progressions. if you are over 40 years old, then you grew up at least knowing about
such writers as langston hughes, james baldwin, toni morrison, sonia sanchez, etc...
but ask someone under 25 to name their favorite black literary writers... 9 times out of 10 they'll give
you those exact same names. ask them to name someone under 30, they stumble for answers.
unless you participate in creative workshops and classes, you'll stumble to name any also.
you might luck up and get a saul williams or jessica care moore. maybe someone will say jill scott
or mos def or some other frequent flier on the cable tv spokenword circuit. tyler perry might even
be mentioned; not knockin' his hustle - we all need one.

... (stops to take one long pull from an inhaler) ...

what books are the coffeehouse audiences carrying with them? are they the same ones being used to
teach black creativity in academic classrooms? audre lorde, langston hughes, james baldwin, toni
morrison, richard wright... all extremely venerable in the pantheon of black literature. but how long
can they carry the load for us? at what point do we champion their successors to carry on the legacy?
and whose job will it be to do so? it's been nearly 25 years since chuck d. said "our heroes dont
appear on no stamps" - well, some of them are now, but who writes letters these days?
we have to find our voices, our new icons and hold them dear no matter the advancements to
technology, education, and society tempting us to pull away. when america places its seal-of-approval
on 'the next new thing' it needs to be because the masses put that person in position to be honored;
this is how we as a whole become invested in the world at large. otherwise, america will prop up
'the new thing' like a foreign dictator and when his or her usefulness has expired then so does the
resources once available to that person. 'the new thing' returns home, angry that we can not support
his 15 minutes of fame... we shrug at his anger because, shit, we're angry too, asking him "and who
did you say your mama was? ...pfft! you didnt come up through us anyway."

every black writer can tell their own authentic black stories, but in this day and era where
the institutionalized whole is more important than the communal parts, what's that mean to the black
society at large still trying to fit in? has black legacy become the woolly mammoth frozen in a glacier
or has it moved beyond the scope of our community elders once chosen (hand-picked or self-assigned!)
as our keepers of the flame? an extremely limited coven of black literary artists create work that is
canonical to the black experience, working equally on universal and marginalized plains of existence.
can anyone now do so effectively? should we even expect our geniuses to attempt so?

black trees fall in our forests everyday... 'hearing' them or not is not the question; the question is:
how do we even get people back into the forests to begin with?

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