The fight for freedom and equalityhas been fought for many decades throughout U.
S. History. For black people thisfight was not only fought to gain equality, but also to allow a change inpolitics, economically, and aesthetically. The domination of white superiorityhas bleed itself into every fold of United States. While the country and whitesupremacy was being challenged with the Civil Rights Movement a silent newmovement was about to arise, and from this emerged a social movement that shookthe world and turned minds around, giving way to a new movement that broughtwith it new state of being, new since of power and unity. The Black Artsmovement is a period in history of unapologetic empowerment of the black peoplecreativity, beginning in the 1960’s and continuing through much of the 1970s.
The movement is also known for its connection with The Black Power Movement, astheir spiritual sister. Themovement noticed the idea of two culturally different Americas: one black andone white. Where for black people it was forced upon them to learn whiteculture and assimilate into it, and black culture was never respected oraccepted. In the “Souls of Black Folks” byWEB Dubois, he explores this duality that is called the veil, which describes Blacklife in America, particularly the plight of the black American experience andthe challenges facing Black culture. The Black Art Movement created beautiful artwork that represented specifically the Black Aesthetic, and these black artistscreated for the black audiences; “FOR US, BY US”. The movement became this monumentthat the black community to reinvent the inferior or self-hating mindset blackAmericans had of themselves, and the Black Aesthetic is believed to be an importantcomponent of the economic, political, and cultural empowerment of the Blackcommunity.
This essay will be analyzing LarryNeal’s “The black Art Movement” to show that the concepts of Black Power,Nationalism, Black Community, and Performance influenced the formation of “TheBlack Art movement” and “The Black Power Movement”, both birthed through theBlack Aesthetics. The intertwining of black art and politics was first articulatedin an essay entitled “The Black Art Movement”, written by Larry Neal. Thisessay was basically an overview of The Black Art Movement’s plans, some say amanifesto. Neal writes “The Black Arts Movement is radically opposed toany concept of the artist that alienates him from his community”(Neal 272).This movement was a call to action, calling all black people to cease the allowanceof white culture and assimilation, and the call to create our own.
In order toempower anyone, they need to first have a strong sense of self. Neal envisionedthat when the black community show comradery and join together to create a vibrant,fresh, and black art form they would become powerful and strengthened in theblack community. He was only one of multiple important artist during the BlackArts Movement period. Other writers, poets, and essayists illustrated a newbeginning for the black community to overcome their hardships and to rise upthrough art. This movement was often said to be the second Black Renaissance, whichwas comparing them to the Harlem Renaissance that occurred in the 1920s and 30s.Both were similar when it came to combining literature, performing arts,emphasized racial pride, and appreciation of African heritage. But the Blackart movement was more impactful, longer lasting, and it more was political. This era of the Black Art developedthe concept of an influential and artistic blackness that created controversial,but significant pieces that caused conversation to be had and healing of souls,that needed to be mended.
This was also a period of true reconstruction, itbecame one of the most impactful and liberating movements for the blackcommunity, by taking stereotypes and racism and turning it into artistic value.Black Art was militant and definitely revolutionary. It asked its audience toredefine itself according to the new perceptions of beauty and representations ofthe past. Kaluma ya Salaam argues that “Black Art’s dynamism, impact, andeffectiveness are a direct result of its partisan nature and advocates forartistic and political freedom by “any and all means necessary.” (Kaluma yaSalaam Part 2).
The Black Arts Movement, unitedethics and aesthetics holding the black artist to a new moral and culturalresponsibility for their art. Distinctively black art became a tool by whichthe black community could reclaim and harvest their African/Black heritage. Thecreation of black art fought against the absorption of their culture into thewhite-biased society in which they lived in for centuries. The Black Arts Movement used itsliterature, music and drama to speak politically and directly to the community.The Black Arts Movementcultivated a manner of expression which gave full voice to its feeling ofdesperate, violent rebellion and independence. The publication and adoption ofthe black arts is mainly due to the creation of nationally distributed magazines.These magazines were imperative, because most literary publications of the timerejected works of the black arts.
Magazines such as Freedom ways and Liberatoroffered publishing opportunities for young black artists.These distributions paved the way formore major critical journals devoted to black Arts such as the Black Dialogueand the Journal of Black Poetry founded by Joe Goncalves. The development of independent presses,such as Third World Press, freed black artists from the control of white-mainstreampublishers, that held many artists back in the past. The Movement worked toliberate the black community by removing the boundaries of their expression. TheBlack art movement was integrally linked to the concept of Black Aesthetics.
Nealexplains in “The Black Arts Movement” how the reinforcement of racial hierarchythrough the advertisement of white aesthetic will compromise black culture. Racialhierarchies are reinforced through the constant reminders of a dominant, primary,white community. Neal explains in his essay that “there are in fact and inspirit two Americas one black, one white” (Neal). The danger of not counteractingthe white aesthetics, is that it has the ability to trump the need for a blackaesthetic. The Black Aesthetic is the appreciation of the ideologies and perspectivesof art that focuses on Blackness and the Black culture. Using Black Aesthetic was toadvance the liberation of the black people by encouraging and giving them pridein their love, struggles, beauty and history.
“The motive behind the Black aesthetic is thedestruction of the white thing, the destruction of white ideas, and white waysof looking at the world.” (Neal). Essentially, if culture, beauty and art arestandardized by a white aesthetic, then black culture, beauty and art will beviewed as known existent and belittled, which reinforces a racial hierarchy.The concept of the Black Aestheticwas very important to the African American community, and accepting itself asBlack. Black Aesthetics was a major key to breaking mental chains of pastoppression. For once in U.
S. history, during the 60s and 70s white people wereconfronted and had to in some ways deal with their racial disparities, and onthe other hand black people were empowering each other. During the 1960s and 1970sBlack meant not only beautiful, but also was a sense of power and pride in thelegacy of African American achievement. Increasing the level of consciousnesswas one of the goals for both the Black Art Movement and The Black Power Movement.
One of the results, was black people starting to call themselves Black insteadof Negro, it was a way of breaking free and taking control of what people callthem. Another result was men and women wearing their hair Natural, in such stylesas the Afro; some people also wore African Garments, African pendants and otherjewelry. Many of the black activists would change their given or slave name andtake on and African, or Arab name instead, which represented their rejection ofthe forced upon white society and embracement of their African identity.
The self-identification with blackness spreadthroughout the entire African Diaspora, and became an active participation inthe socio-political empowerment of the black community. While some say that The Civil Rightswere vastly different from The Black Arts movement and The Black Power Movement,but in many ways, were influenced by Malcolm X; and can also be viewed as an extensionfrom the previous Civil Rights Movement. TheBlack Power Movement was a vitally important point in history, because itrefers to a period in the 1960s when African-Americans, or blacks, changedtheir views about the manner by which they should achieve economic power,political power, and civil rights. The Black Power Movement began during aperiod when black people legally were considered to be equal to all other citizensof the United States, although in reality of life that was constantly proven tobe otherwise.
White society still could not come to terms with seeing blackpeople as having as much worth and human value as whites. Black Power means thecomplete freedom of black people from white oppression by whatever means blackpeople deem necessary. The term “Black Power” was first popularized by StokelyCarmichael also known as Kwame Ture in 1966, during a SNCC (Student NonviolentCoordination committee) Rally. Carmichael states in his speech “This is thetwenty-seventh time I have been arrested and I ain’t going to jail no more! Theonly way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over. What wegonna start sayin’ now is Black Power” (Jeffries 187).
Black Power believed in Black Autonomy,Black Nationalism, Black Self-Determination, and Black Separatism, which causeda lot of antagonism and strong disapproval from whites and several blackorganizations like the NAACP. They disapproved of them because Black PowerMovement did not allow any white people from joining any of their organizations,they never held back on what they wanted to say to white people, as well as tothe black community who think was watching and waiting for the government andthe white racist society they lived in to make change, instead of making changethemselves. Nonetheless, this movement encouraged the improvement and buildingup of black communities, rather than the fight for integration and acceptanceaccording to white standards. The movement shaped and instilled racial dignity,self-reliance, and revitalized the importance and need for cultural heritageand history by utilizing Black Aesthetics. Black Aesthetics was also an importantfactor when it came to the Black Power Movement, because it was the key tofreeing minds that has been also caged by mental slavery.
The movement not only represented achange in practical strategy, but also a change in the way black people thought.Black Aesthetics was a big part of The Black Power Movement in order to helpinstill self-esteem and confidence into the black community, to effectively empowerthem, so they rightfully show Black Power. Neal states, in his essay “The BlackArts Movement” is the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Powerconcept” (Neal 272).
This movement also recognized that the what we think of beautyand the self-esteem of the people were correlated to power, and their focusbecame cultivating confidence within the black community through black aesthetics.With Both movements sharing anideology The Black Arts Movement and Black Power Movement merged. The Black ArtMovement was seen as the “concrete expression” of the “political valuesinherent in the Black Power concept” (Neal 273). With both movements sharingthe common agenda it was sometimes described as the quest for a black aesthetic.The Black Power speakers and writers largely reshaped the expectations of whatit meant to be black and defined it to their own standards much alike The BlackArt Movement. Both Black Art Movement and The Black Power Movement rebelledagainst the “White American” assumptions of life, and emphasized the importanceof community, ethics, and nationalism. In Conclusion, the concepts of BlackPower, Nationalism, Black Community, and Performance were influences of boththe Black Art movement and Black Power Movement, and both fundamentally builtin Black Aesthetics.
Throughout the 60s and 70s the twomain movements were the Black Power Movement and the Black Arts movements, bothsharing in the ideologies, goals and fundamentals. The main idea they sharedwas the power that Black Aesthetics has possession of. The contrast of bothmovements was their approach. The Black Arts Movement was a community of blackartist who collectively joined together to create a new unapologetically black artform that empowered and strengthened their society at the time and in thefuture. The Black art movement artist utilized their talents in Dance, Poetry,Writing, and Drama to speak on a number of issues and politics that affects theblack community.
What they focused most on was the reshaping the mindsets ofblack people, mentally liberating them to be free. They believed that BlackAesthetics would be the way they fulfilled their goal. Black Aesthetics wasseen as the catalyst to get the black people to understand and embrace theirselves, and not the adoption of white standards. By both movements utilizing BlackAesthetic, they believed it would advance the liberation of the black people byencouraging and giving them pride in who they are as a people; through theirblackness, their struggles, their beauty and history.
The Black Power movement wasabout self-determination, nationalism, freedom, and pride, which allowed themto shake up the way millions of people thoughts and their beliefs. The Black PowerMovement was about completely liberating themselves from white control, and thewhite dominating society. Both Movements used Black Aesthetics as a foundationto liberate the minds of black people, to instill Black pride, Black nationalism,and sense of community.
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, 1971.272 – 290.Kalamu ya Salaam. “HistoricalBackground of the Black Arts Movement (BAM)– Part2” The Black Collegian Online.
28 Nov.2004. http://www.black-collegian.com/African/bam2_200shtmlJeffries, Hasan Kwame.
BloodyLowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt. New YorkUniversity Press, 2010.Smith, Robert C.
“Black PowerMovement.” Encyclopedia of African-American Politics. New York: Facts on File, Inc.,2003.
Facts on File, Inc. African-American History & Culture.Dubois, William E.B. The Souls ofBlack Folks.
Translated by Walter Covell, Unabridged, Jimcin Recordings, 1993.Gates, Henry Louis, and ValerieSmith. “The Black Arts Era.
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