All Articles Tagged "black culture"
For those of you who have been hoping the word “ratchet” would die soon, I wouldn’t count on it. In fact, I’m willing to bet it’s about to become an even larger part of mainstream culture, i.e., white folks are about to start using it, thanks to an exploratory piece on the term in NY Mag. Titled, “Ratchet: The Rap Insult That Became a Compliment,” the article by John Ortved seeks to uncover the origins of the word in a way that leaves me asking the (ratchet) question — although I’m not even sure that’s the correct use of the term now –what the f#&% for?!
As the piece goes:
Ratchet can be traced back to the neighborhood of Cedar Grove in Shreveport, Louisiana. “You talk to working class black people [down there],” says Dr. Brittney Cooper, a co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective. “Ratchedness comes out of that. And some of that particularity gets lost when it travels.”
You can certainly say that again. For an example of that lost particularity, see this entire article in NY Mag.
The first appearance of ratchet in a published song was in 1999, when Anthony Mandigo released “Do the Ratchet” on his Ratchet Fight in the Ghetto album….In 2004, Earl Williams, a producer known as Phunk Dawg, recorded a new version of the song, featuring the better-known Lil Boosie (currently incarcerated), from Baton Rouge, as well as Mandigo and another Shreveport rapper named Untamed Mayne…. In the liner notes of the CD, Phunk Dawg wrote a definition of ratchet: “n., pron., v, adv., 1. To be ghetto, real, gutter, narsty. 2. It’s whatever, bout it, etc.”
But the popularity of the song, and the adoption of ratchet by other, bigger names in the business — especially as rappers from the “Dirty South,” like Lil Wayne, T.I., and Juicy J came into vogue in the later 2000s — meant the definition of the word could not stay in the hands of Lava House Records. “It’s not necessarily negative. You could say ‘I’m ratchet’ to say ‘I’m real. I’m ghetto. I am what I am.’ It can be light, too,” Williams, the producer, explains. When ratchet is used in hip hop, it can also mean cool, sloppy, sleek, or flashy.
When I read these definitions of the term that black people have been using since the ’90s, I really question what service Ortved thinks he’s providing with this article. I guess it shouldn’t be all that hard for me to figure out considering NY Mag’s readership and the obvious understanding that people who have been using this word without needing an urban dictionary explanation of it already know what it means. So is Ortved trying to introduce this word to the mainstream so white people who want to be cool can add it to their vernacular? Or is he trying to shield them from some “underground” term that they have a right to know the meaning and connotation of to either avoid use of or use against us? Or my third explanation, which I personally believe is the case more than anything, is he wasting everyone’s time with much ado about nothing.
Michaela Angela Davis would likely disagree with that last point, as she seems to believe the term “ratchet” has far-reaching consequences for black women, telling NY Mag:
“There’s an emotional violence and meanness attached to being ratchet, particularly pertaining to women of color. We’re only seen through this narrow sliver, and right now that sliver is Ratchet. We don’t get to be quirky and fun and live in Williamsburg. Wolves don’t fall in love with us. The only interest that pop culture has in black women is this ratchet world.”
And the use of this term is to blame for that? Pop culture has only been interested in Black women’s failings since the beginning of time. Ratchet may be the catch-all phrase that captures the negativity those outside the black community may enjoy shedding a light on, but whether this word is here or not, the light won’t shine any brighter or dimmer. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve never thought about the term ratchet in any specificity to Black women. In my own personal use, I relate it to everything from behavior that is ignorant and suspect to the utmost level, as well as simply “turning up,” as one would say now (i.e. having a good time) I wonder if there will be an expose on that phrase next?
And I hate that this article even makes me think about what things I apply to this term because, frankly, it’s not that deep. Yes, you should absolutely be aware of the language you use and when, where, and why, but taking an urban slang term and turning it into something bigger than it needs to be is not just counterproductive, it’s a waste of time. I’m still trying to figure out what Ortved got out of his research and what he thinks his readers will get out of this piece other than a headache and a feeling that yet again African American culture is being set up to be misappropriated. Have we spent this much time exploring the origins of frenemy and what white women’s embracing of this term could mean for the future of female friendships as we know it? Or how the use of “fetch” further spurs the growth of mean girl culture? Of course not. Those are safe words, right? The people using them could never mean any ill intent. It’s only when Black people come up with slang terms that they have to have a covert negative meaning.
Since Beyonce was so heavily referenced in Ortved’s ratchet expository – which I don’t even have time to touch on — I’ll just take a page from her Instagram and ask: can we live?
“What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal” by Laina Dawes explores the myths, realities, and perspectives of the African American community’s response to heavy metal music and the black women who love it. The book begins with a foreword written by “Skin” of the heavy metal band Skunk Anasie. She discusses her Jamaican heritage and growing up listening to reggae music.
Her penchant for rock music started as she came into her own and she felt a surge of energy strike her the moment she got her first taste of what rock music sounded like. For her, this brand of music felt liberating and cathartic. She felt like she could fully express herself and literally be in her own skin without the notion of conformity and feeling a need to belong to a specific group, but rather she was her own individual.
This foreword is the motif for what the book, What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal is all about. Laina Dawes, born and raised in Canada, was adopted into a white family who accepted her interest in heavy metal music. However, outside of her family not everyone was as receptive towards her musical tastes.
Dawes discusses the bitter vitriol from black friends who accused her of being ‘white,’ simply because she liked bands such as AC/DC, The Clash, and The Violent Femmes.
Dawes describes music was an emotional attachment for her and before the days of Internet and digital cable music channels, she purposefully sought out new musical content to satisfy her desire to listen to sounds that were pleasing to her and not sounds that everyone else was listening to. She went on to become a music journalist, an advantageous journey into the world of heavy metal music which has now led to her writing this very book. The book has a balanced mixture of her own personal biography, social commentary from other heavy metal black female artists, and political analysis about black culture from a historical perspective.
In the chapter, So You Think You’re White? the term ‘parochial blackness’ coined by black women guitarist author Mashadi Matabane, she suggests that black people who have cultural tastes outside of the black experience tend to question their own blackness. Matabane says, “That parochial blackness is dangerous as hell. It steals your joy.” The book elaborates on an important fact that stems from the idea of what culminates into parochial blackness. In the black community we fused into our own culture and traditions as a way to not only empower ourselves, but also as a means of survival. Dawes writes, black people banded together as powerless people during the civil rights era in mass demonstrations and boycotts to become a unified force for social and political change.”
In other words, we as a community worked together as a collective to and our black identity is what gave us strength in the battle.
The book goes on to illustrate that there are still many African Americans who carry that to this day and feel that by somehow embracing cultures, music, styles, and even relationships outside of their community, somehow separates them from their blackness.
There is a provocative chapter in the book that discusses the lingering stench of racism in the world of heavy metal. There still remains a small demographic of white skinheads or nazi-enthusiasts who are avid fans of this genre of music. Dawes discusses her own personal racial encounters as well as the racial tirades against fellow black female patrons in various events. It’s an ugly truth for women of color who simply want to listen to the music and engage in an evening of entertainment. In the book, Dawes surveys black women who listen to heavy metal and asks if they were to discover that an artist had racist views would they choose to still listen to that artist. Though the majority said no, surprisingly, there were some women who said that they still would continue to listen.
Dawes parallels this with hip hop music in the black community, and the fact
that misogyny and racist rants also permeate into this musical genre. Yet many women who listen to lyrics that degrade them and strip women of their humanity choose to still support that artist and continue to listen to their brand of music.
There is also an illustration of the disparity between white artists being accepted in musical genres popular among blacks as opposed to black artists being accepted in musical genres popular among whites. Blacks are more likely to accept a white artist like ‘Eminem’ in hip hop, than a black artist like ‘Tamar-kali’ in metal. Music companies support white artists, because they feel they can raise more capital by their performances than black artists, therefore they are eager to cosign on white artists crossing-over.
The book also talks about the alternative rock scene and how artists like Fefe Dobson were able to break through the Canadian and American markets. However she was still tagged by music executives and studios as an R&B songstress.
Unfortunately, no other black female artist has received the kind of commercial success Fefe had in the alternative music scene. In Dawes’ book the artist is referred to as the chosen one.
Then there are artists like Res (a personal favorite of mine) who blends rock and soul in her music. The problem for Res as an artist, who seeks to penetrate the arena of radio, is that her music is too white for black stations and too black for white stations.
One of the quotes that struck me the most in this book was by Sandra St. Victor, a singer for The Family Stand. She discusses how several black female artists have to travel overseas to get better paid gigs and how there are more festivals that celebrate diversity in music.
She says, “I do believe we’re coming to a place where that’s changing. I do believe that more people are tired of being part of the herd. The black sheep will take over soon enough.”
Indeed that is exactly what I look forward to seeing soon among women of color.
The Harlem Shake has sparked more debates than whether or not Beyonce gave birth to Blue Ivy. This weekend, MSNBC host, Melissa-Harris Perry used an entire segment of her show to shame the creators of the new Harlem Shake. “I wasn’t going to say anything about the mislabeled, so-called dance craze, really I wasn’t…” But, she just had to. Even though Harris-Perry claims she’s not “hating,” her rant comes off like a angry spoken word performance.
See what else Dr. Harris-Perry had to say and watch her segment where she brings out real Harlem Shakers on HelloBeautiful.com.
“It’s Not Just A Dance, It’s A Lifestyle” Real Harlemites Are Not Feeling The “New” Harlem Shake Dance Craze
If you’re internet savvy, chances are you’ve stumbled across the “Harlem Shake” by now. And I’m not talking about the original Harlem Shake black folks have been doing since the ’80′s, popularized in 2001 by G Dep, Diddy and ‘nem in his “Let’s Get It” video.
I’m talking about the viral videos that feature groups of people jumping about, dry humping the air in masks and outrageous costumes dancing to a type of dance/techno song made by Brooklyn producer, Baauer. The song, which is over three minutes long, only features a single sentence of intelligible, English lyrics: “Do the Harlem Shake.” Perhaps the makers of the first “Harlem Shake” video that went viral didn’t take the time to actually research the original Harlem Shake. Instead, they just proceeded to gyrate about in Power Ranger costumes. And for whatever reason, the meme and subsequent videos spread like wildfire. If you haven’t seem them, this is the new interpretation of the Harlem Shake. (In an attempt to promote our brother site’s efforts, I’m embedding Bossip’s Corporate Office edition below. But if you want to see how the white folks, who are the majority of the meme’s participants are doing it, check out some more here. The underwater version is my favorite.)
Filmmaker, Chris McGuire, had just made a Harlem Shake dance meme video himself; but luckily, he didn’t stop there. He decided to do some research about the true origins of the dance. Here’s what he had to say about his discoveries:
Then I began researching it a little bit and discovered that the Harlem Shake was a whole other thing. I learned that it was a long-standing tradition in Harlem and that what people were doing had nothing to do with it. I wanted to add to the conversation.
I felt like someone who had sinned, and saw the error of his ways. As such, I decided to let the people of Harlem tell the world what they thought.
Given that the name ‘Harlem’ was part of this huge trend, and their dance the ‘Harlem Shake’ was their dance, I wanted to see what their perspective was.
It was pretty universal. They thought it was crap and had nothing to do with the dance or culture that they so proudly identified with.”
Check out McGuire’s video of real Harlemites responding to the dance meme.
There were a lot of opinions but not one of them was favorable. Did you hear homeboy say it was a way of life?! I don’t know about all of that since I haven’t seen anbodybreak that out in the club since 2006; but there’s no way that anyone could argue that the dance is not culturally significant. In fact, after a quick Wikipedia search, I learned that it was deeper than I’d originally imagined. In 2003, Inside Hoops interviewed Al B, the man credited with bringing the dance to Rucker Park and later Harlem around 1981. The dance was originally named after him: “albee,” and later changed. Al B described the dance as a “drunken shake,” that originated in ancient Egypt. “Yes. It was a drunken dance, you know, from the mummies, in the tombs. That’s what the mummies used to do. They was all wrapped up and taped up. So they couldn’t really move, all they could do was shake.” Other sources say it derived from an Ethiopian dance called “Eskista.” Judging by the videos, the Eskista theory seems more plausible to me.
So now the question remains, does the new Harlem Shake meme disrespect the origins and cultural significance of the original dance? Or is this just another case of white folks grabbing a hold of something started in the black community and making it more popular?
Oscar Micheaux has been credited for the being the first independent black filmmaker in America, creating his moving picture shows and taking a makeshift screen and projector on the road. It’s what Moikgantsi Kgama and her husband Greg Gates started to do 15 years ago in Harlem. Before Magic Johnson’s theater and Ava Duvernay’s AaFIRM movement, they were showing independent black films, growing an audience that appreciated them and forming invaluable relationships with filmmakers abroad.
Kgama founded the ImageNation Cinema Foundation, a Harlem-based film and distribution exhibitor who has helped to usher in a new era for movie makers. Thousands of loyal patrons have seen true independent films, listened to live musical performances and become educated at ImageNation events. The company boasts programming partnerships with Lincoln Center, City of NYC Summer Sound Stage and the Schomberg Center in Black Culture. This year, it will open a new venue space in Harlem, a place where people gather to appreciate great movies, good music and good company.
Madame Noire: What is ImageNation and who are the clients that it serves?
Moikgantsi Kgama: ImageNation is a nonprofit media arts group that promotes black world culture through film and music events. Our efforts were aimed toward developing audiences for independent films about people of color. Now we’re focused on opening the doors to our cinema venue at 2031 Seventh Avenue [in Harlem]. We offer numerous exhibition vehicles including a quarterly film series at the Walter Reade Theater due to a partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and a film series at the Schomburg Center. We also produce a summer-long outdoor film and music series with the City of New York.
MN: Talk about your upbringing as it relates to your work with ImageNation.
MG: My father is South African, my mom is African American. My parents were pretty progressive, especially my dad. He was a political refugee and growing up in the 70’s, he always emphasized having things that look like you; having dolls that looked like me, watching shows that looked like me. As I grew older I realized that my peers didn’t have the same upbringing and most of their perceptions of themselves were based on what they saw in the media. I became very interested in how black people were depicted.
MN: You’ve been producing events for independent filmmakers and musicians over ten years now. Has your mission changed?
MG: We did our first event in ’97. Our goals have not changed. From the time I opened ImageNation, I’ve always wanted to open a chain of cinemas; to establish a brand, build an audience and take that audience into the cinema. I think what’s changed is my approach. When I started I was really young and idealistic. I thought if you do it, somebody will fund it. So now, my approach has changed but the goals are still the same.
I’ve been talking about moving back to California for a while now. Although I’m excited about eventually returning to warmer weather, I stays ambivalent about my decision. Since I moved to Brooklyn five years ago, I immediately was enthralled by black culture and the fact that I can actually enjoy a social life that was filled with like-minded folks. Call me “closed-minded” but I relish around being amongst thinking Black peoples, my peoples; I thrive from seeing so many displays of Black love and Black celebration.
It was clear instantly to me why New York in general represented the birthplace to so many great artists and activists. Besides just boasting a large and generally diverse population, New York has a particularly high Black population. When I talk to native New Yorkers about this, they just shrug. To them, this is normal. For a Cali girl like me, it is an anomaly.
Being from Oakland, people expect that I was all too familiar with a city invested in Black pride and culture but my experience has been very different. Oakland may be known for its Black Panther history, but growing up there, I witnessed a city which had very little options for its Black population and promoted very little pride in its dwindling African-American presence. If anything, it was a challenge being a Black girl in an area that seemed to take a fierce pride in multi-cultural pride (read: being part of an interracial couple or being “exotic” was very much favored).
In my post-college years, I got the chance to spend some time in Southern California. Although I loved Los Angeles for the weather and its landscape, it was another place that lacked in a way for me socially. In terms of going out and partying (hey, that’s what I did a lot of), it seemed that the only two options were to hit up a ghetto party or hit up a party full of Hollywood wanna-bees if I wanted to be around other Black folks.
In New York, it’s been a whole other world. I can easily go to swanky restaurants in Harlem or Brooklyn, and not be the only person of color there. In fact, I am often one of many other Black folks. This may seem trivial to a lot of folks but it’s important to feel like I’m part of a community, and New York does that for me. You may be wondering why, despite my love of the East Coast, would I choose to move back. Well, that reason will be explained in the next “Going Back To Cali” installment. For now, I’m just trying to soak it all in and appreciate all the wonderful outlets that this city provides a curious colored girl like myself.
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By Rachel Garlinghouse
I’m an adoptive parent. I’m white. My two daughters, ages three and one, are both black. It’s glaringly obvious that my kids and I don’t “match” and that they are adopted.
We have been asked a slew of questions. “Are you girls REAL sisters?” “Did you hear that Katherine Heigl adopted another baby?” “Are your kids full or mixed?” “Why didn’t their birth parents keep them?” “Why couldn’t you have your own kids?”
One question that I found incredibly interesting, and one that the media is asking more than ever is, “Why didn’t you adopt one of your own kind?” (Yes, this is exactly how the question was asked.) It has been implied that there are plenty of white babies who need good homes, so why would we, as whites, pluck a black child out of the mix of available kids? (This is actually not true. Many adoption agencies have a tremendous need for families to be open to adopting black children, including sibling groups and kids with special needs, as many white parents only want to adopt healthy white infants.)
The media and the public are asking these questions of transracial adoptive parents: Are you trying to capitalize on some sort of trend? Why are you stealing a black baby away from her racial culture? Are you trying to make your child white? How in the world can a white family raise a black child properly?
The increase in media attention on celebrity adoptive parents, particularly transracial adoptive celebrity families like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, and Katherine Heigl, has brought transracial adoption to the forefront of pop culture. I have read, much to my dismay, article after article that begins by prompting the public to question the integrity and intent of such parents.
I have to admit, I don’t necessarily blame people for their assumptions and skepticism regarding transracial adoption, particularly white parents who are raising black kids. Whites have a long history of treating blacks and other races in degrading, dehumanizing manners. There is a seemingly natural and underlying distrust between whites and all other races. Despite people claiming to be “colorblind” and spouting that “the world is a melting pot” which is magically full of harmony and unity, I know otherwise.
You might question if parents are adopting minority children because it’s the trendy thing to do. Here are some truths, from my experience, regarding transracial adoption:
1. Transracial adoptive families are double-minorities, facing endless discrimination.
Until we adopted our first daughter, I was, unknowingly, enjoying white Privilege. No one ever looked twice at me in a shopping mall or restaurant, no one questioned my motives, no one asked how authentic my family was, if we were a “real” family or not.
But when my husband and I brought our first daughter home, we were quickly inducted into the life of a minority. We have been asked by an airline to provide our youngest child’s birth certificate to prove that she is actually our daughter prior to us boarding a plane. When we went to obtain a social security card for her, the attendant gave us several glares, making it clear she didn’t approve of our transracial adoption. She then asked, quite judgmentally, a question that had nothing to do with the application for the social security card: “Do they [our daughters] have the same parents?” I’ve been asked about the girls’ “real” mom, as if I am the fake mom. A cashier at a local store asked why the hell my girls’ birth parents would “give them away” because after all, the girls were “so pretty.” My family deals with, on a daily basis, discrimination related to adoption and race.
2. Transracial adoption is a path to parenthood.
Individuals and couples adopt because they want to be parents. Maybe they couldn’t have biological kids, couldn’t have more biological kids, had always wanted to adopt, didn’t want to wait for a partner to have children, or chose to adopt to avoid passing a genetic condition on to any biological children. The reasons are many.
When I was twenty-four years old, I was diagnosed with an incurable disease: type I diabetes. I am dependent on insulin for life; without it, I will die. Type I diabetes can be accompanied by a slew of dangerous side effects, all of which can impact the life of the diabetic’s unborn baby. My husband and I chose not to have biological children because we felt the risks outweighed the benefits. So we filled out paperwork to adopt, marked “open to a child of any race,” and waited. We were chosen, twice, to adopt black children. Without adoption, we wouldn’t be parents. We wanted to be parents. So we adopted. It’s really that simple.
Earlier this month, Vogue Italia’s released its March issue, which featured a number of the world’s top models including Jessica Stam, Joan Smalls and Coco Rocha, in a spread ironically titled “Haute Mess.” The spread, which is said to have been inspired by the “messy” side of drag queen culture, features these top models, who are mostly white, playing up images of neck and facial tattoos, gold teeth, and wigs made of money and candy-colored towering hair styles.
Of course, Vogue Italia has caught some flack over the fashion spread, mainly for perpetuating stereotypes of black women and ridiculing the culture. Despite Vogue Italia’s assertion that drag queens were the inspiration, many folks have drawn a very clear – and in my opinion, obvious – correlation between Haute [or High] Mess to the “Ghetto Fabulous” panache we see on sites like Hot Ghetto Mess. Some pictures featured in Haute Mess, including the Easter basket and the Skittles-appliqué hairstyles, have clearly been ripped directly from photos, which have been circulating for many years online.
Yet Franca Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italia, denies even knowing about the existence of these photos of the inner city black women we see sprawled all over the internet and the corresponding sites, which mocks their fashion motifs. Likewise, she dispels any suggestion of a racist element to the spread, saying that: ”A racist image, I really do not understand. I went through the pages so many times. Like when we did the Black Issue, everybody said that we did that on purpose because Obama was the person chosen to go to the White House, and if you just think one second, not more than one second, you can see that to make a magazine like what we did for the Black Issue, it takes six months [to do]. … People wanted to see an economical and a financial [decision], just to get more money, because we talk about Black Issue, it’s probably because the president is black. What do you answer? They don’t know what it means to work at a magazine. That’s it.”
Sozzani’s meandering aside, I’m much less interested in the “is it racist or not” discussion (of course, this is the same Vogue Italia, who christened hoop earrings as slave earrings, so I’ll let you all draw your own conclusion) as I am about the clear case of theft related to the pictorial. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this was a homage of some sorts to a fringe culture the editorial board found fascinating – how do you justify taking a cultural representation outside it’s respected realm without proper attribution to the source? It’s obvious that the fashion elite in Milan have an obsession with the American Black community. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing Skittles colored cap wigs, gold teeth and dollar bill insignia fingernails during fashion week pretty soon – just don’t expect Black folks to get the proper credit.
The whole issue reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine recently about a car I’ve seen rolling around in my neighborhood. Some young dude, maybe in his early 20s, had tricked-out his all black Crown Victoria, with 26 inch rims, red and green stripes and a huge Gucci logo on the sides. The vehicle stands out like a thumb around these parts because the Donk car style is what we usually associate with the South, particularly Memphis, and certainly not Philadelphia. Anyway, I was telling my friend about seeing the car and how some people shake their heads at the pure “ratchetness” of it. That’s when my friend showed me a link to another vehicle and said: “you mean like this?” It was a link to the new Fiat 500 by Gucci, which too included green and red stripes and Gucci insignias.
Octavia E. Butler is considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, so why haven’t any of her books ever been turned into a movie?
I mean, its not like her work is too hard to translate visually: Butler’s last novel Fledging, the first in a series which was released after her untimely death in 2008, is actually told from the point of view of a 53-year-old vampire who happens to look like a 10-year-old black girl. Can anyone say Twilight or Let the Right One In? Kindred, her first novel, is a time travel story revolving around an African-American woman in 1976 Los Angeles who is pulled back in time to the 1800s and has to reconcile the two eras. Hello? That’s just like Back to the Future. And let us not forget The Parable of the Sower/Talent, in which Butler shares a coming of age tale about a black woman, weaving and surviving her way through post-apocalyptic California. Well that’s just like The Road, The Book of Eli and just about ever post-apocalyptic films, which has come out in the last twenty years or so.
In a few interviews, Butler had once teased that she had been in “talks” with studio execs about some of her work, including the Patternist series, and that some of her books had been optioned for film, but “unfortunately,” people have not been able to find the money to make the movie.” But why? It’s obvious that Hollywood loves a book adaptation. And other classic and equally esoteric science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein, Philip K. package, Frank Herbert and Stephen King have seen their work on the big screen. Yet finding the funding to support a film adaptation of a Butler book is hard to come by.
These thoughts were at the forefront of my mind as I read about the recent uproar over the reviews of The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, a collection compiled and introduced by Rita Dove, an African American former US Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. In particular, Helen Vendler, author of the Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry and so-called renowned poetry czar, was particularly harsh, if not borderline bigoted, in her New York Review of Books critique of the anthology in which she basically attacked Dove for including “a dubious and incoherent selection” of poets in the anthology. This “dubious” selection includes black poets likes of Amiri Barack and Gwendolyn Brooks for whom Vendler suggested showed Dove preference for “multicultural inclusiveness,” at the expense of more classic favorites such as Eliot, Frost and Stevens.
by R. Asmerom
The Black soul. It’s a wonder, isn’t it? That the most oppressed people and hated people on earth can create the most powerful music and influential art in the world. It’s a paradox that is not lost on Dr. Pascal Bokar Thiam, a professor of Music and African studies at University of San Francisco, who just released the book “From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta: How West African Standards Shaped the Music of the Delta Blues.” In his insightful and rare book, the Senagelese-French historian illustratates just how under-rated African ancestry and culture is when it comes to assessing the musical history of the United States.
“What I’ve noticed in teaching jazz history courses was that there was a significant amount of academic amnesia when it came to the contribution of the populations that migrated from West Africa to the southern plantations of the United States between the 16th Century and the 19th Century,” he said.
Thiam contends that jazz is essentially a fusion of blues and gospel, a music that conveyed the sorrow and hopes of a population marginalized and dehumanized. In general, the evolution of jazz follows the theme of other popular music forms which emerged from the experience of hardship.
“In order to understand the way creativity happens you have to understand what is called rhythmic creative intuition,” said Thiam. “And that’s a mechanism by which oppressed communities, in this case the African American community, have to dig deep inside their collective soul to project onto the arts something that is fundamental to their identity in order to survive the social political conditions in which they are living.”
The saxophone, the main symbolic instrument of jazz, may have been created in Europe, but the style and form of jazz was molded by the Black experience and didn’t “crystallize” until the early 20th century. One of the main points that Thiam makes is that New Orleans was not the birthplace of jazz, as the New Orleans tourist board may want you to believe. Instead, the birthplace of jazz is the collective of African-American communities where slaves and their descendants were concentrated.