Black Arts Movement

To what end should art work? Is it simply art for art’s sake or is there an expectation that there be more than just images that reflect the current state. From Baracka to Fuller there’s an increasing emphasis on Black literature having purpose and each author chooses a different path where the writing is concerned. For Baraka, the art must be a warrior. It must be filled with zeal, leading to hostility and a great sense of overwhelmingness which would instill strength into its black readers while oozing fear into the other (the whites who engage in such discourse).  The line “rape the white girls” for example not only illustrates a myth that became increasingly popular post the abolishment of slavery among white society, it also puts a sense of agency into any of its black reader. Blacks during this time and prior to it would have been familiar with this idea of the black man overpowering the white woman sexually but there was a fear of being accused of such a thing, rather than an increasing wanting to do this injustice completely orchestrated in the minds of their white neighbors who would literally cringe at such a statement. Baraka also illustrates the European conquerors who invade ancient civilizations in search of wealth, and use their God and their technological power to subdue the members of such societies. Ironically he describes this idea of praying to God to deliver his “lost white children” which is particularly interesting because it counters this Uncle Tom’s Cabin-idea that we are to be washed whiter than snow by indicting their horrid practices throughout history and illustrating that their whiteness doesn’t necessitate purity as taught by them. His poems in particular shoot daggers at the audience holding no prisoners and telling it like it is without the fluff that would have possibly existed prior to his writing.

In his article “On Black Art,” Karenga focuses primarily on art and how it’s being delivered to the audience as well as how it is affecting change. He states that Black Art must assert revolutionary change otherwise it is invalid. He challenges Black artists to “create black images that inspire their people” and stresses that “all education and creation is invalid unless it benefits the maximum amount of blacks.” His final thought is that art cannot be for art’s sake because then public should not be exposed to it. In the case of Black Art, I am in agreement with him for the time period he’s writing in because there’s an increasing sense of urgency to affect the change that Blacks during this socially charged  moment, and there’s a need to establish Black Art in a world that is dominated by the white world. He continues this idea in “Revolutionary Theatre”  stating that it is shaped by the world, and should move to reshape the world using its force, the natural force and perpetual vibration of the mind of the world. Something that he states towards the end of this piece seems to sum up the whole idea of the movement “we are history and desire, what we are and what we experience can make us.” This moment in his article illustrates autonomy for Black artists as well as their Black readers. It gives the impression that each individual has access to shaping the future they desire despite his/her history.

Fuller’s premise on Black Art is very simple. “Art born out of oppression cannot be explained in the terms of the un-oppressed” and “the white world is not qualified to evaluate black writing” as a result. This particular idea is interesting because prior to this moment in time, it is the white man’s rules that we live and create by, and he is calling attention to the fact that this is a fallacy in the mindset of black artists who need to be acknowledged by a white readership. Fuller emphasizes the need to create for our black communities and our black scholars more so than the whites since they couldn’t possibly understand the importance of showing where we came from and where we’re going with respect to society through art.

Something Karenga says in “The Black Aesthetic” seems to wrap up what the purpose is for Black Art. He says “black art must expose the enemy, praise the people, and support revolution.” This idea seems to be the crux of what each author is trying to accomplish, hence this idea that we can’t have art for the art’s sake but instead art as a means by which to affect the change that we desire as a people and this is incredibly important for the movement.

Etheridge’s “Hard Rock” – This poem reminds me of Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Society’s need to control any and everything that goes against the position that is imposed on them is a theme that circulates both pieces. The lines where the narrator admits that the community was in denial about Hard Rock’s sudden change from a roaring lion to a meek man who turns the other cheek illustrates the need for society to keep everyone in their societally designated place and to use any methods necessary to prevent any kind of social uprising.

In “The Idea of Ancestry,” Etheridge discusses how ancestors blood linger in one’s veins and he illustrates the idea that one has a sort of responsibility to one’s ancestry as you move through life. The focus seems to be on who one comes from and where one’s going with respect to procreation, but he seems to be calling attention to the fact that Blacks have a sense of agency which their ancestors wouldn’t have necessarily had.

Sanchez’s “Ballad” calls attention to the battling between the young and the old. The idea that the youth has their agency in their grasp while the old must rely on the youth to affect the change they desire. I found this piece particularly interesting because in one of Baraka’s poems he talks about the fact that Black poetry for example should be like warriors fighting for change. More focus must be placed on fighting the good fight rather than love poetry etc etc. And I find it funny that Sanchez’s poem is disguised as a love poem because it’s actually talking about the need for the youth to take over where the old have left off and/or have been unsuccessful.




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5 responses to “Black Arts Movement

  1. Jonathan

    One overwhelming theme I found in Baraka’s poetry is violence. “We want poems that kill” is a line from “Black Art” that sums this up pretty well. While I understand the idea behind “poems like daggers,” and that Baraka is calling people to arms, but I can’t help but see an emptiness behind all of these violent images. I must plead an ignorance of the social and political background of the time period, because I know very little about the Balck Power movement and its aims and motivations, but I am going to guess that Baraka himself was not shooting and stabbing people in the streets. Larry Neal mentions in his article that the two movements, Black Arts and Black Power, were closely related, but to what end?
    One meaningful message I got from all the articles was the need to subvert the dominant (white) paradigm. Baraka’s rage and violence seems misguided, too broad. There was probably some fear and racism behind the New York Times and the Villiage Voice not printing his “The Revolutionary Theatre” essay, but also their claim of not understanding the essay has real validity. It is gobedly gook at times, unintelligable ramblings. Reading it, there are undeniably powerful images and significant commentary hidden amidst the paragraphs, yet for the most part it is nonsensical.
    I guess my question is about the nature of social change and revolution. Which has more power, violent undirected stabbings or articulate organized essays? I have no answer.

  2. darise15

    The Black Arts Movement is intentionally loud and outspoken. It comes as an alternative response to the anti-violence approaches of the Civil Rights moment. Some BAM artists like Baraka talk about violence in their writings and carry a separtist tone, but then artists like Sanchez who talks about love. I think the similiarity among BAM artists is their purpose, which is to claim their blackness without any excuses. There is a proudness and in-your-face quality about BAM work that makes it unique from other works we’ve read this semester. I think Baraka’s work, for example, is product of the Harlem Renaissance, which discussed acceptable art in more polite terms.

    In Sanchez’s “Ballad,” she is addressing feminist issues in a bold way. “i fixed my body/under his and went/to sleep in love/all trace of me/was wiped away.” She is vocal in an arena that was dominated by strong, outspoken, black men like Baraka. I think BAM opened new doors for women to express political and social issues. Just as women like Angela Davis, who fought alongside men in the Black Power Movement and wrote about those challenges, Sanchez expresses issues unique to black women in black art.

  3. josephtruscello

    There is certainly a great deal of violence prevalent in the Black Arts Movement, as you all noted. As I was reading and watching the film, I too was concerned with the general attitude of the movement, and I got to wondering what the function of this violence was. Yes, it was definitely an alternative response to the oppression during the civil rights era, a view that asserted that non-violence was not going to solve the problem; but as I was watching Dutchman I thought that maybe there was more too this violence. Those who participated in the movement believed that their violent words and calls to action were natural outcomes. They believed that the oppression of black people is what caused and required an uproar, an outpouring, as we see at the conclusion of Dutchman. The man in the movie is confined by the societal necessity to assume a “white” attitude or live a “white” lifestyle. Lula says, “What right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit and a striped tie?” She is speaking to the falseness of his attire, as if because he is black he is posing as a white person in this outfit. Later, when Lula calls him an Uncle Tom and he becomes outraged, his acting “white” is the cause of the altercation that ensues. He is constricted by this false attitude. This is the real oppression, and the crazy Lula unwinds the black man. Her interrogation causes him to rant and shout all of the things that bother him, and it is as if he has another identity, one beneath the surface, one that struggles to act a certain way on a daily basis. It is as if he does not know himself. At one point, Lula says: “Who’d you think you were? Who do you think you are now?” The man makes an attempt at an answer and Lula says: “But you never once thought you were black, nigger.” Society has caused a crisis of identity for the black man, and he is aware of it, as we see by his outpouring of emotion at the movie’s climax, and here is where the violence comes from. Society has constrained the man and his actions so much that all he can do is boil with anger, and that might be where a lot of the anger of the Black Arts Movement comes from.

  4. Leah

    “Society has caused a crisis of identity for the black man, and he is aware of it, as we see by his outpouring of emotion at the movie’s climax, and here is where the violence comes from. Society has constrained the man and his actions so much that all he can do is boil with anger, and that might be where a lot of the anger of the Black Arts Movement comes from.”

    I completely agree with this statement, and felt, as many have mentioned the blatant violence in the Black Arts Movement. On more than one occasion I was shocked by what I read, and became curious as to how this violence and shocking art was received. I found it interesting to read that when the Dutchman was moved to a theater in Harlem it was closed down because the African American theater goers found the play to be “white-hating.” Does the violence that we see in the Dutchman and in the poetry of this movement serve the intended purpose? Are African Americans moved by this violence to fight against the society that has created this identity crisis for them?

    Lulu succeeds in her attempts to force Clay to break out of his hiding place and be who he “truly” is, and then kills him for it. What then is the true message?

  5. Sabrina

    It is understandable that the violence displayed in Amiri Baraka’s work may seem pointless since he is writing about violent acts rather than taking up arms himself, but I believe that his violent words are actually more potent. It is easy, as in the case of Bigger, to dismiss violent acts from blacks, or from anyone, as the misguided act of an unintelligent, uneducated population. Baraka instead mixes his calls for rape with the image of Sartre, he desires murder with the well crafted words of a black intellectual. Clay in the Dutchman shows that although because blacks may seem acceptable or assimilated to dominant culture, there is still the same anger simmering under the surface. Or in Baraka’s case, plainly out in the open.

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