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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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