ActivismArtRace

black is beautiful and a viral movement

November 30, 2018
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Scientific racism told us that we were less than because of our race; Black intelligence, beauty, and capability were all put up for examination. Race became a thing that predetermined your destiny: You are not being oppressed because white people are oppressive, but because you are Black, therefore biologically destined to be inferior. Even as science began to release these white supremacist ideals for other practices, the echo of these ideas aren’t as easily erased. You can’t unring a bell in culture.

Culturally, even in 2018, there is still this belief that Black people are inherently a different type of human. This shows up in which mothers get to live and die during childbirth. This shows up by who gets to grace magazine covers and who is in film and why. Even as we see culture morphing into something more open for a breadth of Black experiences, we’re just getting to a space that feels hopeful in media production and opportunity over half a century after Jim Crow.

The response to white scientific racism was partly Black art and culture production. Today, this looks like phrases like #BlackGirlMagic. This phrase was popularized by CaShawn Thompson, but the idea is part of the Black tradition. We push against the lies that a trusted industry like science gave us with claims that are corroborated with visuals and literature by Black folks. In the 1960s, this was Kwame Brathwaite and Black is Beautiful.

The visual movement predates hashtags and other cues that direct the public to engage with a thing so much that it turns into a viral thing. Viral moments have always happened. At one point in time, there was a feeling and knowingness that engulfed the air and conversation and flooded your eyes, instead of numbers underneath an image or phrase that makes you know something is a big deal by the quantity of people that previously engaged it. Former editor of Vibe, Founder of Native Son, and Chief Content Officer of AFROPUNK, Emil Wilbekin remembers the movement in his childhood, “Because I grew up in a woke household so we saw it in Ebony and Jet magazines and in the community—church, and my mother’s women’s groups. I grew up Black and bougie and we were about Black is Beautiful, Black Power and Black Excellence.” Also, shows like “Soul Train” helped perpetuate the virality of the movement, plus the visual excellence of Kwame Brathwaite.

Wilbekin continues, “My parents would keep me at home on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday before it was a holiday. We owned our Blackness unapologetically.”

The work that is happening on the internet is powerful and our global Black population feels like a cookout which is beautiful, and the reason why the pace and quantity we receive Black production has increased exceptionally. It is also worth remembering that the viral moment can’t compete with the feelings of an idea or notion permeating your church, your holidays, your family, friends, and music. The heat of “Black Panther” began on the internet, but did not end on the internet. It was the real life costumes and experiences around the film event that gave us a feeling of how important “Black Panther” was and will be.

Despite the eras and technology, the tradition of Black people opposing the racist science that still stains our lived realities and representations has always been confronted with art and the velocity of our nature. And the infectious nature of everything we create.

Even though we know this as a fight for equality, it does beg for a certain consideration that as we investigate our own power and beauty in the face of pain, there must be a science to explain how or why. Would any group of humans exposed to the conditions that Black folks have been exposed to have created such rich artistic and intellectual contributions, often available to the same folks that benefit from Black oppression? Or is there something different—scientifically measurable—with how Black people interact with coal we are served that we turn into diamonds?

There probably is nothing scientifically measurable that can be produced to prove the Black people have a special thing that makes us more susceptible to producing genius from torture. Luckily for us, like viral moments, it can be felt spiritually (as Audre Lorde described, when the psychic meets the emotional) even if the numbers aren’t there. And work like Kwame Brathwaite and Cashawn Thompson is such proof. It makes the Black mind consider that yes, maybe, we are different. Maybe, we’re not just viral or beautiful, but actually made of some kind Black magic.

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