Friday, November 11, 2016


Masculinity and the Black Artist/ Self-Empowerment

Thought is given to history of our black selves as slaves. Predominantly our manifest has either come from colonization, imperialism and freedom from slavery.

Much of my conscience is fixated on my country of birth, migration from the very place to New York, how I have evolved and the great attempt to uphold success based on what I presume to be magic, determining of what is good and or bad – that assumption derived from Biblical history, the born again scenario and the ability to promote a livable reality given stress and hilarity of modern day living.

Understanding of who and what is black can and must be brought to the hardened reality of how we evolved from slavery, colonizing of African countries, gaining independence and what circumstances people from these countries enabled a livable reality, those who migrated in terms of family and or education and employment.

Circumstances would prove the mindset of the African American over time, Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crowe, Civil Rights Movement influence on popular culture, from rock and roll to Blaxploitation to Hip Hop, and understanding of white supremacy as order of the day, differentiates from the idea of independence and nationalism of an African person.

Quite early on in my stay in New York as a newly placed citizen of New York, I saw clearly how African Americans felt a resistance. Perhaps it was because I was embraced by the many whites who gravitated towards me. I think of it now and I react to it as a form of “fetishism” – what the Euro-American sees in the actress Lupita Nyong’o and have imagined of African musicians like FELA and Manu Dibango.

This resistance was a cause for fight, body sizing which led to calling of names and mimicking. I never attempted to unite in that solidarity of a life as an African American. I upheld my difference as someone who came from another country and in essence had a history separate from the African American living in America.

Although I had a rude awakening living with a host of addicts, criminal and diseased types. Circumstance of an experience with being situated in community housing.

A small suggestion as faking a British accent when cornered by an African American student as a boy speaks volumes to me now because it was an affront, a challenging of my identity and I knew it then as I know now, “I am African”, most importantly I am Ghanaian.

The spirited African man much like the African American came into his own as a boy working out situations with other boys whether through sports, coming of age scenarios as turf wars, girls, machismo and sexuality.

For me it was time spent with my classmates at Ghana’s Royal Preparatory sketching and making drawings of athletes playing football (soccer) and equestrians riding horses, kidding amongst ourselves talking about girls, signs of puberty, talking about and exposing of our male musculature.

Overall schooling was prioritized. Otherwise the role of being a boy was gradual maturity and responsibility, chores, errands, church, discovery of sex, role of father and mother, brother to brother(s), immediate and extended family.

Culturally there was a lot to work with in managing a life at that age. An African American boy in today’s America will be hemmed in.

Growing up in New York in the 80’s there were organizations as Fresh Air Fund and Children’s Aid society which gave care to the well-being of children growing up in underprivileged neighborhoods. (The idea of arranging for trips into the country or days out at Amusement parks was very common.)

Black masculinity must therefore be looked upon based on place of origin, upbringing and uniqueness of coming to terms with identity and place in society.

What is celebrated now among young black men and is evident in the older black male is the supposition of who is thug or “savage” and who has credibility as an O.G. or gangsta.

Evolution of the black male in history is central to this. It can then be impressed upon as how we as a black culture do enough to pull each other down. To draw a line between who is tough and who is not falls back on what separated slaves as men, those who played up to expectations of their master and others who fought and revolted, suggestion of a “house nigger” and “field nigger”.

Understandably in the modern sense most black men world-wide know of the importance of Hip Hop and how overall many black men lay claim to this time in history as the beginning of the modernizing of the black male – how he learned and earned reputation from gang and drug culture, experience with violence, his cult of existence whether as drug dealer or rapper, lady’s man and his knowledge of street culture.

I explain role of the black man and female to a certain point as thug, pimp and intellect.

Thug in the black male governs how he deals with other blacks in the streets, a form of defense and entitlement. Pimp brings about the impression of him as lover and how he uses the female to gain an advantage. Intellect is how he engages in “black speak” or dialogues about black politics.

All these impressions are played out in prison culture where many black men find it all too familiar in how they manage a life in the modern day whether they have done time in jail and have come back into normal living with struggle to find balance.

Black masculinity can therefore be understood as an acceptance of black circumstance, poverty, crime, addiction, disease and manifest from each and every one – how is it evaluated in every black man. (What does he do to encourage growth and maturity?)

Problem then becomes the built in fa├žade to put up a fight. In my day it was carrying a knife and now it is a gun. It is however evident when a person grows up in absolute stress and constant threat he finds it manageable to have a weapon for protection.

Somehow it is not in the use of the weapon but the idea of having one which gives personal authority. Otherwise the criminal or drug dealer has the weapon in accentuating his power and will to carry out a crime.

Black masculinity is a form of judgment in how the black male expresses his cult of toughness, whether as athlete, thug or lover. These ideas are given a redirect in the streets.

Who and what the black artist is and how he has operated on the grounds of masculinity falls back on the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat. He is outrightly a hero because he grew up at the time of the Hip Hop movement of the 80’s. As graffiti artist he was on the cusp of street culture and yet engaged the fine and erudite behavior of the Euro-American male.

Commercially he is the one known black artist in modern history who every fan of modern art refers to as black artist not having knowledge of the wealth of black artists who have played roles in art history. In this the social media and internet age more people are at an advantage to learn about art, certainly how black artists manage the experience of being artists.

The black artist of my generation having grown up in middle class families, seen the popularity of Hip Hop merge with commercialism, drug and crime culture, the A.I.D.S. scare, has always understood in order to “make it”, one had to prop themselves up within the known existence of other artists, meaning white artists.

With graffiti and hip hop there were street battles, tagging of names, break dancing. That was the form of defense in asserting your credibility and reputation. As artists who studied art in schools and as a part of education we were inundated with talk of art history as a Europeanized experience, certainly the artists we discussed came from a European upbringing.

As a form of detail, models we drew from and painted were often white art models. Our classmates were white and certainly at most openings, parties or events we were often the only black people present.

This wears on the conscience. The great manifest from the whitening of one’s conscience is personal, different from the reality of battling another graffiti or Hip Hop artist.

The black artist’s circumstance with respects to masculinity is determined by his evolution as person. He is not ever far off from the overall perception of blackness. That is ingrained in the conscience. The fight then is how he evolves from whiteness. That supposition is however never discussed or articulated. It is credited to social experiments, some of which is placed upon the artist by himself.

In doing so the black artist is confronted with the idea of gender and identity, sexuality and racism. Societal norms have been broken and now we are confronted with what is “black on black” crime and the overall tug and pull of white supremacy.

As much as the black artist promotes culture and intelligence and however he manages knowingness and politicizing of art ideas he is always reminded of the ever balancing of white nationalism, hate and entitlement with his own diversity, blackness and origin.

The great fight becomes the manifest. As often as body sizing continues in families, society and on the streets, the black man has to realize our competition is now international.

Knowledge is still king. We have to look beyond onto the horizon and far reaching world outside to come up with solution.

A revolution begins with self-reflection. Society as a whole does not care for the individual on merit and circumstance alone. His endurance in life becomes credited when he takes a chance and develops skills and tools for survival.

Forward into the future, semiotics and use of language in this our modern technology, politics, society and governmental structure, the black person has to manage a defense for white terrorism and that can be won only with self-will, education and counterbalancing of thug with intellect.

Hence, the black postmodernist thug…

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