2015 has given us a great year thus far in black artistry and cultural expression.
On television, we have seen more of our stories being told by people who look like us, thanks to the incredible work of Shonda Rimes, Lee Daniels, and many more. Film has had its memorable moments thanks to Ava DuVernay's modern-day masterpiece of Selma. And music is once again pushing past commercial models and bringing us more power to movements (thank you for "Glory," John Legend and Common).
More recently, Kendrick Lamar gave us a remarkable album that showcases a reality that many people of color can resonate with today. To Pimp a Butterfly is more than just a collection of songs, but an urban gospel for the daily struggles felt by our current generation of black youth.
The lyrics are a rare feat of being current and timeless simultaneously and regardless of how polarizing it may appear to some, it's undeniably raw and cohesive. If you are looking for black resistance in mainstream hip-hop, this would be your best bet right now.
On the other side of the spectrum, Lee Daniel's blockbuster show Empire just finished its debut season on a high note. The campy and remarkably trendy melodrama has given a creative touch to exploring black stigmas in pop culture: sexuality, mental illness, and family dynamics. It's so easy to lazily label it as another urban black television show, and if that's the case for you... perhaps you just don't get it.
However, what is interesting about both Kendrick and Lee's pieces of work is that they are both uniquely fighting against the double standards set by our community and the rest of the world on black artistry.
Current standards set by the masses suggests that black men and women cannot artistically express anger, be imperfect, invoke rebellion, find humor in their woes, be unapologetically sexual, explore taboos, and re-appropriate the tumultuous barriers placed on us.
For if we are to do a number of these things while white people are watching or listening, they will indulge in the illusion that such behavior is truly indicative of us all and thus have a reason to disrespect us for it.
With all due respect, if you truly adhere to such nonsense, please shut up -- you are a part of the problem.
These double standards are atrocious, if not fatal, to our culture and our existence. They subtly suggest that we should stay put and be "respectable" to save face for the white gaze of the world. It reduces our humanity and strips us of our ability to think and express freely.
When our community is quick to say "this makes black people look bad" whenever we see a black women on television get angry or see a black man show rebellion in his lyricism, you are subconsciously subscribing to the respectability politics that limits us from having the agency to be multidimensional. You are also being subservient to white privilege.
Because if you can enjoy listening to rock music and enjoy the carefree wildness of some of their white guitarists without pre-judging their entire race -- then you can also be mindful and supportive of the various lenses black musicians and creators portray as well.
It's not about supporting everything black creators produce, but about being fair in allowing them to have the freedom to express. I don't personally like every film a black director makes nor do I buy every album a black musician drops -- but I will not simply pan it just because it doesn't match my ideals of what blackness looks and feels like.
Truth: there is not -- and should never be -- a monolith when it comes to expressing blackness or any other identity.
It took me a long time to come to this understanding. I, just like many in my community, want the best for our legacy and our survival. However, I began to realize that I was taking part in victim-blaming when I found fault in black creators and innovators who were just expressing themselves rather than the inexcusable actions taken by the racist culprits.
Rap music and arguably stereotypical television shows are not the reason why people are racists. Blacks choosing to use the n-word -- for better or worse -- do not give another race the agency to use it and enforce brutality at their leisure. It should never be a marginalized group's duty to form excuses for the injustice they face at the expense of the oppressor's inability to simply stop doing it.
Once again, it has become quite clear that whether we are on a street corner or a college campus -- our dignity, or presumably lack thereof -- will not save us.
As rational and critical-minded people, we need to stop thinking that shutting out various expressions of the black experience will create a utopia of post-racial equality and fairness. At what price do you shed blackness in order to form a more perfect union? And is this said perfection worth having a lack of black variety and opinion?
When you rather conform and not challenge the status quo of society, you are virtually submitting to the oppression of it.
Our now most celebrated figures for civil rights were once considered terrorists and menaces to society. They were then considered a nuance for asking for too much only for us to now feel as though we are doing too much. Think about what it implies to stop resisting in an atmosphere that rather you just shut up and go with the flow.
Whether you personally like their work or not, Lee Daniels, Kendrick Lamar, Ava DuVernay and many other black creators are practicing an artistic resistance to conforming to the double standards placed on blackness in traditionally white spaces.
As a community, we should look at the larger picture of what is happening to our culture as a result of it. We are gaining more consciousness, seeing ourselves in fields where we were once rejected, and breaking records others never saw coming.
It's a great time to be a black creator, and nothing should hold us back. Not even our people.
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