The Black Construct 10/19/2018
Black Art engages the Appropriated and Reappropriated Black identity in contribution to the Black Construct. Appropriation refers to everything from the misuse of cultural aesthetics and visual reference points, to the reclamatory nature of the use of variations of the N-word by Black people, to Carrie Mae Weems and her artistic appropriations of images of black people reconceptualized as her own body of work. This practice of recontextualizing cultural thinking points to completely redefine them characterizes Blackness from its initial forceful detachment from the African continent, to a generation exploring the fluidity of Post-Blackness.
Black exists in its own construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction as diverse and individualistic as the persons that navigate it in their own cultural coming of age. Appropriated Black is the application of a reductionary Black identity by non-Black persons for the purposes of their own benefit or allocating colored castes and social “othering”. Reappropriated Black is the self determined construction of Black identity from the fractured remnants of the misappropriated origin culture through the acculturation of a diverse and dynamic transcontinental Black Diaspora. Black Art employs tropes and subjecture that address any aspect of this Black Construct; the dichotomy between Appropriated Black and Reappropriated Black in the construction of Black identity.
In 2018 we find ourselves navigating the intersections of fluid and increasingly ambiguous gender, sexuality, and ethnic delineations as they (ideally) become less pertinent to our societal roles and livelihoods. These things are secondary to the idea of the individual, the singularity of a human consciousness. However we still find ourselves subjected to the shared struggles and subscribe to the assumed solidarity of Black. This collective Black body is more than the sum of its social, cultural, and intellectual implications. Our diaspora is a vast ocean of ethnic, regional, linguistic, and cultural experiences whose deviations could never less black.
“Race is the child of racism, not the father.”, Ta-Nehisi Coates. If race is an intentional social construction, it’s imperative to discuss our own authority in constructing Blackness. Growing up in a Mexican household I knew myself to be la negra, la morenita, la prieta; Black(effeminate). Except for the Black men who insist on making it clear to me that they have “a thing for Latinas”, as if that’s not just as reductive, anti-Black, and objectifying as the historic fetishizing of their own identity, my blackness was never refuted or defined. As a child I knew myself to be black, descended from an African father who called me negro. Though a consistent reference for others, I did not know what Black meant as it applied to me or the role it was to play in my personal development. My African, African-American, and Afro-Latinx identities are all deconstructed branches of the Blackness that had already been constructed on my behalf. Now, as a Black artist I find it increasingly imperative to consciously address the neglected subtleties of my diasporic identity in my own responsibility to the continued construction of Black.
This responsibility is clearly articulated by Eddie Chambers who stated, “An artist’s stated or unstated, formal or informal, commitment to Pan-Africanism must embody a consistent and active acknowledgement of African communities living beyond the artist’s particular geographic region.”
My own obligation to address diasporic relationships became evident to me in a trip to San Andres, an island off the coast of Colombia largely populated by the Afro-Caribbean “Raizal” ethnic group. In a journal entry following several days of navigating the colorism and racial tensions on Colombia’s mainland as a Black foreigner I expressed the comfortable familiarity of a Black space with locals who identified with me, as well as my frustrations with the inherent oppression in their social casting.
It’s beautiful to see an island full of Afro-Latinx people, speaking fluent Spanish, English, and Creole, reflecting so many cultures individually, overlapping, intersecting, unique in their own. But the self loathing is evident in its projection towards me and in their stereotyped and sataric representations of themselves suggested in every corner. The school girls with braids, the boy diving to the ocean floor, and ever member of the working class a bittersweet reflection of the global state of black people, here a majority of the population and a minority of the political and social influence. Reduced to novelty.
The people of San Andres are reduced to murals and beachside statues of the Rasta Man and mostly nude native woman, condescended by the towering, suited, white Colombian settlers.
“Las Castas”, a painting depicting the 18th century racial classifications of 16 combinations of black and white mixed-raced children, clearly delineates to social and racial status of diverse Black Spaniards. This type of casting directly impacted their political, social, and economic standing as Appropriated Blackness does globally. Between the Colombian and Spanish castings of Afro-Latinx people, I am forced to be heartbreakingly analytical of my own casting as a Black Mexican in what is my native and familiar culture.
Iona Rozeal Brown contributes to the long history of African-Asian Appropriation, specifically the Japanese ganguro brand of 1990s blackface. Similar to the Chinese Communist employment of the Black subject as the “torch bearer of the earth’s most economically and politically wretched”, the use of implied Blackness has served as a symbolic reference to a culture of resistance to oppression, largely characterized by afro-fabulation in Asian culture. This is a consequence of a Blackness whose construction is largely dependent on symbolism and acculturation rather than the concrete origin culture a majority of us were robbed of.
“Brown’s Afro-Asian allegories are mutant products of a cross-cultural ricochet within the commodity circuits through which blackness travels as a simulacrum- that is to say, a copy that lack an identifiable source”.
Carrie Mae Weems explores the reductive nature of Appropriated Blackness, our having been labeled Black and defined by our oppressors in her controversial series . “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried”.
A Scientific Profile
A Negroid Type
An Anthological Debate
A Photographic Subject
Robert Farris Thompson concluded that the Black Diaspora is a product of its own evidence. Unfortunately that evidence is largely defined by the product of our oppression, an identity consecrated by our oppressors. That is our history, the tear in our “racial”, ethnic, and cultural fabric. However, we are defined even more significantly by our culture of reconstruction, and cultural reclamation. The Black Construct is the collective Appropriated and Reappropriated Black, it is both objective and contextual, dependent and independent. Transcendental in ways we are just beginning to consciously engage.