Black Renaissance in the Age of Obama

Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to grieve like this. Unfortunately, I don’t become an emotional wreck with hot wet tears streaming down my face or emotional breakdowns like my liberal white women counterparts when Trump won the 2016 presidency. It’s not my style. I just keep it on the inside like every other disguised convoluted emotional wreck you know.

But I do think a lot. Too much in fact.

As a result of the exit of the Obamas, I’ve taken the time to reflect on the changes in black American popular culture over the past 8 years. The ups, downs, twisted turns and formations of new identities and subcultures as a result of just seeing a black family hold the nation’s highest political office. It has been one hell of a ride and truly, I can’t be prouder of the things I’ve seen and the young black people I’ve met. It’s like I’ve waited my entire life to be able to see black souls like me and find clothes that truly fit my personality. But these exciting changes didn’t happen without a few serious sacrifices to some traditional tenants of black culture. I’m talking more than the death of some famous black people. More than the decline of black women getting their hair permed. Bigger than the growing generational gap between black elders and youth.

With change comes the realization that things don’t have to stay the same.

(Ch-ch-changes! Turn and face the strange. Changes!)

When President Obama stepped into office in 2008, rumbles of black change began happening deep and low. Americans were faced with the end of the terrible George W. Bush era, the modern Great Recession was in flow and the on-going war on terrorism kept paranoia floating in the air. Here comes Barry with promises of a new hope & political change and we latched on like small babies to mommies because if we were able to just see someone like us in the White House then change could be real since it is so necessary for survival. His beginning years were extremely rocky but we didn’t care because there was Michelle who told us we needed to eat better, healthier foods and get up & get active. She seemed cool but we didn’t know how cool until later. Sasha and Malia were little girls along for the political ride. They were cute but we’ll come back to them later.

As for black America, the only woman I know, she slowly began changing and like a man, I didn’t notice in the beginning. Blogs of the black experience were being told using words I had never noticed before or only felt like the words should’ve belonged to me. Natural hair became the topic of conversations among young girls and eventually grown women. Black Planet began to die as Facebook graduated college and invited everyone to plug in & connect. Black Twitter had formed but had yet to become the tour de force that it is now. Black millenials began identifying themselves as either being an afropunk or a hipster. Kanye was our nation’s first black emo hipster when he shed the baggy clothes of hip hop’s yesteryear and put on a sleek slim fit suit to compliment his dark, depressing mood after his mother passed away. All of this shit was mind blowing to my twenty-something ass in Atlanta exploring my individuality.

So many things were happening, so much movement. So much damn change.

 

Good.

I was getting sick of traditional black-isms. This was the moment I realized that I was not a hipster but a millenial. I could no longer agree with things such as Christmas, the proverbial white savior in movies, going to church just because I was raised in a black & Christian family and not being able to participate in certain activities because it’s what white people do and not black people. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. The influence of the Internet took over my perspective and showed me the world was bigger, badder and wider than what I was taught. I saw so many images of cool looking black people doing what looked like cool ass shit that I wished I could be friends with them. I charged myself with becoming that anonymous cool ass black person I saw. I didn’t care if it was a boy or girl because Tumblr was my digital vision board.

(She dreams in digital… cause it’s better than nothing.)

From 2008 to 2016, black America changed. The gap between grandparents and grandchildren grew larger. Some of us literally forgot where we came from as new acquired new money. Some of us, took a step back from trying to keep up with new money and took solace in our family’s deeply woven history.

Pause.

I know I just dissed traditional blackness and made a contradictory comment about seeking comfort in black history but dig where this is going. Here’s my stance: there are certain forms of traditional blackness that I believe needed to change, that needed to be released from our clutches, however, we also needed to re-embrace our history in order to fortify our future and survival as one of the world’s newest human populations. I blame natural hair blogs for the stone in the river that created the ripple of change.

Identity is important to all humans because it’s how we relate to one another. For black people, women in particular, we have been able to relate to one another in terms of our hair. From the moment when we began to retreat from harsh perms and embraced the hair we were born with, our change began a revolution that many women my age joined. When we changed our hair back to its natural state, a weight was removed that allowed the mind to begin to believe that anything is possible.

I can’t say exactly that this is truth but it is a strong observation that ushered in other changes that I have observed during the Obama years. I’ve outlined a few examples here with the hopes of others clarifying my examples and adding to this on-going conversation. Blackness is a living term and changes as quickly as the bodies that inhabit the word.


Example 1.

Between 2008 and 2016, the black Vegan has grown from weird, funny, outsider negro to Mike Tyson telling the entire world he is vegan. Being vegan just used to be some shit white people do when it’s not reserved for just white people at all. Beyonce & Jay-Z experimented with being vegan for a short period of time. Andre 3000 Benjamin is vegan. (UPDATE: I think he eats a burger every now and then.) Angela Davis is a vegan. Erykah Badu been a damn vegan since she dropped Baduizm. There are websites, Twitter handles, Facebook groups and more than enough articles about black vegans because yes, they’re real.

But why tho?!

Because, we, the modern black people of America, have learned that as a result of our dietary habits that were created during America’s non-paying brutal slavery system are dying in ways worse than simple black on black crime. Remember that the scraps of the master’s table became our celebratory dinners. Gummy, chewy and trashy bits would be transformed by the hands of men and women who would eventually bring my life into existence. Constantly eating foods that are prepared with unhealthy fats and refined carbs are killing us. I am a Southern woman to my core and I cannot eat fried foods in any manner on a daily basis. On a weekly basis. On a monthly basis. Every now and then is cool but not as the cornerstone of my diet. Plus, to simplify the black American diet as fried chicken, pork chops, turkey necks, collard greens, sweet potatoes, yellow rice and macaroni & cheese is a travesty to the history we celebrate. It lacks the multilayered and multicultural depths of our history and creates difficulty in the advancement of our future. It makes black chefs feel as if they must only cater to this style of cuisine when our American counterparts are allowed the freedom to explore everything from molecular gastronomy to Southeast Asian.

(Bitch, don’t kill my vibe…)

Black chefs like Bryant Terry are fitting for this conversation. He’s the best example of killing two birds with one stone. He’s a chef, he’s black AND he’s vegan. He didn’t cast aside his blackness for acceptance. He revolutionized how he embraced his black history in the name of better, healthier, flavorful foods. That’s so hip hop! To sample and remix what we have always done and turned it into a new product. I’ve met many black people that have joined this revolution. I’ve watched from a distance men and women in Atlanta become vegan chefs. I’ve seen my own junky diet incorporate more vegan/vegetarian elements as a result of this powerful influence.


Example 2.

The decline of the black millenial in Church. This is a really sticky topic. I mean REALLY sticky because it goes against one of the strongest foundation tenants of black American culture. Jesus Christ is the Savior and all black people should love Jesus. I could lose friends over this but it’s cool. I’m prepared for the blacklash to execute my point.

Looks can be deceiving. And no, Obama didn’t cause us to not want to go to church. If it makes you feel better, you can blame the rise of the age of queer identities, multiculturalism and information. For those out here like me, we decided that we’ve had enough and no longer want to front about going to church because our family made us do it. Some of us may return because a spiritual journey to leave home can lead you back home. Some of us may never return. However, we must acknowledge the fact that black agnostics, atheists, Satanists, yogis, yoginis, Jews, Buddhists, wizards, witches, brujas, priestesses and priests exist.

Essentialism and authenticity forces our brightest minds to believe that if it ain’t Jesus, it ain’t right. That’s one hell of a brainwashing technique. Let’s start at one beginning:

You start as a tribe on a foreign land. Another group of people in lands far away make decisions about your life. You end up on a boat in chains and chattels with people from other tribes from your foreign land. You end up doing forced labor for a group of people that don’t look like your tribe. They allow you to fellowship together as long as you join their religion. They allow you less than half a day of freedom from forced labor as long as you follow their religion. You let go of your religion as a link to your former home in order to survive living and being on your new land. You begin to mock the traditions and ways of the pale people on your new land. You forget all about where you came from as time passes and believe that it is below you to celebrate your native, foreign land as you begin to attain just a sliver of the wealth of the same people that have taken you from your land.

This sums up hundreds of years of black history and I know I’ve missed a few points. The black church became a meeting grounds for empowerment, celebration, and revolution. The black church has mended broken relationships and families. Given peace and solace to the lost and weary. Uplifted and brought together the black community when we needed to take a stand and fight for our rights as American citizens. All of these points, I cannot forget because my separation happened with the rise of megachurches and the dead silence of activism within the black church community. I no longer understand whose rhetoric I am to follow. Was it the rhetoric of the man preaching or God? If I bought a book written by a man about women according to God, was that God’s perspective or that man’s perspective? Are these material blessings for the pastor really from God or the congregation? I no longer feel safe in this environment and I’m not quite sure if I ever did.

Over time, I’ve met black people that have gone on spiritual journeys that have informed who they are. Most notable observations have been from the few self-declared Satanists (“Oh shit! Y’all really exist?!”), mysterious brujas deep in the divination game (“Whoa… Far out, man!”) and all-white adorned Yoruba priests and priestesses (“That’s so dope!”). Instagram can really show you how wide-ranged black spirituality can get once you move past the surface of white Jesus memes. Older black generations claim they are worshiping false gods. I see no difference between them and the Christian that obsesses over money and clothings. An act of worship is happening regardless.

We, as black people, would be remiss to continue to navigate our experiences within one religious/spiritual story. There is no one story but numerous streams that connect to make our entire web of experiences. We are misguided when we believe that only Jesus represents our story.


Example 3.

The rise of the black nerd and the storytelling revival. THIS. I could go on for days. Not just because science fiction and fantasy are the GOAT but because of the extreme power that racial profiling has become. There’s the black brute, the noble savage, the athlete, the gangster, the thug, the drug dealer, the rapper. All of these things are in reference to black male bodies. For black women, there’s the whore, the mammy, and the scary bitch. We don’t get to have as much range as men in terms of negative perceptions. If Sun Ra put Afrofuturism into motion in the 1970s then by the 2000s, we caught up.

We’ve learned that through science fiction, a Utopian future could possibly exist where all beings are equal and that we can attain a higher power than what’s reserved for us on our block and in our neighborhoods. We could escape our harsh realities and find peace within the rage of the Incredible Hulk. Comics have always played an important role to black escapism but somewhere in the 2000s, it changed. Ownership of knowledge became very important. We could rewrite our stories and share them on platforms that could reach hundreds and thousands of people just like us. We no longer have to hide our geeky intelligence from each other because for every person that writes about how in lower class black communities reading a book is the same as being white, there’s a black child educating themselves on the history of Black Panther & Storm and how they came to be.

With the rise of the black nerd, black people have found new heroes to replace our slain heroes. Honestly y’all, we got tired of athletes and rappers being the only representation of ourselves in the mainstream media. Not every big nigga wants to play any form of ball. Sadly, we are still the disproportionate few but the pure beauty of being a black nerd is the freedom that comes along with it. To be able to freely express oneself illustrates that one is at peace with how they perceive themselves. It’s without a doubt that we change as we get older but why wait until you’re old to not give a fuck what people think anymore? There are black nerds in all realms of personal interests from food to world travel to comics to technology to politics.

I mean, come on. Black Twitter is an amalgamation of all different types of Black nerds moving together in silence with a presence so great that they alone have the ability to break the internet at any time but choose to not do it because how else are we going to entertain our brothers and sisters whilst they work boring and mundane jobs? Black nerds are as real as black cosplay. This shit isn’t reserved for the weird niggas anymore. The fact that Luke Cage the series shut down Netflix should give you reason enough that we celebrate ourselves not only in the realm of fantasy but also when looking at a superhero that is not Superfly.


For those wondering if I was going to spend this many words lamenting about the exit of Obama, no, this essay wasn’t for him. It was for the people that needed an awakening for how much popular black culture has changed as a result of seeing a black family in the White House. Change was going to happen regardless but we may never see another black family for a while as a result of his powerful and impacting presidency. On the flip side, everything negative associated with popular black culture has skyrocketed in the mainstream. The quality of rap music has definitely declined with the rise of crack hop music (Is it really necessary to make every song is really about drugs and lean?!), reality television shows are guaranteed to have more viewers if black women are constantly fighting each other (What’s good RHOA, Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives?) and black athletes aren’t proving themselves to be anything special to black culture (except LeBron James and Marshawn Lynch because one really gives back and the other is a celebration of black masculinity freed from the clutches of American idealism). They are relics of Hollywood’s blaxploitation movies translated into mainstream imagery.

These words are an artful way of viewing the birth of a new black psychology, a proper Black Renaissance that will compliment the Harlem Renaissance in due time. One that, in my hopes, gives more room for change to continue evolving. All we can do is take chances and experiment. Walk out on limb and almost demand that we, the marginalized black people exist in the age of Black Lives Matter, our contemporary civil rights movement. I like how we’ve centered ourselves from the extremely geeky to the extremely feminist. We’ve started blogs that have turned into careers and businesses but at who’s expense when Obama exits? Yes, that much has changed within black popular culture that something had to be sacrificed.

I’ll figure out what that was after four years of President-elect Trump and American whiteness returns to the White House.

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6 thoughts on “Black Renaissance in the Age of Obama

  1. If you could illustrate each of the points you made here through your artwork, that would make one hell of a show

    Like

      1. Any more thoughts on the feasibility of basing an art show on this post? I think the people would dig it…

        Like

      2. I actually did start thinking about that after your post and began developing sketches. I really appreciate your insight. That was pretty cool.

        Like

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