#BlackmendreamLDN Buster Mantis July 19th, 9pm Chair: Tamar Clarke-Brown Panellists: Shabaka Hutchings, GAIKA, Irvin Pascal, Isaac Kariuki, James Massiah
Playlist Coby Sey
1. What is a Man The Watts Prophets Rappin’ Black in a White World
10. Undr Levantis Romantic Psychology 1
2. Dead Nigga Blvd - Pt.1 Meshell Ndegeocello Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape (PA Version)
11. In Between 2 Gaika SPAGHETTO
3. Africa John Coltrane Quartet Africa/Bass 4. Stealth Babyfather BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow 5. Joyous Shabaka and the Ancestors Shabaka Hutchings 6. Don’t Wish Me Well Solange A Seat at the Table 7. Who Do You Love? Kindness, Robyn Otherness 8. A Haunting Roots Manuva Awfully Deep 9. African Student Movement Saul Williams Saul Williams
12. Old Rock n Roll Yound Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too 13. Upside Down Fela Kuti Upside Down 14. Take Me Inside Sample Process 15. The Lord Is Back Eugene McDaniels Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse 16. Doo Wop (That Thing) Ms. Lauryn Hill The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 17. Tear - Classic Vocal Frankie Kunckles, Satoshi Tommie, Mixed By: Frankie Knuckles 18. Believe in Yourself The Invisible Patience
Foreword When we initiated this event in Summer 2016, black masculinity was under the microscope…for all the wrong reasons. Since our event, unfortunately, that spotlight hasn’t dimmed. While Fanon spoke about the black body as a phobogenic object — a source of anxiety and fear, bell hooks speaks about the black male as desired, but not loved. In posing the question ‘when and how did you become a black man?’, Philadelphia-based artist Shikeith’s open-format experimental documentary #Blackmendream (2015), explores constructions of black male identity in America today and establishes a ‘safe space’ online for discussion using the eponymous hashtag via Twitter. HOTBLACKMALES extended this line of questioning, asking where does the needle point today? Expanding the hashtag to a UK context (#BlackmendreamLDN), HOTBLACKMALES invited black male artists and cultural figures including Gaika (musician), Shabaka Hutchings (musician), Isaac Kariuki (artist), James Massiah (musician/artist), and Irvin Pascale (artist), to ‘take the pulse’ of black masculinity today — talking group mentality, intersectionality, fetishisation, support structures and obstacles to vision, and projecting new horizons for the future. Our panelists watched Shikeith’s film with a handful of audience members before expanding on their own understanding of black masculinity. The discussion that followed is printed alongside photographs taken from IGGYLDN’s project ‘Black Boys Don’t Cry’.
Contributors: Recontextualized for the London scene, #BlackmendreamLDN featured seven emerging and established black male creatives, all with a highly unique perspective on the past, present, and future representation of black male identity. Gaika makes music. Shabaka Hutchings makes music. Isaac Kariuki makes art. James Massiah makes music & art. Irvin Pascal makes art. Coby Sey makes music. Shikeith makes art.
IGGYLDN IGGYLDN is a spoken word artist living in London. His projects combine a mixture of music, visual arts and poetry to aid his storytelling. BBDC (Black Boys Don’t Cry) is a project designed to deconstruct the ideals of black masculinity and manhood in the 21st century. BBDC is led by three creative mediums (spoken word, videography and photography) in order to bring to light the challenges that young black men face in today’s society.
Within the black community it is a largely considered stereotype that black boys must be taught to be masculine. In most senses of the word this means to have less emotion than women, to show no weakness and position themselves as strong. As this is considered to be the ‘norm,’ masculinity is rarely deconstructed in the same way as femininity has been. Considering the black race are the creators and contributors to soul, punk, rock, ballet to name a few things, it is evident that the black community are multi-faceted. Thus the narrow narrative of masculinity must be questioned to leave space for black men to show emotion without being considered less black or less of a man. The project portrays this by subverting what it truly means to be a multi-faceted black man — starting from the narrative of a black boy. The poem begins by telling the story of a boy growing up and his perceptions of masculinity. Throughout the video the piece explores these concepts of masculinity by questioning gender, body and beauty ideals, self determination and power in order to reconstruct what it means to be a black man. Combined with photography of black men of all variations, the purpose
of this is to deliberately break down upbringing, societal influences and colonial past to simply tell the younger generation that in order for you to be a black man in the 21st century you do not need to be strong or emotionless — you simply need to be black and a man. CREDITS Creator & Spoken Word Artist IGGYLDN Directors Sau agency Char ellesse Jade charlotte cowans Sacha mass Simon nndjock Joao henriques Zac lenoire Videographer Ezekiel Video Assistant Kmariesoul Photographer Joao Henriques Make-Up Artist Jomelyn Ferras Mixing and Mastering Joe meehan Models Tunde Rob Jake Abolade Jordan Melvin Alexander Kailum
Shikeith is a MFA candidate (2018) in the sculpture department of Yale School Of Art. As a young man in Philadelphia, Shikeith was ostracized by his peers who challenged the authenticity of his black masculinity. His work mines the psycho-emotional landscape at the intersection of blackness and masculinity. He holds a B.A (2010) from The Pennsylvania State University, where he received The Leslie P. Greenhill scholarship for Photography, among other awards. In 2014 and again in 2016 he was awarded grants from Advancing Black Arts, a partnership of the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments, which supported the creation of his critically-acclaimed documentary “#Blackmendream,” listed by the TribeCa Film Institute as one of 10 films that capture the meaning of Black life in America. Shikeith has been invited to share his work nationally and internationally at several universities and institutions, including the Vera List Center, Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre, MIT, Morehouse College, The Seattle Art Museum, The Wrocław Contemporary Museum and with the Aperture Foundation. #Blackmendream(2014) is a 45-minute experimental documentary that creates a virtual “safe space” through hashtagging, enabling Black males to
pull apart emotional restrictions often denied through crossroads of race and gender. The film, shot in black and white, features nine males from diverse backgrounds with their backs turned away from the camera. They openly discuss the obstacles they have faced as young black men, such as depression, parental neglect, and racial discrimination. Likened to a Freudian therapy session, questions such as, “When did you become a Black man?”, and “How were you raised to deal with your emotions?” give the viewer a rare glimpse into the emotional lives of Black men, a subject that is disregarded as weak in many black communities. Released as a short-term public work in December 2014 the film has received much critical acclaim (NPR, The Atlantic, Arts & America) and was listed by Tribeca Film Institute in 2015, as one of 10 films that exemplify the Black American experience. Most importantly, the call to action has encouraged posts across social media that are taking the shape of literary and visual forms of expression germane to race, identity, and psychological well-being.
BLACKNESS IN THE PAST
SH: For me, Blackness needs to be above and beyond it’s encounter with the history of white supremacy. Is there a definition of Blackness that supersedes colonization, or supersedes the need to stress what we were before the oppression that we’re encountering right now? AUDIENCE: Do you think that we’re too caught up in trying to understand our history to make the progressive changes we need to make? So yes we went through slavery, and a lot of what we’re told about ourselves comes from slavery. It’s not about who I am now as a person, it’s not about who the last members of my family were, it’s about going beyond that. Do you think we’re at that stage where we need to essentially stamp it now and go “we’ve gone through slavery, this is who we are now, as a people; recognise, we can all absolve ourselves and be comfortable being Black or not. Or do you think we need to go back to the roots, and go back beyond that, even further, and understand the original root of who we are? SH: I mean the present is a combination of the past. We can’t just start from ground zero, because that’s an illusion. The past still happened. Even if you want to start from ground zero, to say we’re gonna forget about slavery, we’re gonna start from now? The oppression and the slavery still informs your decisions from that point, and if you chose to ignore that fact, then you are disadvantaged, because the group doing the oppression isn’t forgetting about their history. So the tables are still turned, and not in your favour. AUDIENCE: Yeah but one of the things that sticks for me is that there is a massive contrast between us as Black men and the stereotypical view of us, which to external factors; a white society — may be perceived as negative, and to a Black community may be viewed as positive. How do we reconcile that?
How do we address that if we’re not going to redefine ourselves? G: I don’t know, I’m a bit confused, because I think there’s definitely an issue with an over-concentration on the history of Black people. But I really believe that Black people are living in a perpetual state of PTSD. So, I don’t know how dealing with that or not dealing with that is related to where we are now. I think we have to deal with that, but at the same time, we have to live in the present. So for me, going forward, it’s about how do we live in the world as people first and foremost, as Black males, and let’s look at the past, just as every other community who feels like they have some demon to exercise. Let’s face it. That’s how I feel about it. SH: I read an interesting article on Beyonce’s Feminism vs. the wages that the labourers get making her T-Shirts, and it brings up an interesting point; that a lot of people focus on slavery and detach the narrative of slavery from what slavery actually is as an abstract concept — which is working for no money. The same way that shrimp is manufactured — and we all eat shrimp. The same way that cotton is; you know if we buy a shirt from Primark. If we forget about history for me — and it’s a cliche, we don’t need to repeat it, but we’ll keep on buying clothes from Primark. The slaves won’t be Black, but they’ll still be slaves, and when people look back in 100 years they’ll go; “Hey! Those guys were using slaves in Indonesia”. For me, the appreciation of history is a way of abstracting what the history actually is — so we’re not going “Hey, Black people were oppressed,” we need to not think about that and move forward. We’re not repeating the mentality that caused Black people to be oppressed and oppress someone else that isn’t Black.
BLACK MEN AND PRETENCE
TCB: A really powerful point of the film for me was when one of the subjects was talking about the compression that’s necessary as a a Black man; Black man — having havingtotocompress compress parts of you not to intimidate people, and moving in between worlds, compressing a certain part of you that’s valorised in a Black setting but White world. I wanted to ask not in a white our speakers about their experiences with this, if there’s truth in that. JM: I don’t think that anyone has to do anything at all, under any circumstances. Anything you do you chose to do; And I no longer chose to change parts of myself for anyone, ever. That’s me.
IP: In my opinion it comes from when you’re entering a different area where you have different cultures. You have to empathise with that culture. It’s good to understand different cultures, it’s a way of moving forward — understanding how other people work. It’s important to diversify the types of people you interact with because if you stay in the same environment, like a predominantly Black environment, and don’t mix with other cultures, it can slow you down. I think it’s important to be adaptable in certain situations to make people feel more comfortable. G: I think we’re all aware of our Blackness. That’s the thing. We all do it everyday, Black people. We compress ourselves when we step outside because we’re in a minority. It’s a numbers game. You’re aware that you are different to 99% of the people that you see. So to pretend that you aren’t is disingenuous. It’s about the level to which you do that. I think wearing a mask to fit in is actually, when you boil it down, is actually self-abuse. But at the same time, as you say, we have to function in a society that is largely different from us. So it’s just about managing that situation so that you do the minimum amount of self-harm. I don’t think that we can pretend that we don’t when we are in a numerical minority and race still is a factor in our society. If it wasn’t, and people didn’t really see colour, and we walked outside and I wasn’t aware that I was Black, that would be an ideal situation. But I am, and so are you, and so is everybody else. SH: Yeah, it’s been discussed by W.E.B. Du Bois, and Paul Gilroy. They call it ‘double consciousness,’ . For me, it’s like, if you chose to make it a powerful prism, if you chose to make that double consciousness a source of power, then it’s a good thing. We live in England. I moved to England at 16 from Barbados, and from living in a Black society to living in a society where Black people are a minority, you see the difference in Black people’s operation in their respective societies.
For me it’s not about the mask, it’s not about it being a source of fragility, it’s a way of navigating your way through the society, and if you want it to be an asset, if you see it as an asset, it can be. It might be a trauma, it might be a way of having some sort of psychoactive part of yourself re-activated, but that’s what I guess causes people to be able to move through society and fit into different groups. If you see this trait as being a source of power, then it will be. If you see this as being a thing that you constantly skirt away from (Am I acting too white here, am I acting too Black here?)… you act how you act in order to survive, and Black people in England are survivors. When their grandmothers came to England, they had to survive, and part of that survival was forming double-consciousness in order to act in a way that wasn’t perceived as being threatening in certain situations. Until they get to a point where they can actually just assert and be who they really are. IK: I think we should make a distinction, because is it really compressing when you are say walking down the street, and it’s only you and a woman on the same street, but obviously she feels threatened because being harassed by men on the street is a very regular thing for women. Or is it compressing your masculine self, when you have to lower your natural speaking voice because verbal harassment is a very common thing that women and other genders face, and it’s a very traumatic thing. I think it’s not really a mask, or it’s not really compressing yourself when you’re doing it for the benefit of other marginalised, oppressed people. But, there’s also the element of race, because she might have felt even more threatened because you’re Black. So I don’t know if compression is the right word — I think it’s more altering yourself in certain environments. JM: From my perspective, philosophically speaking, I don’t think it’s possible
to ever alter yourself. I think you are always only ever yourself, and there’s this idea of the psyche being this fixed thing that you change and hide, but I think of the self as a vapour that just adapts to situations. So I don’t think it’s ever possible to act too Black or too white. I’m always just being myself, and however anyone else wants to perceive it is up to them. But I’m always only ever me, and I don’t mean me as in the physical construct that you’re seeing, the arrangement of atoms, but I mean me as in the psychological entity, like in Men in Black, where the alien lives inside the man. That’s who I really am, and this is just me as I was born into this world, but that’s just a shell, so if anyone else has any hangups about me being the height I am or the colour I am or dressing the way I do, then that’s their business. I’m not gonna cross the street. You be shook. That’s your issue. I’m going to the shop. TCB: Can I ask how you got to that self-resolution James? JM: Nihilism, and Egoism. A combination of the two. I don’t think there is a way that anything should be. I think the way that everything is, is quite simply the way that it is, and I think it’s a stoic acceptance of that that has brought me to the place that I’m at. So, I don’t feel like someone can ever be too anything. There has to be a value system attached to it, and there are no objective values. No-one’s truly ugly, or beautiful, or too short or too tall, it always comes down to a human being’s perspective, and I’m very aware that in this human society, this dunya, they like to portray a certain race, a certain hair texture, whatever, as beautiful. But I know that there is no objective beautiful, and that is just gas, and it’s up to me to have the strength of mind to determine what I consider beautiful for myself, irrespective of what another human being thinks. SH: I totally agree with that. Just one question I’d like to add to that. I guess
walking down the street watching someone hold their handbag, I see as a passive form of placing someone’s history onto you. What happens when that placing of history is active, such as interactions with the police — when a police officer places their perceived history of Black people onto you? That is actually a threat, because then you can’t actually just carry on as normal unless you want to get, as in America, shot, or in England stopped-andsearched. What do you do to create an alternate situation for yourself? That’s when I find that with passive forms of racism — like historical placement — you can’t chose to ignore it when that thing’s active, when it’s actually a threat to existence. Then what do you do? How do you place yourself as an individual that’s just going about your business when it’s out to get you? JM: I’ve been watching lots of nature videos where you see lots of lions eating wild gazelles, and there’s a sense that there’s nothing that gazelle could have done. That lion was going to eat it. It had the strength and the will to overpower it, and as harsh as it maybe sounds, there will be people that have the means, and the might and the force, to take me out, because the have an issue with me based on my gender, race, sexuality, and all I can ever do in any situation is do what I think is best for me, whether it’s to put my hands up, whether it’s to draw for my own weapon. I will just do that, and then ultimately…Physics. The Laws of Nature will determine what happens next. If he draws quicker than me, my party’s over. If there’s more of them than me, my party’s over. It may well be that this person has a Black wife, and he sees me, recognises a little nephew or something, and thinks, you know what, let me not shoot this guy. It may be that he just hates Black people, so he’s going to kill me irrespective of whether I wear my trousers down to my waist or my bum, or whatever. So, I definitely appreciate what you’re saying, but I don’t expect to
live. I don’t expect someone to be nice to me, I don’t expect charity. So if I do come across a gang of thugs, be they in uniform or not, it isn’t that they should be nice to me because I’m a human being. I accept that they’re probably lions, and I’m a gazelle, and it’s going to be up to physics, the laws of nature, as to what happens in that scenario. SH: Completely agree with that. The only thing I’d add is that in nature gazelles don’t often go along in single file, they’re in packs, and it’s the weak that get eaten by the lion, and I guess that’s got something to do with the mobilization and the organisation of Black people. I mean, you can see it in Black Lives Matter. Black people have been getting killed in America for a long time. It’s only when one of those killings are documented and you’ve got a structure that can get together and mobilize through those different states to say “Actually, as a larger people, we’re not going to put up with this anymore”, and then all of a sudden the Lion can’t pick them off one-by-one anymore with no thought of recompense. With Black Lives Matter it seems like it’s not immediately changing things right now, but it’s viral. The rate of white people that know that Black people are getting shot has gone up in the last 10-20 years. If that’s how long it takes, that’s how long it takes. For me, what I know from talking to Americans, is that there was a situation where Middle America at large didn’t believe what was happening to Black people. They couldn’t see it. They chose not to believe the oppression that was happening.
BLACK AND WHITE
G: I think they did see it. They just don’t care. SH: Yeah, they chose not to believe. G: The reality is there aren’t thousands of Middle-Class, white Americans on the street when a large proportion of American society — i.e. Black males, or Black people — are in a bad way. They don’t care, because there’s no reason for them to care. SH: There was still a significant amount of white Americans that contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. G: Not really. Not really when you compare that number versus the number of white people in America, not really. I’m not trying to minimise their contribution, but let’s have it right. Most of Middle white America do not care what happens to Black people, because we are 10% of the population.1 SH: I think some of it is to do with the visualisation of us. For one, I think they don’t care because the media makes it look like these things aren’t real. G: I don’t think it’s got anything to do with that. I think it’s to do with white supremacy. I think it’s to do with, if you have 200 years of pseudo-science saying you are better-than everyone else because of the size of your head, and this, and this, and this, and this, I think it’s something that America, and white people in general need to face before any of this changes, and this is where I agree with James. It’s wasting our time to believe we can change this through force of love. The reality is, white people need to change. SH: For me the first step in that is people actually knowing that there’s a problem. G: But they do! Have you seen that Scientist?2 She asked a group of white people; ‘Would you like to be treated 1. 2.
as Black people are treated?’ and they all sat there and said nothing, because they know. Let’s have it right. White people do know. Whether you go across the line and say O.K., we’re about to do something about this, because of the numbers game, because of how America is structured, it’s not like here, it’s like O.K., this is happening. It’s on TV, isn’t it terrible? But are you actually going to change the country? SH: If you look at that clip, it was taken in university. Most of those people are probably liberal students. So, they are the people that would know. I’m not disagreeing with you… G: I spend at least 50% of my time in America, all my family live there. Arizona, all the way to NYC, and I just think that it’s not this idea that this is a majority issue, or something that everyone cares about. I think that’s something you want to be true SH: I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that one of the important things is having it in people’s face… going ‘This is an issue’. Like during the Vietnam war… G: Vietnam was a mass movement. Civil Rights was a mass movement, that included a really large amount of Black people. With Vietnam, it was everybody, and it changed the course of history, because people came out and said; ‘We don’t want our sons coming back in boxes, let’s stop this war,’ and it undermined the American war effort. Until I see that happen in support of BLM, then ultimately — and I’m someone who supports BLM, I’m someone that openly supports them, I just feel like it’s not going to go anywhere. I think that the problem is to do with the militarisation of police, I think it’s to do with white supremacy, I think it’s to do with just American social policy and economics, and I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
13.3% of Americans were classed as ‘black’ in 2015 according to the United States Census Bureau ‘Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise’ by Jane Elliott
SH: One of the reasons people were so adamant over stopping the Vietnam war as opposed to say any of the other wars America has fought is because they weren’t Black, and these people were going off and getting shot. Say in Afghanistan, or when foreign policy sends them to Libya. They’re not seeing en-masse the people that sign up, only the ones that come from privileged backgrounds. It’s a mercenary army. People aren’t seeing the effects.
G: Exactly. Ultimately, a lot of my work is about the destruction of our bodies as entertainment. We are desensitised to it. You can switch on the TV at any time, skip through the Cable channels, and you’re seeing some Black guy getting his head blasted off, or somebody glamorizing that or glorifying that. Whichever capacity, so ultimately, seeing someone getting killed by the Police on a camera-phone, that’s not new, I’ve seen that. I care about that. SH: If you look at the most read or viewed news sources — like Fox News, or Sunday newspapers, whenever any of those Black guys are killed by the police, what’s the thing that get’s most said on any of those media outlets? ‘Is it really though?’ ‘Did they really do that?’ There’s always a front in front. People aren’t seeing the horror. They’re hearing this from media outlets: ‘But maybe he resisted arrest,’ ‘Maybe the police aren’t that bad’.
AUDIENCE: Obviously you’re kind of talking about the stereotypes of Black men. I think the whole scenario of you being down a dark road, and crossing, was really important to bring it back to — not to use a buzzword — but sexuality. I think that what was being said in the film about emotions, and how men don’t show their emotions, is a good inroad to talk about how certain emotions are seen as more valid for men to express. I also think any kind of conversation about Black masculinity should take into account — I hate using this word, but I’m just going to use it — power — the power that you have over Black women, Black femmes, Black people of other genders or sexual orientations. My question to the panel to maybe think about is how you, as a Black man, or whatever, how do you realise that in a lot of ways you can be an oppressor, and how do you reflect on the power that you have over other people in the community? IK: Yeah, Black men do have a level of privilege that we rarely ever acknowledge. I think we have this mentality that we are always the victim because for example, in the BLM movement, we made it all about the men. There are so many women that are victims that are barely ever talked about, there are Black femmes, a lot of Black trans women and a lot of gender-queer Black people who are constantly victims of this because they have intersecting identities that make them more obvious when they go outdoors. We as Black men, as cis Black men, when we come out of our houses, we are still men, we still have a certain privilege over other people.
MEN AND WOMEN 18
AUDIENCE: Solidarity is such a huge thing. So many other histories are built on the fact that they shat on Black people to get ahead. We need to have that conversation, on how it’s not the way it should be. When we talk about whether we should be moving forwards together, and talk about the fact that I can’t go to fucking China without someone wanting to take a picture of me, and do Blackface in K-Pop because they just don’t know Black people. It’s not my fault that they don’t know about it. It’s because America as a global system is what has proposed Blackness. So I can go into so many places, and people already have an idea about who I am as a person. They don’t even know me. Let alone being a Black man — they don’t even know you, have never seen you before, and they’re shocked. Yeah, they can be shook, but to be honest I was quite sad to hear that you see someone seeing your humanity in the first place as charity. You should see me because you see me. I’m a person. The end. G: Black males, I think, we’re kind of, in a way, assaulted everyday. Black people are assaulted every day, and that creates a trauma which trickles into our community. So yes, as Black men, we are doing it now, we’re just disregarding everyone else. We’re so shell-shocked by the whole experience. I mean she made a very valid point, and it’s not related to what we’re talking about. We just switched it to talk about what we want to talk about. Which is an execution of our own insecurity at the end of the day. IK: Also one of the reasons that we do tend to centre ourselves instead of say, the deaths of Black women, is because a lot of the time those deaths are at our own hands, and we don’t want to talk about it, because then we actually become the perpetrators of certain
things in our culture. With Black trans women, mostly it’s at the hands of Black men. Masculinity has big problems. SH: It’s interesting also to look at Chauvinism in society. I think one of the things I find interesting is when you look at displays of Chauvinism seen through the lens of Blackness, as being a Black thing as opposed to a societal thing, because this society is chauvinist. But somehow, for the public in general, when it’s portrayed within Black culture, people see it as a ‘Black thing’ as opposed to a societal thing. No-one’s talking in the same way about all this chauvinism. It’s something that we are living in, and we invest in that everyday, and I think it is something we need to address — chauvinism within the Black community. We’ve not developed this as part of a wider society, and that needs to be taken into account as well. AUDIENCE: I hear you, and it’s true that misogyny is not a race-specific issue, but at the end of the day, if I’m going to be abused, it’s going to be by a Black man. Not because you’re more misogynistic, but because of your proximity. I feel that for a lot of Black women it seems as though you don’t understand or don’t want to have these conversations because of the white gaze. You’re scared of that whitness. I feel that there needs to be a bit more self-reflection and not taking the copout of ‘all-men’, because as I’ve said it’s an intra-community issue.
SELF LOVE AND SUPPORT STRUCTURES
TCB: We’ve been talking a lot about vulnerability, so I wanted to talk about support structures. Dean Pinnock has tweeted in and asks ‘Do you think we have enough support structures in the Black community to support the emotional wellbeing with respect to Black males?’ Obviously sitting here as a Black woman, I’m very aware of a lot of the movements going on at the moment; Self-care, Self-love, which I think a lot of the time are focused around Black women. I wanted to ask from a personal perspective, but also from an arts-perspective — You’re all creatives — whether you think there’s anything similar going on in Black male communities. JM: I suppose I speak as a Black male, but perhaps I don’t see myself as a Black male. I see myself as me; individual. Independent of anyone else’s opinions or hangups. So that comes from two things; I mentioned Nihilism and Egoism. So Egoism is a philosophy that I espouse and subscribe to. There’s Psychological Egoism and Universal Egoism, which is brand new, by the way. It’s the idea that all life, everything in existence, lives for itself, ultimately. So with that in mind, the notion of selfharm is something that doesn’t fall into my world view, and I think that anything that anyone does, ever, they do because they think they have something to gain from doing that thing, and I’m aware that from the outside it can look like someone is harming themselves, based on people’s subjective values, but when anyone chooses to do anything ever, they’re choosing to do it because it is of benefit to themselves. So as far as the idea of Self love or Self care, in my view, anything that anyone ever does ever, is an act of Self love. AUDIENCE: How does that contribute to the ways that you form relationships with people? JM: I mean. O.K., I see a person, I say hello, and I’m aware that when they
respond to me, they’re responding to me as another entity in existence, with which they may be able to gain something. Whether that be friendship or finance, or an Instagram photo, there’s always something in it for the other individual, and that covers my relationships with other individuals. AUDIENCE: What does love look like to you? JM: So love right, is a concept that was hijacked and there’s been a lot of skullduggery. I don’t think it’s possible to unconditionally love. Love simply, as I define it, is a strong feeling of affection towards another, but that doesn’t come with any actions. It’s because I love you that I will do x, y, and z. It’s purely a feeling, but it doesn’t connote or denote any action. SH: I’ll add to that love thing, then I’ll get back to the question of support mechanisms and the artistic community. I don’t know what love is. At all. I think the language that I have doesn’t express what happens in my head in regards to love. It changes according to the people I’m around and the situations I’m in. I could give you a really nice definition of what I think love could be, but in terms of my own, I don’t know, and that might be because of various factors, but this thing changes. Moving on to support mechanisms. An example that springs to mind for me was when one of the most promising and enigmatic young saxophone players, committed suicide a year ago at just eighteen years old. For me, that really cut deep. I knew him reasonably well, and it seemed a lot of people could see the gradual progression, mentally, taking into consideration where he was artistically — which was way above the point at which someone should be at at his age. He was a bonafide genius, and for me it’s like, all musicians I know have gone through periods of depression. I went through mine at around 27, and I could see that from
what he was posting on Facebook, and the amount of weed he was smoking at the time, I could recognise the way he was feeling, because I’d been there. But it feels like, within the Jazz community, there’s a culture of ‘we’ve all gone through that thing, it’ll be cool’. AUDIENCE: Do you think that’s a masculine thing?
SH: It might be, I’m not sure. But the fact of the matter is, he was left. I don’t know the family situation, I’m not going to presume anything, I’m just going to talk about it from the point of view of an older Jazz musician looking at the situation, and it kind of felt like there wasn’t an immediate — especially considering everyone I know of has been through this process of really going inside and thinking about the nature of who you are at a specific time and kind of getting dark about it — there wasn’t any support mechanism to accommodate that. So if someone crawls out of the long path they left, that’s cool. If not, that’s it. G: I think that Black male art-making is indelibly connected to commerce perhaps in a way that isn’t the same for other groups of people, and I think that that’s quite a brutalist endeavour. I’m speaking from a position of being involved in Electronic music, and being involved in Urban music, and frankly, no-one gives a shit. That’s the bottom line. If you’ve got a problem, then it’s your problem. Everyone’s out here to get money, and I don’t know, I think it’s just symptomatic of how our culture is — because it’s very much connected to Capitalism in its’ inception, and that is a very unhealthy thing.
BLACK MASCULINITY ONLINE TCB: I want to ask about a question that came in about how people feel about the Internet; Internet basically basicallyin interms termsof of being de-bodied, or having voices that aren’t connected to your bodies, be it #BlackTwitter or whatever, whether the Internet or social media is a space that is more supportive? A space that allows for better expression? Obviously in the film, film ,everyone that everyone that was was interviewed interviewed had had their their backs to you, so this thing of the face not being seen was very present in the film, whereas with the panel discussion obviously everyone is facing towards you, we’re having an open conversation. I’m going to turn to Isaac first, because he works in the digital world.
IK: Most of my artwork has to do with Internet culture, and Internet subcultures, and the first thing I thought of, in terms of Black masculinity was when in 2014, Kid Cudi was performing in Coachella and he wore a crop-top, and it blew up on the Internet. So there was a hashtag asking Black men to wear crop-tops and take selfies, and that was in a way I guess a way to romanticise Black men and see them as soft. Which is totally different to the way that Black men are seen in pornography and other visual media. But what happened is that it was mostly very physically athletic, able-bodied Black men that took part, so that was a massive failing of the campaign. There wasn’t much around Black trans men at all. I just feel like when it comes to the Internet and Black masculinity, we reach certain levels and then just dip down completely. Like the thing with #BlackMenKillTheInternet, I think that was a hashtag, the same thing happened there. Like it was athletic, Black men who were posting mainly for the attention of women. That was a form of reinforced heteronormativity that happened. Also, going back to the whole music thing, I guess Kendrick Lamar’s album was something that was about self love, but that album also has a lot of problems because it’s very misogynistic too, specifically to Black women; the devil is a Black woman named Lucy in the whole narrative. It tried self-love, but it just dipped down. Those are my thoughts. JM: I guess I’m on the Internet, but my relationship to it…I guess I have to go back to this statement again. I run a project called ‘The A-and-the-E’, and the idea is that you attach any sort of behaviour to any sort of social group. So you see ‘A’ and ‘E’ are like opposite ends of the spectrum; so to be Black is this, to be white is that. But the Black could be white at any time and vice versa, like a yin and yang thing. With that in mind, in relation to the hashtag you were talking about, I get called ‘White James’ sometimes by friends,
some call me ‘Fag James,’ and these are like friends, you know, these are jokes that my friends make about me, based upon their perceptions of what a guy from my area should behave like. So, I guess for example when Dazed did a thing on Young Thug and he was wearing a dress, and I saw that, and I thought, yeah, interesting, cool, and I suppose in response to like Kid Cudi wearing a crop-top it’s like yeah, interesting, cool, because in my mind as I see it, I don’t think that anyone is supposed to behave in any particular way. I don’t have the same limitations as some of the people that would be dissing Kid Cudi, or Young Thug for dressing the way that they did, and I guess I can’t speak too much beyond that. IP: In terms of the Internet and support for Black men, at the end of the day, I don’t really see it as a race thing, it’s about who you reach out to and who you connect to, how you take advantage of what you’re doing, and if you believe in what you’re doing, anyone will come and be interested in what you’re doing. It’s not really about you being Black, or you being disadvantaged or anything. G: I’d say the Internet is an alternate reality. It’s a space in which your actions have an effect. I don’t really see it as anything particularly different from our own, and as such it reflects the people that make it up. I think that in terms of Black people, Black art and the Internet, it has definitely given us space, in my life anyway, for us to connect with people that felt the same. So in my head, everything that I was told by the people in my hood was weird, wasn’t weird, because there were other people that were like ‘ah, yess’. That was what I had been waiting for, and that wouldn’t have been possible without Twitter. But it also is a bit of an echo chamber for all kinds of foolishness. So just like any reality, you’ve got to go through and sift what’s important to you from what’s not.
BETWEEN ME AND YOU
AUDIENCE: In the video we saw the differences in the experiences between Black men in America, and here in London. I’m wondering what you think about the fact that in America it’s often seen that they have more of a collective Black identity. They all see themselves as Afro-American or Afro-Caribbean, whereas here, there’s a big divide between the African community and the Caribbean community. What do you think about that in terms of support structures?
G: I think in America you’ve got 40 million Blacks, or more, in Britain, you’ve got 4 or 5 million, if that, People of Colour. So I think naturally, it’s a newer thing. We’re still caught up in what island people came from. That to me, I’ve never been able to understand it. My dad’s from Jamaica, my mum’s from Grenada, and that’s a thing. It’s ridiculous to talk about places that are not far from each other in the world. So I think that it’s partly to do with the passage of history, and it’s partly to do with the numbers. However, it’s changing. I remember, in school, it wasn’t cool to be African, and now it is. Let’s have it right, Skepta is the man. Let’s face it, and so is Stormzy. I think that’s a good thing. So it is changing. Going on to the next point about what do support networks look like...well, like this. I remember a time when this wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t be a thing, or if it was, it would definitely be this visceral outpouring of antiwhiteness. Well it’s not that. So I think the more structured spaces there are to discuss these things, the more support everybody has — Black or white — and I think it’s something that we have actually learnt from America. Going back to the earlier question, maybe that is the Internet. Maybe it’s shown us the way, that we can actually come together and have discussions about culture and politics, and they don’t have to be in a super formal setting, and they don’t have to be funded by an authority, they don’t have to be about reparation. SH: I feel like in this country, there has been a conscious effort from power structures to diminish spaces where people get together and talk. It wasn’t always like this. There was a culture of people getting together in Town Halls and discussing stuff in general, and over the years those spaces have closed and closed, and now those spaces have opened up with the Internet. But the Internet isn’t the same thing as having someone in front of you. We could have a disagreement, but you’re right in front
of me, so at some point, it’s like as far as the disagreement goes, it’s going to be kept on a level, because I’m talking to a real person that has an experience which is valid. Whereas on the Internet, you can forget that. You can wake up with a hangover, and be like, you know what, I’m going to go in. Whereas now it’s just like, O.K. I see you, I see your point. There’s a dialogue, and I feel that the support mechanisms are this dialogue in more forms than Black men realise — in looking at the arts, in talking about culture, chauvinism, through the eyes of men and women. That’s what a support network looks like. A space where people don’t feel like they’re going to be shouted down for having alternate views. JM: I don’t know how controversial this is going to be but maybe we are in a respectful IRL situation. But I’ll make a contrary statement and say that I don’t care about — and I’m going to say this as part of a bigger statement — I don’t care about Black men. I don’t care about Black women. I don’t care about white men, or white women, or Asian men. Unless, there’s some benefit to me in caring for them. So the idea of a support network…I don’t just care about Black men because they’re Black men. That’s not a reason for me to care about anyone. If you are a Black man who is funny, interesting, caring, kind, then you might be part of my network. If you’re a white man who is funny, caring, kind, then you too might be part of my network, and it’s worth noting, that particularly in reference to my prior statement, that the fact that you are a Black person, who is funny, caring, kind, then we have a shared context. But it isn’t your Blackness alone that’s going to make me network with you or call you, and that’s not a self-hate thing, that’s just an awareness of my nature. SH: Why are you here? JM: Because I was invited.
G: That’s a non-point. I’ll be controversial as well. Obviously nobody cares about anyone ‘just because’. That’s a non-point. I think there’s room in this space for something more developed than ‘I don’t care about anything’. I’ve got to challenge you on that man. I hear what you’re saying, but I think that’s the basic level that everyone operates on, so say something new. JM: I don’t think that’s quite true. Only because I used to…and bear in mind that I can only speak for myself, so that’s a disclaimer. I’m not saying that anyone else should think like this either, I’m just talking about myself. I did used to think that I should care about not just Black people, but humans, and I got burnt a few times. I heard the guy in the film asking ‘How do you think other Black men perceive you?’, and my ears pricked up because I thought shit, that’s an interesting question, because I know for the longest time, the people that I thought were going to be my strongest allies, because you know, we’re Black, you know, they called me all kinds of names, and I realised that it isn’t our Blackness that’s going to make us ride it out together. There’s gotta be something else, something deeper, and without being reductionist, for me it has to go down to that basic level, because for me it isn’t race, it’s a deeper thing. G: I don’t know. I was raised to think that race ultimately doesn’t exist. Ultimately, it’s a construct related to class, and connected to particular people for the enrichment of other people, and if you use that as a basic construct and you build from that, then to me, it would be disingenuous to then go; ‘Well, actually, I don’t care’. JM: But I don’t. I genuinely don’t. G: Yeah, on a basic level, obviously no-one does. But we have to. JM: I don’t have to. That’s what I’m saying.
G: You need to make sense though bro. JM: I make sense, and I don’t have to. SH: Perhaps it doesn’t matter if individuals don’t care or not. What matters is that you are here, and your view is being articulated. If you weren’t here, it wouldn’t be, and this is what this space is about. Whatever the motives, we are still having the chance to appreciate your outlook, and it’s adding nuance to what the Black experience is, and that you are a Black man, and that is your experience. So therefore that is the Black experience as seen by one individual within the Black community. So however we need to coax you out of your hole-of-the-self, then we’ll do that. JM: I do appreciate that — both points in fact. But then I almost feel more inclined to hold onto this view because it is, not necessarily different, but… G: And what’s on top of that? If the basis is that people have to just generally be good in order to be make a difference in your life, I don’t think that’s a basis for anything. That’s not a developed philosophy. No matter what you say. AUDIENCE: What is your reaction then to the idea that racism isn’t a ‘thing’? JM: I don’t care about racism. It’s not a problem for me. I don’t mind it. G: When you’re getting rushed by the cops, it will be a problem, and you know what? I’ll have your back. When you’re looking for me, I’ll have your back. When you need help because they’ve come to your yard, I’ll have your back. O.K. Just so you know. Whether you care or not, doesn’t matter to me. (AUDIENCE laughs)
STIGMA AND HOPE
TCB: O.K. So we’re going to wrap it up by discussing — seeing as James has made quite a controversial little puddle in the middle of the room — stigma. My last question is whether you still feel there is stigma toward Black masculinity, if you want it to be labelled as that. AUDIENCE: From listening to all your words, and talking about stigma, do you think there is also a place for celebration of identity? How you find Blackness, and fragility in service of creativity, in service of new potentials of viewing yourself and viewing yourselves in this society. G: In terms of stigma, I think my view of stigma in relation to Black male identity is actually a different one to what people might expect. Actually, there’s an emergence of this Black middleclass stigmatisation of being ‘hood’, or ‘being a thug’, or being all of those things. When in reality, I don’t think they need to be stigmatised because they just exist, and I think rather than stigmatise those people, let’s confront the negative aspects of that, and celebrate the positive aspects as part of that culture. Gangster Rap, I quite like, and I like it because it is not in the gaze of anyone other than those people that make it. Now obviously there’s loads of problematic things with it, but can we celebrate the positive aspects of whatever it is, and try and change the negative? I think there’s interplay between celebration and desolation and there’s things that we as a people need to explore. TCB: Actually, can we end on stigma as well as hope? IK: In terms of stigma I think discussing masculinity in itself is a stigma, because it’s a very awkward and confrontational subject, and what we don’t really understand, especially as men ourselves, is that we don’t always see ourselves as hyper-masculine, etc. I feel
like there are concentric circles around masculinity. So in the outer circle, there are men that have felt emasculated at some point in their life, then if you go down down, you get to men who have experienced psychotic rage or domestic violence. Obviously you wouldn’t be in that tiny circle, but they have gone to a different part, and we shouldn’t distance ourselves from those kinds of narratives, we should actually say O.K., they went through a very difficult, different path to me, and we should look at how they found that path in order to correct it. We need to stop men right now from going down those paths. JM: In response to the stigma point, I don’t attach a stigma to anything, but I appreciate that other people do. I think that anything is fine, and that is what gives me hope — that anything I want to do is completely and utterly fine, in accordance to the Laws of Physics. Those are the only things that can stop me from doing what I want to do. I don’t think I’ll have children, but if by some freak accident I do have children, I will say to them; ‘You can do whatever you want to do, regardless of anything. The only things that can stop you are gravity, the Laws of Motion, Space and Time.’ SH: It’s kind of interesting to look at what stigma actually is. I see stigma as the usurping of agency from an individual. Where they lose the capacity to dictate the terms in which they are seen, and it leads me to a quote by a theorist called Kodwo Eshun. He was talking about Afrofuturism, and he defined Afrofuturism as the ‘poeticisation of the past’, and he says that’s taking the past and taking the stigmas relegated to certain parts of the Black past, and actually injecting them with agency, agency that we have in the present, and actually adjusting those stigmas in a poetic fashion to what we want to beget in the future. That’s what I want to say about stigma — that stigma can be used if we take the agency on ourselves to actually project what we
want, more than what other people project on us. IP: In terms of stigma, I mean the stereotype of the Black male in the Western world is an icon of fear and desire, a generator a white fear. But I don’t agree with that. I believe the world is changing, and that people like Barack Obama, and the influence of Black politicians in the House of Commons, give me hope. Seeing people like Chris Ofili win the Turner Prize for example. I see the world changing, when Black people start integrating with white people. So I believe in the next 100 years, things like police shootings are just trying to create bad reactions from Black people. I think in the next 100 years, you see especially in the music world, white culture taking on Black culture, you see it, the seed has spread, you see people mixing a lot more.
G: Actually, I’m super hopeful, believe it or not, because, I’m a technologist, and information, all of humanity’s knowledge is now stored forever, and is now accessible to everyone, or a lot more people, and hopefully soon it will be everyone. So hopefully that means we can all see that we’re all actually the same, and I think in the long term, as long as we’re able to protect access to that information, for everybody, or for as many people as possible, I believe it will lead to the idea of race, and to the ideas around that eventually dissipating, and then we can deal with the real issue at hand, which is class. TCB: Thank you everyone very much for coming, I really appreciate you staying so late to listen to the panel. Thank you to our panellists, thank you to the AUDIENCE: Everyone please stay, talk, chat, connect. Thank you!
In asking ‘how and when did you become a black man?’, Philadelphia-based artist Shikeith attempts to prompt discussion in his open-format an...
Published on Jun 1, 2017
In asking ‘how and when did you become a black man?’, Philadelphia-based artist Shikeith attempts to prompt discussion in his open-format an...