Chapter Two: I Love My Black

“Black is Beautiful

Black is Power

Black is as Black as the Darkest hour

You ain’t never seen Black until you realize Black is ours”

                                                                                  -“No Mas Cantina” Locke Kaushal

 

Ferguson-protests.jpg

-Photo Source: http://www.mirror.co.uk

In 1925 the Harlem Renaissance which was declared by teacher/philosopher Alain Locke, as a medium through which art depicted,  Negro life [as] seizing its first chances for group expression and self determination.” was given its first introduction to the masses. Locke referred to an African American active in this movement as the New Negro”: an irresistible, spontaneously generated black and sufficient self that was against the Jim Crow racial segregation. As Locke felt that the Harlem Renaissance allowed for the artistic outlets of painting, poetry, literature, modeling, dance, music, and fashion that became the essence of the Harlem Renaissance, I feel like that same essence is mirrored in the Soul Trap movement of today. Just like the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement of the 60’s and 70’s, the Soul Trap movement embodies the same desire to unify against injustices that afflict Black people such as police brutality, as it constantly reminding America that Black Lives Matter. The Soul Trap movement accompanies a resurgence of Black love and acceptance within Black culture; one that celebrates Black culture and expression with the resurfacing of dashikis and the surge of “Melanin” inspired shirts, hats, and hashtags. But, before I can discuss the rise of this generation’s art and creativity, I would be remiss not to first discuss the oppression that has brought us back to celebrating our Black and wearing it everywhere we go.  

 

Perhaps one of the most well documented areas of contention when discussing the essence of Black culture is Black hair. As with any era in America, there was a season of conforming to societal norms to be more socially accepted and to avoid being perceived as a “threat” at our jobs, schools etc. Many Black people have toiled with “conforming” to a White dominant culture of beauty and professionalism by straightening their hair with hot combs or chemicals (or maintaining short cuts for men) or “rebelling” by proudly sporting their afros and gorgeously kinky coils and curls. Most times it has been to climb the socially acceptable non-threatening ladder of White acceptance and White comfortability. I recall 2005 being a year when most Black men nationwide had low haircuts with clean faces. And if you happened to have hair longer than a centimeter, you had well kept, locks. Black women similarly had styles that were more “corporate friendly” (read: non-alarming to White corporate culture) i.e., relaxed hair, weaves and perhaps the occasional “vacation braids.”

But a period of Black hair rebellion would soon be upon us. Around 2008-2009, I started to see an emergence of Black women going “natural,” substituting relaxers for other, more natural hair straightening options (i.e., “blowouts” or applying a relaxer to one’s edges but not the entire head). And while there may have been less use of chemicals, many Black women still tried to maintain straighter hairstyles. Ironically, it was around this time that Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary; “Good Hair” was released. It could have just been coincidence, but I do believe this film promoted more open discussions about “good” vs. “bad” hair, the dangers of chemical straighteners and embracing natural hair and styles. During this time Black men, began to grow their beards out some. Then around 2012, the year of the Trayvon Martin case, I distinctly recall more Black women started to embrace their natural curls and it spreading throughout Black culture. In 2014, after the death of another unarmed Black teen, Michael Brown and the death of an unarmed Black man, Eric Garner that sparked outrage in the Black community, I noticed Black men growing out their hair and beards out even longer. And instead of braiding it, locking it, or picking it out into a fro, Black men just embraced their natural coils. It is my thought that these events helped to galvanize Black men and women around loving “our Black” and protecting it against systems determined to crush it. To stop caring about acceptance into White America’s culture-suppressing standards pushed onto us for centuries. As simple as it may seem, by Black people wearing our natural crowns; our hair in it’s natural state, it was a form of defiance; a non-conformist call to action to buck the system of structural racism that gave us the proverbial side-eye anytime the follicles of our hair weren’t slicked down to our heads.

IMG_5550

Photo of Chaz Dawson 2014 vs 2015

On a deeper level, the 2012 slaying of unarmed Black teen, Trayvon Martin, shot by George Zimmerman (who was later acquitted in 2013 due to “Stand Your Ground” law) served an impetus for the resurgence of Black self-love for the “New Negro” of this generation that would create the Soul Trap era. As the notion of a post-racial America dissipated, Trayvon’s death marked the beginning of a series of deaths (and protests of these deaths) of unarmed Black men and women that swept the nation. Additionally, it was the first time the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag appeared and trended across social media platforms. And while there are several cases that did not make mainstream news, social media and its ability to make the phone videos of these injustices go viral, created awareness around these issues and gave credence to those who have long been oppressed by systemic racism. Similarly, the 2014 deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner triggered #BlackLivesMatter as more than a just a hashtag. Black Lives Matter became our voice of action and a way to organize protests, but more importantly, brought more unity within marginalized communities. This unity also helped revived a self-love and appreciation for our race, our culture, our Black expression.

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Kendrick Lamar 2016 Grammys Performance of “Blacker the Berry” 

-Photo source via youtube.com

As with any great movement, the art relative to that particular period speaks volumes. To further understand the resurgence of confidence in loving our Black and its appearance in today’s art, all one must do is examine how the aforementioned events have shaped what artists produce. Kendrick Lamar’s song, “The Blacker The Berry,” from his critically acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly, features the lyrics, “You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me,” echoes the defiance that’s permeated throughout this generation as a result of the constant cases of police brutality. Similarly, in his 2016 Grammy performance the horrors of the prison industrialization complex, African dance and regality and the Black struggle for justice and equality all intersected on stage. In my own life, I had the privilege of connecting with Black artists as they embodied the same passion in their art. As I worked alongside Shay Will developing the Hooligans & Hyenas Art Show, I closely examined one of his pieces titled, B-More Careful. I thought to myself how could Shay see Black people and lower-class people as hyenas?? But after a moment of reflection, I realized it depicted how the majority of America viewed Black people: as second-class citizens. Because if you personify the hyenas from Lion King, their issues parallel those that afflict the Black community. They lived in the outskirts of the pride in a graveyard riddled with bones – comparable with Blacks being regulated to the outskirts of the suburbs forced to live in neighborhood riddled with crime. They survived by taking scraps given to them by the “benevolent” Scar who in many ways could represent the benevolent “White savior” often found in Black neighborhoods. Yet, one comparison stood out to me: like the hyenas, those in these types of conditions still find a way to laugh – whether it’s laughter to keep from crying or finding a silver lining regardless of their circumstances.

B-More
                               -"B-More Careful" by Shay Will

IMG_5611-Photo Source: cnn.com

“I’m African-American, I’m African

I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village

Pardon my residence

Came from the bottom of mankind

My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide

You hate me don’t you?

You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture

You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey

You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me”

-“The Blacker The Berry” Kendrick Lamar

Photo taken by Gary Williams Jr. (@MasterWilliams on IG) for GLOSSRAGS.
Photo taken by Gary Williams Jr. (@MasterWilliams on IG) for GLOSSRAGS.
Photo was taken by Randi Gloss for GLOSSRAGS
Photo was taken by Randi Gloss for GLOSSRAGS

I’m sure you’re wondering: Did he really just make a connection between the Harlem Renaissance, hair, The Lion King and Black Lives Matter?? Can this really justify a new renaissance era? Maybe – maybe not. But my hope is that at the very least you can begin to understand that what is fueling the resurgence of self-love in Black culture is the oppression it’s birthed from. That the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the son of a magistrate, represented the privileged Lion depicted in Shay’s “Be-More Careful” painting. That wearing our hair as it grows from our scalp is as much liberating as it is defiant. That being viewed in White America as a hyena isn’t exclusive to just the Black community: Muslims, Latinos and any marginalized group are subject to being viewed as such. That no matter the lengths to which we’ll go to “prove” how “non-threatening” we are, White America still will still fear us. And finally, my hope is that in this era where social media serves as our medium of Black expression, this piece empowers, emboldens and ignites you to continue to outwardly love your Blackness as this “movement” continues.

Chief Editor: Ericka Brownlee

Dedicated to My Family and Friends

 

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Chapter Three: The Soul Trap Renaissance

Social media is the most popular way to communicate in today’s society. It’s fast, immediate and with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine where you witness the evolution of accessibility, we recognize them as permanent fixtures of communication. In 2013,the world watched as Egyptian led several mass protests calling for the resignation of their president on Twitter; and, as mentioned in the previous section, the Black Lives Matter Movement took root on Twitter too.

Artwork by Zahira Santana “Distortedd”: http://www.distortedd.com

Black people use Twitter so much to communicate among each other that a sub-Twitter virtual community called “Black Twitter” has become a main source of sharing news, media, music, art, photos, memes, and live commentary. Similar to “The New Negro (es)” of the 1920s that formed this great artistic renaissance had a physical home/birthplace in Harlem, NY where the means of awareness were told through newspapers, such as the Survey Graphic, or word-of- mouth but unlike the Harlem Renaissance, this new artistic movement now taking place does not have a physical birthplace. Not to give a full-on history lesson, but it was because of the migration, after our ‘emancipation,’ that we moved to certain northern cities. New York was one of those places. Now, we everywhere. Even despite the progression of civil rights, we are still treated like unwanted guests; it’s only natural that Soul Trap found it’s footing in a place without soil, belonging to no one, the internet. Black Twitter, along with other social media outlets, have shown artists of all platforms realizing that if you gain a large enough following and shared web circulation; you can have the career of your dreams.

Artwork by Paper Frank: http://www.paperfrank.com

April 2015 Shay Will called me to tell me that he’d quit his job a couple of months ago, and that he wanted to become an artist full time. I wasn’t surprised by this at all, I’ve known Shay since I was twelve and he’s been one of the most talented painters I know. After the conversation, I honed in on the fact that most Black children growing up in America are not encouraged to pursue creative careers such as painting, dancing, cooking, fashion, modeling, photography, modeling, or even as writing. We are told to go to college, get a good stable career working for someone else. I remember my mother’s reaction when I decided to study film at grad school instead of cashing in my first degree and accepting a career with Northrop Grumman. My mother was so pissed she initially threatened to pull any and all support she provides. Days later after telling her of my ambitions she came to terms with my dreams and supported me. This dream brought me to Los Angeles, CA where I now have a career as a freelance Camera Assistant.

Artwork by Blue the Great: http://bluethegreat.com/

I mentioned all that to say when Shay expressed leaving the 9 to 5 that had nothing to do with his talents or dreams, it was very easy for me to understand and support him in pursuing Art as a full time career. Shay also expressed wanting to do his first career show in Los Angeles just so the people back home in Bowie, MD and Washington D.C. could note how serious he was/is to making it happen. I signed on to put the show together with Shay here in LA, but I had to ask Shay, “Who are some artists currently established that have notoriety and how did they get there?” Shay pointed me to Instagram, highlighting the following artist: Paper Frank, Blue the Great (oddly enough the only artist I was already aware of since 2014), Santana and Markus Prime.

Artwork by Markus Prime: http://www.mlnnprime.com/

“This is my canvas

I’ma paint it how I want it baby, oh I

This is my canvas

I’ma paint it, paint it, paint it, how I want it nigga

Fuck you cause there, there is no right or wrong, only a song

I like to ride/write alone, be in my zone”-  “Apparently” J. Cole

 

All four of these artists have different styles of art, live in different parts of the U.S. (Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles) but they all have this “Black Expressionism” undertone to them. Markus Prime’s illustrations, for example, provokes a new level of empowerment within the culture by taking well-known animated characters; Superwoman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. and giving them black identities, more importantly, they’re all artwork of Black Women, no matter the initial gender of the character. This is very important. These images did not exist in mainstream America, there were very few black characters or images that existed when most of us were growing up. If there were, they were usually a minor character, or the token black kid- but also keep in mind it’s not only in animation or paintings that there were scarce creative imagery of Black people. What’s important to note it that their work does not portray Black people as being aggressive and in turn avoids the “Urban Art” box. The same goes for modeling, dance, and other creative platforms that, if they have a large Black presence it is immediately categorized as “Urban,” the political correct term for “ghetto” which puts Black people’s creativity under a very low glass ceiling that limits its appeal. Now when I look around on social media outlets such as Instagram, I see Black ballerinas, models, chefs, fashion designers, graphic artist, photographers, painters, etc. that are able to have creative freedom and make a living off what they do without needing approval from art critics, casting directors, or other middle level approvals that were once required to pursue such careers.

“Oh God my IG is like iIV to this lifestyle

I buy this shit, take a pic

And you OD on my life files”-  “P*ssy” The Dream ft Pusha T and Big Sean

Social Media has allowed Black creatives to take it straight to the people to receive reception, fans/followers, or direct consumers. Like Winnie Harlow, an American Top Model contestant with a unique skin disease, “vitiligo,” was discovered when she popped up on Tyra Banks’ Instagram feed. I was further exposed to this reality while being around an associate, Char; who some may limit her, and label her as an Instagram model, only because she is not super thin with European features or because she has not been on the cover of Vogue magazine yet but I see her as a professional model. I was on a shoot with my close friend, Adam Simms as he was shooting her, and like any professional model, she knew what exposures worked best with her look and how to find unique poses that suited the theme. After, we grabbed food, while eating I heard firsthand that with the increase in followers on her Instagram, the more companies and brands wanted to partner with her to promote their products. Just like any professional model she requires these brands to send over contracts and have her legal team review them. This showed me that if you can find a large enough crowd that appreciates who you are, or how you want to present yourself, that you are in control of your artistic destinies. This kind of creative control and freedom used to only exist for people who, over years, cultivated a following, we usually define them as celebrities.

Adam Simms and Char photo by Dominic Jones
Adam Simms and Char photo by Dominic Jones
Char photo by Dominic Jones
Char photo by Dominic Jones

August 2015 I was able to successfully launch Shay’s art show, “Hooligans and Hyenas” but afterwards I experienced what some may call a ‘championship hangover;’ the goal was reached, so what now? I started to be more aware of how this renaissance theory was being pieced together. Then in November, a graffiti artist by the name of Shakir Manners reached out to me on Instagram. He invited me to come out with him the next time he was going to do a wall, I think, from my Instagram, he could tell I have a high interest in graffiti and more importantly to him, that I have photography skills. Manners was in the process of expanding his appeal on social media, he needed a photographer to help better document his work, and I was interested in learning more about someone who is a career artist. Upon meeting Manners, I noticed him wearing a dashiki, he immediately tested my knowledge of the Graff culture and history, he assigned a book to read Subway Art as well as two documentaries- the fact that he was so deeply, rooted in the culture, and from Maryland, a place with very little Graff culture amazed me. He showed me the real rise of Black Dream Chasers because he moved to Los Angeles from Maryland three years ago to pursue his graffiti and art career.

Shakir Manners Photo by Dominic Jones
Shakir Manners Photo by Dominic Jones
Manners in South Central photo by Dominic Jones
Manners in South Central photo by Dominic Jones

The word “Urban” gave our creative outlets so many limits because it makes everything seem less articulate or gives people the perception that it lacks proper training. This word puts a big hindrance on Black dancers, along with having a curvy shape and not an ideal ‘dancers body’ makes a career as a dancer next to impossible. Sightings of a unicorn used to seem more realistic than seeing a real Black ballerina. Dancer Misty Copland now rejuvenates a sense of hope for more Black dancers to receive such opportunities. I’ve seen more women pursue a college degree while being able to still drive their dance career ambitions like my good friend Latisha Price with her Educated Dancer movement that pushes young Black girls and women to pursue their dreams in dance while still focusing on academic excellence. I also saw two women: Desiree Dixon and Tasha B alums of my alma mater North Carolina A&T State University dance on one of the United States biggest events on national television; Super Bowl 50 alongside Beyoncé. That performance was the true icing on the cake for me, as I mentioned in the intro, I witnessed the transition of their careers through Instagram, but it wasn’t just me, that night, there’s was so much pride, community, and love for all these dancers on Black Twitter and Instagram. That’s when I recognized the difference in how people celebrated these dancers, it was personal and it’s because they had a bigger sense of how hard they worked to reach this point because social media allowed them to be a part of the journey. To see them share a stage with Beyoncé, during Super Bowl halftime, while artistically expressing a powerful message brought everything full circle for me. I was no longer just thinking of this idea, Soul Trap, but the philosophy was proving itself a movement by evolving during some of the most difficult times in America. I could not ignore it.

 

It’s important that I share these stories so you understand the journey that’s brought me to this brewing philosophy of mine; as I watch us break away from the ugly label of urban, to now living under the Soul Trap Renaissance era we are not conscious of. Soul Trap is the beautiful struggle we as black people endure, a place where the sophistication, creativity, and a new generational oppression collide. Soul Trap is the rose that grows from the concrete in the ghetto.

Editor: Danielle Koon

Chief Editor: Ericka Brownlee

Dedicated to those who dare to chase their Dreams. 

Instagram pages of mentioned artist:
Distortedd: https://www.instagram.com/distortedd_/?hl=en
Paper Frank: https://www.instagram.com/paperfrank/?hl=en
Blue the Great: https://www.instagram.com/bluethegreat/
Markus Prime: https://www.instagram.com/markusprimelives/?hl=en
Char: https://www.instagram.com/love.char/?hl=en
Adam Simms: https://www.instagram.com/simmscityactivity/
Shakir Manners: https://www.instagram.com/smart_spf/
Tisha Jaye: https://www.instagram.com/tishajaye/
Desiree Dixon: https://www.instagram.com/_desiree_monay_/?hl=en