Happy Women’s History Month! Black women from throughout the diaspora have made significant contributions to Black Studies. Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a poet, essayist and activist who created a number of ground-breaking ideas about the relationship between race, class, gender and sexuality. Her most well-known quote comes from her classic collection of essays, Sister Outsider: “…the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” Lorde believed that activists of color needed to address all forms of oppression rather than seek inclusion into the elite for members of their particular group. She also advocated for radical political and cultural changes that would equalize power relations in our society.
According to the Pew Research Center, 83% of American adults own a cell phone and 42% of them identify their cell phone as a smartphone. These numbers say a lot about the trajectory of technology and social media usage. As a grassroots organizer working with diasporic communities, it is smart to pay attention to these trends since the Pew Research Center goes on to say smartphone use is highest among the affluent, well-educated, those under the age of 45 and people of color. Not only can smartphone Apps be a great tool to reach your desired audience, it can also be a wonderful way to raise funds and recruit volunteers. In this series, I explore useful Apps for community organizers, scholars, teachers, artists and students who have a particular interest in the African diaspora. If you have any suggestions for Apps I should feature, let me know in the comments!
Black is beautiful, but black isn’t power. Knowledge is power.
-Lewis H. Michaux
As a young girl who grew up in the Bronx and attended public school, my US history courses touched on the subject of the Civil Rights Movement in the most basic ways: Martin Luther King, Jr. was good, Malcolm X was bad. As a pillar of our community, I aspired to be like Martin Luther King, changing the world through nonviolent action and community development. Of course, as a black Latina, I was also aware of the Young Lords Party, a Puerto Rican nationalist group with chapters in many US cities – most notably in New York and Chicago. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about the Black Panther Party because they weren’t brought up in school or in my family.
The mythology of the crack cocaine epidemic misdirects the devastation of persistent social inequities to cautionary tales of crack houses, crack heads and crack babies. Yet the emergence of myth is a predictable response within a society that too often places the blame on those victimized by social marginalization. While there is no doubt that crack cocaine use has devastating effects on individuals, families and communities, the extent to which we attribute the conditions of poor and minority inner city communities to drug use is just too much.
Theory: (noun) a particular conception or view of something to be done or of the method of doing it; a system of rules or principles.
Action: (noun) the process or state of acting or being active; something being done or performed, and act or deed; an act that one consciously wills that may be characterized by physical or mental activity
Yesterday morning, I woke up to a phenomenon. My entire twitter timeline was flooded with #KONY2012, which I initially thought meant King of New York. When I finally reached a desktop computer, I got the chance to see what all the fuss was about. Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – which was based in Uganda some years ago – is the subject of the latest documentary by Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children. Through genius viral social media marketing, the short video went from having 30 hits on Monday, to over 36 million views by Thursday afternoon. The point of the film, according to Russell, is to make Joseph Kony “famous” the same way celebrities are famous. He hopes that in doing this, he’ll garner the attention of the International Courts and bring Kony to justice. The video, which is roughly 30 minutes long and quite emotional, focuses on the story of Jacob. As a young Ugandan boy, Jacob was captured by the LRA and forced to fight for Joseph Kony’s vaguely Christian agenda to maintain control in Uganda. The Kony 2012 Campaign relies on our emotions to generate sympathy for these young children. It’s important to take a critical look at these tactics.
My dearest Chicago, you are the architect for the house that jack built, but did you have any idea that your music was fueling the rage and resistance against apartheid? Did you know that this electronic music created in your mama’s basement would become a part of the cultural fabric of one of the most historically complex places on earth? That house music is a part of the Mandelas’ (both Winnie and Nelson’s) cultural vocabulary?
Many a house head in the U.S. would like to believe we “discovered” house music in South Africa, when the truth is that house has had a home in South Africa long before we tuned in. Sort of like the pre-existing civilizations that Sertima suggested Came Before Columbus. But let’s be clear, it wasn’t that we didn’t care. We can use this moment in electronic music history to admit that not enough of us in the States received a reliable education about the contemporary cultural developments of Africa. And at the risk of sounding like an Intro to Afro-centric Studies course, we’ve learned a great deal about Africa through the lens of the white supremacists who sought the resources of Africa (both human and natural) to help institutionalize their superiority. But today, we need to know better.
As a grassroots organizer, there are many opportunities we can take advantage of in the digital world but sometimes it’s easy to get confused, lost or irritated. As someone who has navigated aspects of this world, I’ve found a few strategies for using media as a tool for community organizing. Here are my top 6 suggestions for cultivating awareness and engagement in the digital sphere.
Stories live forever, storytellers don’t.
-Patricia Stephens Due
I was not familiar with Patricia Stephens Due until I recently stumbled across an old interview with her on NPR. Growing up, most of what I learned about the Civil Rights Movement was about the work of Dr. King and the March on Washington. In school I didn’t learn a lot about the everyday women who helped the movement that changed our country and resonated among Africans around the world.
I remember going to church as a child and understanding that I was different. My abuela and I used to go to a Pentecostal church that was mostly white Latinos, but I had darker skin. I would see the Pastor’s wife and I yearned to look like her. In my eyes, she had milky white skin and silky hair to her ankles. Though she never knew this, I would go home, look in the mirror and wonder why my skin was darker and my hair was significantly shorter than hers. I did not understand what it was to be Latina and black.
Puerto Ricans are descendants of Africans, Europeans and the indigenous Tainos, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Puerto Ricans come in many colors.
You can read the entire text of “The Mis-Education of the Negro” here.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1915, will have its annual convention in Pittsburgh in September. This year’s Black History theme is Black Women in American Culture and History. We encourage you to make black history all year long by supporting local institutions and grassroots organizations.