On a recent, very brief trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, I was not surprised to experience the high quality of respect given to the memory of Bob Marley. Anything less would have been disappointing. However, as a lifetime follower of Marley, this trip highlighted a pattern much of the world is guilty of—pigeonholing Bob Marley as nothing more than a reggae artist and—thus losing sight of his revolutionary spirit.
Black History Month is in full swing and we have been enjoying all that New York City has to offer. If you haven’t had the chance to check out some BHM events around the city, it’s not too late. Here are some of the events we recommend (whole calendar after the jump). All events are free unless otherwise noted. If you know of any events to add, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- “French and Francophone Cinemas in Dialogue” Roundtable discussion with Philip Watts, Madeleine Dobie, Hamid Dabashi, Francoise Pfaff and Sophie Saint-Just. Wednesday, February 14th. 5-7 PM. Columbia University, Morningside Campus World Room, Journalism, Room 305.
- “Female Leadership in Slavery and Freedom” Gallery Talk. Thursday, February 16th. Noon. The African Burial Ground National Monument Visitor Center, 290 Broadway (near Foley Square, north of City Hall). 1st Floor. Call 212.637.2019 for reservations.
- “Something for the People Film Series: Cuba: An African Odyssey” Film Screening. Friday, February 17th. 6:30-8 PM. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (515 Malcolm X Boulevard). American Negro Theatre. Register here or call 212.491.2040. Watch the trailer.
- “The Indelible Influence of Malcolm X” Hear Esther Armah, Ishmael Beah, Kathleen Cleaver, Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin, Kahlil Gibran Muhammad, Darryl Pinckney, Meg Ventrudo and Salim Washington read from Malcolm X’s memorable speeches and writings. Tuesday, February 21st. 7-8:30 PM. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (515 Malcolm X Boulevard). Langston Hughes Auditorium. Register here.
- “African Diaspora Music and Popular Protest: Politics in a Global Age” Performance and discussion. Thursday, February 23rd. 8-10 PM. Columbia University, Morningside Campus East Gallery, Buell Hall.
If you haven’t already had the opportunity to check out Dee Rees’s film ‘Pariah’ I highly recommend you stop reading this, find the nearest theater and see the next showing. I finally had the chance to see the film—which has garnered a significant amount of critical success—and was thrilled by Rees’s presentation of a story that too easily could have left an audience filled with sorrow, pity or false empathy.
What struck me almost immediately about ‘Pariah’ was it’s honest portrayal of adolescence. Alike, a 17-year old black androgynous woman, struggles to find herself amongst the chaos that surrounds her. Her dysfunctional family life, complicated friendships, her first sexual encounter—and the awkwardness that follows—are things that everyone can relate to despite race, gender identity or sexual orientation. Of course, these things are also complicated by Alike’s black skin, butch exterior and interest in women, which are central to her character. Rees does a phenomenal job of balancing general teenage angst and discomfort (think ‘Thirteen’ or ‘Raising Victor Vargas’) and the specific issues that speak to the black LGBTQ community.
While I was in New Orleans bicycling around the 6th and 7th Wards earlier this month, I passed by a tiny vintage house in Robin’s egg blue with a proudly displayed sign: The New Orleans African American Museum. I was reminded there that 2012 is an important milestone in the African diaspora’s history. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress, the social movement organization that helped eradicate apartheid. It is also the 200th anniversary of the founding of Tremé, the first free black neighborhood in the United States that is slowly rebuilding itself, although it has been abandoned by our federal government ever since the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In so many of the classes I teach, students start the semester with a strong sense that racism is unjust and an equally resilient lack of confidence that racism can and must end in our lifetime. My friends, many of whom are very dedicated scholars, artists and organizers have the same—not cynicism—resignation. Walking around the 9th Ward, where there is an abundance of grassy lots and rippling tarps instead of families and neighbors, I felt similarly dispirited. I thought the people who had come back to the 9th were very brave. They worked in coalitions to reconstruct a few beautiful brightly colored houses that stood up from the grass against the power that tried to let them drown.