Paying homage to our ancestors is rooted in ancient traditions from Africa, where religions such as Yoruba and Lugbara called on those who came before us to help guide our path through our earthly existence. With the advent of the Internet and social media, people have been discovering ways to create digital time capsules and honoring our past. Dwayne Rodgers, a photographer and artist based in New York City has decided to draw on these traditions. This past Black History Month, he began The Black Vernacular, a communal ancestral shrine for people of African descent.
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.
Half of a Yellow Sun, a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has been the recent focus of movie execs and members of the Igbo community in Southern Nigeria. A petition, developed by Ashley Akunna, is protesting the casting of Thandie Newton as the film adaptation’s lead character. Newton is an acclaimed actress who has gained greater recognition in recent years for her roles in films such as Mission: Impossible II, The Pursuit of Happyness and Crash. She is of Zimbabwean descent and is set to play an Igbo woman caught in the thralls of the Biafran War, which ravaged a newly independent Nigeria from 1967 to 1970. The book has been heralded as a stunning depiction of the relationship between the Hausa and Igbo tribes during this period and received the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007.
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.
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.