I’ve not really written anything specific about Black History Month this year but I have thrown in some Black British content here and there. So I’m going to emulate last year’s BHM round up post for 2021. It’s been tough finding decent BHM content because so much of it is whitewashed or performative. People are retreading the same steps and the same “look at these famous slaves!” lists of influential Black people, often written by white people. Or pledges for more action that were made last year and the year before. I’m also not pleased about a few articles regarding more Black presence in the police force which is the most counterintuitive suggestion to make in any month, let alone Black History Month. But I digress.
Same format as last year—some stuff from the Web, some stuff from the Cultrface archives, and people you should follow.
For AnOther, Sagal Mohammed spoke to Rhea Dillon about her first solo exhibition, entitled Nonbody Nonthing No Thing. The Black British-Jamaican artist, writer and poet uses a variety of media to interpret what she calls the “‘rules of representation’ as a device to undermine contemporary Western culture” and “‘humane afrofuturism’ as a practice of bringing forward the humane and equality-led perspectives on how we visualise Black bodies”.
Nonbody Nonthing No Thing is one of those works, showing abstractions of Blackness in the form of 7 paintings and sculptures. The above image depicts “landing” and how the Diasporic experience for Black Africans and Caribbeans meant leaving the known and landing in the unknown. That fragmented journey, which doesn’t stop when the plane touches down or the ship anchors, is captured brilliantly in this work.
Nonbody Nonthing No Thing is at VO Curations in London from 15th Oct–11th Nov 2021 so get there if you can.
H: Given the history of infiltration in social movements, how were you able to build trust with this community?
AO: I think being a Black woman helped, as far as them being comfortable and feeling like they could open up to me. But I just tried to keep showing up as much as possible. Even when I wasn’t there with the camera or doing an interview, I would try to go to their different rallies to just show support and amplify the work they were doing. I think after a while, when someone keeps showing up like that, you can build that trust with them. And I think also that as I was building stronger relationships with my main subjects, Janaé and Bella, that helped make other organizers in the space feel more comfortable with me as well.
H: The film is also very nuanced in showing the importance of Black women leaders but also dispelling this myth that representational politics automatically lead to liberation for Black people, particularly with Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot.
AO: Yeah. We see people like Lightfoot in administrative positions, you know, running a campaign and uplifting herself as this Black gay woman, but everyone knowing, like, hey girl. We saw you at the Chicago police board hearings telling people to shut up after their time was up, and basically saying there’s nothing productive about the work that young Black people are doing. And she has a history as a prosecutor and all these other things that show you that all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk. I think depending on the space you’re in, it’s going to differ how your identity does or doesn’t show up. I think it’s really important to remember the communities that are actually doing the work for us.
Lightfoot is an enemy to progress and she knows it. I am grateful for the work of Black women who actually care such as Ashley O’Shay, Janaé Bonsu, Bella BAHHS, and countless others—past and present.
I, like many other Black people, have been followed around stores for no reason other than my race. Add general anxiety to the mix and that makes me feel even more uncomfortable to just… browse. Rikki Byrd chronicled this anti-Black racism for Vox, via the depiction of Marshall Field’s in the hit series, Lovecraft Country:
Set in 1950s Chicago, Lovecraft Country’s deliberate insertion of Marshall Field’s exemplifies the show’s commitment to blending horror, magic, and science fiction with historical references to explore racial injustices faced by Black people in the US. Ruby’s determination to work at Marshall Field’s not only references racial discrimination in department stores writ large, but her persistent return to this store specifically is reflective of its impact on the city.
Now a Macy’s in downtown Chicago, Marshall Field’s was once a pillar in the Windy City, transforming the retail experience from merely an errand to an outing worth looking forward to. From its ceiling designed by Tiffany & Co. to its series of retail firsts, the building has a storied history complete with success, failure, and innovation. It also has a history of racism that long impacted Black Chicagoans eager, like Ruby, to work and shop there.
Renowned for her explorations of the cultural and political aspects of hair — specifically Black hair — Clark does not disappoint in this dizzying survey of 100 works executed over the last 25 years. Essays in the catalogue adroitly outline the polemics of black hair in its natural state in our current societal context, complement Clark’s seeming endless hirsute permutations.
The pieces are remarkable in their depictions of the US and their uses of Black hair, something heavily weaponised and abused in that same country. My favourite is “Afro Abe II” (above), a five-dollar bill but Abraham Lincoln has an Afro. I love it so much.
Zines have long been a way for marginalized communities to share stories, spread information, build community and organize movements, several archivists and zine-makers said. Often, they offer historical records of communities that have been ignored in other publications. But many zine-makers (“zinesters”) of color say their communities have only recently received credit and gained visibility for their contributions.
One of the interviewed zinesters described her feelings of isolation at zine events:
Marya Errin Jones said she’s often one of the only Black women at some zine festivals and events. White people often skip her table because “they assume my zines are only for Black and brown people or are about a topic they weren’t interested in or don’t want to talk about,” she said.
She added: “It’s always isolating. Sometimes you wonder, ‘What am I doing here?’”
The last time I went to Nottingham Contemporary, I spent a lot of time in their zine section, reading through the various DIY magazines and diaries that people left behind. They were unique and uncensored views into their lives and the groups they were part of. I loved them (I even emailed someone to compliment their work and took photos to read later.) It’s imperative that zinesters of colour get the love, space, and recognition they deserve and don’t get pushed out by the sanitised homogeny of the mainstream.
Archiving is so important in an information era that favours the new and quickly discards the old when it’s deemed surplus to requirements (read: it’s not making profit). This is especially true for Black cultures and Black Archives works to change that.
[…] Through an evolving visual exploration, Black Archives provides a dynamic accessibility to a Black past, present, and future.
Going beyond the norm, its lens examines the nuance of Black life: alive and ever-vibrant to both the everyday and iconic — providing insight and inspiration to those seeking to understand the legacies that preceded their own.
Jenifer has always been intrigued by portraying lesbian stories in this style, especially when she discovered the effects of storytelling in comic books. The form goes beyond simply having fun, and resonates with her in a more decisively profound way. “I always wished to see lesbian stories and art when I was growing up, and the lack of that was what ultimately motivated me to illustrate my own,” she explains. “So, I always recall that old desire as a source of inspiration.”
Octavia Butler was a visionary science fiction writer who predicted the rise of an American politician who would rise to power with the slogan “Make America Great Again” in her 1998 novel Parable of the Talents. She would have turned 73 today, June 22, had she not died suddenly in 2006 of a stroke. But the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author who explored themes of gender fluidity, climate change, authoritarianism, and the rise of Big Pharma is perhaps more widely read now than ever, and that phenomenon is destined to grow with the publication Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi, due out in January of 2022.
For The Washington Post, Nina Banks (associate professor of economics at Bucknell University) paid tribute to Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, the first African American to gain a doctoral degree in economics. She suggested that Alexander’s ideology could be the key to solving various problems in the US, particularly for African-Americans:
As a proponent of economic justice, Alexander believed that all people had a right to jobs that paid livable wages, and she viewed this as an essential foundation for enjoying democratic rights. As such, she called on the government to provide an equitable distribution of national income and to create public works programs that addressed urgent social needs tied to poverty and deprivation.
In the 1960s, Black anger over mistreatment in urban slums, where decades of White racial hostility and public policy had confined them, and a lack of economic access erupted in a string of uprisings in cities of all shapes and sizes.
Alexander saw the moral dimension of the civil rights cause, but uniquely, she also understood the economic dynamic, thanks to her training. She knew that despite White claims to the contrary, economic uncertainty among Whites was not the cause of racial violence plaguing Black lives. Rather, it merely acted as an accelerant that intensified their scapegoating and racial animus toward Black Americans.
Yet, Alexander’s work and advice got largely ignored.
This year, the Pulitzer Board’s announcement that Darnella Frazier — the teenager who filmed the killing of George Floyd — had won a special citation feels like a big moment, but not necessarily a celebratory one.
Floyd’s death is not something to celebrate, obviously, and despite the narrative of martyrdom and so-called sacrifice assigned to him posthumously, the horrifying truth is that he was murdered in front of a community. He did not choose to give up his life to change anything, and sadly in many ways, his death at the hands of police was just one part of the story.
Code-switching maybe matters less now than it would have two years ago because of George Floyd. On positive days, I think these conversations are allowing Black people to speak up more. On negative days, I think that’s only because it’s in vogue for now and you can only speak up so much.
We know why diversity is important in a lot of ways, but I wanted my book to look at how it influences each person on an individual level.
Q. Were you worried about pulling the rug out from under readers or was that the goal?
It’s my first book, so I’m not saying it’s perfect. But I love twist endings and “The Twilight Zone,” and “Get Out” was definitely an inspiration. I definitely knew where it was going when I started writing. I love the end of “Night of the Living Dead,” which is so realistic about Black experience. It’s still America, so stuff is going to happen to you if you’re Black.
People asked, “Are you sure about this ending?” Yeah, I think it’s pretty necessary. Any other ending wouldn’t be as impactful. I really want people to talk about what happens to Nella and what could her [White] co-workers have done if they’d really been listening.
When I was a kid, I used to love the Goosebumps series, and they had a choose your own adventure and I loved that there were multiple possible endings; I left some things open with this book so readers can think about it. I didn’t want to tie the ending in a neat bow.
Originally launched in 2013 as a digital hub for cultural conversations, Saint Heron’s mission has been to preserve, collect, and uplift stories, works, and archives that amplify Black and brown voices. Now, in its next phase, it will release a dossier of literary and visual retrospectives of Black family and artist lineages through a series of temporary digital exhibitions, viewable on the Saint Heron website. Available for seven to 10 days, they will offer an in-depth look at emerging talent across art, sculpture, photography, design, and artisanship.
Granny Goodness, created by Jack Kirby, made her first appearance in Mister Miracle Vol. 1 #2. Most know her as the ruthless older woman who runs the orphanage on Apokolips like a daycare lady from Hell. Granny uses torture techniques and brainwashing to create some of Apokolips’ most fearsome warriors — most notably among them, her Female Furies. Her appearance could be considered to be devoid of sex appeal — almost always scowling, a bulky athletic build, forever covered from neck to toe. Ultimately, this depiction serves to make her less sympathetic, because “pretty privilege” even exists in comics. Also, her name is Granny, and, as we all know, women of a certain generation are not supposed to be desirable and function best as bitter older women.