Left of Black with Margo Natalie Crawford

Left of Black with Margo Natalie Crawford


Welcome to Left of Black. I’m your host Marc Anthony Neal. We’re here on
location in Durham, North Carolina with Professor Marco Natalie Crawford. It’s
good to be here. Associate professor of English at Cornell
University. The author of Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus Ohio State
University Press 2008 and also the co-editor with Lisa Gail Collins of New
Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement 2006. How are you doing? I’m good. So glad to have you
on the show. Good to be here. So given your work and your interest in kind of
the archive of the Black Arts Movement and so we’re seeing this flourishing of
black activism black music black art you know through Black Lives Matter. Are you
seeing ways in which Black Lives Matter is in conversation with the Black Power
movement or the Black Arts Movement? I think it is. And it’s been on my mind
because I’m actually really moved by the way that red black and green is being
used in some of those Black Lives Matter rallies. So it’s the red black and
green. It’s the black power fist that then makes me wonder in terms of gesture
right if hands up right it’s actually something that we may want to really
think about as being tied to the way that some people also at those same
rallies are using the black power fist. So when we think about the Black
Power movement and the Black Arts Movement in terms of the substance of
style I think that’s really what we need to hold on to. The Black Arts Movement
Black Power movement taught us right that style has substance. So why now
right are people still using the red black and green, wearing the red black
and green, using the black power fist in these rallies? I think it’s because we’re
realizing right that the substance of that style may really be the sense that
it’s not just what you’re saying in the signs that you’re carrying but also this
sense that there’s a certain solidarity building that happens right through the
dissemination of these certain signs that really
become you know ways of holding on to these transnational black freedom
struggles. The sense that sometimes we’re saying so much just by continuing to use
these same signs. You talk about that a little deeper because you know when we think
about the classic black panther look you know with the sunglasses and the leather
jackets and the Berets. Even in the Civil Rights movement right the ways
folks romanticize about an activist with some overalls on. You know there are folks
who will go you know even with scientists inside these movements that you
know that’s just fashion. Fashion is not important. What is it about black
mobilization around issues around black organization about black politics that
makes style such a prominent part of what this is? In some ways like it even to the
extent that if there’s no style folks aren’t really interested in the movement.
Right. No I think that’s so true. And so I’m wondering let’s think about the
black power fist for example. Sometimes in some of those photographs of the
black arts Black Lives Matter rallies when we see that black power fist you
know what is let me say it again you know what is the substance of that style?
Like you’re asking why then right might that really matter right that right then
when that fist is being used in that Black Lives Matter rally. You know what
is being channeled there? And I think it really may be helpful to then really
lean into the difference between those very words Black Lives Matter as opposed
to black power right. Because black lives don’t simply matter. You know of course
we know that when the most progressive parts of the Black Lives Matter rally
when they’re using that language they don’t want us to hear that word matter
and think that we somehow have moved from black self-determination black
power to simply well we matter. We have a right to live. And so I’m
wondering in terms of the substance of the style when we see people holding on
to not just hands up but the black power fist I’m wondering if unconsciously or
consciously that’s a way that people are insisting that no what we want
is not just the right to live you know. That we actually need that
self-determination we need that black power. When you think about the
number of youth who were involved in Black Lives Matter right and this is
really for a lot of young folks their first opportunity to really be engaged. When we saw the gathering in Cleveland you know recently of the
movement for black lives right and one of my colleagues Bakari Kidd Wanda
mentioned that you know for a lot of these young folks who had been organized
around social media this was the first time they had come together in any kind
of national gathering right where they could touch people and kind of
engage in the spirit. But it also raises the question that when we see you know
the references to red black and green, the references to the power fist, the
references to that era, do they have a full understanding of the
context that produced those moments? You know we always worry
about you know we often talk about you know white cultural appropriation to
blackness. But there are a lot of ways in which young black folks themselves are
appropriating the signs and the symbols of previous black you know movements. And movement moments right. But not necessarily having a full understanding
of what it is they’re appropriating. And this is crucial. This is why I think it’s
so important that we realize that right now there’s a steady flattening of the
Black Power movement and the Black Arts Movement. And so we need to educate
people and especially younger people about the nuances the complexities of
the Black Power movement in the Black Arts Movement because if they are then
appropriating some of these very signs you know some of these very elements of
style if they’re appropriating that without realizing how the movements were
actually mobilizing those very signs then of course we’re in trouble. Because
they’re not realizing. We think about the greater education that has to happen,
they’re not realizing for example that the Black Power movement right that the
Black Power movement really was anticipating so much of what we now see
as even you know the more complicated nuanced parts of post-black. And once
again as you know of course we don’t mean post-race. But post-black.
This sense that there’s an opening up of blackness. So the blackness doesn’t have
to be limiting in any way. Well the Black Power movement and the
Black Arts Movement fully also included that move. It’s why in my most recent
work the manuscript I finished recently I call it black post-blackness. Because I
think the black post blackness it doesn’t only emerge right now right late
90s and then early 21st century. We moved to the post black. Black post
blackness is a really intriguing part of the Black Power movement and the black
arts movement. In the 1960s and 70s these very movements they were actually
constantly complicating blackness. So it almost becomes this counterintuitive
black post blackness right. When we think about then Haki Madhubuti in one of
those canonical you know classic signature black arts movement poems
Gwendolyn Brooks when he actually then refers to unsubstance black after that
long litany right into the 60s a word was born black black black black. And then
he finishes that full riff with that very phrase unsubstance black. Then we
then see one of these core examples of how the Black Arts Movement is actually
moving right to that what I really think of as black aesthetics unbound right. So
clearly the way that they were very often in the Black Arts Movement wanting
to crystallize right black aesthetics in this sense that we want to have our own
criteria right for analyzing our art and our cultural production so clearly this
sense that we want to really de-center that outside gaze that white gaze that
dominant gaze. So we do want to claim right that this is how we understand
black aesthetics. But there’s also this constant emphasis on black aesthetics
needing to be unbound. And so I think that’s what right now we need to make
sure that younger people understand about the Black Arts Movement
and the Black Power movement right. That these movements were much more
complicated much more nuanced than we see when we sometimes have black
nationalism being really repudiated. You know this
sense that even thinking about some ways in which what’s
consciously and unconsciously happening is this sense that African-American
literature African-American visual art is able to do something that’s much more
profound and abstract and experimental after we let go of the Black Arts
Movement investment in what Darby English calls black representational
space. But what I’m arguing is that the Black Arts Movement is invested in black
representational space and the very movement is also really constantly
complicating that space. You’re watching Left of Black. I’m your host, Marc Anthony Neal. We’re here on location in Durham, North Carolina. We’re joined by Margot Natalie Crawford. Associate professor of English at Cornell
University. A couple of things that I’ve been thinking about around all of this
you know it’s the 50th anniversary of Watts and trying to make these
connections from Watts to Rodney King in 1992 to Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston,
etc. That’s one piece of it. And then thinking about that LA region again and
the emergence of Kendrick Lamar yes yeah and you know everybody is wondering you
know these movements are going on it’s like where’s the music to the movement
right. You know it’s it’s unfair because we simply think that somehow
Curtis Mayfield or Aretha Franklin were writing songs to the movement as
opposed to them being inspired by everything that was going on and just creating
what was in his heart. But you know Kendrick creates a song like alright you
know which is now emerging it’s kind of the anthem of the black lives matter
movement and he’s not thinking about anything when he’s creating that song
he’s just saying something heartfelt but talk about how important you know when
you talk about stylistically right the visual style and being able to find nice
little pithy sayings and folks can repeat you know I’m black and I’m proud
how important is music to this I think it’s crucial I think it’s you know I
when and to me you know it’s it’s it’s fascinating to think about these very
interviews when I started interviewing some of the black arts writers in
particular some of the poets when I heard in multiple interviews this idea
that all of the poets you know it almost had this shape all the poets were one of
one of the jazz musicians you know but they really wanted to do when we think
about the this notion of the movement having certain soundtracks I think that
um Kendrick Lamar is fascinating right because I think hip-hop when we go back
to how the substance of style of the Black Arts Movement how it lingers I
think when hip-hop clings and holds on to black power or Black Arts Movement
style right gestures just the larger flow I think it’s fascinating it makes
me think then that um hip-hop really having a certain way of understanding
that the Black Arts Movement when Tricia Rose refers to the flow layering and
rupture right you know that that’s you know that’s hip-hop you know that’s
hip-hop aesthetics at large right I think some of the hip-hop artists what
they really show is that the Black Arts Movement also you know going back to
black aesthetics unbound that the Black Arts Movement had that flow had that
larry had that rupture so when I use this term black post blackness as a way
of understanding the Black Arts Movement and some of what’s happening with black
aesthetics right now both with the literature and the visual
art and the music I think that um we really are we’re thinking about that
flow layering and rupture you know that that becomes a way to connect the 1960s
and 70s and our 21st century miles talked a little bit about this new
project it sounds fast yeah so it’s um the full title is black post blackness
the Black Arts Movement and 21st century black aesthetics and each chapter I put
in each chapter I put the Black Arts Movement in conversation with 21st
century literature or 21st century black visual culture and what I’m really
trying to do in chapters like the chapter that’s
entitled the politics of abstraction is to uncover right these aspects of the
Black Arts Movement that have really been misread I mean think about
abstraction we don’t think that abstraction played a certain role in the
black arts is functioning as an avant-garde artist yeah folks that
particularly yes and so I look at you know with Africa bruh even some of the
interviews I did with some of the artists I look at how then when they’re
using abstraction you know it’s for purpose you know hence my title the
politics of abstraction right and so I really am lean into the way that Africa
burr and some of the writers they’re then using abstraction in a way that
takes us to what Africa bruh as one of their tenants mark called mimesis at
midpoint you know this sense that they were thinking so deeply about
abstraction in relation to the quote representational that they were actually
using a phrase like this this notion that it’s a balancing act you know my
niece’s at midpoint they in one of the catalogs they described mimesis at
midpoint as being this sense that there’s some kind of midpoint between
absolute representation and absolute abstraction but Nelson Stevens and one
of the interviews I did with them and you know Nelson Stevens is is such a
wonderful example right of this what I call the politics of abstraction and one
interview he explained to me that it was always that risk of quote going too far
and what he meant if that painting right that you’re doing if it simply becomes
abstraction for abstractions sake that that’s not what they were intending that
they wanted to actually show that there’s such a thing as black
abstraction this is what you see in the arts ensemble
absolute so many other mm-hmm yes and so in in the book in black post blackness I
have a chapter on anticipation as I think about the Harlem Renaissance you
know going back to the sense that what I’m really doing is trying to trouble a
certain way that we paradise some of these movements so the more militant
parts of the Harlem Renaissance also really lean into some of the energy of
the Black Arts Movement so I you know with that chapter I really look at
Marita Bonner for example in her play purple flower that we could easily read
as a Black Arts Movement play and not only because she refers to the Devils we
need to think about the very aesthetic of anticipation right as a way than to
understand black aesthetics so yes I have a travel where I need anticipated
now I love it okay that’s that is such I think an important question it takes I
think it takes us in a beautiful way back to where we started in terms of our
very focus on black lives matter right because when we think about what’s being
anticipated right you know this sense that this next step that we want to even
begin to to Hale right I think for me at least it takes us back to the notion of
movement right black lives matter if this is going to remain a movement I
think we then need to lean even more on the Black Power movement on the Black
Arts Movement to understand right that movements really built you know this
sense that it’s not then even going to be possible for us to pin it down and
say okay this is what the black lives matter movement will become but
hopefully it will continue to evolve hopefully you know we will see that
there’s a way in which young people are realizing right that movements are then
not you know what happened in the 1960s and 70s but movements rather being
something that young people right can build right now we’ve been joined today
by Professor Margo Nedley Crawford associate professor of English at
University everything you

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