Our first Black History Month Lecture: Seth Markle on Black Aesthetics and Pop Culture

by Mo Barbosa, Guest Blogger and DS4SI Board Member

Professor Seth Markle posits that the Black Arts period has had a lasting touch on the black aesthetic and that its connection to Africa was part and parcel of its expression of the peri-civil rights era (1965-1975).  The former is uniquely illustrated in the cultural artifacts that litter every black community in America – lasting, and remade, images of black leaders and thinkers including Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Harriet Tubman.  This timeframe is also often referred to as the pro-black era and cultural markers such as Huey Newton and conflict poetry inform and transform the black experience in America.

The latter argument is challenged by its own lack of continuity.  Black America seems to be exploring its Africaness in a dialogue with Africa where only the Americans speak.  Africa is taken as a whole, as a subject to be understood, with no place for its own understanding or its questions to be posed.  Africa is treated as a singularity, without texture or contours, something to be held, possessed like a rock, with little thought to its present and an inconceivable attachment to a distant past.  Yet, even in this fumble, there are the beats of connection.  The current black American aesthetic is steeped in hip hop whose roots and development are as intrinsically and pervasively American as its present and future are international, an indeed African, with or without translation.  The black American in every American household is not making a bed or working in the yard, but rather stately serving in reverence as President and, perhaps, as future maker.  The very moment in the black aesthetic is perhaps at the height that the Black Arts era was trying to be.  Perhaps, Mr. Heron was wrong, it is spring, rather than winter, in America.