Coining a Movement
The word “revolution” instantly evokes images of violence or sudden and radical change, but in its basest form revolution is simply a movement along an elliptical course. With that in mind, I contend that we have entered into a new period of revolution. The current buzzword in discourse surrounding “The State of Black America” is “post”: “post-black,” “post-Civil War”, “post-racial.” It seems that we are afraid to make an official declaration of our present condition as black people in America.Enters Toure’ and his new book “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What it Means to Be Black Now.” The New York Times recently published a review by Harvard professor Orlando Patterson of Toure’s account of the “post-black condition” in which Patterson remarks that “we have heard surprisingly little from those in the post-civil-rights age about what [the rewards of the civil rights revolution] have meant to them, and especially how they view themselves as black people in America now led by a black president.” As a person who can be loosely defined as “young, black, and middle-class” and who has spent the last two years pondering this question, I finally feel qualified to add my voice to the debate.
I’ll begin by recapping what I view as the critical milestones along the road to this “post-black” era. In the fourteen decades since the 13thAmendment’s symbolic end of American slavery, African-Americans have experienced several periods of social progress characterized by the coining or declaration of a movement. First, from around 1865-1877 there was Reconstruction, marked by the emergence of the black politician and the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. This movement was soon halted by the emergence of Jim Crow laws and the rise of the Jim Crow era, which lasted until 1965. Within that time, several events took place that hastened the death of Jim Crow: following World War I a cultural and literary revolution took hold and ushered in the “New Negro Movement” or what is commonly referred to as “The Harlem Renaissance.” However, thwarted by the Great Depression, most of the gains accumulated from that historical era were lost as the country entered into its Second World War.Emerging from that epic battle for democracy abroad, the 1950’s and 1960’s brought on the Civil Rights movement, which sought to align America’s domestic policies with it’s foreign ideals. The end of the Jim Crow period was punctuated by several landmark Supreme Court cases and civil rights legislation.
The 1970’s saw the rise of the Black Power movement, which was undermined by the infiltration of crack cocaine and the resultant devastation. In the 1980’s, the Hip-Hop movement was ushered in by descendents of “the crack generation” and, as Toure’ argues, by the 1990’s the “hip-hop generation” had become the “new black.”
This oversimplified version of the milestones leading up to the turn of the century, a new millennium, no less, leads me to the primary purpose of this article: my attempt at characterizing a movement within this “post-black” era, an era wherein, Patterson argues, “black artists, like other professionals, now feel free to pursue any interest they like and are no longer burdened with the requirement to represent the race.” What Patterson describes as a “liberating pursuit of individuality” has given rise to a new movement, which I call the “R(e)mergence.” It is characterized by the re-emergence of the themes, actions and symbols that gave rise to the various movements that define the post-slavery experience of blacks in America. A metaphoric “coming full circle,” if you may. As is befitting of the hip-hop generation, the revolution has been re-mixed and repackaged for mainstream dissemination. The freedom to define ourselves as individuals has, ironically, resulted in the preservation of our cultural identity.
It is my contention that “post” 9/11, with our country focused on foreign terrorism, a cultural movement began to take shape. Contrary to the title and constant refrain in Gil Scott-Heron’s famous poem, but consistent with the message, the revolution is being televised. What my good friend Kimmi Chu calls “the revolution without the riot.” One only has to go as far as their computer, open their newspaper or turn on their television to see the first black president as was foreshadowed by those early Reconstructionists; the restoration of historically black cities as cultural centers led by young, black mayors and promulgated by artists, philanthropists and entrepreneurs; the organized and public resistance to laws and policies that are inconsistent with the dictates of democracy; the dedication of the MLK monument as a symbol of the lessons of the Civil Rights movement; and the rise of the natural hair movement, which served as a powerful visual during the Black Power movement.
The internet in general, and social media in particular, has been a powerful source of momentum for this new movement, hence the “(e)” in R(e)mergence. If I can speak for “those in the post-civil rights age,” I say to Patterson, we are finding our voice and beginning to emerge as writers, artists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals. Our history has, heretofore, been marked by a series of opposition movements. This is, arguably, the first time in our history that the dominant movement is characterized by its alignment with and, dare I say, integration into the mainstream. We are tasked with creating a new language that both honors our traditions and respects our individuality. The “post-black artists” are making their mark, now Toure’s book has marked the emergence of the “post-black writers.” In this year of Scott-Heron’s untimely death, my hope is that we all see the need to be the revolution that we envision.
The "R(e)mergence" ©2011