doCarmo's Notes on the BLACK CULTURAL MOVEMENT
It's also been called the black aesthetics movement and the black arts movement. But the black cultural movement, as we'll call it here, was at its height in the latter half of the 1960s and on into the '70s, though echoes of it are still around today: just listen to Lauryn Hill's music, watch Spike Lee's movies, read Toni Morrison's novels, or see August Wilson's plays.
If the movement has a single central purpose, it's to make black Americans (and, indeed, black people the world over, whenever possible) totally and unapologetically proud of their cultural heritage(s). One of the most commonly recited mantras of African-American activists of the late '60s and '70s was "black is beautiful," an idea unexplorable to black Americans of previous decades.
There are several key underlying beliefs for the black cultural movement. The first is that art and politics are inseparable -- that great art is born from political strife and can actually be an important tool for raising consciousness about the social problems people deal with. It's not that this is an especially original idea in the late 1960's: writers like Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair had believed back at the start of the twentieth century that art could help bring about a socialist workers' revolution, and their own novels (e.g. The Octopus and The Jungle, respectively) had tried, with mixed results, to instigate such movements in the U.S. In the 1960s, though, black writers and artists bring this idea of the marriage of art and political change roaring back again, arguably to greater effect than the socialists ever did.
A second underlying supposition of the black cultural movement pertains to "black nationalism," as it came to be called -- a doctrine holding that if, in fact, black people have only generally suffered by their exposure to white society, they should keep a separate society having as little contact as possible with whites. This belief, powerfully expressed in the politics of the Black Panthers and the sermons of Malcolm X (the early Malcolm X, at least), was deeply contrary to the "integrationist" agenda of many American Civil Rights supporters (Dr. King included) and was descended from the ideas of Marcus Garvey, an African-American intellectual who suggested in the 1920s that black Americans move to Africa to found a new black-only nation. In any event, much art by black Americans in the 1960's deals in some way with this notion that separatism is preferable to integration, and that black people will be better off if they avoid the dominant white culture and rid their minds of the imperialist myths and standards white society has filled them with.
A third key belief is that there's something fundamentally, irreducibly black about black people's art and culture, even if that "something" is hard to name or pin down. If European-descended culture is often a bit prim and repressed, African-descended culture will be more sensual ("funky," Toni Morrison would say). If European-derived art is shaped by restrictions of form and propriety, made into definitive, finalized "texts," then African-derived art is looser, freer, more improvisational, and closer to an oral tradition that never totally fixes or finalizes artworks. (You could think, for instance, of the difference between European classical music and American jazz.) If this is true -- if there is something different about black perception, black art, black culture, black language -- then only black forms of music, language, dance, painting, etc., are capable of expressing the black mind. It's only fitting, then, many black thinkers from this movement say, that black artists use black language and art forms in their works, no matter how improper or unacceptable a white art establishment might proclaim them to be.
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