Black Is: Beyond Revisionist Histories of Blackness in Popular Culture

My undergraduate degree is in history — African history at that. For the past four years I have spent a significant amount of time redacting secondary sources and troubling the archive trying in my own small way to rewrite or give new meaning to the history of my people, Black people. 

One of my favorite historical actors to date is Mansa Musa, arguably the richest man (notice not just black) to have lived. It is documented that once on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Musa and his entourage spent so much gold in Egypt that they ended up inflating the entire economy for several years. Alongside this history, are numerous other examples of revisionist narratives that attempt to subvert white supremacy by in turn looking back to the powerful monarchies that existed in Africa before the 19th century.  Indeed, remnants of this great past are disproportionately distributed across the West being posited as African art in museums that pillaged the continent during the infamous Scramble for Africa. This revisionist lens not only rewrites the narrative of blackness but also aspects of social constructs such as gender (Egyptian queens), sexuality (fluidity within pre-colonial Africa)  and class (a benevolent caste system). 

This subject is appropriate given the present discourse that stems out of the release of Beyoncé’s film, “Black is King.” In this spectacular work of art, the artist through narrative, fashion and dance creates a necessary and celebratory work of love for Blacks at a time when Black people globally are inundated with images of Black precarity. However this article is not a review of the film, its aesthetics and overall discourse. So much has already been said around the subject and its politics. Instead, it is an expansion of  one tweet that summarizes the danger in our allure towards power and all its intricacies, “Beyonce will not save [U]s. Only [W]e can save [O]urselves.”

During my intimate encounter with the archive, one pressing question kept lingering in mind, “Can the archive be saved?” And whilst I don’t have a definitive assertion about it, my hunch leans heavily towards the negative. So what does this mean for us, our articulations of blackness and our position within history? Perhaps I am the faint-hearted failed historian who was not resilient enough to  wrestle with the archive accordingly. 

In this long winded narrative my assertion is that Black folks must be subversive in their constitution of meaning about Africa and its representation. What does it mean for us to be comfortable with the quotidian-ness of Africa? Rather than the scintillating notions of Africa Rising or the revisionist notions of African nobility. What does it mean to be comfortable with Africa simply being? This challenge is not only directed towards the Black diaspora but also those in the continent. African revisionism isn’t simply within the field of history but also in its contemporary displays of culture which Emma Dabiri coins as “instagram friendly Africa”.

And what about our imaginings, one may ask? After all, art has the ability to liberate Blackness in ways other interventions cannot. In this realm I dare say, we must look as much to the future as to the past. Speculative work frees our language and ontologies while widening our possibilities. What does it mean for Blackness to exist devoid of the language of power and hierarchy? What does it mean to dismiss or even perhaps guillotine the position of king? What does it mean for us my dear Black Folks, to simply say, as we are, we are enough!

Can you imagine it?

Can you believe it?

Now, live it! 

Resource List 

Why We Must Be Careful When Watching Beyoncé’s ‘Black Is King’ by Judicaelle Irakoze

Beyoncé and the Heart of Darkness by Boluwatufe Ankiro and Joshua Segun-Lean

Disney, Capitalism, and Beyoncé’s Black Is King by Lisaés-black-is-king-c60fb2d9956e

Black Parade:

Why I’m not an Afropolitan By Emma Dabiri

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