Memory, Black Culture & College Classrooms

kynard bannerIn the past few posts, I have been reflecting on the artists, issues, and themes that represent recurring patterns in discussions, presentations, and writings amongst students of Afrikan descent in the college classrooms where I have taught.  I have called these recurring patterns an intellectual-political canon and plan to continue this line of thinking until my semester ends.  The seriousness of what I mean by that is heavier than what I can probably articulate.  Obviously, I am not tracing all of these issues and themes here in this space, nor am I assuming I ever could.  However, I am intentionally moving away from discussions about “popular culture” and its influence on young people today. For the most part, I find these discussions gimmicky and anti-theoretical based, in part, on the post-modernist/post-structuralist/wanna-be-antiessentialist hustle that will not call “popular culture” what it is: BLACK CULTURE.   Unsurprisingly, you can go much further if you reduce everything to the “popular” in commercial academic marketing (the wanna-be-theoretical-chic and their use of “hybridity” works here too). As I continue this stream of posts, I have two things in mind: 1) to locate the political apparatus in black communities, especially amongst black women, that shape these recursive memories; 2) to push myself to think more deeply about how my teaching needs to respond more critically.

I am not as fully conscious always, for instance, of how and why Erykah Badu/Amerykah has so significantly been a lens for students of Afrikan descent to talk about black women, aesthetics, and identity.  Obviously, I can do more historical linking with students.  Even when my students talk about Nicki Minaj’s dynamic stage performances (most of my black female students especially do not care for her, so let’s not overstate her influence), I tend to agree with them, but I just don’t see how Minaj could be regarded as particularly new or unique within black culture’s over-the-top stage dramatics.  You could only think such a thing if you have forgotten about or don’t know Parliament, Earth Wind and Fire, Cameo, and any other host of black artists (I didn’t even go that far back for those examples).  Nicki Minaj aint inventing nuthin new within black culture here and that’s the thing about black culture: you don’t need to invent that kind of thing… you just sustain it.  Point is: I need to do a better job of following through on my students’ conversation aesthetically, historically, and politically.

It’s pretty common to speak of “Western culture” and the “classics” as having a canon or set of texts and histories that students need to know in order to fully understand what they are in now.  Although it might be a surprise to many, there is a black canon of aesthetic and historical experiences that students need to fully grasp to enter their current worlds also.  Tropes, strategies, and lesson plans related to “popular culture” just ain’t cuttin it.  I have known how and why to stay away from all that foolishness in how, what, and why I teach, but I haven’t been as thorough in articulating the obvious alternative.