Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe centers on a character who, arguably, is the embodiment of The Colonist Mentality, as evidenced by his interactions with, and perception of, the native cannibals he encounters while visiting an ‘undiscovered’ island. The protagonist, Crusoe, initially plans to murder the natives, but decides against it, writing that its inhabitants do not “know” their acts are criminal.
In a strange land where one easily expects culture, social norms, and constructs of morality and immorality to differ, Crusoe still manages to view himself as an authority figure, and the natives as inferior.
The Colonist Mentality is exemplified by Crusoe’s relationship with Friday, whom he has named, and further espoused by Defoe’s depiction of Crusoe as an enlightened visitor whose mere presence benefits the island by imploring its inhabitants to cease engaging in acts of savagery.
Crusoe deems his culture as a superior force, one which, in order to be redeemed, the natives must assimilate into.
Defoe’s novel has had a tremendous impact on the narrative structure of fictional accounts of travel and exploration, and rightfully so. The novel takes on a autobiographical, cinematic format— unfolding in snapshots, if you will—of the main character’s experiences.
However, the work is worth revisiting because of its relevance to today’s instances of Xenophobia, the valuing and devaluing of particular cultures and norms, and the notion that one culture should reign over another. Crusoe’s Colonist Mentality lives on.
In medieval times, astrology was synonymous with science, viewed as an infallible knowledge source for insight into human nature, a compass of sorts for predicting human behavior and determining fate. Astrology’s prominence as a reference guide for humanity was, no doubt, a substitute for the absence of fields like neuroscience, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and biology. It was the means by which people in the Middle Ages examined socio-political factors and behavioral differences among rulers and citizens, and provided a framework for understanding variations in the customs, rites, and beliefs systems of different nations.
Although the view of astrology as a reliable, standard measurement of social issues and human activity has become archaic, its presence in medieval times is exemplary of advancements in human thought. During this era, human thinking patterns became increasingly analytical, exhibiting a new awareness of the relationships between past and present events, as well as past and present behaviors. Thought leaders of the period were particularly concerned with endowing behavior and events with meaning, and there was an increased effort to view such aspects as contributions to a larger, inevitable fate.
The connection between medieval subscription to astrological principles and contemporary debates over the role of genetics in human behavior is similar to the nature vs. nurture debate.
The central question being: are our fates dictated by the environments in which we are reared, our genetic history, or both?
Obviously, there are very clear distinctions between astrology and genetics; one is more in keeping with mythology and folklore and the other is based in science. But the view of genetics as a predictor of health and behavioral outcomes shares similarities with medieval reliance on Astrology.
For one, the notion poses the same questions, such as whether or not environment predetermines behavior: are human beings capable of making decisions independent of social environment or, in the end, do our genetics— a euphemism for fate— dictate who we are or who we become?
There are strong arguments for both, but the use of astrology as a thinking guide in the Middle Ages, and its relationship with current ideas about genetics, demonstrates that even primitive notions can be the first step on the journey of scientific discovery.
Many books, articles and academic discussions, have centered on reading: how and why it happens. Human beings are the only living creatures capable of reading, writing, and speaking. Exposure to language, both orally and in written form, plays a significant role in how we define ourselves, and each other.
In Narrative Structures and Literary History, translated by Rebecca West, the author explores the mechanisms that underlay the act of reading, and the interconnectedness between both reader and writer. In the text, the reader of a literary work (also known as the receiver) and the writer of the work (also known as the transmitter), are presented as engaged in a process that is inherently interactive.
Reading is presented as an exchange involving the transmission of information or a message.
According to the article, this transmission is more than linguistic; it involves the transfer of “states of mind, ideals, and judgments about the world.” The body of knowledge centered on reading, may be summed up as a collection of ideas focused on writer/reader competences, which, in the context that the author uses them, emphasizes the importance of the reader’s ability to accurately interpret written or transmitted messages. The reader’s role in the above exchange is, therefore, more than passive— he or she is a present figure in the construction of a text’s meaning.
The ability to interpret the message in a literary work, whatever it may be, is reliant on codes and codices—language, customs, societal conceptions of the world, and mutual and non-mutual knowledge.
But does the process of transmission that takes place during reading, differ when reading works written in the past? When common knowledge becomes less common, does the reader become passive?
Today’s mutual knowledge is greatly impacted by social media and technology, with each of us carrying our own personal catalogue of political and social ideas, associations in reference to objects, people, places, and concepts.
When an author refers to these elements in a work, whether directly or indirectly, that author is building upon our subjective knowledge of these subjects, resulting in a mental merging of sorts— the author’s sensibilities with our own.
However, mutual knowledge, as it relates to reading a Zora Neale Hurston or Faulkner novel, versus a contemporary one, differs, the language, the references, the codes and codices. etc. When reading literary works of the past, we grasp only that which resonates with our present; everything else, we simply imagine. As a text ages, so does its interactive quality.
What’s unique about Zoo Story is not simply that Albee employs symbolism and naturalism, but the manner in which he utilizes these elements to fully realize his theme: Isolation.
The title of the play, Zoo Story, suggests that human beings aren’t just isolated from each other, but also from themselves— our own animal instincts.
Albee conveys the notion that the world, itself, is a kind of zoo, a confining force that can lead human beings to take violent action; similar to the one at the end of Albee’s play, where one character murders the other after what seemed to be an amicable interaction. Isolation, as presented by Albee, is a human configuration: we as human beings build our isolation, emerging from man made elements like greed, prejudice, racism, sexism, and the like. These aspects, collectively, comprise our captivity; they are the bars of our cages.
Isolation, therefore, is indelibly human.
The location in which Albee sets his drama—a park— is also an expression of his mastery of symbolism. To the untrained eye his utilization of a seemingly natural environment might suggest an effort to convey wildness or a lack of cultivation. However, he achieves the opposite. The contrast between nature and the very suppressed condition in which the play’s central characters function, provide the perfect juxtapositional framework for Albee’s drama.
The physical appearance of the characters and the occupations they hold, lacking distinction, make them ideal symbols of the masses and further emphasize Albee’s zoo theme. At best, Peter, the story’s central character, can best be described as “spiritually sedated.” A state, perhaps, brought on by his seemingly enviable attainment of the American Dream. For, after having achieved that mythological objective— the inherent goal of all our citizens— what is there left to pursue?
But are we free as human beings, even when we think we are? Is the price of living in a civilized world inhibition, limitation, the suppression of our most primal instincts?
Given the volatile climate of the world, one where violence is a regular occurrence, the conclusion that our animal instincts are freer than they’ve ever been— our propensity for murder and other harmful actions—comes easily. However, could the opposite be true, that our spiritual confinement, or lack of true freedom, leads us to create the chaos in which we reside?
Playwright/ScreenwriterKeith Josef Adkinsis committed to providing a space for African American artists to explore and express the nuances of the black experience. In addition to writing about black life in his own theatrical and film projects, Adkins created The New Black Fest, an annual festival which brings together black playwrights from around the world to present works with an African American focus, such as Hands Up, a series of plays written by black men in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, as well as institutionalized racism.
This Fall, at the Martin Segal Theater at CUNY Graduate Center, five dynamic playwrights will present a series of dramatic works calledUn-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude: Short Plays By Black Women, which will center on the black female experience and it’s relationship to black culture and social justice issues facing the African American community.
Featured writersinclude Nikkole Salter, an Obie-award winning actress and Pulitzer- Prize nominee, and Playwrights Chisa Hutchinson, Corie Thomas, Lenelle Moise, and Jocelyn Bioh.
Tell me more about Un-Tamed: Hair Body Attitude.
Adkins: In the tradition of Facing Our Truth andHands Up, I commissioned five black women playwrights to write short plays on things that resonate around hair, body, and attitude in relation to the trending conversations about women parody.
With Hands Up, where I commissioned six black male playwrights, the conversation was ‘who [are] the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement?’ Which was two or three black women.
There have been conversations about the representation of the presence of female voices in [discussions] about social justice, policing, and profiling. During the time I commissioned these playwrights, I was under the impression that the profiling issue was a black male issue, that it was predominant among black men. I still believe that to be true, statistically. But there has to be a more integrated conversation around profiling. It can’t just be about black men. There are women — Sandra Bland, the young woman at the Texas swimming pool party that was slammed [down]— so, obviously, this is a major issue and a concern.
What kind of discussions are being had in relation to black women, patriarchy, and racial profiling?
Patriarchy often makes us blind to the issues facing women. I wanted to commission five black women to write plays that give them a platform and a space to explore and expose their complexity around any issue that they feel is important for them to discuss. It was important to me that I didn’t do this on my own, but that I brought in a woman to help curate, to kind of educate me about what’s really important. So I brought in Dominique Morisseau to co-curate this particular commission. We have all our five playwrights and they’ve turned in their first drafts. It’s just really exciting. It’s going to be some really strong work. It already has a slated presentation for October at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City at the Martin Segal Theatre.
How have the events in Ferguson, and the wave of discussions on race and police brutality, impacted your work as a playwright and your perspective on The New Black Fest?
I’ve always been interested and dedicated to diversity within the black experience. I feel like the conversation around race, racism, and privilege; particularly within the theater community, is prompting many people to reconsider how they’ve been thinking about blackness. They are paying closer attention to blackness. These conversations have given black theater practitioners license to discuss and build art around things that have always mattered to them, that they often felt they were silenced around.
Because of Black Lives Matter and other social justice concerns, there seems to be an un-silencing.
A few months ago, the Internet was ablaze over the death surrounding ‘Cecil the Lion,’ a mainstay of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Parkand part of a research project at Oxford University.
According to CNN, Theo Bronchorst and Honest Trymore Ndlovu, both Zimbabweans, are believed to have illegally hunted and killed 13-year-old Cecil during a time span of 40 hours. CNN also reports that Walter J. Palmer, an American dentist from Minnesota, allegedly paid $50,000 for the hunt, which has unleashed a storm of criticism against him from the online community; particularly Facebook and Twitter, with retweets of hashtags like #CatLivesMatter, a wordplay on #BlackLives Matter, and “WE ARE CECIL,” according to The New York Times.
The unanimous outrage over Cecil’s death and celebrity support of movements against animal cruelty, includingJimmy Kimmel— who fought back tears talking about Cecil— Ricky Gervais, Sharon Osborne and others, is leaving some people wondering why more public, high-profile figures aren’t expressing the same degree of concern for the unlawful arrests and racism directed toward African American men and women.
Why are celebrities more eager to speak out against animal mistreatment than they are about issues of racial and social injustice?
Howard Bergman, CEO of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, told USA Today that “Animal activism has always been a staple of Hollywood activism, it’s really in the DNA.” Adding,
“Celebrities have found when they step into some of the race issues, they’ve gotten their hands slapped for perceived insensitivity, even when they were trying to do and say the right thing. They realize that animal activism is a win-win. In most cases, nobody objects and particularly in this specific case.”
Is it easier to care about animals than human beings?
Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Article originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com
Kenya Barris’ mark on Hollywood extends well beyond the creation of his hit series Black-ish on ABC or his writing for America’s Next Top Model, the producer/writer will pen the film adaptation of the 1970s African American sitcom Good Timesfor Sony Entertainment; along with veteran producers Scott Rudin and Eli Bush.
Barris is also collaborating with Tracy Oliver for a female-driven ‘Girls Trip Project‘ for Universal Studios, and was recently signed by New Line Cinemato write the screenplay for the new Shaftremake. Although many of Barris’ projects have been comedies, he describes his Good Times adaptation as a dramaedy — the best of both worlds.
What attracted you to Good Times? What do you see as the ‘tone’ for the movie?
Barris:Good Times was so iconic, in terms of that family and the struggles they were going through were so honest and real. [The writers] didn’t ignore that this was a ‘slice of life’ that a huge amount of Americans were living. The chance to have a voice and to say something as a writer is the ultimate blessing. To have something to say that affects people and makes people want to change their life or be inspired— to hear words come alive—for me that’s the ultimate blessing.
When you think of Good times as an actual show, as much as it was a comedy there was some serious stuff going on. So, I feel like [the film will be] more of dramaedy, to do it any other way would be a disservice to the poverty. The movie is actually a look back. Michael has grown up. He’s in politics and he’s looking back on his life, at something in his life that has affected him and the decision he’s making currently. I was not going to do a spoof of Good times, I felt like it was too important of a [show] to support that.
Tell me about your friendship with Tyra, your upbringing and its impact on your writing.
Tyra Banks is one of my best friends. We grew up together. Watching her—when I was in high school and college—watching her career take off was a big inspiration for me, to know that [success] was possible; coming from where we came from.
I feel like that’s what put me in a different place, where if I wanted to make people laugh there was a way to do it and it wasn’t necessarily just a dream scenario.
It was something that could actually happen, that I had seen happen. I’m from Inglewood. We were broke growing up, [but] you didn’t know you were broke because everyone else around you was broke.
My father got into a chemical accident at General Motors, where he was employed, when I was ten or eleven.
We got a big settlement and moved from, basically, ‘ashy to classy.’ We moved out of the hood and I started at a different school. I remember realizing for the first time, ‘Oh. We were broke.’
My mom worked really hard, got me through school and college and when I had my kids I looked around and the world they were growing up in was a completely different world than the one I remember growing up in. That was the inspiration for [Black-ish]. We’re taught that you want to give your kids more than you had, but in doing that I started wondering; with the added things in their life, what were the things that were being subtracted.
Many of the popular shows on television today with lead African American characters don’t deal explicitly with race. For instance,ScandalandHow To Get Away with Murder. What motivated you to write a show that, thematically, openly discusses race and black culture?
For all the amazing things that I felt from The Cosby Show growing up, the one thing I looked at was that they sort of [looked over the fact that they were black].
I felt like every day as an African American; as a black person, you’re never not aware of [race]. It’s part of who you are. It’s part of the people who deal with you. So why would you do a show in a time when we have a black president and choose to ignore [race]?
That doesn’t mean it has to be a black show, but it is about a black family. It’s not done in an ostracizing way. To me, the idea of talking about it makes it more inclusive.
Conversation is part of what makes America work at its best, and that’s what we were trying to do: start the conversation.
Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com
Monday, Aug. 17, actor, producer, and humanitarianDanny Glover, Misadventuresof Awkward Black Girl series creator Issa Rae, and Black Lives Matter Co- founder Patrice Cullors, participated in a dynamic panel in Martha’s Vineyard titled, Changing the Script: Media, Culture, And Black Lives.
The panel, moderated by Alan Jenkins, provided an invaluable platform to discuss culture makers, activists, and their utilization of media and creative strategies to tell stories about black Americans.
YouTube phenom Issa Rae expressed her desire to “talk about reclaiming the narrative of African Americans in the media, television and film,” as motivation for joining the panel. When asked about her own writing, Rae said she hopes to provide “an alternative depiction; a real depiction, showing that [African Americans] are capable of doing anything and being anything.” Social Activist Patrice Cullors said of the event, “I think it’s always important to talk about the way we’re treated; the narrative of blacks, how it’s being told and how we’re intervening.”
Adding, “I wanted to hear from my co-panelists, as well as the audience, about what they’ve seen in the last couple years around the impact of The Black Lives Matter movement on exposing racist media images of black people or helping shift to a new narrative.”
Tell me about The Opportunity Agenda and the inspiration behind organizing this panel.
Jenkins: My organization— The Opportunity Agenda — is a social justice communication lab. We use communication and culture to build public support for greater or more equal opportunity. We’ve been around for about ten years. One of the things that we do at The Opportunity Agenda is study media and culture and how issues of race and identity and opportunity are depicted in different communities.
Four years ago we did a study of media depictions of black men and boys. What we found is that there were some really persistent and harmful trends that depict a very warped picture of black folks in the media.
We are, in the media, overly associated with criminality, with poverty; with intractable problems. The idea [of this panel] is to look at different perspectives, at the new era we’re in; an era of activism— Black Lives Matter—criminal justice reform, and many other issues of race and equality.
There is an absence of diversity in creative decision makers, as it relates to the entertainment industry. Do you think increasing diversity behind the camera will result in the telling of more diverse stories?
Increasing diversity on both sides of the camera is vital. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. We could have diversity there and still not have diversity of storytelling and things that reflect the breadth of the black experience.
We can have better storytelling and still be grossly underrepresented.
So we need to work towards both. It’s certainly the case that when you have diversity of storytellers, you’re much more likely to get a fuller and more accurate depiction of the lives of black folks and our place in the broader American society and world.
What motivated your decision to include Danny Glover and Issa Rae as panelists?
Danny Glover has been, in many ways, fortunate—he’s tremendously talented—but there are a lot of talented people of color who don’t get to play the diverse and rich roles that he has gotten to play.
Issa Rae has used the medium of YouTube and the Internet to get her story out: that’s a real change.
This is the first moment in human history, in which almost all of us have the ability to speak and tell stories to millions of people and hear back from them without mainstream media and gate keepers.
Issa Rae, like Danny Glover, is a very talented story teller. She’s been innovative in finding new ways to tell her story; in the way she wants to tell it, through a medium that literally didn’t exist a decade ago. So, that was the idea behind bringing together this diverse panel, which of course includes Patrice Cullors who has used Twitter to [support] activism and concern about police killings of unarmed black men.
Social media has played a pivotal role in the development of social justice movements, particularly Black Lives Matter. Can you talk about some of the ways technology has impacted activism and differences between today’s black activism and the civil rights movement?
Social media is an organizing tool. So, people [from] far reaches of the country and the globe now know they have allies with whom they can connect.
Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. had access to Twitter—the movement he would have been able to create.
Today activists are able to tell their story, organize, and bring people together to demand action; that’s transformative. There are certainly differences between 20th and 21st century movements. 21st century movements tend to be more decentralized; there are fewer recognizable national leaders.
They are more networked. But I think when we look back a decade or two, at the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ll see that there were a cadre of leaders, just as there were in the previous civil rights movement. We’ll see that there were people who exerted tremendous personal courage and leadership, and were the glue that held these movements together.
The event was held at the Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown Room, 131 North Water Street, in scenic Martha’s Vineyard. To learn more about The Opportunity Agenda visitwww.opportunityagenda.org.
Written by Rebecca Nichloson. Originally appeared on BlackEnterprise.com
Though the term “Afropolitan” is fairly controversial, arguments for and against it share similar qualities, espousing a mutual objective: an embrace of the cultural nuances and complexities of African culture and the individuals who define themselves as African.
In Bye-Bye Babar, Selasi emphasizes the ever-evolving landscape of African culture and the African experience while condemning generalizations.
Afropolitans are presented as a distinct group of individuals, a social class, differentiated from the rest of Africa by their eclectic cultural upbringing and relationship to the continent, education and wealth.
The narrative that surrounds Selasi’s notion of the Afropolitan is similar to that of many young professionals whose parents or grandparents emigrated from other countries and established themselves in America and Europe.
In reference to the term, she states:
“You’ll know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world” (Selasi, “Bye-Bye Babar”).
This is indicative of a reimagining of, perhaps, the characteristics, behaviors, economic and social statuses society deems to be African. However, the term is often viewed as problematic On one hand, Africa is one of the most stereotyped, overgeneralized continents on earth. It is habitually portrayed with narratives of extreme poverty, hunger, war, lack of education and disease. There is also an intrinsic belief that it is in need or of being saved and this, rescuing of sort, can only be achieved through action taken by the west.
These narratives are portrayed in all forms of media and overshadow the cultural, political and societal nuances of Africa and its many countries.
In A Deep Humaness, a Deep Grace: Interview with Chris Abani by Yogita Goyal, the author introduces his readers to Abani’s stance on creative writing and the notion of the “African” writer. Abani is a noted Nigerian novelist, author of several books, most of which have achieved critical acclaim, as well as poetry, plays, screenplays and critical essays. In reference to his own work, he states that it is “post- national and global not in its reach, but in its attempts to locate a very specific African sensibility . . .” Abani refers to African writers as “curators of the continent’s humanity”.
This is a particularly poignant statement. It, inevitably, gives way to examination of whether or not African authors or authors who identify as such, should be deemed “curators” at all, or if a handful of writers, with varying relationships to the continent, should be given the task of curating its humanity, deciding what subjects, cultural and social aspects are relevant, worthy topics of literary exploration.
The central question becomes: should authors like Selasi be deemed as representative of the collective voice of Africa?
Given the vast, landscape of African culture, can a collective “African” voice exist? Abani goes on to state: “women dominate the new global placement of African literature” whereas “men dominated the first generation.” Thus, authors like Selasi, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and others are a part of this new generation of writers, shaping and expanding narratives related to Africa and the African experience but, also, a multicultural experience influenced by other parts of the world yet still, inherently, African.
In Selasi’s writing, positive and negative dimensions of the terms Afropolitan and Afropolitanism can be fully realized.
In Sex Life of African Girls, there exists a wonderful distillation of language and a rhythmic quality that is international but never deviates from African roots.
The inherent poetry of the language in Ghana Must Go and her approach, choosing not to treat the reader as though he or she is a stranger in a foreign environment, but rather an entity welcomed into a world full of familiar sentiments, characters, circumstances; all the workings of that which is universal, distinguishes Selasi from other novelists.
Race and cultural identity differ; the same is true for biological sex and gender identity. People who describe President of the Spokane NAACP chapter, Rachel Dolezal’s, misrepresentation of herself as black, as indicative of being “transracial,” are really talking about cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is, often, an expression of the value an individual places on a particular culture, so much so, that his or her own identity is significantly informed by it.
The argument that Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner are the same, that transgender and the term, “transracial” share similar qualities, or that, because Dolezal identifies with black culture, she should be considered black, is problematic. For one, such arguments fail to recognize differences between biological sex, race, gender identity, and cultural identity. Biological sex and race are static, which isn’t the case for cultural and gender identity.
Being transgender isn’t about denial of biological sex, it’s about accepting that one’s gender identity cannot subscribe to norms espoused by society; it’s about allowing one’s own instincts and natural tendencies to determine how one chooses to live and, socially, identify. Biologically speaking, Caitlyn Jenner keeps the sex she was born with. But, in all other ways—behaviorally and otherwise, the label of “man” is no longer appropriate.
Racism isn’t about culture.
Racism is discrimination, inequality, and social stigma directed towards a group of people based solely on the fact that they were born of a certain race and have, often times, its physical traits, ect.
Being on the receiving end of racism, as we have seen, brings with it a host of experiences unique to those who are members of that race, or another oppressed racial group. The implications of Dolezal’s actions are connected to a long history involving the topic of race and culture in this country, just as the comparison to Caitlyn Jenner relates to much research, scholarly and otherwise, concerning gender and sexuality.
With that being said, here are two transgender people of color ‘making waves’
Janet Mock: The New York Timesbestselling author ofRedefining Realnessand the host of So POPular!— a weekly MSNBC digital series about culture. She is a sought-afterspeakerand the founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women. Her book recounts her journey towards womanhood and serves as a inspiration for transgender people of color everywhere.
“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” – Janet Mock
Laverne Cox is an activist and actress on Netflix’s hit series Orange is the New Black. She was born in Mobile, Alabama, and was the first openly transgender person in history to receive and Emmy nomination.
“My third grade teacher called my mother and said, ‘Ms. Cox, your son is going to end up in New Orleans in a dress if we don’t get him into therapy.’ And wouldn’t you know, just last week I spoke at Tulane University, and I wore a lovely green and black dress.” – Laverne Cox.
Share your stories in the comments section.
This article originally appeared in BlackEnterprise.com