A Case for More Black Space and Black Visuality

A Case for More Black Space and Black Visuality

There have been a streamline of recent reports of Black people being targeted by White people in public spaces just for existing. These places (Starbucks, AirBnB, Yale, the local pool, golf course, the park, and other countless places) have been coded White and many White people have deemed Black presence within them as intolerable. It is an uncomfortable remnant of a heritage of imperialism and racism in the US. These spaces are not “race neutral” and will never provide complete acceptance. The history of oppression and colonization still resonates so it is not enough that Blacks aren’t explicitly barred from certain locales or given tacit permission that their Blackness is welcomes at certain levels in some places. Therefore, their needs to be greater support of existing and the creation of more enclaves: businesses, universities, cultural institutions, and other entities where Black people have a real sense of belonging, safety, nurturing, and other conscious environments.

Black (physical and psychological) spaces serve as a bridge between the sublime realm of tangible experiences, as well as invisible, and unspeakable to safeguard lifeways, essence of bodily life and identities. An insulation from the harsh realities of white supremacy and systemic racism. Insulation (the protection from something or someone by interposing material that prevents the loss of heat or the intrusion of sound) is much different from segregation or isolation. It is how the Ashkenazi Jews have built their communities all throughout the US largely with support from the government. People of African descent also need this cultural shelter from outside sources and spaces we occupy. There are and have been mechanisms put in place to support these sorts of spaces I am calling for and work to create safety.

One example is the Official Black Wall Street app (the largest platform for Black business), launched July 2015. It has been my go to for the past year as I travel throughout the US for conferences, consulting, and speaking opportunities. I rely on its effectiveness in areas that I may be unfamiliar with and may need to be oriented to my new surroundings. I also appreciate that it sends an alert to my phone when I pass an establishment that I was unaware of and not seeking. The Official Black Wall Street is a digital platform and database created out of a need to support businesses that are owned and operated by black entrepreneurs to funnel more money back into our communities. Studies show that out of our $1.1 trillion buying power only 2% is invested in black-owned businesses. The app’s name pays homage to the iconic “Black Wall Street” of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which by the 1920s, was the mecca for black businesses. Blacks developed and supported their own businesses, which flourished and created one of the most prosperous African American communities in the country. Hundreds of black-owned businesses lined Greenwood Avenue until June 1, 1921 when the deadliest race riot in US history led to the destruction of these businesses, claiming the lives of as many as 300 African Americans and leaving over 9,000 homeless. The app’s ability to create a path directly to these spaces reduces the possibility of navigating through treacherous territories.

Black people in the US are often faced with a sea of whiteness (White people, White culture, White figures in artworks, and the whitewashing of Black culture) that have caued both mental and physical harm. Hence the creation of powerful visual signals to evoke Black pride and Black space. The first sort of symbol that comes to mind is Marcus Garvey’s, Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Pan African flag introduced in 1920 at the (UNIA) conference where he stressed Black freedom and independence. It’s globally recognizable horizontal red (blood shared and shed), black (the people) and green (lush African land) stripes. An emblem for a people with shared history, experience, outlook, and hopes. A statement initially to address, white minstrel singers popular song "Every Race Has a Flag But the Coon," which expressed the importance of flags as a matter of racial pride. It is an emblem for a people with shared history, experience, outlook, and consciousness. A way of identifying themselves in the world and to also project that they too belong, that they have membership in a world of communities, a world of nations. It also shows that despite contributions to the nation’s “progress,” across generations, there isn’t proper representation under the U.S. flag. It symbolizes their union of governance, people, territory, movement, and political agendas. These colors are still used today to unite Black people throughout the Diaspora. Many flags of now independent countries in Africa bare these colors and its meaning.

Inspired by Garvey and the Pride Flag, I created the Hueniversal Flag, which recently made its debut in the Resistance, Roots, & Truth group exhibition at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI), July 2018. It acts as indexes of bodies through a melanin infused color spectrum of tones consisting of eight shades. It emanates from darker to lighter: blue-black, sapphire, blackberry, ebony, sienna, honey-brown, redbone, and high-yellow -- descriptors of complexions I heard growing up in Black communities. An interpretation of the vast hues, mirrored all over the globe to paint a larger portrait of an ever-expanding, transnational, multicultural community. The flag represent skin color in a more mosaic way than ascribed to aesthetically disrupt the political generalization. Its gradation challenge standardized rendering for easy consumption to help stretch past narrow confines. The flag is a stimuli and a manifestation of advocacy, resistance, a declaration of the right to exist, and to affirm our presence. A visual representation of the fight against racism, colorism, and pigmentocracy (a system of social or class distinction based on skin color) still perpetuated. It is also a pledge to create paths for brighter futures, visions, and safe spaces for people of color to navigate.

Flags and apps may not be the answers for complete and total safety and equity for Black People in the states but they are two examples of what can be done based on the distinct history of the US and the needs of the Black community in mind.

Blake Bradford Barnes/Lincoln Museum Studies Program

Blake Bradford Barnes/Lincoln Museum Studies Program

Beyond Gallery Walls and Performance Halls

Beyond Gallery Walls and Performance Halls