NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 39

k Tonye Patano, Jenny Jules, and Sekou Laidlow in Part 3: The Union of My Confederate Parts. “In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No one humbles himself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior power of a few, cannot undermine this healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one’s fellow-man…however a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins.7” Even the entertainer Bill Cosby, America’s Favorite Dad, who has frequently in recent years admonished black men to refrain from blaming white “oppression” for their limited access to equality, must now appreciate the limits of a presumptive freedom that gives license to behave like white male peers that have not been “called out” for taking carnal liberties with potential “Hollyweird starlets” who now, in a culture that has always tolerated the “casting couch,” demonize him 30-40 years later as a rapist. Diversity is the claim of the current millennium, yet blacks continue to struggle to have the privilege of equal opportunity and social equity guaranteed to whites. Most confounding, nonetheless, is how common it is to find black millennial artists acquiescing to the impulse to dis-remember — even diss — history in post-modern reconstructions to alter self-projection into history. While an encounter with Kara Walker’s “Subtlety,” a colossal, monumental Sugar Coated Mammy installed in the defunct Domino Sugar factory, was received with enthusiastic critical praise, it confirmed, as I had observed in an earlier note, that minstrelsy is alive and well in the precincts of High Culture. Similarly, Kehinde Wiley has been celebrated for his paintings that re-figure Renaissance and Rococo Master-painting with inner-city black youths costumed in the period. This bogus fusion of contemporary history and classical figurative style is considered a unique post-modern gesture that is rationalized by Wiley as an opportunity to “quote historical sources and position young black men within that field of power.” A sentinel response to the samplings of black post-modern constructions cited above is perhaps best articulated by Kofi Natambu, cultural critic and editor of Panopticon Review, in his unequivocal critique of Suzan-Lori Parks’ adaptation of Porgy and Bess: It is a measure of the sheer absence of original vision, pervasive artistic corruption, and rank opportunism (all driven of course by the relentless greed for money and fame of far too many African American artists of this generation — i.e. those born since 1960 — that allows so much actual contemporary black talent (Suzan-Lori Parks, Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis etc.) to cravenly sell its soul in order to aggressively promote and pay servile homage to such openly racist drivel as ‘Porgy and Bess’ (while brazenly pretending to be motivated by a desire for “creative reinvention”)8. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE One of the more resonant samplings of Ms. Parks’ text is articulated in the more developed Part 2/Act 2 when the Master /Colonel declares the obvious, “I am grateful every day that God made me white.” It is a stark reminder of the Dred Scott Decision written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, endorsed by the US Supreme Court in 1857, which affirmed the Constitutional framers’ belief that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” With respect to the “all men were created equal” clause in the Declaration of Independence, Taney rationalized that “it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.6” Clearly, Albert Einstein was perplexed by such a glaring contradiction in 1946, ten years after immigrating to America, when he pondered The Negro Question in 1946: 37 it difficult to fathom the intensity of cruelty exhibited in 12 Years a Slave, while blacks were overwhelmed into stoic agony. If one has never had to question one’s personal freedom, then it is difficult to understand the gravity of the “freedom” trope enunciated from a posture of bondage. And in the contemporary world, that psychic bondage becomes evident in black response to systemic racism that devalues black life afflicted with Job, Housing, and Educational inequities, callous assaults on Black Males, and a multitude of social abuses that go unnoticed in a society of white privilege.