Sunday, January 16, 2005

We are all Documentarians

A little something for the culturally-inclined among us...


We are all Documentarians
By: Hadji Williams

Back in 1999, I taught a college class on marketing and pop culture. I asked every student to bring in their favorite CD because music is a major gateway into a people’s culture; and in order to market to a people you have to understand them and understanding their music is a great place to start. The plan was for everyone to bring in something they were into—ideally everyone’s tastes was a little different—and we’d all learn a little bit about each other then discuss how those insights could apply to marketing.

As the teacher, I brought in my favorite CD at the time—Slick Rick’s The Art of Storytelling. When it was my turn to play my CD I rushed to the end and cranked up the live version of Lodi Dodi and let it bang. As Rick flowed eccentric, the entire class just gawked at the speakers like it was alien talking. Out of about 25 students around 20 were white and all were under 25. They had no clue who or what they were hearing. Not one of ‘em.

About halfway thru the cut “Kelly”, this little blonde girl who couldn’t have been more than 20 smiles all knowingly then screams out, “That’s the ‘Snoop Dogg song’!” A couple other kids chime in with “oh yeah, she’s right” and a couple knowing head nods. She continues, “Why is this guy singing Snoop Dogg’s song?”

I tried explaining that Snoop Dogg’s Lodi Dodi was a cover (a bad one at that) of one of the 3 or 4 greatest songs in the last quarter century but they weren’t hearing it. They knew what they knew and they knew Lodi Dodi was Snoop Dogg’s. Period. And what’s worse is they were then and now, no different from millions of folks who are filled with misconceptions about our culture and communities. Anyway, that’s when I first realized that black folks and the hiphop community at large has to be responsible for documenting and preserving its culture and artforms itself.

“We have an overarching goal--the world of
manifold civilizations animated by the vision of cultural equity.’’
—Alan Lomax, 1977

Last year, I dropped a joint called, “Will the real Documentarians please stand up?” I spent much of that piece complaining about how mainstream America and corporations were misrepresenting our culture and communities. Well, this year I’d like to try something different.

Number One: Stop blaming the obvious. As people of color we (myself included) have to stop blaming white people (or most of them), corporations and the mainstream media for portraying our cultures and communities in negative light. Why? Because for the most part, they’ve established a good 600-year plus track record of marginalizing and commoditizing communities and cultures of color at almost every turn; and that’s just on this continent alone. At some point, being surprised or just angry about something that’s par for the course just becomes a waste of energy.

Number Two: Define yourself first. As black folks, Native Americans and Hispanics, we should all be able to agree on at least one thing: If you don’t tell your story someone else will tell it for you; and if they’re not part of your community and don’t respect your community, they will tell your story wrong until you force them to do otherwise. Consequently instead of waiting for Viacom, Condè Nast, Clear Channel, Rolling Stone, etc. to get it right, we need to commit to getting it right ourselves and stop relying on them to do something they have no interest in ever doing.

Number Two (a): Stop supporting those who co-opt and misrepresent us. This one’s easy to me. When we see niggers, bitches, hoes, pimps, etc. in the media, we need to stop supporting those outlets. We need to take our dollars and patronage to outlets willing to portray us in three dimensions, just as they do with whites and other communities.

Number Three: We need to demand better of ourselves as artists, as consumers and as individuals. One of the reasons you see a lot of clowns in the media, is because unfortunately, we keep giving them a lot of clowns to choose from. When you drop that 16 filled with negativity or that video filled with hoes, you give everyone that’s against you an opportunity to say, “See, I told you so… That’s how they are!”

Number Four: Educate. We have to commit to educating those outside of our communities about what we truly are. And most importantly, we have to refuse to accept their ignorance or arrogance for getting things wrong. Teach those who want to learn and destroy the lies of those who want nothing more than to spread them.

The kids in my class lacked knowledge because of the ignorance of their community. They spread their ignorance because some people just arrogant enough think they have the right to speak for everybody, hence, most of the crap you see in the media and history books, etc.

As people I believe that our first mission is to love God, next-- love each other; and lastly: love our culture and communities. So my mission for 2005 and beyond is to respect, embrace and document my culture and wherever the opportunity allows, help others do the same. As a writer and author, my contribution will obviously start with my pen. But whether you’re a DJ, an emcee, a B-Boy/B-Girl, a graf writer a fashion designer, a writer or whomever, we all play a role in documenting preserving and elevating our culture. And again, because all of us are consumers each and every one of us can play the greatest role in this by simply supporting those who are doing it right and refusing to support those who do otherwise.

Don’t sleep; we are all Documentarians. We are all vessels for our heritages. We are all contributors to our culture. We are all recipients of those who came before us and struggled and sacrifices. We are all part of the same family. Consequently, we all have a responsibility to make sure that we as individuals and as communities are portrayed properly. We are responsible for what we leave behind. We’re the only ones that will ensure that our respective cultures, artforms and heritages are properly preserved and passed on. If we don’t take control of our culture and tell our stories someone else will—and it will be same folks who think Snoop Dogg wrote Lodi Dodi.

“Practical men often regard these expressive systems as doomed and valueless. Yet, wherever the principle of cultural equity comes into play, these creative wellsprings begin to flow again…even in this industrial age, folk traditions can come vigorously back to life, can raise community morale, and give birth to new forms if they have time and room to grow in their own communities. The work in this field must be done with tender and loving concern… This concern must be knowledgeable, both about the fit of each genre to its local context and about its roots in one or more of the great stylistic traditions of humankind.”
—Alan Lomax


Hadji Williams is author of KNOCK THE HUSTLE: HOW TO SAVE YOUR JOB AND YOUR LIFE FROM CORPORATE AMERICA, (www.knockthehustle.com, coming March 2005.) It’s hiphop’s first success guide for business, culture and life. Email him at: author@knockthehustle.com.

5 Comments:

At 8:00 AM, Blogger magneticpussii said...

I agree one hundred percent with your comment about us all being Documentarians. We all must take matters into our own hands tell our own stories, correct the misrepresentations of ourselves spewed all over the media. We have the power to do so, we just have to wake up and recognize that. I am trying to do that myself, I'm not just talking.

I have started my research into the Black Feminine Psyche. A friend (who happens to be an African American Female) and I were very upset one day and speaking about the lack of support we feel from Black Men, but also of how discouraged we are when it comes to dating outside of our race, and the guilt we would feel to do so. (I personally have done so and am still reeling from the experience) We began our dialogue here, but it SOMEHOW led to how we feel about OURSELVES as Black Women. Hmmm...shouldn't it always begin with ourselves?

In bringing this up we began to expose our insecurities to each other despite our vulnerability. We looked at ourselves and each other with sensitive and caring, yet critical eyes and agreed to encourage others to do the same. We agreed to do this because we feel that the media have a great deal of power over how Black Women, and how people in general, feel about themselves.

We sense that this is why we simultaneously feel so much pressure from within. Having your own opinion becomes a scary thing to admit to when the media are a ghostly white monster. It is a monster with the power to shape minds of the young and make the old forget their memories. It numbs our critical thinking capabilities. The Media are Pop Culture because of the force and razor point micro view of its imagery. The media, or those who now control it present to the people a pristinely packaged promise of purity. We are bombarded with a narrow perspective, one predominant perspective, as a marketing strategy by the powers that be. This is so that control is maintained and consumerism prevails. The result is mass brainwashing and mass insecurity which then becomes it's own monster eating away at us from the inside out.

My Friend and I decided to make a documentary film about Black Feminine Beauty. We decided to start a monthly discussion session open to the public about issues within the Black community with a focus on Black Women's issues in particular. This way we would get a pulse on what others are thinking and feeling so it isn't just a subjective view on this matter. The two of us (my friend and I) share a very similar outlook because of our very similar experiences (we even look quite a bit alike, though we are not related), but what if we gather a bunch of African Americans with differing perspectives. Could it be possible to find such a thing? (By following the media, one would never guess)

So far we have held 2 discussion sessions. We started among our friends, then spread out to the local Brooklyn community, now we are going to grade and high schools to speak with children. We see that children are the most mutable and therefore most likely to become hopeful saviors on this crusade. They can begin to develop the muscle to think critically now and save the future of society. We will encourage them to bring these discussions home to their families. (The families who think together won't sink together.)

Next we will go to colleges and universities and encourage those students to continue to dialogue about issues of concern. We plan to go to these institutions loaded with plenty of mental ammunition. We want to have panelists from many different backgrounds. We want to have media critics and makers, marketing and advertising professionals, sociologists, feminists, activists, and historians as stimuli for a fruitful discussion.

Once we have started a national dialogue we are certain to pick up on what the prevailing issues are. That is when we will begin to write our film. Or by then, it may be writing itself.

What do you think about this?

I must note that so far my research has shown that there is a lack of literature on the Black Feminine Perspective on Body Image. Most of the books on Women and body image are written with a focus on the issues that White Women face. The only mention of Black Women: a comparison. So, it is apparent that Black Women need to be scrutinized to find out what haunts us. Surely with all the Hip Hop and R&B videos and magazines out there depicting us a sexual lushes alive only to serve as arm and eye candy, and receptacles for Black Male rage, we must be little off center. I know that I am confused. I mean, Halle Berry and Beyonce are the two Icons of Black Feminine Beauty I can recall seeing repeatedly in the media and they are different from each other. But where are my darker hued sisters? Where are my Afro Type hair sisters? We know that hair certainly is a neurosis with us as Black People. Where are my intellectual sisters who's brains define their beauty as much as their other, eh-hmm "assets". Bootilicious is just fine, and I won't say that I don't LOVE sex, but the mind is the undervalued erogenous zone.Why can't we celebrate it all? I digress...

My questions keep coming and it's time for me get out and talk. I won't apologize for my somewhat kooky stance, but I will say that I have a passion to help others as much as myself and that is why I wrote this response.

I appreciate your thoughts, and would love to hear for you and anyone else out there who would like to comment.

 
At 8:00 AM, Blogger magneticpussii said...

I agree one hundred percent with your comment about us all being Documentarians. We all must take matters into our own hands tell our own stories, correct the misrepresentations of ourselves spewed all over the media. We have the power to do so, we just have to wake up and recognize that. I am trying to do that myself, I'm not just talking.

I have started my research into the Black Feminine Psyche. A friend (who happens to be an African American Female) and I were very upset one day and speaking about the lack of support we feel from Black Men, but also of how discouraged we are when it comes to dating outside of our race, and the guilt we would feel to do so. (I personally have done so and am still reeling from the experience) We began our dialogue here, but it SOMEHOW led to how we feel about OURSELVES as Black Women. Hmmm...shouldn't it always begin with ourselves?

In bringing this up we began to expose our insecurities to each other despite our vulnerability. We looked at ourselves and each other with sensitive and caring, yet critical eyes and agreed to encourage others to do the same. We agreed to do this because we feel that the media have a great deal of power over how Black Women, and how people in general, feel about themselves.

We sense that this is why we simultaneously feel so much pressure from within. Having your own opinion becomes a scary thing to admit to when the media are a ghostly white monster. It is a monster with the power to shape minds of the young and make the old forget their memories. It numbs our critical thinking capabilities. The Media are Pop Culture because of the force and razor point micro view of its imagery. The media, or those who now control it present to the people a pristinely packaged promise of purity. We are bombarded with a narrow perspective, one predominant perspective, as a marketing strategy by the powers that be. This is so that control is maintained and consumerism prevails. The result is mass brainwashing and mass insecurity which then becomes it's own monster eating away at us from the inside out.

My Friend and I decided to make a documentary film about Black Feminine Beauty. We decided to start a monthly discussion session open to the public about issues within the Black community with a focus on Black Women's issues in particular. This way we would get a pulse on what others are thinking and feeling so it isn't just a subjective view on this matter. The two of us (my friend and I) share a very similar outlook because of our very similar experiences (we even look quite a bit alike, though we are not related), but what if we gather a bunch of African Americans with differing perspectives. Could it be possible to find such a thing? (By following the media, one would never guess)

So far we have held 2 discussion sessions. We started among our friends, then spread out to the local Brooklyn community, now we are going to grade and high schools to speak with children. We see that children are the most mutable and therefore most likely to become hopeful saviors on this crusade. They can begin to develop the muscle to think critically now and save the future of society. We will encourage them to bring these discussions home to their families. (The families who think together won't sink together.)

Next we will go to colleges and universities and encourage those students to continue to dialogue about issues of concern. We plan to go to these institutions loaded with plenty of mental ammunition. We want to have panelists from many different backgrounds. We want to have media critics and makers, marketing and advertising professionals, sociologists, feminists, activists, and historians as stimuli for a fruitful discussion.

Once we have started a national dialogue we are certain to pick up on what the prevailing issues are. That is when we will begin to write our film. Or by then, it may be writing itself.

What do you think about this?

I must note that so far my research has shown that there is a lack of literature on the Black Feminine Perspective on Body Image. Most of the books on Women and body image are written with a focus on the issues that White Women face. The only mention of Black Women: a comparison. So, it is apparent that Black Women need to be scrutinized to find out what haunts us. Surely with all the Hip Hop and R&B videos and magazines out there depicting us a sexual lushes alive only to serve as arm and eye candy, and receptacles for Black Male rage, we must be little off center. I know that I am confused. I mean, Halle Berry and Beyonce are the two Icons of Black Feminine Beauty I can recall seeing repeatedly in the media and they are different from each other. But where are my darker hued sisters? Where are my Afro Type hair sisters? We know that hair certainly is a neurosis with us as Black People. Where are my intellectual sisters who's brains define their beauty as much as their other, eh-hmm "assets". Bootilicious is just fine, and I won't say that I don't LOVE sex, but the mind is the undervalued erogenous zone.Why can't we celebrate it all? I digress...

My questions keep coming and it's time for me get out and talk. I won't apologize for my somewhat kooky stance, but I will say that I have a passion to help others as much as myself and that is why I wrote this response.

I appreciate your thoughts, and would love to hear for you and anyone else out there who would like to comment.

 
At 10:10 AM, Blogger Hajpaj said...

Magnetic,

I agree with everything you said abotu the way black women are viewed in america. Women of color get hosed on so many levels. I tell Farai all the time that she's one of the few black female voices that i see on mainstream tv talking about something other than how to do your hair and where to shop.

Magnetic pusii is an interesting name. i'm sure it's been a source of controversy for you... It borders on the whole pimp thing--people intelligently making progress... it's hard to take negative or charged words and flip them into something strong and productive, no matter how you spell them. god know we've tried it by taking an "e-r" and replacing it with "a" at the end of a "certain word",,,

god bless in that regard--hope you pull it off.

 
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