“The American Race Crisis” featured at the New School

Harry Belafonte, Raquel Cepeda, Phillip Agnew and Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad speaking at the New School on Feb. 26

Really great panel last night featuring activist Harry Belafonte at the New School, NY. The event was titled VOICES OF CRISIS: The Crisis Continues and is part of a lecture series connected to an exhibition at Parsons that features the school’s historical records of a Race Crisis symposium that took place on campus in the 1960s which featured guest speakers like Dr. Martin Luther King, James Baldwin and dozens of other activists of this time.

Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014
Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014
Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014
Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014

I have to admit I enjoyed the live panel discussion more than the gallery exhibition itself, mainly due to my interests in Africana Studies/Civil Rights for Women of Color. It makes me sad to see the lack of a female voices in such exhibitions as this, where stories and legends about profound moments in “the cause” or “struggle” are illustrated in a fashion that would suggest women did not share or participate in the conversation. Even if the 1960s media were dominated by male voices and all this talk of “I AM A MAN” you can’t tell me they weren’t at home discussing these ideas with the females in their lives or better yet, that women weren’t meeting amongst themselves to negotiate inequality  and how they could strategize a better kind of freedom for themselves and their families.

Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014
Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014

Obviously the female voice is something I specifically search for in these public discourses and I understand there’s become a hierarchy to which freedoms should come first, or shall we say who’s freedoms should come first. Black women are STILL not too high on the list of priorities, as individuals with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness- apart from Men, Children and Family structures.

I came away from the panel with 2 ideas. 1# from Mr.Belafonte was the discussion that Freedom is still a abstract idea, especially if you’ve never really experienced it. And even if you did experience such a thing as freedom or equality, what would it look like? How would you when it had been achieved for you and yours? In this respect I see the failure of Afrofuture aesthetics. While its a great way to inspire Black culture and get us excited about ourselves and what we are capable of, it falls short of really questioning a future “freedom” and what that could be like for us.

#2 thoughts came from Phillip Agnew of the Dream Defenders. When asked about the apathy of the Millennial generation and whether social media could help bring us out of it, Mr. Agnew proposed his conditions for civil rights activity in a contemporary world. “Our revolution is a collective revolution. You can kill the heroes and the villains now because no one, including me is some leader that’s going to save you.” I found that a really important idea to bring home for many of the young folk in attendance. There is however a perspective missing from present conversations occurring in the younger generation and that to me is the lack of recognizing just how much we have accomplished and how much activism we are involved in. When it comes to propaganda I believe that activism or “agitation”, marching, protesting and questioning the status quo has been demonized as violent looters who will come through your town like a plague and destroy all you know. (See Detroit, 1968 for example right?) But that’s simply not true. I have lived in Chicago, Detroit and New York City. I can tell you with confidence that young adults between the ages of 18-30 are running non-profits, counseling youth, studying law and colonialism, and making strides in the arts and humanities. The narcissism of social media has divided us, but the collective hunger for equality keeps us moving in the same direction. Let’s keep doing the things we care about, but push collaboration and the sharing of our activities with each other even further.

Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014

Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014
Voices in Crisis Exhibition View at Parson The New School, 2014

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