Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Significant Moment for African-American Studies

This statement is perhaps redundant, given the fact that the first African-American president is poised to win the upcoming election, but it is precisely the early touting of Obama as the post-racial candidate at the beginning of the election that makes this moment so interesting. Besides spurring some fascinating discussion as the the meaning of African-American identity (particularly with regard to slave-ancestry) there is some notion that the possible Obama presidency symbolizes the notion that the melting pot has come to its fullest realization and now we can look past the divisive racial past (despite its persistent material effects). Indeed, a great deal of White Americans who disdain racial prejudice as attitude, want little to do with ameliorating its persistent effects

On the other hand consistently controversial figure Walter Benn Michaels has written an interesting piece (containing a few massive leaps of logic) in the New Left Review claiming that Obama represents the new face of neo-liberalism. Michaels reminds how, to paraphrase, political oppression expressed in the economic sphere, such as the "glass ceiling," is generally not in the interest of capitalism. However, this is not necessarily how history unfolds (in Capital reading group we discussed this as a sort of long standing form of primitive accumulation?).

We can see the cultural reverberations of this discourse in figures like Amy Winehouse whose national and historical remove allows her to help institute the rise of neo-soul in popular music. A recent article in the nation suggests Winehouse is white woman who wants to be a black man.

And let's not forget Solange Knowles, who in an effort to differentiate herself from the stylings of her sister Beyonce, has also embarked on marketing herself as a proponent of neo-soul. A surprising video here positions her amidst footage of African/African-American struggle, reduced to some extent to fun-loving historical spectacle (evinced in the moment where Knowles and her back-up duck when almost hit with the fire-hose footage directed at Civil Rights protesters from the early 1960s).

The video moves forward through history (and a sequined tank), where black people now live on the moon, and where the song's protagonist is reunited with her love object. Is this the love song to the destiny of African-Americans? Is this the hidden trajectory of African-American struggle toward inter-galactic control? Is this the final supercession of the glass ceiling that becomes science-fiction set on the moon?

It reminds of much more critical, but nonetheless reintegrated films of Guy Debord, where mass media footage is deployed as an effort of "detournement" for revolutionary purposes.

The music of the Civil Rights era and the discourse of post-racial America is now deployed to empty that moment of its content and critique, which may extend to our own moment. Obama is both the fulfillment of the promise of the Civil Rights era and its reduction to the construct of glass ceilings.


five said...

why you disable comments on the dog poop post?

SkidMarquez said...

No I idea. I just figured out how to make it go back to normal. So leave comments, away.