“Is it really even accurate to consider us alternative?”
This question was posed by my fellow Black Girl Nerd contributor Candice in her piece “On The Black Alternative Experience“. In her article, Candice discussed how her lack of interest in a certain recording artist caused her to receive a condescending comment about how “different” her music taste was.
When I saw this question, I felt thoughtful. Last year, I did a piece for the Black women’s site For Harriet called “10 Black Alternative Culture Websites You Should Know“. This article lists sites like Black Girl Nerds, Afropunk, and AfroGothic.
I did this piece to spread the word about these sites, all of which were new to me at the time. The reason I considered these sites “Black alternative culture” wasn’t because they were weird. It was because these sites were alternatives to interests considered typical for Black people.
After I read Candice’s piece, I Googled the words “Black alternative culture” to see what I would get. Not only did I see my For Harriet article, but I saw other things that made me think about what is considered alternative. The first thing that piqued my interest was this Slideshare powerpoint by Rob Fields called “The Rise of Black Alternative Culture“.
To avoid clicking through all fifty something slides, just take away this. Most of the things that are considered Black alternative culture has been around for years. Afropunk was originally created to bring Black rock musicians and listeners together, but Black rock musicians aren’t anything new. According to Fields’s Powerpoint, there has been at least one Black rock musician or band every decade since the 1950s. However, very few people have acknowledged them.
The same thing applies to Afrofuturism, a movement that uses sci-fi, fantasy, and historical elements in different artistic mediums to reexamine history and critique the present from a non-Western perspective. One aspect of Afrofuturism is Black speculative fiction. While contemporary Black speculative fiction writers have only recently gotten attention, Black speculative fiction has been written since the 19th and 20th century.
If we have been doing things considered “different” and “weird” for years, then is it really alternative? If Rob Fields’s idea of getting people to market toward Afropunks, Black nerds, and others were to work, then Blacks in alternative culture would become the norm. Unless Blacks in alternative culture are considered normal by the general population, then they will be considered different.
Another factor that debunks the whole idea of Black + alternative culture = different is that there are people who enjoy and/or embody mainstream and alternative things. Black speculative fiction author P.D. Clark stated that he was a blerd and a hip-hop fan in his piece “Memoirs of An Atypical Blerd“. Then there is musician Janelle Monae, whose albums fuse R&B with other music genres and science fiction to create an epic saga.
While some people may be offended by the use of the words “Black alternative culture”, some people use them as a source of pride. Rob Fields is the founder of the online magazine Bold.As.Love.Us. and its tagline is “the new Black imagination”. The magazine focuses on little-known Black artists in film, music, literature, and more.
In the Powerpoint mentioned earlier, Fields states that he considers the words “the new Black imagination” as another way of saying “Black alternative culture”. Field uses the words “new Black imagination” to go beyond what Black people are usually associated with and considers other things Black people are capable of doing. He asks readers of Bold.As.Love.Us. to imagine and get to know Black people with unbridled creativity.
Another site with a similar goal is Afropunk, whose tagline is “the other Black experience.” The site features independent Black musicians and artists from a variety of genres, mediums, and countries. I feel like the tagline and the site is a middle finger to people who associate Black people with certain music genres and traits.
While certain interests may be considered alternative, it doesn’t make a person with those interests different or weird. Afropunks, blerds, and others are a part of a huge collage of what Black people can experience and contribute.
Featured image and embedded image from http://perryshimon.com/afropunk/