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Sasha-kay Harriott


Black Aesthetics

Dr. Greg Carr

Working definition of Black Aesthetics

Through the central acts of translation and recovery, Africana Studies seeks to theorize on the basis of long-view genealogies of African intellectual work. This process has been captured by only a handful of thinkers over the arc of existence of the field, largely because of the difficulty of acquiring the requisite linguistic skills (Carr).

There are five different types of intellectual approaches to the study of African life and experiences. The Black Radical Tradition Approach, links ideas of African cultural unity to the material contexts and circumstances of Western racialization and racial hierarchy. (Carr) It is the task of the radical critic to illuminate what is repressed and excluded by the basic mechanisms of a given social order. It is the task of the politically engaged radical critic to side with the excluded and repressed: to develop insights gained in confrontation with injustice, to nourish cultures of resistance, and to help define the means with which society can be rendered adequate to the full breadth of human potentialities (Morse).

The Emic/Etic Approach takes the examination of language, cultural contact, and localized meaning-making as the basis for understanding historical and contemporary African

life (Carr). The emic approach is referred to as inductive, moving from specifics such as the native members cultural beliefs and behavior to the general population. Some of its strength lies in its appreciation of the particularity of the context being studied, in its respect for local viewpoints, and its potential to uncover unexpected findings (Headland, 1990). Etic, however, is sometimes referred as deductive, moving from general to specific. This approach applies outside theories and perspective to what is being studied. One of the strengths of the etic approach is that it allows for comparison across contexts and populations, and the development of more general cross-cultural concepts (Morris, Leung, Ames, & Lickel, 1999). Both approaches seem to rely heavenly on comparing and developing theories, whether from specific to general or vice versa thus rejecting the idea of long-view genealogies African historical and cultural meaning-making.

The Alternative Epistemology Approach shares the attitude of the Black Radical Tradition approach toward long-view genealogies of meaning-making among African people, but seeks to generate the theories, methods, and reliability-standards necessary to establish academic legitimacy for their study of African people (Carr).

The Unbroken Genealogy Approach emphasizes the idea that modalities of African meaning-making are central to the study of contemporary African social, political and cultural life (Carr). This approach looks at African culture as not being impacted from that of Western; however, an impact of cultural exchange occurs. This approach also shows the link of classical African practices with that of the adaptation and migration of the African people. Linking the practices of classic Africans to current Africans is what develops the unbroken arc. In my opinion this approach shows the impact of Western culture as an equal cultural exchange but also

the idea that African culture never lost its roots and can be connected back any time, starting from the beginning and coming forward. The Sui Generis Approach takes the modern era that of the construction of the west as an organizing set of cultural logics (Carr). This approach starts when black people come on the planet, where they start at that moment. The west is seen as the point of departure for theorizing large-scale African identity (Carr). In my opinion I do agree that Africana studies should start at the time when black people came on the planet, but not when they came on the west. The west however can be seen as a point of departure for theorizing large-scale African identity simply because when Africans came to the West they lost their identity of who they were and was set on retracing their steps to find that out. But, Africans had an identity prior to slavery, which can be shown from the beginning of time with hieroglyphs in Egypt.

All five approaches take on different intellectual stand points, defining Africana Studies in multiple concepts. In my opinion, I believe that one picks an approach based on personal reasons and philosophies towards that of Western culture and African culture. I also believed thats based on ones connection and interaction with each culture a theory and approach will be selected. Based on my cultural background and intellectual knowledge my approach to what Africana Studies is would be the Unbroken Genealogy. Simply because I believe that African culture derives from that of African culture the way black people act now is linked and connected to the cultural ways of classic Africa. From the music of hip and r&b to the stories still told one can clearly see African influence. I also believe that a single culture does not take over another but yet infuses with it making a cultural exchange. Just as how African culture was

impacted by western culture, western culture was also impacted by African culture. The mixing of two cultures is always an exchange.

With different approaches comes different way of thinking. To categorize the political impulses of thinkers doing work in the name of Black Studies, there are seven different ways of representative thinking (Carr). Defenders of the African Way are advocates for the African people. They are thinkers who emphasize self-determining political spaces. Grand Theorists: advance an overall explanation of phenomena and experience as part of a political act of PanAfrican struggle and liberation (Carr). Progressives: thinkers who believe that the first priority of Black Studies is to protect equality in the American Society. Thus, not looking back at Africa as a whole, but where Blacks are now in regards to the respect and rights. Liberals: the thought of full responsibility on that of the individual as separate from that of the government. It takes the individual to start change. In my opinion, I believe if the thoughts of Liberals, without the saying of Martin Luther King and numerous individuals who spoke up and took a stand to the unfair treatment of African Americans during slavery and other significant individuals throughout history change would never occur. If everything is going great within the government a significant change would not occur as long as profit is steadily coming in. Neo-Liberals: stress economics factors in the government versus the people. I believe that economic factors should be to an extent the governments responsibility, too much individuals handling a states money increase the chances of theft and misplacement. In regards to small business and trade, I believe the government should have no say. The state should not be able to control every income of that of an individual because the state is not sure what an individual need and there circumstances. Which lead to Conservatives thinking, government should help to pursue the goals of the people with limited access. An individualistic relationship to pre-existing traditional institutions habits

and conditions (Carr). Neo-Conservatives: Display moderate to deep political and intellectual conservatism, often as formerly liberal thinkers (Carr).

With an abundant of different approaches and thinkings in response to African Studies or Black Studies, there are many different intellectual scholar definition of what Africana Studies truly is. Urban Dictionary defines Black Aesthetics as the result of Afro-American desire for self-determination and nationhood that resurfaced in the form of artistic expression in the 1960s. It is unified in its embrace of all members of the African diaspora, although also characterized by varying rhetoric among poets of the Black Arts project. Nonetheless, the Black Aesthetic serves as a corrective means to help black people out of polluted mainstream Americanism.

I agree with the definition in urban dictionary. However, I do not agree with the Black Aesthetic beginning in 1960. Before famous poets such Langston Hughes were expressing selfdetermination, W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington preached about building African Americans long time before. I believe that Black Aesthetics hold a different meaning depending on ones complete outlook of life. Black Aesthetics to me simply mean Africans as a whole, our movement our history our being on this planet.


Carr, Greg (2011): What Black Studies Not: Moving from Crisis to liberation in Africana Intellectual Work, Socialism and Democracy, 25:1, 178-191

Headland, T. N., Pike, K. L., Harris, M., (Eds.) (1990). Emics and etics: The insider/outsider debate. Frontiers of anthropology, v. 7. Newbury Park, Calif: Sage Publications

Morris, M. W., Leung, K., Ames, D., & Lickel, B. (January 01, 1999). Views from inside and outside: Integrating Emic and Etic Insights about Culture and Justice Judgment. Academy of Management Review, 24(4), 781-796.

Morse, Chuck (1999): Capitalism, Marxism, and the Black Radical Tradition. Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Vol.3 no.1, Spring 1999