Prelude: The Right to Mourn… (Part 1)

Welcome (back) to the pink room!

Hi there. Glad you are here. Grab a seat, get comfortable … we might be here for a little while.

I feel like it’s been long enough that I probably should reintroduce myself a little. But don’t worry. I still have definitely been doing way too much thinking and have much to discuss with you.

So it’s been about six or so months since I last opened these pink walls to visitors. And in truth, a lot has happened. I graduated college and became one of those real-world adults. I spent two months in the woods making and falling in love over and over again with art and the stage. I moved back home, in love with art-making, and few plans about what was supposed to come next (an ongoing stage). I applied to one of those prestigious fellowship programs where they actually give you money to live and learn abroad. So fingers crossed on that one. I got a few jobs.

Still living at home.

Asking tons of questions about who I am, who I want to be, who I love or at least have the capacity to love, and how I want to love, worship, and live. I fumble a lot and make more mistakes than I wish were possible in friendships, relationships, loving, and just everyday living. I am lonely, a lot, these days. I am loved well and not so well. I have become obsessed with beauty and justice, convinced they might be one in the same. I am somehow simultaneously desperate to be loved by someone, anyone really, and persistently waiting, yearning perhaps, for a love that is big, unrelenting, and uncompromising.

So that’s me. At least for right now. You will have to check back in, in a few months to see who I am then… I have a feeling you might just meet someone entirely different. But who knows. Anyway, I have been working on a post for the last several weeks but I decided actually to sit on it a little longer. Jamie in this season, you will soon find is a little angsty. And asking a lot of big questions about faith, theology, desire, love, and honestly just what it means to be human at this moment in the history of the world. So as you can imagine these are long-term projects and I have decided to take my time and just enjoy the discovery before rushing to speak too quickly on these matters. But since I did want to reopen the pink room I thought I could actually share a piece I wrote a little less than a year ago now.

For the sake of clarity, I decided to share the piece in a separate post, which will release tomorrow. We can call it “part two” of our chat today. However, before I leave you today, I wanted to share a little context about the piece you will hopefully soon read.

The piece is called: “The Right to Mourn, Despair and Destroy the World or Ourselves: The Black Aesthetic of Generation Z.” I wrote it while I was in a theater class last spring. As a class, we spent the entire semester deep-diving into the world of the Black Arts Movement and the growing Black Aesthetic which was born out of a post-Martin and Malcolm world. This movement was nothing less than a movement of power and beauty. It was a movement that demanded that Blackness was more than a reaction or grievous accident but a culture, a people, and a revolution. It was the final rejection of the white world that refused to affirm their humanity or even acknowledge their existence. It was a movement of artists who no longer looked outside for beauty, strength, hope, or worth but rather turned attentively inward fashioning each quality from within themselves and their communities.

So in the late 60s to mid to late 70s you get refrains like “Black and Proud”, “Black and beautiful”, “Black joy” and even “Black girl magic.” You can see it in the music as Black funk and power become well-known genres. In the visual artists, poets, and theater makers as they all deliberately begin to create in opposition to the Eurocentric and white aesthetics of the world before.

Sitting in that class was like drinking from the milk of gods. There was so much beauty wrapped in the making of these grieving artists who somehow manage to transform even their grief into Black pride and protest. These artists were strong. They had to be in a country that killed their prophets along with the hope they preached. This is a world of Black makers who forged hope out of the abyss and then sang it long enough until they could taste in their throats and feel it in their feet. They forged a hope so they could survive. And yet, now 50 or so years later, I found as a Black artist myself, I was indebted to these artists but didn’t want to make art like them. I didn’t really want to be proud. I didn’t want joy. And I sure didn’t feel beautiful.

I began to ponder about the Black aesthetic of my own generation if there was one. And on one particular afternoon, a brand new student collective of Black visual artists was having a showcase in one of the on-campus galleries. I walked in and immediately I kept hearing these lyrics in my head. And then caught the tune and as walked around, staring in awe. I couldn’t help myself from singing Billie Holiday’s dark tune.

I hummed and then honestly alone in this gallery began to whisper before I was singing out…

Southern trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swingin’ in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees. Pastoral scene of the gallant South. The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth. Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh. Then the sudden smell of burning flesh. Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck. For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck. For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop. Here is a strange and bitter crop

Lyric after lyric hit me as I witnessed Black art makers who were tired of pretending they were strong. I understood then, we were too human to be proud, or joyous for its sake alone… our humanity instead demanded we be honest. Sometimes that meant unexplainable joy. But I also saw art that showcased the broken in us and our communities. The pain. The grief. The rage. The abuse. The heartache. All symptoms of humans trying to live in a world built out of their inhumanity. It was a new aesthetic. A generation of humans who refused to hide their fragility any longer even if the world killed them for it. I actually pick up on some of these themes in a post I wrote a little bit ago in response to the play I wrote and performed last fall, which can you definitely check out today entitled, “Vulnerability and Justice.”

Alright well, that’s all for now. Join me back here tomorrow to check out what I deem the Black Aesthetic of Generation Z.

Till then!

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