Authored by Oge Ibida ’21 in “Black Faculty and Imagining Black Studies“
last updated 02.09.2021
During the summer of 2015, the Africana faculty visited South Africa and attended various museums and sites such as the Apartheid Musuem in Johannesburg and the African Gender Institute located at the University of Cape Town. The questions that guide my close reading of the photograph are: How does the trip to South Africa expand the faculty’s definition and aesthetic of Africana Studies? In what ways did they imagine Africana to be diasporic and intersectional? This visit to South Africa shaped their interest in transforming Africana Studies into a department that covers a large range of “blackness” and the intentionality of including diasporic perspectives. The particular exhibition that this photograph is taken in is called “The Rise of Black Consciousness”. The photograph and name of the exhibition narrate the challenges of apartheid and the ways in which the black youth and scholars gave voice to Black pride and Black self-assertion in South Africa during the 1960s.
Both Dr. Kelly and Dr. Bowles hold up clenched fists which embody Black power, a global symbol of solidarity that connects people in the African Diaspora. Solidarity is another fundamental aesthetic of Africana Studies that Hines points to in terms of the Black Studies mind. The photo that stands behind them incites them to throw up the Black power fist and affirm notions of Afrocentricity. The Black power symbol connects them to the Black people protesting in the photograph. Although the Black power fist was initially a US-centric symbol of Black pride, it transformed into a diasporic symbol that represents Afrocentricity. Popular images of the Black Panther Party holding up the Black power fist connects the struggle of Black folks to the global fight against systems of oppression. Their use of the raised fist was generally associated with solidarity, defiance, and Black pride. This symbol connects them to the Black Panther and connects our struggles as Black people across time. Still currently used for the Black lives movement.
In big, bold letters read “Black Gays are Beautiful” and “Negotiate Gay and Lesbian Rights Too” which is from an LGBTQ+ protest from the youth. The photograph narrates how homosexuality was considered a punishable crime. During the 1987 election, South Africa had its first candidate, Leon de Beer, openly discuss and advocate for gay rights. Despite the system’s homophobia, there was a celebration and joy, an act of expressing themselves freely and showing their advocacy. The photograph bears witness to the joy in Black life especially living in the post-apartheid era. The balloon in the background captures the protest as a celebration of Black, gay life despite the system being rooted in homophobia and antiBlackness. The juxtaposition of the smiley faces on the poster and the “Negotiate Gay and Lesbian Rights too” represents the desire for happiness and joy while demanding for gay liberation and rights. Furthermore, the photograph shows not only Black people but also white people which reveals the racial tensions that exist in the post-apartheid era. This makes me question: How did LGBTQ+ rights bring them together during times of apartheid? How did their racial identities play a role in the protest? Referring back to Hines’ components of Black Studies, we are able to see themes ofoppression and resistance emerge in the history and the faculty’s relationship to the photograph. Black activism for queer rights.
In addition to the aesthetic of oppression and resistance that Hines points out, this photograph encourages us to discuss diaspora and intersectionality. Africana Studies always seeks to use an intersectional approach when analyzing the experiences of Black folks within the Diaspora. The bold letters on the posters provide critical insight into understanding the demands of the Black youth in considering their intersectional experiences. For instance, the words“Black Gays” and the “too” in “Negotiate Gay and Lesbian Rights Too” represent a demand for the government to acknowledge both their Blackness and gayness as worthy of protection. To an extent, intersectionality offers Africana the tools to analyze interdisciplinary work andengage with Blackness, queer studies, etc. These are the same rights that Black queer folks were fighting during that time period in America and continue to fight for in this contemporary moment. Black Studies seeks to acknowledge the multiplicity of privilege, oppression, and identities in order to reflect the history of African diaspora histories.