I’ve been thinking a lot about Vulcans and black people particularly black men lately. Recently on Star Trek Discovery the home planet of the original series Vulcans was renamed Na’Var, due to the unification of the Vulcans with their Romulan cousins and in a way I think this recontextualization of an old staple race from Star Trek fandom and changes in the way black Americans see themselves hold many parallels.
Vulcans of course are notorious as unemotional aliens and are thus for me the epitome of discipline, control and dignity. I’m usually incredibly repulsed by displays of sentiment choosing neither to laugh to heartily when happy or despair to mightily when sad. And I never cry, that is the ultimate betrayal of dignity to me. Of course I often fail in my efforts as I am, like most people, highly emotional and have lately found myself at the point of tears often. Part of me still holds a Vulcan sentiment up as an example to live by because it seems to demand the least from others and doesn’t leave oneself vulnerable to manipulation.
I think black men in America carry a huge burden socially to hold up an example of unflinching masculinity, the athletically high-achieving and well educated black men even more so. If fact, as I enter into generalities here let me say that in all ways other that the privilege we enjoy or don’t, blacks in general are amongst the most American citizens. We are literal exemplars of this countries philosophies, and its true believers in the nations creeds. All of which magnifies our disappointment in its unkept promises making these slights sting intensely.
We’re coming up on some sad anniversaries soon. The one year declaration of the pandemic, the Amaud Abrury and Brionne Taylor’s extrajudicial killings and of course George Floyd in a few months. All these events effect people of color most existentially but the collateral psychological effects are in my opinion ill-defined. I think it creates a shell shock feeling making this burden to prove ones citizenship and humanity seem particularly inextricable since so much of the larger culture is defined by heroic idealized depictions of black virility, spirituality and dignity. America looks to blacks in particular when searching for its soul, it’s avant-garde cultural potency, and it’s singular devotion to excellence. A trait blacks share with many minority groups in this country. This all makes the recontextualization I mentioned before all the more significant because I feel myself and I believe other people of color I meet yearning for a type of averageness and normality that I think many in the majority population take advantage of. A type of identity free of trauma or the burden to feel excellent constantly.
In the most recent season of Star Trek Discovery the earlier mentioned former-Vulcan unify with their Romulan cousins and proceed to try Michael Burnum essentially for hubris. The show trial that proceeds is a great allegory for the open way battles of emotion and rationally play out in all peoples. I thought it reflected this moment in my own culture perfectly. I wrestle with these same issues, how much to be passionate or coldly rational. How much to be chaste or sexual. I contemplate these issues both in my private life and in my artwork. What a great moment to be living in to wake up and feel truly like you’re a work-in-progress and that your internal hashing can actually yield results because the times have changed. It feels like a moment of awaking from a long slumber to me.
I have a bit of a morbid fascination with antebellum slave posters which has permeated many of my works for years now. For my latest works “Ollie Jean’s Hymn to Lost Black Boys”, I have found a treasure trove, mostly found at university archives or the Library of Congress or the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. Here are a few of my recent finds I pulled from my iPhone.
I’ve been listening to a lot of “the Internet” lately. This bluesy R and B group is so smooth I can listen to it all day. I hope they come out with another CD soon, we need them. Two pieces I love and play over and over are “Red Balloon” off their first record “Feel Good” and “Mood” off their third release “Hive Mind”. Here are the YouTube videos of those songs.
I’ve been working like a fiend in the studio. Not much of a social life to speak of because of it. I guess I like the pressure of deadlines and expectations. It is taxing though. I miss not having a schedule. The output seems to be well received so far. In my next post I’d like to go over some of the things I’ve been working on including a completed cedar shingles series. Until then do be well and stay safe.