african experience

Artist Elizabeth Catlett, who said the purpose of her art was to “present black people in their beauty and dignity for ourselves and others to understand and enjoy,” was born on this day in 1915. 

[Elizabeth Catlett. Sharecropper. 1952, published 1968-70. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 José Sanchez / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Spain]
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness | African Americans
African Americans are no different when it comes to mental health conditions. Learn why your concerns and experiences may be different.

How Do Mental Health Conditions Affect the African American Community?

Although anyone can develop a mental health problem, African Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Common mental health disorders among African Americans include:

African Americans are also more likely to experience certain factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition:

  • Homelessness. People experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of developing a mental health condition. African Americans make up 40% of the homeless population.
  • Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. African American children are more likely to be exposed to violence than other children.

- See more at:

Hi Black Tumblr,

The Blackout is celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month by seeking to open up conversation on the Mental Health and Wellness of Black folks. Read up on some of the risk factors above and don’t forget to participate in the festivities on @postitforward!

Our Answer Time on Mental Health and Self-Care will be on May 23rd! 

Cheryl Dunye (b. 1966) is an academic and filmmaker, whose work focuses on issues of sexuality and race, particularly those surrounding the lives of black lesbians. She currently teaches at San Francisco State University.

Her 1996 film, The Watermelon Woman, has made history by being the first full-length feature film directed and written by a black lesbian about the subject. Another film, Stranger Inside, focuses on the experiences of African-American lesbians in prison. She has won numerous awards for her work, particularly in recognition of their promotion of LGBT themes.

Rhiannon Giddens Speaks For The Silenced

Rhiannon Giddens’ new solo album, Freedom Highway, is an exploration of African-American experiences, accompanied by an instrument with its own uniquely African-American story: the banjo.

Giddens notes that the modern banjo draws from the African instrument known as the akonting, which is made from a gourd. “In the first 100 years of its existence, the [American] banjo was known as a plantation instrument, as a black instrument,” she says.

Giddens says the banjo seemed like the perfect fit for her album, which includes songs based on slave narratives, as well as a song she wrote in response to police shootings of young black men.

“Getting into the banjo and discovering that it was an African-American instrument, it totally turned on its head my idea of American music — and then, through that, American history,” Giddens says.

John Peets/Courtesy of the artist 


Various paintings by Jacob Lawrence (African-American, 1917 – 2000).

Jacob Lawrence (September 7, 1917 – June 9, 2000) was an African-American painter known for his portrayal of African-American life. But not only was he a painter, storyteller, and interpreter; he also was an educator. Lawrence referred to his style as “dynamic cubism,” though by his own account the primary influence was not so much French art as the shapes and colors of Harlem. 

He brought the African-American experience to life using blacks and browns juxtaposed with vivid colors. He also taught, and spent 15 years as a professor at the University of Washington.

Click on the images for further information: title (year).

I think my role is to shut up and listen. A lot of white people should shut up and listen. They really don’t know what the African-American experience truly is. When you have people getting shot in their cars for no reason and being put in fucking jail cells and it’s for profit, we have a serious problem, and the first thing you need to do is get educated. Don’t try to do this, like, ‘Blue lives matter.’ Don’t try to do the 'All lives matter.’ Just shut up and listen to the experience. And then move forward after that.
—  Billie Joe Armstrong, Rolling Stone Magazine

African American History at the National Archives

February is Black History Month. This month and every day, the National Archives celebrates the extraordinary contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African American experience, including millions of records related to the interactions between African Americans and the Federal government. 

You don’t have to live in Washington, DC or visit one of our research rooms to be inspired by the wealth of information available at the National Archives. Visit our African American History webpage to learn more about events and activities celebrating African American History. 

Read the full post on the AOTUS blog.

maddkat98  asked:

Do you have any archives of racism between white and black American soldiers? While black and white soldiers were fighting in Vietnam, America was in the midst of the civil rights movement, so I'm wondering how much of the racial conflict was carried over to the front lines. Perhaps they united in being racist toward the Vietnamese at the time, but I'm not so sure. Vietnam war movies don't usually depict these conflicts, so I'm curious.

Funny you should ask, as I’m writing a paper this semester that focuses largely on the issue of racism in the military during the Vietnam era. It’s a very good question you ask, because you’re right in saying that popular culture does not offer any meaningful insight.

Yes, there was widespread racial tension in the military during the Vietnam War.

As the Civil Rights movement at home continued while American involvement in Vietnam drastically increased, these racial tensions grew. There seems to have been less racial incidents among combat troops while in the field, presumably because it benefited all parties to get along well. In the rear, however, there were numerous incidents. By 1968, the military was beginning to realize these tensions existed and were not going away.

Systematic, or institutional, racism also heavily affected African Americans. They were more susceptible to being drafted. They were less likely to access technical fields in the military due to poorer education, and therefore more heavily concentrated in combat units, and therefore had high casualty numbers. There was a lack of promotions for black soldiers. The military justice system was also a great source of this institutional racism. (See Westheider)

“United in being racist toward the Vietnamese” is an interesting thought. You might have heard the quote from Muhammad Ali: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” While it’s debated if he ever said this, the sentiment nonetheless rang true with many African Americans at the time. Their fight was at home, for their own rights and freedom, not against another brown-skinned man who had (and still was) experiencing oppression under the white man.

Books on the subject:

Some really cool bits from Vanity Fair's Interview with Orlando Jones, re: American Gods and Anansi
  • VF: In your “Coming to America” intro, you get to wander in between some accents and dialects as you’re giving all the different angles of this African and African-American experience. Can you talk about some of the vocal choices you made there?
  • OJ: For me, one of the interesting things about American Gods is the way the world is laid out: it’s the old gods versus the new gods. Because Anansi is a trickster god, for me, his speech definitely had to have some African element to it—some patois. It was key that at certain moments, particularly when communicating on a slave ship full of Africans who are soon to be sold at market, he communicate in a tone that is familiar to them. That’s just the nature of communication.
  • I was just mindful that the patois, Gullah, all those were a part of those different languages that morphed from African under the American influence. The gentleman that plays the slave that’s praying to and summons Anansi, he does so obviously speaking in an African dialect. To not lean towards that worship is really to divorce yourself from everything American Gods is about, because the problem of the old gods is they’ve lost their following, they’ve lost their worshipers. It was a way to do that. Without speaking African, in an African accent or an African language, that was a way to do it.
  • VF: One of the very fun things about Mr. Nancy in that scene is that partway through, and all of a sudden, he’s got a spider for a head. I was told they went through many, many different spider designs before they landed on the one. Did you get to be a part of the process? What are your spider thoughts?
  • OJ: Bryan and Michael were awesome. A lot of show-runners don’t necessarily include the cast in those decisions, but they sent the design to me and were like, “We really want to know what you think about this spider.” The spider was three different colors—the red and the green—and it had these whiskers. These jowls.
  • That’s what I was hoping for, because I wanted him to have this hair on his face and this crazy hair on the top inspired by a lot of South African street fashion, which I think is the most interesting street fashion in the game right now. It’s very colorful. It’s very in-your-face, but at the same time, it’s super-elegant. I had been flipping through spiders, and I’d seen the yellow gloves that Anansi was supposed to have, and I couldn’t figure out how that was going to work because I felt like that would be so distracting. I was happy when Michael and Bryan were like, “No, let’s just do this.” But then I thought the visual-effects bill on this was going to be ridiculous.

Elizabeth Catlett (April 15, 1915 – April 2, 2012) was an African-American graphic artist and sculptor best known for her depictions of the African-American experience in the 20th century, which often had the female experience as their focus.

“No other field is closed to those who are not white and male as is the visual arts. After I decided to be an artist, the first thing I had to believe was that I, a black woman, could penetrate the art scene, and that, further, I could do so without sacrificing one iota of my blackness or my femaleness or my humanity.”
Reclaiming the Photographic Narrative of African-Americans
A new issue of Aperture magazine explores images of African-Americans that not only challenge long-held narratives about race, but also redefine them.
By James Estrin

MoMA collection artists Lyle Ashton Harris, Lorna Simpson, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and others are featured in “Vision and Justice,” a special issue of Aperture magazine guest edited by Sarah Lewis addressing the role of photography in the African American experience. Read more about it via The New York Times’s Lens blog. 

Indian Arrival Day in Jamaica, May 10th

May 10th is celebrated in Jamaica as Indian Arrival Day. 

The first 261 Indians arrived In 1845, transported by British colonists and lading at Old Harbour, on the south coast of Jamaica. They were the first to begin their working contracts on the island. Today, 2015, 170 years later, we still celebrate their arrival.   

This day of May 10th not only reminds of the rich cultural and ethnic heritage of Jamaica’s people (“Out Of Many, One People”), but speaks also to the similarities between the experiences of Africans in the transatlantic slavery and the Indian laborers forced into servitude

Indians arrived to the island in many waves. These indentured workers were placed on the island’s lucrative sugar and banana plantations, tending the crops for land owners. The system of indentured workers in Jamaica ended in 1917. Some of them returned to their homeland in India, some moved in the Caribbean basin (such as Guyana) and some stayed in Jamaica. 

While they originally lived in forced isolation on the plantations, allowing them to preserve aspects of their native culture and cultivate it among them, they eventually had a large impact on the Afro-Jamaican community.   

Indian Arrival Day features a lively, vibrant celebration every year, affirming the continued importance of Indian heritage in Jamaican society. We find it in various aspects, including cuisine, language, agriculture and medicine, to name just a few. 

DREADLOCKS STORY explores the influence of Indian Sadhus lifestyle on the Jamaican Rastas lifestyle. Professor Ajai and Laxim Mansingh, pioneer researchers on Indian presence in Jamaica, have been interviewed by Linda  for DREADLOCKS STORY, giving an expert account of the influence of Indian people on Jamaican culture.

Almost from the time that Spaniards began importing Africans to work the Cauca River gold diggings in Colombia, blacks managed to escape; a few sought refuge among the Manabi and Mantux Indian tribes of the tropical coast of northwestern Ecuador. The zambo descendants of these blacks and Indians became tribal leaders and created a major Pacific-coast headquarters known as El Portete.51

This particular settlement acted as a kind of beacon, attracting other bondmen who chose to flee rather than accept a living death panning the streams of southern Colombia for gold dust. It also attracted the attention of the Spaniards, not only because it was a haven for fugitive slaves but also because it was an ideal base for ships sailing between Panama and Peru. Occasional Spanish vessels in trouble attempted to land at El Portete but where driven away by the attacks of the zambo-led tribesmen. In 1556, therefore, Gil Ramírez Dávalos, governor of the audiencia of Quito, began sending troops to smash the troublesome Afro-Indians and seize the town. He succeeded in capturing the settlement, but the rebels reverted to guerrilla tactics. The troops holding El Portete fell victim to malaria and other tropical diseases at an alarming rate and eventually evacuated the area.

Subsequent efforts to subdue the Afro-Indians failed, and Francisco Arias de Herrera broke the stalemate in 1598 by drawing up a compact with the zambo leaders in which the latter agreed to accept the nominal suzerainty of the king of Spain.52 For all practical purposes, however, they remained autonomous.

This was not to be the final example of African-controlled Indian groups resisting Spanish domination in northwest Ecuador. In 1650 a slave ship proceeding from Panama foundered in a storm off Cape Francisco. Two dozen slaves managed to scramble ashore, murdered the Spaniards who survived the wreck, and somehow established themselves as rulers among the local Indians and zambos. Eventually emerging as chief of these liberated blacks was the ladino Alonso de Illescas. Later, thanks largely to good fortune and a combination of resourcefulness and ruthlessness, he established himself as suzerain over all Negroids and Indians in the present-day provinces of Esmeraldas, Imbabura, and Pinchincha.53 Illescas also battled to a standstill the infrequent Spanish expeditions sent into his domain. Not until early in the eighteenth century, when Pedro Vicente Maldonado y Sotomayor cut a trail from the mountain capital of Quito to the northwestern coast of Ecuador, would Spain exercise more than shadowy authority over the region.

—  [Leslie B. Rout, Jr., The African Experience in Spanish America, p. 116-117]
On REAL Black Power, or, Let's Take Our JuJu Back!

Historically, our African Diaspora Ancestors combined African spiritual systems with black liberation to combat oppression. Examples include the only successful slave revolt in history, the Haitian revolution, and heroes such as Ancestors Harriet Tubman, Gullah Jack, John the Conqueror, Gaspar Yanga, Frederick Douglas, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Marie Laveau, just to name a few. They all used our Ancestors’ spiritual systems for freedom, liberation, protection and well-being of black people.

Rootwork, conjure, hoodoo, voodoo, Vodou, Ifa, Obeah, etc are ours by birthright, yet are all being taken over by Europeans because Africans are too busy chasing Eurocentric gods and goddesses. The appeal of Eurocentric systems of spirituality by black people is understood, just as any other aspect of Eurocentric culture works its way into black life and consciousness. That is par for the course in an integrated, assimilated society. But when it comes to something as important as our spirituality, lines must be drawn. Take the black appreciation for Wicca. Wicca is a powerless system. This has been known for decades, and it explains why so many white Wiccans are leaving it and are flocking over to Afrocentric spiritual practices and claiming ownership, and in some cases, are making millions selling our shit right back to us for profit. Things that, should you just connect with your Ancestors, they would help you remember. And not just that: It’s where our power lies. Without that bloodline tie, the work is weak, powerless, useless. White folks have written hundreds of web pages and books on African spiritual systems but they do not include the Ancestral aspect because for one, by virtue of their race they can’t speak on the experience of African Ancestor veneration with any authority, and for two, they know their audience is widely white. It would be counterproductive for them to say, “Oh and by the way? The source of power behind all these works I’m writing about is a bloodline connection to your African Ancestors across space and time.” This serves the second purpose of effectively hiding vital information from readers of African descent, who might be ignorant of their natural disposition to things of the “magical” sort. As the Congolese proverb says, only a fool pays for the tomato that grows in his own garden.

WE ARE AT WAR. Our people are being murdered by those sworn to protect and serve us. This current election cycle is making white racism more empowered and emboldened. Our young black brothers and sisters who have boots on the ground doing social activism and facing these evil beasts on their turfs need to be covered with our protection and prayers. Our enemies, agents of white supremacy, must be bound and disempowered.

This is coming from the Ancestors.

This is coming from a place of “fierce urgency of now”.

Our Ancestors are screaming for us to recognize them because they see what we are going through and want us to use our inherited spirituality as a way of not just coming back to our roots, but to reclaim our power and utilize it collectively for our fight against oppression. I am not here trying to be a leader looking for followers. I am putting out a call for other leaders. Fighters. Spiritual Warriors. Conjurers. Seers. Root workers. Priests. Priestesses.

It is time to combine our black activism with our mojo.
It is time.
It is time.
It is time.

I wish you love, peace, and powerful juju, Brothers and Sisters.

Beyond the Black Atlantic, however, another counterhegemonic discourse emerges and calls attention to the need for American literary and cultural studies to map the lived-experience of blackness in terms of its roots in and routes through Asian diasporas. Informed by the lived-experience of blackness of Afro-Amerasians— the mixed-heritage children born of both African American and Asian parentages— the emergent Afro-Amerasian discourse indexes a spatio-temporal site beyond the Atlantic that is not exclusively African-American nor Asian-American, African diasporic nor Asian diasporic, but is all of these at once; it points to an emergent site of critical inquiry which I’ve named the “Black Pacific.“

“Black Pacific” is introduced in this essay as a neologism, which discursively names an emergent site of critical inquiry and cultural space at the interstices of three diasporas. The first diaspora is informed by the experiences of African American men (of the Black Atlantic) who served and continue to serve in the United States military throughout the Asia-Pacific. Ever since Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry led the first United States naval expedition to Asia (1852– 1855), blacks have participated in the American empire’s military operations and ventures in the Asia-Pacific. In his personal journal, Perry noted that when he reached Edo (Tokyo) Bay in 1853, two black guards escorted him; together, they proceeded to march into the city to meet the emperor (see Perry and Pineau 1968). Since the Perry expedition, black men have continued to serve in the American military in the Asia-Pacific, throughout the wars there: the Spanish American War, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The second diaspora is informed by the experiences of Asian women who have had affairs with American military men, or who have become either “military brides” or “Asian-American immigrants” as a result of the American empire’s presence in the Asia-Pacific. In The Politics of Life: Four Plays by Asian American Women, Velina Hasu Houston (1993) explains that Asian women faced the difficult challenge of loving their American men, whether black or white, while attempting to remain loyal to their people; because the American empire’s presence was challenged by the Asian people, interracial affairs were complicated by not only the taboo of interracial sexuality but also the expectation of national allegiance among Asians. Consequently, Asian women who had interracial relationships with African-American men were often accused of being traitors of their race and nation.

The third diaspora is informed by the experiences of the Afro-Amerasian children born to African-American men and Asian women throughout the AsiaPacific, since as early as the Spanish-American war in the Philippines (see Shade 1980, 23). The Black Pacific, therefore, is a site of critical inquiry that is not only interracial (shaped by the interracial relationships between African Americans and Asians, and the Afro-Amerasian offspring of such relationships), but it is also interdiasporic.


Although both black and white Amerasians experienced delegitimization and encountered many forms of Vietnamese racism, the Amerasians of African American descent encountered antiblack racism that was believed to have caused greater suffering and heavier burdens. One Vietnamese woman, the mother of both a black and white Amerasian, contends that anti-black racism posed a heavier burden, and observes that black bodies were more often at risk of displacement than white bodies: “Vietnamese say, ‘You go back to America, you dirty American, go back to America. You lose the war already, go back.’ They say like that many times to my daughter, ’cause she is black. My son is white, not so many problems”. This mother’s contention that the burdens of antiblack racism were greater than antiwhite racism is supported by Huong’s testimony. She contends, “All my life people had been mean to me there [in Vietnam] because of my color. My skin is black, and my hair is curly, not like the Vietnamese, and they didn’t like that.”

—  Bernard Scott Lucious, “In the Black Pacific Testimonies of Vietnamese Afro-Amerasian Displacements,” Displacements and Diasporas: Asians in the Americas. 2005..