The word “aesthetics” can be defined as a branch of philosophy that critically reflects on art, culture, and nature. It is a view, opinion, or an attitude toward what is considered offensive or acceptable. It is more scientifically defined as a critical judgment of the sensory emotional values that exude from the nature of beauty, art, and taste. Aesthetics as it pertains to the black community or simply “black aesthetics” refers to ideologies and perspectives of art that centers around back culture and life.
Black aesthetics spawned from the Blacks Arts Movement of the 1960’s where blacks demonstrated that you didn’t have to assimilate into white American culture. The movement refers to a period of African American creativity beginning in the mid-1960’s and continuing through much of the 1970’s. It was a pivotal moment in African American literature. It inspired black people to establish their own publishing houses, magazines, journals and art institutions. It led to the creation of African American Studies programs within universities.
It all precipitated from the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. Linked both chronologically and ideologically with the Black Power Movement, The BAM recognized the idea of two cultural Americas: one black and one white. The BAM pressed for the creation of a distinctive Black Aesthetic in which black artists created for black audiences. The movement saw artistic production as the key to revising Black American’s perceptions of themselves, thus the Black Aesthetic was believed to be an integral component of the economic, political, and cultural empowerment of the Black community.
The Black Arts Movement called for an explicit connection between art and politics. This movement created the most prevalent era in black art history by taking stereotypes and racism and turning it into artistic value. The concepts of Black Power, Nationalism, Community, and Performance all influenced the formation of this national movement, and it proliferated through community institutions, theatrical performance, literature, and music. One of the biggest problems that black Americans have been dealing with since being removed from our homeland is self-identification within western civilization.
American culture was initially shaped by many European races and cultures coming together through shared ideals and values in which, has attributed to our diversity. However, other races did not always have a choice; all of the enslaved Africans were forced to assimilate. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, many African nations were struggling for their independence from Europe. Their struggles correlate to the struggle of blacks in the United States during the same time period.
Since the 1880’s, when European nations colonized Africa, Europe had almost complete control over the continent, but this changed during the 1950’s and 1960’s. By 1958, ten African countries had gained their independence, and sixteen more joined the list in 1960 alone. With these nations gaining heir independence, it demonstrated the ability of blacks to overpower their white oppressors. The Black Power and Black Arts Movement in the United States were the result of just that. Who are black people, what are black people, what is their relationship to America and the world?
It must be repeated that the whole myth of “Negro citizenship,” perpetuated by the white elite, has confused the thinking of radical and progressive blacks and whites in this country. The broad masses of black people react to American society in the same manner as colonial peoples react to the West in Africa, and Latin America, and had the same relationship that of the colonized toward the colonizer. Too long have we allowed white people to interpret the importance and meaning of the cultural aspects of our society. We have allowed them to tell us what was good about our Afro-American music, art, and literature.
How can a white person who is not part of the black psyche (except as the oppressor) interpret the meaning of the blues to us who are manifestations of the songs themselves? Black people concerning the contributions that we have made in shaping this country must make a thorough re-examination. If this re-examination and re-evaluation is not made, and black people are not given their proper due and respect, then the rivalries and contradictions are going to become more and more evident, more and more intense, until there is a national uproar.