On their landmark collaborative “Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star” album from 1998, rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli implement many elements of Afrofuturism, amongst other themes such as black empowerment and dealing with their identities as rap stars and black men. The whole album touches upon these topics, but one track, “Thieves in the Night” came immediately to mind when I saw this week’s task. The inspiration for the track comes from a novel called “The Bluest Eye”, which is written from the perspective of a black girl who ponders how differently she would view the world if she (was white) had blue eyes. The track deals with this theme of being black in a white world and how to adjust without losing self-identity. On Mos Def’s verse, he says “I find it distressing, there’s never no in-between. We either n****s or Kings, we either b*****s or Queens”, referencing the way America encounters black people through white representations of them, which usually only show the extreme sides of the “spectrum” and leads people to misunderstand black people. Black culture is extremely stereotyped, which in turn cultivates the messages behind them from the amounts of exposure. In the hook, Mos and Talib trade bars about more of these stereotypes and how black personalities are contrived by the media. “Not strong, only aggressive/ Not free, we only licensed / Not compassionate, only polite / Not good but well behaved/ chasing after death so we can call ourselves brave/ still living like mental slaves”. The fourth line hints at the fact that where a white person might be called good, a black person in the same scenario would be described as “well-behaved” because the representation of black people in our society leads the masses to EXPECT them to be “bad” or “poorly-behaved”. Mos and Talib bring many elements of black culture to the light on this amazing album, but Thieves in the Night resonates with me the most in terms of Afrofuturism.
Libretto for the Republic of Liberia
One moment that helps me think about Afrofuturism in this text began at line 59 (Before America…) to line 65 (…tribes), which describes the history of Liberia and Songhai, and represents the pride of their country before the Westerners came upon them. They had history with Portugal, but enough power to remember it with pride. The arrival of Westerners in Liberia robbed them from the possibility of that in the future. It relates to our course by showing the upheaval of life Africans had to endure, and why they suffered at the expense of foreigners interests.
I found a good amount of the reading to be a little hard to understand because it used a lot of culture-specific vocabulary that I may just not be acclimated with. However, it’s evident that one of the readings main purposes is to outline the life of Liberians and the state of the Republic before the influence of Westerners arrived. By outlining what the people were like, it can serve as guide point for the future of the country as they hope for a more Afrocentric future.
Hegel’s excerpt starts almost immediately with a harsh criticism of Africans. “The Negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state. We must lay aside all thought of reverence and morality – all that we call feeling – if we would rightly comprehend him; there is nothing harmonious with humanity to be found in this kind of character.” Hegel makes his prejudice clear right away, juxtaposing black people with other humans, but noting a clear difference in the way he perceives Africans and humans as a whole. By saying that Negroes are untamed – and using that as a slight against their humanity – he is just exposing his thinking that in order to be at a point of equality with other people, black people need to be controlled, presumably by a [white] majority. Throughout the text, Hegel’s language and just the overall tone in which he describes Negroes/Africans reveals that he sees them as a different entity of people, an outcast group that is taking up space in his preferred society. He accuses them of hypocrisy for selling their own children into slavery in Africa even though “their own people” are being enslaved in the Americas by Europeans. Hegel reads like someone who is on the outside looking in to a topic in which he speculates in the absence of knowledge.