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Back on Black Love: What Ever Happened to Black Consciousness?

by Demaryl Howard

First, let me tell you what Black Consciousness is not. Black Consciousness is not sporting cowrie shells in your hair. Black Consciousness is not listening to East Coast Hip Hop or Erykah Badu. Black Consciousness is not dreadlocks. Black Consciousness is not having read a few books by Black authors. Black Consciousness is not a look or fad. Black Consciousness is an afrocentric state of mind. The Black Consciousness movement started in the ’60s. Black Americans began to reject the negative stereotypes cast upon them by white society. Although symbols of black pride were displayed through attire, jewelry, hairstyles, and slang, the most profound evidence of this newfound self-love and rejection of euro-centric standards of beauty was lyrical. Much of the music and poetry of these times reflected the growing feeling of Black pride in the inner cities. James Brown sang, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” After Black became beautiful, it became powerful. Black people united and fought for equal rights, fair housing, proper education, and better jobs. Marvin Gaye raised the level of consciousness by simply asking, “What’s going on?” But the fire of the late ’70s disappeared in the ’80s. R&B lost its entire social movement message. Hip hop revived the spirit of Black Power in the late ’80s by way of groups like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan, and Eric-B and Rakim. These groups challenged Black youth to explore their past and look for solutions to current issues. The music of Black youth changed yet again. We went from Black Consciousness to west coast Gansta rap being the voice of the ghetto. At the same time on the east coast the style of hip hop became grimy, then jiggy. Master P and No Limit became the new sound in rap and soon two new words became the mind-state of our people. Bling Bling. I mention this short, far from complete, history of Black music because I believe that the music that Black youth love can affect the quality of the decisions they make as adults. Now we have a blind generation, misguided by materialism. The civil rights movement was a combination of the Black Man, Black Woman, and Black Child standing together for equality. Now it seems as if the Willie Lynch Theory has divided us into the dark skinned versus the light, Black man versus Black woman. Even more now, we have the Black bourgeoisie disconnected and unaffected by their lower-class sisters and brothers. Black on Black crime plagues our communities. A thug is dismissed as hopeless. Last year’s mob beating of a Milwaukee man by a group of teens is a prime example of how the lack of black consciousness has turned our own youth against our elders. There are, however, signs of a new Black Consciousness emerging. In the midst of the recent police shootings of Black men in Milwaukee, and the double homicide of two young Black men leaving a bar, Black life has once again become appreciated. There are signs that our community is realizing the importance of instilling self-love and acceptance into our children. The youth are looking for answers; we, as adults, have to provide them. To continue this growth and awareness we must promote self-love and acceptance of individual differences amongst our people. Our youth need to be exposed to music and art with messages that express these ideas. For the youth we must set new examples of unity. The Black community as a whole must proclaim the value and worth of a Black life. Most importantly, we as adults must remember not to get caught up in self-righteousness, which sometimes parades around as Black Consciousness. Black Consciousness, again, is self-love and love and acceptance of other Black people, regardless of differences or station in life. Peace.