What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?: A New Black Arts Movement for a New Generation
“What shall I tell my children who are black, Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin? What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb, of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn they are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black. The night is black and so is the boogyman. Villains are black with black hearts. A black cow gives no milk. A black hen lays no eggs. Storm clouds, black, black is evil and evil is black and devil’s food is black.” ~Margaret Burroughs
As we speak the breath of our ancestors into existence, we also must welcome in a younger generation of artist, poets, writers, singers, dancers, revolutionaries, renaissance capturers, day dreamers, night walkers, queers, activists, and anyone else to doesn’t mind using identity and self expression to declare truth. This is a youthful voice that stands, screams, and shouts in the name of intersectionality, black feminism, anti-racism, and anti-capitalism.
I have recently joined a family of artists called the Margaret Burroughs Collective (MBC). If you do not know who this amazing woman and activist was, allow me to catch you up. Burroughs was one of the founders of the DuSable African American Museum (one of the few African America Museums in the country) and she was instrumental in constructing the South Side Community Art Center, the oldest black art space in the country.
Margaret’s words still ring an authentic sound of honesty when reflecting the reality that black youth face today. In her poem titled “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black” she elucidates the stark veracities that impact the black youth growing up in urban metros around the world.
Burroughs writes: “What shall I tell my dear ones raised in a white world, A place where white has been made to represent all that is good and pure and fine and decent, where clouds are white and dolls, and heaven surely is a white”
The Margaret Burroughs Collective inhales and re-invents her words to apply to the pain, struggle, and joy being spoken through the lives of Black youth growing up with new media, a black president, violence rates comparable to war, globalization, and white picket fences that are no longer able to be built in front of houses that we will never be able buy. We accept the contradictions of love and anger that the world throws at us, and we will use these things as a conduit to survival and resilience.
Burroughs writes: “What can I say therefore, when my child, Comes home in tears because a playmate, Has called him black, big lipped, flatnosed and nappy headed? What will he think when I dry his tears and whisper, “Yes, that’s true. But no less beautiful and dear.” How shall I lift up his head, get him to square his shoulders, look his adversaries in the eye, confident in the knowledge of his worth. Serene under his sable skin and proud of his own beauty?”
As powerful as her words are, this new black arts movement also understands that in some moments (not all, but some), we will not have someone older and wiser ancestors/mentors to convince us of our own beauty. In fact, we declare that eventually we will reject the notion of beauty all together, and simply accept ourselves outside of anyone else’s expectations or standards. This is to say, that we are a new form of beautiful. This is a beauty that lives and walks and works and breaths through a life that needs not approval, but space. We only need space, a moment and an opportunity for expression. And through the privilege of our expression we will conjure up a beauty that has yet to be expressed. A beauty that is born “confident in the knowledge of his or her own worth.”
This new blacks arts movement is not the Margaret Burroughs Collective, but the Margaret Burroughs Collective is a tiny piece of the new black arts movement. And MBC’s artist statement helps to posit why we are here, and what we plan to do with our necessary existence. This collective represents (but is not limited to) artists like Je’Nae Taylor, Viktor Le, Travis Wright, and many—many more.
Artist Statement (Written By Je’Nae Taylor)
We are here.
We are here filling pages with texts,
Rooms with voice,
Walls with frames.
We are here carrying our hearts
front and center, wide and free,
We are present in this moment
growing from the soil
planted by our ancestors
living in the space they toiled
We declare loudly our craving
Our creation, colliding our breath
to continue their song
We are African.
We are South Siders
We are Artist
We are creators, engagers,
Allies, friends, dreamers,
We are here and we are extensions
Of them all.