The Diversity of (Black) Thought

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

I’ve been having way too much fun writing for Clutch Magazine.

As a member of staff, I generally spend my time conducting interviews with artists, writers, and directors that I love. It is a welcome reprieve from all the editorial I write here and for Cerise, and allows me to climb inside someone else’s mind for a few minutes.

Lately, I’ve started to notice some interesting patterns emerging, especially when I talk to artists about community issues.

Rissi Palmer is a black country singer and rising star. Before the interview, I had asked around to see exactly what questions I should pose. Most Clutch readers aren’t really into country – we tend to focus on neo-soul, hip-hop, and R & B, with a few notable exceptions. I did not want to ask too many of the obvious questions. I knew everyone was going to ask her about race and the role it plays in her career and while I wanted to cover those issues, I also wanted to go a little deeper.

I did a bit more digging and asked her about a blog entry she wrote concerning the Jena 6:

Clutch: I noticed on your blog that you wrote about the Jena 6 issue. That blew one of my main misconceptions out of the water, so it was good to see that a black girl doing country could still be racially aware. (Going by popular perception here that African Americans and C & W don’t normally mix.) Do you think your race has influenced your treatment in the music industry? How does race impact you in your daily life? (Or does it?)

RP: Let me start by saying that I’m extremely excited someone read my blog! Seriously though, It saddens me a little to know that people would assume that because I sing Country music, that I must be going through some sort of identity crisis. I am a proud Black woman who is racially aware and very cognizant of the issues that affect myself and other human beings. I decided to write about the Jena 6 in my blog because I know that many different people, from various racial backgrounds, read it and I felt like it was an issue that affected EVERYONE and that they should be aware, if they weren’t already (I also posted a link to the petition). I don’t want to go off on a tangent but it blew my mind that in this day and age when a black man is running for president, there is still discussion of unequal justice between whites and people of color. It saddens and frustrates me, but the one bright spot was the way everyone came together peacefully to show support in Jena. I hated that I wasn’t able to go but I did wear black in support.

Rissi’s responses to another question were also very telling. When asked about reactions to her first effort and single, she commented:

As far as the African-American community, the feedback has been extremely positive and supportive. So many people say: “finally there’s someone out there that looks just like me that I can relate to.” Also, a lot of African-Americans who maybe aren’t necessarily country fans are just happy to see someone venture outside the box and simply like the music I make.

She hit that last nail on the head – in our comments section, a few commenters mentioned how refreshing it was to see an African American woman finding her voice in a different musical niche. Others were just proud that she shattered boundaries.

In subsequent interviews, I started to ask more probing questions. I wanted to know what some of our favorite artists were thinking about. What was important to them?

When I interviewed Angie Stone, I asked her:

C: One last question – What do people need to be thinking about? What is most important to you, right now? What do people need to be aware of, in our community, according to Angie Stone?

AS: The most important thing that we need to know as a people is that our self love equates to every once of love that we get and give in the world. I think we need to focus on who we are, where we are going, and what our purpose is. Once you define that everything else falls into place.

This answer is perfectly in line with Angie Stone’s persona – she has built her entire career on promoting ideas of black love and black identity. The emphasis on self-love is wonderful and completely warranted. How many people are walking around with internalized self-hatred, convinced that their lives would be better if they were in any other skin but their own?

I even ventured to ask Van Hunt the same question when I spoke with him for this month’s issue. This was a bit of a risk, as he had mentioned in another interview he thought it was “dangerous to ask a recording artist about social issues. It’s all frivolous.”

But in that same interview, he noted:

With all of the issues that Black people have I wouldn’t start with language. We’ve suffered hundreds of years of violations as Black people, and we want to pick on language?

So I posed the same question to him as I posed to Angie Stone and held my breath to see if he would answer. Van Hunt chose to respond:

Q: If there was one thing you could tell everyone in the world to pay attention to, what would it be?

Van Hunt: Oh, themselves.

Q: Themselves?

Van Hunt: Yeah, by far. As a matter of fact, if they make that their one and only thing that they pay attention to, the world would be a better place. What is your ideal person? Who are you ideally, in your mind? You need to frame that and make it a target and shoot for that every day of your life. Because that is all that is important in this life, I promise you. Everything else will fall in line. Your children, your mate, your love life, your dogs, your money. It will all fall in line after you have done the hard work which is facing your life honestly.

Q: So there’s a whole self-growth component?

Van Hunt: You call it self-growth, I don’t know about that terminology. It’s been used so much, people come to look at it like it’s fuu-fuu or shay-shay. It’s not legitimate. It is self-growth, but I prefer to call it facing your life honestly.

Interesting. A focus on the self was in order, but not the kind of self-love Angie Stone spoke of in her comments. Van’s approach seemed more of an individualist approach to life, to focus on the needs of the self and to not worry so much about what others are doing. This is also in line with his persona.

Finally, I completed an interview with Janks Morton, which is slated for the January issue of Clutch. A few minutes speaking with Janks makes it clear that he leans a bit to the right on social issues. However, his interview stands out because he is a black communist in the truest sense of the word. Everything he said was about “my people.” He vehemently disputed the idea of a class war, saying “in our hearts, we really want each other – other blacks – to be their best.” He pointed to the profit potential in perpetuating the black gender wars.

He also dismissed the political divide. According to Janks, “when the politics are stripped away, these men will sound about the same. Because they are black men.”

For the last few weeks, I have been thinking about all these perspectives and what they represent. As I move into planning my activist resolutions for the new year, I try to figure out what will make the most difference in the world. Where can I focus my attentions to do the most good?

In what direction should we head, in our respective communties, in 2008? Should we focus on shedding light on how minority issues affect everyone? Should we focus on cultivating self-love, and working to ensure proportional and positive representation in the media? Should we work on ourselves as individuals, on our thoughts, words, and actions? Or should we focus on community, laying aside our divisions and focusing on the common good?

Which way should we turn?