By Stephanie Shonekan, Contributing Editor, Art, Music, and Pop Culture
This year’s Grammy Awards show was one of the best I have seen in the last few years. Almost every performance was spectacular–Bruno Mars as himself and then as Prince; Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, and their fiercely political statement; Adele and her beautifully vulnerable moment when she bravely revised her tribute to George Michael on live TV; Chance the Rapper and Kirk Franklin merging hip hop and gospel like never before; and then, of course, Beyoncé’s highly anticipated appearance satisfied our collective curiosity about her ability to perform while pregnant. She killed it.
by Stephanie Shonekan, Art and Pop Culture, Contributing Editor
I am willing to wager that my 16-year-old daughter, Ojurere, is Beyoncé’s biggest fan. She has been a devoted fan since the Destiny’s Child days. When Beyoncé coughed at a concert a few weeks ago, Ojurere was delighted. She explained that this very small act of spontaneity added to Beyoncé’s profile as a superstar who was willing to be vulnerable. “It makes her human, Mom,” Ojurere explained when I chuckled. Ojurere is used to my reaction to her “beyhive” behavior, so she plays it up a bit, but underneath our mutual amusement, there is a serious thread of which we are both aware.
By Stephanie Shonekan, Art, Music, and Pop Culture Contributing Editor
During this year’s Grammy Awards Stevie Wonder reminded viewers to appreciate the “healing powers” of music. This lovely sentiment, as well as the well-loved adage that “music is a universal language” suggests that music is the one thing that soothes all tension and brings unity among all peoples. But musicologists and ethnomusicologists disagree with this notion. Although music can be a powerful art form that conveys human experiences, understanding its cultural implications is more complicated. We argue that although we can all aspire to feel the emotion conveyed in musics from around the world, we cannot truly understand all the particular devices and functions of each culture’s music.
by Stephanie Shonekan, Art, Music, and Pop Culture, Contributing Editor
Reverberations of the assertion that Black Lives Matter have been heard and felt across the nation, on our street corners and in our communities, on college campuses, and in media coverage of global tragedies. What has become clear in much of the backlash against this groundswell is that the idea of a human hierarchy is a well-loved and fiercely preserved mentality that is sometimes couched in religion, capitalism, patriotism and imperialism.
By William C. Anderson, Race, Class and Immigration, Contributing Editor
Around the country, Black students on college campuses have captured the nation’s attention and imagination with their determined protests against institutional racism. The University of Missouri, or Mizzou, has been embroiled in an ongoing and growing student movement that led to the resignation of the school’s president, Tim Wolfe.
By Stephanie Shonekan, Art, Music and Pop Culture Contributing Editor
I never watch the Emmy Awards. Never! But last night I settled down in front of the television because several incredible black actresses were nominated. To be perfectly honest, I subjected myself to what felt like ten hours of bad jokes and annoying ads because of these gifted black actresses, and it was completely worth it. As a black woman, I was excited and proud to see them all gain recognition from the mainstream media machine, and when Regina King, Uzo Aduba, and Viola Davis were announced as winners, I was ecstatic. That moment when presenter Taraji P. Henson gave Regina King an extra-long sistah-hug on stage, in front of millions of viewers, captured the essence of black pride I felt last night.
There has never been a time when there have been this many primetime mainstream lead roles for black women, among them, Viola Davis as Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder (HTGAWM), Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon on Empire, and Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope on Scandal. It is significant that these shows are not on BET or TVOne (or the defunct UPN network) where major black audiences have easy access to them. Instead, these shows have inserted themselves and their stories into the consciousness of mainstream America. As I tell my students every year, you cannot underestimate the power of pop culture. When friends and acquaintances of varying ethnicities talk excitedly about these characters, I feel myself nodding as if these women are my sisters. And, I will freely admit, there is something that happens deep in my spirit when I watch my daughters and son watch these shows. I feel a sense of pride that they are able to see these beautiful complex characters played by strong black women who lead their respective shows with such talent and brilliance.
By Stephanie Shonekan, Contributing Editor, Art, Music & Pop Culture
In her book, Soul, Country, and the USA: Race and Identity in American Music Culture, author Stephanie Shonekan explores perceptions and resistance to dominant cultural narratives, national identities, and understanding of the “American Dream” in soul and country music. Here is an excerpt from Shonekan’s provocative new book.
In his 1903 seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, African American scholar W. E. B. DuBois boldly predicted that the problem of the twentieth century would be “the problem of the color line”. This pronouncement was made as he was perched on that shaky threshold between the morally tragic nineteenth century and the tentatively hopeful twentieth century. As hope gave way to helplessness in the early twentieth century, in spite of valiant waves of resistance to the most violent racism and bigotry, DuBois’s statement seemed eerily prophetic as the problematic matter of race in America continued to dig its jagged roots into the receptive sociocultural soil of the United States. Once imagined as a contained field of contamination in the Deep South, historical evidence has shown that these divisive roots had spread from sea to shining sea. Discourses that revolve in complicated circles around media representations of American culture, the educational and criminal justice systems, and campaign rhetoric during voting season in the United States reveal the fruit of those racial roots, further reminding observers that DuBois’s statement may be an apt measuring stick for investigating the twenty-first century.
By Stephanie Shonekan | In These Times
I was not surprised when the world mourned the murder of 17 people in France and ignored 2,000 murders in Baga, Nigeria, the same week. To be fair, the Charlie Hebdo shootings came out of the blue while the Baga massacre was just another episode in a six-year long campaign by fundamentalist Islamic group Boko Haram, which has killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands in their mission to eradicate Western-style education.
When Western media and the global public finally noticed, the belated attention felt like a plate of leftovers—cold, stale and unpalatable. For those who are constantly affected by these events, being treated as an afterthought was yet another indication of whom the West values. The 2,000 dead bodies that lay strewn and ignored along the streets of Baga evoked images of the body of Mike Brown as it lay on the streets of Ferguson while four hours ticked by. This is why the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so critical: Again and again, the world shows us that black lives matter least, whether those black lives—and deaths—occur in Africa or in the Diaspora.
By Stephanie Shonekan, Art, Music, and Pop Culture
On MLK day, I took our three teenage children to watch Selma. I worried about the film’s effect on them because I knew it would provide another heavy layer of heart-wrenching historical information for them to carry, which makes their walk more labored than their non-black counterparts in the USA. I hoped that the experience would be beneficial, if for no other reason, to flesh out their historical knowledge, and to show them the rare occurrence of a major feature film directed by a black woman. But most of all, I hoped it would raise their awareness and enhance their sense of identity. This was a risky endeavor because most of their friends spent the holiday watching popular action and horror films. But it was important to me that my children spend the time on this particular film at this particular time.
The tragic murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice set the stage for my three children to experience Selma. Within the last year, our family discussions about race in America have been more urgent because of the tangible visual evidence, thanks to smart phone cameras and footage, that racial history continues to evolve and that it impacts us in a real way right now. Our frequent conversations about race are complicated because our children’s understandings of blackness are shaped by the different constructions of blackness within their family.
By Stephanie Shonekan, Contributing Editor, Art, Music, & Pop Culture
Throughout the month of November, the Praxis Center website is featuring the stunning photography of Iris Dawn Parker. An African American whose lens has been focused on the everyday lives of Black folk across the Diaspora, Parker has done more than just take the shots. She has embedded herself in the experiences of the people she cares most about, living in cities and townships, mentoring and engaging young Africans and African Americans to dig deeply into their identities to find the treasures that are essential to building self worth and collective freedom. Armed with the trappings of formal education—she has an MFA from Ohio University—and years of experience as a practicing artist, Parker is uniquely positioned to capture the evolving landscape of Black life. From her upbringing in North Carolina to her current life in Johannesburg, South Africa, she has documented many facets of Black life, including Zulu weddings, Mouride Muslims, South African musicians, and everyday life in a South African township. She was even able to photograph Nelson Mandela a few weeks before he passed away. In this interview, I had the chance to ask Iris about what drives her as an artist and as a human being.