Is it possible to ethically grow with, or divest from existing structural configurations, or the early intentions and trappings of collaborative “efforts” in creative-leftist entities ? How do we deal with the human / interpersonal dynamics that come into play in these circumstances?
How do we honor energy / effort / emotion when fundamental change is imminent within such a structure? How do we deal with the less desirable aspects of interpersonal relationships and potential conflicts within a liberatory entity as it shifts?
Written by ari robey-lawrence
Photography: Forever Mood 1 by Talamieka Brice. Still from forthcoming documentary debut, A Mother‘s Journey
“Sweetheart, All Justice is a Dead End”– BennY RevivaL
In a moment where conversations around the experiences of those with marginal identities, topics of socioeconomic and racial inequities, intersectionality and transformative justice are at the forefront of trending topics in the cultural and creative commons, it should beggar belief that so many independent Black queer, trans and intersectional artists (QTI) artists seeking to cultivate and build on creative dialogues continue to find themselves professionally disenfranchised. And yet: it’s no secret that life as a Black QTI creative with a keen awareness of how exclusionary tactics are implemented in your professional environment (or scene), while seeking to gainful and meaningful employment in said scene, is forever a joy, and a curse.
Diversity initiatives and similar responses to the gender and racial disparities in dance and electronic music led by industry gatekeepers, dominant platforms, while EU state-funded arts initiatives, further stifle the breadth of Black creative expression, because at their core, many such white-led (or predominantly-white juried) initiatives look to promote and invest in artists who afford them the optics of diversity in a manner that is palatable to their own cultural agendas and market interests. This is why when Black creators develop their own unique phenomena / platforms and reach viral popularity, leading industry platforms and players tend to aggressively seek them out for strategic creative partnerships. For them, it’s always a question of proximity to The Culture, and who they see as its most marketable avatar. Here, the idea of Black authenticity,See: https://compass.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/soc4.12171 and capitalism’s construction of this false notion as some sort of reductive monolith provides an apt lens through which to unpack this phenomenon.
As a black queer electronic musician who has experienced and witnessed a wide array of disparities and exclusionary praxes that restrict the mobility and independence of Black artists in Berlin’s dance music landscape, much of my own academic work has been motivated by an attempt to point out the adverse effects of “well-intentioned” creative endeavors, or collectives that position themselves as “liberatory”, socially-conscious, or anti-oppressive platforms / spaces in creative scenes.
With limited optionsWhile innovations in accessible technology and social media have provided a fresh array of avenues and working methods for artists and creators, the insidious nature of how it is deliberately … Continue reading to secure financial stability in the scene, Black QTI performing artists who are given an opportunity to partner with «leading» industry platforms or major players can quickly go from being invisibility to hyper-visibility, all while experiencing institutional discrimination behind-the-scenes.
The parasitic nature of late capitalism actively perpetuates the co-optation and extraction of cultural innovations. We can attempt to account for innumerable stories of Black QTI artists and creators who have shown how algorithms are coded to function with restrictive effects on their audiences or adverse effects on their metrics on a majority of leading social media platforms. See Ruha Benjamin’s Race After Technology (2019) But how exhausting.For further context, please see the following articles: … Continue reading
By this point, it is well known that intersectional theories, policy, and community praxes exist as the fruit of Black, queer and intersectional kinship, the ongoing development of unique discourse(s) and cultural politic, and has been championed by such thinkers and comrades for decades. As the concept has come to wider attention in the cultural commons in Rachel Dolezal’s Age of “Woke”, we see the continued and pervasive effort of the machine to hijack, subsume and embed these precious, culturally Black and intersectional tools for liberatory thought (and their carefully crafted vocabularies) into its insidious propaganda mechanisms, which both underpin the dominant capitalist agenda and reinforce its oppressive structures. Since 2020, we have been witnessing the establishment’s violent commodification and attempt to devalue centuries of theoretical, creative, and political scholarship and development towards Black liberation. Black radicals, abolitionists, thought leaders and leftist-liberatory initiatives that have contributed bringing about a change in terms of the material conditions for Black people, face the threat of erasure from their life’s work and legacies by the neoliberal left.
In the same way that white social media users poorly misuse AAVE African American Vernacular English
in an effort to score social capital points on the internet, the neoliberal co-opts aspects of the Black Marxist / Radical / Feminist / Abolitionist discourse and fashions it into a form of propaganda to serve its master. As a response to this tactic of the political left, agents of the right and far-right to respond by doubling down on bigoted and oppressive political stances; as exemplified by the ongoing effort to ban Critical Race Theory being taught in schools and universities in the US. A similar parallel can be drawn in Europe, when one considers the resurgence of far-right parties (and public support for such parties) in EU governments, in response to asylum seekers coming to Europe from destabilized countries in the global South. In both cases, actions and inactions from the neoliberal left precipitate disproportionate backlash from the right and far-right, ultimately exponentiating the amount of oppression and erasure of Black folks face from all angles.
Hyper-visible scene actors with multiple marginalized identities can sometimes become complicit in the erasure and co-optation of the community they identify with, while actively benefiting from positioning themselves as liberatory, activist, or abolitionist thought leaders, and using that as currency in their creative-professional environments. Individuals or groups of individuals with institutional access become hoarders of resources by weaponizing their identity, at the expense of the Black community they claim to represent. As such, the pattern in which scene actors occupying spaces and roles in which they are situated (or situate themselves) as experts on topics unrelated to their own field of experience or practice, (such as race, gender, or politics) must be recognized as an attack on the integrity of the global struggle for Black liberation. These acts on an individual level may seem benign, isolated, or might even be reflected upon as a naive decision attributed to part of an individual’s “decolonization journey”, it must be understood that engaging in this process of strategic positioning can be considered equivalent to the systemic onslaught waged against struggle for Black liberation (and Black people) by our established governments.The more this phenomenon replicated in local industry environments, the more it snowballs, globalizes, and embeds itself into industry mechanisms; with the helping hand of globalization, this subtle … Continue reading
Often the only way for “invisible” (or marginal) Black QTI artists to chart a trajectory towards mobilizing their creative or artistic career, is not only to devote time to their craft, but to building trusted networks and communities of colleagues, peers, friends, mentors, chosen “family”, and other bodies or establishments they trust to make concerted strategic concerted efforts to move both intersectionally, and with integrity—to self-empower, and equally empower others, through the process of unionizing and collectivization. And yet, as people with experience in this thing we call life, we all, of course, understand that relationships evolve over time. Trust that is systematically and deliberately built over a period of years can easily be eroded in an instant, depending on the severity of the breach.
The effects of and potential solutions for structural precarity of Black QTI dance musicians
In 2017, I was inspired to establish a collective with a small group of collaborators and creative colleagues after a series of conversations around the continual issue that Black artists are rarely in control of their own narratives. Our goal was to cultivate mutually empowering creative, professional, and interpersonal relationships between Black and intersectional artists whose creativity does not fit the cultural molds we are often forced into as Black, queer, trans, and intersectional people. As a member of an active queer feminist leftist collective & DIY space in Berlin for over seven years, our collective facilitated events for self-learning, creative / knowledge exchange, and skill-sharing for the local LGBTQI community. When a group of individuals aligns through their interconnected struggles and seek to manifest endeavors to collectively improve material and working conditions for themselves and those like them, a unique bond is formed. As those efforts are cultivated with care, effort, time, and love, it naturally deepens the cooperative and emotional ties between collaborators.
Beyond that, however, lies the inevitable reality that such bonds are as fragile as they are impenetrable; any arbitrary action on the part of any individual has the potential to utterly destroy the value of the collective bond, and any trust that has been carefully built over time. As I write this now, many of the collectives and leftist organizations I have been longterm members of or have founded, are undergoing massive structural shifts, or my relationship to them has shifted dramatically in the recent past due to unresolvable internal conflicts. The pandemic has of course, had an untold impact on countless entities that exist in the margins, or serve the interests of independent Black and intersectional creatives. But we simply cannot pretend that financial and professional precarity https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/plr/vol49/iss3/2 were not already recurring (or perpetual) state(s) of existence for a significant number of independent Black QTI creators long before the effects of COVID-19 destabilized the world at large.https://technomaterialism.com/2022/02/10/black-dance-music-without-black-people-a-data-analysis/
I would like to conclude by sharing excerpts of reflections written by anarcho-Black futurist and educator Estelle Ellison.https://www.instagram.com/abolish_time/ In an effort to meditate on a resonant voice from the margins, one can look to her profound contributions to discourses around transformative justice, distributions of labor, care, and power through lenses of race / class / gender / ability, horizontal frameworks, and socio-political self-empowerment as tools for Black liberation, as precious relief and food for thought for those of us living and working in the margins. In a post series titled Surviving Your Breakup with A Leftist Organization, Ellison writes:
Leftist organizations can feel like an island of safety and possibility in an ocean of violence and stagnation. We know that burnout culture is the most common reason that people leave organizations… Hierarchical structures surveil the members who critique the leadership most often, pressuring them to hold their tongue or leave. These political projects set out to lessen the amount of trauma in the world, and burnout culture creates trauma that is unique to each leftist organization… As we tap into our collective autonomy, ending burnout culture, as we build universal access to a livable life, we move beyond the roles hierarchy has assigned us. As we build horizontal networks and formations, we begin to render hierarchical organizations obsolete. Immersed in relationships and connections that create the future we want to see, we can laugh at the suggestions that we needed an organization to make change in the world.
In a moment, where creative coalition and collaborative grassroots efforts hold so much potential to mutually empower black and diaspora artists across creative disciplines, it becomes a duty of care to safeguard the vitality and longevity of liberatory and collaborative creative initiatives: to recognize these initiatives as living beings, and to cultivate them as they move through stages of growth, evolution, and radical transformation as the trajectories of cultural ideologies around creative mutual empowerment and their material praxes shift over time. Thus, in an effort to more intimately understand how Black queer, trans, and intersectional artists may collectively and gracefully navigate the minefield that is the professional creative industries from a place of empowerment in this current hellfire and damnation stage of late capitalism, we must continue to seriously ask ourselves how material praxes of mutual empowerment, integrity, militant care, horizontal network-building, and soft skills are currently valued and treated in the current cultural and creative-professional economies. Ultimately, to precipitate a wider shift in our values in creative industries, we must challenge ourselves to engage more deeply with the perspectives and material approaches of Black QTI artists who threaten capitalism’s culture machine.
Presented here as an appendix is a dialogue between two Black creators (M & NC) in which they seek to make sense of how to move forward through unstable circumstances. Such dialogues around autonomy, stability, and precarity often provide intimate and generative space for mutual growth and nuanced understanding of the structures that impede us in the professional context.
Is it possible to ethically move through transformations and structural shifts in creative-leftist entities?
The answer is no lmao
Not when people’s politics aren’t in agreement
An excess of interpersonal and political conflict causes fractures that are too deep to repair
And as soon as one person attempts to make power moves it destroys the entire foundation
Humans create all things in our own image
Therefore all things have a lifespan
All creations are destroyed from within like our own bodies
The death of an organization is necessary
It’s sad because many of the things [we] wanted to do with it we never achieved
We also achieved a lot
I wonder if ultimately the death of all organizations is necessary
All things must die
Bc time is constantly changing
And therefore no idea or creation can support that
Ideas and organizations and other living things are points in time
They are made necessary and they are born and they fulfill their purpose and they die
Or are killed
Which is what happened here
The collective structure we have is susceptible to strong arming and violence because our structure was not established with protecting ourselves from
those things in mind
Murder is an agent of death…just a vehicle to bring about inevitability
It is only tragic to us that live on points in time
The beauty of the collective based in freedom is the vulnerability
And the inability to compete in the capitalist structure
You’re literally trying to create a martyr
At the same time
Its also the bringing about of an “unnatural” ending
When someone is murdered, they inevitably become a martyr
All endings are natural in a way
Even tho I know what you mean
Without smooth fade
It’s forcing an ending
It’s a hand on a record
The end of the Black panthers proved their existence
Whereas the enduring success of AOC and Bernie Sanders proves their falsehood
The ending may be natural but there is so much violence within that act
I suppose there are never enough preparation or protections you can put into place when someone who you have an interpersonal and working relationship with betrays that connection
Besides cutting them off preemptively
But then you start cutting people off on a whim
Essentially living in fear
So really you just have to be spiritually prepared for separation
I guess this is the start of our next origin story
We can be happy about that
Happy that the seed of creativity is intact and still growing and ultimately, totally unaffected by the malicious misappropriation of superficial aspects of what the initiative is about
In a world of lies
To create Truth
Is to Die
A Love Supreme
Death is, A Love Supreme
|↑2||While innovations in accessible technology and social media have provided a fresh array of avenues and working methods for artists and creators, the insidious nature of how it is deliberately restricted for Black artists and content creators must also be acknowledged; we need only look at Tmnit Gebru’s insider account of her experiences at Google to understand, for example, how Big Tech is in the business of silencing voices from the margins. See: https://www.wired.com/story/google-timnit-gebru-ai-what-really-happened/|
|↑3||See Ruha Benjamin’s Race After Technology (2019)|
|↑4||For further context, please see the following articles: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/black-tiktok-creators-pay-paid|
|↑5||African American Vernacular English|
|↑6||The more this phenomenon replicated in local industry environments, the more it snowballs, globalizes, and embeds itself into industry mechanisms; with the helping hand of globalization, this subtle and gradual pattern of microaggression has become a standard industry practice. In this sense these actors become agents of capitalism, situating themselves as avatars of political or material progress that, in reality, has not taken place.|