This has been brewing for a while after watching this video and the responses to it. What's been disheartening about all this is what this reveals about the position of the Black artist. It seems that we can't win for losing. Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of what we create. Everyone, it seems, believes we should create for purposes other than our own. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about what we create. Ironically, these clamoring voices push us from the center of our own process, a process that requires us to be centered and in touch with our own voices.
Granted, many Black artists have decided that it's a sucker's game to pay too much attention to that. I'm one of them. But it still bothers me when I come across this attitude that because I am a Black artist, that I need to represent myself a certain way, represent my people a certain way, or represent my experience a certain way if I want my work to be seen as authentic, valuable, or meaningful. In effect, what is valued about an artist who is Black is not authentic self-expression or the capacity to imagine and create new things, but to put what is created to a specific purpose. It is the mindset that says that the reason why we should learn about Black history, Black culture, Black literature, Black art, Black music, and so on is not because Black people are human beings who have history and culture and create literature and art and music, but because the history, culture, art, and music of Black people are useful to others.
So, as much as I dislike what Tyler Perry does, I can understand him saying that Spike Lee needs to go to hell. As much as I don't like how The Help tells a story about Black women, I can understand why Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer pushed back against Tavis Smiley trying to hold them to a standard that no White artist is asked to uphold.
Don't get it twisted. If you thought I was only talking about Black folks doing this, I wasn't. White folks do it too. I have a post in me somewhere about the 5 types of stories Black folks are allowed to bring to mainstream audiences, but that's for another time.
Are you getting what I'm saying here?