A Sampling of Black Perspectives Posts: July to December 2021

Hundreds of people attend at Juneteenth celebration at Brooklyn Public Library at the Grand Army Plaza, New York, June 19, 2020 (Shutter Stock)

Black Perspectives continued its tradition of tying Black intellectual history to a wide range of fields throughout the second half of 2021. Ties to Black internationalism, sport and intellectual history, and memory were key hallmarks of publishing at the blog. In addition, the relationship between Black intellectual history and gender also formed a critical part of the blog’s overall output. The following are just a few of the many pieces that made 2021 a particularly fascinating year for Black intellectual history. 

One essay that stood out for presenting a surprising element of Black music and the diaspora was Matthew Teutsch’s piece on “Blackness, Norwegian Identity, and Nationality.” Here, Teutsch juxtaposed the work of Paul Gilroy with the hip hop music of Norwegian hip hop artist Puma. Himself of Chilean and Peruvian descent, Puma (also known as Richard Edward Bravo) focused his music on identity and self-determination. For Teutsch, the importance of Puma’s work is that he showed “the malleability of his identity.” Being Norwegian did not mean complying with a certain assumption of skin or hair color. Instead, he refused to be put into any particular nationalistic or racialist box—identifying with a similar struggle of identity, race, and nationality that touches numerous members of the Black diaspora.

M. Keith Claybrook asked readers of Black Perspectives to rethink how they considered what is often referred to “Watts Riots” in public memory. Published during the anniversary week of the Watts Rebellion, Claybrook argued, “It was not a riot that occurred August 11-16, 1965. It was open rebellion against brutal policing and exploitative merchants alien to Black Los Angeles, and a message to the governing body that Black Los Angeles was demanding change.” Considering recent rebellions across the United States in 2020, “Remembering, Rethinking, and Renaming the Watts Rebellion” was an especially timely piece. It was also a thoughtful piece that reminded readers of books such as America on Fire, where Elizabeth Hinton also asked readers to reconsider how they think of American history in the 1960s and 1960s, due in large part to rebellions like those in Los Angeles.

The theme of Black internationalism was a hallmark of Kaysha Corinealdi’s “Dr. Carlos E. Russell and the Origins of Black Solidarity Day.” As an Afro-Panamanian activist who experienced life in the United States in Chicago and, later, Brooklyn, Russell understood the importance of international solidarity in the face of ardent white supremacy and anti-Black attitudes. Corinealdi also made clear why the life and legacy of Russell still matters today. She wrote, “At a moment when Black Lives Matter has become a slogan used by activists and commercial interests alike, thinking about the complexities of Black liberation is perhaps more salient than ever.” 

The importance of hair to Black identity has been of paramount concern to intellectuals and lay people alike. Adele N. Norris’ two-part essay series in October on Black hair illustrated the links between Black hair, beauty standards, and resistance across the Diaspora to attempts to erase Black identity. Norris argued that the creation of the color-line across the Western world in the 19th and 20th centuries led to peoples of African descent being seen as outside the beauty standards of that world. This “widespread policing of Black hair texture,” as Norris called it, remains a significant problem for people all across the Black Diaspora, from the United States, to Brazil, to the United Kingdom, to South Africa. One of the key aspects of Norris’ essays that is critical to consider is how even beauty standards are a major part of Black intellectual history. Constructing the counter-arguments designed to defend Black identity in a hostile environment is an intellectual practice. 

The varied ways by which Black history touches on the personal lives of Black people was on display in Holly Pinheiro’s essay, “The Familial Fight Against Racism.” The now well-remembered United States Colored Troops still have much to teach us, Pinheiro argues, especially when it comes to their families and their struggles against everyday racial discrimination in Civil War-era America. Pinheiro reminds us, “Their families and lives before service matter just as much as their wartime and postwar experiences.” The rich lives of the men who fought for Emancipation and Union continue to yield wondrous historical information. 

To close out 2021, a reflection on the geographic expansiveness of Black history is in order. Appalachia is being folded into the standard narrative of Black life in America in increasing ways, and an example of this is Kristan McCullum’s essay on memory, Black life, and Appalachia. Documenting and preserving Black history in Appalachia is an important cause, and McCullum’s essay makes it clear just how urgent this mission continues to be. McCullum argued, “This preservation is a form of activism that helps to articulate a fuller and truer American history in which Black people are recognized as historical actors who actively shaped history and presented the possibilities of a truer democracy.”

That statement—“presented the possibilities of a truer democracy”—is a an important aspect of Black intellectual history. Black activists, Black intellectuals, Black people simply surviving—all of these groups challenged, pushed, and reshaped ideas of American freedom, democracy, and social justice. At Black Perspectives, we strive to continue the tradition of carefully considering Black thought as being important and, dare we say, central to the ideas of America and West. As writers and readers, together we will continue the mission of Black Perspectives to give voice to the amazing and diverse strands of thought that, together, form Black intellectual history.

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Robert Greene II

Robert Greene II is an assistant professor of history at Claflin University and lead associate editor of Black Perspectives. He studies American history after 1945 with a focus on the American South, political history, and memory. Follow him on Twitter @robgreeneII.