3 February 2021

Black voices: Creating tomorrow’s history

Expert comment
Think for a second about Black history. Who comes to mind?

Over the short 156 year post-slavery period, there have been several undeniable trailblazers in the fight for social justice and a fairer tomorrow. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou… the list goes on. These are people who have been rightly heralded as bastions of integrity – celebrated long after their initial actions of defiance for making a positive, lasting impact on the world.

They gave the Black Voice its lungs, and as they helped it utter its first words in the global conversation, they inspired generations more to follow in their footsteps.

So, who are the figures amplifying this voice today? Which people will we, in another few decades’ time, look back on as the ones who created history for us?


On the world stage

Politics and the Black experience have had somewhat of a turbulent relationship, and that’s putting it lightly. However, you cannot approach this issue without considering the seismic shift in ideology and idealism provided by the USA’s 44th President – Barack Hussein Obama II. Whilst the positive impact of the work he did for the Black community in America is up for debate, one thing is without doubt. As history’s first African-American Commander-in-Chief, Obama encouraged one crucial element… hope. Together with other prominent Black politicians like Vice-President Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, Obama showed Black children around the world that they could be more than their circumstances. That they could rise up against the odds, and achieve what those on the higher branches of their family trees never thought possible.

One such child staked her claim two weeks ago. As Amanda Gorman stood before presidents, politicians, peers and the people of the world – now 22 years old and cutting a striking figure under the Capitol Dome – she delivered a poem, a rallying cry that served as a shining beacon of hope for a country deeply divided. The Hill We Climb is the very embodiment of the Black Voice, projected to millions around the world and unapologetically proud of its heritage. It deserves to go down in history as one of the great moments in this regard – but if nothing else, Gorman’s time at the podium will undoubtedly enable future generations to dream, as she herself was once encouraged to do by those before her.


On our screens

These grand moments in the journey of the Black Voice will rightly be remembered for generations to come, but when it comes to finding ways to engage with the Black experience in our everyday lives – we could do much worse than to turn on our TV screens and listen up.

In film, for example, there’s one name that should be synonymous with social commentary and racial justice. Spike Lee’s 24 ‘joints’ – ranging from She’s Gotta Have It to Da 5 Bloods, via notable inclusions like Do The Right Thing and BlacKkKlansman – have an uncompromising approach to controversial subject matter at their core. A strong believer that ‘culture is for everybody’ – Lee’s filmography serves to paint painfully realistic pictures of the Black experience, driving conversation among those communities outside the ones directly affected, and shining a spotlight on the bigger issues at hand. It’s a body of work that’s been recognised as transformative for the industry at large, and has earned several of his films spots in America’s National Film Registry preservation programme for cultural significance.

Elsewhere in the industry, the work of Ava DuVernay can’t be overlooked. Both her documentary 13th and mini-series When They See Us have earned her well-deserved acclaim – tackling the issues of a crooked American system of racial oppression, in the form of mass incarceration. DuVernay looks set to continue a hot streak of form in the film and TV industry – elevating Black stories and raising awareness in opposition of systemic racism in her messaging. And with the simultaneous experience and foresight of creators like Lee and DuVernay behind the Black Voice on our screens, it’s safe to say that impactful, inspiring stories highlighting the Black experience won’t be dwindling away any time soon.


In our hands

One step even further than being spoken to passively by the Black Voice, is to seek it out yourself. And luckily, the world we live in today makes for easy access to prominent leaders and authors who can guide us in our education. Whether it’s on Twitter and Instagram, or within the pages of your favourite book – there’s a plethora of ways to converse first-hand with the people trying to tell their stories. Authors like Ibram X Kendi, Jeffrey Boakye, Layla Saad, Roxanne Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates saw their work propelled into the hands of millions following the murder of George Floyd – promoting messages of Black struggle, strife, acceptance, power and pride. But it’s perhaps social media where the Black Voice really comes into its own most comfortably – connecting with supporters and naysayers alike to open lanes of discussion, and drive change. There may be no greater example of this in action than the work of Tarana Burke. Burke founded the Me Too movement back in 2006 and then – over a decade later – became an avid supporter of the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter. She was later named Time Person of the Year for 2017, dubbed one of ‘the silence breakers’. This exact kind of movement is pertinent because of its testament to what the Black Voice can do, and what it is at its core.

It’s not selective, it cares about each and every person it speaks to, and it gets things done. Just like the many black authors mentioned, DuVernay, Lee, Gorman and Obama, Burke’s version of the Black Voice brought people together and advanced the interests of not just Black people around the world – but humanity as a whole. And this Black History Month, it should be that which we celebrate – the transformative power that tomorrow’s history makers are wielding today, and using to help millions be seen, heard, understood and accepted.

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