All posts by Zanesha Williams

50 Years After Change

The current semester at San Francisco State University celebrates a milestone that has changed and influenced our country and the world. Black and Africana Studies was the horizon for an inclusive learning platform that has been geared towards teaching students who they are and where their cultures come from.

This spring semester marks the fiftieth anniversary of Africana studies, ever. After fighting and creating test material for courses with an Afrocentric concentration at a predominately white institution, activist won the battle and implemented a new branch to higher learning. Continue reading 50 Years After Change

Ebonics is NOT “Black English”

There is no coincidence that Black people throughout the country understand and communicate in a way that is foreign to people who are not close to the culture. There is no coincidence that, although the words used are English, they don’t mean the same thing you’d find in Webster’s Dictionary. A language with history, phonetic patterns, and can be translated and dissected. Ebonics is the language shared among Black Americans and has been passed down generation to generation. Continue reading Ebonics is NOT “Black English”

Black Panther & Cultural Conversation

Another superhero movie came out this past month. That’s where we are at now. Marvel movies are becoming as essential to American culture as the Super Bowl or the Olympics; we all have to see them.

Except Black Panther was more than just another Marvel film.

Black Panther is a platform for black artists and creators to create a lens into their culture. This was a first for a large demographic of kids. They get to see themselves as the hero; the main event. Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as the titular Black Panther, reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War, with Michael B. Jordan as the debut villain Erik Killmonger.

Michael B. Jordan played a heavy role in the film while also reuniting, for the third time, with writer and director Ryan Coogler—proving to be a match made in cinematic heaven. The two came together in 2013 for Fruitvale Station and again in 2015 for Creed.


“Black Panther” stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.              

 

Zanesha Williams:

I love Marvel films. I always look forward to seeing the Avengers come together and watch the solo films in between. To be fair though, the other day I overheard a group of girls talking in the cafe and one of them mentioned that she didn’t know that the Black Panther was a superhero. Most people didn’t. I am also fairly new to the club.

Mitchell Walther:

I am a marvel fanboy. There’s no use in me hiding it. While I don’t read the comics quite as much as I did back in the day, I have done everything I can to stay up to date on the Marvel cinematic universe.

Black Panther was always a superhero I liked, but not a character that I found incredibly enticing on his own. Often when I read his stories he was paired with the X-Men or Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. That being said, I was excited when I heard they were giving Black Panther his own film. I was even more excited when I heard Kendrick Lamar was going to be producing the album.

Zanesha:

Once it was announced after Captain America: Civil War that the Black Panther would get a full length film, the most exciting part was seeing updates on the cast. Who would’ve thought we’d being seeing Angela Bassett in a Marvel film? On and off the screen, “blackness” was praised and proved to be something worth watching. The selection for costume designers, the “inspired by” soundtrack, and the director.

Mitchell:

I will be honest and say that before Black Panther, I didn’t know who Angela Bassett was. Bassett put forth a stirring performance as the mother of T’challa, the Black Panther.  It’s sad how long this movie has taken to get made.

Black Panther is another installment in a long line of Marvel films that pushes the envelope. Rather than serve up standard superheroes, Marvel has attempted to give us something unique. A talking raccoon and a giant tree voiced by Vin Diesel would never have gotten the green light when Iron Man and The Dark Knight were the pioneers.

Black Panther is culturally a more important film than Guardians of the Galaxy though. It is the story of a superhero who is also the king of a sovereign nation. In the comics Black Panther fights with politics almost as much as his claws. The story of Black Panther and his nation of Wakanda also carries a lot of racial and social commentary.

Rather than shy away from the issues, the movie leans into them and allows what made the story unique in the comic books to make it unique on screen. It’s a movie about representation, juggling the identity of a comic book flick with that of a film about black culture. How did it do?

Zanesha:

Black Panther was a very different combination of excitement. You have so many new and unusual factors going in one mainstream film. The idea that a blockbuster depicts Africa as beautiful, self-sufficient, and most importantly superior to its surroundings is an anomaly. The excitement that black kids can look up to a superhero that looks like them, play with action figures that have the same features. This film supports an identity that was well overdue.

There’s so much to rave about. You have Kendrick Lamar, an activist through his rap, producing the soundtrack for the film. Ryan Coogler’s $200 million budget for a film he was allowed to make his own. Ruth E. Carter, known for her repeated work with director Spike Lee, and more recently her costume design for Selma.

Names that resonate in the black community are now widely known due the weight that Marvel films hold. The excitement comes from the shift in a community finally being able to show how profitable it truly is.

Mitchell:

It comes at a fortuitous time in Hollywood as well. Black Panther as a movie is poignant. Opening on Oakland, California in 1992, the film makes its goals clear while still entertaining us the entire way. Stunning visuals and an incredible soundtrack composed by Swedish visionary Ludwig Goransson never distract from the climax.

Black Panther is about a hero and a villain who both want what is best for their people. They both see the suffering and persecution endured at the hands of the privileged and the powerful. The crux of their characters fall on what the answer is. How do we as people fight against hundreds of years of systematic and institutionalized racism? Black Panther director Coogler answers as best as he can: we get involved, and we point a spotlight at the beautiful.

Black is the New Black

According to a well known saying, “______ is the new black.” Black is the standard of fashion. Clothing trends come and go, but recently pressure is being put on the fashion industry to let more go then just last season’s wardrobe go.

The lack of diversity in the fashion world goes far beyond the runway. Without cultural representation in major studios there are a great number of problems looming.

For too long designers have not had someone push back on styles and looks that disrespect various cultures. The fight for plus size models, for example, is a story within itself.

Fashion Design Student, Chrystlan Morehead – Tucker at SF State in the design room located in Burk Hall on March 8, 2018. (Kyler Knox/Golden Gate Express).

Skin, body type, sexuality, and culture are all being put into a senior fashion line produced by Chrysalyn Morehead-Tucker. Chrysalyn is a 24-year-old fashion student at San Francisco State University. It was her plan to study fashion at SF State.

“If I was gonna progress in the idea of bringing communities that aren’t represented in the fashion industry to the forefront, it would make more sense to come to a school that has those same views,” she shared.

Chrysalyn’s goal in the fashion industry is to change “the norm.” She explained that giving credit where it is due is the first priority on her list.

“Understanding some of the things that black culture has brought to the fashion industry but has not been given credit. I would love to say that this is something a black person did, this came from the black community,” Chrysalyn shared.

Changing how fashion is interpreted is an important aspect for designers like Chrysalyn, who use their talents to create a dialogue that shifts thinking. She explains that “being a fashion student at SF State kind of opened my eyes to more of what the fashion industry needs rather than what the fashion industry is asking for. I think the program here definitely emphasizes more on being able to change the industry for what it is.”

Chrysalyn is working on various projects that reflect her goals of including communities often overlooked by the fashion industry, such as her senior line that focuses on Afrofuturism. Chrysalyn describes Afrofuturism as “the idea of having black bodies in a futuristic setting and futuristic places.”

Inspired by Star Trek at a young age, Chrysalyn explains, “I’ve always been fascinated with the art form of Afrofuturism… ”

Chrysalyn’s idea is to concoct a combination of sustainability, futuristic settings, and Afrocentricity. She walks through the process and explains that she is “taking traditional African garments like Dashiki and repurposing them for my fashion show.”

She explains why sustainability is an important portion of her work by adding, “consumers are understanding that we need to be more mindful and conscious of what not only our clothes are made out of but what we do with our clothing once we feel like they reached the end of their cycle.”

Chrysalyn explained that sustainability was a process in Africa that was almost second nature to textile producers.

“There’s so much spiritual connection between African weaving, and African dying, and African printing, that means more than just aesthetics. There’s spiritual connections to it and I want to do it justice by showing the prints and the colors that makes Africa stand out from everyone else,” she expresses.

The fashion show put on at the end of year by fashion students is no small project because it pushes students to take everything they have learned and incorporate it into three to six pieces to display in front of their immediate community.

Dr. Dorie, the instructor and an alumna of the program, gave insight on what designers face for the fashion show.

Dr. Dorie explained, “We’re really trying to prepare them to go into the fashion industry and have a strong design aesthetic, so they leave understanding the elements of design and how to execute them,” Dr. Dorie explained

She jokingly added, “[The designers] won’t sleep all semester.”

She gave the timeline of the tireless semester and narrowed it down.

“If you think about a look for one model, that’s about three garments for one model it’s a lot of work.”

Even though the sleepless nights and the ever-changing fashion world, Chrysalyn sets her sights on creating a space in fashion for all people who do not feel like fashion is for them.

The Fight for Africana Studies

“We have to fight for everything we have in addition to the scholarship itself.” Dr. Ifetayo Flannery talks about one of the ways Africana Studies is such a unique discipline.

Fighting for rights and acceptance is no new concept to African Americans, or the achievements they work for the benefit of their culture.

Africana Studies has not been given a break in the fight to exist and to stay above water here at San Francisco State University and throughout the world.

Dr. Ifetayo Flannery is an Atlanta born professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University. Stoked about teaching on the same campus that 50 years ago created the very first Ethnic Studies concentration, Flannery reminds students in each class session that they’re in for a treat this semester.

As an undergraduate at Georgia State University, Dr. Flannery was encouraged to take an Africana studies class and according to her, “That one class had fundamentally changed so much.” From that point on, then Maria Flannery, started on an important journey.

“I learned that I wasn’t thinking on my own behalf as much as I thought I was.”

Flannery described one of the reasons that Africana studies appealed to her.

“To be able to understand who I actually was as an African American in the larger context, as an African person in the world, and all the contributions that people had made for me and others based on my lineage, shifted everything else.”

Africana Studies, once known as Black Studies, was the aftermath of civil rights movements in the Bay Area that eventually boiled over right onto our campus. Civil rights encouraged a broader perspective and a new way of thinking.

“The American story was different, my identity was different, how I perceived others was different, how I perceived problems and solutions in community was completely different based off my exposure to information that was actually coming from the Afrocentric perspective.” Ifetayo explains, reflecting on the  the previously stated perspective through the lens of Africana studies.

“Without Africana Studies I’d probably, no, I’d definitely be a completely different person.”

Dr. Flannery reflects on her journey, “My exposure to Africana studies influenced my success and my choices about graduate level education all the way up to terminal degrees, the PHD.”

In summary, the University of Kansas explains, “What is Africana Studies?”

In their statement, “Black Studies, or Africana Studies more broadly, is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to studying and understanding the experiences of African people and African-descended people across the Diaspora.”

K-12 programs teach history through one general perspective, that being the Eurocentric perspective. The University of Kansas’ African and African American Studies added, “…the goal of Africana Studies was to transform higher education… altering traditional curricula limited by Eurocentric paradigms.”

Those same paradigms were challenged in a boycott that shut down SF State for five months just 50 years ago. SF State’s current Africana Studies department chair, Dr. Dawn-Elissa Fischer, highlighted the battle fought right here on campus.

“We (Africana Studies Department) were born out of the longest student strike in history on a four year university campus.”

Although we are approaching the 50 year mark of the concentration, maintaining and expanding has been an ongoing conflict. Throughout Flannery’s higher education, she has observed the ups and downs of the concentration.

“Scholars in Africana Studies tend to have to work harder…” she pointed out, “We’re a very select group of people who tend to be extraordinarily committed and constantly bombarded with racism, underfunding, always threatened with reduction, offerings, all the things that you could imagine that people in other departments are not familiar with, particularly at the graduate level.”

In addition to underfunding at campuses out of state and the universities Flannery has attended, issues of underfunding and reductions occur here at SF State.

Dr. Fischer uncovered background from the 2016 hunger strike here at SFSU.

“It was essential for us to be able to hire Flannery; previous to professor Flannery’s employment with our University, we lost many professors; due to death, retirement, or leaving for another job.”

“Late March into April, even into May, I still wasn’t certain if I was going to receive the job officially because of a sudden budget crisis when it came to hiring two new hires.” Dr. Flannery reflects on the issues behind the hunger strike.

Although a number of professors were leaving the department, a balance was not created in the number of faculty members coming into the program. Fischer pointed out, “had we not been able to hire Dr. Flannery, we would’ve been without that faculty line… these are our permanent faculty lines and if they are not replaced when faculty members die, then it is an assault on the department and it is a disservice to students’ degree completion.”

 

So the students went on a hunger strike…

Although Flannery was not in San Francisco, during the hunger strike, she recalls, “…people had to protest, people wrote letters all the way up to the chancellor’s office about my hire, so it’s not a normal hire.”

“It’s definitely in the tradition of black studies,” she says excitedly. “Having to fight for any and every resource and expansion that we have. So it’s my great honor that they won…”

 

…We win.

 

The battle was once again fought, and more importantly, it was won.

“Africana studies is so important to me.” Flannery expressed. “It touches me at the core level. To me it has meant a freedom, a liberation of the spirit of the consciousness of myself and other people. Africana studies means better lifestyles, enlightenment, liberation to all African people, and by extension, people all over the world.”

 

Dr. Ifetayo M. Flannery is a marker of the Africana Studies discipline. Having double majors as an undergrad, focusing in psychology and African American Studies. She went on to earn her Master’s in Africana Studies and most astoundingly, she earned her PHD at the first campus to offer such a high degree in Africology, Temple University of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Fischer shared her appreciation of Dr. Flannery.

“We are very lucky to have professor Flannery, her PhD is in Africology and African American studies from Temple, therefore she is an example of the triumph of this discipline.”

Dr. Flannery shared her own appreciation of her position here at SF State by confessing, “I’m so grateful to be here and the significance is that, San Francisco State is ground zero for black studies, it is the institution that created the first black studies department in the world and in the academy.”

She concluded her reflection by saying, “It’s a dream, it’s an honor, and we had to fight for me to be here so I don’t take it for granted at all.”