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Anti-Racism and the Arts: Presentation From Toni Blackman

On Wednesday, March 17, the Beloit College Arts channel hosted the zoom event Anti-Racism and the Arts. The program was created to address racism across the country and in the arts. In doing this the art department could demonstrate to Beloit College fellow artists how Arts can be used to fight against racism.

This event was in conjunction with the Center of Study of Institutions and Innovation and hosted the keynote speaker Toni Blackman. A rapper who specializes in freestyle hip-hop, actress, and writer. Blackman served as the first hip-hop ambassador to the United States State Department. Professor Lisa Anderson-Levy moderated the presentation as well as the student q&a. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at NYU’s School of Music and Performing Arts in the Music Experience Design Lab.

The topics of the presentation included: questioning anti-racist and racist structures, envisioning what an anti-racist Art world looks like, policies and practices in the arts, and bringing an anti-racist Art world.

Blackman opened up the event by reciting the rap from the Feminine Voice In Hip-hop. Following with a brief introduction of how she became involved with her work and more details about herself. She was originally from the California bay area and explained how she got into hip-hop. She defined herself as an MC of hip-hop, “Someone who allows nothing to throw them off their center.” She explained that the biggest obstacles MCs have are blocks that slow their work down, and how she experienced this by being ignored at the beginning of her start-up. Only in using her voice, she overcame her “block” and continually became successful.

Following that she displayed what some of her friends are creating as well, like Marc Bamuthi Joseph the VP & Artistic Director of Social Impact. Social Impact at the Kennedy Center has created a new program that is investing in artists of color to continue their work and expanding their horizons for others to see. Their main argument is that “systemic racism must have systemic solutions,” and if we just focus on only current issues that come up we must also focus on what can help in the long run.

Blackman also gave a presentation on other famous black artists and their work and the struggles some of them have endured. Artists like Alvin Ailey, Jacqueline Woodson, Octavia Butler, and the notorious James Baldwin. One memorable mention was the work of Kerry Hames Marshall who was an artist that worked on the piece Knowledge and Wonder. A piece that was made for the Chicago Public Library, which was later sold for $21 million without his permission. Just one example of a black artist has been used in the past.

The solution Blackman left us at the end of the presentation was to have conversations with each other, “Look in the mirror.” In doing so you will mold your identity and be able to contribute to the conversation and know your impact and worth. The event concluded with a q&a that had many students actively sending in occurring thoughts. Great thoughts channeled Toni Blackman to finish up the event well and gave us another verse to think about.


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