Celebrating black culture with author Irenosen Okojie | BBC Ideas

I’m Irenosen Okojie, I’m an author.
In my humble opinion, black joy should be embedded
within the fabric of our culture and shouldn’t just be
temporary or fleeting. So black joy is expanding the
notion of what black artistry is and it’s contributing to the culture, it’s shaping what
conversations we have. It’s being completely free and
unencumbered in terms of ideas and having absolute agency. And I think being your
most authentic self, because sometimes it can be difficult operating within
the Western structure in terms of how
we express ourselves as artists and how we celebrate our culture. If I were to give concrete examples
of what black joy means to me, I would say it’s reading
a June Jordan poem, it’s watching a Barry Jenkins film, it’s listening to a Fela Kuti
record on a hot day, it’s looking at an image
of a Basquiat exhibition. All of these things represent
black artistry and black innovation and the complete freedom and joy that
I think is important as an artist. There’s so much happening that
signifies black joy at the moment. We’re seeing our stories filter
into the mainstream and finally this idea
of whose story is valuable is coming to the forefront. And black stories are
taking precedence, not only coming to the forefront
but shaping cultural narratives and having a really huge impact. So, if we look at for example
Black Panther, I would say that that’s a huge cultural moment
in terms of black joy and just the ripple effect
it had globally. It shattered every preconceived
notion or myth about whether black stories
are valuable, whether they translate
into the mainstream, whether they’re too niche or
audiences will go and see them. Here we have a film about
an imagined African kingdom that celebrates black innovation
and black culture and authenticity, but told using an Afrofuturist
aesthetic, and it just made people sit up and take notice. I think the issue for me is that
very much what’s happened a lot of the time and for
a long time is black trauma has been something that’s been at
the forefront, so problematic areas like knife crime, and what
that does in the long term I think is that it creates a warped
sense of what black culture is. So we don’t see enough of black
achievement and black celebration, what you get is this idea of a
community being majorly problematic and there are problems
in any community. So now more than ever
with these stories coming out, it’s just a great counter because
it shows that’s not all we are. I think our cultural gatekeepers
need to be more open minded, need to feed themselves more
and read more and listen more and create spaces to talk to people
from those communities and from the black
community in particular. And I think that will shape
and change things. So, it’s just about being more open, being more empathetic, listening
and thinking about not just seeing yourself reflected,
but other audiences. So if you’re somebody in a position
of power, say for example you’re a commissioning editor
or a producer, look around you. Who’s at the table? What do they look
like? If they all just look like you, then that’s an issue. Thinking really imaginatively
and creatively and wanting to be very, very experimental in terms
of how I approach what I do. So again to counter some of the
negative ideas or stories around black culture, so thinking about
celebrating what we’ve achieved. So for example, my debut novel, part
of it was set in the Benin Kingdom, and my family are from Benin, so it
was about reclaiming a lost heritage, a kind of lost legacy, and how fantastic it was
to know about this kingdom, to know about the level of art and
history, we need to think more imaginatively about what the
fullness of blackness is and that it’s complicated and nuanced
and really interesting and to mind that and present
that to the forefront. Thanks for watching! 🙂 Don’t forget to subscribe and click the bell to receive notifications for new videos. See you again soon.

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