The theme and title alone of some events call for us to reach out to the organizer, and a fantastic case in point is Blackness is as Delicious as Gumbo: An Exploration of Blackness, which takes place in Boston this Friday, Nov. 15. Framed as a “lecture and conversation about the Black Diaspora through an analysis of Solange’s albums A Seat at the Table and When I Get Home,” it’s put together by activist Melissa Denizard, who we asked to explain the project in detail.
How was this event conceived?
This is the second event in a series of events where I’m merging pop culture and politics together so that young people can study political theory in a way that’s engaging and relates to contemporary topics. So this particular event is using Solange’s albums, A Seat at the Table and When I Get Home, to serve as an avenue for us to actually go into deeper texts and works of art that had been created by political activists and politicians throughout the Black radical tradition.
What is the meaning behind the title of the event, “Blackness is as Delicious as Gumbo”?
“Blackness is as delicious as gumbo” is taken from a Marlon Riggs film, Black is… Black Ain’t, in which he compares the diaspora, the Black diaspora to gumbo, and gumbo is a Southern dish that consists of an amalgam of different ingredients [that] put together creates this beautiful, delicious dish—a stew … and what ties everything together within that stew is this thing called the rue. The rue is this thing made out of butter and flour. If rue is what ties the ingredients within the gumbo together, and we’re comparing Blackness to a pot of gumbo, what ties Blackness together? Is it culture? Or is it pain? Do we all share one culture? Or do we all share a common pain that is pervasive of characteristic of being labeled as Black within the world?
What resources will you use to answer these questions?
We’re gonna look at Solange’s albums … to analyze that a little bit deeper. A Seat at the Table was more so an album that talks about race relations with the United States specifically in 2016, and the events leading up to 2016, and When I Get Home is looking more so at Solange’s relationship to Texas and her home. We’re going to be looking at the different reactions that each album got from the Black people. And we’re going to be coming to a conclusion based on her album, based on the Marlon Riggs film, and based on other texts that have been created by Black activists, Black writers, Black artists throughout the Black radical tradition.
What is the purpose of studying pop culture in this context?
What I found is that if you use pop culture as an avenue to do that, because it’s so mainstream, because everyone has some kind of stake in pop culture, because we’re either shaping pop culture or we’re consuming it, what that does is it gets people interested. It formed this initial interest for people to understand the topic, for people to have some levels of expertise and level of opinion on the topic. And then, from there, that creates an avenue or an access point where now you can introduce higher-level concepts into the conversation.
So if we’re just talking about Solange and her album, everybody’s got an opinion on it, but then you introduce Marlon Riggs into the conversation, and now everybody is … like, I have an opinion on Solange. So then if you have an opinion on Solange, what do you think about Marlon Riggs? What is Marlon Riggs saying and how can we then apply what Marlon Riggs is saying to what Solange is saying? And then how can we develop something new from synthesizing those two scholars? It’s one, to form community and two, to democratize studying and to democratize these texts so that we can synthesize information and create something new that’s applicable to our communities.
In what ways are Solange Knowles and Marlon Riggs symbols of Black liberation?
So Marlon Riggs was a gay Black man. At the time of his death, he had AIDS and that film was actually created after he died. So it was created by his team once he passed away. How Marlon Riggs ties to liberation is like his mere existence was liberatory, was disrupting the status quo of what it means to be Black. I think Solange in a very similar way tries to redefine what it means to be a Black woman. What it means to be a brilliant Black woman who is putting her work out, who is writing her story and who is contributing to this larger discourse on what it means to be Black.
… The difference between this event and the last event—where we talked about Beyonce, Jay Z, and capitalism—is this time, like, we’re not looking externally, we’re not looking to solve an external issue. This time we’re looking to solve something that’s internal—first looking within ourselves and asking ourselves, Who am I as a Black person? How does the world define me and how do I define myself? And then from there, how do we then define Blackness within the Black diaspora? Who is Black, who is not Black and why?
We’re going to ask what are the different systems that influence our thinking and how do we break out of that in order to actually build communities that are adhering to all of our different cultures? And how do we build movements that are at adhering to all the different types of Blackness, whether or not that’s pertaining to sexuality, ability, gender, all of that. How do we build movements that are sustainable, that are equitable, that are accessible to every type of Black person? We’re looking to solve, to discuss an internal issue that has hindered Black movements across generations.
Why is it important to engage with people face to face?
One of my goals with these types of events is to really change the way in which we think of academia or what is considered to be academic. Because when we think about studying and studying political theory, what we think about is we have to be in the classroom. And not only do we have to be in a classroom, we all have to have some level of expertise on the topic. And I think what that does is it hinders movement building. Because the truth of the matter is—in terms of the younger generation, Generation Z, we are not studying as much as Black activists and Black scholars used to. And the importance of studying is that you can’t build a sustainable movement if you aren’t rooted in some type of theory, some type of text, some type of work that’s already been done before. And so the point of this is to get young people actually studying again and interested and interested in actually critiquing what they’re consuming.
And so the point of meeting with people in person and talking to them in person is to bring us together to form a community where we’re able to see each other face to face and understand who actually is doing this work. Who is interested in doing this work? Who is within our community and what do they look like? What are they thinking about? And the other piece of it is how do we democratize these texts and these theories and these topics because as interesting and as radical as these texts are, they aren’t accessible to everyone. The language isn’t accessible to everyone. So how do we break that down into something that people will actually want to engage in, that people actually are willing to discuss and feel as if they have some level of expertise?
Why do you start events with “community building”?
First is because we’re going to be talking about intense topics, right? We’re talking about liberation. We’re talking about topics that are also very vulnerable, like what does liberation actually look to each of us individually? And I think before you can actually sit down and have that conversation, [you] need to know who’s in the room with you. And you need to know what kind of energy they’re bringing into the room. And you need to know if the room is something that you trust and you want to be engaged with, and to what extent.
Tell us about your decision to sell tickets according to “equity-based pricing.”
I’m a student, but also I’m an activist. I work at the intersection of race, gender, and class and looking at how that impacts African Americans specifically. One thing that I focus on a lot is equity. How do we make our events and projects equitable for everyone? How do you make them accessible to everyone?
Now, $5 is the standard fee. But what you’re then able to do is you’re able, if you feel like you’re able to pay more to afford a higher ticket price, then you’re able to donate or to increase the price of the ticket. So what that does is it leaves it up to the guest of the event to decide what is the value of this ticket. Is it just a $5 ticket? Or is it worth $10? Is it worth $20? Am I able to afford more? Am I able to contribute more to this event so that other people can enjoy it?