Black Study as Practice: Claiming the B-Side as Black Study

Curator's Note

In the music industry, the A-side—the single—is the star. Every record label gambles on the success of the single, while the B-side is not cared for with the same interest or investment. Rather, the B-side is identified as such based on its use value for the industry. While this doesn’t prohibit a B-side from becoming a hit or from outshining the A-side altogether, even the discussion of this rarity is framed by the metrics of capital. What might it mean to claim the B-side, not for its hit-making potential, but for the sake of care? What liberatory possibilities emerge from unmooring the B-side from the very logics of commerce it was created to serve?

Fred Moten identifies the critique of Western civilization as the aim of black studies.[1]  Yet, there is a distinction to be made between black studies and black study. Despite its radical origins, Black Studies as an academic discipline is now assimilated into the corporate university and too often reduced to performative reform.[2] Alternatively, study is “a mode of thinking with others separate from the thinking that the institution requires of you.”[3] As a mode of practice, as Stefano Harney puts it, study is happening with and against the university and, most importantly, outside the university in cultures and communities who live in perpetual “bad debt.”[4] Black study, therefore, inhabits such gathering to ultimately bring us closer to abolition and exodus—not from debt, but from a world that has debt and credit at its center. I would posit that black study is the practice of refusal of Western civilization. Black study claims no interest in showing up for the Western gaze, its institutional agendas, or the spoils of compliance.

The liquid blackness research group “gathers to practice a form of study that works to mirror the processes of those we study: ‘In this ensemble, blackness is the subject of its own sentence.’”[5] Blackness is not only what we study but how we study. Leveraging liquidity as praxis, we study spaces between theory and the creative practices of the artists we engage.[6] Inspired by Elissa Blount Moorhead’s claiming of the B-side—an interest in people whose contributions evade A-side attention[7]—we gather to study music video as black art!


[1] Dreams Are Colder Than Death, dir. Arthur Jafa, 2013. Moten is quoting Cedric Robinson. See also Fred Moten, Black and Blur, Duke University Press, 2017, p. 67.

[2] Jennifer Nash, Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, Duke University Press, 2018. See also, Christina Sharpe, In The Wake; Robin D.G. Kelly, Freedom Dreams.

[3] Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, Wivenhoe, UK & New York: Minor Compositions, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Alessandra Raengo, “The Heat Is On.” Refract: An Open Access Visual Studies Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, 2019, 2; Raengo, et al., Facing the Band: Elissa Blount Moorhead and the (Ana)Architectures of Community Ties Teach-In, liquid blackness, Georgia State University Oct. 23, 2020.

[7] Michele Prettyman, “Doing It, Fluid: Elissa Blount Moorhead and the Making of a Moving Image Arts Community.” liquid blackness: journal of aesthetics and black studies, 6.1, Apr. 2022, pp. 168–203,

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