One of the many exciting provocations from liquid blackness’s research project “Music Video as Black Art” is showing how the music video is a site of collision for Black filmic, photographic, sonic, literary, and political lineages. The music videos for some of the contemporary’s most popular and influential musical artists—Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Flying Lotus, FKA Twigs—are rich with histories and archives of radical Black thought. To claim the music video as Black art is to claim the music video—in all its pop cultural weight and historic ubiquity—as a site of Black theory and politics; the object as a producer of theory, expressive experience, and potentiality.
On its surface, centering the music video works of popular contemporary artists inherently opens space for students to see themselves and the art they may more regularly consume treated as rich texts deserving of study. So often the institution of education reifies its canon and canonical pedagogical practices demanding that students meet the institution and its faculty representatives on the terms that were set by the historically, experientially, and intellectually removed. Students who “fail” to “catch up” on traditions they were never taught or were actively denied demonstrate the supposed and already assumed inadequacies of the student. When the institution does feign concern for “engaging” students, it is in to fill classrooms with paying bodies. As Fred Moten and Stefano Harney write, “The student has no interests. The student’s interests must be identified, declared, pursued, assessed, counseled, and credited.” Interests and engagement guide us to the already paved straight path of higher education. Institutional desires to regulate, de-kink, smooth, and straighten movement and thought demolish potential sites of solidarity and possibility.
And so, I don’t wish to propose a simple pedagogy repeating student interests back to them as if they are ignorant of their existence. Instead, we should take on the provocation of “Claiming the B-Side.” As djones wrote this week, the B-side is “an interest in people whose contributions evade A-side attention.” Within the university, the student has been denied “A-side attention.” A pedagogy of the B-side listens, flows, and grooves with the evaded and finds histories, ideas, and solidarities with them. “Music Video as Black Art” is not an attempt at a new canon, but an archival gesture that accumulates lineages and references so that we—the students of each other—can find connections between each of us. The radicality of any of the artists that make up the rich artists pages on liquid blackness’s website is that they offer twisting, turning paths backwards towards other moments of Black thought and give us a lens into what can come next.
The pedagogy of claiming the B-side is the choice to claim a community under the suffocating behemoth of institutional bureaucracy. Institutions desire a hierarchical antagonism between students and faculty. We do not just need to see what students love as being deserving of study. We need to see that they are producers of thought just as we, artists, and the objects are. The lie of a hierarchy produces a fantasy that there is a necessary distinction of where thought, theory, and politics come from, and that there is a fundamental separation between them. The only separations are the ones we choose. In the liquid blackness teach-in on Elissa Blount-Moorhead’s work, I emphasized that Blount-Moorhead makes clear that community is not a noun, but a verb, an action. One does community. We just must make the choice.