On Hoyt Fuller & Black Aesthetic of the 70s

I have been intrigued with Hoyt Fuller recently, especially after reading some of his articles in the Black World periodical, a very important journal of the 1970s. I am very fascinated in the reasons as to why this important periodical was forced to fold in the mid-1970s. I am grateful for the contributions he provided writers like myself from a younger generation, particularly his defining and support of a Black Aesthetic. His life and work, like Toni Cade Bambara, is a very important instructive lesson for me. Dudley Randall wrote about Hoyt Fuller: “he resigned from Ebony because he thought it was not relevant enough to the Black struggle for freedom and equality. He could not play the game of “making it” if it meant losing his self respect. Much earlier in Detroit he had decided that he would never sacrifice his personal integrity to enter the American mainstream.” I can’t help but think of how much we, as individuals, can threaten our personal integrity so much in so many dangerous, insidious ways in order to enter the American mainstream. Fuller himself says in Towards a New Black Aesthetic: “Black Americans are, for all practical purposes, colonized in their native land, and it can be argued that those who would submit to subjections without struggle deserve to be enslaved.” This reminds me of the famous Harriet Tubman who said that she could have brought more slaves to freedom, if only they in fact knew they were in slavery. I am astounded each day that I live as to the number of people, consciously or not, that wish to remain in slavery. Freedom is very important. Unlocking the shackles of the mind; Bob Marley sung that we should emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. I was reading a few selections from his influential Black World, and came across this astounding selection from Toni Morrison: “The concept of physical beauty as a virtue is one of the dumbest, most pernicious and destructive ideas of the Western world, and we should have nothing to do with it. Its absence or presence was only important to them, the white people who used it for anything they wanted–but it never stopped them from annihilating anybody. And if we are relating to each other better because we have been convinced that the person we are relating to is [physically] beautiful–LORD, it is too tired to think about. I personally would rather stare at Fanny Lou Hamer’s picture than Jean Shrimpton’s not because Fanny is more [physically] beautiful (she probably is) but because I prefer to look at life lived. This reminded me of the appreciation we can gleam from a photo of someone especially if we know about their experience. We can look at a photo of Fannie Lou Hamer with an appreciation of what Morrison calls the “life lived” and appreciate such a life, and thereby deem her indeed, more beautiful, because we appreciate the fact that she as a citizen pushed society to stop its oppression and in that sense, is more beautiful to us. This is changed definition of beauty is very significant to me, Rhone Fraser, as a writer. It is changed from a physical definition to a definition measured by how much one’s life is involved in the liberation struggle. The definition of beauty is part of the Black Aesthetic. This is part of what was known in the early 70s as the Black Aesthetic and was something Morrison, Hoyt Fuller, and Addison Gayle, Jr. spoke profoundly to. Gayle writes: “the Black Aesthetic then, as conceived by this writer, is corrective–a means of helping black people out of the polluted mainstream of Americans, and offering logical reasoned arugments as to why he should not desire to join the ranks of a Norman Mailer or a William Styron [or a Jean Shrimpton].” Part of getting out of the polluted mainstream of Americans is coming to the understanding that Dudley Randall writes: “far too many otherwise intelligent Blacks refuse to acknowledge that it is inherent in the American system that Blacks must plead and appeal while whites gradually accede, without changing their basic structures.” One of these basic structures is the oppressive two party system that refuses to address the root causes of poverty in terms of education and healthcare. Obama’s and Clinton’s changing political platforms proves not only what they have to do to be president, but how much they must plead and appeal to the powers of the Federal Reserve, whose Republican party is in power, without changing their basic structure. Early in Obama’s campaign he called for universal healthcare and immediate withrawal from Iraq. Now in his campaign he as appealed so much in order to be president, that he has changed his political platform by relegating healthcare more and more to the private industry, which is not going to address the deplorable lack of healthcare. He has also changed his policy on Iraq by first calling for immediate withdrawal. Now he has vowed to keep troops in Iraq until 2011 if he is president. What Randall said about blacks continually appealing to whites who do not change their basic structures is important and true. What they have presented us younger writers is framework to analyze current situations, and the tools to essentially deconstruct in as many ways as possible these oppressive basic structures. See www.runcynthiarun.com. Thank you Hoyt Fuller, Toni Morrison, Addison Gayle, and Dudley Randall for helping clarify this definition of a Black Aesthetic, through your written works and your lives. -RF.

Author: Dr. Rhone Fraser

Dr. Rhone Fraser is an independent writer and journalist born of Jamaican immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, on October 12, 1979. He moved to Florida in 1989 and graduated from Zephyrhills (FL) High School in 1997. He graduated from Yale University in 2001, after which time he taught in the public school systems in New Haven (CT) and the Bronx for three years. He then began writing independently and finished a documentary play on the life of Fannie Lou Hamer entitled, "Living Sacrifice," for which he still seeks publication. He earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple as of August 31, 2012. His dissertation was a literary and historical analysis of Pauline Hopkins, A. Philip Randolph and Paul Robeson. He also is a freelance editor and radio producer, and is currently producer of WPEB's Freedom Readers on 88.1 FM in Philadelphia.

3 thoughts on “On Hoyt Fuller & Black Aesthetic of the 70s”

  1. Peace Rhone,

    I was googling Hoyt Fuller (the subject of my dissertation) and came across your blog. Nice work.

    Jon Fenderson

  2. So, let me get this straight, you believe the two party system is oppressive because your participation has not resulted in handing over every reparation or amenity you demand? This is akin to changing the game entirely because you cannot successfully knockout your opponent with the current rules. Obama's platform has not changed and his intentions were fully recognized. This is a democratic society, not a socialist dictatorship. To expect a sweeping mandate without resistance was pure fantasy on your part. 50 years has amassed many changes and programs, some good and some bad. The de-regulation of credit and federally pushed homeowner programs such as ACORN are directly responsible for the current economic plight affecting the poor and minorities today. They changed the rules, circumvented solid financial thinking, to gratify some fraudulent idea that home ownership was wealth handed over. Unless a home is paid for, it is a liability, not an asset. This type of nonsense will keep the poor and minority buried. In a capitalist, two party system, business, and participation are essential. Business is the only true means of wealth. The employed are merely paid slaves of a business idea. If you want wealth, power, and equality, I suggest you focus your revolution on developing Black owned business, not handouts and fraudulent ideas. The whole scope of the black aesthetic is self-reliance and pure identity is it not? I suggest reading Gaines, "The sky is Gray". Octavia has a lesson or two I find up lifting. The difference between that story and now, the changes have been made, opportunity exists, but where is Octavia, James, and The Boy, in this dissertation? Did Oprah or Obama ride the socialist train to wealth and power? How can you possibly justify your argument for this agenda and maintain any self-reliance or identity? Are you disqualifying Obama because the reality of his position challenged some fantastical mandate? His platform for candidacy had goals to pursue and he has pursued them. You can't make a soup and declare the beans a non-participant. Whether your floating or drowning, your still part of the soup, unless your ideals follow eradication to isolate the beans. Is war and genocide part of the grand plan, or are you going to admit that participation is essential? Isolationism, self-imposed, is indifference to the system, leaving you without power. Purity contrived through distillation makes a finer product that will retain value only if it does not turn collecting dust. Our system is described as "The Melting Pot", it contains soup, stir it and see what floats, otherwise, it will burn.

  3. Thank you for the debate ANONYMOUS. In this blog entry I'm only clarifying the definition of Black Aesthetic and showing counterexamples of it. So I'm unclear about the relevance of socialism. To your fundamental point about needing Black owned business, that route has been tried and the amount of wealth and power amassed by the Federal Reserve now makes sure that only those who obey the oppressive two party system will keep the capital they need to survive. Especially now that wealth is more concentrated in the news, commercial and investment banking industries. I mentioned Obama as a counterexample to the Black Aesthetic because of his obvious retreat to the right during his first term. He promised in 08 that government whistleblowers would be protected yet he sanctions the torture of Bradley Manning. The list goes on. Obama's 08 platform was based on misleading voters to believe he was more progressive than he actually was. Please listen to my interview with Paul Street also on my blog:

    What I am endorsing in this entry is the Black aesthetic, not isolationism as you call it. Many powerful Blacks have to decide to what degree will they plead while the basic power structure remains the same. The Black Aesthetic is simply warning those whose art is dedicated to fighting race and class oppression to be careful that the mainstream does not affect one's anti-imperialist, anti-racist and anti-sexist artistic vision. It really applies to artists and I believe, as president, Obama plays a role as an artist. It is a very difficult role because he always has to appear "safe" in front of the white normative gaze, while at the same time "get things done" like he feels he did with healthcare and the repeal of DADT. The Black Aesthetic was a very necessary standard by which artists judge their work, and I think it still should be. -RF.

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