The concept of Imperial Representation that we talked about on Tuesday was something I never knew had a name. African Americans have had to conceptualize themselves and their role in society, or else risk being completely erased from societal narrative when their predetermined role as slaves was no longer relevant. Black solidarity has always been something that fascinated me, how individual action was always for the betterment of the whole; the pride of individuals who ultimately reflect the resilience of a forced community of people. Though imperial representation has a negative connotation and is normally seen as the fulfillment of stereotypes, I think this need to create and obtain a place in society is what drove many to act in a way that progressively change their narratives.
Yet, as shown in Darkening Mirrors, all progression is subject to influence and hindrance by the dominant narrative. While there were very progressive roles being played by black actors, and great plays being produced by black authors, there was still a lot of prejudice and stereotypes being portrayed. The best example of this complex double standard is Hattie McDaniel. Though she was the first black woman to win an Academy Award, it was for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. Her success as a black actress is undermined by the role of imperial representation which gained her this acclaim.
Bringing it into today’s contexts, there is still a fair amount of projection taking place in the public sphere, but this time the dominant narrative is not the only one. Hip-hop culture, just as Jazz did in the past, is giving agency to those whose lives and experiences are different than those in the main stream. The popularity of the music produced by these marginalized groups is, in a way, giving them a space in society in which to flourish. By make something so creative and different than anything else in society, something that it is condemned and celebrated at the same time, requires a fair amount of self-confidence and promotion. As with Jazz, this form of black expression began to expand and gain acceptance in the dominant narrative, and allowed an amount of social agency through the influences of their culture.
Just as a baby bird flexes it’s wings for the first time, the impulse to explore the possibilities of this freedom is unstoppable. This is especially apparent when we look at their choices of accessories. Bling is, in a very materialistic way, showing this re- appropriation of imperial representation. Every artist in the movie said they wore bling to show their success; their separation from the expected narrative of being poor young minorities growing up in hard conditions. Now that the sphere of the “have’s” is being infiltrated by the “have not’s”, black hip-hop culture is almost obsessed with appropriation of material wealth which was off limits to them before.
But, as we saw all too clearly in the movie, the progression of one groups comes at the expense of another.