Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why Is One Of The Wise Men Depicted As Being Black?

Photo Credit: kinikkin reims

 From Root.com:
"Matthew states only that “wise men from the East” brought the Christ Child presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Over time, biblical commentary certified their number as three, interpreted the Magi as both astrologers and kings and provided names for them: Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior. 
In addition they came to signify broader attributes, expressed in triadic fashion. Considered to exemplify the three known continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, they also encompass the progression of human life from youth, middle then to old age. In a manner unique to the subject of the Adoration of the Magi, they stand as a microcosm of the medieval conception of the world and its inhabitants. 
The inclusion of a black man as one of the kings had undergone a long and tenuous process that evolved along with the European engagement with people of other parts of the world, and just as significantly, with the symbolic concept of blackness itself. As early as the eighth century, Balthasar was described as “fuscus,” that is, dark, perhaps even black. Only in the second half of the 14th century, however, does this designation more clearly occur, when John of Hildesheim wrote his influential Historia Trium Regum, or History of the Three Kings. Shortly after this, the black king began to be depicted in works of art. We have no way of knowing the name of the black king in Bosch’s painting here, but the other important aspects of his identity are clear: his youthful age, his African origin and his gift of myrrh. 
This particular treatment of the Magi theme is unusually rich in symbolism. During the medieval scholastic movement, a large body of scriptural interpretation had developed. As a whole, the Adoration of the Magi is presented here as the prefiguration of the Mass, the principal church ceremony that celebrates the sacrifice of Christ for the expiation of the original sin of Adam and Eve. In its details, the imagery associates the birth of Jesus with foreshadowing events of the Old Testament. The cloak of the middle king, for example, bears a representation of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, king of Israel. She symbolizes the Gentiles, or pagan peoples, who voluntarily search for holy wisdom. According to the exegetical strategy of Christian typology, she stands for the response of the world to the message of Jesus and thus prefigures the Adoration of the Magi. That she is also shown as black here adds the further dimension of race to the usual context of faith and conversion. 
The extremely sympathetic, nuanced character of the black Magus in Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi has his counterparts in several other examples produced by primarily Northern European artists during the same period. The noble bearing imparted to the black king by Bosch’s contemporaries Albrecht Durer and Hans Baldung Grien manifests the same sense of gravitas and measured grace as the white-robed king in the Prado altarpiece. In this period, the representation of the black king reached an apogee of probity and self-composed magnificence rarely equaled in later treatments of his presence at the Adoration of the Magi. The role played by style in this assumption of the essential humanity of the black man may also have been affected by the position of the real African in the European consciousness at this time. 
Like many Europeans, Bosch quite likely had seen an actual black person. The notion of blackness at this time was largely associated with the exotic qualities of a still largely unexplored African subcontinent. Whatever the actual condition in life of blacks living in Europe may have been, their living image was capable of conjuring faraway tropes of African authority such as Prester John and the young Magus."
To read the rest of the article please click here

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is The NFL Defining Black Masculinity For Society?

Photo Credit: Keith Allison
One of the most intriguing storylines from the current NFL season is that of the Miami Dolphins and the alleged bullying that took place by Richie Incognito towards teammate Jonathan Martin. After Martin unexpectedly left the team at the end of October, many wondered what prompted his departure.

In the days and weeks ahead, it was alleged that what caused Martin's abrupt leaving of the team was the severe bullying that he had endured, most notably by Incognito. The story ignited a national discussion on race, hazing and what is acceptable behavior in the locker room (and beyond).

In another angle on the story, ESPN The Mag writer Howard Bryant explores what it means to be considered a masculine African American man in today's society:
"Here was a case in which a white man used racial slurs to a Stanford-educated teammate who comes from a two-parent, Harvard-educated home. And more than anything else, the root issue was the eternal difficulty this country has in allowing black men to live in full dimension. Martin didn't look the part. He didn't conform to the accepted code of black masculinity, exposing the fault line that has always run underneath the American soil, transformative president or not. 
On the Dolphins, Martin wasn't seen as a real man. Uncomfortable with the strip clubs, he wasn't trusted as one of the boys. And because he represented the images of scholarship and manners, of dignity and higher education -- reputable qualities generally associated with white mainstream America -- he was inauthentic in the eyes of black players, but no more authentic in the eyes of whites. His teammates preyed on Martin's economic class and demeanor, viewing each as weakness, his education as a mimicry of whiteness. (It's telling that John Elway and Andrew Luck, also Stanford grads, have never been accused of being soft.) 
Meanwhile, Incognito became "honorary black" not for any great contribution to African-American history or society but by personifying the negative attributes that American culture usually assigns to black men: the thug, the sex-club swagger, the tough-guy bravado. The images shifted, twisted and flipped, and the person embodying the stereotypical N-word was actually the white man, to the point where Incognito's black teammates saw themselves in his behavior more than Martin's. 
Martin and his family may be what politicians and teachers say is the American ideal, but the actual rewards -- the acting jobs, the record deals, the social acceptance, the money -- largely go to the African-Americans who exemplify the N-word, who embrace the suffocating, limiting image of male blackness. The decision to perpetuate this image isn't made solely by the black community but by the white suits who decided long ago how the part is supposed to look and what black behavior they will compensate; think of that LeBron cover again. Corporations seem to doubt the authenticity and marketability of black men who live outside the primal construct. 
This represents the ultimate victory of racism: the belief that exists among both whites and blacks that being educated, being articulate, having manners, is the sole province of being white."
To read the rest of Bryant's article please click here.