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The Politics of Liberation in America

BAM sought “to link, in a highly conscious manner, art and politics in order to assist in the liberation of black people”, and produced an increase in the quantity and visibility of African-American artistic production.[64] Though many elements of the Black Arts movement are separate from the Black Power movement, many goals, themes, and activists overlapped. Literature, drama, and music of Blacks “served as an oppositional and defensive mechanism through which creative artists could confirm their identity while articulating their own unique impressions of social reality.”[65] In addition to acting as highly visible and unifying representations of “blackness,” the artistic products of the Black Power movement also utilized themes of black empowerment and liberation.[66] For instance, black recording artists not only transmitted messages of racial unity through their music, they also became significant role models for a younger generation of African Americans.[67] Updated protest songs not only bemoaned oppression and societal wrongs, but utilized adversity as a reference point and tool to lead others to activism. Some Black Power era artists conducted brief mini-courses in the techniques of empowerment. In the tradition of cultural nationalists, these artists taught that in order to alter social conditions, Blacks first had to change the way they viewed themselves; they had to break free of white norms and strive to be more natural, a common theme of African-American art and music.[68] Musicians such as the Temptations sang lyrics such as “I have one single desire, just like you / So move over, son, ’cause I’m comin’ through” in their song “Message From a Black Man,” they expressed the revolutionary sentiments of the Black Power movement.[69]

Ishmael Reed, who is considered neither a movement apologist nor advocate, said: “I wasn’t invited to participate because I was considered an integrationist” but he went on to explain the positive aspects of the Black Arts Movement and the Black Power movement:

I think what Black Arts did was inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, there would be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts. Latinos, Asian Americans, and others all say they began writing as a result of the example of the 1960s. Blacks gave the example that you don’t have to assimilate. You could do your own thing, get into your own background, your own history, your own tradition and your own culture. I think the challenge is for cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow for that.[70]