(What is a) Black Star
Advent Week Two: thoughts on tokenism, Black excellence and the Quest for Love
But another source of inspiration for me comes from the Talib Kwali and Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) collaboration through the “Black Star” album. On the track “Astronomy” the two ask repeatedly, “What is a Black star?” (Here are the lyrics if you want to analyze them….so much depth in here.)
I ask the same question, as someone who landed in the US in New York, though I barely remember the neighborhoods mentioned in their songs. I ask this question as someone who is often described as “lucky,” because I find myself in spaces where the presence of Black people is a novelty. I wonder what a Black star is when that star’s shine is met with, not wonder, but a lust for possession and control…when that star is a token…
In her book, Young, Gifted and Black, Sheila Wise Rowe writes for the Black stars who might find themselves burdened by the pursuit of excellence. I will hold off on saying too much about this book because I am writing about it for a paper. But I know it is a book I will keep coming back to. But I will share some takeaways that linger with me, from the book, from Black Star, from Lucille Clifton, and from the dreams I hold for the flourishing of Black stars.
Black Stars need each other
-Black Star, “Astronomy”
Part of my research in this season deals with the Black interior, which I have spoken a bit about here before. In a world where we are made into spectacles when we turn to each other, perhaps, we could behold one another. And in that beholding, we can reveal parts of ourselves we might otherwise hide when we are the token and the spectacle.
The Quest for Love
Wise Rowe describes the longing Black stars experience, created by relational wounds from childhood. She warns, “If the longing is persistent, we may feel broken even while the world celebrates us.”1
I have felt that before, and often moments when I am most celebrated make me feel unbearably alone. But this “wound” guides how I write and who I invite into my moments of celebration and lament.
In my quest for love, I reach out to those who can hold moments of tenderness. Who can sit in silence rather than flood me with advice. Those who can ask, “what do you need?”
People often think Black stars need tough love. The world is tough enough, anti-Blackness is the toughest of them all, and we are hard on ourselves trying to outshine the things that want us dead.
Excellence < Belonging
he be calling the people brother
even in the prison
even in the jail
Lucille Clifton, "john"
I am less concerned about the what (or who) is a Black star and more about how we can make space for Black starshine. I wonder about the Black stars who have yet to recognize they are stars…those who have been denied the space for flourishing.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Holy Night,” and my favorite verse is “Chains shall he break for the (en)slaved is our brother.”
I think about what it meant for the “john” of Clifton’s poem, not exactly John the Baptizer, to be awaiting another Black star. I wonder if the responsibility of his duties was heavy to carry alone.
John and Jesus barely overlap in scripture and share just a few moments together. But their mothers, who were cousins, were pregnant around the same time, awaiting the birth of their Black stars. So the journey of a Black star begins in expectation. Excellence is expected…but belonging?
One of my favorite things about Black Star, the hip hop collaboration is that they are “Black Star” when they collaborate. Both Talib Kwali and Yasiin Bey are great on their own, but this collaboration reminds us that there is a special alchemy that exists in their work together.
Towards Black Constellations
One of the deepest harms created by binary understanding of the world is the myth of separation. Howard Thurman wrote The Luminous Darkness to explore this very idea. He writes, “human life is one and all men are members one of another.”2
This is where I will end, knowing I will pick up next week thinking about Thurman and Constellations.
Wise Rowe, Sheila, Young, Gifted and Black: A Journey through Lament and Celebration, 3.
Thurman, Howard. The Luminous Darkness, x.