“We are not aliens”

As lyrics from the song “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West play in the background, African American video artist and cinematographer Arthur Jafa edited a montage of remixed clips from African American popular culture. The piece, titled Love is the Message. The Message is Death, features a series of videos that depict moments of cultural celebration alternated with moments of social struggle of African American communities in the United States.

It is a short piece, lasting a bit over seven minutes, that however leaves the viewers with the chance to reflect on issues of social struggle and issues of Orientalism brought up by Said.

In the piece, we see snippets of prominent personalities who fought for the civil rights of African Americans in the US, such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. We also see a series of stereotypes that are usually used to label African American communities, such as: being good at dancing and singing, being great athletes, reacting in fiery and/or emotional ways from a young age. However, we can also see a close up of a woman saying “we are not aliens”. That is followed by examples of African Americans not being able to “live up to the standards” of what their “innate” qualities suggest. Indeed, we see a man not being able to finish a race, or a young man singing off-key. We also witness simple, common activities to all humanity, such as a wedding.

Though, in the piece, clips of episodes of blackface and very recent police brutality are strongly present and make their way to the viewers’ emotions, leaving a sense of bitter-sweetness and anger at the end of the viewing experience.

In my opinion, African Americans are subject to episodes of police brutality for the same reason as Said mentions. Indeed, the “Oriental” (in this case, the African American) is guilty of a crime: being Oriental. This is because the widespread and accepted view of an entire category (in this case, police) is based on the behavior of a handful individuals who made mistakes (or had individual behavioral issues). According to Said’s concept of Orientalism, investigating further in order to learn more about the single identities that form the broader African American community would not be worth it, because simply by knowing one, the rest are all the same.

Love is the Message. The Message is Death. A powerful seven-minute piece that makes viewers reflect on our own biases and a a-priori categorization of an entire community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *