I’ve been on a break from my ‘professional’ writing of late for a few reasons. I’ve begun my second novel: a Sci-Fi opus of cyberpunks, hyper hippies, oppressed Mandroid’s and a phantasmagoria of other cultural/social/artistic squeezings from a vicarious soul and motley mind that only I could write – it might be finished by the time I could actually attend a forbidden jazz club for droids, borgs and allies. I’ve been co-editing Cape Magazine, mine and a fellow friend/writer/campfire soul’s project of passion that will showcase voices too long buried beneath academic assimilation and banal literary expectations. But my month-long hiatus from writing directly into the vein of our pain is because of this article, and the fascistic flames of the dumpster fire world that inspires it.
Since the murder of George Floyd by U.S. police policy – this isn’t a pun, but a puerile punchline to America’s founding and enforcement of White Right – and the subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement (founded in 2013, sickeningly needed since 1619), a pandemic within a pandemic, I’ve wanted to curate an article that shares my rage, empathy, heartache and hunger for systemic change this bleached world over. But as a white man who literally looks like Clark fucking Kent, grew up in Wales (our dragon may be red but over 93% of our population is white); a country within the CUNTRY of Brexit Britain, and, in spite of hitting a line in Label Bingo with being severely working-class, neurodiverse and battling depression and anxiety, I was able to leave the joyrider’s haven of Townhill, and have always masked much of my neurological diversity to others.
Not being black meant that despite what possible disadvantages I suffered, I was still free and able to reinvent myself and actually smith those things into swords which I wield with Bride-ian fervour. There’ll be many black people who have my disadvantages but can’t just save up, get lost, find themselves and pursue their passion because the white world does not allow them. This is the predicament which I’ve wrestled with for years: what right do I have to speak for anyone else? In spite of being raised by the strongest person I know who happens to be a fiercely, independent warrior woman, it still took me too long to outwardly declare that I’m a feminist – because I didn’t feel I had the right. And with saying that, and having been one my entire life, perhaps my white privilege is that I can utilize that white guilt to declare that I am an Ally. Whilst I’ve always been mentally strong, physically able (yes, I’m talking about fighting unfortunately as that was the lingua franca of my childhood) and vehemently outspoken, I know that has led to me outwardly defending oppressed, bullied, profiled people in the past with either a Black belt in Kung-Fu or a tongue nearly as violently expressive as the spiritually loquacious lovechild of Cupcakke, RZA and Killer Mike, I now claim my allyship to the world.
The true beginnings of my physical allyship started in 2013 when I partook in Camp America. With my background of rising from deprivation, and then feeding back into those in the same shitty boat through an array of roles as Youth Worker, Teaching Assistant and Support Worker, I was cherry-picked for Camp Top of the Pines/Camp Vacamas. The former is a sister camp specializing in the hardest to reach, most severely deprived and at-risk young people from the Bronx, Harlem, Queens, etc. Naturally (and inversely to my childhood experience), over 95% of these young people were black. But so too were they poor, underrepresented, underappreciated and dismissed for their dire socio-economic backgrounds – and, I learned, for being black.
Without bursting into a 300-page memoir of my tumultuous but no less terrific time during that summer of 2013, I must say that I learned so fucking much about the black experience. As Sports Coordinator during the first two week ‘trip’ of 90+ kids, I had a few flat basketballs and American footballs, cones, some baseball bats and whatever else I could find in the dusty and underfunded attic that was the storeroom. I delivered five sessions a day to groups with this equipment, and whilst I taught touch rugby to an audience who didn’t have much of a clue about rugby, or much else when it came to the tiny lake-sized country I’m from…
–SIDEBAR: ‘Do you all live in castles in Wales?’
‘Is there McDonald’s in Wales?’
‘Is there internet in Wales?’
‘Is there Whales in Wales?’
‘Are you Macklemore?’ – whilst I think I look nothing like Macklemore as he’s a pale ginger white dude, and I’m tanned, dark and often mistaken for Italian/Spanish/16th century pirate white dude, it reminded me of the movie Role Models when Bobb’e J. Thompson tells Paul Rudd, “You white, then you Ben Affleck.” Which, like all the above questions, isn’t just heartrendingly humbling, but a fucking due-time (and funny) reversion of that most heinous allusion that all Black people/Asian people/anyone-who-isn’t-white look the same. For fuck sake, have you looked at mainstream music/TV/Film etc, WHITE PEOPLE LOVE TO FUCKING LOOK LIKE CARBON COPIES OF EACH OTHER BECAUSE THEY’RE BORING TWATS WHO CHERISH THEIR ASININE COMFORT ZONES MORE THAN EXPANDING THE SPIRIT!
…I was then taught American football in kind. But during an International Day where all the motley counsellors and staff offer insight into where they’re from to an audience who’ve never strayed (poverty is imprisonment) further than NY City, apart from this getaway to Bear Mountain, NY State (I know right, who the fuck starts a children’s summer camp on BEAR MOUNTAIN!) once a year, I was shocked. Where I saw a lot of similarities between these children and all the mad-bastard Townhillians I’d worked with for six years prior, these kids, by default, were more articulate, had broader lexicons, and even broader minds. But damn were they indoctrinated. One kid who brought two pairs of pants and socks with him for a two-week stay was telling me how America is the greatest country on earth. It still shocks me. From here on out and for the rest of the summer, I did not stop asking questions of my kids – after the first trip they were in need of another counsellor (basically the staff member who parents a group of 6-8 kids at all times and for all things) who could handle an unruly bunch so that was me, apparently – and built some resilient, beautiful bonds with them.
Where, at the beginning of the summer, I was a gutted I wasn’t headed to a Californian camp with a fucking water park within like a friend who applied at the same time, by the end of the summer, I was so earnestly appreciative that I got to meet, talk, share, learn from, teach, and live with my fellow poor folk, who happened to be young, black Americans.
One of the main things I learned is that racism will end with white people dismantling it. The system is so stacked against black people that it doesn’t even allow for them to end their oppression. This list/article (I’m aware of the word ‘listicle’ but more aware of the fucking beige squares that use terminology that mars communication) is my minuscule effort at trying to rally more of my pigmentally-challenged sistren and brethren into proclaiming their allyship. None of this is definitive. None of it is said with any authority, but simply appreciation. It is not extensive even because who the fuck can truly collectivize the art that pumps their heart? ADHD and solid memory do in fact kick each other out of bed for farting. This is merely a rundown of Black Art/Artists that helped a white man see, feel and seethe at their plight. I’m going to miss more than I catch so please, please, chime in on the comments and social media to add to the list and invite others to do so – like those abundant bedtime conversations I had back in summer 2013. I am going to assume we’ve all seen, cried and talked about 12 Years A Slave – which rightfully seemed tectonic at release – and so that is why it’s not in the list below. That’s not to say Steve McQueen isn’t a boss ass bitch at showcasing the overtly oppressed black experience in Slave, and the marginalised one in Widows.
The Spotify playlist, “Black Lives Make Music,” that I’ve curated just below is also a minute slice of life from Black lives, but one I will be adding to often. Without further tangential wanderings, here’s “Black Lives Matter and So Does Their Art.”
Jay-Z & Linkin Park – “Points Of Authority” / “99 Problems” / “One Step Closer”
One of the first pieces of black art that shocked me into disbelief. Growing up deprived but mostly white meant that apart from a brown best friend, I was never really a part of any sort of black community. There were French black siblings in my school, and I saw much resentment toward them from all those white kids whose stuck-in-the-mud families were resentful to themselves. “Points of Authority,” especially Jay and Mike’s interplay of white cop and black man pulled over by white cop, unlocked something in me, the potency of rap to reveal poetic prose. And the scabs it rips off to reveal the soft pink flesh beneath that we ALL bear.
I was into Linkin Park (naturally, as an angsty teenager with too many feelings and too little outlets) and I will be forever grateful to them for introducing me to Hova, one of the quintessential Black New York rappers risen from the realms of slinging drugs to spitting beatific poetry. Jay-Z gifted me one of my thirteen-year-old self’s favourite puns: “I’m not a business man, I’m a Business, mannnnn.” He proved to me he could handle his business, damn. The entire Collision Course EP is so tight. A communal amalgamation of styles, genres and people. Listen closely and you’ll simultaneously headbang and jig like a motherfucker.
Jordan Peele – Get Out / “Replay” (The Twilight Zone)
I’m not going to wax lyrical about what Get Out did for the zeitgeist’s discourse toward how black people face intrinsic racism from even ‘Liberals’ because I, thankfully, think many of us were involved in that discourse. Though it must be acknowledged as it did teach me, and perhaps informed the aforementioned internal struggle of calling myself an ally, that white people can be the most manipulative, hypocritical cunts on Mama Earth’s skin.
“Replay,” the best episode of Jordan Peele‘s re-issuing of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone, relates to the black man pulled over by white cop from Collision Course. Selwyn Sefu Hinds’ sci-fi tinged script and story prove that even in the Twilight Zone, the persistence of racism, prejudice and white authority perpetuates. A truly harrowing Twat and Mouse thriller steeped in racist overtones and undertones.
Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk
Jenkins’ follow up to the elegantly elegiac Moonlight undid all of the good will the Academy garnered with Moonlight’s (muffled) Best Picture win. For me, possibly the better film, with an even more poignant and profound soundtrack by Nicholas Brittell scoring harsher spirit-stabbing racism. The heart-hugging community of Black families just trying to do right by their own, let alone a do right against a system – nah fuck that, let’s call a pale hand on a pistol a pale hand on a pistol – against a country whose self-aggrandizing ethos only applies to white folks. This hurts as much as it heals. I still can’t believe how few people watched this even after claiming to be fans of Moonlight. For all the pain in this movie, there are some scenes of artistic creation and genuine discourse that are simply abundant in humanity and our desire to create and connect.
Ava DuVernay – 13th
And with that point above, please see 13th, Ava DuVernay‘s expose of the American (in)justice system and hear the stories of black people incarcerated for lifetimes that a white person probably would have received bail for. Prepare for the anger you’ll have by end credits, and if you’re not African American, prepare some more for the confrontation with the fact that your anger is a child’s tantrum compared to a Black Hulk’s (Marvel, hire me, motherfuckers because you can bet I’ve got a refreshing reboot idea for the modern Hyde-ian duplicity of man and monster) rage that can never be allowed to manifest itself. The title is a reference to the Thirteenth Amendment which apparently abolished slavery. I don’t think the politicians got the memo. And if you haven’t seen DuVernay’s Selma, surrounding the legendary Martin Luther King-led march, then fucking get to it, sister.
Kenya Barris – BlackAF
This mockumentary finally lends the meta nature of self-reference/reverence to an affluent artist who happens to be Father and Husband to a boisterously beautiful black family. Barris writes and stars alongside the role we’ve all wanted for Rashida Jones since Ann Perkins. It does familial in-fighting so well, whether it be about a young woman’s sexual and spiritual freedom from her overprotective father, a boy’s innate gentle kindness not being conducive to growing up black, or how an at-odds couple manages six kids, two careers and the mammoth pressure of being known the world over as the successful black family with a 100 million dollar Netflix deal. Oh, and every episode proves that all plights within American society stem back to slavery with some hilarious, touching, Larry David-esque stepping in shit and spreading it on the carpet antics. Much maligned for not being black enough apparently, but it taught me quite a lot, and I don’t just mean the sheer import of celebrating Juneteenth, but how a Black family unit functions and doesn’t function – regardless of being the most affluent family in the neighbourhood.
Killer Mike, Run The Jewels – Trigger Warning with Killer Mike
Anyone who knows me knows I love RTJ. For their violent expression, steezy beats and the idyllically colourful coalescence of Atlanta-born Killer Mike and Brooklyn-born, El-P as contemporary rap kings showcasing the magnificence of human chiaroscuro. But also because all of the above is so needed right now. Check out my review of their 2020-busting album RTJ4 to hear more of the gospel, but please also find Trigger Warning with Killer Mike on Netflix. The documentary follows the messiah that is Mike through six episodes as he wrestles with the socio-economic issues and political prejudice that Black people live and breathe. Episode One sees Mike travel the country trying to “‘live black,” meaning he can only buy food, shelter and most importantly weed, from black folks. And that means from seller to CEO, black money must go into black pockets. It’s funny, irreverent, touching and insightful. And you’ll sometimes see Mike’s tongue so far in his cheek that it looks like he’s giving the universally dire symbol for a blowjob as he utilises the porn industry to teach people how to change a lightbulb, and fittingly starts a nation called New Africa.
Boots Riley – Sorry to Bother You
Sorry To Bother You did a lot for restoring my faith in cinema. When I watched this in my local back in 2018, I was fucking howling. Some of the funniest scenes in recent memory are the adhesive to a scathing satire where LaKeith Stanfield’s call centre worker uses “White Voice” to become the top salesman, leaving his contemporary artist girlfriend played by a ferocious Tessa Thompson on the bottom floor. This is just the tip of the horse person’s veiny dick (don’t worry, it’ll make sense when you’ve seen it) as Boots Riley dissects being black in modern America with so much wickedly weird irreverence that you’ll be screaming “what the fuck have I just watched!?” with disbelief and adoration. I’ll say no more as not to spoil the chaos but look out for Armie Hammer’s magnanimous line of cocaine being the greatest snort of cinema history.
Donald Glover – Atlanta
Years before Donald Glover’s Childish Gambino gained the platinum trophy for blisteringly brutal music videos in This Is America, he made Atlanta. It follows Glover’s Earn as he tries to manage his rapper cousin, ‘Paper Boi’ played by the brilliant Brian Tyree Henry, whilst being a boyfriend, a dad, a friend and an individual in his own right. Both seasons are essential viewing, not only for the navigation of deprived black communities like Atlanta, and the modern gangster rap scene, but because it’s also wilder than a feral manbearpig. It continually strays from formula, doubling-down on its playful weirdness when it comes to story, structure, form, medium. It’s an untameable, unforgettable, impossible-to-label series that put talent like Glover, Henry, Stanfield and Zazi Beats on primetime TV. Some of the imagery on show too could be framed and hung on walls – a scene of white Frat initiation from Season 2 stopped me in my tracks. Also, the pulpiest, most satirical adverts this side of Rick and Morty.
Htiekal aka LaKeith Stanfield – Do Better
With Get Out, Sorry To Bother You and Atlanta all featuring the dextrous genius of Lakeith Stanfield, it’s a wonder he had the time to start a music career but that’s what he did as Htiekal. Do Better features Stanfield wearing black face in a mirror, singing ‘I don’t wanna be black no more.’ In the immortal word of Stan Lee, “Nuff said.”
Spike Lee – Chiraq
Because there might be a smidgeon of justice in the world, most of us know and love director provocateur, Spike Lee. Though more recently known for Da 5 Bloods (it’s at the very top of my film watchlist but I’ve heinously not yet gotten to it) and Blackkklansman, and regarded as one of the most important black directors of all time because of She’s Gotta Have It and Malcolm-X, the man speaks for the many. But he did something bombastic in Chiraq. Taking the classical Greek comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes (women utilise the little power they have against their men – Sex – and deny it them until they stop their wars and find common ground) and colliding it with Englewood, Chicago and its infamous gang violence, Lee makes a two hour rap musical that’s as sassy and substantive as it sounds. A truly unique watch, even for Lee fans, the brilliant cast led by Teyonah Parris deliver on the promise of music as they rattle through issues not just of being black in America, but being a woman in America.
I saw Lee’s challenge and met it with a review in lyrical form, when I used to waste my time on LetterBoxd. https://letterboxd.com/aaronfarrell/film/chi-raq/
It’s a bit of a mess but still one of the funnest reviews I’ve written. And yes, I like the imagery of scabs.
Maya Angelou – Still I Rise, Caged Bird
This magnificently myriad woman’s poetry resonated with me when I was about fifteen. Still I Rise, was and still is such a pivotal poem in my discovery of self. At a time where I felt misunderstood, unliked, swept aside and chastised for being an empathic, imaginative, sensitive weirdo in a mass-production line of football fan furore and neutered, ignorant prison prospects, Still I Rise taught me that I could go above what the world wants and expects of me. It’s of course so much more than one chubby teen’s spiritual liberation, it’s a poetic penis-punch to a white world that thinks so little of black women. And then there’s Caged Bird. Just read this goddess among humans to have your emotions rebooted.
Toni Morrison – Beloved
I was pretty pleased with myself that I’d read this before I got to Uni and was told to. Granted I was 26 starting Uni, so I’d had a head start on many classmates, but I was the first in my family to ever even toy with the idea of higher education, and that’s probably due in small degree that I have read, cried and felt utterly enraged and inspired by authors like Toni Morrison. Beloved is unlike anything else you have read. It’s magical realism, horror, history, and a horde of other things. It’s not an easy read, for both its agonising story which takes place during the mid-1800’s Kentucky, but also it’s narrative perspective, ethereal descriptions and unrest in its magic, and its realism. It’s agony that’s wholly worth it as Halle, Pauly D, et al, are about as humane as humanity comes.
Wu Tang Clan – Of Mics and Men/ Discography/ Afro Samurai
As last year was the 25th anniversary of the Colourful Council of Cerebral Colloquialisms, Wu Tang Clan, the documentary Of Mics and Men is a testament to why I’ve always loved these geeky gods. Though they lived forced lives of hustling drugs and dodging slugs around Staten Island and beyond, RZA, Method Man, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, et al, became THE royal troupe of Rap. If you can’t see their Kung-Fu Film meets lyrical swordplay in my writing – especially poetry – then you probably haven’t listened to enough of the Wu. This docco recounts their individual lives as children, their coming together over Kung-Fu films being the few movies that don’t have White Saviours, the realisation that their voices don’t just matter but must be heard, and then utilising their street skills to proliferate a new mode of Hip Hop. Their approach to form and freedom of speech was revolutionary, and they really helped sculpt me as a teen, man and writer. Proof that some of the greatest contemporary poetry comes from Hip-Hop, they’re one of the main reasons I believe in Violent Expression. And also, one of the best bands to listen to high.
This isn’t strictly Wu-Tang but this RZA collab with MF Doom and Omegah Red has been a recurring song in my playlist since my friend, Arthur, played it in first year of Uni – consider we’ve just graduated. The beat is as sultry as Hip-Hop gets but pay attention to those verses!!!
Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal – Blindspotting
I knew I had to see this – a friend and fellow critic said it was his favourite of the year, 2018. And what a choice. This is a seemingly slice-of-Oakland-Life buddy comedy that mutates with aptitude into a Rubik’s cube of genre fluidity, social issues, racial identity, to name a few of the many. It’s a mind-blowing exertion of talent by writers/stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Halfway through the film, I needed to know who the fuck wrote (it’s a writer’s film) such a funny, painful, authentic film, and was in awe that it was these two brotherly chaps I’d been watching on screen. The less you know the better, as just the first ten minutes are proof of the aforementioned tonal dexterity. I’m already wanting to watch it again as it’s about as exuberant announcement of new age voices as a green bulb-headed broad landing in a spaceship proclaiming she comes in peace. And the real kicker of the humane stories within, two years ahead in 2020, is that they’ve only become more relevant. I’m so pumped about Blindspotting that, between writing this article and it being published, I’ve come back add this to the list as, since watching it two nights ago, it has not left my head or heart.
Jean-Michel Basquiat – His entire body of art (as seen on my shirt – a Billabong curated, posthumous collab between Basquiat and Andy Warhol)
Basquiat was not only testimony to the real American dream as his birth right was being part of the eclectic cultures of Puerto Rico and Haiti, but one of the most eccentric critics of America’s treatment of black people. His art is singular, immediately recognisable but densely indecipherable. Tragically part of the 27 club (I inadvertently and independently adore most of its genius members), Basquiat still left a cool motherfucker silhouette on the art world and the real one which inspired it. A king who made his own crown.
Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station
A sad refrain of theme, this film details the last day of Oscar Grant III, played with aplomb by Michael B. Jordan, as he meets his destiny on New Years Day with bullets from a cop gun. It’s a quiet film, cut with character throughout, but one that is tectonic in the grief it portrays. This is a dehydrating crier, so be warned. But shit, is it also non fictional prophecy for the life and times of young black men in America. But thankfully it was also the calling card of directory Ryan Coogler who would go on to make the best movie in the Rocky franchise with Creed, and then literally rewrite the superhero genre with Black Panther.
Zeal and Ardour – Devil is Fine, Don’t You Dare, etc…
So, if this article has left you feeling frustrated, angry, or in need of some thrashing, look no further than Swiss-American Experimental Metal band, Zeal and Ardour. Led by Manuel Gagneux, who brings a refreshed meaning to Black Metal, he utilises white appropriations, slave songs, and the entire historical zeitgeist of the Black American experience to keep old flames raging, and kindle some new ones in you and me. If the band’s symbiotically metal sound with Gagneux’s ferocious voice don’t leave you in awe of the sheer talent, I will fart on your pillow. Seriously, this dude’s voice is beserk.
And these are just a few slices of Black art that have affected who I am, infected my artistic output, and prove (not that it ever, ever fucking needed it) that Black Lives Matter. As I said in the intro, I’ve missed thousands of pieces of art that may be more pressing, more prescient or more important, but this is and always was a subjective piece of which art helped shape me from ignorant-by-default white boy into an ally all too willing for atrocities against his pigmentally challenged kin that would bring an end to apathy, and herald a new age of communal empathy.
Sound off in the comments, add to this list, fuck, make it definitive. Teach me more, utilise whatever privilege I have, leverage my ability to spinning kick people in the face by placing Trump, Johnson, their cabinets, and their cohorts of the Fascistic League of Unwiped Assholes in front of me so I can help destroy what I detest. My name is Aaron and I’m an ally. His name is Killer Mike and he says, ‘Kill Your Masters.’ Well, let’s get to it.
Here’s a list of honourable mentions from allies in art:
Bobby D – Hurricane
Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained (I know of the controversies but fuck, man, if it isn’t nice to have your gut-churning mandingo fights and lashings ending in fairy-tale fashion with Django taking all the fucking names of the conspirators of Kandyland. The fastest gun in the south is a black superhero without the latex).
Gilbert King – Devil in the Grove
Norman Jewison – In The Heat of the Night
Rachel Dretzin & Phil Bertelstein – Who Killed Malcolm X
Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird
David Simon – The Wire
Damon Lindelof – Watchmen (this quasi-sequel in series form to the 1986 graphic novel -my favourite of all time! – opus by Alan Moore literally opens with the Tulsa Race Massacare)
Michael O’Shea – The Transfiguration
Joe Cornish – Attack The Block
2K Games – Mafia III
Peter Ramsay (who is black and co-directed with) Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman – Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Insomniac Games – Marvel’s Spider-Man (this for their handling of Miles Morales as a secondary character that is taking the webbed spandex – like he did for Spider-Verse above – as the titular hero in the next game).
Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon – The Central Park Five
Chris Morris – The Day Shall Come
Rage Against The Machine – Discography
Katheryn Bigelow – Detroit
And here’s Black Lives Make Music. The user is my fiancee as we share a Spotify because, addoooyyy. As I said, it’s continually being updated.