Concerning Blackness and Springfest
I would first like to credit the alumni of Occidental for sharing this narrative with others and myself. This letter would not be possible without their institutional memory and the knowledge concerning Springfest would still be largely forgotten.
As everyone on campus knows, this year’s Springfest is featuring hip-hop artist Talib Kweli. Known for his socially conscientious lyrics, as well as his frequent collaborations with Mos Def, Talib Kweli is a well-respected artist within the genre.
Also of note, Talib Kweli performed at Occidental in 2006 during one of the series of events known as “The Exploration of Blackness,” which preceded and evolved into Springfest. The “Exploration of Blackness,” as indicated through the title, was a two-week long series of events dedicated to understanding the culture, nuances, and struggles of the Black Diaspora. These events include, but are not limited to, lectures by Angela Davis, performances and talks by Talib Kweli and Lupe Fiasco, as well as public viewings of both The Boondocks and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled in the quad. “Exploration of Blackness” received widespread support from the student body, cultural clubs, faculty, and administration before it transitioned to the Springfest we are currently familiar with.
While the conventional criticism of Springfest programming board’s seemingly monotonous selection of hip-hop artists year after year is somewhat ironic, especially considering the origins of Springfest are rooted within Blackness, it is not unexpected. Springfest has been divorced from its radical Blackness social justice beginnings. As a result, it is no longer conceived as an event dedicated to helping foster campus-wide understanding of Black identity, but rather a concert to turn up at.
Of course, this is not to say we should not have concerts with a diverse range of musical genres and acts. I would argue for more diverse music beyond hip-hop for Oxy concerts.
However, we should not forget the history and original purpose of what once was explicitly Black radical programming at Oxy. As this campus continues to wrestle over issues over race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality, it is imperative that we look to the past to try and resurrect the once-progressive soul of the college. Going to a Macklemore or Talib Kweli concert is not enough to engage in critical discussion and action regarding prominent (and inescapable) social issues.
Class of 2014