By Casey Gale
Bruce George, poet, activist, Peabody Award winner and co-founder of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, called upon students to be active participants in a political world.
His keynote speech on Feb. 6 kicked off Rider’s Black History Month celebration. Entitled “The Politics of Artistic Expression,” his talk centered on finding strength in the face of the politics that, in various areas in life, try to stifle the empowerment of minorities.
“It’s important for us to be aware politically of what’s going on, as well as have a voice,” he said. “There is definitely a politic to everything. There’s a politic to the air we breathe. There’s a politic to interpersonal relationships. There’s office politics and there’s religious politics as well.”
He went on to speak about the political symbolism ingrained in popular culture, particularly focusing on the submissive roles for which Hollywood praises black actors and actresses.
Of the black actors who have won Academy Awards, George said, the majority have won for roles in which their character was shown in a negative or weak light. Additionally, a wide array of black actors have crossed-dressed and been feminized in film, such as the Wayans brothers in White Chicks. Though George clarified that there is great strength to be found in women, the emasculation of black actors simply makes the black man seem “docile, safe and passive,” he said.
To end the stereotypes and emasculation of the black community in Hollywood, George encouraged students to be active and alert participants
“Politics is something that we need to be aware of and on top of, or the system will have us where it wants us to be,” he cautioned.
In regard to being aware of politics, George reminded students to remember to not only be “schooled,” but to be educated and find wisdom within themselves. He said that though most call to mind the likes of Albert Einstein when thinking about “genius,” it doesn’t take academic brilliance to succeed.
“Genius is anything that you do the way that nobody else can do it,” he said. “There is a genius in every last one of you. The status quo doesn’t want you to know that, because they want you to be submissive.”
Before closing the Q&A, he recited an untitled piece of poetry at the request of the crowd.
Brenelle Tyus, a graduate student and organizational leadership major, was pleased with her decision to come out and watch George speak.
“I was very empowered by it,” she said. “I learned a lot about history and current news.”
Theresa Hughes, senior political science major and president of the Black Student Union, was proud that her organization was able to bring George to Rider.
“It’s great to have a perspective of African American culture from someone actually speaking it, rather than just reading it out of a book,” she said.