“Black is King” and Challenging Your Center of Gravity

Last year, because of some writing work I had done on the music icon Prince, I was invited backstage following a show by his former band the New Power Generation. There, with some of the musicians I had listened to for the last 25 years of my life, we had a lengthy conversation about how creative works can challenge the audience’s eyes to see different perspectives and life experiences beyond anything the listener or viewer had lived themselves, and how some of their music – with the plurality of diversity it represented – had led to my interest in working in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The following month, I was honored to be able to provide interview questions for an in-person interview with singer/actress Janelle Monáe. Sitting a few feet away and hearing her reflect on my questions about inspiration, mentorship, and legacy, I was again struck by how much perspective I had learned from her work as a queer, Black, feminist artist.

This week, Beyoncé dropped the “visual album” Black Is King on Disney+. Building on the songs she and other Black artists created for 2019’s remake of The Lion King, this celebration of afrofusion has received rave reviews and is already being discussed as a serious and meaningful piece of art. In a lengthy review, Jaelani Turner-Williams writes: “The musician has long surpassed the triumphs of an entertainer, but with this new film, she aims for something bigger: paying reverence to the African diaspora and Black futurism that lies ahead.” Many Black friends and acquaintances have said how meaningful this film is, and one post I read said that “[Black Is King] reconnected me to the culture of which I was robbed.” And while a piece of art can be widely celebrated by the people group it portrays, it can be challenging to engage in for those outside of the group. And there is nothing wrong with that – I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that Black Is King wasn’t made for the dominant white culture or other minority groups. Whatever ethnicity or identity group(s) you identify with, the key question is how do we engage with creative work from cultures that aren’t our own? Members of minority groups have often had no choice but to engage with creative work from the dominant culture, but all of us could engage with work from other minority cultures that are not our own. How intentionally do you do so? Do you avoid them because they’re challenging and weren’t “made for you?” Which narratives are centered in your media input? And which narratives are centered in your workplace?

Just like how the classic kids’ toys Weebles “wobble but they don’t fall down“, we each return to our own center of gravity – in this case, our core perspectives that line up with our own life experiences. So how do we broaden our perspective?

This Week’s Tip:

Challenge Your Center of Gravity – With each exposure to a different cultural experience, we may move a little, but we’ll always revert to our own center of gravity and ultimately remain unmoved… until we start to move our center of gravity away from our own experiences.

  1. Review your narrative input – Take stock of the books you read, the movies and shows you watch, and music and audio you listen to. In the workplace, consciously pay attention to the narratives that are ‘centered’ – whose experiences are valued and talked about most in your workplace?
  2. Seek out other narratives – Be intentional about taking in creative work from different cultures than your own. Be willing to be challenged and to be uncomfortable as you engage. In the workplace, ask “what perspectives could we be missing here?”
  3. Reflect on what you learn about yourself as you go – If you find yourself challenged, push into that, and have conversations with people you trust. And share what you learn about yourself too! In the workplace, find safe ways for colleagues to share the narratives they’ve taken in recently, and what they’re learning about themselves as a result.
And yes, as we challenge our center of gravity, we may fall down, but we will also ultimately move away from our starting point. Unlike Weebles, we’ll be able to move and more successfully navigate the world around us!

Share your experiences of challenging your center of gravity on our Facebook group!

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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