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Multiple Identities and New Forms of Community

[1:16:42 to End]

The distinction between a community based on unity and one based on communion is addressed in the final segment of the film. Unity too often implies uniformity, while communion suggests the sharing or exchange of thoughts and feelings. Black people, like people everywhere, belong to more than one community and may have communion with many different kinds of people.

  1. Do you believe that "black unity" is an inherently false, restrictive, maybe even oppressive, concept? Discuss the various takes on the idea of black unity presented in the film, for instance, the barber thinks that unity is crucial but Michele Wallace worries that a circle of unity always excludes someone.
  2. For many, Cornel West's statement, "There is no one grand black community," seems to defy common sense. How can you be black yet not be part of one grand black community?
  3. Towards the end of the film, one man looks into the camera and says, "Haven't we had enough of folks telling other folks what's proper, how to talk, who to love, how to dress, wear your hair, eat, drink, pray, make love, dance?" Earlier, Marlon Riggs says, "All black people have to reconcile our differences and get over the notion that you can only be unified as long as everybody agrees." But doesn't the idea of unity by definition imply agreement, aren't all communities built around common values and standards? How can we adopt Riggs' credo without falling prey to an "anything goes" relativism?
  4. bell hooks offers a way out of this dilemma of conformity vs. permissiveness, suggesting a new form of community based not on unity but on "communion." What does she mean? If unity is predicated on agreement, what is communion based on? Does your campus community follow the unity or communion model? What is lost and what is gained if we move away from the goal of black unity toward a vision of black communion?
  5. What does Cornel West mean when he says we all "have multiple identities and that we're moving in and out of various communities at the same time"? List the different communities you belong to. Does your self-identity change when you move from one community to another? If so, how?
  6. How do you think Marlon Riggs identified himself? A gay man with AIDS? A black male? A filmmaker? An activist? Do you think he allowed an identity to be "assigned" to him or did he try to construct an identity unique to himself? To what extent do you believe you're free to invent yourself, and to what extent is your identity fixed, limited by your race, your parents, and history?
  7. The gumbo simmering throughout the film symbolizes the rich diversity among African Americans. But Marlon Riggs does not explicitly identify the "roux" that can bind together the different colors, genders, classes, regions, sexual orientations, etc. of African Americans. Why not? What do you think the ingredients for such a roux might be?

Discussion Questions
Black Is . . . Black Ain't

Introduction: Fighting Words|Black Power = Male Power?|Black Music / Black History / Afrocentrism|Sexism, Patriarchy and Homophobia|Family|Acting White / Not Black Enough?|Multiple Identities and New Forms of Community

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