Artists Imagine the Nation, the Nation Imagines Art:
The Black Arts Movement and Popular Culture, History,
Gender, Performance, and Textuality
As will be seen in the following chapters, the poetics and basic ideological stances of the Black Arts movement were far from unified. In many respects, from the very beginning of the movement to its decline in the mid-1970s, Black Arts poetics could be more accurately described as a series of debates linked to ideological and institutional conflict and conversation rather than a consistent practice. Broad framings of differences between cultural nationalists and revolutionary nationalists do not adequately characterize these debates either. After all, even when Amiri Baraka's art and politics were most clearly indebted to Maulana Karenga, the two fundamentally disagreed over the meaning of African American popular culture and its relation to revolutionary black art. Similarly, though both RAM and the BPP might be considered revolutionary nationalist organizations, their approach to culture sharply diverged in theory and in practice, to use a formulation of the times. Even within RAM and the BPP, despite the highly centralized images both organizations projected in their literature and press, there was considerable local variation, with intragroup differences often manifesting themselves over cultural issues. These cultural arguments were sometimes over extremely large issues, such as whether to make a distinction between African American national culture and (Pan-) African culture, and at other times over relatively narrow questions, such as the manner in which black revolutionaries were portrayed in Ed Bullins's play We Righteous Bombers.