- Nice & Rough: Unapologetically Black, Beautiful, and BoldA Conversation with Sheila Jackson on Black Women’s Participation in Cultural Production in the 1970s
In this interview with Sheila Jackson, conducted by Angelica Macklin on September 20, 2014, Jackson discusses her experience coming of age in the 1970s in segregated Memphis, Tennessee, and how the social and cultural politics of that decade shaped her experience as a Black woman cultural producer. Music, poetry, writing, and films of the 70s raised in her a consciousness that she has carried forward in her work as an author and filmmaker. Her most recent film, Nice & Rough: Black Women in Rock, highlights women, including Tamar-kali, MilitiA, Carolyn “Honey-child” Coleman, Divinity Roxx, Alexis Brown of Straight Line Stitch, Lisa Kekaula of the BellRays, Brittany Howard of the Grammy-nominated Alabama Shakes, and more. The documentary also includes 1970s rock legends Betty Davis, Joyce Kennedy, and Nona Hendryx, who have had a major influence on the sounds and styles of the rock genre as we know it today. Reconstructing the story of Black women in rock is an important political project of remembering and excavating the historical cultural impact of Black women. Some of these women were participants in radical social movements of the 1960s that enabled the 1970s to become an era of cultural producers who were unapologetically Black, beautiful, and bold. Before the 70s, there was a goal for Black people to align with mainstream, white middle-class culture. But the 70s was an era of self-acceptance and bold expressions, of a return to Black cultural roots. It was a time of embracing Blackness as a point of pride, where Black people could wear corn-rows, Afros, and braids, and include African fabrics and design in their wardrobes, which was an important aspect of their cultural work to shift race and identity politics. With an emphasis on loving Blackness, these [End Page 151] cultural producers infused a critical consciousness on the nation that still shapes the hearts, minds, and actions of the next generation of artists and activists, including Sheila Jackson. The radical influence of Black women from the 1970s generation can also be seen in social movements like the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which was started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi to end social and systematic violence against all Black people, including queers, transpeople, and women (Garza 2014). bell hooks’s words from the 1990s bridge these eras: “Loving blackness as political resistance transforms our ways of looking and being, and thus creates the conditions necessary for us to move against the forces of domination and death and reclaim black life” (1992, 20). This interview thus links the Black Is Beautiful movement of the 1970s to the present need to enact what activist Charity Hicks calls “waging love” for all Black lives.1
What was it like growing up in Memphis, TN, in the 1970s, and how did that experience influence your choice to become an author and filmmaker?
In the 1970s I was in school. So my entire coming-of-age experience was during the Black Power movement. Memphis was one of the most racially divisive cities in the United States. It was about 60 percent African American, and a significant percentage of that population was middle class and affluent. There were a lot of African American educators, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. My mother was an educator, and the big political issue of the time was busing. My mother didn’t want us to be bused to schools on the other side of town. So she took us out of the public school system and put us into a Catholic school. Father Bertrand was a Black Catholic school run by Father Jim Lyke, who became the first African American archbishop in the Catholic Church in 1991 (DeCosta-Willis 2008, 229). During the 70s, he had a giant “Brothers Johnson” Afro, and he was runnin’ this very Afrocentric program with a Montessori approach. It was a truly revolutionary community he created. We said the pledge of allegiance to the Afro-American flag every day. Then we...