Tag Archives: black girls

The Summer We Got Free: A Book Talk with Mia McKenzie

20 Dec

The Summer We Got Free is Mia McKenzie‘s first novel and I was honored to be asked to write a blurb for the back. I wrote:

Mia McKenzie’s The Summer We Got Free answers Toni Cade Bambara’s question “do you want to be well?” with it’s own. Do you remember what I was like when I was? The novel won’t let you go as it surges forward with truth only fiction can tell. I was eager for answers as I followed a trail of not bread crumbs but whole pieces of toast slathered in butter that makes you moan or as I did, read passages aloud and neglect sleep for want of the next savory morsel. The Summer We Got Free is the product of a girl child grown up in the stories of June, Alice, Zora, Pearl, Gloria, and even Octavia, told in palimpsestic time where McKenzie’s own life doesn’t overlap with her characters but it doesn’t even matter. Ava is the black girl who reminds us that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, to the delight of some and the displeasure of others. McKenzie’s masterful weaving of narrative belies an inaugural effort yet it is clearly an afrofuturistic vision of healing transformation and an affirmation that we have what we need. The text is saturated with an effortless queerity and a brush of magical realism that show what’s possible when you focus off center. I’ll be thrusting this into the hands of everyone I know as I return to it myself to remember I can get free again.

The Summer We Got Free Book Cover— Mia McKenzie

This interview with Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous is the first in a series of talks Crunk Feminists will have with people we think are creating the world we want to see. We do a lot of critique on the blog but in the new year we want to do more to highlight the folks who are doing the work of fostering activism and alternatives now! CF Crunktastic describes the project as a “Crunk Digital Salon.”

I mean salon both in the sense of the kind of intellectual gatherings that Madame CJ Walker and Georgia Douglas Johnson used to preside over in their homes during the Harlem Renaissance, but also in the sense of beauty/barber shop talk and politics, and the level of community, candor, everydayness and humor that one finds in those spaces.

CF Crunkonia characterizes it as a kitchen table.

I like the kitchen table for reasons involving my love for Paule Marshall. I also miss MHP’s old blog with the same name. And although the kitchen table may not mean to our generation what it did to Marshall’s foremothers, couldn’t we play with the whole digital age meets the kitchen thing because the kitchen table may double as an office desk for many of us? A play on women’s work?

CF Chanel reminded us that a cypher invokes our initial inspiration and connections to hip hop feminism.

I’m moved by the tumblr practice of Signal Boosting, of lifting up important messages that we want spread and that we want people to hear by reblogging them and asking others to do the same.

As we continue to work out what we call this thing, please enjoy our first offering. Get Crunk!!!

Learning Community with Black Girls

17 Oct

Wish to Live and Hip Hop's Lil Sistas SpeakIn a two-part series called Meet the Authors, the CFC talks to Drs. Ruth Nicole BrownChamara Jewel Kwakye, and Bettina Love about their recently released books, Wish to Live: The Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy Reader and Hip hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Identities and Politics in the New South. Both books describe Black girlhoodand hip hop feminist teaching in the university and community classroom.  Ruth Nicole and Chamara coordinate SOLHOT (Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths), which is a multi-sited, community-based space developed to celebrate and affirm Black girl genius using art.  Bettina organizes, Real Talk: Hip Hop Education for Social Justice, an after-school program for elementary school-aged students aimed at promoting issues of social justice through hip hop education. Part I covers hip hop feminism as pedagogy or the art of teaching. Part II will explore the body and hip hop feminism as Black feminist thought.

Crunklife: How do you marry hip hop feminism with pedagogy in your new books?

Bettina Love

Bettina L. Love is an assistant professor in the Department of Elementary and Social Studies at the University of Georgia. Her work has appeared in numerous books and journals, including Gender Forum, Educational Studies, and Race, Gender and Class.

Bettina: Hip hop feminism is a way of life, the way I see the world. I’m an educator. Before I was ever a researcher, a scholar, a writer, I was an elementary school teacher, so hip hop feminism and pedagogy just works for me in the classroom. I also think working with young girls to create a space for them that they don’t get in schools.  I think young girls, especially young Black girls, feel so disconnected from school. Their culture isn’t there. Their stories aren’t there. Who they are is not there in formal education. To merge those worlds for me as an educator and as a hip hop feminist just feels so natural and so right because I know the potential of these girls. If we can work in spaces where there is shared knowledge and produce this shared knowledge, it’s just powerful.

Chamara: I think it is definitely a way of life and how we see the world. It is marrying the things that we see in our daily lives as Black women and bringing those elements into the classroom in different ways and shapes and forms. The classroom, not just being in these formal spaces but being in informal spaces in the community, is where we get together and talk about the ways in which our world is being shaped by—not just the music, but—the kind of things that are going on around (us) and in the everyday-ness in our lives. The book was taking the things that we had done in the community in Champaign-Urbana (IL) and then asking other people who had been a part of that or who had been a part of the Hip Hop Feminism class (at the University of Illinois) to share the things that they’re doing and the way that they brought hip hop into these spaces.

Crunklife: You talk about working inside and outside of the classroom. You all work with girls. Could you talk about that? What do the girls teach us as homegirls? What do they teach us about ourselves?

Bettina:  I have a chapter in my book that talks about starting my research with my limitations. I walked into this research project thinking that I knew everything about Atlanta and I knew everything about hip hop. I looked like these girls. I never thought that I had to address all of my messiness that I had in my life. These girls brought it out of me.

My queerness was on display for them. During the first interaction I had with these girls, they walked up to me and said, “You gay?” Being quick-witted and not wanting to put my guard down, I said, “You in my business.”

I could not research them, get to know them, understand them, and tell their stories until they put me on blast. They did something that was very interesting. They started talking about lesbians in their school an earshot away from me. I truly believe that they did this to let me know: Let your guard down. We’re cool. Talk to us. I couldn’t tell their stories until they put me on blast. It was an awesome, awesome experience because they wanted to tell their stories.

They are just so smart and they’re ready to critique, and they’re ready to be heard. I was there wanting to do that but I didn’t know how to do that. It helps as a researcher or someone doing this work in the community to address your stuff, your messiness when you walk into these spaces with these girls. I’ve had to address my notions of southern-ness. I’m from New York. I had to understand what my mother said about country folk, stereotypes, and all this internalized homophobia that I walked into this space with, the girls helped me to confront.

Ruth Nicole Brown

Ruth Nicole Brown (Ph.D. in political science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) is an artist-scholar and an assistant professor in the Departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy (Peter Lang, 2009).

Ruth Nicole: I definitely echo the messiness. We see the same exact thing in SOLHOT where they call you out whatever it is when you least likely want to talk about it. They put it out there. In SOLHOT, we’ve had homegirls that have really stepped up and embraced it, and we’ve had others that once they got called out, they cried and left, you know. She said this about me. Or, this is too much. I got to go. Maybe some people are just not ready to deal with it.

Those who stay, there’s a lot to be said about the power and the presence of a woman who can address her complexities and articulate them and share them. I think that the formal classroom, the university classroom, is so into consumer education. I’m big on that lately because it’s like the students really don’t want to know what I know or what we can learn from each other. It’s, “Can I get your signature so I can leave?”

This is why outside of the university classroom is where education and learning happens in a very sincere way. We approach each other as people first without having to fight all of the isolation and the complicity that the university sets up. We can just really ask each other questions and have a real learning experience. The girls in SOLHOT drop knowledge all the time. We are there to learn from them. Like we always say [in SOLHOT], “what the work is.” We don’t presume to know what the work is before we get together with whatever group that is SOLHOT.  The girls taught me how to fix a CD when it’s scratched by dropping it in a toilet. We thought we knew what we were doing, but they taught us that. The girls constantly teach me that when one of them gets suspended, the question is not, “What did she do or what happened?” But we ask what happened to her because it’s always the person that responds that gets caught. So, we connect to her first. She reacted and subsequently got in trouble. So those are just a few that I’ve learned.

Bettina: I also think as Black feminists, it calls us to get outside of the ivory tower. It really does. To do this work and to live this work, you will not be able to do this work with integrity if you only stay in higher ed.

Crunklife: But do we want to make those divisions? What if there are first generation people like me who are now taking classes in school and see it as being part of their Black feminist construction as well?

Bettina: I think you’re right. I think we have to be in both, but we have to make sure this work hits the community.

Chamara Jewel Kwakye

Chamara Jewel Kwakye (Ph.D. in educational policy studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is a scholar, storyteller, and performer. She is currently a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Kwakye is currently writing a book that documents the life histories of Black women in the Academy.

Chamara: I agree with most of the things that have been said. There’s no way that you can talk about somebody else’s life without being called out about the stuff in your life. There’s just no way that you can do that with any real connection to that person or with any integrity.

You’re trying to write about somebody else’s life and interrogate their life and you haven’t really looked at your own life. I don’t know anybody who’s done that successfully and it reads well. It will read like you’re five feet away as opposed to actually being in the moment and connecting with that person. So with the girls, really again, echoing what Bettina has said and what Ruth Nicole has said, there’s no way that you’re not going to get called out. And so, going into that space, you really have to be okay with being called out or really learn quickly on your feet because this is what’s going to happen. In order to do this work well and not be overwhelmed by it, you’re going to have to start interrogating your own self.

The girls are constantly, in SOLHOT, calling you out. For me, last year, it was my break-up. I may have said one thing about it, and they were like, “Did you bust the windows out his car?” They were going to call me out, but it was also taking care of me too in a way. By that time, I had spent a considerable amount of time with them and they were really checking in to make sure I was okay. If I had gone in there with my guard up, I would have never gotten to that space of care where they actually showed me that they wanted to make sure I’m okay. How are you surviving this moment? That’s what I learned from them. If you allow people to call you out on your stuff, they will also be there to take care of you too. It’s not just a one-way relationship where I am checking in on them. They want to know what’s going on outside of the spaces that we’re in. It becomes a reciprocal relationship where we’re checking in on them and they are checking in on us.

For more information about books, please visit Amazon.com:

Wish to Live Book CoverWish To Live: The Hip-hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader moves beyond the traditional understanding of the four elements of hip-hop culture—rapping, breakdancing, graffiti art, and deejaying—to articulate how hip-hop feminist scholarship can inform educational practices and spark, transform, encourage, and sustain local and global youth community activism efforts. This multi-genre and interdisciplinary reader engages performance, poetry, document analysis, playwriting, polemics, cultural critique, and autobiography to radically reimagine the political utility of hip-hop-informed social justice efforts that insist on an accountable analysis of identity and culture. Featuring scholarship from professors and graduate and undergraduate students actively involved in the work they profess, this book’s commitment to making the practice of hip-hop feminist activism practical in our everyday lives is both compelling and unapologetic. (Source: Amazon.com)

Hip Hop's Lil Sistas SpeakThrough ethnographically informed interviews and observations conducted with six Black middle and high school girls, Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak, explores how young women navigate the space of Hip Hop music and culture to form ideas concerning race, body, class, inequality, and privilege. The thriving atmosphere of Atlanta, Georgia serves as the background against which these youth consume Hip Hop, and the book examines how the city’s socially conservative politics, urban gentrification, race relations, Southern-flavored Hip Hop music and culture, and booming adult entertainment industry rest in their periphery. Intertwined within the girls’ exploration of Hip Hop and coming of age in Atlanta, the author shares her love for the culture, struggles of being a queer educator and a Black lesbian living and researching in the South, and reimagining Hip Hop pedagogy for urban learners. (Source: Amazon.com)

Blue-Eyed Jazz & Love: 3 Blackgirl Lessons I Learned From Toni Morrison

2 Jul

As a writer when I feel the pull of creativity it is as seductive as the lure of a would-be lover, arms outstretched with whispers in my ear as sweet as honey mixed with molasses.  It is enough to keep you up all night and daydreaming throughout the day imagining the next thing to say that will capture the feeling, moment and emotion simplistically.  It’s beautiful.  Soul-stirring.  Inspirational.  Like sex that is so good it makes you wanna  cook good eggs or make good coffee.  But then there are the times, most times, when the words don’t come and their absence lingers like the smell of a former lover, arms long gone, and words long silent.  Emptiness where hope was.

Sometimes the words are there but I don’t feel like sitting with them or jotting them down or typing them on a keyboard so I distract myself with mindless television, meticulous housecleaning, or unnecessary errands.  Sometimes I read.

Lazy days and late nights in June, hard earned from busy days and long nights for several months straight, led me to a renewed love affair with Toni Morrison.  I first read Toni Morrison as a pre-teen.  A friend of my mother’s loaned me The Bluest Eye and Beloved and I marveled at the fancy script on the covers but was soon disinterested because I didn’t understand what I was reading.  I was too little, at the time, to make sense of the grown up tensions of incest and infanticide.

It took me years to pick The Bluest Eye back up, as much for the image of the blackgirl on the front as anything else.  And when I got past the first difficult pages (difficult, I believe, for any teenager to fully comprehend) I read words that made me make sense.  The Bluest Eye didn’t cure my depression but it made me feel less strange for my own misguided misperceptions of why I was so unhappy, as if light skin, long hair, and blue eyes would be the end-all-to-be-all of my problems.  The book pushed me to see my black as beautiful, to see all black as beautiful.

When I read Sula I was nearly grown and appreciated Sula’s fearlessness, even though I didn’t understand her grown-woman choices.  It wasn’t until I was fully grown that I could understand her better, though never fully, and appreciate her, even admire her.  When she declares her independence to her grandmother, rejecting traditional expectations of women to marry and make babies, saying “I don’t want to make somebody else, I want to make myself,”  everything in me leaped.  Those words were powerful.

Jazz is a good read, but it is complicated and jagged, melodic but intentionally scattered like the music, which kept me from getting all the way through it the first or second time.  Third time’s a charm and I read through it in one night.  Identifying with Dorcas, a motherless daughter seduced by a grown married man or seducing a grown married man (depending on perspective), got caught up trying to feel wanted and important.  Her memory haunted his wife’s house like a ghost because the wife could not be young and beautiful again.

My re-acquaintance with these stories and others (Love is on my nightstand) reminded me of how and why Morrison’s brilliant prose has always served as a writing siren and a blackgirl call for me.  The characters are black and female, bossy and complicated and real.  They laugh, they cry, they lose their minds and put them back together, they fall in love, they resist love, they want to be seen, heard, loved, made love to.  They are mothers, other-mothers, wannabe mothers, bad mothers, good mothers, best friends,  sister-friends, girl children, married, single, left alone, wanting to be left alone,  young, old, promiscuous, chaste, saintly, judgmental, loud, quiet, masculine, feminine, sad, abused, raped, murdered, resurrected, talked about,  beautiful and ugly.  They love each other fiercely and men conditionally.  They dance, philosophize, and complain.  They are real—everything at once and nothing in particular.  They put me in the mind of so many women I have known and loved and myself.

These characters are enough in their own right… fighting against films that often depict blackness and femaleness as  one-dimensional or broken, and spoken out loud words that sometimes forget that there are wonderful stories written down.  When black women write blackgirl stories… they are filled with all of the possibilities and dreams and hopes in the world. They also tell the truth and give us a place to see what we look like on paper.

Looking back at the books and their lessons I have compiled a few things I (have) learned from reading Toni Morrison this summer. (NOTE:  This is NOT an exhaustive list)…

SULA

1.  Ain’t nothin’ wrong with resisting conventional labels and expectations.   Sula was a revolutionary, a rebel, a pariah. She didn’t give a damn what anybody thought about her.  She lived life on her own terms and resisted conformity.  She did what she wanted to do and what made her feel good unapologetically.  Though she had a problematic view of love and relationships, brought on by how she witnessed it in her family, she was faithful and loyal in her own right.  And that was  more than enough.

JAZZ

2. Love that is desperate (even when deliberate) is dangerous.  Dorcas died in Jazz because of the lust-inspired love of a man who could have been her father (and the disdain of her new, younger lover who was more concerned with the blood stains on his shirt than her bleeding and dying body).  This love and need to be loved is sometimes too much.  Manic love can never be sustained.

THE BLUEST EYE

3. Internalized self-hatred distorts our views of beauty.  Pecola Breedlove saw herself as others did and took on all of the bullshit of the world and put it on herself.  I don’t think it was Pecola that was ugly, but rather what she witnessed, experienced, and endured.  Society has done such a number on little blackgirls that it feels like all we need to be happy and acceptable is to be entirely different.  Not black, not a girl, not poor, not vulnerable.  Pecola’s peers knew the truth—that blue eyes and black skin would not make her beautiful, but rather odd.  Strange.  Pitiful.  And pitiful as she was, her fragility and naivete, her young body made mature too soon by a figure that should have protected it, led to a mental breakdown and deep emotional blues.  Blackgirls are not unbreakable (or unbeautiful).

These stories offer commentaries about love, friendship, black culture, black girlhood and everyday experiences often hidden behind closed lips and closed doors.  Morrison is brave enough to tell unspoken truths and to teach her readers remarkable lessons about living and loving.  I cherish the stories she tells and will be re-reading Love this week, and ordering her new book Home when I am finished.

What is on your summer reading list?  What is your favorite blackgirl story?

Please share your own thoughts, insights, and lessons from black or browngirl stories in the comments.

LIVE @ 9am “Images In the River: Black Girls Dialogue”

30 Mar

Good morning CFC community,

After our Feminism 101 for Girls report many asked for more information about the organization and implementation of the workshop.  Well Tami Harris and Julia Stevens of the parenting blog Love Isn’t Enough have arranged an online discussion with five panelists to discuss how to introduce feminism to black girls.  The panelists include educators and activists: Mashadi Matabane, Bianca Laureano, Asha French, Sheri Davis-Faulkner, and Ruth Nicole Brown. Bios for the panelists are listed on the Love Isn’t Enough website. 

Join us for what promises to be a fantastic and necessary discussion.  We look forward to “hearing” from you.  If you have difficulties accessing the discussion from this site click here.

http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=a47a755c8a/height=550/width=470

Images in the River-Black Girls Dialogue

22 Mar

Nina Simone’s haunting ballad “Images” based on the poem by Waring Cuney tells a story about black girls we know all to well.  Not knowing our beauty and not seeing our images; for many of my friends and family it has been a struggle for us to see ourselves as beautiful, worthy of love, and major contributors to the world around us.  However, when we found Audre Lorde, Ella Baker, Angela Davis, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Darlene Clark Hine, Alice Walker, Faith Ringgold, Toni Morrison, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Smith, Shirley Chisholm, June Jordan, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Erykah Badu and so many more we saw our image in the river and we knew…

Currently black girls are under attack, on display, and undereducated. Cyberbullying on FB, actual bullying at school, constant surveillance by school security, heterosexism and homophobia all contribute further to the marginalization of black girls.  There are no palm trees in the streets, but they have to deal with unwanted sexual attention in public, and sometimes private, as well as fat-hatred on billboards and tv commercials.  They are not getting adequate general health education or sex education.  Neither their public or private education tells them of the streams of powerful black women and girls in their lineage.  As black feminists, womanists, Afrafeminists, women of color scholars and activists we cannot wait for them to come to us.  We must seek them out and as we guide them to the river we must listen to what they have to say.

Last year the CFC learned the power of our community when we reached out for support with our Feminism 101 for Girls workshop and we received an outpouring of love.  The workshop was a success and we provided a report back in good feminist form, but it was just the beginning.  Since then bloggers Tami Harris and Julia Stevens from Love Isn’t Enough contacted the CFC and workshop facilitators to participate on an online panel and we agreed.

Join us for a live panel discussion, Images in the River: Black Girl Dialogues, at 9 am ET, Saturday, March 31, featuring Sheri Davis-Faulkner, member of the CFC and American Studies PhD Candidate; Mashadi Matabane, Fem101 facilitator and PhD Candidate into transformative agency; Bianca Laureano, founder of the LatiNegr@s Project, who has worked with and taught youth of color and speaks at national and international organizations advocating sex-positive social justice agendas; and Asha French, member of CFC and Doctoral Student in English to discuss planning, funding and facilitating feminism 101 discussions for black girls. The conversation can be accessed on Love Isn’t Enough, Crunk Feminist Collective, What Tami Said and Cover It Live.

This conversation is about sharing best practices and learning from one another.  It is also a call to action so after the panel we encourage participants to schedule dialogues with black girls in your communities and report back.  Specific details for joining the discussion are forthcoming.  Tweet using the hashtag: #blackgirlsdialogue.

It’s time we see our images in the river.  It’s time to talk about black girl problems.  It’s time to talk about black girl joy.  It’s time to talk.

Ode to Dark (Skinned) Girls

9 Jun

My melanin proficiency has often led to color complex(ion) issues brought on by my country (rural) upbringing in a community (and country) fascinated (via the hegemonic influences of beauty) with my yellow-skinned sister with looooooooooooooooooooong hair and generally ambivalent with me (and my dark skin and short/er hair).  They (the adults and other children in my life) always knew my sister was beautiful but for me it took time, years, deep long looks and depth of consideration to finally determine that I was cute, ish, beautiful even for a dark-skinned girl.  I have often pondered the implications of those terms of my beauty, put on me by society, community, and sometimes my self  (I told you I had color complex, read complexion, issues that resulted from what I was taught to find attractive and desirable).

It is hard to love your black (beauty) when you know Black men who exclusively date nonblack women or who refuse to date dark-skinned Black women because they are not “beautiful.”  The Psychology Today article that accused black women of being ugly hit close to home and pushed me back to so many moments of insecurity that I thought I would explode in rage.  I had thought (read hoped) that we had made strides past the paper bag test and expanded, culturally, what constitutes beauty despite the unspoken preference for red bones.

But this is not a critique of societal hate of black girls (though it could and perhaps should be) but rather a prelude to a preview.  The documentary Dark Girls is directed by Bill Duke and will premiere in October at the International Black Film Festival (check out the trailer below).

When I saw the preview (I wish the title was different, by the way, Dark-Skinned Girls perhaps, but Dark Girls implies something sinister that makes me sad) I sat with my tears and remembered my own sadness and memories of growing up a dark (skinned) girl in a space that prefers something/anything else.  The stories were so resonant with my own memories that I was reminded about how important it is to tell and hear your story in a chorus of others.  I felt validated by the confessions and emotions brought forth by the women included in the showing, many of them unable to recall their feelings of inadequacy and shame without tears.  As I watched and listened I realized that my struggle(s) are not over and that despite my best intentions and awareness, there is still the little dark skinned black girl in me who wishes to be different.  Acceptable. Lovable. Beautiful (as quoted in the introduction to the film).  For so much of my life no one seemed to notice that/if I was beautiful at all.

I have the kind of beauty that moves slowly and sneaks up on you—in those few seconds when you are still trying to decide what you think of my face you realize that the thing that made you unsure was not my features, but my skin.  I know it, I see it, I recognize it in the eyes of women and men 30 seconds before they speak (or don’t speak, depending on the situation).  But I have grown into my beautiful.  After years of looking past my own pretty, I finally found it was there all along.  It is a subtle, disarming, vulnerable, newly-confident beautiful that I inherited from my mama’s cinnamon skin (which she got from my grandmother’s Native American/light as White legacies) and my father’s sepia-shade sprung forth from his light skinned, heavy-tongued mother and pecan skinned and dark eyed father (all of their children were the color of Hennessy).  I used to find solace in knowing that I coulda been light-skinned, and that perhaps I really was on the inside, under the curious layers of dark brown skin that showed on the outside.  As a dark (skinned) girl I spent hours in the mirror imagining how different I would look with light skin (I wonder if light skinned sisters have that same wondering).

This documentary is important because it seems to speak to the silenced (and hurtful) experiences of a group of women who fail to consistently hear their worth (Psychology Today anyone?)  It is time that someone starts telling dark (skinned) girls they are beautiful, because of, not in spite of their skin color.  It has taken me years to combat the colorism in my own life but I think it is time for a shift in the narrative so that little dark (skinned) girls don’t have to wait ‘til they are grown to get self esteem– and so that as they are growing up and dealing with the prejudices of being dark-skinned they do not suffer in silence or isolation.  I wish someone would have been there to tell me it would be all right.  To remind me/show me/tell me I was beautiful.

I am not sure how the documentary ends but I look forward to seeing it.  I imagine (read hope) that it finds a way to affirm and re-imagine beauty for dark (skinned) Black women so they (we) can see themselves (ourselves) as beautiful.

But just in case the documentary fails to affirm dark-skinned girls (it is not clear if it is merely a collection of narratives or a larger commentary on how to re-frame our gaze), I wrote a short poem to celebrate dark skin.  I call it,

Ode to Dark (Skinned) Girls

she waited

patiently

and in silence

never admitting

out loud

that she secretly wanted to be

light

skinned

brown but in a lighter shade

she would say it out loud

but in whispered tones

“make me white-like

damn near transparent

so that these people can see through me

instead of just past me…

make me

beautiful!”

like the color of the earth  I already was

but

this skin,

this house to my soul

is only almost pretty

they say

and if I weren’t so dark

I might be worth

lovingwantingfuckingstayingbeing

but instead I am just

tolerated

in the dark or in secret

or worn on your shoulder

like

an unnecessary accessory

creating your celebrity

because

i

am

dark

er

than

you

teach me how to love

myself

brilliantlyBrownBlackMahoganyEbonyqueen-like

BronzedCocoaButterDreamChild

the color of fire

in the middle of its escape

skin and eyes round

and regal at once

You are beautiful

I am beautiful

the color of coffee with no cream

dark like the bittersweet chocolate of my dreams

caramel-coated coquette

honey dipped and full of vigor

full lipped and full bodied

full

dark-skinned and exquisite

majestic even

with your brown-black self!

Black is beautiful

You are beautiful

I am beautiful

We are beautiful

On Watoto From The Nile- Letter to Lil Wayne

3 Mar

This musical open letter to Lil’ Wayne is getting lots of love!

I want to join the chorus and give a big ol’ YAY to black girls creating media and saying what’s on their minds! Speaking back to Wayne’s misogyny is super important!

That said, I wonder about the limits of such a message.

Steve Harvey’s views on women are not progressive. He’s simply peddling a more respectable sort of black gender relations that still have women in the role of subservient sex goddesses but with a bit more modesty. To set him up as a positive alternative to Wayne misses his own belief in narrow gender roles for men and women. The song disparages Wayne for being single and seems to imply that ideally he should be married or that if he was acting right he would be. Erykah Badu is signaled as a “good” artist despite having worked with Wayne (and she’s single too; tweets is watchin’).

Wayne gets constructed as wholly negative and Lauryn Hill et. al as wholly positive. That good vs. evil split is a little too easy and doesn’t get at the complexity of the issues I have with Wayne’s music. For me it’s not so much the “calling women out their names” as it is his objectification of women that informs his word choice and the earlier trauma in his life that may impact his behavior.

When we are young and maybe a little influenced by our parents, we can go a little too hard in the virtuous/Queen/good black people paint. In speaking back to Wayne and other rappers with misogynistic lyrics we have to be careful we don’t end up creating a new box for women, that is just as limiting if a bit more respectful. The “Madonna” is just as limiting as the “whore”, even if she gets more props.

I ain’t mad at them though and I definitely am sending them love, particularly since they are getting such hateful comments on the video’s Youtube page.

The three black girls embracing each other who made the video giving peace signs to the camera

Congratulations, Watoto From The Nile, for rekindling a conversation that needs to be had!

Dear Kiely

11 Apr

Dear Kiely,

A friend of mine was really upset about your video (I think a lot of people were) and has reached out asking folks to write an open letter to you as she did. I wanted to talk about your videos and say my peace (intentional spelling) so this seemed like a great invitation.

First, I’m not trying to lecture you about what you should be doing. I get that women are sandwiched between this virgin/whore rock and hard place and that you in particular are marked with your girlhood empowered Cheetahdom that you hoped “Spectacular” would help you shed.  I just find it disturbing that the mature womanly reincarnation of your image involves the glorification of date rape.

I know that you say that the song isn’t about date rape, that sometimes a song is just a song. Sometimes you kiss a girl and you like it (that song is f*cked up too by the way and yet not at all on the level of insinuating as you do in your song that date rape is just another wild night on the town) but the flippant nature of these remarks belie the messages in the video. By suggesting in your song that you were so drunk the evening comes in pictures, you blacked out, feel like you are on drugs, that you don’t remember dude’s name or if he used a condom its unclear how you remember that the sex was spectacular or that you were able to give consent. It also makes it seem, as did your response video, that women are being irresponsible and it’s their fault that they get into these situations. The problem is them, their wild drinking and their out of control behavior as opposed to questioning a situation in which a woman isn’t even present enough to say yes or no to sex, let alone the use of a condom.

And how come when you are trying to convince us that the sex was spectacular, it’s only through violent metaphor i.e. blowing one’s back out? And though I’ve never worn tracks myself, I have it on good authority that it would be pretty painful if one was torn out of your hair. Is the sex not good if you’re not in pain the next day?  Mad love to the kink community but this song and many others on R&B airwaves lack a level of intentionality and consent that puts them in a different category for me.

Kiely, I know that this isn’t just about you; it’s a systemic problem that will take more than a youtube video defense of yourself to undo. There is probably a lot of pressure for you to make a splash and distance yourself from the safe, girl power image of your teen years, but I wonder if you couldn’t have thought about that distancing as maturation. How dope would it have been to have seen an empowered totally consensual one night stand play out on screen and imagined in your lyrics? Why does it have to be a walk of shame the morning after? Also, what’s with the scene of the white guy trailing you for a few feet even as he’s with another partner? Why is the video set up to cash in on overplayed stereotypes about sex workers and working class neighborhoods? It seems that all of these decisions could have been different and could have really opened a dialog about the culture of hooking up and how women can do so in a safer and ultimately more pleasing way for them.

With fierce love,

Moya B.

P.S. I totally still bump Cinderella all the time!

* Update*

Check out this video response to Spectacular, with more information about how to get involved!

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