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unicorns, mermaids and me…

14 May


i must have been 4.  he was probably 13 – the son of my parents’ friends.  i had a crush on him.  i went upstairs while our parents were in the kitchen, and passed the room he was sitting in as i headed for my bedroom.  but then he called me in.  i got butterflies.  i sat down across from him – he was lying on his side, leaning on his elbows, legs stretched out.  i was wearing a mini skirt, sitting indian style – i didn’t know that this meant that he could see up my skirt.  i didn’t expect him to begin reaching his foot between my legs.  “you like that?”  i didn’t, not particularly.  not that i remember.  but i liked the attention.  or, i liked the fact that he was paying attention to me.

in elementary school, i remember doing my own thing.  going on adventures, and singing songs i wrote to the unicorns that visited me in my back yard.  i remember being in the first grade and telling everyone a story about the bubble fish and the mermaid who used to live in the river that sat behind our school.  the kids didn’t want to believe me, but i swear it – the more i told the story, the more they started to.  and so i kept telling it.  whenever i could get someone over there, i would tell it.  and i started to believe it, and dream about her.  and the fish – it was so real.  running through the fields, trying to get to her, falling – the dream always ended right before the pain.
mermaids are odd, and beautiful.  genuine, and special.  that’s why the bubble fish are mean the way they are, so quick to use their fangs.  they aren’t hateful, really – it’s just that they care so much for the mermaid.  love comes out all wrong sometimes, when you try to protect it.  and so the bubble fish sit underneath the ground and surround the river where the mermaid lives.  if you walk near the river, you’ll feel the bubble fish like mini hills all over the ground.  if you’re not careful, and you walk too close to the river’s edge and step on a bubble, you’ll pop it.  the fish will jump out and bite you.  
 
piranhas protecting the mermaid who lives in the river, and sings.  they do not belong to her, i’m not even sure she knows they are there.  but she never asks them to leave, and its almost like her songs are for them.  
i used to hop from one small area of flat land to the next, and scare myself when i fell onto a fish’s bubble.
 
that’s the kind of kid i was.  i lived in my head.  dreamed all day.  i painted the world in black and white rainbows.  i held onto my summer evenings thinking they literally carried promises. and i believed that every single star belonged to someone.   everyone was special.  including me.  
i think i woke up the next day with tears in my eyes.  

sneak peak of the book…

29 Jan
we have learned what it means to love without ownership.  to commit to another person, and not to a relationship.  to resist norms for the sake of ourselves.  we have learned that in a relationship, the most important part is relating.  communicating honestly.  being open-minded, and considering each other’s very different, sometimes contentious, perspectives.  relating prioritizes the person over the relationship, rejecting the idea that exclusivity has a universal definition that cannot be shaped to fit.  and for over a year, we have been trying it on.time has taught us that traditional structures make things easier.  fences that mark clearly defined boundaries facilitate the establishment of trust.  security.  fences make homes feel safe.

but fences are not always honest.

this i believe.

30 Oct

free-write…

i believe that change is hard. and everyday i think it is impossible. and everyday i believe we’re almost there. i believe that learning is for everybody. school is not. and i believe that for most of us, while some of us are better at it than others, our approach to schooling is not working. i believe that we should start all over. blow up and make strange all the things we take for granted and assume to be just what they are. that students of the same age should be in the same classrooms. that the best way to assess what whole populations know is by having a piece of paper ask questions, and allowing test takers to guess the best response from three, four or five options. that textbooks are the best way to carry mass amounts of information. and that classrooms require teachers. that teachers require classrooms. i believe that within this rote and archaic structure, and that at this pace, we are losing. all of us.

every other arm in america has evolved with the changes that have emerged over time. industry. technology. music. art. people. but at least two things have not changed apart from switching seats around the same small circle – our politics, and our system of education. and the two are related. i believe that more than history and racism, the hate we learn, and the ignorance we inherit, people are attached to power. and power is attached to money. and it is power’s attachment to money, and itself, that has maintained a system of systems wherein people are perpetually without basic things they have rights to. a system that teaches its constituents to (unknowingly) endorse it, and fight against one another – a battle which ultimately sustains it.

i believe that changing how people think will be the only thing that changes what people do. and the one thing that is capable of changing how people think is the hardest thing to accomplish. experiences with diverse populations – experiences, that is, that nurture understanding and empathy, and sincere connection to humanity. one can raise awareness, by occupying wallstreet for example, or lighting up watts. but until awareness breeds spaces where people are talking to one another and not against each other, and it includes the poor and black and brown among us, awareness will always fall short of influencing action.

and it is at the point of action, which after people have aha moments, and revelations, and begin to see the world differently, that change occurs.

i believe that change is slow. and there are lives among us who do not have time for it. and so we grasp at what we want and need, and steal small, subversive victories for ourselves in other ways. and sometimes these victories manifest in little defeats. sometimes talking back at a teacher gets us suspended. and sometimes one suspension makes it easier for the next, and the next, and then expulsion, and the life thereafter. sometimes if we don’t meet someone along the way who we believe in, and who we trust believes in us, we lose the point of it all – which was saving ourselves.

(artwork by paul goodnight.)

summertime reminds me of home.

9 May

this morning, i could smell summertime in the air.  and immediately, i felt love.  

i remember my elementary school summers, and waking up to sounds that hugged me like long, grandmother squeezes. familiar, comforting, but maddening interruptions to my deep-sleep, sweet dreams.  the sound of you pulling our past from our cabinets, and closets, and throwing what we had forgotten in big trash bags, sitting on the kitchen floor.  saturday morning funerals for the memories you called junk.   you always called this cleaning, but it was always one big mess to me.

i remember our summer afternoons spent in libraries.  my adventures in the corners between book shelves and pages, hiding in my head for hours  everyday.  i remember your “stone soup” and “three billy goats gruff” storybook voices, and how you took us on long walks down your childhood, up southern dirt roads, past tennessee farms and wild white horses, all the way to the honeysuckle you helped us find in our own backyard.

i have been carrying gifts, traveling my entire life with butterfly cocoons in my pockets full of tomorrow and collections of you.  thank you for your stories.  for your guitar playing and piano pounding, and the church ballads you wrote, and made me sing.  for the fake summer, schoolwork assignments i begged for, and the paperdolls you made us.  i thank you for your love.  and your selflessness.  i wear your sacrifices like award medals around my neck, and i am proud to know you as mother.  i am blessed to have you as friend.

(artwork by keith mallett)

 

rewind a lil: “on deception”

11 Apr

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/?s=cowards&submit=Search

rewind a lil: “i have a confession”

11 Apr

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/i-have-a-confession/

getting past the “F” word…

20 Mar

March, 2010…for women’s history month

There was a time when celebrating Women’s History Month was an uncomfortable experience. Celebrating my “womanhood” meant also accepting a host of other things I didn’t necessarily want to. Most of it was my fear of being called a “feminist” – that ‘ugly’ perverted stink of a name. I resisted the identification, wanting little to do with the leg hair growing, angry people who constantly beat up on men.  Or so it had been presented to me.  Claiming it, the name and the association, actually made me feel less “feminine.” Aggressive and hard, “too strong” I think. And I hated it.

Because I was affected by popular (mis)representations of Feminism and femininity, I wasn’t able to imagine a woman as both intensely ‘political’ and gracefully beautiful. As being simultaneously bold and without unnecessary offense.  I wanted to be both Harriet and Billie. But I had to pick a box – check one. I chose the ‘prettier’ girl. She generated less trouble, more friends, and it was easier that way.  But of course, this particular compromise was expensive, and cost me a very significant part of my identity. I’ve had strong opinions since birth, but people – teachers especially, have always chastised me to silence and stillness, mold making me into some more suitable version of myself. (And I willingly obliged.)  If I had a voice, it had to look a certain way.  I got, “don’t be so loud” far more than anyone ever helped me in shaping thoughts and developing ideas.

I believe the first time I was told to channel my energy in some form outside of dance and song was when I met a complete stranger during my senior year in college.  Lisa Delpit.  Our conversation was probably no longer than an hour, yet she left me with more than I had accepted from most people at that time:  “You have to write.”  For my grade school teachers, I had been too sassy, too assertive and consequently, I started wearing the face of a femininity that never belonged to me. And while that face is probably true for someone, I resent that it was presented as being without any desirable alternative, and maybe also that I was so preoccupied with becoming whatever would make me more tolerable.

It took me until 2007 to finally understand, that Feminism and I (despite our flaws) stand for many of the same things. The root of which is humanity – people. God forbid. And… I’ve decided, feminists aren’t ugly. Oppression is.  In mind and spirit, and in politics.  Patriarchy is ugly.  Sexism, domestic violence – ugly.  Male chauvinism, sexual abuse, entitlement, unrestrained and ignorant male privilege.  Those are ugly. I think I must have quietly participated in some of those evils all those years I was ducking the “f” designation. I still loathe boxes though.

So here I am.  Grateful that experience has afforded me this wisdom: trying to make people understand you by masking who you are will not help them see you. Nor will it help you see yourself, or them. If anything, it cultivates greater misunderstanding. I get that now. In an effort to become agreeable enough to occupy enough time and space to express an opinion, I suppressed my ideas.  Running from one name, forced me into another and neither of them belong to me.  I lost myself altogether.  I am truly glad to have recognized that being me is inherently political. And even more inspired to have identified purpose in helping myself and others develop language to describe ourselves and our experiences, and mark a space from which we can declare them.  So for now at least, my current status remains: “Working Title.” Though let me be clear, Feminist or some variant is in the mix.

My whole point has really been this…  March is Women’s History Month. And I’m celebrating, as a Lover/Supporter/Defender of women and people everywhere.  (Feminist does not sting as much when it stands next to its definition.)

Thank you to all the women in my life, and in this world, who understand human value and self-worth, and have had the courage to invade silence to aggressively protect their names. To those who seek to learn themselves, but search more than their own faces. And to those who are after more than Self.

love.

re: the miseducation of a barbie doll

2 Nov

in her poem, “the miseducation of a barbie doll,” jasmine mans challenges women in the entertainment industry who deploy physical aesthetics in their mechanisms to attract listeners.

read/listen: Jasmine Mans Explains “The Mis-Education of a Barbie Doll”

i have several responses to this poem, several of which are certainly praise. the two, however, i would like to address here can be summed up by the following points: 1. nicki minaj’s “barbie” only constitutes one image she projects through her music, and 2. even if, barbie were nicki’s only image, why can’t barbie be an acceptable way of being? and with that, why does barbie inherently mean all that jasmine suggests it means in her poem?

nicki minaj has several “alternative personalities” she invites us to see in her music, each of whom have actual names and histories – barbie is one of them. to focus exclusively on one misses the point. and this is one of the reasons why i dig her – nicki (the artist) is fully human, complicated, and not one-dimensional. she does not have to say anything new or profound for that to be refreshing and meaningful to me. i do not know which of these egos are “real” to the artist, if any of them are, but i do not find it fascinating (and refreshing) that nicki can talk about enjoying sex, without actually be involved in actively pursuing it – if she were saying anything with her sexy image, it is that one can enjoy being sexy without having sex. and for all of you who believe young people can’t hear the quiet profession of her chastity – you’re probably wrong, that is if the youtube views of her interviews are any indication of to what parts of nicki minaj’s voice people are listening.

my second point has probably emerged from my growing frustration with so many of the voices within the social justice, critical media literacy circuit reprimanding artists because they do not widely promote more responsible (read: their) perspectives. these channels (of which i am admittedly a part) are preoccupied with identifying in what ways artists like nicki minaj do not meet the “phenomenal woman” criteria. and i believe in doing so, we neglect something else. primarily, that it is also important (and maybe even more critical) to invigorate efforts to help readers of texts and addicted pop culture consumers be more thoughtful. in other words, instead of silencing artists and limiting any creative movement (an idea that frightens me), i am an advocate of empowering a movement that helps individuals become stronger critical consumers and thinkers.

to be sure, it is daunting to think about the ways the original barbie and her predecessors, in all of their varied forms, contribute to some of the most destructive behaviors among women and young girls. esteem issues, the hypersexualization of our bodies, irresponsible sex, misinformed understandings of heterosexual and same sex relationships – the list, of course, goes on and jasmine mans has certainly implicated nicki minaj as part of the problem.

i think jasmine is wrong about nicki minaj. but i am not writing in defense of nicki minaj, but in defense of womanhood. and jasmine seems to believe there is a legitimate or “better” way to be female. i am not against discovering our best as women – i certainly want us to know that there exists more than our objectifications. still, i am fervently against constraining each of our varied forms to fit some narrow, pristinely righteous vision. we would all have to agree on that single vision, which i am not certain is even possible, nor desirable. each of our ways of being may not promote the sort of virtue and goodness and socially conscious political projects that challenge our racist/homophobic/sexist existence (past and present). we are all wrapped up in the mess of it. but the answer is not for each of us to become or to identify with the same voice. but to develop a language that can includes us, while simultaneously challenging and complicating our perspectives.

no, nicki is not lauryn hill or assata shakur, as jasmine points out in her explanation of the poem. and while i personally revere both lauryn and assata, they are not the only [valid] ways of being female, conscious, and fully human in this world. i value nicki and her barbie too. hell, i need nicki and her barbie – there are parts of me who i identify with them as well.

i appreciate that jasmine has her eyes and ears open, and is fearless in openly holding artists accountable for their artistic choices. but i dare jasmine mans to answer my question. why is barbie something I should not want to be? it might seem obvious or even laughable, but i promise i am not being facetious. anything so obvious concerns me, anyway. if we ever get a chance to talk for a while, i’d also like to ask, why must pretty also mean broken, and hypersexual? more, given the savvy business woman that nicki minaj is (even if we were to oversimplify her marketing strategy to selling sex), why project the dichotomy of powerful and chaste, versus oversexual and ignorant?

toward revisiting a passing thought…

27 Sep

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/04/01/does-life-really-just-happen/

check these ole jawns out (c) philly…

24 Jun

…cause i haven’t written in a while 😦

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/folding-memories/

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/03/06/this-time-its-different/

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/i-dream-in-color-a-haiku/

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/what-i-learned-in-school-today/

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/i-have-a-confession/

what i learned in school today, no. 2

17 May

i asked a few of the young women i work with if they thought it would be helpful to have a session on healthy relationships and safe practices in light of our upcoming prom. of course, they all laughed. “you can try ms. b, but people are gonna do what they wanna do,” one of them said. another student also reminded me (and how could i forget) that students have been planning whatever they are going to do for the entire year – “it’s goin down regardless of what you say.”

i suppose i wasn’t surprised by their responses. just disappointed. and scared. i remember the night of one of my proms. and i was super naïve – things happened that didn’t have to. as a senior in high school i hadn’t spent the year planning an extravagant outro that included sexin it up with some dude. but regardless – even though i didn’t ask for it, or even consent to it for that matter – it happened. and i suppose that while i am concerned about all of my girls, I am even more concerned about those girls who have gaga eyes for some close friend they’ve known their whole lives – that guy who is definitely thinking more about the night after the dance than the prom itself, and is sharing secrets with his boys about what he plans to do. i worry about her.

and so i told my students what happened to me the night of my prom. sort of out of desperation. it was like i was screaming, “but you don’t get it!” and the conversation that developed after that was much different from the conversation that inspired the confession. one by one, each of them began sharing their stories – experiences with rape and molestation. emotional abuse, manipulation, and the men and women in our lives who did not or could not help. i am no longer surprised by the frequency with which such violence occurs. but each time i meet this same portrait, i become more and more irate. and sad that these things happen to so many of us. i am over trying to understand it – i abandoned the question, “why?” years ago – though that is certainly a task for someone (who isn’t me). at this point, i’m in survival mode – more like, what i am i supposed to do now? the only thing i have been able to settle on is aggressively battling the silence that is so easy to nestle in.

after the prom that year, silence was home to me, and it was an ugly hell. i looked like myself, but i was the worst in me – for sure. when i finally shared it for the first time with my mother – nearly a year later – i was relieved. crying to purge the weight of wounds is not cliché. or dramatic. for me, it was necessary. human connection and empathy are my unsung heroes. to be clear, this relief (however amazing it felt) did not manifest in any miraculous healing. but i discovered that the more i talked about it, the stronger my language became, and the better i was able to identify the places that experience still lived. i am grateful for my mother, that she is who she is and that she listened – and understood despite the fact that i have made decisions that depart from how she raised me. she gets me. but everyone does not have that. and i literally cannot imagine what it would be like to carry my own experiences alone.

coming full circle (hopefully)… this is what truly inspired my asking my students whether a healthy relationships/safe practices conversation could be useful. an hour after I asked my students what they thought, the five of us decided we needed to have that conversation. and that i would tell my story with every girl attending prom, small group style.

i have to admit that (just in case someone has anything to offer about it) while i believe in this process, and i trust in it, i am incredibly vulnerable – and for that, i am nervous. my students having access to this particular part of me causes me to be naked in a way that opens me up for attack – and anyone (young people especially) can use that against me in moments of anger or frustration. but the discussion we had, needed to happen. and the possibility that the discussions these girls and i are planning could help a single person far exceeds the risk that i will incur any injury. i would like to think that it didn’t matter, but instead i will admit that it does and pray for the best…

(see also:  https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/what-i-learned-in-school-today/)

cause i needed to hear it again…

4 May

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/04/01/does-life-really-just-happen/

https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/on-vulnerability/

my thoughts on kiely williams, and “spectacular”

28 Apr

irony.

most days
the only thing
i stand for
is pro-girl.
and her
anti-silence.

sometimes,
that means
(i’m fighting
against)
me.

as i mentioned to my friends in a facebook conversation about kiely’s newest video, “spectacular” our problems (which are not new) are much bigger than kiely. yet, somehow after browsing the internet and catching up on the (disapproving) responses to the video – and after submitting my own jaded response, i became sort of defensive of kiely. it seemed like we were yelling at her, and talking past her. and this made me sad. because our first responses seemed to take for granted that we knew kiely (and who/what kiely represents). more than that, our responses presumed we had the answers, presumed our right was the right. we had an idea of what is best for us, and kiely’s video (and kiely, then) did not reflect that. but instead of engaging her, we chastised her first. and this, i believe, might serve to silence rather than encourage the dialogue we truly want.

i’m beginning to notice that a number of “social justice” oriented projects are driven by a pursuit of a particular truth (excuse my loose use of the term). such that the tools that are fostered, are nurtured in faith that participants will arrive at the right values, instead of joining the journey of consciousness building (in general). in other words, for this sort of initiative, the point is to expose problems (and individuals’ participation in them) toward accomplishing the task of fixing. listening to, and understanding, each other are peripheral – almost as if by way of our own assumptions, observations, and experiences, we know enough already. more than anything, this projects onto people what their problems are.  whether we are ever provided the space to first be ourselves (and see ourselves) in ways that allow us to scrutinize anything is never really a priority.

it is this distinction that (i think) separates ruth nicole brown’s Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT) from other programs (i should note that brown goes so far as to suggest her engagements do not constitute a program, but a lifestyle – and i am diggin that so far). i have been reading brown’s black girlhood celebration: toward a hip-hop feminist pedagogy (check it out here: http://iamsolhot.com/solhot/book/), and it is truly impacting the way i think about my own work in the fields of education and women’s studies (and now, girls studies).

as a solhot participant, brown does not set out to “fix” people, or to illuminate each of the ways her students are participatory in self-deprecating behaviors. certainly it is important to her that she remain part of a process that helps to make “things” better, and people healthier. but for brown, while she is not without opinion or critique, healthier seems less like “anti-this and that” and appears more like visible, celebrated, conscious, and self-observant. in the process of dialogue and meeting students where they are, brown seems to create a constructive space for reflection.

her primary goal, as it seems to me, is to help build a space wherein young people can be. what she seems to have learned is that in the process of developing this space with students, and engaging in it, students organically arrive at (and/or recognize) their own truths. they develop their own set of values about which they become intentional. and even if a student does arrive at a shared (read: dominant) truth claim, it is not because a hierarchy of values, ideas, or lifestyles were promoted over others, but because students were provided the opportunity to be, and think, and question from where they were.

we don’t want to walk on eggshells to help make people comfortable. yet, we do need them to be open. if we are truly serious about impacting social consciousness and building a community – supporting one another, growing and evolving, educators must step down from pedestals. somehow we have to learn how to prevent our critiques from shadowing over those things we can celebrate (and put that in reverse). more than that, we have to learn how to talk to one another in ways that make both critique and celebration possible.

i don’t want to romanticize the parts of us that could ultimately destroy us. i only want us to cultivate spaces and communities where we can be ourselves and build together. because we all have our stuff.

does life really just happen?

1 Apr

i am convinced more than ever that if i want to realize the fullness of this life, i have to refuse to accept the idea that “life happens,” and therefore (passively) let life happen to me. i have been thinking that “life happens” is a cliché phrase that sounds wise, but holds no real truth – at least not as we typically deploy it. to suggest that life happens is to say that life happens apart from us.  but life does not happen without us, or better – life happens with us.  (stay with me.)  as we grow and mature, our worlds expand.  as we experience, our eyes widen (or narrow).  as we fall and struggle, survive and win, the process keeps changing.  and we can respond by developing walls, or by dismantling them.  by believing in people more, or less.  and not one of these are inevitable products of our experiences.  they are choices. life cannot “happen” without them, or without us.

life only happens to those of us who are convinced we have no control. and that itself (the submission) is a choice.  and it is a dangerous one.  if i submit to the idea that i have no control over my life, the worst in me will eventually thrive because this is ultimately an acceptance of the idea that i have limitations.  and if i were really being real, which i’m bout to be, i’d have to say that if i am as spiritually aligned as i claim (or try) to be, i am one with God such that what the Universe wills, i also will – therefore eliminating my own limitations. the acknowledgement of possibility, or impossibility, alters my striving.  if nothing is possible, i will try at nothing.  if i believe that the best is possible, i will try to achieve or gain that which i desire most.  and if i “fail,” this proves nothing except that it was not for me.  or that the striving itself was the point (or a number of countless other things). one of the “advantages” of being one with God is not perfection, and does not mean that my life – thus anointed – would ever be without challenges or strife.  but this frees me to have faith in the idea that everything is as it should be, and will always be – through good and bad.   everything happens for a reason.  this is peace.   i am grateful for this revelation.

i am about to be unstoppable.

i am somewhere i have not been in a long time – a place where i am meeting my future.  it is not a crossroads per se, but it is a noticeably distinct moment.  and the message is this:  i can either move forward, and walk into my future.  or, i can stay here. i can either carry the increasingly heavy bags of old, gone and passed, or i can sit them down – right here.  and walk into my next season.  but regardless, the season will pass, with or without me.  and that is a choice.

i suppose, i also have to admit, that these are new ideas for me.  and i have not considered them next to my disbelief in coincidence, and my belief in the idea that some things are beyond our control – though i have noted possible tension.  this is for another conversation – maybe one of you will start it…

women’s history month.

28 Feb

There was a time when celebrating Women’s History Month was an uncomfortable experience (like Black History Month through high school). Celebrating my “womanhood” meant, also accepting a host of other things I didn’t necessarily want to. Most of it was my fear of being called a “feminist” – that ‘ugly’ misinterpretation of a name. Claiming it, the name and the association, actually made me feel less “feminine.” Aggressive and hard, “too strong” I think. Ugly even. I hated it. (I could really go there right now, but let’s stay focused – look out for a post later this month.)

Because I was affected by popular representations of Feminism and femininity, I wasn’t able to imagine a woman as both intensely ‘political’ and beautifully elegant. As being simultaneously bold and graceful. I wanted to be both Harriet and Billie. But I had to pick a box – check one. I chose the ‘prettier’ girl. And that came at the expense of a very significant part of my identity. I’ve had strong opinions since birth, but people – teachers especially, have always chastised me to silence and stillness. If I had a voice, it had to look a certain way. In essence, I had to wear the face of a femininity that never belonged to me. And I was never (ever) taught that it was ok to be a “feminist.”

It took me until 2007 to finally understand, that Feminism and I (despite our flaws) stand for many of the same things. The root of which is humanity – people. God forbid. And… I’ve decided, feminists aren’t ugly. Patriarchy is. Sexism, domestic violence.  Male chauvinism, sexual abuse, entitlement, unrestrained and ignorant male privilege. Those are ugly. I think I must have quietly participated in each of those evils all those years I was ducking the designation. I sure do hate boxes though.

Experience has afforded me this wisdom: trying to make people understand you by masking who you are will not help them see you. (Nor will it help you see yourself, or them.) If anything, it cultivates greater misunderstanding. I get it now. My current status: “Working Title.” But Feminist or some variant is in the game.  Being me is inherently political. I think that’s sort of neat.

Anyway, my whole point is this… March is Women’s History Month. And I’m celebrating, as a Lover/Supporter/Defender of women and people everywhere. Word.

This month is dedicated to my mother who epitomizes strength and grace, and love. To her mother Hannah who breathed life into my mother’s walk, and my Nana still living like she’s my age in the MidWest. To Maya Angelou, Virginia Hamilton, Alice Walker, and Paule Marshall – you gave me my first novels, and my first poetry. I started painting with your palettes. To Ntozake Shange, you saved my life one summer when I read For Colored Girls for the first time. I am every one of those girls, I have touched every color of the rainbow. And before that summer, I thought I was alone. Thank you for telling those sharing – all of it.

To Paulette Childress White, June Jordan, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Cade Bambara – I know it sounds cliché, but you are inspiration. Everyday. To Assata Shakur and Angela Davis and those who inspired you, I wonder what this planet would be like if we were all like you. After all you’ve been through, you still have faith. I have no excuse. To Audre Lorde, I haven’t been the same since we met. You helped me get here, and “…I am very glad to be who I am, here.”

Thank you to all the women in my life, and in this world, who understand human value and self-worth, and have had the courage to invade silence to violently protect their names. To those who seek to learn themselves, but search more than their own faces. And to those who are after more than Self.

(H*ll, I haven’t made it past the 30’s yet…and it truly was an accident that they’re all Black. It has NOTHING to do with the fact that I picked up a Feminist Reader today and out of 26 chapters, 2 were written by Black Feminists. Seriously. Coincidence.)

what i learned in school today…

23 Feb

(artwork by laurie cooper)

after school today, a ninth grader i had never met came to me to talk. at the moment he introduced himself to me i had not anticipated that he would begin narrating the last 5 years of his life.  but he ended up telling me about his first girlfriend – a relationship that ended when she died two years ago while he was in the 7th grade.  (imagine.)  and then he told me about his first boyfriend – a relationship that ended abruptly last night and “not on good terms,” as he explained it.  and with all of that, he also described to me his experiences relating to others, or others’ experiences (not) relating to him.

he was surprisingly calm, and maybe it was only because he already exploded earlier that day in his last class (hence his impromptu visit to my office – his way of checking himself).  but given our conversation, i would argue he was sort of at peace with who he was.  he looked at me and said, “i know who i am, and i’ve known for a while.” he said that he had often let others constrain him – “write me, or write me off” he said.  but today, he was confident, unwavering, and not in the defensive and contrived way.  but in the ‘i just had an emotional breakdown, and i’m still struggling but i got this’ sort of way.  and i also learned that this was one of the first moments he had openly declared himself to someone other than his last romantic partner.  and he was just getting started.  i was like practice for his grandmother, who he told me he planned to go to next.  he was on a mission – an important one. he was doing that “identity thing” the courageous among us do.

i can remember being where he is. identifying who i was and who i wanted to be, and recognizing the resistance.  i suppose it took me much longer to get here – where the opposition can’t stand against my fire, like it won’t be able to take his.  and to be sure, i am still doing some of the work he apparently has already done.   it has taken me this long to vomit up all of the poison i ingested over the years – everyone else’s bile (it is as nasty as it sounds).  to tear away all of their names and designations for me, and of course to acknowledge my own weaknesses – enhanced by peer pressure and the desire to want to be included (and thus like them).  i can remember all of that, and i am proud of this student for where he is, so early – and for just being there. for some of us, this is a feat.  the world is so polluted with the word “normal,” and so caught up with preserving the scarcity of who can wear its crown or sit beside its throne, we hoard it.  and alienate people.  and if we’re not excluding others with short-sighted labels, or racism, or with our reclusive pockets of luxuries, or any xenophobia, we’re driving ourselves to hell trying to be a part of the circle.  or maybe this was never you or isn’t you, and i’m just projecting an old self.

you all can say whatever about this child.  mention his age, his presumed unawareness, or incapability to know himself so early in his life.  but i am encouraged by him.  by the firmness with which he declared himself to me, and named himself.  and with titles that didn’t sound like “Gay,” or “Bisexual,” or “Black.”  he gave me descriptions that transcended what people gave him, and what most people wanted to afford him. and though he certainly used “bisexual” and “black” at one point, he also gave me “complicated.”  and “special.”  and “not you.”  and “who i am supposed to be, where i am supposed to be.”  and “unfinished.”  in his own words, with his own definitions.  without any apology. i can’t fit him neatly into some label, and no single word can stretch enough to touch him completely on its own.  but i’m not frustrated by being unable to organize him in my head.  i am inspired.  he is already where i have just arrived.

he is yet another reminder to me that i have to answer to God only. that everyone else – while i ever so deeply desire (in the most dramatic and unnecessary way) for you to like me, or appreciate me – all of you just don’t matter.  certainly not enough to risk living a silenced existence.  open-mindedness and consideration are only constructive so much as it makes people better – some people have been not so good for me. i have enough of my own stuff to work on, and i am finally exhausted with worrying over their problems – carrying their stuff, wearing their issues.  those are the heaviest clothes, and anyway – i am beautiful naked. if you can’t stand it, don’t look.

that’s what i learned in school today.

(see also: https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/what-i-learned-in-school-today-no-2/)

Seeds.

23 Feb

“you set me up to fall into yr dreams
like the sub-saharan animal i am…”

Don’t forget daily updates!
https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/seeds/

for my grandma hannah…

22 Feb

i have often complained that i inherited the worst of my parents – my father’s pores, my mother’s lack of hearing, her flakiness, his naivete. and i have always found it tragically unfortunate that i was born with this beast my mother gave me – the laugh she bequeathed from my grandmother. it is the most obnoxious sound. full-bodied, and loud, and overdone. and i have never considered it with any true appreciation – not until this moment, as i am remembering my grandma hannah. i have tried to manage and control it, and altogether change it. but it breathes with its own heartbeat – like it doesn’t even belong to me. i find it embarrassing, but for whatever reason i thought of my grandma hannah today. and the way she used to just laugh and laugh. and hold her side, always tilting her head back – the same way every time. legs jumping, one hand on her knee, another holding a tissue – she always had a tissue, her nails always painted red. and she was always laughing – i think she laughed more than she talked. and when she was around (i am remembering our last thanksgiving), the room was always free and full, and warm. she was contagious. her laughter would become our own. like a love-offering. like a way of telling God, “thank you.” it was the voice of joy. and as i am remembering her, i am seeing her laughter as beautiful. like she was. like i am.

as i am remembering her, i am realizing i must have inherited greatness. and i can’t help but smile…

i ain’t crazy…

22 Feb

“…Dozing, drifting into sleep sometime, the script sliding off the quilts into a heap, I hear folks calling to me. Calling from the box. Mammy Pleasant, was it? Tubman, slave women bundlers, voodoo queens, maroon guerrillas, combatant ladies in the Seminole nation, calls from the swamps, the tunnels, the classrooms, the studios, the factories, the roofs, from the doorway hushed or brassy in a dress way too short but it don’t mean nuthin heavy enough to have to explain, just like Bad Bitch in the Sanchez play was saying. But then the wagon comes and they all rounded up and caged in the Bitch-Whore-Mouth mannequin with the dead eyes and the mothball breath, never to be heard from again. But want to sing a Harriet song and play a Pleasant role and bring them all center stage.

Wives weeping from the pillow not waking him cause he got his own weight to tote, wife in the empty road with one slipper on and the train not stopping, mother anxious with the needle and thread or clothespin as the children grow either much too fast to escape the attention of the posse or not fast enough to take hold. Women calling from the lock-up of the Matriarch cage. I want to put some of these new mother poems in those books the nephew sends to music. They got to be sung, hummed, shouted, chanted, swung…

Too many damn ransom notes fluttering in the window, or pitched in through the glass. Too much bail to post. Too many tunnels to dig and too much dynamite to set. I read the crazy scripts just to keep my hand in, cause I knew these newbreed Bloods going to do it, do it, do it. But meanwhile, I gotta work…and hell. then read one of them books my nephew always sending and hearing the voices speaking free not calling form these new Black poems. Speaking free. So I know I ain’t crazy…”

…an excerpt from one of my favorite short stories, Witchbird, by Toni Cade Bambara

Life in Prison, at 16.

10 Feb

An interesting/troubling article has been traveling the Twitter/Facebook circuit today – click here:  Sarah Kruzan.

“In all the years Sarah Kruzan was being abused, tortured, manhandled, and molested, it’s hard to imagine no one who mattered was unaware. But it also has to do with ‘public attitudes,’ as PBS reported last year in a short exposé, Fighting Child Prostitution. Using the Atlanta prostitution market as a case study, it revealed several instances where teenage prostitutes were ‘going to jail while their pimps and johns ran free.’ Alesia Adams, a renowned social worker on issues around sexual exploitation, explained: ‘Very few people see these children as victims. And they don’t understand the … victimization of this child and the dynamics of what has happened to her.'”

reminds me… “no one mourns wounds/they refuse to see./there are no eulogies/for those who never breathed…”

Thirteen years ago, Sarah Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 16.  She committed murder.  Undeniably wrong, maybe even regardless of the details involved in the murder.  But in my opinion, the “details” illuminate several critical issues – some of which the article speaks to).   To start, her victim also happened to be her pimp at the time, a man who raped her when she was 13.  She was also raised by an abusive mother, who was addicted to drugs (and who probably has her own telling history).  The circumstances surrounding the crime itself – history, background, mental stability and emotional health – aren’t mere details.  While they do not change the fact that a life was taken, if we truly care about human lives, rehabilitation and “justice,” aren’t these serious considerations?  We might take it for granted, but reading this article certainly made me ask the question, when is it ever just to sentence any 16 year-old to life in prison?

And I have other questions…  Like, where does “justice” intersect with concerns about the offender’s well-being – especially with someone like Sarah who probably does not pose a threat to society, as her infraction was arguably directed toward one man?  (Isn’t part of the point of “justice” to ensure our well-being, or what is its point?)  And doesn’t it matter that Sarah’s case exists as part of broader concerns, which include child abuse, child prostitution, and rape?  How does “the law” justify ignoring (or understating) these huge issues while considering each case? If Sarah’s sentence was determined in observation of law, and possibly to protect others in the world who the judge believed Sarah’s freedom threatens, who protects Sarah?  Shouldn’t “justice” care that Sarah is a victim too?

I’ll let you all make up your own minds, I’ve probably said too much already.  You can read the article by clicking here:  Sarah Kruzan.

There are some other strong articles (like this one:  “Inchoate Justice“).

And I’ve been browsing the web, while there is a general spirit of disagreement with Sarah’s sentence, people are approaching her case from varying perspectives.  Here are a few:  how having/not having a father impacts the lives of women and young girls,  teen trafficking, and this article goes into greater detail and comes from a law student’s perspective (reminiscent of a criminal justice lawyer, lol).

It is also important to note that the National Center for Youth Law is presently working with Human Rights Watch (HRW) to ban life without parole for juveniles in California.

This PBS article is a great instructional tool, lol – and is also useful for understanding the issue across the entire United States:  “When kids get life.

Seeds!

1 Feb

Make sure you visit my “Seeds” page for daily updates! (https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/seeds/)

i have a confession…

20 Jan

last night i was reading an essay by audre lorde in sister outsider, called “eye to eye: black women, hatred, and anger.”  this must have been the 3rd time i read this essay, but for some reason i was reading it with different eyes last night (and who knows, i was in so much pain and it may have been the prescribed codeine).  what follows is everything i wrote after finishing.  i wrote it all in one breath. and when i finished, it made enough sense to me (and it means enough to me ) to post.  i wrote it to my fellow black women…

“i was never meant to be alone without you who understand.”

i have been harboring emotions i still do not fully understand yet.  and i have a confession.  i am scared to be myself.  the self who is me as a black woman.  i was young when i figured out that in order to be tolerable as a human, i had to contain (read: silence) whatever (or whoever) i am as a black person and as a black female.  this was  true as a friend to mostly white children of white parents, and as a student of schools where my “blackness” and my “black femaleness” was not particularly valued, but more often admonished and “corrected.”   discipline, you might call it.  but it has always felt more like suppression.  i believe that i was trained by hate to want to be something other than black and female.  and i grew up fearing that if i identified with my black femaleness, i would be claiming everything the world despises about black women.  i would be reduced to the least of what i was.  i did not want to be loathed, or to feel inferior.  as audre lorde writes in “eye to eye,” in most spaces black women are only allowed to be our skin color and our hair, our non-white female features, “and those things were clearly not acceptable as human.”  and if black women had any human quality, she appeared as an asexual feminist or mammy.  or she was a gold-digging, hypersexual video girl.  and i didn’t want to be her.  or only her.

this is what it means to ingest hate.  and when you metabolize hatred, your relations with the rest of the world carry the burden of the “negative passion and intensity of its by-products.”  for me the most salient by-product has been silence.  and isolation.  before recently, i rarely spoke as a black female.  it has always been easier to hardly acknowledge her existence – unless offended.  as an adolescent, instead of befriending little black girls who were never crazy about the idea of being a friend to me, and who used the language of hate to describe me (too white) and themselves (too black), i chose to withdraw myself.  and instead of building meaningful relationships with those who might best understand my black femaleness, i nurtured superficial friendships and associations with white girls, and a few non-threatening black faces.  but each relationship has been tainted with a necessary, vigilant distance.  i do believe that i have had the opportunity to foster meaningful relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.  yet a part of me feels that few could ever realize the true potential of what it means for me to build with another black woman.  (i feel uncomfortable saying that, but i think it might be true.)

finally, at 25, as i am acquiring the language to describe my experiences, i am beginning to own my black womanhood.  but the damage has already been done.  i still have not fully accepted myself.  and i fear that my efforts to help young people build consciousness and esteem as it concerns their identities is limited by my own shortcomings.  at times, in certain places, i still feel like i can only be part of me.  i walk on egg shells, because if i slip i will get cut.  if i slip, i risk being named some distorted moniker for my black female existence.  i feel comfortable only being a particular type of black female, or i risk a perverted name for my black femininity.  i have been doing everything in my power not to be who they say we are.  i have been doing everything in my power not to be you, because you remind me of myself.  something is seriously wrong here.  for in deconstructing stereotypes, and racism and sexism, instead of resisting you, i should be resisting them.  i should be naming myself.

my assault against hate and the uncomfortable place it has reserved for me has been my rejection of you – of us.  i have been running from you.  and in doing so i hoped to escape not only your violence and our association, but myself.  turns out, the injury is the same and i got hurt anyway.   in “eye to eye,” lorde writes to us, “all your faults become magnified reflections of my own threatening inadequacies.  i must attack you first, before our enemies confuse us with each other.”  but, as lorde explains, these defense tactics are misguided.  i targeted the wrong enemy.  and i not only need to redirect my struggle against something else, i need new weapons.  clearly silence is killing me more than it is solving any problem.

i have been hurt way too much, and all i ever desired was your acceptance.  your friendship, your support.  your validation.  because i have always known that while others can offer me their kindness and understanding, conversation and friendship, even their solidarity, they live on the “better” side of a system that privileges some over others, in a world where hate is still profoundly present.  that is an uncomfortable truth.   still, everyone has been reared in this hate.  we haven’t “survived” untouched.  this is also uncomfortable.  we all have work to do.  i know that in order to love you, i must love myself first.  the ironic part about this is that in order to love myself, i must learn to you love as well.  i must acknowledge those parts of me the world has tried to annihilate and distort.  treat them tenderly, so i may treat you that way.  lorde writes, “if we can learn to give ourselves the recognition and acceptance that we have come to expect only form our mommas, black women will be able to see each other much more clearly and deal with each other much more directly.”

distance has allowed me to paint an illusion of you and me that “makes me less you, and you less me.”  but i no longer want to hold onto that portrait.  it is not only mythical, it is useless, and destructive.  i no longer want to pretend that you don’t hurt me.  and that i don’t need you.  i have another confession:  one of my deepest desires is to be connected with/to you.  silence and separation are killing me.  i have been carrying the weight of hate on my own.  and i hear anger in my voice when i speak sometimes (some people confuse it with fervor and “passion,” but i know what it is).  i have been suffering this black female “thing” in tortuous solitude.  and there is a certain love i need, which only you can offer me.  “i was never meant to be alone without you who understand.”  i need you.

(artwork by michael anthony brown)

on deception…

12 Jan

(there may be a stigma attached to suicide, but there are some everyday sleepwalkers among us who take ourselves out of the game everyday.  we become our own enemies.  we use our weaknesses to explain unattained goals.  or the impossibility of perfection to justify mediocrity.  we never let go of mistakes.  we stop trying, and give up prematurely.  i see this as a different sort of death…  have you checked out?)

this is “for colored girls who have considered suicide…” and everyone else, too.

Deception convinces us that we’re alone. It teaches us that mental illnesses and diseases are shameful realities that should be held in secret. Deception bullies you into believing that you deserve being hurt, or abused, or talked about. It seduces you into settling, and accepting that your life is as good as you can have it, even though you want more. It is never forgiving yourself. Or any of them. Deception reminds you everyday that you’re not worth it. And it accepts death and failure while your heart is still beating, and your dreams are still alive.

Deception is dangerous, because it is convincing. It uses your vocabulary, plays into your fears. It remembers your past and knows each of your weaknesses – this is how it holds your life hostage. And it is far easier to believe Deception than it is to re-imagine possibilities. It is easier to believe Deception than it is to face the challenge of resisting it – a risk you fear might prove Deception was right all along. But that is cowardice, another deception. And while cowards may survive, they never truly live. In order to free yourself from your deception, you must constantly reaffirm your aspirations and commitments. You must live according to the reach of your desire, and not according to the limits inscribed by your fears. You have to be deliberate, refuse that deception and tell yourself instead of death, “I want to live.”

(artwork by frank morrison)

title from ntozake shange’s choreopoem, “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”…it is a must-read.

on silence, and the violence it protects.

30 Dec

she gets no apology.
no vindication.
her bruises seek consolation
but they find no relief.

no one mourns wounds
they refuse to see.
there are no eulogies
for those who never breathed…

those are the first lines of a poem i apparently will not finish anytime soon, and started writing while working on a piece that addresses sexual violence and abuse – which i am also struggling to wrap up. to say the least, my thoughts are convoluted – almost like the issue itself. in the meantime, check out the link below for part of the conversation i’m grappling with. i am primarily concerned with how everyday conversations and popular media representations treat black female bodies, and the ways “silence” reinforces the problems of sexual violence and abuse. know that i understand this is overwhelmingly tangled with so many other considerations, and this is not even half of it…

“…the reality is that women will continue to be raped and those sexual assaults will continue to be met with silence and a degree of dismissiveness that holds the victims accountable for attacks on their bodies.”
(from “Rape and the Black Woman,” an article by Mark Anthony Neal: http://www.thenewblackmagazine.com/view.aspx?index=660)

(artwork by larry “poncho” brown)

it’s ALWAYS that complicated…

11 Nov

“We should be able to exist as we are: flawed, complicated, beautiful, and proud…” (via http://bit.ly/4dKjHB)
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