Just Because It Isn’t Malicious…

I’ve been struggling with how to write about my week of #racefail.  From discussions about whether the word “diversity” is toxic to battles over representations of blackness in Disney movies to skirmishes with faculty and their hierarchies, I’ll be honest–

I feel like I’ve been fighting an uphill battle to keep my own sanity.

I eventually needed my own race-crisis hotline counselor to handle this particular brand of mess. That’s how deep this week was. I didn’t have one (come to find out & working on that) so I went to see Harry Potter, baked a platter of brownies, drank like a fish at happy hour and ended the week five pounds heavier with an incomplete to-do list and a hangover.

*sigh

That we live in a society still drowning in racism–there is nothing new under the sun.

But that such small things, conversations really, still have the power to punch me or anyone in the gut–well, this is also not so new:

Certainly, the premature death of so many of our feminist foremothers— Gloria Anzaldúa, Barbara Christian, Audre Lorde, Nellie McKay, and too many others—is a cautionary tale about how deadly this work can be. ~susiemay, Crunk Feminists Collective

(No seriously–I could meditate on this post for the next month or more…)

You’d think we’d be used to it by now. The off-hand comments about hair texture and articulate speech. The flippant analysis of representations of blackness in film and media as “Oh, that’s just a movie.” The snide remarks about the influence of affirmative action on institutions of higher learning. The people we thought were allies who so often…actually….aren’t.

It is almost never malicious…but that doesn’t mean it is harmless. It doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean it isn’t racism.

But I still wasn’t going to post on it.

Until this post by @Mdotwrites (and its brevity) made me reconsider::

Is my work such an integral part of me, that if you don’t get it, I can’t fuck with you?

Mdot is writing about black male privilege and how (and when) to struggle against it. But she is also asking how and when is our personal wrapped up with our political? And to what end? Is there a healthy collaboration between the two? Do we do self care? Do we have a support system (or at least a working race-crisis hotline in our area)? What are our values and which ones are we willing to kill or face a loaded gun for? Which ones can we survive if hurt, maimed or destroyed? Which ones mean a slow death if betrayed? And what does it mean to betray them?

This week, there were times I spoke up and times that I remained silent. And I realized today that it isn’t my loud, nappy-headed mouth that keeps me reliving certain moments in anxious and stomach-twisty frustration with myself. It’s my self-policing silence.

Now where in all hell did I learn that trick from?

 

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The Crunk Feminists Fire Back

From the Crunk Feminist Collective:

When our (white) colleagues call for work that is “rigorous,” often what they really mean is that feminism, particularly the kind of feminism that focuses explicitly on calling out white supremacy in all its guises, is in state of rigor mortis. In other words, if feminism is gonna do all that, it’s better off dead. In fact, given the way that some folks lament the past, you would think that something precious had died. 

Certainly, the premature death of so many of our feminist foremothers— Gloria Anzaldúa, Barbara Christian, Audre Lorde, Nellie McKay, and too many others—is a cautionary tale about how deadly this work can be.

This is why we give the side eye to all the mumbling and grumbling about the so-called lack of rigor going on at the NWSA conference and in other spaces where women of color come together unapologetically. We know what those folks really mean. It means they’re tired of talking about us and want to return to talking about themselves. It means they want us to be silent, to be invisible, to, in fact, disappear. Well, we’ve got news for them: we’re here to stay.

 

Shots fired bitches. And I mean that in the most FEMINIST way possible.

Read the rest over there. Saludos mujeres! I love yall!

Postmortem: A Love Letter to Girls & Women of Color

Ntozake Shange & Ifa Bayeza, by Chester Higgins, NYT

over a week ago i loved for colored girls the movie.
i don’t love it anymore. but i still like it a lot.
i stand by that. and i stand by my original feelings.
& i am not unfeminist or antifeminst because of this.

i am glad the conversation on the piece & on girls of color continues. here. there. everywhere.

in writing this series, i wasn’t a professor or an activist, black or puerto rican, a woman or a girl. i was me. and i loved myself more than i loved anyone else’s academic standards. i love/d me. and i thank shange, the Secret Society Sister Network (including the #digitalsisterhood & the #rwoc bloggers), my sisters and Nuñez Mom for that.

i don’t have much else to add except this: one person remained conspicuously absent from my meditation on the poem and the film. i did this on purpose but with no animosity. this is a work of art by woman of color, in honor of women of color and for women of color. why should i do anything less than center her, them, us & me as i process this moment?

we’ve more than earned the right to be infatuated with ourselves.

to read the full series, click the tag sing a black girl’s song.

walk, talk, write & move in love & healing,
kismet

See No Evil: The Actresses

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

Prologue:
 worlds like words for a woman who is a poet and
 a mother are confusing/overlapping contradictory
 fatigue & exciting. between diapers, the park, the
 telephone conversations with e.t. and the dollhouse
 which had to be a plantation house where little black babies
 rest and play between my poems.  my incomplete thoughts.
 thoughts i never find the ends of: lose threads on dresses, in
 my soul there lies a quiet that sleeps out in the night
 after the last bottle and the last dried dish. somewhere
 between the unfinished books i am dying to read.
 among the letters to friends i cant finish.  there
 is a quiet that booms and presses me out of my bed.  out of my tiredness
 and sense of complete isolation from all the rest of
 you. they are here in this book. i see no evil.  i am
 fighting demons in the dark and the energies of a free spirit
 who must know
 this world will do its best to take from her all she is unless she is
 willing to struggle as she struggles with me for the right to see.
Ntozake Shange

12 April 1983. Houston

there is more here than meets the eye.

Continue reading

Ntozake Shange. In the Flesh. Ordinary.

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

i keep wanting to get to the angry post. life gets in the way. but maybe something, someone is telling me to stay focused….

***

but the something is not Shange. because that’s another thing. for once–thank god–we are dealing with a living legend:

i wonder if she ever wishes we would all just get past for colored girls. wonders if we will ever look at the rest of her catalogue–her poems, her essays, her novels, her other plays, her word paintings–or if we will continue to circle, magnify, even deify this one work.

as an artist, how would i feel?

it’s almost forty years since i wrote that….

The play was first performed on Broadway in 1976.

via the Grio:

Christopher Nelson: What was your reaction to seeing the film?
Ntozake Shange:I think all the actresses performed remarkably well. I hate to name anybody, because it’s an ensemble cast. It’s so difficult to pick one out as outstanding without picking the other, and so I’d have to say, all the actresses did stellar work. I think Tyler directed them well, because there were very few flaws I could find in the acting, so that’s his work and their work.
Christopher Nelson: Do you agree at all with the reviews which have been highly critical and said your work was somewhat cheapened by Tyler Perry?
Ntozake Shange: I haven’t seen those people in 20 years. I don’t know who those people are, they don’t know me. I don’t know who those people are. It cheapened, darling my work used to be for free. I used to do these poems by myself with a drummer or a tamboura player, or with a piano player, any kind of music player I could get. We would do it outside on a corner, and we would make art in the street, and people would throw things at us like coins. One time I had a group I was with called The Mushara Brothers and they gave me a tambourine, and I used to hop around with a tambourine to get our change for the night. One night we made $2.57 that’s all we made, and we had to divide it between the three of us.

how do we remember/recognize an artist and her purpose?

Christopher Nelson: Some have said they think this film could have benefited from a female director? Would you have liked to see a black female director such as Julie Dash or Kasi Lemmons or Nzingha Stewart or just a female director attempt this work? Do you think it needed a female director? Would you have liked to see that?
Ntozake Shange: I would love to work with some of them on something else. There is a specific purpose I have for doing this, when I did it, with whom I did it. Because at this stage in my career I need to open my audience not to shut it down. But I have definitely investigated female directors. I definitely want to get back to work with Nzingha on something, and I definitely want to do something with Julie Taymor. So those are my two top.

There is a specific purpose I have for doing this, when I did it, with whom I did it. Because at this stage in my career I need to open my audience not to shut it down.

ordinary
brown braided woman
with big legs & full lips
reglar
seriously intendin to finish her
night’s work

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Choreopoems & Word Paintings: Walking THAT History

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

A choreopoem, the Secret Sister Society Network reminded me. Not just a poem, but a choreopoem.

Ah. Yes.

But what does that mean?

***

And this is how it begins.

In the university library. Searching for Shange. A walk down her aisle and titles pop out at me:

ntozake shange. the love space demands
ntozake shange. see no evil
ntozake shange. a daughter’s geography
ntozake shange. ridin’ the moon in texas
ntozake shange. sassafrass, cypress & indigo

I find a book on Black Arts Movement woman poets. And my heart stops. Beside it is:

lisa sánchez gonzález. boricua literature: a literary history of the Puerto Rican diaspora

I am following Library of Congress subject headings:

lester a. neal. ntozake shange: a critical study of the plays

This is what happens when you look.

Arms full of books. I want to eat them all. Especially the ones written by Shange. But I leave three or four. Don’t want to deprive others of the pleasure of her company. After all, I’m not alone.

***

i begin with Cheryl Clarke & i remember what captivated me about the choreopoem’s title in the first place:

“Shange’s for colored girls cleared space for more “colored girls” to tell their stories, as was and remains its (abiding) intent. However, the Broadway production of for colored girls sacrifices the cultural ethics that undergird the California development of this work. The Collier-Macmillan edition shows Shange in moments extending its lessons beyond the specificity of black women…the “sacrifice” is also an accommodation of the Balck Aesthetic, which was embedded in New York Black Theatre—on and off Broadway….” (Clarke, 100)

Colored girl :: Third World woman :: colonized machete sugar cane tobacco growing mountain woman :: indigenous blooded slave born woman :: black & Puerto rican woman :: all around brown bodied hot sex positive feminist woman

i’m a poet who writes in english
come to share the words with you

the movie/play didn’t mention black girls who spoke Spanglish when English is enuf.

i keep reading, digest the history, watch as it repeats and repeats again. i get angry.
Continue reading

A Poem & a Movie in a Poem: for colored girls

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

There are texts you encounter because you happened to pay attention in class that day. Others fall in your lap courtesy of good friends and stupid enemies. The few great ones are placed in your hands by God herself.

I can’t hear anythin
but maddening screams
& the soft strains of death
& you promised me
you promised me…
somebody/ anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you

When I first met for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, I was a thirsty undergraduate, searching for something that would help me make sense to myself. I use the full title above because part of me hovered on the silver edge of suicide/insanity/lost wonder. We forget–for black girls, the very air we breathe is toxic. The violence of our silence, our erasure, is a cancer that eats our bodies whole from the inside out. Acting out, bitter back talk, a roll of the eye perfectly timed to make you feel 2 feet tall–lazy weapons we wield against a miasma of racialized tropes already configuring what can be seen, who we might be. We commit suicide everyday without knowing it then keep moving, walking dead, zombies & shadows.

We see our days stretch forward, a half-life with no point and no end.  By twelve years old we are already tired of the same old shit.

I was young-tired by the time I stumbled across Shange. A choreopoem? I asked my self. Are you serious?

I devoured the text.

For an apprentice wordsmith preoccupied with the kinetics of language, with the chemical reactions a misplaced “wench,” “black bitch,” or “quadroon” cause,  Shange’s text is pure alchemy.

for colored girls took the written word with all of its racist and sexist significations, made it speak. It took the spoken word with all of its unseen and multi-tonal meanings and music and wrestled it through the chests and out of the mouths of seven black women–an act of death and resurrection.

sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you

When you leave the text, you know yourself. The world no longer excludes you, because you are the center of it and the view from your front yard reveals the human as a guise, a farce you’ve simultaneously exploded and reshaped in your own image, giving birth to a new form.

Could this, I wondered, be translated onto the big screen? Could black womanhood giving birth to herself be confined to a narrative structure, be tied to the visual impact of real black female bodies, retain its poetry, confront stereotypes and assumptions (and fear and pain and coping-silence and coping-anger and shame), dialogue with tropes and trauma and conflict while still handling the griot call?

Yes. It can. It was. Full bodied women appeared on the screen and for two hours I fell back in love with myself and with movies and with black women who fight to be whole beings never mind the work we do in our own minds to diminish them, to bring them low.

But let’s not forget–

it is the poem that made the movie.

& it is Shange who saves Tyler Perry from himself.

…to be continued….

#Unfinished (for colored girls )


It has
been years
since the colored girl in me
(sitting idly at the base of my spine)
sat up and took notice
inhaled sweat, spit, shit smells from the floor
the walls
but this time
without choking
metabolizing just enuf
to slam eyes wide open
and

dared notice the way
fleshy pockets of
distrust
& self-destruct
gathered at the corners of her eyes,
swelled beneath fingertips
worn clean by
day to day
metaphysical struggle
with unseen foe

empathized with the
heat in her chest
and in wiping her own brow gently
let bloom another world
behind her ribcage
let herself be marked–
full
wet
(unfinished)
& whole.