Winter Has Come #CapricornSeason

Norma Wood. 17mm, f16, 20 ", ISO 200 Image Credit: Akos Kiss

To some, December means the end of the year, the end of the warmth and the return of caramel macchiato and pumpkin spice latte addictions.

For me, December means the end of stress, other people’s labor and the beginning of beautiful snowy landscapes, family gatherings and time I can call my own.  I have time to dive into ideas I dreamed up during the summer months and tackle fall’s loose ends.  I’ve always done my best writing and thinking over winter breaks.  Something about the cool air just clears my brain of all the clutter.

Winter is here.  Capricorn season is upon us.

And so is 2012.  Sooooooo much happened….

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On Alter Egos and Infinite Literacies, Part I

Fleshy Professional Avatar spent the weekend in Richmond, Virginia with colleagues and friends at the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History.  I tagged along for the ride, made a minor appearance in time to introduce myself to amazing and dynamic public intellectuals like @NewBlackMan and @DrJamesPeterson.  Then I dove right back in to life and work here in the DMV with the arrival of the Mobile Homecoming Project (@alexispauline and @juliawallace) for their week-long university residency.  This was another event Fleshy Professional Avatar was signed up to do but I hung out in the wings, dipping in when Alexis and Julia referenced their trip to AMC 2011 and the Shawty Got Skillz workshop, taking a breath of peace when I saw @Mdotwrites and as I was introduced to another professor-cum-insurgent.  And when I looked up, I turned around to find we’d formed a circle of womyn of color who do intense intellectual work and activism around saving our own lives in spaces that are almost universally hostile to everything we are and represent.  And yet…there we were.  Queering the space with our very own light energy, turning the room on its side and moving the group as a whole along a new wavelength of ultraviolet visibility.

For a moment, just long enough to breath in and out twice, I was able to be Kismet and Flesh at the same time.  The two bodies overlapped and co-existed in time and space together.

But it was only a moment.

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We Were More than Slaves (A #TroyDavis Flow)

Negro literacy class at the Parish Prison, New Orleans. Interior, 2 Feb 1937 (WPA Photographs/New Orleans Public Library)

Diving deep into notes I made while sitting in an overseas reading room two years ago, I’m still surprised by how many roles people of African descent played during the period of the slave trade.  We (although this is the time period before we were We) were slave traders and grain producers, pounders of millet, sailors, soldiers, wives, householders, and shipowners.  And most of us were slaves.

That we were slaves did not mean that we couldn’t still occupy one of these other roles.  We were still skilled in what we were skilled in and we were apprentices in what we weren’t.  We were still mothers of the children we gave birth to and some we did not and godmothers to children we sponsored at the baptismal font.  We still loved our lovers and we still participated in the merchant economy generated by slave trading and plantation slavery.  Like bondage, bodies-as-commerce was not a way of life we could escape.

Even those of us who were free or freed–free African men and women, free people of color, freedmen and freedwomen–found our lives constrained by the political economy of Atlantic slaving, a capricious megalith too dangerous to ignore.  Raced terminology marked our freedom as “of color” and somehow different from the freedom whites enjoyed and were assumed to enjoy.

Regardless, we were more than just slaves.

And we are more than criminals.

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Interlude: Come Correct…

By Bill Earle, Art Model Moon Marie (posted by Narkissa, reblogged by Come Correct)


My body is an archive. Through it I bound to others. You cannot take back that which has been given. I cannot steal my body away from another’s experience of it. I cannot lay claim to that which was shared, in vulnerable and awed resilience, with other bodies. I cannot hide it away from the ways in which it brings me back, again and again, to the women I have had sex with. This almost fearful gaze that attacks my eyes when I know that soon I will com bust in a bundle nerves. You have seen it. That angry swelling that almost hurt with its need. You have felt it. This shyness, of wanting but afraid to have that which I could never ask for. You have tasted it. This fever that rose to meet your fingertips wherever they land(ed). This fever was ours, not mine. We were sick with it, and in trying to break it we made ourselves sicker with heat.

~ M/M, “My Body is Not My Body,” Bekhsoos, 2 May 2011

(She had me at archive.)

Read, view and hear other #rwocsex & #blackfeministsex interludes over at Betta Come Correct. Happy Saturday.

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Kismet Nuñez is one of the Skillsharers of the of the 3rd Annual INCITE! Shawty Got Skillz workshop at the 2011 Allied Media Conference!  Help us get to Detroit!  Click here!

Janelle Monae in io9

She’s deep into futurist Ray Kurzweil and loves Octavia Butler’s writing. But her science fiction stories play out over itchy beats, under a James Brown cape. io9 interviews the unclassifiable musician about her influences and dreams for the future.

Janelle Monae has gotten attention for being the rare mainstream artist who is clearly doing her own thing, drawing from influences as diverse as James Brown, psychedelia, punk, and Disney’s Fantasia. Her albums tell the epic story of Cindy Mayweather, the Alpha Platinum 9000, a droid optimized for rock performance, often cloned but never equaled. Cindy is on the run, having fallen in love with the human millionaire Anthony Greendown – a pairing which, in Metropolis, is against the law.

There is a history of musicians working with futuristic themes — think David Bowie, P.Funk, Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon, or Nona Hendryx of LaBelle. But Monae has tighter bonds to science fiction. She did a concert in an episode of Stargate Universe, and has alluded to various science fiction authors who inspired her. In an interview with io9, she talked about some of her influences.



Lex Says…

“To answer death with utopian futurity, to rival the social reproduction of capital on a global scale with a forward dreaming diasporic accountability is a queer thing to do. A strange thing to do. A thing that changes “the family” and “the future forever.” To name oneself mother in a moment where representatives of the state conscripted “black” and “mother” into vile epithets is a queer thing. To insist on an black motherhood despite black cultural nationalist claims to own black women’s wombs and white feminist attempts to use the maternal labor of black women as domestic servants to buy their own freedom (and to implicitly support the use of black women as guinea pigs in their fight to perfect the privilege of sterilization) is an almost illegible thing, an outlawed practice, a queer thing….”

A queer thing, indeed. Guerrilla love.

Read the rest.

What I Think About While Al and Tavis Fight

or, We are still the ones we’ve been waiting for.

***
This has become our folklore.

Soft, curling words memorializing our mother’s gardens.  Wistful brushes against kitchen tables where grandmothers, mothers and aunties sit, knead hard fingers against water, flour, yeast that they will speak over to make dough–their coughing laughter and hoarse whispers hot enough to make bread rise.  Walks through small towns we’ve never seen with our own eyes but experienced through the tart reach of longing:  “Mami, remember?  Remember when…” enough to send two generations of women into a wonderland of once & then punctuated by sighs, admonishments and warnings.

This is our legacy.  This we give our whole heart to.  But this is not us.

Los afrodescendientes–somos de la tierra. We are a rural people.  Our worldview is steeped in the dirt that we were taken to and dirt that was taken from us; dirt we were forced to mine for sugar, tabac, cotton and rice and dirt that we claimed for ourselves to grow collards, beets, tomatoes, beans and corn.  Dirt that received our blood, our birthing fluids, our shit and our tears; and dirt that we never received because emancipation did not end our alienation within our societies.

But many of us can only pretend that we know those forested valleys, dusty towns or quiet nights.  Somewhere between Reconstruction and the Great Society, Exodus and the Beloved Community, yellow fever and HIV/AIDS–we were born.  By 1968, the U.S. black pop officially stopped being rural and became urban.  Hopeful and hoping mothers baptized us in warm cement, glass and steel.  Concrete jungles sprouted from our hair.  We walked in lands better evoked by Delaney than by DuBois.  We spoke tongues better conceived by Hurston than by Morrison.  We set FIRE!! to Harlem.  Then we set fire to Harlem.  We breathed in smoke but exhaled rhymes and left them strewn for our little brothers and sisters to find, pick up, take a hit.  We fought, fucked and fell from grace; were lifted up, saved and did it again.  We ran.  We’re always running.  We were men and–finally–we were women.  And then we slipped genders like snake skin and vibrated between and defied both.  We were young.  We traversed worlds, space pod people–confused, distant, anxious spores floating apart in summers “down South” but we came back.  And sometimes with a deeper, wider sigh of relief than we wanted to admit.

This here, this is futuristic black folk shitAndroid fucking behavior.

There is no post-racial America.  But there may be a post-South black America that we need to pay very close attention to.

There is a post-segregation America.  And a drug war/prison industrial complex caste society replaced it.

We are an immigrant people.  Forced migration, untold geographies, and diasporic African proclivities run in our blood.

Our history is rich and dense.  We hold it close and continue to move forward, waging war.  But we demand you respect the present.  Respect those cyborg black kids who grew up surrounded by cityscapes and rage, rage, rage against everything they’ve been told they should be able to do but cannot.  Who are still trapped in the throes of a history not of their making and suffer while we argue over kibbles and bits.  Who speak in explosions and gun blasts, who scream on stages and in theaters, who bend, wind, stretch, swing, sweat, spinning to get out, to give way, to give voice to the sprites in their heads, whistling siren songs, to say–

We are here.

Ancestress Work: I, Tituba

Continuing with ancestress work this Womanism Month, I though I’d revisit an Afro-Atlantic woman who fascinates me, even if her story is a lesson in archive problematics.

Postcard -- Salem Witch Museum. © Salem witch Museum (1999)

“To: To the Keeper of theire Majests Goale
in Boston

You are in theire Majests names hereby required, to take into your care and safe Custody the Bodys of Sarah Good the wife of W’m Good of Salem farmes husbandman and Titiba an Indian Woman, belonging unto mr. Samuell parris of Salem Village Minester, who stand Charged on behalfe of theire Majests. for theire feloniously Committing Sundry acts of Witchcraft at Salem Village on the Bodys of Elizabeth parris Eliz Hubbert Abigail Williams And Ann putnam of Salem Village. whereby great hurt hath beene donne to theire Body contrary to the peace of our Sov’r L’d and Lady W’m & Mary of England &c King & Queen

Whome you are well to secure untill thay shall thence be delivered by due order of Law and hereof you are not to faile
Dated Boston May the 24t 1692″ Essex County Archives, Salem — Witchcraft Vol. 1 Page 7 (emphasis mine)


In 1692, the village of Salem, Massachusetts entered a paroxysm of suspicion, panic and betrayal.  That February, after suffering from fits and hallucinations, Betsey and Abigail Parris, the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, accused Sarah Goode, a homeless mother and beggar, Sarah Osbourne, a woman in an inheritance dispute, and Tituba, the “Indian slave” of Samuel Parris, of attacking them with witchcraft.  Over next seven months, 200+ villagers were accused of witchcraft, 25 people were executed (only those who professed their innocence) before the governor ended the trials.

In all of the confusion and in much of the history related to this day, the role and person of Tituba the “Indian slave” remains obscured.  In the only moment of the trial where we can hear her voice, Tituba is accusing Goode and Osborne of witchcraft against her:

“What the Indyen woman saith

they have don noe harme to hur shee saith she doth nott know how the dveill works — Who it it that hurts them the devell frot I know there is fowre that hurts the children 2 of the women are gamer Osburn and gamer Good and they say itt is shee one of the women is atall and short women and they would have hur goe with them to boston and shee oned that shee did itt att first butt [butt] she was sorry for itt: itt was the apearance of a man that came to hur and told hur that she must hurt the Children and she said that 4 times shaps or a hodg or adodge and bid her sarve him she said that shee could nott then she said he would hurt hur shee all soe said that Shee seed a yalow burd that said unto hur sarve me and shee seed 2 catts and they said sarve me she murst more pinch the children

she saith she sends the catt to bid hur pinch them: and the man brings the maid and bids her pinch hir: and they doe pull hur and make hur goe with them to mr putman to perplex them: and they make hur ride upone apoall and they hould the poll and osband and good all soe rids upon poalls and they the 2 women would have hur cill thomas putmans child The 2 women and the man told hur that if she told to hur master they would cutt of hur heed and yester day tetaby abigall sayd that she say athing with wings and 2 leedgs and vanished into the chape of osborn and the indgen oneth the same: and all soe atends osborn a short and hary thing with 2 ledgs and to Whings all soe tetaby oneth that sary good sent a wolfe to scare the dr maid…” Essex County Archives, Salem — Witchcraft Vol. 1 Page 4

Veta Smith Tucker writes:

“First of all, Salem Villagers, learned judges, and bystanders perceived Tituba to be Indian. The clergy and judges made many explicit references to her as Indian. In trial records of March 1, 1692, written by clerk Ezekiell Cheever, she is identified as “Tituba, an Indian woman”; in Joseph Putnam’s personal record of her testimony, Putnam represented her as “Titiba the indyen woman” (Hoffer, 1996, p. 205). It is just as certain, however, that those who encountered her also considered her African because the magistrates also recorded what was commonly known in the Village—that is, that Tituba came from Barbados, another British colony that supplied African slaves to the North American colonies.” (Tucker, 626)

While arguments against Tituba’s African descent abound, the likelihood that the “Indian” in her description is “West Indian” and that she was of some African ancestry is high.  The transhipment trade from the Caribbean to New England in particular was very strong in this period, and along with rum and provisions, it brought slaves to the North.  Tituba, as a female slave, was also part of a demographic of slaves very likely to travel with their owners as domestics, maids and general help.  However, there is a chance that Tituba was of full or part- Amerindian descent–not only did this early period see the circulation of enslaved Carib and Arawak Indians in the Caribbean, but the Indian slave trade to Barbados from South Carolina was also very strong and stopped only because it was believed that Africans were better suited to slavery on the sugar plantations.

What is clear is that Tituba was a woman of color and her racial descent became part of her mystique.  While white accusers “confessions” enabled their re-entrance into the Salem community, Tituba was banished:

“God’s condemnation was visible in the color of her skin. Unlike other accused (White) witches, who upon confession could be regenerated and reintegrated into the community, Tituba wore the dark skin of reprobation. For her, reintegration into the community was unthinkable” (Tucker, 624-5)

Throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, artists and writers grappled with her racial identity, conflating it with stereotypical and sensational representations of Afro-Atlantic systems of belief like vodun and hoodoo, and Amerindian religious practices, reading a bestiality on her person and her story which continued to obscure the woman who was.  In 1986, Maryse Conde re-read Tituba’s story, centering the woman in the myth with the first line of the book:

“Abena, my mother was raped by an English sailor on the deck of Christ the King one day in the year 16** while the ship was sailing for Barbados…” (Conde, 1)

Tituba, in Conde’s re-imagining, is a woman caught in the throes of a history she is never able to even fully process.

Tituba fascinates me because she embodies a moment of African and Amerindian vulnerability and oppression and representation.  She reminds me that women of color are so often the victims of this history–and that the boundaries between our different colors become meaningful to the systems of oppression only in the extent to which they can be used to shuffle us against each other.  To Parris and co., it didn’t matter if Tituba was African or Indian or some combination of both–she accused of witchcraft because she was marginal, because she could best be scapegoated, because she engaged in unfamiliar and ostracized religious practices, because her racial descent made her an alien and because there was no one she could call on to protect her from state violence (when she is arrested, even her owner, Rev. Parris refuses to post her bail.  Only thirteen months later, after an anonymous person posted bond, was Tituba released).

It’s one of those stories that makes you want to say, “Well, damn!  How much has changed in 318 years?”

Bibliography:

Condé, Maryse. Moi, Tituba sorcière . . . Noire de Salem. Paris: Mercure de France, 1986.

Ray, Benjamin C. Salem Witch Trials:  Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, 2002, http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/salem/home.html.

Tucker, Veta Smith. “Purloined Identity:  The Racial Metamorphosis of Tituba of Salem Village.” Journal of Black Studies 30 (March 2000): 624-634.

[EDIT:  I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem was translated into English in 1992 by Richard Philcox for University Press of Virginia]