Top 3: My Happy Things

This has been an unusually busy  summer. It began with two weeks of Professional Developments. Then, for the first time since my grandmother died, I went back to Florida, which is now home to my mother. The following weekend, I turned 30 in Gatsby-fashion, and spent my first week of 30, packing up my apartment and placing my belongings into storage. Two days later, I locked in an apartment for the end of August, and hopped on a plane to London, which is where I’ll be until then.

Emotions have been high—from anticipation to excitement to worry to jetlag to gratitude to sheer happiness. In the hustle and bustle of my summer, here are three things that have been brining me happiness.

1. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. When life is feeling crazy, it’s comforting to escape into a book, and to envelop yourself into someone else’s chaos. The Lowland is much like other post-colonial books I’ve read—two family members, in this case two brothers, separated by different lifestyle choices. One is committed to a life independent of and against Western frivolity, and the other is soaking up Western privileges—in this case, American education. I’m only on page 100, so I know it will become more complicated, but more than the plot itself, I enjoy Lahiri’s ability to create moods, making me feel like I’m inheriting the experience of her characters. When introducing the reader to the third character, Gauri, she describes Gauri’s relationship with her parents by writing: “She had no memory of spending a moment, even in a house in such an isolated place, ever, alone with her mother or father. Always at the end of a queue, in the shadow of others, she believed she was not significant enough to cast a shadow of her own” (72). I know this sentence is prophetic for something, and I’m eager to read on to find out.

2. Travel. A few weeks ago, I was in Florida. I used to go there a couple times a year, but hadn’t been back since my Nana’s funeral, which was three years ago. My mother now lives 30 minutes from where my Nana used to live. Regardless of my complicated relationship with Florida (nothing like seeing a huge confederate flag waving amongst the lush greenery of it’s landscape), there is a piece of home there—especially now that it’s my mother’s home. Going back “home” has its complications, but, nonetheless it grounds you.

Now, I’m in London—another place I call home. This is my fourth trip to London; my first trip being 10 years ago, when I studied here for a semester. Like each trip, when I first arrived, I felt shy, like someone seeing a loved one for the first time in years– not knowing if the intimacy we once shared could last beyond the years of separation. But, as each day passes, I find myself getting back in step with what was once familiar—navigating the tube, staying in step with the bustle of High Streets, being amongst P.O.C’s in every type of neighborhood, and NOT receiving constant stares. There are multiple reasons for this trip, but regardless of what happens, I know I will not return the same.

“ I do not bring back from a journey quite the same self that I took.” – W. Somerset Maugham

3. Friends. It’s cheesy, it’s mushy, but it’s true, that I don’t know what I’d do without my friends. These past few months have been overwhelming,  and I’ve had to rely on the support of friends in a way I’m not used to. Friends have stepped up to listen to my worries, to help me pack, to celebrate my turning 30, to take care of my beloved dog…. I’m in awe with how many times friends have offered help, or replied with a “yes,” when I needed a favor. I understand that’s what friends are for, but I’m still humbled by their love.

What’s making you happy this month?

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Top 3: My Happy Things

 

Things can get a little heavy around here. My blog centers race, which isn’t a topic that lends itself to lightness.  In attempts to alleviate some of the heaviness that can come along with the discussion of race/racism in America, I want to bring a little sugar to my blog, with a dose of happiness.

Meet, “My Happy Things.”

This is an ongoing series to appreciate the little things bringing joy into my life. I invite you to think of, and maybe even share, the things that are making you happy.

Let’s begin with…

1. This book.

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It’s the first Octavia Butler book, and the first “science fiction book,” I’ve read (though Butler classified this book as “kind of grim fantasy”). The storyline isn’t exactly light, but Kindred is a page-turner. Dana, the main character lives in 1970s Altadena, CA (the neighboring city to my hometown, Pasadena) with her white husband, but is mysteriously transported to the antebellum South. She is continuously transported back and forth between the 1800s and 1970s, and we, as the readers, try to make sense of her experience through her travels.

The experience of reading Kindred is intense, but  makes me happy because it causes me to think of time in a different way. Time travel isn’t a new concept, but for this sci-fi newbie, it’s new for me to actually consider it as an alternative reality. What if time is more than a fleeting moment that is constantly changing? What if time maintains itself, until the future needs to return to past moments for lessons on the future?

Why would anyone need to return to the antebellum South? I would say never. But, I think Butler may be trying to reveal a different perspective to me.

 2. Rereading My Journals.

Rereading journals is usually an awkward, but revealing process. Sometimes, I’m reminded of moments I wish I hadn’t accounted for, while other times, important life lessons are revealed.

This time around, reading my journals is making me happy, because I’m able to see and learn from themes in my journey.  Noting these themes allows for me to see where I need to grow, while honoring who I am. And let’s be real– reading journals from middle school or elementary school is extremely entertaining. High School, on the other hand, was mostly awkward for me.

3. Anytime I hear, or see a video/ video still for this song. 

On the last day of school, it’s a personal ritual to post DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith’s eternal classic, “Summertime,” AKA “Summa-time” on my FB page. I’m happy when I hear DJ Jazzy Jeff, say “Drums Please,” followed with the scratching record and “Aaaaaaahhhhh   Yeeeeeaaahhhh….. Summa/Summa/Summatiime,” because it instantly transitions me from strict/tense, Ms. Peters to laid-back/relaxed  Kirsti.

Happy Summatime, Ya’ll!

What’s making you happy right now?

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Filed under My Top 5, Reading While Black, Top 3: My Happy Things

Losing Our Elders: Rest in Power and in Peace, Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou

Losing Our Elders: Rest in Power and in Peace Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou

I feel my process of aging most when someone I love and admire passes. On January 9th of this year, we lost ethnomusicologist/poet/activist, Amiri Baraka. Earlier this week, on May 28, 2014, we lost poet/activist/spiritual mother-of-many, Maya Angelou.

There are people whose power is so great, we think they will conquer death. That is, until they die, reminding us of the mortality of everything and everyone around us. Fortunately for us, both Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou left us their words to hold and to pass down to generations who will only know them as thinkers from before. While their bodies are no longer here, their words remind of us of their power. For that, we are so lucky.

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May 31, 2014 · 11:30 am

Happy Birthday Billie Holiday: A Poem for Lady Day

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Today, marks, what would have been, Billie Holiday’s 99th birthday. Most who know me, know that I consider Lady Day to be one of my main auntcestors. I imagine she’s looking out for me daily, applauding me when I make my fiercest decisions, and encouraging me to speak my mind when I doubt myself. Her voice was introduced to me as a child by an older neighbor, Miss Madeline. Miss Madeline also happened to look a lot like Billie Holiday in her youth, and enjoyed sharing tales of having an affair with Billie Holiday’s ex-husband.

While there are many other titillating stories connected to Lady Day, her sexuality, and her addiction to the white stuff, I’ve always been obsessed with Holiday’s voice and the work she did for Black people. I’ve felt so connected with Billie Holiday’s story that I spent a year and a half of grad school researching Holiday’s career in music and activism. My Master’s thesis was called, “Is This Mic On?: Reclaiming Billie Holiday and Nina Simone,” and my project worked to uncover the multiple ways that both Nina Simone and Billie Holiday paved the way for and supported the Civil Rights Movement. Both of these women risked their careers and lives for the movement, but are rarely honored as the activists they were. I plan to spend some more time on my blog to extrapolate on this statement, but for now, I would like to honor Billie Holiday’s birthday by sharing the poem that opens my thesis chapter on Lady Day, “Lady Sings More then the Blues; She Sings Revolution.”

“Willow Weep for Me”

She haunts me

Willow weep for me

She haunts us

Willow…

Her voice stops

When their pen begins

Describing

Transcribing

A tragedy of another buxom

Black Lady/girl singer

Whose voice gets silenced

By the ruckus of ‘others’ addiction

To trope-laden fairytales

Where White is right

And she is just a Lady of the Night

Having love affairs with abusive men

Covered in white powder poison–

Unable to save herself

Unable to save the voice They love(d) so much

Willow weep for me

Hear that?

Willow weep for me

Juslisen

Willow…

She speaks to me (to us)

Haunting modern-day ‘fans’ with a story left untold

Though always playing

Over the clicking of forks and credit card receipts

Screaming, through silence, to reclaim her voice

From those who muffled it

With their Blues Lady/girl storytale

Listen to my plea

She has something to say

Hear Me Willow

I’m listening, Ms. Lady Day

Lady Day once sang the Blues

Lady Day once lived Revolution

But memories of those days have been lost

Behind the shuffle of Diana Ross’

acting debut

Behind Holiday students’ and supposed friends’

desire for 15 minutes of fame

while playing pretend

of ‘truth’ seekers

‘truth’ tellers

Weep!

I’ve wept, Ms. Day

For Me

For you, Ms. Day

And through those tears

And through your plea

I’ve tried to scribble down these notes

You’ve left for me (for us)

Notes of skill, of resistance, of courage,

Of will, of persistence, of Mastery

A story called:

Lady Sings More than the Blues: She Sings Revolution.

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Filed under Gender Talk, My Personal-Political, On Our Auntcestors

Why I’m Not Spending This Evening with the Oscars

This evening is Oscar night, and I’m having none of it.

This is a turn of events from last year. Last year, I engaged in America’s pasttime of preparing for an awards show that has a narrow scope of what’s talented. In 2013, I’d  spent January and February watching all films nominated for “Best Picture.” I then wrote a piece  reflecting on the representations of people of color in these nominated films. I’d done this in the spirit of preparing for my BFF’s Oscar’s party, and it was an interesting experience. While I was disappointed in some of the outcomes, it felt fun being a part of the discussion. This year, however, I  (and my BFF) just couldn’t get wrapped up in the glitsy shenanigans of the Academy’s ritual of playing favorites.

There was a period of time when things were looking interesting for Black cinema (unfortunately, I can’t say things have ever looked so hot for other communities of color). Fruitvale Station, 12 Years a Slave, and The Butler, were all getting  accolades from the powers-that-be, and it looked like the Oscars were going to be integrated this year.  I was excited to see various Black actors and actresses, as well as Black directors and producers, getting attention for their work in telling our stories, and I thought I was going to see more brown faces at this year’s Oscars.

But, we all know what happened next. Frutivale Station and The Butler got no love from The Golden Globes or The Oscars, and most of the films that have been deemed most noteworthy are ones that I’d only watch on an international flight. While I always knew  the Oscars were not intended for me, it became glaringly obvious  when this year’s nominations came out, and the Oscars basically said: “I know we can’t use the excuse that there weren’t any Black films to nominate for 2013, but let’s be real, we only have room for one Black film this year… and every other year.”

I wouldn’t say that I’m never going to watch the Academy Awards again, but this year, I simply don’t have the energy to pretend this isn’t an exclusive event. The politics of award shows are  tiresome, and as Holden Caulfield would say, “phony.” Maybe 12 Years a Slave will win, and this will feel like justice for some folks. Meanwhile, I’m wondering when Hollywood will reflect it’s own geographical location– diverse in its people, stories, and potential. And then I wonder, if such wonderings are in vain. Hollywood wasn’t created for us, so is it silly for me to project such high expectations of inclusivity and variety?

Afterthought:  As I was reviewing my reflection about last year’s nominations for “Best Picture,” I had noted that two films that were nominated,  Django Unchained and Lincoln, were ones about slavery. This year’s “Black spot” went to 12 Years a Slave. I find it interesting that we are a nation that can’t talk about slavery in an authentic way in most forums, but we seem to like to watch it on the big screen.

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Filed under Race Talk, Viewing While Black

Happy Birthday Auntcestor, Nina Simone!

When I age into future decades, and look back to my 20s, Nina Simone will sing  the soundtrack. Aside from dedicating a year and a half to researching how she helped move the Civil Rights Movement with her music and her actions, Nina Simone helped politicize me. She brought me into my blackness in a way that no other theorist, or musician did.

Here is one of my favorite clips of Nina Simone. She is fly to the bone with her iconic hairstyle, anthropologie-b4-anthropologie dress, and out-a-sight earrings, all while singing, “Ain’t Got No… I’ve Got Life.”

Happy Birthday High Priestess of Soul!!!!

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February 21, 2014 · 5:16 am

Reading Race: Favorite Passages from My Favorite Books of 2013

This year has been a year for invigorating reading. Books, ranging from topics like  Black men and the prison industrial complex, women and writing, Roaring 20s fiction, contemporary fiction, Toni Morrison (she deserves her own category), and meditations written by my favorite author, made their way to bedtime and me-time rituals. When deciding my favorite books of the year, I selected ones that I’ve thought about the most since reading their offerings. The books whose passages make their way into conversations with friends and students, whose teachings inspire me to be more thoughtful, radical, or more brave. The books that have grounded me, and reminded me why I am who I am, why I am doing what I am doing, or need to change how I am doing things. While I read some books that didn’t directly address race, I find it to be of no surprise that this year’s favorite books all incorporate dialogue around race.

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3. CAN WE TALK ABOUT RACE? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D

Can We Talk About Race: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation  by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum shifted my thinking around my role in education. The fact the she simply wrote the book reminds us the necessity  to write and talk about race as educators, as well as the importance to talk about race with our students. I think all educators—regardless of the demographics of your students—should read this book, along with other works engaging in conversations around race and education.

   The most important idea from this book is Tatum’s ABC’s for creating inclusive learning environments: “environments that acknowledge the continuing significance of race and racial identity in ways that can empower and motivate students to transcend the legacy of racism in our society even when the composition of our classrooms continues to reflect it. What do I mean by the ABC’s? I mean, A, affirming identity; B, building community; and C, cultivating leadership.” Read the quick, but important 130 page book to read her explanation of the ABC’s.

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2. AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

The only fiction book to make it to my top 3, and the only author to make it into a Beyonce song, Americanah is a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche that speaks to race, love, nationality, and familial relationships. The protagonist, Ifemelu, is a Nigerian woman who goes to America to study. Upon moving to the U.S., she not only finds herself having to adjust to American ways of living, but she also has to figure out how to navigate American race politics. She copes with her new relationship to racial politics on her personal blog. In the backdrop is the story of how she balances her Nigerian identity in America, while still feeling connected to Nigeria, and the peoples she’s left behind.

One of my favorite scenes is when Ifemelu is at a dinner party in Manhattan the day after Barack Obama becomes the Democratic Party Candidate for President. Liberalism is in the air, and there’s talk of living in a post-racist society. A black woman says she dated a white man in California, and race was never an issue. Ifemula, who has had her share of wine and white boyfriends calls nonsense, and says:

“‘The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in American and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because its just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they’ll say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.’

The host, a Frenchwoman, glanced at her American husband, a slyly pleased smile on her face; the most unforgettable dinner parties happen when guests said unexpected, and potentially offensive, things.”

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1. BORDERLANDS/ LA FRONTERA: THE NEW MESTIZA by Gloria Anzaldua

Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua

I’ve already posted some of favorite quotes from Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands in a previous post, and I see no harm in reposting another one from my favorite book of 2013. Reading Borderlands was like coming  home for me. In a book that legitimizes the complexities of being multilingual, multicultural, multispiritual, she writes as a whole person. She refuses to compartmentalize her multilayered self, despite having lived in a society that struggles living outside binary clauses. We are told you’re either this or that, but Gloria says she is all the above, plus more; she is mestiza, and she is whole.

 

“The new mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity. She learns to be an Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view. She learns to juggle cultures. She has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode—nothing is thrust out, the good, the bad, and the ugly, nothing rejected, nothing abandoned. Not only does she sustain contradictions, she returns the ambivalence into something else.”

I am mestiza. I am Black, Finnish, East Indian, Scottish. I am whole. I am all the above. I am not other. I am mestiza. I am a believer of God, the earth, the womb, the sky, the water, the ancestors and spirits. I am whole. I am all the above. I am not other. I am mestiza. I am daughter, wife, teacher, friend, writer, student, auntie, sister. I am whole. I am all the above. I am mestiza. I am whole. I am not other. I have never been with a woman. I love women. I am in love with a man. I am not straight. I am not gay. I am not bisexual. I am whole. I am all the above. I am not other. I am mestiza.

 

** Choosing only 3 books for 2013 was not easy. Some books that would have made the list, had I done my top 5 or 10, are Dreams of My Father by President Barack Obama, Women and Writing by Virginia Woolf, My Foreign Cities by Elizabeth Scarboro, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris Perry, The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering As the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way by Alice Walker.

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Filed under Education, Gender Talk, My Personal-Political, My Top 5, On Our Auntcestors, Race Talk, Reading While Black