A Word of Silence: For the Continued Violence on Black Lives

With this being a blog about race, one may think that I’m late on responding to the perpetual violence that has been projected onto Black people most recently. I’ve been silent to the many lives that have been lost/ assaulted since Michael Brown. My silence isn’t due to lack of care, but the absolute opposite. While I can deal with anger or frustration through scathing phrases, sadness is a private emotion I can articulate only once I’ve processed it. Currently, it’s difficult to discuss whats been going on with loved ones, let alone a blog. We’re all hurting, but, again, words aren’t medicinal enough to carry our pain. My best mode for healing, so far, has been to read other people’s words. To read the words of people who experienced/ fought against/ survived more difficult, yet similar, situations.

“To be a Negro in this country is really– Ralph Ellison has said it very well– never to be looked at. What white people see when they look at you is not visible. What they do see when they do look at you is what they have invested you with. What they have invested you with is all the agony, and pain, and the danger, and the passion, and the torment– you know sin, death, and hell– of which everyone in this country is terrified.” — James Baldwin, from an interview by Stud Terkel in 1961

Baldwin’s words are heavy, but boldly relevant. His usage of “white people” simply equates to American society, for me. And the death that he says gets projected onto Black people… onto people of color… is sadly, too relevant 54 years later. We are only visible when we are seen as a threat. And then, there are deathly repercussions for our visibility.

I’ve attempted to provide words for the pain I’m feeling for young adults in Ferguson, for the suburban kids in Texas, for praying churchgoers in Charlotte, for the communities that are mourning… but sometimes we simply need silence…silence from the noise of recounting the violence, silence from nonsensical opinions of why things aren’t as bad as they seem, silence so that we can hear the voice within each of us that will tell us how to pick up the pieces.

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Happy Mothers Day, To The Mother Who Started This Blog About Race

It’s Mothers Day, today, and I’m compelled to go off topic a bit from my usual discussion around race and simply post a picture of my Mommy.

But, maybe, it’s not so off topic to post a picture of my mother on a blog that centers race. Especially when considering that my ability and necessity to discuss race began with toddler discussions around identity with her.

It is my Mommy who taught me to counteract people’s curiously rude questions on my identity with answers of pride. It was my mother who demanded I love my curls, my skin tone, my features. Before I reached for my  auntcestors– Maya, Alice, and Toni–my Mommy put me on the game of racism, warning me of what was to come, defending me when she saw it coming. And when she didn’t know the answers, she brought me to people who could relate to me racially, and handed me books by James Baldwin.

I meet people who are still fearful to discuss race… particularly across races. But, it was my mother- who is read as white and is mostly white (she’s 1/4 East Indian) who continues to teach me how to discuss race across differences.

If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t even have this blog.

So, I guess posting a picture of her– one that celebrates  a journey she is conquering that knows no race– is quite fitting, and even kind of traditional considering my posts with the most tractions are the ones I wrote for her a few Mothers Days Ago….#HappyMothersDay

This time last year, we'd just learned that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was devastated and scared I'd lose one of the 3 most important people in my life so soon after losing my Nana. But, in true Peters fashion, my Mommy has been fighting and winning this Cancer battle. The Cancer is leaving her body, her energy is at its pique (as this picture that was taken yesterday shows), and she is happy. She has shown bravery and dedication by choosing her own healing journey- one that does not include your traditional cancer fighting methods (so far, no chemo, no radiation, no surgery). She's been fighting and healing her Cancer with a raw/ Vegan diet, yoga, meditation, heating treatments, oxygen treatments, teas, optimism, friends, good energy, … You know, That hippie stuff she instilled in me as a child.It's been a scary journey , but regardless of what happens, she has made me so proud to be the person who came from her womb. #HappyMothersDay to my Superhero ❤️❤️❤️✊🏽✊🏾 #FuckCancer #Foodheals #hippiestuff #myOrigins

A photo posted by ShesGotTheMic (@shesgotthemic) on

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33 Brilliant Quotes From Legendary Black Women Writers

Originally posted on Our Legaci:

Ntozake-Shange-Black-Women-Writers Ntozake Shange

Growing up as a Black girl writer, various books and writers sustained me. One such writer was Zora Neale Hurston. I lived by her. Her robust unveiling of Black human experiences were the literary nourishment to my young mind. I read over and over again her short story, The Gilded Six Bits.  It was like I was there. I could feel the spirited home of Missie May and Joe. I could taste the molasses kisses Joe bought for their new born baby boy. I was literally wrapped up in the entire story.

Yet what intrigued me the most about Zora as a writer was her free spirit. As a folklorist and anthropologist, she saw the world and soaked up its wonders. This captivated me.  As I grew older, the list of Black women writers that ruled my universe expanded. In college I was enamored with Ntozake Shange, then in graduate school mesmerized…

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Traveling While Black: A Few Words for New Mexico

It’s the last day of National Poetry Month, so I thought I’d share a poem I wrote in response to my my trip to New Mexico earlier this month. Nothin’ serious – just a painting of my own. 

The simple beauty of New Mexico

Woos me under the influence 

To pick up a brush and paint.

To experiment with blending desert and sun.
But I’m no visual artist

(Simply romantically involved

With others’ portraits and abstractions).

I

paint with words-

hidden deep between pages of journals,

sometimes,

exposed for the world

that chooses to read. 

   

   

   

 

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Black Fashion in 1969: A Tribute to Mad Men

I’ve written about my genuine love and raw disappointment with Mad Men, time, time, and time again. I’ve sung its praises and hollered my disappointment in its whitening of the 60s, in addition to its tasteless underrepresentations of people of color. I’ve learned to expect a lack of genuine representation of people who look like me on Mad Men, just as a fatherless child learns to expect Daddy to never call. But instead of pouting about it, I’ve been preparing for tonight’s premier by doing what Matthew Weiner and Co. should have done.  I’ve been celebrating the history and visual righteousness of Black people in 1969 (the year that season 7 left us in last Spring), and I invite you to join me.

In 1969, Supermodel Naomi Sims demonstrated that Black is both beautiful and fierce by serving as Life Magazine's covergirl.

In 1969, Supermodel Naomi Sims demonstrated that Black is both beautiful and fierce by serving as Life Magazine’s covergirl.

In this same issue of Life Magazine, Black models of all hues were featured, demonstrating Black beauty and style.

In this same issue of Life Magazine, Black models  were featured, demonstrating Black beauty and style.

Miriam Makeba was effortlessly chic ’til the day she died.

Check out Aretha Franklin looking glamorous and chic as she prepares to go onstage in 1969.

Jimi Hendrix did what he wanted, how he wanted, when he wanted, and his approach to fashion was no different. Fashion was an extension of his music– colorful, layered, and eccentric.

Kathleen Cleaver was and continues to be intelligent, political, and fashionable.

#ThatHairTho I think this ad is supposed to be for Noxema, but all I see is the beautiful diversity of Black hairstyles. Black women’s hair has always been a part of our “outfit”/ our style. Our hair doesn’t make us, but even if we’re bald, it ads to our flyness.

As Mad Men ends an era,  I daydream of a rich story involving a P.O.C. , but, again, I’m going to be realistic by accepting the white limitations of Mad Men. For 45 minutes, I’ll allow myself to get swept away into their White fairyland where P.O.C’s stand in the backdrop of the privileged worlds of Madison Avenue, where Joan and Pete are trying to make a cool million, where Betty’s trying her hand at conservative feminism, where Roger’s trying to never grow up, and where Don’s searching for sanity in the midst of his own chaos. But when I step out of the Mad world of make believe, thanks to the likes of Nina Simone, I’ll remember what was really going on in 1969: Revolution.

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“Equal Rights for Women!” : Hey Patricia! Am I included in this?

This post is in conversation with, Why We Need to Talk About Diversity Differently by Bad Feminist author, Roxane Gay. Using the lack of Diversity in this year’s /every year’s Oscars as her entry point, Gay addresses why race, gender, sexuality, class, disability… any oppression should not be fought in isolation. She also responds to the political nature of multiple speeches during the awards, including one given by Particia Arquette after winning Best Actress for her work in Boyhood. Though I refused to watch The Oscars, for the same reasons why I didn’t last year, I was privy to the content of Arquette’s political speech almost immediately after it was shared. Everyone’s favorite, Meryl Streep, was most enthused, and social media was roaring with praise for Arquette’s speech– particularly when she said:

“It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. Equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Okaayyy, I thought. This is absolutely important. But, am I, as a woman of color, included? I know some of my friends, are thinking, Of course, you are!!!!!!!! But, no.really. Am I?

In my experience as a college feminist and a Master of Women and Gender Studies (yes, I went there), when some people discuss women’s rights, they’re not always discussing my rights as a woman of color. Race is one problem, while women’s rights is another. But this doesn’t work for me. When people look at me, when I experience, the world, I experience it as a Black woman — not one or the other. My blackness and my womanness, as well as my middle-classness and straightness, are always working together like one machine. Critical Race Theorists, Kimberle Crenshaw, calls this intersectionality. One’s multiple identities don’t get compartmentalized, but are always working for and against them simultaneously.  As Roxane Gay points out in her article:

“Women of color, for example, don’t go to work one day as women and the next day as people of color, leaving their gender at home in a cabinet. We carry all aspects of our identity with us at all times. When we talk about diversity and equality, we need to consider the whole of a person and how the whole of a person is affected by the inequalities of this world.”

When Arquette brought light to the important issues of wage equality and equal rights for women, was she doing this in solidarity with fellow Oscar winners, Common and John Legend, who’s speeches mentioned the many fights going on around the world, including the outrageous numbers of incarcerated Black men? Or, was she saying, “We’ve fought for your rights, but now it’s time for women?!”

After her acceptance speech, she did extrapolate on what she meant. She said, “The truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women. It’s time for all… the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for, to fight for us now.

One can interpret this in many ways, I guess, but what I hear/read is that white women have supported the efforts of gay people (there are women who are gay, no?) and people of color (ain’t I a woman?), and, now, it’s time to turn our attention to women (but, for reals, am I included?).

Maybe wage equality hasn’t currently been at the forefront of the fight for communities of color, because people of color are currently fighting for life. And maybe the LGBTQ community (which includes P.O.C’s) hasn’t put wage equality at the forefront, because many are also fighting for… well, life. Now, don’t get me wrong, my bank account and my student loans are screaming at the top of their lungs for wage equality (as well as respectful wages for educators), just as I’m fighting for the many rights and privileges my community still doesn’t have. The multiple rights I’m fighting for, for communities of color (i.e. fair education, safety, job opportunities, visibility justice etc…) just can’t be isolated, because they’re always working together. I can’t fight for women’s rights on Monday, the rights for people of color on Tuesday, and the rights for the LGBTQ community on the weekends. And quite frankly, they’re all one fight. I hope Patricia Arquette and other allies who are supporting our struggles can get down with that. Because, we know that when archaic oppressions like wage equality is settled (I can’t believe this still hasn’t been dealt with- where’s Hilary?), white women will be the first to benefit from it. #RealTalk #NoShade #HistorysaysSo #RememberAffirmativeAction?

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Kendrick Lamar LaysDown The Message with New Song: “The Blacker the Berry”

Usually, I let things ruminate before I post them. I sit with my opinions, maybe, I’ll read/listen to what others have to say, and then I write. But, I just listened to the new Kendrick Lamar song, “The Blacker the Berry,” and I need it to be documented on my page NOW.

You know, this blog was supposed to be about Hip Hop: A woman’s perspective on what’s going down in Hip Hop, was the original premise. But, for the past few years, Hip Hop has bored and disappointed me. It hasn’t reflected my perspective or my story, and in most cases, it has simply felt like its given up on itself. Yes, artists like Kendrick Lamar, Azalea Banks, some J Cole, and Common have piqued my interest, but I haven’t been getting what I need from Hip Hop the way I used to.

But, “The Blacker the Berry”….. (biting fist now)

Kendrick Lamar, I salute you. I mean, I’m not surprised that you would be the one to remind us what Hip Hop is supposed to be… but thank you. Thank you for releasing a song that is honest. That’s complicated. That’s ugly. That’s reflective of what’s going on now. “The Blacker the Berry,” captures so much of what I’ve been thinking as I read the news, as I see what’s going on in East Oakland. Thank you for having a message that’s layered and rooted in the hypocrisy of this country. Thank you for understanding your position as an artist, and making your airtime count. Whether people agree with you are not, they’ll listen to what you have to say, and maybe, we can begin begin to have some real dialogue.

Thank you, Kendrick, for being an artist.

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Langston Hughes’ Teachings: A Fifth Grader Breaks It Down

 

I wrote this a few months ago, but never posted it. Since it’s Langston Hughes’ birthday, as well as the first day of Black History Month, I thought it would be fitting to post it today. As always, when referencing students, names have been changed to protect their identities. For this narrative, I decided to use the names of Kendrick Lamar and Lupe Fiasco to replace the names of my students, because at one time, they were boys too–maybe collecting their thoughts is similar ways as my scholars.

In the beginning of the year, my scholars and I read a biography about Langston Hughes. We were reading about Hughes’ early life—how he almost grew up in Mexico City, but his mother moved back to the States. How he and his mother struggled to find stable jobs, despite having college educations. And of course, we learned about Hughes’ skill for writing poems in the voices of Black people he knew from the streets of St. Louis and Harlem.

Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker is a biography that I read to my scholars every year. It’s a great book that not only explores Hughes’ life, but it also captures the complicated relationships that exist within the Black community.

When we got to the point of the story where Hughes can’t find a job outside of being a busboy or bellhop, I paused and asked my students what was the problem, or conflict, of the story.

“There is no problem,” said Kendrick Lamar, who is one of my strongest students.

“Really? You don’t think there’s a problem?”

In addition to gathering information for their upcoming essay on Hughes, we were also working on how to write a succinct summary, by focusing on conflicts within a story. A common conflict we’ve read about is how racism has interfered with the work of leaders such as Cesar Chavez, Richard Wright, and Sonia Sotomayor. I was surprised that racism wasn’t an obvious problem to locate for Kendrick.

Using our class signal for disagreeing, other students, however, showed they had located a conflict in the story.

“Lupe Fiasco, why do you disagree?” I asked.

“There is a problem in the story. I think the problem is that Langston Hughes can’t find a job, because the white people won’t hire him for the good jobs, because he’s Black.”

Most scholars communicated they agreed with Lupe’s noticing.

“That’s not a problem,” Kendrick, who’s not really into the whole raising your hand system, shouted.

That.

Sounds to me.

Like a prawww—lum.

“A prawww-lum?” I said. “There’s a difference? Tell me more.”

I knew what he was about to break down for us. I, like Langston Hughes, know that my people have a beautiful gift of playing with language, creating new words, as well as new ways for using words that transcend what’s been deemed “appropriate” for school. Kendrick broke down his wordplay like very simply. He said:

A problem is something simple that can be solved. But not being able to get a job, because you’re Black? Well, that’s a Prawww. Lum.

At this point, Kendrick could have dropped the MIC and spent the rest of the day enjoying recess, as far as I was concerned. Not only did he demonstrate one of Langston Hughes’ life-long projects—to honor the beauty and skill of Black people seducing the English language as we see fit—but he also summarized one of the biggest praww-lums that continues to plague communities of color.

As I prepare lessons to tackle fifth grade standards—the skills that I’m supposed to have taught my scholars by the end of the year—I wonder….

When will the beautiful ways that my students manipulate and engage with language be honored and showcased in a respectful way? When will my scholars’ sophisticated observations about the world be valued, and be a part of the ways they are formally assessed and evaluated? When will unemployment for Black men no longer be a praww-lum?

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Happy Birthday Langston Hughes

Langston Swag

Happy Birthday Langston!

My students and I will read some of your words tomorrow. They love you and can relate to you.They memorize you without me instructing them to do so.  Maybe, it’s because you affirm their voices and their beauty.

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

This is why I love you and your words, your legacy and your spirit.

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