Author Archives: Kendra N. Bryant

About Kendra N. Bryant

I teach peace, & I write poetry.

13 reasons why NOT: season 2

It’s been approximately one year & a month since I actually sat to my computer to write a blog post. & here I am, at 8:35am, Wednesday morning, writing about got damn 13 Reasons Why: Season 2. There’s so much more to which I should be lending my writing attention–like Bill Cosby, illiteracy, & Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon. However, Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why: Season 2 kept me up all night. I was literally tossing & turning into disturbing scenes I wish my memory had not captured. You see, 13 Reasons Why isn’t about high school bullying; it’s a show about sexual terrorism, down to the ASS class intended to reform student behavior & perception.

As a former high school teacher & current university instructor, 13 Reasons Why got me feelin a way, particularly re: how screenwriters, producers, & acto13 Reasons Why CASTrs/tress portray academic institutions, students (especially those of color), faculty members, & parents. Clearly, despite its closing “call for help” offering that appears at the end of each episode, 13 Reasons Why fails to make me believe that its creators are concerned w/student welfare. Instead, they–in Tyler Perry fashion–have inflated an American crisis, & in white male patriarchy décor, have assured the reigning terrorist unscathed freedom.

SPOILER ALERT: What follows are 13 criticisms–in no particular order or fashion–I have of 13 Reasons Why: Season 2. (I do have more, but IJS.) If you have not watched it yet, & plan to, stop reading now, cause I’m about to “spoil” this joint.

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  1. So these high school kids are testifying re: their relationship w/Hannah, the main character who commits suicide & leaves behind 13 audio recordings that detail her interactions w/her classmates–which she claims led to her suicide. (However, we Hannah Bakerfind out this season, that Hannah, herself, was a bully in her former school. Really?)Anyway, in all of these kids’ storytelling & lying, they admit to throwing & attending unmonitored parties, having ALOT of casual (unprotected) sex, & consuming drugs & alcohol, yet none of the parents address these behaviors, at all. I don’t get it. But, the school & its “colored” employees are put on trial?
  2. Each of the students of color is so got damn stereotypically casted, & they each–w/the exception of Tony Padilla, the stereotypical Puerto Rican who fights his way thru the system–& happens to be a Fonzie homosexual–is absolutely voiceless & attached to the fear that prohibits them from being their independent selves. 13 Reasons Why MarcusHow does Black Marcus, the student body president & son of a preacher & rising politician become subservient to a spoiled white boy he knows rapes women? & why is Zach Dempsey the cowardly Asian afraid to speak up to his mother, especially since his father’s passing has deemed him “the man of the household,” which is culturally relevant? He’s so afraid to speak up in the world, he can’t even have a peer conversation w/Clay about the baseball team’s Clubhouse shenanigans, so instead, anonymously leaves pictures of their crimes for Clay to discover. & got damn Black (or mixed) Nina Jones–a track star, of course–who can’t keep it real 13 Reasons Why Asianw/mixed race Jessica, who relates more to being a White girl than she does to her Black self–w/the exception of her attempts at kinky, curly hair. Why does Nina have to be the chick who destroys the only evidence that could’ve prosecuted raping ass Bryce, & why is Jess the mixed race girl who accompanies Alex to the Spring Dance, but publicly fucks Justin in the boy’s locker room (during the Spring Dance)?! Oh, & the shy, timid Courtney Crimsen, another cowardly Asian who’s so afraid to be a lesbian–altho her two White dads are gay–she throws Hannah under the bus versus outing herself in a 21st century that rarely gives a shit. Of course, by the season’s end, Courtney’s happily & boldly dating a Black girl. I can’t take it (altho I watched each episode). Those students of color have lost themselves in a white patriarchy that makes them sleepwalk toward an American Dream. #staywoke is absolutely lost on their asses.
  3. Um, so Kevin Porter, (aka Antwone Fisher) had to be the Black Mammy figure, huh? The fall guy? The slave driven by the White head coach and White principal–both of whom never stood trial? He had to be the one who carried the burdens, broke down in court, & blamed himself for a White girl’s suicide? Stop it, already.13 Reasons Why Kevin Porter.jpg
  4. Are there really high school coaches in this world who give their teenage players access to on-campus sex hubs? Who give their student players permission to abuse girls?
  5. Wayment. So, Bryce damn near admits to his mother that he raped Hannah, & all she does is tell him he is a stranger in their home? So this seemingly self-assured woman basically crumbles under her son’s aggression? So, she’s like a White matriarch who kinda believes in feminism & motherhood, but not for real for real; it’s a man’s world?
  6. How come none of the parents ever communicate w/one another? This show gives high schoolers adult responsibility & leverage, which is why they fumble around, making a mess of their entire lives. The teenagers, albeit all messed up, have a more communal spirit than their parents.
  7. In no 21st century America would a Clay Jensen be able to coerce a hopeless Tyler Down, strapped w/a machine gun & two glocks, from shooting up a student body whose members sodomized him w/a broomstick in the school’s boy’s bathroom. That, AFTER Clay Jensen himself distributed nude pictures of Tyler thruout the school house, & boys clowned him for orgasming all over himself after an arousing kiss in the movie theatre w/Mackenzie, Cyrus’s sister. So, White, self-reflective, 13 Reasons Why Tylerghost-seeing Clay gets to be the Saviour, huh?
  8. But Clay also gets a Toyota Prius after reiterating to his parents that he will not openly communicate w/them. He is allowed to continue driving it after hiding heroine addicted Justin Foley in his bedroom aaaaaaand taking files from his mother’s computer & making them available online to the whole wide world. That. Shit. Cray.
  9. What’s also crazy & absolutely unfathomable is Clay & the others’ discovering the box of photos that would criminalize Bryce & their failure to make copies of the pictures & to hand them over to the police–or at least to Clay’s lawyering mother! & of course the pictures get stolen, cause Clay does not have the wherewithal to not drive around w/the box of photos sitting on his back seat. Exactly how was he helping Hannah?
  10. So, in what academic institution would athletes & other student body members get into a fight in the hallway & not only are there no security guards around–ever, actually–but the coach begins to fight the counselor? Then, the fighting students are placed together in ONE classroom, damn near sitting on top of each other, while a sleeping BLACK man!!!!!!! is assigned to watch them!?? WTF?!? This same sleeping BLACK teacher, allows Clay Christ to get up out of his seat, check his cell phone, make an oral declaration to his classmates, & then leave his supposed punishment w/two other fighting students. & none of those involved in the fight were suspended nor did parents who saw visible scratches & bruises on their children’s faces confer w/school officials. Yea. Okay.
  11. 13 Reasons Why TonyHow is Tony driving a classic red Mustang?
  12. & what happened to Sherri Holland (the Black return student I purposely omit from #2)? Why isn’t she at the Spring Dance, belonging to/the community of “outcast” students she helped? She is the ride-or-die character who places herself in compromising situations for the cause. She does it #fortheculture, yet disappears.
  13. Finally, & I have left this criticism for last because it was the most upsetting & disturbing, the sodomizing of Tyler Down (the proud ASShole) was absolutely unnecessary–& I mean that re: fictional characters & actual screenwriters. Why did the audience–much of whom are middle & teenaged high schoolers–have to witness such savagery & hatefulness? The bullying was brutal enuf–as was last season’s hot tub rape & Alex’s failed suicide attempt–but to write in sodomy as the sforzando of bullying was revolting & absolutely careless.

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Will I watch 13 Reasons Why: Season 3? Probably. The media frenzy, if you will, that 13 Reasons Why has conjured makes not tuning into it difficult. More so, while I can’t tune into every song, television show, or linguistic style w/which my students are consumed–& don’t want to–I think 13 Reasons Why is that one popular culture thing that I should be attuned to so that I am able to mindfully discuss w/my students (& nieces) bullying, gun violence, group think, & the like as portrayed in the Netflix series.

Ain’t no doubt, 13 Reasons Why inspires necessary conversations, which is why it–& any other artistic endeavor at conveying real life situations–should not be banned. But do I prefer artists avoid capitalizing upon students’ current crises? Of course. I hope, however, my watching & writing about 13 Reasons Why enables me to bring students into a more conscious viewing & understanding of themselves & others, which I trust 13 Reasons Why ultimately aimed to do.

 

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TBT: in a daze

I wrote the following post October 12, 2010, while I was a doctoral student teaching Professional Writing at University of South Florida, Tampa.

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I remember working at FAMU’S Writing Center, when one of my most stern, yet caring, English professors shared with me her frustration regarding a student’s desire to argue with her about a grade he DESERVED in her class. As she was reflecting on this event, hergrades are terrible image demeanor was one of defeat, exasperation, disbelief, and hurt. The idea that a student would quarrel with her about a grade was perhaps more baffling than the quarrel itself.  I believe my professor was surprised that this student would have the gall (as well as the lack of compassion and truth) to approach her in a tone that suggested she was an inadequate and unfair teacher.  He–-if I can make up this word–-deteacherized her. And she was in such a daze after this student’s assault, that my professor gave him whatever grade he wanted.

I experienced that daze this morning as a student “fought” me for a grade she believed she deserved. This student called me unfair and inconsiderate. She questioned my teaching method, my homework assignment, and my authority. And she told me that I don’t listen.

I am thankful for Parker Palmer, Alice Walker and bell hooks, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dali Lama, and don Miguel Ruiz–-philosophers and master teachers who have been instructing me on the compassionate classroom. For the ten or so years that I have been teaching students, I have tried my best to be honest and fair; to be compassionate and understanding; to be mindful and patient. But this morning, as I sat through that student’s rant, endured her belligerence, and received her lambasting, I questioned my being:

Why am I a teacher in a system that has encouraged students to compete and fight for grades? Why am I working on a dissertation encouraging contemplative writing practices where students prefer my voice and thought over their own? Why am I trying to create a community in a classroom of individuals who do not feel their responsibility to one another? Why do I build classroom relationships with students who do not acknowledge me on campus? Why am I called “professor” if my professions are going to criticized in a tone that is meant to dehumanize?  

This morning I am questioning my being an instructor. I am reflecting on my methods, my intentions, my desires. I am reflecting on my theories–-on my way of moving and BEing in the world. There is obviously a lesson the Universe is trying to teach me here.  And I am listening.

Unlike my FAMU professor, however, I will not throw in my towel (at least not today). I will neither give up nor give into that student’s “desires” nor her characterizations of me. Instead, I will stand still and strong on my integrity. And with my integrity, I will continue to serve her and her classmates, truthfully. One day she will understand. It won’t be today, and maybe not tomorrow, but one day, she will get all that I have been trying to profess. After all says Soren Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.”

Moving on.


“Self Destruction”: Black Student Writers in the Social Media Age

Kendra at HBCU Conference

Kendra N. Bryant, 2018 “Symposium on Teaching Composition & Rhetoric”

The following paper is the first half of a conference presentation I delivered at the 2018 “Symposium on Teaching Composition and Rhetoric at HBCUs” hosted by Howard University and Bedford St/Martin’s. 

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According to this year’s conference call for abstracts, One HBCU scholar once described managing student literacies and the technological resources afforded HBCUs as ‘trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.’ How might we shift the conversation on technologies and literacy at HBCUs in ways that acknowledge sound media technologies and apps as central to the education of students?”

 Well, in Samantha Blackmon’s 2007 article, “(Cyber)conspiracy Theories? African-American Students in the Computerized Writing Environment,” wherein she uses Tupac’s “trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents” lyric to make her claim, Blackmon compares the challenges of managing student online literacies with trying to make something out of nothing.  That nothing included African American students’ outside of school access to technology and the Internet, coupled w/the HBCU’s access to technological resources, as well as Black students’ technological ability and interest—both of which were affected by the digital divide.  Since her publication ten years ago, while many HBCUs still struggle to afford in-classroom technological resources beyond the teacher’s desk computer and classroom projector, many Black students are accessing online writing technologies by way of smart phones and tablets.

As a matter of fact, students are writing w/technology much more now because of flourishing online writing communities (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr) and access to smartphones, which link them to their online accounts, than they were when Black Boy LaptopBlackmon produced her “(Cyber)conspiracy Theories.”  However, because of social media’s popularity amongst student writers, most of whom are members of the Google Generation or the Millennials, offering them writing courses and theories about how to write within those online spaces are often deemed futile.  As one of my former colleagues once exclaimed when I suggested creating a writing course that focuses on writing with social media and effectively using smart phones as a writing resource: “They don’t need no course in social media. They’re on it all the time.”

My conference presentation, which I have titled, “‘Self-Destruction’: Black Student Writers in the Social Media Age,” borrows from KRS-One’s 1987 Self Destruction single, which is a response to the violence that the hip hop community was inflicting upon themselves during that time.  In D-Nice’s verse, he raps:

It’s time to stand together in a unity
‘Cause if not then we’re soon to be
Self-destroyed, unemployed
The rap race will be lost without a trace
Or a clue / but what to do
Is stop the violence and kick the science
Down the road that we call eternity
Where knowledge is formed and you’ll learn to be
Self-sufficient, independent
To teach to each is what rap intended
But society wants to invade
So do not walk this path they laid
It’s…

Well, when I think of this gate-keeper, former colleague of mine, who quickly dismissed my suggestion, I received her behavior as a form of self-destruction. For, as Black educators, particularly in the HBCU, we are charged w/helping our Black students to navigate thru this white patriarchy—the same system that used Black Planet as a prototype to create MySpace, and has thus been developing, infiltrating, and distracting us w/social media.

You see, while this teacher claimed our students needed no course in writing with social media and using their smart phones beyond accessing their social media platforms, I was in a classroom—and often still am—where I had to tell my students to use their phones to look up words they wanted me to define for them. Often, many of them half ass Googled terms, and when I suggested they simply download a dictionary app, they looked confused (or maybe that was their “Dr. Bryant, really?” look).

While this teacher claimed our students needed no course in writing with social media and using their smart phones beyond accessing their social media platforms, I was in a classroom where students would bum rush me at the start of class to ask me had I gotten their email—which was written as a text message or tweet by the way—cause they didn’t get a response from me—although they had, but didn’t think to check their email app and/or didn’t have notifications configured on their smart phone.

While this teacher claimed our students needed no course in writing with social media and using smart phones beyond accessing their social media platforms, I was in a classroom where I asked students about their blogging practices, and the majority of them claimed they don’t blog—although they each had active accounts on various social media platforms, all of which are blogging spaces.

My point w/some of these superficial examples is that our Black writing students were not thinking about social media and smart phone use beyond their current frivolous practices. They were not thinking about how to use their social media platforms or to even create one solely for the purpose of writing themselves into a professional and/or academic online existence that would appeal to an employer’s or college admission’s ethos, logos, and pathos—the rhetorical appeals that we tell our first year writing students are the persuasive tools required for any argument they make.

But how are we writing teachers fully servicing our 21st century, technologically-laden writing students who prefer we email them at cutiepie2001@gmail.com versus their university given email addresses, which encourage their credibility, or who don’t realize the difference between Microsoft Word and Google Docs, so they can’t figure out why the name “Google docs” is printed on every page of their MLA required essay, and therefore, don’t understand why they are losing stylistic points—because, “Dr. Bryant, the computer did it.” Or what about the 21st century Google-aged student—who Googles everything, yet hasn’t been to Google Books, Google Scholars, or Google News?

Exactly how are we fully servicing our 21st century, technologically-laden writing students if we choose to not couple their traditional writing practices w/current communication technologies that are centered w/in a grand narrative that encouragesSocial Media Image our Black students to create digital footprints that seemingly mimic shuckin and jivin? (Cause after all, I do believe that social media and smart phones are two of the biggest conspiracies to distract its users from critical consciousnesses. Lately, folks be claiming “wokeness,” but we seem to be more like that sleep deprived woke, cause we up, skimmin Instagram pages of our “woke” friends in dashikis claiming #wakandaforever.)

My point is that our assumption that Google-aged learners know how to use technology and apply social media use and technological communications to the professional, academic space—that is situated w/in the white patriarchal space—because they carry smart phones and have social media accounts, is akin to expecting our senior (or more traditional professors) to move from paper gradebooks to BlackBoard or Canvas systems w/no training or any direction because, well, teachers have desk top computers—as well as MFAs and PhDs.

While I believe social media and smart phones can be a grave distraction more often than not, I do think it’s possible—necessary—to use these master’s tools, if you will, to help our Black students build their own houses alongside the jook joints they already have the wherewithal to create. In other words, if we don’t point our 21st century students in the direction to create online spaces that serve as reflections / of their academic goals and professions / then, we’re headed for self-destruction.

In the few minutes I have left, I want to share with you all a writing assignment I employ in my first year writing classrooms that invites students to use WordPress to compose an online, professional/academic self that makes them more marketable to employers and graduate school programs, while familiarizing them with the nuances of social media use and making them active contributors to current hashtag movements. Basically, I am integrating an online social media platform in the writing classroom so that 21st century students of color can practice, as Andrea Lunsford suggests, “writing in action,” beyond Black Twitter, Instagram memes, and rhetorically rich and verbose hashtags.

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Do click here for access to one of my student’s WordPress accounts. She developed it as I instructed in the ENC 1102: Writing & Rhetoric II course I taught at Florida International University, Miami. Briefly put, students were required to develop an online employment portfolio + blogging site that included posts in response to current hashtag movements.

 


a poem for Yakini (because there’s something about her aura)

& I think about how beautifully black you are // so black ur bright // beaming // glaring // glistening // shimmering like Shug Avery’s shimmy // shining brighter than the brightest light // wondering if I touch the tip of ur locs // like touching the hem of His garment // will I will shine too? // but you don’t see me // staring at ur beautiful black self // wanting & longing to be in ur mind // to engross ur thoughts // to feel ur skin // to hold ur hand // all the while hoping you’ll lead me to the mountain top.

& I think of you in church on Easter Sunday // wearing a too pink pink dress that reveals ur scrawny black legs scarred by last year’s chicken pox & wounded by limbs of the oak tree that shades grandmother’s front porch & provides a place for drinking moonshine // playing cards // watching passersby pass by // they shutter // they scuttle // & they scuffle // & ur sitting in church // staring at that white jesus // knowing that he’s not ur savior // marveling at big women wearing feathered hats // crying jesus’ name // questioning how grandmothers can be so jubilant about a god they’ve never seen // who allowed their daughters to be raped // their sons to be stripped of their manhood // & why do you have to recite a speech regarding this faith you find unfaithful?

& I see you // growing thru hopscotch & double dutch // coconut milk & vegetable patties // wearing beautiful black pigtails // eating summer’s red watermelon // not caring if they call you pickaninny // because ur beautifully black // & that’s all that matters // going to school where history’s lessons are not ur story // daydreaming of Marcus Garvey & Booker T. Washington // wanting to gather ur bootstraps & march all the way to the Mother Land // so you march in ur thoughts // & ur daydream is ur movement.

& I see ur Afro wearing // dashiki flaunting // beautiful black self // changing ur name // still knowing the pride in mother’s offer // but wanting black to resonate off the tongues of those who call ur name // & maybe the world will holy ghost when it hears how beautiful black sounds // intone ur name in hopes that you will save it from the lynchings imposed by hoover // lynch // & crow // spiriting a revolution that black folks won’t be afraid of.

& I see you // mothering daughters // braiding beautiful brazen black hair // sewing dresses // mending wounds // singing “to be young gifted & black” // playing “Mississippi Goddam” // teaching beautiful black babies how to be humane under inhumane conditions // knowing that freedom’s void in integrated schools where black teachers are rarely visible to show black students how to be freedom fighters writing in the name of heroes unsung but not forgotten.

& I see you becoming Big Mom // standing on a mountain top // overseeing w/out being an overseer // gray locs falling down the strength of ur back // they lending wisdom // feeding thousands // holding the burdens of ur people in each strand // their salvation // ur strength // humming liberations // wading thru waters // baptizing the lost // curing the ill // pouring libations // thanking the spirits of those before us—

& when I lay me down to sleep // praying that the moon does not turn blood red & the stars don’t fall to the ground making earth void of light // I think of you reading In Search of Our Mother’s Garden // drinking ur red wine // cooking ur tofu // listening to Coltrane // being in ur sentimental mood // thinking ur black thoughts // being ur beautiful black self // it is then I’m lulled to sleep // wanting to wake up to be just like you.

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A version of this poem was awarded the College Language Association’s 2011 Margaret Walker Memorial Prize for Creative Writing.


A Sonnet for Black Mothers & Their Girls Who Understood “Is-ness” before It Was a Theory, w/Kind Regards to Thich Nhat Hanh

I remember sitting at Momma’s feet—

my shoulders held captives between her knees,

two pillows supporting my back & seat,

while I cupped a jar of Blue Magic grease

that seemed to put magic in Momma’s hands.

She tackled my head like her weekend chores:

scratching out dandruff like scrubbing stained pans,

& greasing dry scalp like mopping stained floors,

& parting my hair like sorting my clothes.

Her hands in my head was meditation,

& each strand Momma combed nurtured our soul,

thus inviting us into creation—

a sacred space—where we could free our mind

being in is-ness, suspended in time.


remembering daddy, remembering me: a 5-paragraph writing assignment for intermediate composition

Daddy told me I was a revolutionary w/no cause. I don’t know what I was doing at that very moment he made that comment. Maybe I was reciting a poem I wrote about crackers makin it on black folks’ bended backs. Or maybe I was organizing a showcase for Black History Month. I probably was just sittin at the dining room table wearing a dashiki–most likely his blue & black dashiki whose neck & chest plate were embroidered w/gold thread mimicking the intricate beaded necklaces that members of the Maasai Tribe wear. Whatever I was doing, my behaviors seemed, to him, unwarrantedly rebellious.

I grew up feeling like I was born into the wrong era, so maybe my behaviors reflected that feeling: I wrote poetry about civil rights movements I only read about. In them, I called white people “cracker,” spelled America w/a “k,” & discussed civil injustices I had never experienced. I was an active member of the NAACP’s Youth Council, where I met Kweisi Mfume, Myrlie Evers, & Rosa Parks; president of the Afro-American Heritage Club in both middle & high school, where I took tours of Martin Luther King Jr.’s home & competed in African American Brain Bowls; & I wore wooden necklaces & leather African medallions I bought from the Muslim man who stood on the corner of 27th Avenue & 183rd Street selling them, along w/bean pies & The Final Call. I was a revolutionary.

I was “as-salaam-alaikum“-ing folks after watching Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. I wrote letters to Ruchell Cinque MaGee, my prison pen pal, whose address I discovered after reading Herb Boyd’s Black Panthers for Beginners. & after those white cops were acquitted of beating Rodney King, I, too, asked, “Can we all just get along?” & remembered his question when O.J. Simpson was acquitted, secretly believing Simpson’s liberation was reparations for Rodney King, Martin Luther King, & all the other kings made to be our martyrs. Daddy clearly saw the revolutionary in me; yet, he claimed my movements had no purpose.

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I grew up in the 80s & 90s when The 2LiveCrew was being banned in the USA, Maya Angelou was reciting “On the Pulse of Morning,” & Hillman College depicted the HBCU experience all my Black friends & I wanted to encounter. The “Star Spangled Banner” signaled television’s cut-off, mainstream radio was void of profane language, & reality television was limited to MTV’s Road Rules. The era, as I experienced it, was quite innocuous. & although the Gulf War was happening, besides watching the Spaceship Challenger explode during take off, witnessing Baby Jessica’s rescue, & being amongst Hurricane Andrew’s destruction, my lived experiences were just as–if not more–innocuous than the late 20th century. Daddy was right. I was a revolutionary w/no cause.

I spent all of my middle & high school years embodying a Black persona that was foreign to me, wishing to have a Black experience–a narrative–that was interesting enuf to hang on museum walls, to publish in Norton anthologies, & to revise into rap lyrics. I was no different than Alice Walker’s Dee (or Wangero)–believing that consuming everything Black outside of me & my own experiences made me Blacker, like Malcolm X, pro-nationalist Black. & while I learned so much about my ancestors, I wasn’t as intentional about knowing myself, not just in relationship to my Black history, but to the stories & to the people that were unfolding in the era & area in which I was actively living. I was so busy being Black that I neglected being me. I reckon that‘s what Daddy meant when he claimed me a useless revolutionary: to be the change I want to see in the world, I must first have a clear vision of myself.  I am still looking.

 

 

 


#TBT “no es facil”: tryin to capture President Barack Obama

I spent two years trying to paint President Barack Obama. My first attempt was a lightweight disaster:

However, my Instagram responders were supportive:

instagram-comments

So, I tried again:

But I stopped. I was afraid to continue painting–afraid that if I kept going, I would lose him. ‘Cause this looks like Barack Obama, right? I left that painting unfinished, & I placed it–as well as the one I painted of “our next Black president”– against a wall behind my couch. They are still there.

Nonetheless, after about a year or so–when President Barack Obama began restorations w/Cuba–I was moved to paint Barack again. Obama’s humanitarian spirit moved me, & although I have witnessed it long before his Cuba relationship, I was–I am inspirited by his decision to rebuild relationship w/a country that America has so long denied. Obama appeared to me as a Black Panther who understood the problem w/capitalism & the possibilities in communism. At that moment, he remembered that Cuba provided Assata Shakur & Huey Newton refuge. It was as though he, too, saw Alice Walker in arms w/Fidel Castro. Of course I, who have long loved Alice, Assata, & Huey, fell in love (again) w/Barack Obama.

In his 2014 “Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes,” Obama says:

Cubans have a saying about daily life:  “No es facil” –- it’s not easy.  Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

With “No es facil” in mind, I painted Barack Obama’s head in front of the Cuban flag. I imagine if Cuba ever reprinted its currency, it might look a little like this (or at least it should):

barack-obama-no-es-facil

Long live Obama!


“Up, you mighty race!”: from the African American Museum Inauguration to the Black Panther’s 50th Anniversary

Martin Luther King held fast to dreams, while Huey P. Newton gave all power to the people, & Jesse Jackson insisted we keep hope alive. Thru each of them, & many others, Barack Obama assured us we can—

Be young, gifted, & black.

Be unbought & unbossed.

Be revolutionary.

Be-long.

In light of the #icantbreathe #amInext #blacklivesmatter movement, the inauguration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, along w/the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, affirm the genius & spirituality of black people who were taken from Africa & dehumanized in a New World, yet insisted on being. Words can’t express how magical black people are. It’s like trying to describe God. Words become meaningless in such an endeavor, & therefore, as Amiri Baraka argues in “The Myth of a Negro Literature,” only jazz & blues make Truth. (& to the gospel singer, a moaning hum.)

I attended the inauguration of the national African American museum & am both relieved & honored that Black history & culture is archived & freely available to anyone so interested in engaging black genius. Albeit, I struggle w/the notion that we be a spectacle, I understand that the NMAAHC is important to civil rights leaders & black folk who insist on not just being human, but on being American. According to John Lewis, the museum was a long time coming. It symbolizes our place in the American story, said Lonnie Bunch, NMAAHC director, who, by the way, referred to the museum as “home.”

Expanding four floors, the NMAAHC—whose architectural structure reflects Yoruban art, honors enslaved iron workers, & remembers the American South—carries visitors thru slavery & reconstruction, segregation & the civil rights movement, black culture & liberal arts, thus revealing to a nation that denies Black excellence the beautiful flamboyance & buoyancy of Black people. We are an esoteric folk—a people that can only be understood by our permission, said Nikki Giovanni in her 1972 “Ego Tripping” poem. & so it is.

I had time to visit only the museum’s top floor, which is a mecca for the Black artist, thinker, musician, comedian, actor, & (fill-in-the-blank). Yo! We in there! You name it, & the NMAAHC got it: Jet & Ebony magazines, Cosby Show re-runs, Moms Mabley recordings, The Funkadelics’ Mothership, a boombox & Ladies First album, pots & pans, hot irons, & dashikis, Aaron Douglas & Augusta Savage originals, Nikky Finney & Morrison speeches, Negro sermons, Alice Walker quotes, afro picks & civil rights buttons. Although I couldn’t see it all, I’m pretty sure the NMAAHC carries everything, thought, & practice specific to Black people—including hot sausages & pig’s feet in jars of red vinegar. We in there, & I am relieved & honored about it because our ancestors, grandparents, teachers, & heroes, are made more visible & permanent, & our African American ethos—as is expressed in our theories & practices—is acknowledged for its creative spirituality, which is how we reclaim/ed our humanity.

It’s all good.

However, Sonia Sanchez, Black Arts Movement poet, reminded inauguration attendees that a museum cannot make our history; we make history (& herstory), she said. When she took the podium on a platform called “The Fannie Lou Hamer Stage,” Sanchez professed, “Today is a baaaad day. It’s a bad day, a good day,” she said, “but it’s a baaaad day.” She proceeded to explain that a museum of Black history & culture is not a measurement of our freedom, for our freedom still relies on the act of grassroots organization. Her sentiments echo those of former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown, who, about two weeks after the NMAAHC inauguration, also insisted that we continue to organize ourselves toward freedom.

During the “Reflections on the Black Panther Party at 50: Elaine Brown with Beverly Guy-Sheftall” lecture that inaugurated the James Weldon Johnson Institute’s Public Dialogues in Race and Difference Series, the bodacious Elaine Brown vocalized her experiences as Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party Movement. With radically detailed stories about unlawful policing, COINTELPRO shenanigans, and Jim Crow laws, Brown explained how she & her Oakland, California comrades took ownership of the Black community by offering its members free breakfast, free clinics, & free legal aid. In the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, said Brown, the Black Panther Party—whose ten-point program began with “We Want Freedom” & ended with “We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice, & Peace”—aimed to liberate Black people from capitalism. According to Brown, the BPP were intellectually organized socialists whose quest for freedom ignited their movement. She, like Sonia Sanchez, insisted that we organize, & echoing Gil Scott Heron’s often quoted phrase, maintained, “The revolution won’t be televised.”

Translation: Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram &Tumblr posts (as well as museums) are not social movements that will fuel revolution.

*             *             *

During a class discussion last week about the probability of peace & freedom in an America that justifies war & boasts about its military strength, a white student referenced recent race matters to argue the impossibility of peace: “The Black Lives Matter Movement isn’t going to change anything,” she said. She went on to explain that Black people think BLM is making a difference, but police officers continue to murder Black people. In an effort to facilitate an objective classroom discussion, I kept my comments to myself; however, I wholeheartedly agree w/her (& Sanchez & Brown). Although that student’s comment was not a critique of the social media platform on which the Black Lives Matter Movement receives momentum, her attention to BLM absolutely responds to the failed tendency of activists to seemingly use social media as revolutionary movements.

Surely, social media (like newspapers, television, & radio) serves as a communications technology that disseminate propaganda to the masses. However, revolution requires real time action that transcends static museums & hashtags. We need to organize, said Elaine Brown & Sonia Sanchez.

In other words:

  1. We need invested leadership. Surely, each of us can independently stand in righteousness. However, collectively we need a leader who is solely committed to our freedom. How can we focus on, understand, believe & participate in a movement when so many of our “leaders” are more invested in guest appearing in reality/sitcom TV & Tyler Perry films than teaching, strategizing, and organizing?
  2. We need to boycott. In 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the most successful boycott in the nation when he encouraged Black Montgomery to avoid riding segregated busses. In 2015, Greek sororities boycotted VH-1’s Sorority Sisters, causing brands to pull their advertisements, thus resulting in the show’s cancellation. Why aren’t we collectively boycotting white America?
  3. We need to know our enemy. Elaine Brown said that the BPP read literature, understood the art of war, & was familiar w/systems of oppression—all of which allowed them to make informed decisions about the movement. How are we going to fight a system that we know very little about?
  4. We need to vote. From Fannie Lou Hamer to Medgar Evers, Shirley Chisolm, & Barack Obama, Black politicians have stressed the importance of voting in all elections, particularly at the local & State levels. What good is a Black president if elected state & local officials are white sheets?
  5. We need to practice self-love. Be it a result of integration or mass media, too many of us promote & mimic whiteness, support white businesses, & choose white thought over Black experience. We have lost sight of our True selves, & therefore, have become subdued in our fight for freedom. The struggle really does continue. How can we lead successful movements when we are ashamed of our Blackness?
  6. We need to make mainstream music that raises self-consciousness & self-love. Overusing vulgar language (w/no substance) is tired. According to Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes, Black music is the only form of art authentic to Black people; it is the only art form, says Baraka, that White folks have not whitewashed—until now. What feels good about encouraged drug use & materialism? Why would Black people ever consume a song that compares a woman’s sexualized body parts to Emmett Till’s disfigured face? Why do we continue to support mainstream music that doesn’t inspirit & uplift Black people?
  7. We need to support Black. Integration seemed like a good idea, but because of it, we have abandoned black businesses, black colleges & universities, & (fill-in-the-blank). In turn, black businesses & black schools often abandon those who do support them. When are we going to do away w/this white is right, crab-in-a-barrel mentality?
  8. We need to read more fluently & actively. Nothing is new under the sun. Our activists have given us their stories & insights; we need to seriously engage them as well as other texts that enlighten us to ourselves. We can learn much thru Carter G. Woodson’s The Miseducation of the Negro; The Autobiography of Assata Shakur; The Autobiography of Malcolm X, w/Alex Haley; Washington’s, The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King; Cornel West’s Race Matters; Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens; DuBois’s Souls of Black Folks; Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery; Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider; & so on & so on. Are we really going to be a group of ignorant people, especially in a 21st century that makes information more readily available?
  9. We need to bridge the gap between generations. During the Atlanta protests this past summer, 84 year-old former civil rights activist Rev. Andrew Young called Black Lives Matter protestors “unlovable little brats.” The disconnection between generations is wide. King was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 36 when he led the Selma to Montgomery Marches, & 37 when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not only did King have a counsel of his elders guiding & encouraging him, but King turned to his elders for guidance. How can we ensure that the patience & wisdom of our experienced elders are seamlessly integrated w/the ready enthusiasm of our young leaders?
  10. We need to be present. Activism depends on an awareness of self & one’s relationship to others. It relies on a healthy mind, body, & soul. It requires a moment-to-moment existence that makes possible King’s agape love and the Panthers’ revolutionary love—both of which ensure beloved communities grounded in Truth & justice. How can we organize movements when we are not grounded in present awareness—an active state of being that allows us to acknowledge the first nine directives?

*             *             *

When I was a child, my father accused me of being a revolutionary with no cause. I was a Black nationalist before knowing what a Black nationalist is. From pen-palling incarcerated Black Panthers to writing poems about Black power, to stealing his dashiki to wear in high school & tattooing a gun w/the phrase: “Power to the People” underneath my underarm, I have always loved being Black. & so it goes w/out saying: I love & am proud of the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Witnessing my Black experiences archived in it—as well as within social media hashtags—feels righteous. However, we must be careful not to stagnate our movements in such static compositions. We must organize so that we don’t become causeless revolutionaries.

June Jordan wrote, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” & so it is. Let’s get it, & “accomplish what we will.”


#TBT Poem 2: we be theorizin

I wrote “We Be Theorizin” after reading Barbara Christian’s 1987 “The Race for Theory” essay. I was sitting in Shirley Toland-Dix’s 20th century African American Literature course at The University of South Florida (circa 2009) when I read this work and finally received language for a Black genius I knew, but had yet to understand. “We Be Theorizin”  was first printed in Deboarh G. Plant’s “The Inside Light”: New Criticisms of Zora Neale Hurston (2010, Praeger Press).

We Be Theorizin

They thought we was over there

shuckin & jivin

when all the while we been theorizin

How else you think black folks survivin

They try to keep us down

but we keeps on thrivin

Can’t no oppression keep us from strivin

They try to break our souls

but we keeps on smilin

& through grins & lies

we master guisin

Gotta be a trickster for humanizin

But we’ll wear the mask

cause we be theorizin

 

So right on Zora Neale

Write on

Right on W. DuBois

Write on

Right on Booker T.

Write on

Cause we been watchin God

while they been in the dark

The souls of black folks

produce the purest heart

& our plantin seeds

is just a start

See / we sowin wisdom

with literary arts

& through performances

that’s how we impart

the theory they claim, rename, and bogart

So right on Langston Hughes

Write on

Right on Richard Wright

Write on

Right on James Baldwin

Write on

Cause the Negro speaks of rivers

& the weary blues

He’s the native son, the outsider

if she choose

& if Beale Street could talk

it would share some news

cause we’ve gone a piece of the way

in our travelin shoes

& tho our cuttin the rug might seem our muse

we be theorizin & maskin the clues

So right on Nella Larsen

Write on

Right on Countee Cullen

Write on

Right on Claude McKay

Write on

Cause just as quick as sand

we can change our tune

We speak in vernaculars

they call us a coon

But once they’re out of our way

& have left the room

out comes Harlem wine

& intellectuals bloom

& when the Harlem dancer makes her body croon

that’s our theory that esoterically looms

 

So talk that talk money

& walk that walk

Black feeling & judgment compels them to gawk

It’s our colorful brilliance

that makes them balk at the notion that we be a theory

 

Cause we be theorizin

in our baptizin

In churches & clubs

we signifyin

Gospel jazz / blues got us cryin

Oral traditions keep us from dyin

We flyin on tryin

We hypnotizin

& dance floors are our silver linin’s

Creatin the arts keep us glidin

So we paintin faith & buildin horizons

Keepin hope alive & eyes on prizes

& writin poetry makes us the wisest

We are the ones that we’ve been waitin for

 

We soar . . .

Like . . . birds . . . in . . . the sky . . .

 

So high five

Gwendolyn Brooks & James Weldon Johnson

Nina Simone & Alice Walker

Give me some skin

Malcolm X & Leopold Senghor

Toni Morrison & Martin Luther King

Tell me something good

Jamaica Kincaid & Audre Lorde

Houston Baker & Frantz Fanon

Throw me a shimmy

bell hooks & Lauryn Hill

Angela Davis & Assata Shakur

Pass me the mic

Marcus Garvey & Henry Louis Gates

Aime Cesaire & Cornel West

Bet that up

Mos Def & Wole Soyinka

Huey Newton & Amiri Baraka

All givin life to Barack Obama!

 

See our theorizin

be our salvation

thru the Middle Passage & their plantations

Thru Jim Crow laws & humiliation

cointelpro & subjugation

Our theorizin so bright it’s blazin

We are the light that gives them life

blacker than the blackest night

we’re the blues on the left tryin to be the funk on the right

magical & dynOmite—

we are the world’s good time. . . .

 

Cause we be theorizin

which is our uprisin

No reparations / but we’re enterprisin

Creatin life to keep us from dyin

Singin, dancin, paintin, & writin

We are the titans

& our hue gives the world humanity.


FAMU just tried it w/its Blue Lives Matter talk

Florida A&M University (who, by the way, Wendy Williams, graduated Wimbledon’s first Black woman’s single crown winner, Althea Gibson; acclaimeFullSizeRender(1)d cancer surgeon Dr. LaSalle Leffall; congresswoman Carrie Meek; singer/actress Anika Noni Rose; & screenwriter/director Dee Rees to name a few) is holding a university-wide conversation this afternoon that its organizers have titled: “Healing Voices: Black and Blue Lives Matter | A Conversation.”

What. thee. hell?

With the exception of a few poems I’ve written & paintings I’ve created, I have not publicly engaged conversations re: America’s current climate. While I have discussed, with a few friends, my concerns re: modern movements & offered my theories for proactivity–most of which are grounded in a Sankofa spirit–I have chosen to distance myself from what feels like disoriented ranting about racism, police brutality, & the human condition. However, as trivial as this may be, I could not keep quiet about FAMU’s contribution to minimizing the “Black Lives Matter” movement, its mantra, & its affirmation re: black people, black bodies, & black genius.

Why do “blue lives” have to be an integral part of this current discussion? Why do we–any of us, black, white, Latina/o folk–have to over explain the significance of affirming “black lives matter”? Why can’t “black lives matter” be an unapologetic proclamation that doesn’t require “all lives” “blue lives” or “white lives” in order to exist in the love & truth that grounds its definition? While I am the biggest advocate of King’s beloved community, enuf is enuf already! Got damnit! Love begins with the self. We need to unapologetically exist in the “‘Say it out loud! I’m black & I’m proud!’ ‘Black power!’ ‘Black is beautiful!’ ‘To be young, gifted, & black.’ ‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.’ ‘The blacker the college, the sweeter the knowledge'” language that affirms our being, for no such affirmation denies the other her or his humanity–& it definitely does not affect the humanity of black people.

Black people are the most huemane creatures to walk this earth. Our black grandmothers nursed white babies. Our black teachers built HBCUs that never denied any person a right to education. Our black civil rights activists–including Malcolm X–advocated justice for all human beings. Our black poets, painters, & philosophers imagined humanity in inhumane situations. & our researchers, inventors, scientists, & doctors promoted safety & well being for all people by way of gas masks, blood banks, traffic signals, & open heart surgeries. Aaaaaand, moreover, from Mamie Till to Cameron Sterling, the mothers, fathers, & children of our murdered brothers & sisters maintain (& publicly promote) peace & non-violence despite the violent nature of their losses. Hell, African-American people civilize the world. No one has to tell us that “all lives” matter.

So, stop it, FAMU! You are one of the top HBCUs in the nation whose mission claims to serve the “underrepresented and underprivileged.” Shame on you, first, for not having a university-wide conversation re: our current climate long before five Dallas policemen were murdered. While their deaths are an unfortunate result of one man’s understandable rage, their deaths should not have been the slingshot that hurled your call-to-action. & secondly, shame on you for terming a university-wide conversation that decenters black people & the “black lives matter” movement, “healing.” (& it doesn’t help that your flier includes an illustration of a white police officer.) “Excellence with caring” begins at home, with the self. So stop it. Get off of that media inspirited bandwagon that maintains black servility & second-class citizenship.

I ain’t going.