Furious Flower + Nikki Giovanni: from the Black Arts Movement to Planet Mars

In the beginning was the Word. But I promise you, I have no words to express my week long adventure at Furious Flower’s The Living Truth: The Life and Work of Nikki Giovanni,FuriousFlowerNikkiGiovanni-FinalFlyer-Page a professional development seminar for college professors & high school teachers. Words just won’t do; they are inadequate. But I will try my best.

For six days, I–along w/circa 50 other professors, teachers, & student-teachers–sat in the company of Nikki Giovanni, Black poet, professor, & human rights activist, while reading, discussing, & studying her poetry dating back to her first self-published work, Black Feeling, Black Talk, up to her most recent, A Good Cry: What We Learn from Tears and Laughter. Listen. According to the Word, it took God six days to create the heavens & the earth, the seas & everything in them, & after each day, God looked around at all s/he did & said, “It is good.” (Throws head back & shouts.)

My time at James Madison University‘s Furious Flower Center was nothing short of a new creation. Real life, as I immersed myself in Nikki’s (cause that’s what she insisted we call her) work, her life, & her “living truth,” I was gestating in her Black feeling, Black

The Cosmic Collective + Nikki Giovanni
Furious Flower’s Cosmic Collective poses w/Dr. Joanne Gabbin, founder, and Nikki Giovanni.

talk, & Black judge/ment–which, undoubtedly, is synonymous w/her attention to Black love, Black politics, & Black spirituality. By the seventh day of the seminar, which was the day my colleagues & I were scheduled to depart (but not before making final pedagogical presentations), altho I did not “rest,” I was absolutely born again–w/a deeper understanding of & appreciation for Nikki Giovanni, the whole human being, & in turn, of & for my whole self. It was like my favorite line from Nikki’s 1972 “Ego Tripping (there must be a reason why)”:

“I turned myself into myself and was Jesus.”

I have been reading Nikki’s work since I was a little girl & have prided myself in how many of her lectures I’ve attended, how many of her texts I own (& are signNikki + I drinking wineed), & how often I’ve taught her work in my composition classrooms. Light weight, I kinda felt like I could be a Nikki scholar w/all that I knew re: Nikki Giovanni. (Altho last week, Nikki said she was my big sister. Smiling.) Nonetheless, after being in her company–in her vulnerable, transparent, & authentic space–I have learned as Socrates claimed so long ago, “all I know is I know nothing at all”–about Nikki, the Black Arts Movement, & womanist practice. Selflessly, Nikki made herself available to me & my  colleagues for the whole six days we were scheduled to read, study, & apply her work to our classrooms. She interjected where there were gaps in scholar presentations; she signed books, worksheets, & posters–daily; & like Jesus, she broke bread w/us, saying to me the day vegetarian beans were being served, “Beans are supposed to be cooked w/ham hocks.”

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There’s so much more I can say here, I don’t know what else to say. The week was a quilt of happenings. Shiiiiiiit. I don’t know if I can comprehend it, except by Giovanni’s permission. hA! Truthfully, I participated in such a sacred, amazing grace, I’m pretty sure only a hum or moan will suffice in further explicating my experience. Not to mention, much of what I experienced w/ Nikki Giovanni, the Furious Flower Center, & my 50 or so colleagues is so intimate, sharing it all here would feel like blaspheme. But, I will share these five edibles:

  1. Nikki Giovanni is the Spike Lee of film, the Dali of art, & the Aretha of rhythm & blues. She has been, undoubtedly, ahead of her time & out of this world. Getting her start in the male dominated Black Arts Movement, Giovanni–like Spike, Dali, & Aretha–neither conformed nor got stuck in a movement grounded in particular theories, practices, & expectations. Nope. Nikki kept her movement moving, doing the unprecedented w/her poetry, thus “threatening” male BAM participants. Like Zora Neale Hurston, who was blacksheeped for drumming to her own beat,Niiki BAM pic minimized for acknowledging a holistically Black, human experience, & rejected for decentering the white man from her attention, Nikki, too, was “out of line” for all those reasons, aaaaaaaaaaaand for: reciting her poetry behind a gospel choir, for self-publishing & peddling her photocopied chapbooks, for appearing on television broadcasts, newspapers & magazine covers, for throwing book release parties, for saying yes!, for– & the beat goes on. Simply, Nikki had the audacity to be her self, & from her whole self, she moved consciously thru the Black Arts Movement into a 21st century where bicycles are metaphors for love; chasing utopia informs generations; & a good cry maintains one’s humanity.
  2. Altho most little black girls recite Nikki’s “Ego Tripping” by memory, altho Giovanni is one of the most read poets–having been awarded seven NAACP Image Awards; a Grammy nomination; a National Book Award finalist; & is thrice a New York Times & Los Angeles Times best seller; & altho Giovanni is Virginia Tech‘s University Distinguished Professor, very little scholarly work has been produced of Nikki Giovanni’s work, which spans over 50 years. According to her partner (& biographer), Virginia Fowler, quiet as it’s kept, academics don’t love Nikki. #shade
  3. Throughout the week, Nikki stressed:
    1. “Black love is black wealth,” making a point that black lives matter, there is a place for Black History Month, & despite what white folk believed to be a poor, sad Black life, Nikki has always been quite happy.
    2. “Everyone needs a person,” claiming–in a non-gender conforming manner– everyone needs a person w/whom one can eat fried chicken, or who will, like her partner Ginny, check ur breast for cancer. Everyone, said Nikki, who argued Whitney Houston’s demise occurred after Robyn was forced out of her life, needs a person w/whom to intimately share everyday.
    3. “Love the people who love you, & forget the rest,” insisting, between expletives & laughter, we should give no shits re: the folk who don’t love us. As a matter of fact, according to one scholar, it was a young Nikki whose criticism of (& directly to) James Baldwin re: his literary attention to white folk & their capitalism inspirited his 1974 If Beale Street Could Talk, a story grounded in Black love that insists on being.
    4. “Look at yourself in the mirror everyday & smile, cause it may be the only smile you see that day.” In her celebrated & often anthologized poem, “Nikki-Rosa,” Giovanni writes: “and I really hope no white person has cause / to write about me / because they never understand / Black love is Black wealth and they’ll / probably talk about my hard childhood / and never uNikki smilingnderstand that / all the while I was quite happy.” Nikki’s smiling face–just look at her book covers and YouTube videos–is undoubtedly an indication of her happiness–a happiness that was grounded in her childhood experiences & is nurtured as she grows into her 76 year old self, surrounded by sister-friends, poetry, & nature. Nikki’s happy, & she told us so regularly. & she didn’t keep her practice to herself, either. Throughout the week, Nikki encouraged us to smile at ourselves daily, for it is an invitation towards happiness. “Wake up in the morning & smile at yourself,” she said, “& before going to bed, smile again.”
  4. Nikki Giovanni, who has “thug life” tattooed on her arm in homage to the slain Tu Pac Shakur (who Trump might’ve murdered, too, since, said Giovanni in her lecture, murdered Michael Jackson) is the ultimate hustler. Before securing her first job at Virginia Tech in 1987, Giovanni compiled her first poetry collection in less than a year, Black Feeling, Black Talk; self-published it at $100 for 100 copies, which she sold for $1 a piece; then, because she knew “one book does not a writer make,”
    Nikki + Liseli
    Liseli Fitzpatrick of Furious Flower’s Cosmic Collective poses w/a “thug life” tattooed Nikki Giovanni.

    Nikki compiled her second book, Black Judge/ment (despite her inability to spell, she twice explained, the slash is intentional), & launched it at a book release party in NYC’s Birdland. According to Giovanni & her scholars, Black folks wrapped the corner waiting in line to get into Birdland, & when asked what they were standing in line for, they exclaimed: “Black Judge/ment is coming!” The heat brought newspapers, making Giovanni damn near an overnight sensation. & she continued to hustle, & at 76–which she says is a good idea, cause “being young ain’t shit”–Nikki Giovanni continues to hustle, sharing her entire self w/a world who loves her.

  5.  & finally, Nikki Giovanni wants to go to Mars. Real life. She wants to go to Mars, & she said–half in jest–when the time comes for her to embark into space travel, because she’s missing some organs as a result of living w/cancer, & therefore, will not be physically able to re-enter space, once she’s done exploring outer space, her astronaut team can open the hatch & let her body float into the galaxy. Laughing, Nikki said, “Then young people can look up in the sky, & say, ‘Oh. There goes Nikki.'”

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Nikki signs my bookThe first time I attended a Giovanni lecture, I don’t think I was even 21 yet. I was a student at Florida A&M University, & our neighboring school, Florida State University, invited her as part of its lecture series. While her profane language piqued my interest & assured me I could be profane, uncensored, & scholarly–all at the same time–what was most dynamic to my young, Black self was Nikki Giovanni’s interpretation of Black people’s genius & their resolute humanity. (I actually fell in love w/her that day.) Who, she rhetorically asked, are the best equipped to travel to Mars & return to earth w/their humanity in tack but a people who were stolen from their country, stripped of their culture, forced into enslavement, yet insisted on remaining humane? Who is better inspirited for such a life altering endeavor but Black people who survived the Middle Passage? Holy shit. Y’all better go read “Quilting the Black Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars).”

& while ur at it, if ur crazy in love & can’t think str8, read “I Wrote A Good Omelet,” & if the sun can’t warm ur face cause Trump’s head is blocking its rays, read “A Poem for Saundra,” & if you can’t find peace in religious doctrine, read “A Poem for Flora,” & if you feel like you need to be creating a movement, cause Black lives do matter, read “Rosa Parks,” & keep reading. Keep reading Nikki Giovanni, cause just like the poetry she writes, she is a good idea.

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.


“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.


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.

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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?

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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.”

From Cairo to Compton: a self reflection

I traveled to Cairo, Egypt this summer.  But by no means am I a “deep” siSTAR belonging to an Afrikan consciousness group whose members have changed their names to something that reflects their Kemet energy.  As a matter of fact, besides the commercialized ankh—which I’ve tattooed thrice on my body; the pyramids—which I throw up to express my sorority affiliation; and Queen Nefertiti—whose 18k gold head I used to rock around my neck in the 90s, I know very little about Egypt.  I mean, of course I know (from elementary school lessons) that the Nile & Sahara represent the longest river & largest desert in the world, & I also know that hieroglyphics are a pictorial mode of communication.  However, other than that, my Black self—whose father used to tease about being a revolutionary with no cause—knows very little about Egypt. Very.  Little.  I went on this trip, a pilgrimage, really, simply because my sorority sister was going.  As a result, I could safely take a trip to Africa with a friend.  That’s it; nothing more, nothing less.

I—along with 16 others—traveled with Yirser Ra Hotep of Yoga Skills through Cairo, Luxor, & Aswan/Nubian Village, where we toured pyramids, tombs, & museums; traveled the Nile River by cruise ship, viewed the Valley of Kings by hot air balloon, caravanned to Abu Simbel through a sand storm, & took a horse & buggy ride in Aswan.  Together, we ate plenty of grilled chicken & fish, drank lots of bottled water, walked too many steps to calculate, laughed about everything, learned about more than we laughed at, & grew larger & wider as each day passed.

I grew larger & wider as each day passed, & now I don’t know how to “be” here anymore.  Actually, I can’t “be” here anymore.

How does one—a Black one, particularly—travel to Egypt, BE in spiritually, antiquitious spaces filled with monumental structures whose architecture is Ipad Pics 103so perfectly & magnificently built that they are beyond comprehension— go back to business as usual? How does one crawl through divine pyramids & tombs, touch the hieroglyphic carvings that are the world’s first sacred scriptures, see her own image reflected in the images of Egyptian Kings & Queens, go back to business as usual?  I am so full that I believe at any moment I will explode into star dust.  (‘Cause of course, I really am a siSTAR.)  I believe at any moment I will explode, because there’s this spirituality in me that wants to bust loose, & my exploring Egypt has roughly nudged that spirit.

You see, I believe one’s spirituality is expressed through one’s creative genius.  I mean, hands down, the ancient Egyptians expressed/manifested their divinity through their architecture, jewelry, ceremonies, & text—which is why all of it is so perfect & incomprehensible.  I imagine if they did not live through their spiritual selves—which, alas, is what most of us fail to do—civilization as we know it would not exist.  Right?  With that idea in mind, I don’t believe I am existing.  In other words, I am—I am here.  But I am not existing (read: creating) so that when I transcend this Earth, I, too, like my Egyptian ancestors, would have contributed to civilization.  I am not living my full potential, which really means I am not expressing the goddess in me.

As a result, I feel like at any moment I will explode into star dust, because I have given into the fear that oppresses my spiritual self.  Such oppression looks like restlessness, pessimism, depression, & loneliness. & it sounds like that “back to reality” phrase we tell ourselves after we’ve vacationed & gone “back to business as usual.”  Since I’ve been back from Egypt—where, by the way—I befriended a group of people who prove that “we are more alike than we are unalike,” I have wanted to turn myself into mySelf.  But I’ve been stuck.  In fear.  Afraid to lose—(fill this blank w/any meaningless possession).

*     *     *

I celebrated my 36th birthday about two weeks after my return from Egypt, & I felt restless, pessimistic, depressed, & lonely.  I wanted to do only what I’ve been doing since I re-entered “reality,” which was watch Netflix all. day. long.  However, my colleague-friend literally drug me out of my bed & required I do something for my birthday.  Whatever I wanted to do, she was going to make it happen.  I settled on seeing Straight Outta Compton.

Without turning this into a film review, I will say this: F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton may be, for the gangsta rap generation, what Allan Arkush’s 1998 The Temptations TV movie is for generation Motown.  It’s out of sight.  & what made it so is the Black genius that manifested itself through gangsta rap.  Sure,  gangsta rap culture is complete with profanity, misogyny, & hyper-masculinity; however, it undoubtedly is an example of what can be created when one liberates spirituality & falls into a consciousness that does not inflict harm upon his/her oppressor—even when that oppressor is the self—but creates an environment (art, dance, music) that contributes to civilization.

Now, I’m clear: Many may find my ideas re: gangsta rap absurd, especially as I claim that N.W.A. exercised a practice in spiritual freedom & reconciliation.  However, while their more popular hooks like “fuck tha police” inspirits rebellion, it’s a necessary act of insubordination that allows the oppressed to eliminate his/her rage.  Right?  “Fuck tha police” is “Power to the people.”  & so, these niggas with attitudes responded to the inhumane treatment imposed by law enforcement by totally expressing themSelves; they turned themselves into themSelves (capital S, higher Selves) & more or less embodied Ma’at, the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, law, & justice.

Am I reaching?  Shoulder shrug.  So what.

After having watched Straight Outta Compton—coupled with my re-memories re: my Egyptian tour—I am waddling, perhaps even suffering, in wanting.  Wanting faith like Dr. Dre, commitment like Ice Cube, & courage like Eazy-E.  I am left wanting wisdom like Nefertiti, fortitude like Nuit, & agility like each Egyptian who sculpted, carved, & built a civilization.  I want to be a member of  N.W.A.  But not necessarily a nigga with attitude, but a Nubian with audacity.  I’m pretty sure my life depends on it.

#NWA x<3

from “Women Sweet on Women” Atlanta to Riots in Baltimore, Maryland: Love Is All There Is

I’ve been struggling with how to begin this blog post. 

I want to gush about the magic I experienced last weekend at Atlanta’s ZAMI NOBLA & OLOC’s “Women Sweet on Women II.”  But, I also want to describe the war scene I’ve witnessed driving thru downtown Baltimore today. My mind is racing, & I am high & low.

HIGH: Just three days ago, I was surrounded by Black & White lesbian women 60 years old & up who were gathered together to honor the oldest living lesbian couple in Atlanta: 91 & 93 year old Christine & Althea.  What a blessing–& I’m not just talking about Christine & Althea–but I am referring to myself.  What a blessing to be situated in a room of seasoned lesbian women, who were celebrating their elders, & making room for me to revere them all. 

There I was, my 35 year-old-self, hugging on, listening to, & laughing with Black & White lesbian folk who thrived thru Jim Crow, who embody feminist & womanist theories, who led/are leading civil rights movements, who look like women on the loose, & who loosely use the term “dyke.” There I was, staring at their locked hair, eyeing their silver jewelry, & smiling at their smiles–daydreaming & imagining their histories, admiring their resilience.  

They are the kissing friends in Zora’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. They are Sula & Nell, Celie & Shug Avery.  They are Gloria Naylor’s women of Brewster Place. Correta & Rosa, Angela & Bessie. In each & every one of them, all there is is love–& I got to be inside of it!

LOW: Today I am in Baltimore, & I am witnessing–from the safety of my hotel room–rioting Black folks whose rage prohibit them from being the love that they are. I rode thru Baltimore today, & for the first time in my life, I saw policemen dressed in riot gear, holding billy clubs and plastic shields, standing side-by-side in a line meant to act as a wall. & I am wondering: Why can’t this generation embody the courage that engendered our ancestors’ nonviolent protests? Why aren’t more of us sweet on each other, sweet on ourselves? So sweet that we, like 36 year old Martin, could face billy clubbed policemen w/a love ethic so baffling that it creates a peace that surpasses all understanding? Why can’t we turn our rage into outrageous demonstrations that do not destroy our own neighborhoods, but cripples the American economy?  

I am watching Baltimore burn–including a newly constructed facility specifically for the elders–& I think: Shit! Our people were gassed, hosed, dog bitten, & clubbed during peaceful demonstrations, & they–in a most defiant manner–resisted violence, still! Their audacity, courage, & will to “turn the other cheek” absolutely humbles me. Our ancestors & current elders were/are so divine. So beautiful. So sweet. 

While I understand, as Fannie Lou Hamer best said it, folks are “sick an tired of being sick an tired,” & while I also understand that rioting & looting are expressions of tethered fury, I know that love is all there is.  The most effective civil rights movements were grounded in agape love & non-violent protests.

In other words, non-violent boycotts are an expression of love & protest. Strategic organizing–from churches, schools, & civil rights leaders–is an expression of love & protest.  Supporting black businesses is an expression of love & protest.  Planting gardens in black neighborhoods is an expression of love & protest. Honoring our elders is an expression of love & protest. & loving ourselves? That is it! That’s the ultimate act of rebellion, of protest, of overthrowing the system. 

Love is all there is.  BMore love.

Women Sweet on Women: Remembering Maryam’s Touch

Saturday evening, I attended a roundtable discussion in an auditorium complete with African-American lesbian women circa 35 years old & up. The event, so perfectly titled “A Conversation with Women Sweet on Women,” was moderated by poet Nikky Finney, supported by panelists Trey Anthony, Maisha Najuma Aza, Kyndra Frazier, & Doris Davenport, & orchestrated by Black woman lesbian activist Mary Anne Adams. During the talk, Finney recalled Alice Walker’s womanist essay, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” wherein Walker (who I absolutely adore) honors her mother’s creative spirit. According to Finney—as Walker explicates in her narrative—it was our mothers’ & our grandmothers’ creative spirit, which was expressed in how she nurtured herself & her family, that cherished our Selves. & so Finney, who was leading a discussion on the importance of touch, asked us to call out the name of the one woman whose touch—whose sweet touch—inspirited our personhood, our sweetness. Just call out their names, Finney said, & invite them into this space.

I thought of my mother, Choling Bryant-Walker & my grandmothers, Rose McKenney-Jones & Mary Bryant. However, I didn’t call out their names. Instead, I called the name of a non-relative whose sweet touch invited me into an unconditional love I had experienced only amongst kinfolk. Her sweetness was such a beautiful surprise, that I initially didn’t understand it. I was 17 years old, a senior in high school, when Maryam, a 42-year old woman I met in church, loved me vulnerable. While I knew that my family loved me, Maryam’s love was supported by touch. Her behavior expressed a tenderness I did not know—at least not as a young adult. As soon as I called out Maryam’s name, she became the center of my attention as I engaged in discourse with “Women Sweet on Women.” & in that space, I understood—as if betrothed in meditation practice—the divinity in touch.

*              *              *

When I was with Maryam, I felt like a child; it was such a delicious feeling.  Maryam held my hand, gave me long, enveloping hugs, & one weekend, while I was at her home for a movie night, she held me until I fell asleep. I felt so rare in Maryam’s space, so special—much like I imagine my 5-year old niece feels when I hold her, hug her, & kiss her all over her face. But I was 17, & Maryam was giving me permission to be a vulnerable, needy young adult. If I wanted to sit in her lap, she would have allowed me that pleasure—& would have probably gratified me further by singing softly in my ear. Maryam’s tenderness, while I knew it as I was experiencing it, I don’t think I understood until I invited her into “Conversation with Women Sweet on Women.”

I always believed Maryam encouraged my affinity towards women. However, I didn’t understand how necessary her touches were to my humanity. I didn’t understand how womanist & spiritual & stimulating her touches were, & how they—all by themselves—invited me back into an infantile space where there is only love. & that is the whole point of life, right? To express love.

*              *              *

As I compose this blog & think about Maryam, as well as Nikky Finney, Mary Anne Adams, et al., I am reminded of Diana Ross’s 1970 “Reach Out & Touch Somebody’s Hand.” “Reach out & touch somebody’s hand,” she sings. “Make this world a better place, if you can.” While Ross’s lyrics are quite apropos to these particular times—these best of times & worst of times—the phrase, “if you can” is disheartening. For, it is a reminder of the fear that we have welcomed into our personhood. It is an unnatural fear that maintains our distrust, distance, & disillusioned idea that we are separate from one another, & that sweet touches & tenderness should be reserved to babies & romantic partners or earmarked for those in distress.

The world needs more “Conversations with Women Sweet on Women.” & it sho nuff can use more Maryams.

“Black Jesus”: Bless McGruder’s Heart

I recently watched Aaron McGruder’s controversial sitcom, Black Jesus. Lawd have mercy. If folks found his Boondocks blasphemously outrageous, then Black Jesus will undoubtedly be–& I say this in the spirit of Black folks who repeat words to emphasize truth–for real for real blasphemously outrageous.

The 30-minute show, which airs on Adult Swim Thursdays at 11pm, is about a brother named Jesus who lives in Compton.  Like the biblical Jesus, Black Jesus is dressed in long robe, wears sandals, has long hair, & hangs with neighborhood sinners. He also performs various miracles.  Played by Gerald “Slink” Johnson, Jesus is loved by the Compton community whose members often seek his help–with purchasing weed, with roughing up white boy thugs, & with bar-b-quing at a residence that prohibits outside grilling.

Seemingly, there is no distinction between Black Jesus & the common Black folks he kicks it with.  He curses, he shucks & jives, & he smokes marijuana.  As a matter of fact, Black Jesus is spearheading a community garden project that aims to provide the community both fruits & vegetables aaaaaand weed. We gone be “smokin’ & drinkin’ & chillin,'” he says.

When I first viewed Black Jesus, whose first season aired August 7, I thought the show absurd.  Although I use McGruder’s Boondocks series to teach rhetorical appeals, have been called an atheist by a few of my students, & maintain that the n-word should never be censored in artistic endeavors, Black Jesus initially offended me. I didn’t get it. I didn’t know what McGruder’s intentions were. I didn’t understand his concept.  What message was McGruder trying to send with this profane Black Jesus?

I shared my confusions with w/my colleague-friend, who actually suggested I watch Black Jesus.  She wanted my thoughts on it, she said.  Well, after I watched McGruder’s premier show, I called her, & together we laughed about, questioned, & shared our impressions & assumptions about Black Jesus until– ta-da! As Socrates promised would occur when two or more people engaged critical discourse, knowledge happened.

Check it: Aaron McGruder might be too deep to be comprehended. This is how I see it–& keep in mind I’m forming my criticism based off of one show. Ultimately, McGruder’s Black Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of Black Christians. See, at first I didn’t understand why Jesus participated in the tom foolery that his friends conjured. Why was Jesus cursing? Scheming? Hanging w/”hood rats”? Why was he hittin the blunt harder than his homeboys?

My conclusions: If we (Christians) believe that we were made in God’s image, then every believer carries God in him or her via the spirit. Right? Our higher Selves are made up of Spirit–which, for Christians, include God the Son, the Father, & Holy Ghost–while our secular, sin filled selves are driven by ego. Heart & brain.  According to Christian doctrine, Jesus was sent to earth to save its inhabitants from sin. So, Jesus–who was a man–traveled with other sinful human beings, living as they did, looking like they did, talking like they did, while spreading the Word. Aaron McGrduer’s 21st century Black Jesus does this same thing.

While Black Jesus appears to be just as sinful as his neighborhood disciples, unlike them, he does encourage love, peace, & compassion. He questions his friends’ loyalty, implying that his friends call on him when they need something, but often neglect him when all seems well in their world.  Black Jesus is told–when his friends flee from cops busting them on drug possession–that they knew he’d work it out.  & in traditional Jesus character, Black Jesus forgives them, & he turns the other cheek.

With all of that said, it seems McGruder’s Black Jesus is a response to the 21st century African American  Christian who spends more time engaging in niggardly behaviors than he or she does in “holy” ones.  McGruder is, undoubtedly, exposing both the hypocrisy and absurdity that Black Christians display on a daily basis.  Of course Black Jesus participates in the obscene & ludicrous, for human beings who prescribe to Christian orthodox engage in the obscene & ludicrous, & we often call on Jesus to be the Savior that He was intended to be.

Although I can appreciate the message I believe Aaron McGruder is sending to his audience, I wonder if his approach is too preposterous to be taken seriously.  While Boondocks is quite satirical–& therefore, its message quite accessible, for it pokes fun at truths & stereotypes–I think Black Jesus is too esoteric to be understood in a way that promotes awareness, transformation, & even appreciation.  I am afraid that Black Jesus will further situate African Americans as minstrels–as sacrilegious fools who play too much.  I mean, who watches Adult Swim? According to a couple of unofficial stats, men 18-34 top the viewers list.  I am pretty sure, considering that the majority of Adult Swim writers are white, so are its male viewers.  & so, the beat goes on.

Sadly, just as African Americans have waited for a Black president, we all have anticipated a Black Jesus in film & TV.  While we have witnessed Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of God in the comedy, “Bruce Almighty”–& I stress the genre comedy–we have yet to see a significant film &/or television portrayal of God or Jesus as a Black man.  I think Aaron McGruder’s premier portrayal of a Black Jesus is threatening to African Americans’ spirituality, humanity, & integrity.  While I appreciate his desire to use art to reveal African Americans’ hypocrisy & self-degrading behaviors, I think McGruder’s comedic approach too ostentatious & abstruse to be enlightening.  Alas, while Aaron McGruder’s high ratings may catapult him as one of the most viewed & read African American cartoonist of our times, his Black Jesus may also expand the Others’ ideas that Black people, particularly of the hip-hop generation, are clowns.  & tho we must laugh to keep from crying, we are not (all) clowns.

But, I’ve seen only one episode.


describing Dubai for my folk at home, especially for Kiley

When I first told my mother I was going to Dubai for Spring Break, the first thing she asked me was, “Are you going toward upheaval?”  After (laughing &) answering her “no,” she then asked me if I were traveling with a group.  Again, I answered “no.”  I totally get my mother’s concern (& ignorance), for, like her, I’m not world traveled–& with the exception of a few creative non-fiction essays & side conversations with friends who receive the daily news–I don’t really know much about what is happening outside of the United States.  Hell, I don’t know much about what is going on inside the United States.  So, while I knew (only because the friend I was visiting there had already informed me) I wasn’t traveling into upheaval–I admittedly knew NOTHING about Dubai, had not heard of it until my friend relocated there, & was not really interested in visiting.  Like my mother, I am not so attracted to traveling the world–though I’d like to see the Pyramids as well as the Maasai Tribes.  I wouldn’t mind visiting Athens, Greece either, only because I am interested in Socrates, Plato & ’em.  Anyway, I knew I was going to the “desert,” but my friend assured me that  Dubai was just like the United States, but more expensive.  Worry not, I’d be able to pay with plastic & eat good food.  Ha.  So, without googling & wikipedia-ing the emirate/city, I boarded a 13-hour flight to Dubai, UAE.  & what I saw when I got there, is that with the exception of visible Arabic writing, traditional Islamic garb, & Fridays off for prayer, Dubai–the 22nd most expensive city in the world that was founded in 1799, first mentioned in 1095 AD, & gained independence 43 years ago–was “designed,” if you will, by Quentin Tarantino’s Django.

Django is one of my favorite film characters, because he is courageously stylish & over the top–in his clothing, his dialogue, & his rescue.  My students would say, “He was doing the most.”  Undoubtedly, Django was, right?  & he should have been “doing the most,” for he was enslaved & separated from his wife Broomhilda for so long, that once King Schultz “rescues” him, Django wastes no time in asserting his humanity–which begins when Django chooses his own clothing.  You see, I strongly believe for most black men–especially those of the hip-hop era–that fantastical clothing encourages a braggadocio that otherwise lies dormant in an America that historically stripped African Americans of their humanity.  & so, I imagine that Django–the Django that chose a  blue Fauntleroy suit as an exercise in his freedom to express his humanity–designed Dubai.  For, Dubai is an exaggeration of Miami, New York, & Las Vegas–sans the casinos, of course.

Like Miami, Dubai’s complete with Palm trees, beaches, tourism, malls, & foreigners.  However, one will not likely run into Cubans, Jamaicans, or Haitians there.  Instead, Dubai is populated with Indian, Emirates, Pakistanis, Filipinos & others on that side near the Middle East.  Also, while Miami has Lincoln Road, Dubai has The Walk at Jumeriah Beach.  But, Lincoln Road is more established than The Walk, which makes Lincoln Road a better shopping experience.  & Dubai’s mall districts are just as–actually, more– congested than Adventura and Pembroke Pines.  Its malls, complete with ski lifts and slopes, seaquariums, video arcades, movie theatres, restaurants upon restaurants, & luxury stores upon luxury stores, truly minimizes every major mall in Miami into strip malls–flea markets.  Real story.  & like any major city, traffic is a beast in Dubai.  As a passenger riding through its major highways, I felt like I was riding through Time Square, sans Broadway.

Big, bright, bold advertisements are EVERYwhere in Dubai. With the exception of those in Hong Kong, I have never seen advertisements so luminous, so big, so in yo face.  They are everywhere–& they are GIANT.  On American highways where I’m used to seeing road signs & speed limits, toll warnings & car pool directives, in Dubai, highways include all of that, along with advertisements–building size advertisements–of Donald Trump’s real estate, Adidas foot wear, & Nivea lotion.  I had never seen advertisements that stretch out like The Wall of China across busy highways.  (Clearly, capitalism in Dubai trumps conservatism.)  Like New York, Dubai is also the place for good eating & sightseeing; the tallest building in the world is there, along with Tribes, an African restaurant in the Mall of the Emirates that offered me the tastiest coconut rice & curried fish, the sexiest ambiance, & the most enthusiastic African drumming.  Yes! I absolutely enjoyed my eating experiences–especially, too, since every restaurant in Dubai offered soda water.  Thank you, Dubai.

& finally, like Las Vegas, Dubai is filled with entertainment, prostitution, & late nights.  Perhaps “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” also applies to Dubai?  While I did not partake in prostitution & late nights, I did enjoy Dubai’s water fountain show.  I lucked up & was able to experience a show that included Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Of course, it was a thrilling experience.  (Oh, Michael.) When my friend suggested I see Dubai’s water fountain show, I didn’t know what to expect.  I thought I’d see something like the “shows” shoppers catch at Adventura Mall, Miami.  The water gets so high in the fountain across from the Apple Store, when it comes crashing down, mist lightly showers those standing around the fountain.  My 5-year-old niece use to be afraid to get close to it.  However, Dubai’s water fountain show made Adventura’s fountain look like a sprout.  Ha.  Its water show, I imagine, is much like Vegas’ Fountains of Bellagio–tho I have never seen a Vegas water show.  Nevertheless, the three water shows I witnessed in Dubai were fabulous & absolutely amazing.  & of course, while Dubai isn’t lined with casinos, it is lined with beautiful, gaudy hotels–one of which is pyramid shaped like the Luxor Las Vegas.

*     *     *

I wasn’t in Dubai for long–only for about five days actually.  (My friend took me to Sri Lanka–that blog is forthcoming–during my Dubai visit.)  & so, I was able only to see Dubai, not truly be in it.  & that’s what visiting other places really is–seeing.  Until one actually absorbs herself into the culture as a native of sorts, all there is is seeing.  So, I saw Dubai, & as one of its advertisements boasted, it is–seemingly– “The World’s Capital.”

While in Dubai (Today’s World Women’s Day)

I was sitting in a coffee shop at The Walk on Jumeirah Beach Residence when I realized (thanks to Google) that today’s World Women’s Day.  As a tourist in Dubai, UAE, where women are second class citizens, I thought about what World Women’s Day means for Arabic women–the traditional ones, especially–who wear the abāyah & the niqāb.  I mostly thought about their bodies–how confided their breasts were, how tucked in their hair was, & how covered their skin was.  With the exception of an occasional nose ring, I saw no jewelry on them.  I don’t even remember their purses and shoes–although I know they had them.  & while I understand that these Muslim women’s long black robes and headdresses are “shields” that, according to the Quran, protect them from the world by covering intimate parts of the body, I was focused on this idea of freedom–of women’s rights to burn bras & wear pants–to get funky hairdos–& to do it all publicly.

I’m not quite sure–for I am still processing–why I imagine that these Muslim women aren’t “free.”  After all, Orthodox Jews, Amish, Tibetan Monks, et al. have customary clothing.  & even Arabic men wear long white robes (very much like Jesus).  But, I think because the abāyah & the niqāb (that I saw in Dubai) are black, & because the niqāb conceals the entire head except for the eyes, these Muslim women’s bodies appear less liberated, some how more confined than the bodies of others who prescribe–faithfully–to a particular religion.

Maybe if the abāyah & the niqāb were a canary yellow or a periwinkle blue or a moss green, these Muslim women’s body would dance, if you will, signifying a liberation movement akin to Alvin Ailey’s “From Before.”  Colorfully dressed, these traditionally dressed Muslim women would look like flowers, I think, sitting, standing, walking beside their white-dressed men.  Or, they’d look like Black women mothers belonging to a Missionary Baptist church.  & that would be ok too.  But, these desert women are clad in all black everything–which is both Lupe Fiasco & Black Panther hip–& therefore, is cool all by itself.  However, I’m pretty sure they are not carrying that particular spirit with them–or maybe they are?

Anyway, so I’m sitting in a coffee shop, sipping on an amaretto soy cafe latte, wearing a tank top & jean shorts that revealed my tattooed body, flossing three leather Pandora bracelets, three rings (plus a toe ring), & a red & black rosary.  I’m sporting a ‘fro hawk of sorts with a fat part up the side (which perhaps contributed to this Arab brother mistaking me for a boy when I entered the women’s bathroom at the airport last night), & I–a bit excessive in my dress–am thinking about World Women’s Day in Dubai.  What does it mean to be a woman in a space where I exit the airport & there are two waiting areas outside of Baggage Claim: One marked “Women” & another marked “Men”? What does it mean to be a woman in Dubai where pink taxi cabs are assigned to women drivers–who, in 2007–earned the freedom to drive women passengers & their families? And what does it mean to be a lesbian woman in a place where homosexual behavior is forbidden?

I’ve been thinking on this for two days now (as this post is becoming outdated), & John Lennon’s 1972 song, “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” continues to beckon me.  I don’t know if these Arabic women feel like “niggers” in the slave, slave master sense of the word, ’cause I think only slaves can understand that dichotomy.  & why would they feel like slaves or “niggers” anyway considering that they have chosen to follow Islamic doctrine, right? However, these Arabic women dressed in their traditional black robes cause me to stare–much like those who stare at (& marginalize) Black skin.  & of course, my wanting their black robes to be colored Easter kinda makes me a contributing voice to woman’s oppression.  Folks always trying to make a woman look, act, and sound soft, petite, & inviting.

Sigh.  I am absolutely lost in my thoughts.

On Meeting Edwidge Danticat

Me & Edwidge 2014Last night I heard Haitian novelist Edwidge Danticat read from her most recent novel, Claire of the Sea Light. I had not heard Danticat read before, but I became acquainted with her through her first novel Breath, Eyes, Memory—an Oprah Book Club selection—that I read some years ago. I am not sure what or who pointed me in Danticat’s direction, but I am guessing one of my colleagues from the predominantly Haitian high school I taught at while in Miami dropped her name.  That was around 2004.

Danticat read two excerpts from her latest work, but what attracted me the most to her last night was her response to an audience member’s question: “What writer inspired you the most?” According to Danticat, various writers continue to inspire her quite often.  However, she recalled reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and claimed that Angelou’s barebones was an audacious endeavor that Danticat desired to achieve in her own work.  She said that she hoped her readers would relate to Breath, Eyes, Memory in a similar fashion that many readers have related to Angelou’s 1979 Caged Bird.  Danticat continued to discuss how her first reading of Angelou’s work required a young French/Creole speaking Danticat to use an English dictionary to decipher the content.  The second time she read Caged Bird, while a high school student, she said, she was amused by Angelou’s courage to display herself publicly.  Angelou wrote the truth about her experiences and she is still here, just fine, said Danticat.

And yes, she is.

Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird is the first autobiographical novel that I recall reading, and it inspired me just like it spirited Danticat and other writers and other women.  My 7th grade English teacher gave me Angelou after I witnessed her delivering her Inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton. Angelou’s stature mesmerized me—so much so that my mother carried me to Pompano Beach, Fl to hear Angelou lecture.  I went on to read all of Angelou’s five autobiographies and to read and collect her poetic works as well as her children’s stories and cookbook.  I am. A Fan.  So of course, when Danticat mentioned Maya Angelou’s well known works as one of her own inspirations, I immediately felt a spiritual connection with Danticat.  Real story.  I believe that every student should read Angelou’s Caged Bird—which is why I give copies to my college students, most of whom have not read it yet.  Every student should read Caged Bird because Angelou’s audacity to publicly lay herself out is a freedom that frees others.

While talking about her work last night, Danticat revealed that many of her readers lambasted her Breath, Eyes, Memory because some of the scenes were contrived. However, I think (and I am trying to remember ten years back) that Breath, Eyes, Memory—albeit fiction—did accomplish that freedom of self that Angelou’s Caged Bird achieves.  But because Danticat is not as widely read or anthologized as Angelou, critical discourse about Danticat’s work is minimal.  So, while I am not a literary critic, per se, I think I might re-read both texts and attempt to make some critical comparisons and analysis.  Perhaps my efforts will lead to an article that brings Danticat closer to the center of literary discussions.  “Give yourself permission to write anything,” said Danticat.  I will, and I will take that leap with her.