Blog (or Philosophical Musings)

My Daddy, My Mammy: A Black Man Doing Black Feminism

Hands down: James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation,” his 1927 poetic retelling of the Biblical Genesis story, is one of the best renditions of the Creation story ever written (& performed by Black children in somebody’s Black History program). His entire piece is imaginatively breath-taking. However, what I find to be the most beautiful stanza in Johnson’s narrative poem is his second to last, in which he writes:

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

 I used to teach Johnson’s poem as part of a revision unit I was required to implement in the first year composition courses I taught at The University of South Florida, Tampa. Coupled w/the Biblical Creation story & Aaron Douglas’ 1927 gouache paper painting, The Creation, I taught my writing students how to revise historical content keeping in mind audience, genre, & speaker—in other words, keeping in mind the rhetorical triangle that

aaron d-the-creation-for-blog
Aaron Douglas’ The Creation, 1927

informs a content’s persuasive ability. Because rhetorical analysis requires the critic to consider an author’s word choice, I insisted my predominantly white students pay attention to Johnson’s use of the word, “mammy”—but not as the controlling image Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Trudier Harris, & other Black feminist theorists warn us about. (Alas, during the time I was teaching this particular unit, I was none the wiser re: (or consciously aware of) Black feminist theory—altho I was familiar w/Alice Walker’s “womanist theory.”) Instead, I wanted my white students to see how Johnson used simile & juxtaposition to compare God to a Black woman. & light weight, bump the literary elements—Johnson brazenly integrated the Black woman into a historically white-washed Creation story. In his Creation story, God is a Black woman—a mammy who is not denigrated into an ugly, asexual, nanny-maid, but acknowledged as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent originator of all. Now, I’m clear Black feminists will take up issue w/a man defining a Black woman—yet, again. However, I want to “count it all joy,” for when I read Johnson’s mammy stanza, I think of my father. Surely, if Johnson’s God can be a mammy, so could my daddy.

My daddy was Donald Earl Bryant, born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1948. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in social work from Tennessee State University in 1969, & two years later, Mommy’s hand in marriage—after pining away for it since he was in high

Daddy at TSU
Daddy (in blue jean jacket) w/college classmates at Tennessee State University, circa 1960s

school. Daddy died in 2002. I was 22 years old, & altho I didn’t know him into my adulthood & into the me who is coming into an awareness of my parents as whole human beings—I did realize the “womanly” behaviors my father practiced, which, in my middle-class Cosby like household, seemed normal. I mean, didn’t everybody’s Black daddy cook dinner & breakfast regularly, shy away from manual labor, & cry while watching Titanic?

I saw Daddy cry before that, however. His eldest brother, Uncle Sam, had suddenly died of a heart attack in 1988 (& his father two years thereafter), & the morning my mother told my sisters & me, I remember seeing Daddy seated—at the edge of his bed where my twin sister Kiley & I would sit next to him tying our shoes—w/his head folded into his cupped hands. Daddy was crying, a vulnerability I don’t remember seeing in Mommy, even when Daddy died. I reckon, especially as I juxtapose my parents, Mommy really does exhibit the matriarch image—sans the lie that strong, Black, independent women who want to work to support her family, abandon her children, for we had Daddy; she

Daddy and Us on Bed
Me, Kimberly, Kiley, & Daddy, circa 1980s

had Daddy. & together, they partnered a household that did not conform to societal ideas re: woman’s work. (Hmmm. I think I contribute my gender non-binary conforming household to my “late in life” knowing about Black feminist theory & the intersectional concept that challenges white supremacist patriarchy.) I didn’t grow up having to concern myself w/race, class, & gender—which is probably why Daddy used to tell me—during my Black nationalist phase of “hotepping” thru dashikis, racially charged poems, & academic revolts, I was a revolutionary w/no cause.

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I have a lot of fond memories of Daddy: of his cooking my favorite meal of string beans, smothered turkey wing tips, & rice when I came home from college; of our Saturday morning breakfast dates to Overtown’s The Bahamian Pot for boiled fish & grits &

Daddy & Me at FAMU
Me & Daddy, Florida A&M University, 1997

Johnnie Cake; of his letting me cut back his eyebrows & fingernails, & dress him for a night out w/Robert George, his college friend. (I dressed him in a pink polo & khaki shorts.) & I remember Daddy singing to Al Green’s “Lay Your Head on My Pillow” & the Temptations’ “Silent Night,” & when Kiley & I were baptized (at our own request—we were in middle school), I remember hearing Daddy, from the baptizing pool, begin singing “Jacob’s Ladder” like an old mother of the church leading the congregation. I remember these times, & more. However, my fondest memory of Daddy is not one I actually recall, but one I imagine thru my parents’ own remembering.

Daddy told this story often—of the night Mommy was out bowling in her Monday night Women’s League, & he was responsible for taking care of my sisters & me. Kimberly, the eldest, was six years old, & Kiley & I were circa three months. My mother, a full-time schoolteacher at Miami Lakes Elementary whose favorite pastime included bowling, was away at her Monday Night Women’s League, out in Hialeah—a venture that could last way into the late night—& one particular Monday night, Mommy came home to me, wide-eyed awake, sitting on Daddy’s bumping knee; we were both wearing white tank top shirts. Kim & Kiley had long since been asleep, but I, according to him, refused the bottle & persisted to wait for Mommy, for her breastfeeding. In Mommy’s version, Daddy

Daddy Looking Down at Jaida
Daddy & Jaida, his first granddaughter, 1998

& I are both exasperated as expressed in my crying & his furious knee-bumping. Altho I cried for Mommy’s nurturing, for her milk, my imagination sees Daddy, “This great God / Like a mammy bending over her baby,” desperately wishing he could give me what I needed. But Daddy wasn’t God, & he wasn’t a woman; he was a man, whose Black feminist sensibilities (which I don’t doubt Mommy nurtured, but was instilled thru Grandma Mary & Granddaddy—his married parents who reared three children, two of whom they put thru college) allowed him to be a whole partner, a whole parent, a whole person undefined by white patriarchy’s dehumanization of Black men. Daddy nurtured my sisters & me while Mommy kicked it w/her girls—& continued to take care of us three small girl children years later when Mommy decided to be a full-time Master’s student taking evening classes at Nova University. Daddy’s wholeness gave Mommy room to be her whole self, too, & that’s what a Black man doing Black feminism looks like, right?

In her 2018 Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Brittney Cooper writes, “[O]ne can’t truly be a feminist if you don’t really love women.” Altho Cooper is

A Young Mommy & Daddy
Daddy & Mommy, circa 1970s

discussing other women loving women (& fails to make space for Black male Black feminist), I aver no man can call himself a feminist if he doesn’t love Black women beyond how he loves his wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, niece, aunt. He cannot be a feminist if he doesn’t love women “deeply & unapologetically,” & this kind of loving isn’t “queer,” as Cooper says in her text, nor is it sexual or romantic; it’s agape—that profoundly spiritual love that seeks & insists upon the best for others. As I remember him, my daddy was that man; he was that man doing the Black feminism that mid-20th century political activists & creative writers like Amy Jacques Garvey, Lorraine Hansberry, Claudia Jones, & others propagating for male allies knew was possible. He was that man whose humanity allowed Mommy & his girl children to define our womanhood on our own terms. Light weight, he was that man who invited me into my own Black feminist revolution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet”: Unearthing Grandma’s Black Feminism

I was an 18-year-old fresh(wo)man at Florida A&M University when Grandma Rose died. Cancer. I don’t remember if I had yet told my family I was lesbian—altho I had been planning my comingout story since I left my parents’ home. I planned to tell them I am “pansexual”—a term I read w/which Alice Walker identified over 20 years before Janelle Monáe popularized the word. Being “pansexual” felt humanistic in a way that my parents would find my sexual interest palpable. But my comingout story is for another blog post. This piece is about Grandma Rose, who died 22 years ago, but has been most alive in this #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #blackgirlmagic space in which I have been pensively engaged.

I think of Grandma Rose often, & I think of her beyond watching Star Search, The Golden Girls, & Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) w/my sister & me every Saturday night; beyond her insisting we use both a fork & spoon to coil our spaghetti; & beyond her decorating her home w/Asian influenced furniture, juxtaposed against African-American art & figurines—all of which were situated inside a Southern luxury accented by novelty tea kettles, vintage telephones, & a round bed. (Yep, Grandma Rose had a ROUND bed.) She also had a fertile rose garden, two Cockatiels (she let me name Miles & Mia), & a pungent tongue: I was in earshot of hearing Grandma Rose telling stories of a woman being “as nervous as a hooker in church” & of Irvin (the man w/whom Grandma eloped while in Las Vegas) sitting at home “w/the white mouth,” hungrily waiting for Grandma to come home to cook dinner—two phrases I have carried & used in my own storytelling, not realizing the implications of race, class, & gender to which each phrase points. It is in that space, in the intersectionality of race, class, & gender, that I am thinking of Grandma Rose & realizing the historical significance of her unconventional behaviors—realizing that Grandma Rose was a Black Feminist, for many reasons. The first, for changing her name—a practice in self-definition, says Patricia Hill Collins, that is essential to Black women’s survival.

grandma & cookie
Grandma Rose w/her youngest of four children. Circa 1960s

Grandma Rose was born Pilate May McKenney in 1926, & 20 years later, post high school graduation, she changed her name to Rose. I thought Grandma Rose, who was originally named after her father, changed her name because she didn’t want to be associated w/the Biblical Pontius Pilate who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion. I reckon such naming felt akin to one being named Hitler. However, my mother, Choling—who Grandma had two years after high school—says she remembers Grandma claiming only to not liking her name at all. I trust, therefore, that altho during my Grandmother’s era, many women were given male names—one of Grandma’s girlfriends is named Eddye—a woman given a traditionally male name is an unnecessary insult, despite his notoriety (or even his legacy). Whatever the reason, Grandma’s renaming herself is a move I always thought peculiarly non-traditional, especially since in 1946, circa the time Grandma legally changed her name, Black folks didn’t have time to be so self-serving, if you will: Richard Wright had recently published his Native Son; Margaret Walker, her For My People; & John H. Johnson, Ebony Magazine, while Tuskegee Airmen were organizing, Southerners were migrating, & Blacks were dying in Detroit Race Riots. Aaaaaand, Grandma was a single, teenage-ish parent. Oh, but so little did I know—about everything, especially about being a Black woman.

In What’s Love Got to Do with It? the 1993 film based on Tina Turner’s 1987 autobiography, I, Tina, Tina Turner, played by Angela Bassett, asked the judge presiding over her divorce from Ike for the rights to her name. She wanted nothing else. While Ike argued that Tina could not have his daddy’s name, Tina insisted on the right to that name, that, altho “belonged” to Ike’s daddy, belonged just as much to her, for it named the Tina Turner identity that centered & made visible a marginalized, if you will, Anna Mae Bullock. By taking ownership of her stage name, Tina Turner took ownership of herself. Tina wasn’t performing Tina; she was Tina. & so, once Tina could own her name, which allowed her to own herself, she was freed from a patriarchal naming that defines her as everything other than herself. Trudier Harris, in her 1982 From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature, explains it thusly:

“Called Matriarch, Emasculator and Hot Momma. Sometimes Sister, Pretty Baby, Auntie, Mammy and Girl. Called Unwed Mother, Welfare Recipient and Inner City Consumer. The Black American Woman has had to admit that while nobody knew the troubles she saw, everybody, his brother and his dog, felt qualified to explain her, even to herself.”

Mammy caricatureHarris’ quote serves as the epigraph to Patricia Hill Collins’ “Mammies, Matriarchs, and other Controlling Images,” in which Collins examines controlling images (mammy, matriarch, welfare mother, welfare queen, Black lady, jezebel, & hoochie) in relationship to race, class, & gender, then explains how social institutions (schools, government, popular culture, & Black organizations (church, HBCU, family)) maintain those images. Then, in her following chapter, “The Power of Self-Definition,” Collins provides her readers a resolve: Black women can redefine themselvewelfare queen images. Collins does not suggest Black women legally change their names like Grandma Rose did (& Ntozake Shange, & Maya Angelou, & Toni Morrison, & Alice Walker, who added her grandmother’s name to her own). But she does argue, by circumventing the controlled images white folks have placed on the Black woman’s body, she can realize herself. No. Black women are not mammies nor matriarchs, & she is not the world’s mule nor its jezebel. & altho she may take her husband’s last name, she is not Mr.’s so-&-so’s wife, either. She is herself, & says, Nikki Giovanni, only she can measure herself.

Grandma Rose had a high school education, but she embodied Black feminism w/out

Grandma Rose eating
Grandma Rose, circa 1980s

having to know the theory at all. She didn’t want to be called Pilate, so she changed her name. Grandma Rose changed her name, not because she felt controlled by traditional images that have served to denigrate, humiliate, & dehumanize Black women, but because she controlled herself—& there’s nothing selfish about that. As a matter of fact, by centering herself in a white supremacist patriarchy that would have her perform day labor before she became a lab technician, Grandma Rose was claiming her humanity: “Regardless of the actual content of Black women’s self-definitions,” says Collins, “the act of insisting on Black female self-definition validates Black women’s power as human subjects.” In that way, Grandma Rose was a pilot after all—navigating the world on her own terms, seeing herself a rose, & demanding others to call her by that name—to know her as such. For tho “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Grandma Rose understood the power in names & the significance of defining her Black woman self in a country “felt qualified to explain her, even to herself.”

I am here for it.

 

 

 

 

 

“Black Talk”: Exploring Nikki Giovanni’s Speeches for the Undergraduate Writing Classroom

The following talk was delivered at the third annual Symposium on Teaching Writing at HBCUs, held at Morehouse College, September 27.

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The most memorable lecture I have ever attended was delivered by Nikki Giovanni almost 20 years ago. Giovanni was in her late 50s then and had recently tattooed “thug life” on her forearm aNikki Giovanni Thug Lifes homage to the slain Tu Pac Shakur; she was delivering her talk to a predominantly white audience at Florida State University. Giovanni, who I had then known as only a poet, began her speech discussing the “alien nature” of Black people who remained humane under the inhumane conditions of the Middle Passage and slavery. I didn’t know it then, but her talk was pieced from her poem, “Quilting the Black Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars).” Riddled with profane language, Black vernacular, and a griot’s loquacity, Giovanni’s delivery maintained my attention, and like the little girl in Giovanni’s poem, “A Poem for Flora,” who heard about Sheba and wanted to be like her, I heard Nikki Giovanni speak and wanted to be like her.

Alas, as a rhetoric and composition scholar and first year composition teacher trained in traditionally white male spaces, I have created a composition classroom that mirrors a patriarchy void of womanist orators (as well as one that has failed to consider the delivered poem as speech). Instead—and as an attempt to decenter the white man—I introduce my first-year writing students to the art of rhetoric by way of Black canonical works by King, Malcolm X, and most recently, after realizing the absolute way to decenter the white man is by way of the Black woman, Sojourner Truth. However, after attending the Furious Flower’s 2019 Living Legacy Seminar with Nikki Giovanni, which re-minded me of Giovanni’s oratorical genius, I have re-imagined Nikki Giovanni’s works for my composition classrooms.

My presentation, tentatively titled “‘Black Talk’: Exploring Nikki Giovanni’s Speeches for the Undergraduate Writing Classroom,” aims to invite composition teachers to consider integrating Giovanni’s speeches into their undergraduate composition classrooms, particularly within lessons regarding rhetoric. Although Giovanni’s poetry, like “Nikki-Rosa,” garners much attention in English classrooms—for it is often anthologized—her speeches (like most by Black women poets, novelists, and essayists) are often neglected. Nikki GiovanniHowever, as evident in Giovanni’s 2007 “We Are Virginia Tech” speech—which, according to americanrhetoric.com, is one of the 21st century’s top 100 speeches and, argues Robin Bernstein in “Utopian Movements: Nikki Giovanni and the Convocation Following the Virginia Tech Massacre,” “united the Virginia Tech campus in its moment of crisis” (341)—Giovanni’s speeches are just as rhetorically rich and culturally relevant as King’s “I Have a Dream.” Unfortunately, however, Nikki Giovanni’s speeches aren’t as accessible as King’s. And while many factors may contribute to such inaccessibility, one thing I know for sure, Nikki Giovanni isn’t acknowledged as an orator or philosopher.

As a matter of fact, according to Virginia Fowler, Giovanni’s biographer, academiciansGiovanni Books don’t love Nikki Giovanni. Although she’s revered as one of the greatest African American poets, particularly as it relates to the Black Arts Movement in which she has almost been pigeonholed, there is very little traditional critical scholarship on Giovanni’s work, which spans across 50 years and just as many collected poems, children’s books, essays, edited anthologies, and transcribed conversations—with Baldwin and Margaret Walker, I must note, whose credibility amongst the Black Literati may eventually write Giovanni into scholarly discourse. Nevertheless, I think Brittney Cooper in her Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women sums this neglect best:

Though we know the names of women like Mary Church Terrell and Fannie Barrier Williams, Pauli Murray and Toni Cade Bambara, we still know far too little about the actual content of their thinking. Many Black women thinkers labor under the exigencies of historical triage. Their names exist almost like family photos relegated to a wall we rarely touch. We know they are important. We memorialized them with honored places on the wall of our offices and libraries and in the histories we write. We celebrate their voluminous firsts as founders of organizations, published writers, recipients of advanced degrees, and more. But then we shelve them, as though preservation is the most apt way to show respect for their critical intellectual labor. Such acts are rooted in notions of both care and carelessness. We care enough not to let these women be thrown away, but in many respects, the dearth of critical engagements with most of [these] women . . . suggests a lack of critical care in handling their intellectual contributions. (1-2)

The same Black Literati who has fallen short, if you will, of including Giovanni amongst the Black canon not only to be read—cause we do read her “Ego Trippin,” “Nikki-Rosa,” and “The Great Pax Whitie”—but critically analyzed for its attention to black feminist/womanist theory, civil rights rhetoric, and Africana spirituality, are the same elitist, traditionalist Black scholars who maintain the marginalization of rhetoric and composition in their English Departments and National Conferences. On top of all that, with PWIs also marginalizing (if including at all) Black voices in their esteemed Rhetoric & Composition Graduate programs, integrating Nikki Giovanni’s speeches into traditional first year writing classrooms where students receive basic rhetoric and composition training—in Aristotle’s rhetorical appeals, in composing a literacy narrative and argumentative essay, and in writing about composition studies—is not even a figment of one’s imagination, and at one time, not even my own. Until the Furious Flower.

The Furious Flower, the nation’s first academic center for Black poetry, founded in 1994 by Joanne Gabbin, distinguished scholar and professor at James Madison University, where the center is housed, “is committed to ensuring the visibility, inclusion and critical furious_flower_logo-240x300consideration of Black poets in American letters, as well as in the whole range of educational curricula” (www.jmu.edu). Its name is taken from a line in Pulitzer Prize winning poet’s Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1968 “The Second Sermon on the Warpland” in which she writes: The time / cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face / all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace. Gwendolyn Brooks was the center’s 1994 honoree; Nikki Giovanni was its 2019’s, of which I was a participant.

When completing the application to participate in The Furious Flower’s 2019 The Living Truth: The Life and Work of Nikki Giovanni week-long seminar for K-12 teachers and professors, I was asked (and asked again on the first day of participants’ roundtable discussion) particularly what about Nikki Giovanni’s poetry interests me so much that I wanted to study her works—in the midst of her physical company and instruction. And I, unabashedly admitted, I am not so enthralled with Giovanni’s poetry as I am with her delivered speech—and like her written word, she has delivered 50 x 50 x 50 x 50 speeches, and I want to read and study them—along with her essays, which carries the rhythm of her oratory. A few days later, I caught Nikki Giovanni (who insisted I call her Nikki) and Virginia eating their lunch, and I swooped in and privately shared my interest with them, about which they both agreed collecting Giovanni’s speeches for study and critical analysis a great idea. “But, there’s one problem,” Nikki said. “My archives are closed to the public until I die.” “Got damn it,” I said (and I’m pretty sure I said “got damn it” cause, well, I was talking w/Nikki, and she curses).

(Continue reading here.)

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.

big CLIT energy

Last Fall semester, my writing students, all English majors, & I were discussing Barbara Jordan’s 1976 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address. In classical rhetoricalBarbara Jordan fashion, Jordan begins her speech w/an ethical appeal that explains to & convinces her audience that her presence as keynote speaker signals a radical shift in not only the ideals that the Democratic Party holds, but in the notion that every American citizen has a right to The American Dream. Responding to Langston Hughes’ “Harlem,” Jordan says, “[H]ere I am. And I feel — I feel that notwithstanding the past that my presence here is one additional bit of evidence that the American Dream need not forever be deferred.” My students dug it; they appreciated Jordan’s whole speech: her articulate voice, her unwavering confidence, & her intellectual content. And according to them, her introduction truly “hooks” the reader & convinces her/him that Jordan is both a credible speaker & human being–a Black woman not to be messed with, for, as she in third person proclaims, “I, Barbara Jordan, am a keynote speaker.”

In this current #metoo, #blackgirlsrock, #blackgirlmagic era we are currently in, my predominantly female classroom seemed to witness in the audacious Barbara Jordan the ancestral spirit that inspires Tarana Burke, Maxine Waters, Michelle Obama, &, if they let her in, will inspirit each of them as well. And so, as one student attempted to express Jordan’s rhetorical genius, she kinda went “goo goo gah gah.” And I get it, cause not only was Barbara Jordan an eloquent orator, but she was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, & the first African American as well as the first woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. However, what I didn’t get was why my student, while reaching for words to explain Jordan’s genius, exasperatingly said, “I mean, Dr. Bryant, she got that BDE.”

Me: She got that what?

Student: that BDE

Me: What the hell is BDE?

Entire Class: (giggles) Dr. Bryant, you don’t know what BDE is? (giggles)

Me: (Str8 faced) Um. Nope. What is it?

Entire Class: (giggles some more and pans the classroom looking for one brave spokesperson) Dr. Bryant, for real. You don’t know what BDE is?

Me: (exhales, rolls eyes, shifts position, lays papers down, and places hands on hips–arms akimbo) Will somebody just tell me what BDE is already?

Female Student: Okay. Okay. BDE means ‘big dick energy.’ 

Me: What tha? Are y’all serious right now?

And then the conversation ensued.

I asked my students–18 of them in total, including only two males–why in this 21st century world would they put a dick on Barbara Jordan. She is a woman, a BLACK WOMAN, I exclaimed. (And if flipping the student desk in front of me wouldn’t’ve appeared violently crazed, I would have.) Nonetheless, in a poorly constructed argument, or whatever, my students collectively claimed to masculinize Jordan because she was strong & assertive; she was powerful, they said, like, she had big balls. (Whispers in my head: “Yuck! They’ve given her testicles too.”) Yes, I said to them, out loud.

big clit energy button
“I got that big clit energy” buttons designed by Kendra N. Bryant for writing students, 2018

Barbara Jordan was strong & assertive & powerful, like a black woman. Expressing my own exasperation, I asked them–in our shared language & all–“How y’all gone minimize, erase, this black woman’s genius, her divine femininity, by givin her a dick? She got a clitoris!” And again, in a poorly constructed argument, my students tried to contend the rhythm of the phrase, “big dick energy,” after which I hyperbolically responded: “Clit, dick, clit, dick, clit, dick, clit, dick. So, why can’t she have “big clit energy,” I asked? Both are four letter, one syllable, rhyming words. Aaaaaaaand, Barbara Jordan IS A WOMAN!”

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Yo! The control & brainwashing of the white patriarchy is trill. Despite attending America’s largest HBCU during a time of the first African American First Lady, whose black woman magic (read: divinity) frightens many media personalities, of hashtag movements that make men more accountable for rape & molestation, while empowering women, & of the Women’s March, where women wore pink pussy hats, my North Carolina A&T undergraduate students, most of whom are majoring in English Education, had not been #woke to the white male supremacy evident in language (altho when I think of big dicks, I can see only black men–who white men castrated. Shoulder shrug. Yet, says bell hooks when discussing black feminism, our castrated black men (subconsciously) push the white male agenda, so in the black man’s move toward racial freedom & empowerment, he participates in maintaining white male patriarchy; the beat goes on, don’t it?)

But it doesn’t have to.

I teach because I aim to remind students of their humanity–cause I want to reacquaint them to their divine selves. The classroom, altho institutionalized, is still a ripe space for cultivating a revolution. And so, that Fall day in 2018, I challenged my writing students to think about how they use language & how language uses them. Altho my teaching

Students wearing big clit energy buttons
Writing students at North Carolina A&T State University pose in their “I got that big clit energy” buttons, Fall 2018 (Photo: Kendra N. Bryant)

position requires me to enhance student reading & writing skills–usually by reinforcing a standard that marginalizes their native tongues, at the very least, I can invite my students into a liberatory literacy practice that incites them to interrogate language & to awaken themselves to the conditioning that prohibits them from exercising a critical consciousness that frees their mind. Barbara Jordan & I did just that; we invited our students into a deprogramming. And I can only hope that my students will pass on that big clit energy I carried into our class discussion to their friends & into their communities, thus keeping the movement moving.

 

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.

*      *     *

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.

 

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.