Light Girls, When Documentaries Get It Wrong

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A scene from Spike Lee’s School Daze

“If you love yourself, don’t watch Light Girls.”

This is what I told a dear friend of mine after watching the documentary. The film was a sequel to Dark Girls, a documentary about colorism in the African American community. Light Girls was supposed to show the other side of the coin and share the views of women that society labels as “light-skinned.” Instead, it turned into a living rendition of light skin vs. dark skin battles paralleling the epic scenes from, School Daze. Why the disdain? There isn’t enough time to cover everything but here are my top sources of contention with Light Girls.

1. The Denial of Light Skin Privilege

Light Girls perpetuated the stereotype that dark-skinned girls are jealous, angry, and violent. Rarely was there any nuanced or guided discourse behind light skin privilege. In fact, the topic was carefully avoided. If not for Soledad O’Brien’s brief acknowledgment that her color helped her career, one would think that light skin privilege is a figment of evil dark-skinned imagination.

This is mostly because a discussion surrounding white privilege was painfully absent from most commentary. Light skin privilege exists as a subsidiary of white privilege. This is not a concept made up out of simple jealously. We cannot discuss one without the other. Light skin privilege is when people with skin color closer to what is associated with phenotypically “white features” are granted certain privileges relative to superiority over darker-skinned people.

Consequently, light-skinned women get lighter jail sentences, are more likely to get hired for a job, and are even disciplined differently as children. These are just a few examples backed up by data.

Understand that acknowledging light skin privilege is not about finger-pointing. It’s about understanding racial hierarchies determined by structures of white superiority and the role that it plays in Black lives.

If we deny the existence of light-skin privilege, we deny the existence of white privilege.

2. Black Men are not the gatekeepers of Black women’s value

The documentary spent an agonizing amount of time featuring the scattered thoughts of random Black men as if Black male scholars were unavailable. Dr. Steve Perry was very much alone in his contribution to the discussion. There were so many cringeworthy moments where men discussed their color “preferences” like a bunch of drooling 8th graders. I thought to myself, “Are we in middle school?” Along this line, the film completely ignored the possibility of Black women in same-sex relationships. The film placed the value of Black women on the heterosexual, patriarchal male gaze. One commentator even exalted the faulty belief that dark-skinned Black women are better than light-skinned women because they will do more for you. This type of unchallenged thinking reaffirms stereotypes of darker-skinned Black women being built for work and lighter-skinned women existing solely for the purpose of being a trophy.

3. The assertion that light-skinned girls are molested or raped more than dark-skinned girls is disturbing

Two commentators in the film recalled being molested and raped. One of them even boldly stated that light-skinned girls are a prime choice for pedophiles. My mouth dropped open. “Is this really happening?” The film just continued onto the next topic.

To leave such an assertion unchallenged or glossed over is grossly irresponsible. Not to discredit her personal experiences, but that assertion deserved a very nuanced follow-up discussion.  No way should this have been included without expert analysis. It was cruel and damaging to the film participants and the audience.

Yes, pedophiles have varying preferences. They often take advantage of the more vulnerable segments of society. Yes, light-skinned girls get raped, molested, and sexually trafficked. However, because dark-skinned girls are often less championed for, dark skin is often a determinate in sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

Society’s refusal to protect dark-skinned girls is what lead to Toni Morrison’s decision to create the character, Pecola Breedlove. Pecola who was both sexually abused and ignored, continually prayed for blue eyes believing it would be a type of salvation from the societal ills associated with her dark-skinned Black identity. This is not a contest on who is sexually abused more.

This is more about understanding the power dynamics of sexual abuse and how it intersects within racial hierarchies. It deserved a fuller conversation.

4. Who are these people?

Raven
Raven-Symoné

Apparently, every person with an agent made it into this film except the leading scholar on the one-drop rule, Yaba Blay. It was as if they carefully avoided her input. And it showed. She was featured on Soledad O’Brien’s Who Is Black In America. You can learn more about Yaba Blay’s work here.

Light Girls turned out to be a mess of a documentary because it was filled with commentary from a slew of third-tier comedians and entertainers. Additionally, the film included remarks from pseudo doctor Farrah Gray. Of course, there were also a few notable scholars and commentators. Michaela Angela Davis, Goldie Taylor, Jamilah Lemieux, and Soledad O’Brien were among the slim pickings of truthful and knowledgeable commentary. Yet, by the end of the film, many of them were also tweeting disgust concerning what the film had become. I’m still baffled by Raven Symone’s appearance as well, considering her ideas on “colorless” as an identity.

5. It’s not about jealousy

I shudder at the thought of having to say this but dark skin girls are not all lurking in the bushes waiting to ponce on the nearest light skinned person. This notion is ridiculous but was highly purported throughout the documentary. We’re not all crying in a corner somewhere filled with rage and jealousy. It reasserted the false narrative that all dark skinned girls are unwanted, hateful, mean and violent. The film made it look like we were all derivatives of the boogeyman.

Rarely did the documentary truthfully discuss playground wars and issues of Black children in general calling each other “too Black,” “ugly Africans,” or “high yellow” and using these learned internalized sentiments in hopes of feeling more superior to each other in the face of constant societal dehumanization.

It’s all a part of white supremacy and learned internalized racial hierarchies,  not simplistic hatred or jealousy.

6. Sisterhood Does Exist

for-colored-girls

There are issues of colorism throughout our society. However, this belief that Black women in predetermined skin-tone categories are genetically predisposed to hate each other is down right preposterous. As I’ve written before, it’s important to remember that there is sisterhood among Black women that has historically been a source of safety and empowerment. It has thrived, even in the midst of racism and colorism. This sisterhood bond continues to be the salvation for many Black women in need of support and love.

7. Colorism cannot be changed through positive thinking 

Pharrell-Happy

At one point “Dr.” Farrah Gray asserted that light skinned and dark skinned girls simply need to learn to get along and stop “blaming the white man.” Here goes the condescending, “You girls stop fighting,” speech. Other commentators docilely asserted we simply needed to think positive, look in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful.” Then all will be healed. It reduced the entire subject to Black women being just silly or petty, which is not the case.

No pep talk in the world is going to cure colorism. The film put the onus of colorism on the literal and proverbial backs of dark skinned girls. As if to say colorism is a personal problem, not a real systematic lived experience. This teeters along the line of saying racism is simply an imagined Black problem that will go away if we just think happy thoughts and be New Black like Pharrell.

8. In conclusion

To be fair, the film had a few positives. For instance, at one point they tried to present a global perspective of colorism. This is helpful in highlighting the fact that colorism is not just a Black issue. The affects of slavery and colonization have been felt worldwide. Also, a film about how colorism affects light skinned girls is necessary and efforts of the film are appreciated. Still, the film did what most things in mainstream society do. Light Girls continued the devaluation of Black life by oversimplifying key issues and not providing a thorough analysis for deconstructing the core problems…structural racism and patriarchy.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @JAMAiwuyor.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

Top 5 Phenomenal A Different World Episodes

A-Differen-World-Episodes

As an 80’s baby, I grew up watching A Different World. I can honestly say that the show affected my life in a number of ways. It was the reason why I wanted to attend an HBCU. Consequently, I attended both Albany State University and The Fort Valley State University for undergrad. The first time I ever heard Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping” poem, was while watching an A Different World episode. I was just a kid but I still remember thinking to myself, “Wow I have to find this poem.” Did I mention, I’m also a poet?

The power of A Different World was its complete grounding in the African American experience. It was when Debbie Allen stepped at the beginning of the second season that the show really started molding towards this trajectory. A Different World started off as a Cosby Show spin off, following Denise to college and ended as a show with a massive following and fan base completely its own.

There are a slew of memorable episodes but here are my top 5.

1. The “A World Alike” episode aired in 1990, when I was five years old. I saw it a number of times as a re-run. It was one of the first times I heard African Americans speaking about what I would later come to understand as Pan-Africanism. The students at Hillman College were putting pressure on their school to divest from South Africa and cut off all connections with any companies that engaged in business with South Africa during the apartheid era. It was real life worldwide protests like this that supported South African freedom fighters and helped bring additional awareness about the horrors of apartheid in South Africa.

2. The “Mammy Dearest” episode aired in 1991. Kim, an aspiring doctor recounted how she was called “Mammy” as a child, after she dressed up as a queen. The pain of this stuck with her, as a young dark skinned Black girl. Meanwhile, Whitley struggled with the new found knowledge that her family had owned slaves. It was during this episode that Kim triumphantly performed Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping.” She shed the mammy stereotype and was re-crowned queen (I’m pretty sure I practiced this scene about 10 times. My favorite line was, “I turned myself into myself, and was Jesus.”

3. The “No Means No” episode aired in 1989. In this episode Dwayne learns that one of his friends is a rapist. His friend Garth bragged to him about forcing a girl to have sex. Garth says, “Once we got started, she started putting up a fuss. You know how they are. They wanna do it but they just can’t give it up. It’s our job to let them off the hook.” Dwayne then realizes that his friend Freddie who has a date with Garth, is in danger. He rescues her right as Garth is trying to rape her. This episode does a great job of defining rape with its mantra, “No means no!” There is no confusion or excuses.

4. The “Love Taps” episode aired in 1992. In this episode Gina attempts to hide her abusive relationship with Dion, a local rapper. With black-eyes and bruises, Gina is caught in the cycle of abuse and is unsure how to escape. Her friend Lena tries to help her but she is too ashamed to accept assistance. Once the rumor spreads about her painful truth everything unveils and her circle of friends comes to support and protect her. This is what needs to happen in real life. So many Black women are in abusive relationships and not enough receive the support that is needed in order to break away from them. The episode also touches on the recursive nature of abuse. Dion recounts how his father beat his mother. In real life many abusers grow up in domestic violence environments and grow up to become perpetrators themselves. Most importantly this episodes shows Black women AND Black men coming to her defense.

5. “Save The Best For Last”, known to many at Whitley and Dwayne’s wedding episode is one of my absolute favorites. It aired in 1992. I don’t advocate someone storming into an ex-girlfriend’s wedding to confess their undying love and steal the bride. However, this episode showcases a powerful bond and love between two Black people that is not seen enough on television or anywhere in the media for that matter. I also rewound this scene a number of times.

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JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.

Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

33 Brilliant Quotes From Legendary Black Women Writers

Ntozake-Shange-Black-Women-Writers
Ntozake Shange

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

Yet what intrigued me the most about Zora as a writer was her free spirit. As a folklorist and anthropologist, she saw the world and soaked up its wonders. This captivated me.  As I grew older, the list of Black women writers that ruled my universe expanded. In college I was enamored with Ntozake Shange, then in graduate school mesmerized by June Jordan. They all knew a part of my soul, they all held pieces of me in their words. It was a long running connectedness. With each page turned, I saw myself.

When it seemed like the world had turned against me or had become lopsided, they turned it right side up again. Through their writings they let me know, that the things I’m seeing and experiencing are real. Most of all I learned that I had the right to tell my truth, no matter how often its existence may be denied and its fullness unsuccessfully subdued.

This edging out is a tradition of oppression, while the ability to rise even in its midst is a signature testament to the dynamic tradition of literary inspired liberation through Black women writers.

Here are some quotes from legendary Black women writers that can be used as continual tools for learning, growth, confidence and fearlessness.

1. “It’s no use of talking unless people understand what you say.” -Zora Neale Hurston

2. “No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much.” Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much’…No woman has ever written enough.” – bell hooks

3. “I’m a firm believer that language and how we use language determines how we act, and how we act then determines our lives and other people’s lives.” -Ntozake Shange

4. “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde

5. “We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans – because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings.” – Maya Angelou

6. “I think writing really helps you heal yourself. I think if you write long enough, you will be a healthy person. That is, if you write what you need to write, as opposed to what will make money, or what will make fame.” -Alice Walker

7. “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” -Toni Morrison

8.  “The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” -Toni Morrison

9. “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

10.  “Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it.” – Toni Morrison

11.  “Challenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.” – Patricia Hill Collins

12. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

13. “Writing can be a lifeline, especially when your existence has been denied, especially when you have been left on the margins, especially when your life and process of growth have been subjected to attempts at strangulation.” ― Micere Githae Mugo

14. “Sure you can do anything when talking or writing, it’s not like living when you can only do what you doing.” ― Sapphire

15. “A writer should get as much education as possible, but just going to school is not enough; if it were, all owners of doctorates would be inspired writers.” – Gwendolyn Brooks

16. “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” ― Octavia E. Butler

17. “I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive. I can only change how they live, not how they think.” -Ntozake Shange

18. “Let woman’s claim be as broad in the concrete as the abstract. We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritism, whether of sex, race, country, or condition. If one link of the chain is broken, the chain is broken.” – Anna Julia Cooper

19. “I don’t want to be limited or ghettoized in any way.” -Sista Soulja

20. “Discomfort is always a necessary part of enlightenment.” ― Pearl Cleage

21. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” -Maya Angelou

22. “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ― Octavia E. Butler

23. “Many times, what people call ‘writer’s block’ is the confusion that happens when a writer has a great idea, but their writing skill is not up to the task of putting that idea down on paper. I think that learning the craft of writing is critical.” -Pearl Cleage

24. “Shakespeare wrote about love. I write about love. Shakespeare wrote about gang warfare, family feuds and revenge. I write about all the same things.” -Sister Souljah

25. “Putting words on paper regularly is part of the necessary discipline of writing.” -Pearl Cleage

26. “Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” -Alice Walker

27. “You must be unintimidated by your own thoughts because if you write with someone looking over you shoulder, you’ll never write.” ― Nikki Giovanni

28. “Writers don’t write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don’t. …If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.” ― Nikki Giovanni

29. “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.” -Lorraine Hansberry

30. “People who want to write either do it or they don’t. At last I began to say that my most important talent – or habit – was persistence. Without it, I would have given up writing long before I finished my first novel. It’s amazing what we can do if we simply refuse to give up.” ― Octavia E. Butler

31. “People wish to be poets more than they wish to write poetry, and that’s a mistake. One should wish to celebrate more than one wishes to be celebrated.” –Lucille Clifton

32. “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” ― June Jordan

33. “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” -Angela Davis

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IMG_0054-ZF-7906-35913-1-001-006Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @JAMAiwuyor.

Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

All My Life I Had To Fight

About four years ago I was having a discussion with a friend about his new web show. He wanted to focus on topics concerning the Black community. I told him we should discuss domestic violence. To which he responded, “That’s not an issue. A sista would never let somebody beat her!” I stood there in disbelief, that a grown man with a family could actually believe such a thing. But there we were, standing outside with me trying my best to convince him that many Black women were getting physically abused everyday and it had nothing to do with us “letting” something happen.

Fast forward to earlier this year when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was seen on video dragging his then girlfriend’s body on the floor of an elevator. Excuses ensued. What happened that night? The theories went as followed:

She was drunk and he was taking her back to their room.

They were both fighting.

Maybe he beat her up.

We don’t know what happened, so “let’s not judge.”

While watching him kick and drag her limp body, there were many presumptions about what happened. The main one always circled around “her involvement.” Not long after, Janay Palmer and Ray Rice married. Then, came the press conference. The couple sat along side each other with Ray trying to undo the PR disaster, while Janay was forced to apologize for “her role.”

Months later, with the football season starting, the full video of the assault has been released. It showed that he spat on her, punched her in the face multiple times, kicked her and dragged her. Now that the public has a wider view of the assault, the excuses are:

They were both fighting.

Maybe he beat her up.

We don’t know all of what happened, so “let’s not judge.”

She provoked him.

She started it.

She still married him.

She doesn’t care, why should we?

She must be a gold digger.

The excuses are almost the same even though we’ve seen the footage. We saw what happened to her. We saw how it happened. Yet, there is still somehow this belief that it “didn’t really happen like that.”

The same thing happened in 2007, when preacher Juanita Bynum was choked and stomped in an Atlanta parking lot. The excuse then was, “She didn’t let him be the man.” This was a woman that had advocated for women to have sex with their husbands, even if they didn’t feel like it. If anyone was a trumpet of patriarchy, she was. Still, the very community she preached within ignored the violence and conjured up ways to blame her for being physically abused.

This leads me back to the discussion I had with my friend. Perhaps, he didn’t see domestic violence in our community because he didn’t want to. Perhaps he didn’t believe it for the same reasons the people defending Ray Rice don’t. They don’t want to believe it because it would mean that Black women can no longer be the blame for “violence” against us. That’s scary because then people would have to be held accountable, Black men included. That’s something our community continues to grapple with. How do we end violence against Black women without further criminalizing Black men in an atmosphere that is hostile to Blackness?

That’s why at this moment there are some people worried about Rice’s career. Where will he work? How will he live? Will he ever be able to get a job again?

Yet, we should be worried about Janay Rice. Will she be okay? Will he take his anger out on her…again? Is she safe? Where will she go? Does she have family members that will support her instead of tell her to “stand by his side?”

There is a difference between criminalizing and protecting. Criminalizing is when a person or group of people are unjustly deemed as inherently criminal. Protecting is when there are consequences for harming a person or group of people unjustly. Protection is a mechanism of prevention. When a man kicks a woman and punches her in the face and he loses his job or goes to jail for it, that’s called Protection. We’re letting members of society know that for the safety of everyone, this will not be tolerated.

For many battered women, there is no where else to go. They often endure mental abuse that prevents further access to care and freedom. This belief that she somehow “provoked him” or “he just snapped” is why so many women are battered and die under those circumstances. It’s just an excuse, another trope of denial in order to circumvent accountability.

This did happen. This is happening.

Still, it is no surprise that Janay Rice partially blames herself. This often happens to battered women. As a well meaning survival mechanism, at times they defend the abuser, taking on the blame for themselves as a way to avoid facing the reality of what’s really happening.

Often times when there are debates about sexism in the Black community, male counterparts often ask, “What privileges do Black men have?” In case you’re still wondering, this is what Black male privilege looks like. It’s the privilege to withhold accountability in cases of sexual and physical abuse against Black women, and still have members of the community vehemently defend their right to do so. Abusers will have people rally on their behalf, including their own victims.

The same thing happens to sexual abuse victims. People go through oratory gymnastics to blame molestation, rape and sexual abuse on the women and girls that were abused. We’ll hear things like:

She was a fast girl.

Why was she over there if she didn’t want it?

She knew what she was doing.

Why didn’t she say anything, if she didn’t like it?

This shower of condemnation of the survivor and excuses for the perpetrator happen time and time again in the case of sexual abuse against Black women.

However, it would be dangerous to believe that sexism, patriarchy, and abuse exist as vacuums in Black communities. They are an overall societal problem, prompted up my mainstream culture. The key issue with the Black community is, because mainstream culture already demonizes Blackness, the Black community fears that by outing abusers, they are adding to the demonization of their community. This has become a dangerously error-prone survival mechanism. Instead there should be an understanding that outing abusers (no matter who they are) is a way of strengthening the overall health of communities.

In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, many Black women related to the now famous words:

 All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. I loves Harpo. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.

Country wide protests were launched against the movie by Black men and women stating that it would make our community look bad and that it demonized Black men. When on the contrary, it shed light on key issues like incest, child molestation, sexual abuse, patriarchy and domestic violence. These are the issues, we often refuse to seriously address as a community. There was nothing unreal about it. It was just the ugly painful truth for many generations of women. It for this reason that The Color Purple has since become a classic, with many scenes viewers can recite word-for-word.

Indeed, all our lives we’ve had to fight and it will only end when our community rejects its abusers. I’ve had close friends and family members that faced the world with broken souls after being sexually/physically abused and blamed for it. We have to make the decision. Will we protect abusers or not? Will we take a stand against violence or not?

In the case of Janay Rice, the three minute visual of Ray Rice beating her has created more public awareness. Though this is a sad situation, the good thing about public cases like this is that more and more people are publicly condemning this behavior. These condemnations are added boosts needed to sway public discourse around this topic. This issue isn’t solely about one couple or one woman. It’s about the strengthening of our community as a whole. Otherwise, it will crumble within.

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IMG_0054-ZF-7906-35913-1-001-006Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.

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We Stand On The Edge Of The World And Dance

Geoffrey And Carmen Our Legaci
Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade – Library of Congress – Carl Van Vechten Collection – Photo Enhancement by OurLegaci

While riding the tides of turmoil, Black identity can seem overwhelming. We are cloaked in a wondrous mystic that the world both consumes and rejects. Yet, still a dancing spirit overrides hopelessness. The inner joy of elder generations that proclaimed, “The world didn’t give it, the world can’t take it away,” resounds more than ever.

I’ve felt this throughout my childhood.

During summer break, my mother made me read books to keep my mind sharp. History books and short stories were among my favorites. There was one book in particular called, Eyewitness Negro History. My eyes widened as I read about revolts, the Great Migration and anything Zora wrote.

Church also played a crucial role in crafting the vividness of black identity.

Before church service, the elders would sing old negro spirituals, the kind you don’t hear anymore. The really old ones. Though I hated going to church so early, I secretly loved this part. “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”, “He’s A Lily In The Valley”, “You Don’t Know What The Lawd Tole’ Me”, “Come On In the Room” and “I Know I’ve Been Changed.”

On some songs, before every verse an elder sings the first few lines and then everyone joins in. You won’t find this on television. It isn’t for entertainment or show, it was just what we did.

Even then, I saw that we danced on the edge of the world.

I loved it all. It made me feel eternal. Connected. It was history. It was spirit. It was us. It was Blackness. There was no “proper” talk or no code switching.

“Jesus is my docta’ and he writes out alla my ‘scriptions.”

“The angels in heaven done signed my name.”

I was listening to a lively spiritual people.

Yet, this inner force was more than religion.

It was jazz, funk, soul, theater, poetry, story, dance and all the moving energies.

It was all the stories I read, watching them play out in my generation. It was Zora singing again. It was Carmen and Geoffrey. It was Maya’s Still I Rise.

It was everyone in the Gypsy Song performance.

It was my father’s Uncle Trouble.

It was the fact that people still cooked rabbit, coon and corn puddin. And it was Mother Burrell showing me how to do the  Suzie Q, they way she did it in Harlem.

It was the defiance of erasure, the boldness to live fiercely and joyously in spite of being marginalized and appropriated.

It was Langston‘s words :

They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

It was us still building for tomorrow. But until then, we stand on the edge of the world and dance.

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IMG_0054-ZF-7906-35913-1-001-006Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.

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Be Careful What You Believe About Yourself‏

Young woman in front of a mirror

“Words are things. You must be careful. Careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. I think they get on the walls. They get in your wall paper. They get in your rugs; in your upholstery. In your clothes and finally into you.” Three years ago Dr. Maya Angelou shared this insightful perspective on the power of words during an Oprah Masterclass.

The part about how words get into you has always stayed with me. Words and images carve imprints into our minds as to who we perceive ourselves to be, while shaping our identity. This is why when certain images, words or phrases are used for descriptive purposes, I become very cautious with accepting them. It also speaks to why after years of being called the N-word, even the most conscious among us can’t let it go. When Maya Angelou worked on an album with the well known rapper Common, he surprised her by using the N-word. She disagreed with it’s usage and Common stated, “She knows that’s part of me.” I’ve always wondered, “What part of you Common? What part of you is ‘nigger’?”

We’ve been called it so often, as if it were our names, at some point we started believing it represents us. I’ve written about this before, where I had to stop a first time father from referring to his newborn son as his, “little nigga.”

But it doesn’t stop with words. Imagery also plays a big role in how we view and address ourselves. For years it was almost impossible to view any realistic imagery of African Americans. Images of caricatures were sold on products around the world with exaggerated features, in positions of servitude, along with hypersexualized or asexualized messages (depending on the caricature). These images were used as a form of messaging to ignore the humanity of an entire subset of society in order to prevent upward mobility, empathy and cross-racial organizing. One of the most well known caricatures is “Mammy.” And years later we find ourselves clamoring to claim this image as something that represents us…when it never did. This is why the nostalgia concerning the Kara Walker Sphinx is so disturbing.

Reclaiming “Mammy” is just as counterproductive as seeking to reclaim “Nigger.” It’s beneath us but we keep trying to do it. Why?

As Dr. Carter G. Woodson in the Mis-Education of the Negro profoundly noted, “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

These negative images and words have become so widespread that most attempts at trying to debunk them have been outnumbered and overshadowed. We’d seen them so much and heard them so much that they’ve seeped into our psyche. Thus, at times we reinforce these images without consciously meaning to do so. In fact, we’ll find ourselves fighting for the right to protect these images and words.

The women that were called ‘Mammy’ had names like Elizabeth, Rebecca, Ann and etc. They were artists, healthcare providers/healers, and organizers of rebellions. These women were humans in totality, many being brilliant pioneers in an awesome Fannie Lou Hamer type of way. Featuring that imagery on a mass level would be groundbreaking. Yet it still hasn’t been done. What would that look like? Imagine the pure awesomeness of that idea and how that idea could help young Black girls discover new possibilities for themselves.

We are more than servitude. Yet so many images surrounding Blacks in history present us in service positions. Thus it is no surprise that in 2012 the Center For American Progress highlighted that 28% of African American women work in service positions and “only 11.9 percent of African American women were in management, business, and financial operations positions. In comparison, women as a whole are employed in these fields at a rate of 41.6 percent.”

Janet Bragg
Janet Bragg

Being limited to servitude is systematic but is upheld by the words and imagery that constantly describe Black woman as people who cook, clean and take care of other people. However, even a brief glimpse into history will show that before, during and after slavery, Black women were entrepreneurs, political organizers, pilots, and scientists.

Yet, we’ve been so inundated with negative words and imagery that at times we can’t decipher between truth and fiction/ reality and perception. It’s not just an African American problem. Nobody knows who anybody truly is. And certain people understand this, so they push words and images that stigmatize groups of people causing further confusion and discord.

But even without corporations and politicians benefiting from falsehoods, how you see yourself or think about yourself can mold your life.

After the trauma of being raped, Maya Angelou didn’t speak for years. During this time her grandmother told her, some people may call you dumb but I know that one day you’re going to be a “teacher.”

When she was a young woman, one day Maya Angelou’s mother turned to her and said, “You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met.” It shocked her. She stopped cursing from that day forward, because she thought to herself, “What if she’s right? What if I will be somebody one day?”

The words of her mother and grandmother literally changed how she thought about herself and gave her the tools to see new possibilities. These words made an impact. The words and images surrounding her spoke life into her future despite the challenges she endured.

So think for a moment about what you’ve been told concerning who you are and what you believe about yourself. Examine which words or images have gotten into you. Be very careful of the things you believe about yourself. Reject words and images that don’t contribute to your well being. It can mean the difference between freedom or servitude.

Audre Lorde said it best, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

Please do not republish this article without specific, written permission from Jessica Ann Mitchell.

Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci and Twitter.com/OurLegaci.

How the death of my friend changed how I see this world

Victory Over Violence: How the death of my friend changed how I see this world

BlackWomanOutside

I still find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that one of my friends isn’t alive anymore. I don’t like to say he was killed the way cancer or disease or car accidents kill the body. He didn’t just die like people do when they get older or have a heart attack or stroke. My friend was murdered. His life was taken from him by another life. My life-long friend Victor was shot and killed in a parking lot in Newport News, Virginia. He was only 23 years old and would’ve turned 24 just weeks after the shooting. He was a father and a friend. Now he is another nameless face on the list of victims of gun violence in my city and in this country.

VictorThere will be no marches in the street for Victor. His mother won’t be invited to the White House. The President isn’t going to cry on national television over his death. The world will never know the young man who always kept people laughing, who was always trying to have fun, and who had unconditional love for his young son. And the people who did know him will never know the man he could’ve grown to be. And its a shame, really. It’s a shame that violence like this is too common to make a big deal of it each time a person gets shot in the street.

When someone gets killed in this country, I think we get sad for a few minutes then eventually get on with our lives. I don’t want that to happen in Victor’s case. It’s so easy for us to turn a blind eye to all of the violence going on around us all of the time. The violence against young people in our communities, especially young people of color, is like a modern-day lynching. Just as crowds gathered around the bodies hanging from trees, today’s Americans stand idly by as our young people are slain in parking lots in Virginia, while walking home in Florida, in public parks in Chicago, and in elementary schools in Connecticut.

We are a nation in denial about what is happening in our front yards, right before our eyes. We legitimize this violence in the name of our Constitutional rights. But the issue of “gun control” is not a political issue, it is a moral one. No person who values life can value the usage of guns and weapons. A gun’s only function is to take life away. Despite what advocates for weapons may say, protecting someone’s right to bear arms is not more important that protecting the people’s right to life. But even with all of the horrific and bloody murders that take place in the country, we still can’t seem to put a face to the lost lives and protect those who are still living. But Victor’s face will always be in my mind.

At his wake, I held Victor’s mother and we cried while looking down at his face for the last time. But I keep thinking that he wasn’t the only life that was lost that night. While one mother has to bury her son, another mother will have her son put in jail for a senseless murder. That’s the life cycle of murder in our communities: One body goes in the ground, another body goes in a jail cell. Who wins in this scenario? We are living in a culture in which young men have a need to prove themselves to a society that tells them that “you aren’t a man” if you let yourself get punked. When someone steps on your shoe, looks at your girlfriend or boyfriend, posts on your Facebook page or what have you, we feel we have no choice but to react. There’s a hopelessness to this lifestyle. We get into arguments and allow our anger to escalate to the point when the only way to solve a problem is to end a life. So many self images are warped by false ideals of what it takes to be a “real man”.

Victor was a man. He was a loyal friend. He was a selfless father. He was one of the funniest, hyperactive, brutally honest people I’ve ever known. He was an athlete, a college graduate, and natural comedian. He tried to make a joke out of every stressful situation. He didn’t need to use violence or anger to get what he wanted out of life. I know there are others who aren’t able to see another way to live their lives without arguments, fighting, and guns. Funerals, drive-bys, and constant crime is the reality for too many of our young people. We’re exposed to violence which makes it easier for us to transcend into violent lifestyles ourselves. I’m sure in some cases, a gun seems like the only thing in life that you can use to escape the frustrating restrictions of life in our communities. We have unemployment, lack of interest in school, and such a comical ease in getting weapons, our young people turn to violence as a outlet for brief control in a society that automatically writes them off.

Victor was very young when he succumbed to his fate. He would have celebrated his 24th birthday just 5 weeks after the shooting that took his life. Although I’d like to think he’s still turning up at a birthday party somewhere in the universe, he is not here to celebrate with his friends and family who continue to mourn his loss. One bullet took away that birthday. Unfortunately, this is the fate that seems to awaits many young black men. Violence is not definitely not just a black issue, but it cannot be denied that violent crimes plague areas with high black populations like an incurable disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men ages 15-19. Is that shocking to anyone besides me?

Apparently not. Shortly after the news broke of another fatal shooting in Hampton Roads, my fellow citizens took to the Internet ready to criticize the victims in the shooting that took Victor’s life. Comments like: “not shocked by another murder on the Peninsula” … “I do wonder, how have you lived your life?” … “keep wanting to live like a gangsta you’re gonna die like one” made me want to cry. We blame others for having to live life in a violent depression instead of trying to find a solution. We don’t help the ex-offenders in our communities resimilate into society. We don’t press upon our children the doors that education can open for them. We shame our single mothers away from getting government assistance so their families turn to crime to provide for their basic needs. We suffer from an endless stream of disappointments that cause us to react violently in desperation.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on guns, life in “the ‘hood”, the Constitution, or even what really happened the night Victor lost his life. But I know we’ll never make progress if we keep allowing the lack of opportunities in our neighborhoods to make us to feel hopeless and worthless. That’s how we break this cycle and claim victory over violence: We reclaim the value of life. We show our young people all of the doors an education can open for them. We press upon others how much more courage it takes to be “weak” and to not react. We help others who need help, instead of making them feel ashamed. Jimmy Greene, father of 6 year old Ana Grace who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting said it best: “we’re so consumed by the political fight…what about the fight for our children”. We are indeed in a fight for our lives. At the end of the day, our political standpoints won’t protect us. Our young people need to have a shot at a life filled with success, not a shot through the body with a bullet.

I see all of my friends and family posting to social media “Live4Vick”, “RIPVick”, “Gone but not forgotten” and the other typical mantras used to commemorate a lost life. But I sincerely hope we never forget Victor or the others wounded and killed by unnecessary violence in this country. I hope we do live our lives for these fallen souls and stop taking lives away. The best way I can honor Victors memory is to never forget what happened to him. We all can use our gifts to uplift the hopeless young man who sees a gun as the only way to control what goes on around him. We can control our emotions when we begin to get angry about little things. We can try to love instead.

I titled this piece “Victory over Violence” in memory of my friend Victor and also in the hope that one day this nation and people of color will rise above our tendencies to hurt one another. I know nothing we do will bring back the loved ones we’ve lost. But we should not allow ourselves or others to forget what happened to the ones we’ve lost. We have to really live for those who’ve died. We may never have a true victory over violence, but everyday we can make progress towards a more peaceful existence.

 

Jolie A. Doggett is a 22-year-old blogger from Hampton, VA currently living in the DC Metro Area. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. Since them, Jolie’s worked with Sirius XM Radio, National Public Radio, Patch.com, The National Congress of Black Women, and more.

Her musings on race, gender, and the 21st century have been featured on numerous blogs and websites, including her personal site, JolieDoggett.com. Her goal is to continue writing and to expand her social commentary into documentary film making. Her passions include Harry Potter, Chipotle, afro puffs, and volunteering in elementary schools.

 

 

 

A Message For Writers: Push Through The Fear

 

In many stages of our lives we must create spaces for ourselves and speak truths in the face of stark opposition. As a writer that touches on controversial issues concerning race, ethnicity and sexism, I often experience this. However, Audre Lorde’s A Litany Survival reminds us that fear isn’t necessarily the worst that can happen.

Chances are you’re going to face fear even when you’re silent. Chances are oppression is not going to subside because you didn’t “talk back” or because you were “well behaved.” So don’t let the popular or mainstream worldview silence you. If you have something important to say, say it. Add your thoughts to history’s pages so future generations can say that you spoke up when no one else would.

 

A LITANY FOR SURVIVAL

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive – Audre Lorde

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow OurLegaci on Facebook at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

Stop Apologizing For Being Black: Natural Hair In The Workplace

BlackWomanArtist

During this recent dip in the economy, many Black people have been forced to endure the dogged job hunt chase. Many of us are qualified (or over-qualified) citizens with plenty of talent and credentials. However, by being Black we are placed in a unique situation of double-consciousness. In the case of black women, we face a somewhat triple- oppression having to deal with our color, sex and socio-economic statuses. One key factor in the job hunt fiasco that specifically affects Black women is our hair. On countless blogs, websites and forums the questions continue to be asked, “ Is natural hair unprofessional?” or “Should I straighten my hair or wear a wig to get a job?” I have seen a plethora of answers and there is always the dreaded conclusion that we must alter ourselves in order to gain employment.

However this issue is much deeper than being about employment. When are we going to realize that the more we continue to alter ourselves to please “others”, the more we are succumbing to the sub-human state of existence that is being placed upon us? This is an issue of forcing the world to recognize our humanity, our God given right to exist the way we were created. When we change our hair, skin or body to please other people we are in essence saying, “You’re right, there is something wrong with being Black.”

When is the last time you saw a discussion about Caucasian women afraid to wear their hair straight for fear of unemployment?

You’ve never seen it because it doesn’t exist. European phenotypes are unfortunately perceived as normal. Meanwhile, African phenotypes are viewed as abnormal in a society that is predominantly Eurocentric. This is why multi-million dollar companies such as Nivea can create advertisements referring to Black hair as “uncivilized” without seeing anything wrong with it. However, this can change and it’s changing more and more everyday. It takes persistence, even in the face of hardships, to make the world respect our right to humanity. We are not three fifths of a man. We are human beings on this planet and we have a right to exist fully and completely.

The more we allow ourselves to be disrespected, the more we will continue to face blatant and overt discrimination concerning our hair, skin and bodies. Furthermore, do you really want to work for a place that does not respect you or your heritage? Wear your hair kinky, curly, straight, bald, twisted or braided but please do your hair the way it pleases you. Not someone else. Let us stop apologizing for being Black. We have to make the world recognize and respect who we are, as we are, unapologetically.

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JAMAiwuyor.com. Email JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.

@TweetingJAM – Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor