Our Prophets Are Dying…But They Leave Gifts

Graffiti by Toni Morrison in the Aranzabela-Salburua neighborhood, in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Photo Credit: Zarateman

On Saturday, October 27, 2018, I was set to attend an event at Bowie State University. There, I would mingle with other authors and hopefully sale copies of my children’s books. This event had been scheduled for months, but when the day finally came, I couldn’t overcome my sluggish mood. I had an eerie feeling all morning, plus I was running late. THEN, OUT OF NOWHERE, the sky cracked open.

It was literally raining sideways.

Now, drenched, I finally reached the building and unloaded. It was a slow day with a good gathering of Black authors. But the weirdness never left.

Later, after I stepped around pools of water under the remerging bright sky, I learned that Ntozake Shange had passed away that morning in Bowie, Maryland.

There were no words.

This was the woman that gave us the lines that told our lives.

“i found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely”

“my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender” 

“somebody/ anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/ struggle/ hard times
sing her song of life”

“And this is for Colored girls who have considered suicide, but are moving to the ends of their own rainbows.” 

These were the words that we knew before we heard them, so when we did, we never forgot them. She wrote our soul. Our blues, our joys, our grief, our hopes, our humanity, our love.

Ntozake Shange – “she who walks with lions”

On Tuesday, August 6, 2019, Toni Morrison passed away.

This time, I was on a train and cried out an old school church shout. Had I been in the pews, they would have fanned me and covered my legs with white cloth. It was one of those yells. The grief was too much. Our country is in the throws of mass shootings and an illegitimate racist president is running us to the ground, and now Toni Morrison dies?

Help lawd! Who told her she could die?

This is the woman that brought us Pecola Breedlove and Milkman.

She brought us:

“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”

“Here, this here, is what a man can do if he puts his mind to it and his back in it. Stop sniveling,’ [the land] said. ‘Stop picking around the edges of the world. Take advantage, and if you can’t take advantage, take disadvantage. We live here. On this planet, in this nation, in this county right here. Nowhere else!”

“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us–all who knew her–felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her.”

These words mattered. There were incredible for their depth but perhaps mattered even more so, just because they existed. Because before reading their words, many of us didn’t know such a work could exist – that so righteously and unapologetically spoke US. Not spoke to us – SPOKE US!

We hadn’t known it was possible, until someone that loved us handed us a Toni Morrison book or had us read, watch or perform For Colored Girls.

We can do that? We can speak us?

For many, the concept is foreign in a world that tells us everyday that everything about us is wrong.

But there they were. Their presence and words changed our world and shifted the narrative around Black women’s lives. And they were so damn proud about it.

On my way home from work, after another fit of sobbing, the words came to me.

“Our prophets are dying…but they leave gifts.”

I immediately thought of all the sister friends that had called and texted throughout the day. How we all felt the absence of another giant as space and time paused.

Then I thought again of all our words. That we had taken this thing and ran with it. Their words mattered so much because we would never forget to speak us and from now on – we’d be so damned unapologetic about it.

Those are a few of the gifts.

They didn’t give us voice. They showed us our voices and how to use it.

They didn’t give us stories. They told our stories, centered us, and showed us their intrinsic value.

They didn’t give us vision. They showed us how to embrace our visions. How to carve out a space in this world and make it recognize that we exist damn it and we ain’t leaving!

They gave us these gifts…insights, paths, skills, confidence, self-awareness, and self-love. Speaking truth to power, speaking power to the truth within ourselves, and lighting the way forward – so that the new generation would rise.

Our prophets are dying…but they leave gifts.

Ashe’

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News Flash! Malia Obama has a brain

Some media outlets are in a frenzy after receiving a tip that Malia Obama, daughter of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, has a secret Facebook account. Her posts included criticism of the Trump Administration, which apparently, is shocking to some.

To me, this “revelation,” (if you want to call it that) is like telling me that water is wet. She’s the daughter of THE Michelle Obama! Which means that not only does she have a brain – she’s probably also pretty good at critical thinking. And anyone good at critical thinking – hell even simple thinking – would have criticisms for the Trump Administration.

I don’t know where this belief system comes from that Malia and Sasha Obama should be void of thoughts. Meanwhile, Meghan McCain (the daughter of John McCain) is a co-host on The View and Ivanka Trump (failed fashion line connoisseur) is in charge of God knows what in the White House.

So for anyone that’s shocked. Yes, Malia Obama (a student at Harvard University) has a brain.

Tell me something I don’t know.

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Integrity is for broke people – Steve Harvey

After years of being blackballed in Hollywood, Oscar Award-winning comedian Mo’Nique sat down with Steve Harvey to settle their differences. Mo’Nique’s relationship with Harvey became strained after he publically criticized and distanced himself from her after she became outspoken about inequality and discrimination in Hollywood.

Mo’Nique also called out Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and Lee Daniels for not publically defending her. According to Mo’Nique, they knew she had “done nothing wrong.” Instead, according to Mo’Nique, they allowed her name to be dragged through the mud, rather than telling the truth about what was happening.

Mo’Nique won an Oscar for her outstanding performance in Lee Daniel’s film Precious. However, she was only paid $50,000 for the role and was expected to travel across the country and around the world to promote the film out of her own pocket. When she refused, she was labeled difficult. Mo’Nique then spoke openly about Hollywood’s refusal to pay Black actresses fairly.

At this point, she was blackballed.

In her sit down with Steve Harvey, Mo’Nique stood strong in her conviction that she did the right thing. Stating, “When you allow people, to start taking your freedom and your gift and making it become what makes them comfortable, we then lose.”

Steve Harvey then responded, “When you tell the truth, you have to deal with the repercussions of the truth. WE BLACK OUT HERE…”

He continued, “This the money game. This ain’t the Black man’s game. This ain’t the white man’s game. This the money game. And you can not sacrifice yourself. The best thing you can do for poor people is not be one of them.”

In this statement, Steve implies that truthtelling is the road to poverty and that to thrive, one must play “the game.”

However, Mo’Nique bravely countered, “Before the money game is the integrity game. And we’ve lost the integrity worrying about the money.”

Then Steve Harvey took a route that many people had an issue with. He acted as if standing up for Mo’Nique somehow would have made him lose his $100 million empire overnight.

Steve stated, “If I crumble, my children crumble, my grandchildren crumble. I can not for the sake of my integrity, stand up here and let everybody that’s counting on me crumble – so I can make a statement. There are ways to win the war in a different way.”

This is where we have a problem. I agree that in any situation, especially dealing with employment, we must be strategic and tactful. However, when battling a larger social issue, like the unequal payment of Black women – which is a huge issue – being quiet is the exact opposite of what we need.

This is especially true if you’re in a position of power.

Zora Neale Hurston said it best, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Mo’Nique is calling out a larger social issue. She’s calling out anti-Blackness implemented by expecting Black people to allow themselves to be overworked and undervalued. We may not all be in Hollywood, but working class Black women see it every day. According to the National Women’s Law Center and Equal Pay Today, Black women face steep wage inequality.

“Black women working full time, year round typically make only 61 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts.” (National Women’s Law Center)

Just because Mo’Nique is speaking out about Hollywood instead of an office job or fast food restaurant, doesn’t mean her words are any less true. Mo’Nique is a comedy pioneer and legend. Her decades of work speaks for its self. Yet, there are some still expecting her to be quiet and “grateful” as if she’s just some novice off the street.

The larger issue that she is addressing is about Black self-worth. Are we willing to set higher standards and enforce them? Are we ready to stop accepting crumbs? Are we ready to call out injustice, even if it means a temporary set back?

Though this can be scary, history has shown us the benefits of taking a stand. Muhammad Ali showed us with his refusal to fight in Vietnam, which led to him being stripped of his heavyweight title. Rosa Parks showed us in her refusal to give up her seat, leading her to be jailed. Recently Colin Kaepernick showed us, by taking a knee during the National Anthem to bring awareness to police brutality against Blacks, leading him to lose his job.

Some may not see the connection but it is there. Mo’Nique is fighting for pay equality. Without it, Black women specifically will continue to face economic instability. This is race-based financial oppression with real-life repercussions for everyday people.

That’s where integrity comes in because the issue is deeper than Mo’Nique personally. The Steve Harveys of the world may think they’re flourishing by staying quiet. Yes, Steve Harvey may be building wealth for himself but what good is it if the people he claims to support are still dealing with everyday struggles of wage gaps and underemployment? What good is his wealth if he refuses to speak out against the mass economic oppression of his people? These are issues that he could speak out about, starting with his industry.

And standing up to Hollywood is not a far-fetched idea.

Remember when everyone thought that Dave Chapelle was crazy for walking away from his widely acclaimed Comedy Central show? Remember how the network tried to bury him, even spread rumors about drug use?

He left for his integrity. It cost him financially at first but eventually, he became even more celebrated for standing his ground and not allowing himself to be exploited for profits. Years later, he was able to fully recoup his losses and is highly respected.

This is more than about Mo’Nique. And yes, integrity may have no immediate monetary benefit. However, history has shown us that if it were not for bravery and integrity – we would still be sitting in the back of the bus being told we should be grateful just for a seat.

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Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a publisher and multicultural communications specialist. To reach J.A.M., email her at JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.

Black Homeowners Lost $156 Billion Due to Discrimination

In December 2018, the Brookings Institute released a report that examined and documented the devaluation of homes in majority Black neighborhoods. The report found that, “Across all majority black
neighborhoods, owner-occupied homes are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average, amounting to $156 billion in cumulative losses.”

As was pointed out, by Andre Perry (lead author of the report) at the Brookings Institute’s “Homeownership while Black” forum, the $156 billion in losses could have gone towards funding for:

4.4 million Black-owned businesses
8.1 million 4-year college degrees at public colleges and universities
It would replace the pipes in Flint, MI 3,000 times
It would fund 97% of Hurricane Katrina costs

That’s a lot of money!

Consequently, the unfair and discriminatory devaluation of Black homes harms Black residents substantially. It increases the racial wealth gap, thereby preventing access to upward mobility.

In case you were wondering why it’s hard for many Black communities to build wealth, start with reading this report.

Here are some highlights from the report:

There is strong evidence that bias has tangible effects on real estate markets, both historically and today. During the 20th century, both explicit government institutions and decentralized political actions created and sustained racially segregated housing conditions in the United States. (page 5)

This has created what has been dubbed a “segregation tax,” resulting in lower property valuations for blacks compared to whites per dollar of income. (page 5)

Contemporary work from social scientists has aimed to sort out whether these lower valuations are caused by differences in socio-economic status, neighborhood qualities, or discrimination. The results tend to show compelling evidence for discrimination.  In one study, Valerie Lewis, Michael Emerson, and Stephen Klineberg collected detailed survey data on neighborhood racial preferences in Houston, Texas. They asked people to imagine that they were looking for a new house, found one within their price range and close to their job; they then say to respondents, “checking the neighborhood . . .” and then present different scenarios based on racial composition, school quality, crime, and property value changes
for the hypothetical neighborhood.” (page 5)

__________________________________________________________________________

Black Americans are highly urbanized. 90 percent live in metropolitan areas, compared to 86 percent of all U.S. residents. And decades after the Civil Rights movement, blacks remain highly segregated. Though blacks comprise just 12 percent of the U.S. population, 70 percent live in neighborhoods that are over 20 percent black, and 41 percent live in majority black neighborhoods.

These majority black neighborhoods may be overlooked as sites for economic development, but they contain important assets, in terms of people, public infrastructure, and wealth. (page 10)

__________________________________________________________________________

The devaluation of black neighborhoods is widespread across the country. There are 119 metropolitan areas with at least one majority black census tract and one census tract that is less than 1 percent black. In 117 of these 119 metro areas, homes in majority black neighborhoods are valued lower than homes in neighborhoods where blacks are less than 1 percent of the population. Gainesville, Fla. and Sebring, Fla. are the only exceptions.

Download the full report here.

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Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a publisher and multicultural communications specialist. To reach J.A.M., email her at JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.

On Fairfax and Northam: How Justice Was Weaponized to Excuse Racism

OG: Image

As a Black woman that has experienced sexual assault, the last few days in Virginia politics has left me reeling in a vortex of anger and distrust. Unfortunately, I’m not alone. Governor Ralph Northam effectively lost the Black community’s trust with his admission/non-admission of having posed in a yearbook photo with blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes at the ripe age of 25 years old.

Consequently, he was asked by Virginia Democrats to resign. He promptly refused, causing more mayhem. However, the glimmer of hope was the possibility of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, taking Northam’s place.

Justin Fairfax speaking to reporters.

Then, suddenly that glimmer of hope came crashing down as sexual abuse allegations spread about Fairfax. With two allegations, one from Professor Vanessa Tyson (2004) and one from Meredith Watson (2000) – it was clear that Fairfax was no longer on the road to becoming governor. It was also clear that the political circus in Virginia was going to become more complicated, more disappointing, and more enraging.

As scholar Melissa Harris-Perry pointed out on Twitter, “Now observers are wringing hands over the “racist v rapist” dilemma facing Virginia. Welcome to the intersection where black women live.”

Democrats were at first unsure how to process the Fairfax allegations. But as Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson told more of their very detailed and compelling stories, a uniformed call for Fairfax’s resignation began. There was even a delegate preparing to impeach him.

At the same time, Governor Ralph Northam was all but planning a quiet victory party, hoping to rebuild his appeal among Black voters with a new race-based agenda. The conversation about his photos with blackface and KKK robes mostly died down. Many people, including some self-proclaimed progressives, rested on the “blackface is bad but not criminal,” excuse.

Ralph Northam speaking in an interview with CBS.


These statements dangerously minimize the fact that the Ku Klux Klan is a domestic terrorist group. Black communities were not angry at Northam for having bad manners. We were angry because those photographs depict an alignment with people that have terrorized, murdered, and raped Black and Brown people across the United States of America. A 25-year-old man in medical school (FROM VIRGINIA) knows very well what the Klan is and what they represent.

If Tamir Rice was a man, if Mike Brown was a man, if Trayvon Martin was a man, then surely Ralph Northam was a man at 25 years old – fully capable of the repercussions of his actions (both then and now).

As a Black woman that has experienced sexual assault, I am in no way excusing or minimizing allegations against Justin Fairfax. Nevertheless, accountability shouldn’t be selectively reserved when it comes to issues surrounding racism and sexual assault. Though the two issues should never be conflated – we can and should hold people accountable for both.

I feared that Democrats would allow Northam and his allies to weaponize the Fairfax allegations in order to remain governor and never be held fully accountable for his actions. And that is exactly what happened. Basically, Fairfax’s sexual assault allegations became the shield for Northam’s racist transgressions. In that case, Black women, whom everyone suddenly pretends to care about, are no safer, no more protected than we were before.

It’s all a horrible mess that no one could have predicted. But we’re here now, and we have to make sense of it.

In both cases, there must be justice. Fairfax has been accused of a crime. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson should be heard. Their testimonies should be taken seriously. There should be a full investigation, and there should be full accountability. On the other hand, Northam publically aligned himself with terrorists in his yearbook photos. To me, this is enough for removal as well. And he should also be thoroughly investigated.

But now that’s not going to happen.

Between Fairfax and Northam, the only thing I’m rooting for is truth and justice.

However, we can not allow the hope for justice to be weaponized against us. Untangling this web of chaos isn’t easy. Even as I write this, I feel juxtaposed against myself. Perhaps, I am.

However, if Democrats were willing to impeach Fairfax with no specific plan for addressing Northam, they were not truly working towards ensuring justice. They’ve only allowed justice to be weaponized to protect another person in power.

Lastly, as we move closer to 2020, there are only going to be more revelations, accusations, and scandals. I strongly advise Democrats to develop a well thought out process that brings more order and equality to moves towards investigating issues and enforcing accountability.

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Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a publisher and multicultural communications specialist. To reach J.A.M., email her at JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.

This Interview With Toni Morrison Never Gets Old

Toni Morrison Interview with Charlie Rose

In this old interview with Charlie Rose, Toni Morrison responds to a past question about if/when she will stop writing novels centered around race. She then responds with a bold answer about centering Blackness. Morrison explains that African writers, like Chinua Achebe, helped her to see the perimeters of writing without being consumed by the white gaze and how this was liberating.

The quote below hit home the most for me:

The problem with being free to write the way you wish to, with out this other racialized gaze, is a serious one for an African American writer.

Thanks to Anti-Intellect for posting this on Youtube!

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of Our Legaci Press. To reach Jessica, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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Reflections for the “Other Side”

Medgar Evers
Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers

I really don’t want to spend the next three years writing and responding to Donald Trump. In an attempt to maintain my composure – I’ve opted to take frequent breaks from theorizing our current state of affairs. However, one thing that recently struck me was Trump’s insistence that the violence in Charlottesville, VA at a white supremacist rally was caused by “both sides.” He was referring to white supremacy advocates versus their opponents – people that are anti-hatred.

Throughout American history, people in opposition to progress have always blamed the “other side” for violence that ensues when countering oppression. The issue isn’t that the “other side” is violent. The issue is that the other side won’t be passive, won’t accept things the way that they are and won’t fearfully bide in silence.

Thus, they are labeled trouble makers for their insistence that society must make positive and progressive changes.

Harriet Tubman was labeled a thief and an outlaw.

Martin Luther King Jr. was beaten and jailed.

Fannie Lou Hamer was beaten and jailed.

Angela Davis was labeled a fugitive and jailed.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and labeled a terrorist.

Medgar Evers and countless others were murdered.

They were the “other side.” Today, history is on their side.

Playing the blame game is an old tactic and I’m not surprised at all. So to members of the “other side” – keep dreaming, keep pushing, and keep disrupting.

Keep on being the “other side.” We need you.

 

Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

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