Negative Nancys are out here trying to shame folks for being excited about the film Black Panther.
Well, I’m here to say this loudly:
It’s fine to wear African clothing, dance, relax and have fun.
All of this is perfectly normal and human. Furthermore, it’s beautiful to see all of this melanin on my timeline adorned in African inspired clothing, with positive Black messages.
Trust me, the ancestors are pleased.
It is testament to our legacy that despite all of the negative images that Eurocentric idealism has tried to throw on us – we continue to love who we are and love ourselves.
We are a unique, talented and creative people. And yes, this should be celebrated.
Black people deserve to have joy! I’m tired of people shaming us for exuding happiness, during what is definitely a defining moment in Black cinema.
No, Black Panther is not our key to freedom. No, Black Panther is not our liberation. I don’t think anyone thought we would suddenly be free from oppression based off of a movie. That’s not the point.
This film highlights the essence of Black cultural awareness, heritage and pride. It promotes positive and beautiful African imagery, with a compelling story line and an all Black cast. Additionally, the film promotes strong Black female voices in leadership positions. This is seriously impactful.
Furthermore, we don’t have to be 100% serious all the time. It’s actually healing for us to enjoy the moment.
So, dress how you want to dress. Act how you want to act. Have fun this weekend.
And I co-sign the message below by Kev On Stage: Let people live!
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.
Can I admit that I’m tired of talking about Birth of a Nation? Even though I plan on writing my own collection of thoughts concerning the film and its surrounding controversy, I’ve noticed that all of the attention towards it, good and bad, has unintentionally pulled away from much needed discussions about other Black films and shows.
So here are 6 Black films and shows to discuss other than Birth of a Nation:
1. Queen of Katwe starring Lupita Nyong’o
This film has received many great reviews. It’s based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, an international chess champion that learned to play chess at the SOM Chess Academy in Kampala, Uganda. Though she’s already a world hero, Ms. Mutesi is still a young lady with big dreams.
Film synopsis:Queen of Katwe is the colorful true story of a young girl selling corn on the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion.
2. Issa Rae’s Insecure now on HBO
I fell in love with Issa Rae’s work while watching the first 3 minute episode of AwkwardBlackGirl. She captured the everyday plight of so many quirky Black women with awkward tendencies. This is what made her show a hit. She tapped into a market and audience that had been either ignored or deemed non existent. Her new show on HBO is just has hilarious, with the same quirky, cringe worthy, laugh out loud moments. Insecure is definitely a must watch.
Show synopsis: Watch the half-hour comedy series Insecure, starring Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Jay Ellis and Lisa Joyce, looks at the friendship, experiences and tribulations of two black women. Created and executive produced by Issa Rae, this eight-episode series is also executive produced by Prentice Penny, Melina Matsoukas, Michael Rotenberg, Dave Beck, Jonathan Berry, and Larry Wilmore as a consultant.
This is a movie I’m extremely excited for. I wish we all knew more about the history behind Black women and the NASA program. As the mother of twin girls, movies showcasing the scientific and mathematical talents of Black women is a must watch in my book.
Film synopsis:Hidden Figures is the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big. In theaters – January 13, 2017.
4. The 13th directed by Ava DuVernay on Netflix
As an undergrad, one of our professors pointed out that the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not end slavery. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
She directed us to the line that states: except as a punishment for crime.
Thus, slavery took on a new form. The new National Museum of African American History and Culture has an entire display dedicated to showing the connections between slavery and mass incarceration. Apparently, everyone in my circle has watched The 13th except me. But fear not, I will be watching over the weekend. Anything Ava DuVernay touches is gold.
Film synopsis: The title of Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing documentary 13TH refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis. Now Streaming on Netflix.
5. Atlanta produced by Donald Glover on FX
Where do we start? The fact that this show centers around Black men in Atlanta chasing the rap career dream already leads us down the road to authenticity. The admiration of lemon pepper chicken wings, saying “bet” instead of “sure,” working at the airport – so Atlanta.
Yet the most interesting aspect of Atlanta is it’s unflinching willingness to explore societal shifts, along with layered portrayals of Black life. The most widely discussed episode so far has been episode 7. The episode included a number of satirical commercials featured on a fictional tv network, parodying BET called “Black American Network.”
During the episode, rapper Paper Boi is shown on a tv panel grappling with understanding transsexuality. Then the episode shifts to a discussion of transracial identity. Instantly audiences picked up on the false equivalency that was often leaned upon during the real life uproar concerning Rachel Dolezal- a white woman determined to embody blackness through activism, hair weaves and tanning.
On Atlanta, they flip the script showing a young Black man that identifies as a 35-year-old white man, that is both transphobic and homophobic (taking a jab at Caitlyn Jenner’s contradictory homophobic statements).
Atlanta is unconventionally brilliant. There are so many things to digest here. There could be an entire article dedicated to breaking down the children’s cereal commercial in episode 7 that put the spotlight on police brutality.
Show synopsis: Two cousins work through the Atlanta music scene in order to better their lives and the lives of their families. Donald Glover serves as Executive Producer, along with Paul Simms and Dianne McGunigle. Atlanta is produced by FX Productions.
6. Queen Sugar on OWN
Like I said earlier, everything Ava DuVernay touches is gold. I recently wrote about how Queen Sugar’s underlying theme is “rebirth, rejuvenation and resilience.”You can view more of my thoughts here.
Film synopsis:Queen Sugar chronicles the lives and loves of the estranged Bordelon siblings in Saint Josephine, Louisiana: Charley, the savvy wife and manager of an NBA star; Nova, a worldly-wise journalist and activist; and Ralph Angel, a formerly incarcerated young father in search of redemption. After a family tragedy, the Bordelons must navigate the triumphs and struggles of their complicated lives in order to run an ailing sugarcane farm in the Deep South.
Again, I will be writing my own commentary about Birth of a Nation. However, for now I’d just like to bask in the glory of all the greatness featured above.
If there is a film or show you think should be included, add it in the comments below.
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a poet, writer and social justice advocate. She’s also the founder of Our Legaci. Rant or rave to JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.
The internet has unfortunately become a cesspool for the most simplistic arguments to be sensationalized. The latest finger pointing bandwagon phrase to hit the net is “cultural appropriation.” It’s being slaughtered, with a slew of would be writers refusing to actually research the meaning of the term before tossing it around carelessly. So is the case with a recent article declaring, that Black Americans were culturally appropriating African cultures by wearing African clothing. It goes without saying, that this bold assertion is as deprived of history, logic and critical analysis as “reverse racism.”
Part I: Let’s begin with the definition of appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is when a dominant culture takes, claims and establishes itself the creator of the cultural heritage and artifacts of a minority and or marginalized culture thereby erasing the history of the marginalized culture.
In Neo-Slave Narratives: Studies of a Social Logic in Literary Form, African American studies professor Ashraf H. A. Rushdy describes appropriation and how it operates:
Something gets appropriated by something else when a productive or expressive form or practices, let’s say jazz or blues or agricultural methods for growing rice, develops within one disempowered cultural group but gets used by and enriches only or mostly another empowered cultural group. The distinction between cultural groups has to do most emphatically with each group’s relationship to power, controlling the means of material production and controlling the means to mental production.
One of the marks of that relationship between an empowered and a disempowered cultural group is that the empowered group is able to take possession of those material products, physical labors, and cultural forms and practices developed within the disempowered group. Once that something is “appropriated” it no longer functions to enrich materially or to empower socially those within whose cultural group that something developed. (p. 175)
Using Rushdy’s explanation, Black Americans as African descendants are not appropriating African cultures by wearing African clothing. The oppressive power dynamics, the enrichment that excludes African cultures, the means of controlling the material production of African clothing on the part of Black Americans is non-existent. Nor can Black American power dynamics with African cultures be compared with the power dynamics of colonial power structures that stifled Africa’s progress as was outlined in Guyanese Pan African scholar Walter Rodney’s, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
Part II: Black History Is African History
The historical experience of Black Americans does not begin with slavery. It begins in Africa. This is a shocking plot twist to those wishing to disconnect Black Americans from African cultures. We did not emerge out of thin air, but are instead a mixture of African people of multiple ethnic groups predominantly from Western Africa. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery did not erase the cultural legacy of Black Americans anymore than colonialism erased the cultural legacy of African ethnic groups.
During the slave trade and chattel slavery the ancestors of Black Americans, Afro-Latinos and Afro-Caribbean people were often prevented from speaking their African languages and practicing their religions. Furthermore, the dominant Western culture demonized all aspects of Black African cultures. Still, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones founded the Free African Society and later the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1787, which is to date one of the oldest Black American institutions in the United States of America.
They named it the “African” Methodist Episcopal Church for a reason. It was a reflection of how they viewed themselves in America. They spoke no African languages, they wore no African clothing because those things were not readily available to them. But they insisted on embracing everything about their heritage that they had access to.
Over the last 228 years, a lot of changes have taken place including the ability to reconnect with aspects of African cultures that were cut off by oppressive systems.
These reconnections are not without complications.
However, claiming that Black Americans are committing the same cultural appropriation as whites when wearing African clothing demonstrates a gross lack of basic level critical thinking skills. One can not compare attempts to reconnect to cultural origins with oppressive attempts to erase an ethnicity’s cultural legacy. Even if some Black Americans may not understand the full deeper religious meaning of various prints or tribal paints, that is completely different from seeking to erase the achievements and history of a culture’s artifacts, which is what cultural appropriation does.
Furthermore, the assumption that all Black Americans do not know the deeper meaning of various tribal prints or paints is without merit. This is especially the case due to the rising amount of African descendants converting to traditional African religions or at least bonding with various symbolic references from these religions. One can not assume, that the wearer does not know the meaning simply because they are Black American. It could be the case that they know the meaning and that’s why they wore it. It’s complicated, layered and not always executed properly, but still not appropriation.
Part III: Africa Is Not A Country, Blackness Does Not Exist In A Vacuum
Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria,both attended Lincoln University, the first degree granting Historically Black College in the U.S. Nkrumah, an avid Pan Africanist, often cited the interconnectedness among all members of the Pan African World, working closely with Black scholar W.E.B. DuBois. Nkrumah is well known for his vision of a unified Africa with strong linkages to the Pan African World. “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me,” said Nkrumah.
Making the statement that “if you do not belong to an African tribe, don’t wear tribal print,” is exclusionary to people that may not know the exact tribe of their family’s origin. It’s even furthermore complicated because as a mixed people, Black Americans actually come from many different tribes. Everyone does not have the privilege of knowing what tribes they come from, but they still carry the cultural heritage of those groups.
I was fortunate enough to trace my maternal lineage, with the help of AfricanAncestry.com’s DNA program. My own maternal ancestors are from the Tikar ethnic groups in modern day Cameroon. Does this mean that I suddenly became the spokesperson for all things Tikar? The answer is no. But it does mean that I have a cultural and ancestral connection that extends beyond the history of U.S. chattel slavery and any attempts to reconnect with that at best can be viewed as cultural appreciation or acculturation depending on my proximity to members of that ethnic group. The artistry and craftsmanship that my grandmother exhibited through her quilts, statues, paintings and instruments represent her heritage as a direct descendant of the Tikar people, even though she did not know she came from this ethnic group.
This can not and never will be cultural appropriation. You can not appropriate that which is your own.
Additionally, there are thousands of different types of African cultures and sub-groups. Ethnic groups on the continent and throughout the diaspora borrow from one another through cultural exchanges. Exchanging languages, religions, foods, musical styles and clothing. Members of various African ethnic groups often wear the tribal prints and jewelry of other ethnic groups simply based on liking the style. There is no reason Black Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Latinos should be excluded from this cultural exchange. Additionally, on the economic front, many marketplace sellers and African fashion designers would cringe at the thought of limiting their work to only within the confines of their tribe.
That’s not how this works.
Black Americans and other children of the African Diaspora are included in the Pan African cross-cultural process as evidenced by the spread of hip hop music throughout Africa and the creation of Rastafari communities in South Africa and Tanzania. These are both stylistic and religious exchanges that no reasonable person views as appropriation.
Part IV: Lack of Knowledge Affects Everyone, Not Just Black Americans
Miseducation and Eurocentric thinking taught through colonialism, slavery and Western education affects all members of the Pan African World in varying levels, not just Black Americans.
The need to assert authority over Africanity in the face of other African descendants is a pettiness that stems from the designed disenfranchisement of the Pan African world. It also unknowingly reaffirms anti-Black sentiments by denying the nuanced experiences and cultural heritages of all people of African descendant. Instead relying on a limited non-layered perspective of Africanity.
Additionally, the faux concern about Black American knowledge of African prints would be more believable if critics were offering classes and books that share the deeper meaning on various tribal prints.
Part V: We’ve been told the same lie.
The limited interaction between continental Africans and African descendants is highly influenced by western based miseducation and media (in both Africa and North America) that promotes anti-Blackness at every turn, leaving African descendants and Africans on the continent circling in an endless cycle of confusion and rage uselessly aimed at each another.
This leads some Black Americans to make illogical declarations like, “I’m Black Not African American,” as if Black Land is a thing that magically exists outside of Africa. Upon asking, when did they stop being African, the response will include some gibberish about not speaking an African language, not having a red carpet laid out for them when they went to Africa and the misguided belief that Jesse Jackson created the term “African American.”
No one has yet been able to answer Malcolm X’s question, “If a cat has kittens in an oven, does that make them biscuits?”
Meanwhile, some Africans will proclaim more pride in being French or British than Senegalese, Ghanaian or Nigerian. Upon asking, why they perceive Western cultures to be superior, the response will include a puzzling look as to why you don’t understand that everything white is just better.
We’ve all been told the same lie, that somehow being African is “less-than” believing that it is more refined to be disconnected from Africanity. This has lead to many of us needlessly tearing each other apart. And make no mistake, all levels of anti-Blackness around the world stems from the historical Eurocentric perspective that African people are subhuman.
As children, Black Americans often used heard the term, “African booty scratcher.” I was called African Booty Scratcher daily, being a little dark skinned Black girl with short nappy hair. This term was not reserved for African immigrants but for all dark-skinned children. Black children were reiterating the negative stereotypes of African people that surrounded us on a daily basis through media, the Western education system and older generations. And it hurt.
In fact, there is a meme floating around the net that says, “You called me an African Booty Scratcher in school. Now you’re wearing a dashiki.”
Yet few who circulate this meme will admit that their parents also held onto negative stereotypes of Black Americans and Jamaicans, often attempting to keep them away. Using their own derogatory terms to describe them.
Though this generation has more opportunities to form cross-cultural bonds than our parents, there are those among us that are harboring hurt. And turning this pain into a “you can’t share my toy attitude.” It’s time to grow up. We’re not on the playground anymore.
We are all hurting, because we’ve been taught to believe the same lies.
Black Americans, Jamaicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Black Canadians, Afro-Caribbeans, whatever you want to call us, are members of the Pan African family. Wearing African clothing and tribal print is more revolutionary and impactful than upholding any stereotypes, slurs or one writer’s shortsightedness.
Our progress depends on our interconnectedness.
Over 400 years ago, many of us were torn from the shores of our homelands in Africa. We were beaten for speaking our languages, shunned for our skin, raped, murdered and brutalized. Some of us tossed ourselves over the sides of ships in order to see freedom through death. We have witnessed our family members hanging from trees. We have survived a horror like no other and still have the unmitigated gall to walk around in 2015 with our tribal print and paint. Our ancestors are somewhere smiling.
Despite not being born in Africa, like Nkrumah proclaimed, Africa was born in us. Overthrowing the tools of oppressive systems, gaining self knowledge and reconnecting with our origins may not always be perfect or without growing pains. But it is not and never will be cultural appropriation.
It’s a layered, nuanced, complicated triumph.
I am a member of the North American Delegation of the 8th Pan African Congress. To be included on our mailing list email OurLegaci@gmail.com.
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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Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
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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Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of Our Legaci Press and the National Black Cultural Information Trust. To reach JAM, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jessica @JAMAiwuyor.
“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.”
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.
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
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
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
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive – Audre Lorde
Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.
At only 7 days old, a baby was called “N–ga” for the first time. I witnessed it as I visited a friend that had just given birth. The father of the new baby boy held him in his arms, smiled and said “This is my little n—a.” In my knee jerk reaction I blurted out, “He’s only been here for a week and you’re already calling him that!” The new father then corrected himself and said, “Oh, I mean he’s my little man.”
I knew what he meant. When he said that word, he was genuinely thinking loving thoughts towards his new son. Perhaps, that’s why I was so disturbed by it. His expression of love was laced with derogatory language of habit. A father has love for his first child and he articulates it by using the word N–ga.
Black people saying the N-word is not the most surprising or troubling attribute of American lingo. This is not a “Black” problem. To believe so, only further contributes to criminalizing the Black experience. The English language is ripe with coding, words and terminology that dehumanizes the “other.” Martin Luther King once stated, “Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms for the word black. It’s always something degrading, low, and sinister.” We are not the problem, our environment is.
Much like other modes of oppression, the N-word was used against us, to the point that some of us have become accustomed to and often perpetuate it ourselves. Almost without a choice, it becomes a stamped phrase lingering in our minds.
The phrase “My n- -ga.” is more complex than it seems. When it’s used within the African American community, it signifies a recognition of a shared experience. It’s almost like an inside joke or inner laughter is taking place towards the dehumanization. It’s like laughing to keep from crying while at the same time saying, “But I’m still here.” Within this seemingly unrecognized state of despotism, we’re surviving. Which is why for some, the song “N–gas in Paris” is triumphant. I’m not advocating for the usage of the N-word. I’m just saying, I understand. And this is what I believe many people are trying to articulate, when they say they’ve taken the word back.
This is why when perceived outsiders like Paula Deen, Madonna or John Mayer say the N-word, it’s automatically rejected. This is not done in some vacuum of hypocrisy but instead out of an often unspoken understanding that these people, do not share the lived experience of being boxed into the “n–ga” identity by main stream society. Therefore any attempts to interject within this subjugated space is viewed as appropriation or as a mechanism to further exacerbate their subjugated existence.
But how do we stop people from using it? It’s almost impossible to forcefully erase a term from common language. If people continue to identify with it, rather misguided or not, it will still be used. However, much of our concerns could be solved if we use our own legacy as a guide.” There are words much more powerful than the N-word will ever be. One of them is called Sankofa. It’s a West African term that means “go back and fetch it.” Sankofa is often symbolized as a bird reaching back carrying an egg.The word and symbol serves as a reminder to use your historical compass to find your freedom. It’s like following the North Star.
Another word is Ubuntu. According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ubuntu is a South African term meaning, “I am because you are.” It reminds us that the humanity of one person is dependent on the humanity of others. We are all interconnected.
I’ve used these words and ideals on students before and noticed a considerable difference in attitude. My 3rd grade students, went from calling each other names to reading Langston Hughes’ “I Too Am America.” So has activist, Jarrett Mathis, who launched a full campaign on educating youth about African American history. I’ve found that once people, especially children know their history…their real history, they are less likely to think of themselves within the confines of the N-word or any other oppressive language. Their world becomes greater and expanded by the thought that finally, they can be something more than a “N–ga.”
So the next time, you hear someone call themselves by this term, try not to engage in respectability politics. Because simply being “respectable” won’t save us and never has. Instead, if the person is open to it, use it as a learning moment. Find some type of way to remind this person, who they really are. Even if they reject it initially, at least the seed will be planted.
“When n–gas become Gods, walls come tumbling.” – Erykah Badu
Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.