New Year, Same Power

civil-rights

For many people, 2016 ended with a great number of mixed feelings, anxiousness and anxiety. This is especially due to the fact that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and has went about bringing every elitist, racist, and womanizing lawmaker along for the ride. It’s easy to get bogged down with the imagery in front of us.

There are legitimate fears that many could lose much needed healthcare, immigrant families could be split apart and police could starting fulfilling a renewed mandate to further the criminalization of Black and Brown people.

However, as I am reminded by older generations, if they could survive Reagan – we can survive Trump. Furthermore, if our ancestors could mobilize in the face of chattel slavery and Jim Crow, surely we can find some ways to utilize the modern tools in front of us to continue the push for social justice in all forms.

At a time when reading was still illegal for enslaved Africans in America, Frederick Douglass was publishing The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper that advocated for freedom and the plight of enslaved persons in America.

At a time when Jim Crow was in its prime and women did not yet have the right to vote, Mary Mcleod Bethune started a school to ensure the education of future generations Black children (at the supreme disapproval of the KKK).

At a time when African Americans faced stiff, often deadly backlash to civil rights and social justice initiatives, Ella Baker worked as a key grass roots organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Times can appear hopeless, but history serves as a reminder that the same energy used to overcome past oppressive forces continues onward. So with this new year, let us be comforted and empowered knowing that the never-ending strength of grassroots “people power” remains unwavering.

Here are a few ways you can be a social justice advocate in 2017.

Read Indivisible.

indivisible-guide

Indivisible is a document created by former congressional staffers that contains information on how to organize a group in your local community to put pressure on your elected officials and representatives. Described as, “A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda”, tactics in this document help to make sure your representatives hear your grievances and vote in your best interest.

Join the Movement for Black Lives.

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The Movement for Black Lives is a collective of Black organizations joining together to protect the lives of people of African descent across the country. They are currently organizing to “build safe and vibrant communities for all Black people.” The collective has issued a call to action for those who want to get involved.

Join the NAACP.

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Members of local NAACP Alabama branches, led by NAACP president Cornell Brooks, were recently arrested during a sit-in protesting the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for the role of Attorney General. Sessions has a well known anti-civil rights record. The NAACP will be fighting against Sessions’ nomination and working to continue the struggle for civil rights.

Grow your own movement.

There may be something you’re passionate about starting yourself. Team up with friends, family members, and other community organizers to work towards collectively building an organization that will meet an unfilled need of your community. There are a huge number of opportunities to work with other activists and grow. Idealist.org and WorkForGood.org are two websites that can serve as a starting point for finding volunteers and other activists in your area.

In conclusion, the above listed are just a few ways to get started working on social justice and civil rights in 2017. The opportunities are endless and the power is waiting.

 

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” – Frantz Fanon

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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Why are we so invested in lying to ourselves about Kanye West?

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About 3 years ago to this day, I wrote an article about Kanye West titled, Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex. The response has been very interesting. I’ve received a plethora of emails from scholars, journalists, and bloggers agreeing or disagreeing with my initial thoughts. There was also some hate mail and angry tweets. Additionally, I was lambasted in a book that thankfully no one has read. So there’s that.

Among all of the hoopla and the never ending Kanye antics, my article continues to circulate widely, being read by over 200,000 readers and counting. Apparently, I’ve hit a nerve with an enduring sting.

Yes, there is room for discussion about life circumstances, pain and mental health. All of us need to have these discussions because they are legitimate and acknowledge our shared humanity. But there is also room for discussions about hypocrisy, accountability and social responsibility.

Right now, closing arguments for the Dylan Roof murder trial are taking place. Roof is on tape acknowledging that he went specifically to an African Methodist Episcopal church because he knew that African Americans would be there. Founded by members of the Free African Society in 1794, he knew that the AME Church was our home. Roof murdered 9 defenseless worshippers hailing the same confederate flag that Kanye wears as a provocative fashion statement.

While processing this, the hoops that people jump through to excuse Kanye West licking the boot heels of oppressors and toying with Black lives simply amazes me.

I keep coming back to the question. Why are we so invested in lying to ourselves about Kanye West?

Perhaps because the truth hurts too bad. Kanye West is an amazing artist. The Black community and beyond knows this. But his obsession with approval from white elitists is driving him further and further away from reliability.

He has lamented on stage and in his songs against the establishment. Yet longingly awaits its sweet embrace. This is a sad truth.

Another sad truth is that Kanye is all of us. 

Life is not Black and White. Nothing is so simple. We live within and navigate gray areas at almost every turn. We lament against oppressive forces, yet if given the opportunity would run towards a seat at the table instead of: tossing it over, building our own table, or forgetting tables all together by starting our own paradigm.

The man who stated, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people, ” is now chasing after Donald Trump – a man who is endorsed by the KKK and Neo-Nazis. Donald Trump has placed every elitist, racist, hateful bigot that he can into leadership roles controlling our future. While our voting rights, health care, education, and lives are at risk, Trump is the man that Kanye seeks to rub shoulders with. This is the height of hypocrisy from a man that rails against the system.

Still, we are all hypocrites in one way or another. But our saving grace is the ability to continually work towards justice even in the midst of our own inner-most conflicts.

That’s what Kanye’s Frantz Fanon Complex is about. It’s really a critique of all of us. Fanon wrote about how members of an oppressed group/the colonized often end up idolizing and molding themselves in the likeliness of their oppressors (exhibiting the colonized mind). That is precisely what Kanye is doing. This is precisely the temptation that each of us faces everyday as we navigate the center and margins of society.

We don’t have time to continue lying to ourselves about Kanye West because that would mean we’re lying about our own fluctuating realities, getting us nowhere. In order to stay grounded and forward thinking, we need to hear the truth – even if it is painful.

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

*Hey, I’m writing a book. If you know a good literary agent send them my way! JamAiwuyor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

How come you don’t remember?

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Screenshot of Nova and Charley’s fight

By now you’ve probably heard about or watched Queen Sugar. Hosted on the Oprah Winfrey Network and produced by Ava DuVernay, the television show is based the award winning novel by Natalie Baszile. It has so many beautiful moments of dialogue that it’s hard to pinpoint a favorite part. But if I had to choose, it would be pretty much all of the scenes between the Bordelon sisters.

The infamous repast scene continuously replays in my head.

Following their father’s death, Charley hires a company to come serve food at the repast. This fuels a rant from older sister Nova exclaiming, “How long you been gone? You ain’t been gone that long? How come you don’t remember how it’s done?”

This scene put a spotlight on built up frustration between the sisters and the annoyance of Charley’s somewhat cultural amnesia.

“How come you don’t remember.”

It’s almost an indictment of Charley, calling out her continual abstention from home ties. The entire episode and probably the whole series is a projection on memory as a life line.

Charley (who is currently facing both public and private turmoil) is struggling with finding a way to come back to her authentic self; the self she lost in the chase after a life that turned out to be the complete opposite of what it seemed to be. Which happens often. We chase something; a dream job, a high position – only to later discover that none of it was what it appeared to be and we find ourselves looking back, trying to recollect those pieces of ourselves that we dropped along the way.

Eventually, there comes a time when we need to lean on our foundation for strength but struggle because we discover that we’ve long forgotten the path back.

“How come you don’t remember”, speaks to that process – which is the beginning step towards a rebirth. This is perhaps one of the most prominent underlying themes of Queen Sugar: rebirth, rejuvenation and resilience all achieved by using our foundation for strength. This theme is also present in Nova’s usage of healing work, which is a gift she apparently acquired from her mother.

In another scene, their brother Ralph-Angel and his son Blue share a warm embrace with his dying father on a hospital bed. The visual of the grandfather, son and grandson showcased the importance of love, lineage, and memory in the lives of the characters.

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Needless to say, Queen Sugar has many brilliant moments that offer subtle life lessons for us all to absorb. Though entertaining, it’s ultimately a learning experience with beautiful visuals and dynamic storytelling.

Queen Sugar airs Wednesdays 10pm on OWN. 

JAM-Twitter

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.

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A Message For Writers: Know That Your Words Are Powerful

JAM-Powerful

A close friend of mine recently endured a traumatic life experience that led her down an unconventionally painful path. In order to recover, she moved across the country and started a new life from the ground up. She shared with me, all the ups and downs she’s faced over the last 3 years. Her story, though uncommon, is extremely powerful, having the potential to inspire young Black women coming from a similar background. She then told me that she planned to write a book about her experiences, with the intention of saving people from going through what she’s dealt with. I’m not going to give the story away here. You’ll have to buy the book!

However, I wanted to highlight our conversation because it led to a larger one about how powerful writing is. As Black women writers, she and I have both been to the point where writing was our salvation. When we couldn’t depend on people, when no one would listen, when the pain seemed to much, when the joy was evaded, with the pleasure was marginalized, and when the injustice was overwhelming, writing was there to guide us through. Our writing, whether in the forms of poetry, prose or first person narratives, brought us not only comfort but power.

When the world seemed to beat us down, our words built us back up. No one could stop us from creating. No one could dare stand in the path of our stories. And because our stories are often interconnected, our words comforted other Black women that hadn’t yet found a way to express their thoughts.

I remember one time in Syracuse, NY, I performed a poem about religion, women, sexual abuse and how women are viewed in society. After the performance, I was called to attend a meeting with the poetry group that hosted the event. At that meeting, I could tell some people were uncomfortable with my piece. However, one woman came up to me in front of the whole group saying,” Thank you. Thank you for telling my story. I’ve always felt this way but just didn’t know how to say it. I didn’t have the words but you did it for me.”

Those words that I penned were not directed specifically towards her, yet still rendered specific results. They brought healing, understanding and power. There is power in hearing words that connect with your experiences, along with your spirit. It reaffirms who you are. It shows that you’re not alone, that you’re not imagining things. It also gives you the support to realize that your life, your story is important.

This is how I felt the first time I read Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ntozake Shange and Toni Morrison. This is how I felt the first time I listened to Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged album.

Each word reaffirmed my life, my power, my agency. Words can change how people view the world and how they view themselves within it. Perhaps, this is why my favorite quote from Maya Angelou echoes forever in my ears,

“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. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you.”

Words get into you. Writers please know that your words have power, that when you write, you’re adding to the world. No matter how small you perceive yourself to be, you can reaffirm life, call truth to power and build new foundations. You can also destroy, tear down and suppress.

But know that you have this power and do not underestimate it. Use it wisely, strategically and hopefully for a good cause.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com.

To reach JAM, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.
Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

The Subtleties of Mammy Honoring Ceremonies

 

The Subtlety Front

Kara Walker’s The Subtlety has attracted widespread acclaim but has serious conflicts that need to be discussed. 

Artist Kara Walker’s first large-scale public project is officially titled, “At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: The Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby 
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

Having read interviews featuring Walker’s explanation of the piece, it appears to possess elements of both success and missed opportunities. The Subtlety is recognized by many as a sphinx built in the image of a “Mammy” like caricature. The sphinx is jarring. It makes people want to pay attention or at least ask questions. Her explanations are continuing a conversation about the horrors of the sugar industry’s past.

In a recent interview with The Brooklyn Rail, Walker provided further prospective about the massive “sugar baby” :

She is basically a New World sphinx. A New World thinking of the sugar plantations, the Americas, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, that sort of Rolling Stones-y brown sugar dovetailing of sex and slavery as it reaches the American imagination.

Walker was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered as well:

She’s doing what she does best: drawing you in with something sweet, something almost charming, before you realize you’ve admired something disturbing. In this case, that’s the horror-riddled Caribbean slave trade that helped fuel the industrial gains of the 18th and 19th centuries; a slave trade built to profit from an insatiable Western market for refined sugar treats and rum.

“Basically, it was blood sugar,” Walker says. “Like we talk about blood diamonds today, there were pamphlets saying this sugar has blood on its hands.”

She explains that to make the sugar, the cane had to be fed into large mills by hand. It was a dangerous process: Slaves lost hands, arms, limbs and lives.

“I’ve been kind of back and forth with my reverence for sugar,” Walker says. “Like, how we’re all kind of invested in its production without really realizing just what goes into it; how much chemistry goes into extracting whiteness from the sugar cane.”

The problem with Walker’s sphinx is that the acts of oppression during the slave trade were disturbing but the enslaved Africans were not themselves disturbing. So why continue the distortion of their image? She ends up reinforcing what she seeks to dismantle. How do we honor people who lost “hands, arms and limbs and lives” with further misrepresentations of their identities?

When critically looking at this work of art, we recognize Walker as an artistic genius. Yet even in this framework, when discussing the legacy and horrors of the sugar industry she chose to magnify the mythical overly used “Mammy” imagery. We keep coming back to something that was never truly us.

However, this issue is deeper than Kara Walker’s work. It’s been done before…this mammy honoring ceremony.  This issue speaks to the internalized limitations of imagination among artists and writers when it comes to the African descended lived experience. Lingering onto falsehoods, attempting to manipulate structures in its honor is counterproductive and often representative of an internalized glass ceiling of thought.

We can be something different because we are something different.

I’m not suggesting an attempt at ignoring the history of the “Mammy” caricature but instead I’m interested in what it would look like if Walker went beyond the restraints of this mythical being when it comes to examining the lives of enslaved African artisans.

Subtlety Back

To a certain degree, I understand the appeal of the exaggerated features of the half woman, half beast sphinx. The history of the extravagant sugar sculptures called subtleties, that were bolstered through slave labor is very important. Furthermore, featuring the genitalia of the sphinx can be viewed as taking a jab at the presumed asexuality of the “Mammy” caricature, while also perhaps conjuring images of both sexual abuse and desire. It’s crude and perhaps it’s meant to be.

Yet, the symbolism of this piece is stifled by it’s misplaced distortion and a missed opportunity to unearth what’s often hidden. In this case it would be the Black woman undistorted and unexaggerated. A jewel in her own right, without the need of leaning on identity stripping myths for significance or shock value. We can be both beautiful in our nakedness and whole in our humanity while also critiquing disturbing histories.

Showing Black women as full human beings in a holistic framework is more revolutionary than torturing old caricatures like “Mammy” ever could be…and far more valuable. When we unearth and magnify our ancestors’ true identities, outside of modes of mass societal miseducation, it will be a powerful day.

 

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

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.

 

The Subtlety display is available for public viewing until July 6th. Full details available here