A Message For Writers: Stop Waiting For Permission

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There are so many different rivers to cross for writers. Writing is a field that presents rejection as a rite of passage. At every turn, writers are expected to present our work to gatekeepers for approval, acknowledgement, and accolades. The chase to be accepted is never ending and at times can be overwhelming. This, in turn, can halt progress. So much looming rejection, can lead us to forget why we’re writing in the first place. Truth be told, most writers didn’t first pick up a pen thinking about whether or not their structured thoughts would be accepted into a literary journal.

We started writing because we had a passion for something. We had a voice that needed to be released. We had a purpose that needed to be fulfilled. In the digital age, there is more flexibility than ever for writers to both hone their skills and move forward with their careers, without first needing the approval of gatekeepers. Some see this new found freedom negatively, desperately touting the need for restrictions. However few acknowledge that the current publishing industry is built on exclusionary, elitist practices that traditionally marginalize writers from under-privileged groups.

Are we to stop writing if our work is not welcomed with opened arms into prestigious literary circles?

If you have an idea for a book, get started. If you want to create your own syndicated column, podcast or video series there is nothing stoping you but you. Hone your craft, listen to your gut and move forward. There will always be time to submit to journals and send out proposals. Don’t let this process halt your progression.

Stop waiting for permission to be yourself and fulfill your purpose.

 

JAM-TwitterJessica 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. Don’t forget to join our mailing list!

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6 Black Films & Shows to Discuss Other Than Birth of a Nation

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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 Awkward Black Girl. 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.

 

3. Hidden Figures starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe

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.

 

JAM-TwitterJessica 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.

JAMAiwuyor.com
@TweetingJAM

Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor

 

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.

A Message For Writers: Save Your Energy

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The internet’s news cycle moves in waves. When news hits, there is often so much to cover over a short period of time, that topics are easily considered old before you even press the publish button. Every few weeks a celebrity dies, a political scandal unfolds, racism rears its ugly head and the world keeps spinning. We’re operating on a 24 hour news cycle. Consequently, our minds don’t have enough time to rest.

Furthermore as writers, there’s an almost never ending pressure to comment on the latest drama. We’ve been trained to be “outraged” about almost everything. There are a million voices all chiming in at once, all clamoring to be heard.  Everyone is pressured to say something or go unnoticed and nobody wants to be unnoticed.

It’s tiring. It’s a creativity drainer. Most of all it’s wasteful. Perhaps time would be better utilized focusing on issues we enjoy writing about the most.

Before your next think piece ask yourself, “Do I really care about this…right now? Do I actually have anything of substance to contribute to this conversation that needs to be said? Has enough time passed to actually have a nuanced discussion about this? Are there other writers already articulating a similar perspective as me, possibly better than I would?”

For me, these questions have resulted in NO to articles about: Tyga, Nicki Minaj vs. Taylor Swift and Black feminists defending her, Rihanna’s so called violence against women music video with Black vs. White feminists (again), anything about Riley Curry (cute but only 3 years old), and finally Bill Cosby (because the internet has this covered in great abundance, from almost every angle). There are many other subjects that I also have on pause.

I’m not saying no to these topics forever, just for right now.

After making it a practice to ask myself this series of questions, I’m glad to report that I’ve been saved from spending a lot of unnecessary time and energy on “hot topics.” Yes, I have opinions on them. However I’ve learned from experience that opinions and or critiques aren’t always worthy of an article.

Plus, I’d rather have more practice with being creative than trendy.

It may work in your favor to resist getting swept up in the fury of the interwebs. Only write about what you’re really passionate about. Your energy is better suited on work that builds towards your future, instead of trying to feed the internet beast. Because as we all know, the internet beast is never satisfied.

Release yourself from the digital hamster wheel.

We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.” – Nikki Giovanni

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 Convenience of Forgetting

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In May of 2014, I published a piece about my family’s escape from sharecropping. I was surprised to learn that so many people didn’t know that sharecropping was slavery rebooted. The title of this article was Dismantling Collective Amnesia. It received a tremendous amount of feedback from writers and historians alike. I was applauded for both sharing and remembering the story. Still, it wasn’t as if I had a choice. Such transgenerational survival stories do not afford the convenience of forgetting.

Fast forward to April 2015. It was revealed that Ben Affleck participated in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s well known PBS series, “Finding Your Roots.” However, when one of his ancestors (Benjamin Cole) was discovered to be a former slave owner, he requested that Benjamin Cole be completely erased from his family history. This ancestor (that Affleck shares his first name with) would not be included in Affleck’s “Finding Your Roots” episode. This was in order to avoid being associated with his ancestor’s past. Supposedly, Gates’ team allowed this erasure to occur.

This created a firestorm, in which Gates, a renowned African American Studies historian, faced criticism. It is unknown as to how much pressure was placed on the team to exclude this pivotal component of Affleck’s family history. But one thing is certain. Affleck represents America’s denial problem. His initial refusal to include the full truth of his family’s history aligns perfectly with America’s current trajectory of denial and erasure. It’s the same premise as “all this racism with no racists.” All this oppression with no oppressors. Affleck may have been trying to deter attention from someone he was ashamed of, however he contributed to the historical denial of oppression mounted on people of African descent; as if slavery were a figment of Black imagination, and slave owners are simply fictional characters that exist only in our minds.

It’s the same travesty as schools in Texas and Massachusetts seeking to rewrite history books to make slavery appear less brutal. It’s the same as publishers seeking to detract “nigger” from Mark Twain’s books to make him appear less racist. It’s the same as the years of denial that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owning rapist.

Furthermore, Affleck’s ability to dodge this history is a brilliant display of his own racially tiered privilege. Black Americans do not have the privilege of dodging history and the pains of slavery simply because it makes us uncomfortable. Black Americans do not have the privilege of making special requests to disconnect us from being the descendant of enslaved people. So much of the U.S. Black experience is systematically connected to slavery and the imagery of servitude. There is no escaping this, no matter how factually incorrect many of these depictions may be.

The truth is many people of African descent were enslaved in the Americas. The truth is there were enslavers that made this industry possible. Affleck’s ancestor was one of them. His attempt to disconnect himself, is an attempt to erase this truth, thereby erasing the truth about how racial oppression operates and who is behind it.

Ignoring these truths is not a viable solution. Acknowledgement and discomfort is necessary in order to dismantle institutional oppression. Though Affleck is a well known liberal, his denial is representative of many white liberals and conservatives alike who seek to dodge history in order to quell discomfort and personal responsibility towards acknowledging and dismantling systematic privilege.

Current day systems of oppression thrive on the lives of marginalized groups. For example, the current struggle for living wages among America’s working class is closely linked to strategies from chattel slavery for maximizing labor and increasing profit with low wage expenses.

The plantation didn’t just produce the commodities that fueled the broader economy, it also generated innovative business practices that would come to typify modern management. As some of the most heavily capitalized enterprises in antebellum America, plantations offered early examples of time-motion studies and regimentation through clocks and bells. Seeking ever-greater efficiencies in cotton picking, slaveholders reorganized their fields, regimented the workday, and implemented a system of vertical reporting that made overseers into managers answerable to those above for the labor of those below.

The perverse reality of a capitalized labor force led to new accounting methods that incorporated (human) property depreciation in the bottom line as slaves aged, as well as new actuarial techniques to indemnify slaveholders from loss or damage to the men and women they owned. Property rights in human beings also created a lengthy set of judicial opinions that would influence the broader sanctity of private property in U.S. law. – Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman (How Slavery Led To Modern Capitalism)

In order to break these systems apart, there has to be a truthful discussion about what happened, who was responsible, and how it can be rectified. There must be a sincere attempt at truth and reconciliation.

This was Affleck’s opportunity to show his enslaving ancestor as an example of the ills of America’s past. Then show himself as a person working to rectify these ills. Instead he chose to ignore the issue altogether. For that, he reinforces a hard truth about America. Denial is chosen over healing. Erasure is chosen over accountability. Consequently, marginalized and systematically oppressed communities continue to be blamed for their own oppression, and history is laid to the wayside.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell 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.

Disappearing Words: Writing In The Digital Space

 

Zora Reading

Zora Neale Hurston reading

There’s something magical about writing and sharing the inner workings of your mind instantly. That’s how it works in the digital space. We’re constantly sharing, breathing new life into old words. Yet, at the same time there’s a fleeting feeling.

Another case of police brutality…write a think piece.

Another person says something racist…write a think piece.

Another person does something sexist…write a think piece.

I’ve actually come to hate think pieces. I can’t help but feel like a rat on a wheel. There’s this constant spinning motion pushing you to stay writing, stay hitting that publish button in hopes of likes or some monetary gain. I’ve heard it referred to as “feeding the beast.” The internet is never satisfied. What’s popular today is gone tomorrow, almost as if it never existed. Old suddenly takes on new meaning. Content often focuses on who can break it faster and hinders most real possibilities of in-depth analysis or nuanced discussions.

Everyone must ride the wave. Or be deemed nonexistent.

I’ve often wondered how potent their words would have been if Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston spent hours on Facebook and Twitter instead of penning poems and writing books. Perhaps they would have gained a “following.”

Yet, would we value their work the same? Would their words have been added to the endless stream of brilliant yet easily discardable “latest posts?” Would we still value their time?

The problem with digital writing is there is nothing to hold on to. It’s not the same feeling as having a physical book or magazine. It’s digital, cloud based, and light like air. Thereby making digital writing feel temporary, like a fleeting gust of wind.

Though nothing ever really disappears on the internet, the quick natured environment of digital communication makes important dialogue get quickly discarded in exchange for the latest controversy.

Everyone feasts upon it, dining on every piece, tearing apart every strip. Then, on to the next one. Lack of substance becomes reality. Quick witted pseudo scholars, psychologists and self help gurus dominate droves of gullible minds simply because they’ve found the key to social media. They’ve learned to ride, even manipulate the waves.

Even with well meaning publications, writing becomes another day, another click bait. Always striving to be ahead of the page view curve makes substance secondary. Everyone is striving to be memorable without memory.

Where do we go from here?

How do we deal with the issue of disappearing words? (The fleeting times, the missed moments, the badly deconstructed ideas, and the incessant desire to be noticed.)

There are no real answers to this question. Perhaps our only choice is to be inventive: push the limits, dig, write, erase, write again, breakdown, and build up in ways that haven’t been done before. Maybe then, our words will serve more as a reference point than some random page, that once was skimmed and forgotten.

Nevertheless, we will do what writers do. We’ll keep writing, hoping the digital swindlers leave enough room for us to make an impact before our words disappear.

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

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