The Atlantic has a great interview
with prolific writer and activist Alice Walker. It was posted just before she appeared at this past weekend's Split This Rock
poetry festival, an event that celebrates "the work of writing the poems that split open the injustices in society." Walker shares about what we can learn from poetry. This is one of the interview's highlights for me: You mention several times in your recent book--Overcoming Speechlessness—growing up in Georgia, in the Jim Crow South, and how that memory bonds you to this universal struggle for freedom of all people. What do you think of younger Americans who don't have a memory of Jim Crow and are cut off from what that American period was like? It's all happening in our time. All you need to do is open your eyes. Someone right now is living my life 50 or 60 years ago in this country, today. If you are thinking you are separate in any way, just wander onto any reservation. Wander to any part of the ghetto or any streets on the back roads of Georgia. It's still there. And so I think we have to remind ourselves of this so we don't get caught in that path that we have to have had the exact experience of someone else. But frankly what poetry does is it shows us, it's a teacher that allows us to connect, emotionally, with people so profoundly that we don't have to have had their exact experience, we can just connect with them wherever they are and live today. So there's really no need ever to feel that you can't understand something or other people. That you can't feel for other people just because you didn't grow up that way. You can and we must really keep our faith strong that we can empathize.You can read the whole interview on The Atlantic website here. What are your thoughts on the interview? Were you at the Split This Rock poetry festival? According to the lineup of featured poets, it was
quite an event, and I'd love to hear from you about what it was like to be there. Don’t you hear this hammer ring? I’m gonna split this rock And split it wide! When I split this rock, Stand by my side.-from "Big Buddy," by Langston Hughes
Black woman in meditation
I’ve got this thing about anger. The thing being that I don’t like it. I absolutely hate being the target of it, which is normal I guess, but I really hate to feel it, too. It’s something I could work on. Accepting it as a natural feeling. Nothing wrong with getting mad.
My aversion to anger goes way back, to when I learned that being a good girl means being a nice and gentle person, and that anger often stems from misunderstanding and ends in regret. It also goes deep, to what it means to be an angry black woman, to embody an image that's part of both a negative stereotype
and a painful truth.
So I also tend to avoid expressing anger. I don't like to speak out of anger, for fear that I'll say something I regret, something I can't take back, hurt someone who doesn't deserve it, make someone feel guilty for something they can do nothing about.
But sometimes there is anger that I couldn't avoid, even if I tried. And it's moments like these when I remember that getting mad can be good for something.
Last night, I attended New Poetry Mission, returning to the local literary scene after a few months' absence. There were a few things that drew me back - wanting to reconnect with folks like host Sam Sax, for instance, and wanting to hear some good poetry, which certainly happened when feature Sean Patrick Mulroy
(among others) blew me away with his work.
But mostly, I wanted to go because I'd written a poem I wanted to read at the open mic. I wanted to read it, for Trayvon Martin. And I needed to read it. For the sake of expressing my own anger.
The poem was what I'd call "raw" - just finished, still rough around the edges, nothing I'd consider submitting for publication or sharing with a writing group for critique. It's not what I'd call evidence of my skill or the mastering of my craft. But it's full of my anger
. Anger that's honest, without censorship or hesitation. In a way, that means it's the best I've got.
This is the truth I cannot hide: when I look at the facts of Trayvon's murder
, I get really, really mad. It feels like the kind of anger I'd want to tuck deep inside of a place that would never see the light of day, but it's all over that poem I wrote, and rather than hiding it, I released it into the world. I can't quite say that it felt good, because it felt terrifying, like it was coming from a sad, nearly hopeless place inside of me, but it felt right.
My reading last night reminded me that anger has its place. For me, that place is in injustice. I am angry for Trayvon, and for everyone who could be in his place
. I couldn't, and wouldn't, have it any other way.
I remember when I read poet Bassey Ikpi's article in The Root
last summer. The one in which she tells the world about Siwe Monsanto, the bright black teenager, daughter of Ikpi's close friend. The girl who wrote beyond her years, and also danced, and also cut herself, and also committed suicide at the age of 15. I remember thinking, how brave and generous of Ikpi, to share her grief with us, to tell Siwe's story without shame or fear that this isn't what we're supposed to be talking about. See, Siwe's more than a number to add to statistics of the increasing rates of black teens losing their lives to suicide.
All of those who have lost their lives are. But without sharing their stories, we bury them in the silence so many communities of color hold around the subject of mental health. Stigmas against
seeking out mental health treatment or even admitting you're struggling
only hurt us, and oftentimes, those who hurt the most are our most vulnerable, the youngest among us. And it's not just a certain type of dialogue that allows these stigmas to continue. It's also a lack of dialogue. That dangerously still silence.
So now, Siwe's story is not just words, but action. Ikpi's launched The Siwe Project
, an organization that believes in the power of storytelling for individual healing, as well as community transformation. The project aims to help build "a world in which people of African descent can openly share their experiences with mental health challenges and feel supported in seeking treatment without shame." Visit the website
for more details, and check out poet Bassey Ikpi
in this touching video created for The Siwe Project. And also? Tell your stories.
Sometimes there are no words. The anger, the sadness, and the longing for justice come too late to hope for one young man to ever take another breath again. 17 year old Trayvon Martin was unarmed, carrying only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea when a man who deemed him "suspicious" shot and killed him. That man has not been arrested for taking Trayvon's life. Those are the facts.
Rest in peace, Trayvon
And this is the boy we've lost. I'm joining in today's blog-in for Trayvon
, but just to be clear, this blog post itself isn't for the sake of bringing Trayvon justice. No, these are just words, and at the moment they feel like just that, only words
. Here, I can honor Trayvon's memory. But to take action, we must do more. Information from forharriet.com: Sign the petition
at Change.org to prosecute the killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin
Contact Bill Lee, Chief of Police
Sanford Police Department
815 W. 13th Street
Sanford , Florida 32771
Contact Norman Wolfinger, Florida's 18th District State's Attorney
State Attorney's Office
Criminal Justice Center
101 Bush Boulevard
PO Box 8006
Sanford, Florida 32772-8006
With all the "Linsanity"
fanfare around NBA player Jeremy Lin going on, everyone's been forced to adjust our expectations of who a star basketball player can be. And here's someone else to challenge our expectations. "No Look Pass" is a documentary about a rising basketball star. Her name is Emily Tay, and she's female, queer, and the daughter of Burmese immigrants. According to this review, the film is
"a rare and singular portrait of an Asian American female star athlete, trying hard to reconcile her sexuality with her sense of familial loyalty." Here's the trailer. It looks pretty good, and it's screening tonight in San Francisco (details here).
This is in response to the Kony 2012 campaign, and the backlash that has followed.
This post was inspired by the people of Uganda
, but I’ll write from my own perspective. I can research their stories and read their words, but I can’t speak for them. I can’t speak for anyone but myself.
I would cringe if somebody else tried to tell my story. The truth is, it can sometimes take me some time and struggle to come up with the words to tell it myself, so I don’t see how anyone else could expect to do it.
And I’m not waiting for anyone else to do it. I’m not waiting for a prince to ride up on a white horse. No, if someone’s gonna get a pony ride out of my journey, it damn well better be me. I am not voiceless or hopeless. I never have been, not even in my silence, not even in my darkest days. My story is mine to tell, when I want to tell it, how I want to tell it. My healing journey is mine to take.
That doesn’t mean I don’t find support useful. There are times when I need to reach out for help, but it’s me doing the reaching, asking for the kind of help I need. It’s not about the person I’m asking for help. I’m not here to let you feel like a savior
, to erase the guilt that comes with your privilege
, to help you get rich
or justify your call for violence
If you need to simplify my story, you’re telling it wrong. If you’re looking for the villain and the victim, you’re missing something. And if you think it’s crucial to get my story heard by any means necessary, even if it means without my voice, or against my wishes, or by presenting an altered, incomplete truth, then you’re silencing me
, not saving me.
I don’t need you to save me. I don’t need you to peer in from the outside to tell me what’s best for me. I can speak for myself. And I’m not the only one
. So if you want to support me, listen to me, and I’ll tell you what I need. Don’t go believing what you hear of my story unless you hear it from me.
This has been out for a while, so you've probably seen it before, but here's Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk
, "The Danger of a Single Story." It came to mind recently as the Kony 2012 campaign video
has swept through social media, showing the potential power of speaking up for social change on the world wide web. This campaign has been the target of some criticism
, about the validity of the video
, its claims, and whether or not those who are taking up the cause of spreading it are creating social change. This conversation has me thinking about who's telling the story in this case, and perhaps more importantly, whose voice is being left out. It also brings up questions about the ease of attempting to create social change through social media. It's an ease that can both raise hope and risk carelessness and danger. As someone
who blogs, networks through Facebook, and occasionally tweets
as part of my work, I find this to be an essential discussion. It's also a complicated matter. I'll share some more thoughts on it later. For now, I'll leave you with these wise words by writer Chimamanda Adichie.