As you probably heard last month
, political exile Assata Shakur has been added to the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List. This is huge, not only because they doubled the reward for her capture to $2 million, and not only because she's the first woman to be added to the list, but because the U.S. government is sending a message that reaches beyond Assata's ears. This message reaches me, and of course, anyone like me, merging the word "revolutionary" with the word "terrorist"
to call those of us who resist, who challenge injustice, enemies.
Like many others, I've been searching for a way to respond to this attack on political activists. And, like I usually do, I've been searching especially for a way to respond through art.
So of course, I'm so glad that such an opportunity has emerged. Poet, artist, and cultural organizer Vanessa Huang
has written a poem for Assata, and she's invited all of us to be part of amplifying "our liberation love frequency" by sharing these words. Hearing about the poem, I knew already that I believed in its power, and all the more so when I heard of its sources of inspiration - Assata's poem "I believe in living,"
Audre Lorde's poem "For Assata"
and essay "Poetry is Not a Luxury,"
Cheryl Clarke's poem "wearing my cap backwards,"
and Morgan Bassichis' play "The Witch House."
The convergence of such artistic power can only mean magic is taking place, so it's only fitting that the invitation is to help "cast a spell"
for Assata by helping the support for her spread and grow.
Visit this project's campaign page at www.igg.me/at/poemforassata to read Vanessa's poem and to learn about how you can help share the poem, get a print for yourself, and do more help bring love and liberation to Assata. We, the change-makers following in Assata's revolutionary footsteps, can have our say - Hands Off Assata!
Black folk don't blog. No, we keep our business to ourselves. If we share it with anyone, it's family. Black folk don't write. Just look at the widely accepted U.S. literary canon
and you know a young black woman like me has no business trying to be a writer. Also, black folk don't talk about things like violence
, survival or healing
. We survive, wordlessly, and go on with our lives. Okay, so clearly it's not that simple. I do all of the above. But it's amazing what it can to do to a person, the amount of hesitation or fear or self-doubt that can sneak in when I feel compelled to do something after hearing that "black folk don't."The idea behind the documentary web series "Black Folk Don't" is to
have conversations about those activities that often complete the statement "black folk don't..." Series creator Angela Tucker talks to folks who show that there are exceptions to every rule, and also some history, some pain, some shame and some humor behind each one. It makes for a very insightful show. In an interview just published on The Root
, Tucker chats about season one of "Black Folk Don't," as well as the upcoming second season.Let's see, what else don't black people do? Black folk don't identify as queer. If we do lean that way, we certainly keep it to ourselves. Oh, and black folk don't get tattoos. Black folk don't listen to white folks' music.
And black folk don't love animals. We certainly don't occasionally refer to our cats as "soulmates." And if we did, we certainly wouldn't admit to it on a public blog.Let's talk about
what we do and don't, and why. It seems like a good step toward understanding one another, beyond the limits that sometimes hold us back.
I’m back! I’ve been busy preparing for my first MFA residency, which begins this week. And in the process, two stories from the media have been swirling around in my belly like a badly digested meal.
The first, a follow-up from two blog posts
last week, about the “A Gay Girl in Damascus” blogger who allegedly disappeared
. It turns out I was wrong on all counts – Amina Abdallah does not exist, nor was her blog written by somebody whose story is similar to Amina’s. The entire blog was made up and written by Tom MacMaster, a married white guy who decided to take on the role of the oppressed and call it a favor to those who really are. He issued an “apology” for this, one that reads to me more as “I’m sorry you all took me so seriously” than “I’m sorry for what I did.” I’m sorry, too. The blog seems to have been taken down, but on its latest post MacMaster stood by what he did: “I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.” Those who are actually being affected
by those issues may disagree
The other story is about comedian Tracy Morgan’s rant, the one about how gay people should stop whining about something as “insignificant” as bullying, and how he would stab his own son to death if he were gay. Morgan has also apologized
, but still the debate
follows – should he be allowed
to say such things for the sake of comedy? At least one comedian
This all has me thinking about the possibility of setting the truth aside. For each of these men’s actions to be considered justifiable, we would have to suspend reality. To temporarily forget one man’s privilege
, as he tries to identify with the oppressed. To temporarily forget that we live in a world where our words have tragic consequences
, so that we can all laugh and have a good time.
I don’t think it’s possible for me to set my truth aside. And I’m kind of fed up with the idea that I should try. Why can’t we hold both our truths, and the possibility for change? Why can’t we have a good time, and keep our truths in mind?
Here’s my pledge, as I begin this grad school residency, and offer my work to be judged on somebody else’s terms: I will not set aside my truth. I may set aside the media, and its idea that social responsibility can take a back seat to entertainment. I may set aside my preconceptions about what I can or should write, and how I can or should write it. I may set aside those occasional desires to be or write like someone else, in favor of the acceptance of the fact that I can be nobody but myself.
But I will not set aside my truth. What rings true to me will not be buried beneath popular opinion or proper technique, nor will it be brushed away by potential prestige or the perceived value of entertainment. My truth, that ever present, always living truth, will always be mine. And I will not set it aside.
And now, I’m off to begin my residency. I’ll update about it as soon as I get a chance. Thanks for sticking around!
I don't have a TV. Most of the time this works out perfectly well for me -- after all, as far as media goes I do have the Internet if I want to feel connected to the rest of the world. Should I still be so dependent on technology, though? All weekend I've been glued to Youtube, watching videos of what's happening in Egypt.
I considered this yesterday while attending a Free University
meeting. One of the points that came up was a resistance to depending on technology, at least technology that would outright replace human connection. Would providing Youtube videos of course lectures take away from the face-to-face element of our vision
for reaching people?In the case of Egypt, there are videos that have been created for the people, by the people, and they wouldn't have reached anyone if it meant relying on the government or mainstream media to show us what's happening. So this is a case of technology being used by the people to claim their own rights. Then again, maybe there are some drawbacks.
Maybe if I didn't have the ease of watching Youtube from the comfort of my home, I might actually be out connecting with people to learn more about the situation. At the meeting yesterday, Alan Kaufman made the point that those who sought to learn used to travel the globe to reach a teacher they wished to study with. Now, we're hardly willing to leave our couches to find the information we seek. So technology certainly has the potential to reach more people, in ways that were never before possible. But let's be sure it doesn't just make us more comfortable in our complacency.
The folks in the videos know that change comes from movement. Let's move.
I suppose I should comment on the Huck Finn / n-word controversy. If you’re not familiar with the latest race-related storm over publishing, here’s the story: Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben has adapted Twain’s classic novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for New South Books. The change he’s made that’s gotten the most attention is to use the word “slave” in every instance where Twain used “nigger.” Now, much of the media is paying just as much attention to the original story itself as they are to the bonus flap, critic Roger Ebert’s tweet that he’d “rather be called a nigger than a slave.”
I’m commenting on this in part because it’s an important issue, of course, though not because I’m particularly invested in the preserving the book as it is each time it’s published. I have to admit, too, that I’m joining this conversation here partly because I’m a black writer and so I’ve been getting those looks.
You know the ones. The looks you get from someone in a position of privilege, who wants you to give permission to speak on an issue by speaking up about it first. Those looks I complain about now, but that maybe Roger Ebert could have used with a person of color before he went and spoke up about an issue that has nothing to do
with him. The issue of the tweet is simple enough – as a white man, Ebert wasn’t in any position to state his opinion on which term he’d prefer, when he’d never have to worry about being called either. He knows
But the question remains about the use of the word itself, about censorship we’re demanding for not only modern spaces like Twitter, but for literature published as far back as 1884. I think it’s one thing to discuss what the n-word means to us today – to question whether modern hip-hop artists who popularize the term, for example, should be criticized for disregarding its history or praised for reclaiming the word. Personally, I believe that the word’s long, ugly history is enough that we should put it behind us for good.
I think of my position as a writer, however, and I know if I’d used the n-word as much as Twain had in a work of my own, I would feel it was excessive, I’d be uncomfortable with it, and I’d certainly try to avoid it. If I were writing a historical work in which the word has a role, however, to censor myself would be to deny historical truth. Avoiding the use of a word with a violent history simply to allow readers to stay in their places of comfort
is dangerous, and not in a good way
. Rather than attempt to rewrite history in terms we can all find on a page without spilling our morning coffee, we must face the truth of our past, even those uncomfortable truths we’d rather avoid.
The important part of this whole controversy is that it’s led to a discussion
. We can ask ourselves and each other why these words feel so awful to us, so we remember their history and understand how we should move forward. These conversations should happen all the time, though – it shouldn’t take censorship to threaten to take away our words for us to realize their significance. But Mark Twain has already made his statement – I say let that remain as is, and let’s keep the conversation going between you and I.