Audre Lorde died twenty-one years ago today. When I first composed this post, I didn't realize the significance of this day. It's not a coincidence, I'm sure. The spiritual connection that allows black women to strengthen each other can't be broken, even in death.
Last month, I got the thrill of a lifetime with the chance to see a documentary film about Audre Lorde, my activist poet queen, at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland. Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years
was playing as the final feature film in the 2013 International Black Women's Film Festival
, an event designed to combat negative stereotyping of black women in the media by giving space for black women to tell our own stories. As soon as I heard the film festival would be playing this film, I knew it was the place for me.
It's just a movie, I know, but as I headed to the theater, I felt the giddiness of preparing to meet my idol in person. It seemed like the closest thing – when Audre Lorde passed away in 1992, I was a child unaware of her existence, and I have rarely seen evidence of her life in any form other than text. This text has felt, to me, like sacred traces of a mystical woman, echoes of divine footsteps that once walked the earth with us mere mortals. As I've read Audre's poetry, essays, and speeches over the years, I've imagined her as such a human being who is so extraordinary, she may not be human at all. In my mind, Audre Lorde has always been a goddess.
It remains true that Audre's spirit is divine and eternal. But the film showed many things, and perhaps most of all, it showed her humanity. Would a goddess walk through parks with friends, or laugh, or dance? Would she face the struggle of a cancer diagnosis? Would she endure the gentle teasing of her loving life partner? Maybe. But it's possible for any person, including me, to experience such things. Any of us could live our lives as she lived hers, with love and poetry as social action, with the capacity to change the world around us.
After the movie ended, I was a blubbering mess of joyful tears, and I didn't have the words to explain why. Maybe the sight of Audre Lorde dancing was something I never knew I needed to see. Maybe I'd been thirsting to hear her speak the words I'd read so many times. Suddenly, she felt more real to me than she ever had before. Maybe I needed to see her in the flesh. Maybe I needed to be seen.
It's strange to think that seeing somebody else on a big screen could help me
feel seen, but it's true. The film chronicles the final years of Audre's life, 1984-1992, when she spent time in Berlin and had a profound impact on the lives of black women there, challenging both black women and white women to think and write about race as they never had before. She mentored black women who had been silenced and isolated from one another, bringing them together to recognize one another and themselves as Afro-Germans. Many of these women testified in interviews that Audre's guidance allowed them to feel proud of who they are, for the first time in their lives.
The film sent me off with the exhilarating, terrifying feeling of seeing myself as Audre Lorde would have seen me. Not the goddess Audre Lorde, mythical creature of my dreams, but Audre Lorde, the human being, who really lived and breathed and saw a magnificent power in every black woman.
Now, I don't have to wonder what it would be like for me to meet Audre Lorde. Now, I know. I wouldn't have to prove my worth to her or ask her permission to step into my power. She would believe in me, simply because she could see me for who I really am.
I got to step into the power of my visibility later that day, when I read my poetry at Hazel Reading Series
, opening my reading with an epigraph by Audre Lorde: "Wherever the bird with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs." Hazel's all about fostering the visibility of women, featuring women writers who each invite another woman to read at the next installment of the series.
Hazel's next event is today at 5:00 pm, at 1564 Market St. in San Francisco. My invitation to read went to Jezebel Delilah X, another queer black woman writer with divinity in her humanity. I can't wait to witness her sharing of magic through her words, continuing the legacy of resisting invisibility by lifting up our own stories to be seen.
Okay, here it is. My Miley Cyrus post.
I wasn't going to do this. Not because I've been living under a rock, unaware of the pop star's recent antics, but because I've been hoping that she'll just go away. I've kept track of conversations about her, with people like Tressie McMillan Cottom
, Syreeta McFadden
, and Big Freedia
expressing how I've felt about Miley's choices much more eloquently than I could (seriously, click those links. They're essential reading). And, after so many mic-dropping moments of brilliant commentary, I really hoped Miley would just get the message, hang up her own microphone, and fade away from the center of pop culture attention.
But no. We're still talking
about Miley. Only now, much of the conversation
is about Miley's sexual expression and whether or not we should be encouraging her to put on more clothing
. And I'll be honest. In the grand scheme of things, considering the current degradation
and the historical exploitation framing the context of what's been happening with Miley, I really could not care less about what Miley chooses to do with her own body.
So, even though I'm well aware that there are plenty of issues
more important than Miley Cyrus, I've taken a moment to write about Miley. Because these conversations touch on issues that go far beyond the power of a half-naked pop star, and to me, it's important that my perspective isn't forgotten. That's why I'm sharing this poem, which I wrote in response to a Saturday Night Special
prompt of "wiggle." Read on to find the wiggle, and see if you can hear why on some level, while I hate to admit it, Miley matters to me. miley and me
Valentine's Day came and went again this year, along with its usual...challenges
. You know I'm all about the self-love
when it comes to these kinds of holidays, because if nothing else, it can be a good time to remind ourselves that we're worth loving even if we don't have the types of relationships or lives deemed perfect by the mainstream media's standards. But one of the great things that came out of this year's Valentine's Day was more about coming together than being alone. It was One Billion Rising,
a global campaign to end violence against women. People all around the world united in the most wonderful way – by dancing. Anti-violence action and
dance? You know I love it! Taking a stand to say we all deserve to live without violence – in the end, that comes down to self-love, too, doesn't it? For me, one of the most inspiring results of the One Billion Rising campaign comes out of the San Francisco jails, with those who participated there. Maybe I love it so much because I'm connected to these folks through my life and work, but I think this action also spreads a moving message that's important for all of us to hear. Watch "Inmates Rising" below, to see why the inmates danced, and why it was such a special experience for them. This video reminds me of the work of the formerly incarcerated poet Reginald Dwayne Betts. If you're not familiar with his work, I'd recommend getting to know him. Here's a taste, one love-centric poem of his:
"For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers"by Reginald Dwayne Betts
For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers,
green roses, chrysanthemums, lilies: retrophilia,
philocaly, philomath, sarcophilous—all this love,
of the past, of beauty, of knowledge, of flesh; this is
counter: philalethist, negrophile, neophile.
A negro man walks down the street, taps Newport
out against a brick wall &
stares at you. Love
that: lygophilia, lithophilous. Be amongst stones,
amongst darkness. We are glass house. Philopornist,
philotechnical. Why not worship the demimonde?
Love that—a corner room, whatever is not there,
all the clutter you keep secret. Palaeophile,
ornithophilous: you, antiquarian, pollinated by birds.
All this a way to dream green rose petals on the bed you love;
petrophilous, stigmatophilia: live near rocks, tattoo hurt;
for you topophilia: what place do you love? All these words
for love (for you), all these ways to say believe
in symphily, to say let us live near each other.
Like so many others, I've spent the last few days trying to make sense of Friday's horrific school shooting
. But there is no easy way to make sense of it. Like so many deeply heartbreaking things, it's complicated.
Maybe it's self-centered, the way we try to find personal connections to tragedies that have nothing to do with us. But maybe it's just natural. Even necessary.
Here's my connection: I might've had a child. Instead I had a miscarriage
, but this is one of many moments that has me thinking, "What if...?" What if my baby had survived? I'd have a young child today, a kindergartner. Not quite the same age as the first graders who were killed, but close enough that I'd be imagining their parents' grief, disturbed by the thought of losing my own child. I'd be holding my child close, so close, afraid to let them out of my sight, even for school.
Is it okay to say that I'm glad I don't have to explain this tragedy to a kindergartner? Does that mean that I'm glad for my miscarriage? Glad I didn't bring a child into a world in which nightmarish violence takes place? Not exactly.
Here's my connection: Mental illness. In my communities, in my family, in myself. One of my closest family members has been struggling lately, has been what you might call "troubled," a word that comes up in the media profiles of the people involved in incidents like this one. I have a picture of the two of us sitting on my bookshelf, bleeding. I printed it out on ordinary paper and the sun has taken its toll, running the colors together so that someone else might be unsure of what they're seeing. But I know what's there. I'm not comparing him to the school shooter, no, because mental illness doesn't automatically equate to violent behavior. But the mental health connection is enough for me to think about the consequences of stigma and the limits of how we treat mental illness. I'm also thinking of how our conversation might be different if the shooter were of a different race, or from a different place. I'm thinking about many different sides of the issue. It's complicated.
Here's my connection: This was an act of horrendous violence, and I work at an anti-violence organization. It makes me feel like I should have the answers, like I should be the expert understanding and explaining the whys and the hows, offering instructions on how to prevent this from ever happening again. I should be adding my expert opinion to the chorus of conversations about gun control, mental health, and the influence of the media. But what do I know? What do any of us know, when it means finding words for such unfathomable pain? I know only what I find when I search for my own connection.
It's complicated. Here's my connection: I loved my child. I once held my child. It sounds crazy, I know, but I believe it's true. When I was pregnant, I had a dream in which I held my baby. I don't remember much else about the dream, but that part felt so real, so incredibly real
that after the baby was gone, I believed that dream had been my chance to hold my child. The end of my pregnancy brought loss, grief, sorrow. But before all that, there was love. I know this much is true. There will always be love.
I've just spent a few days in Richmond, Virginia for the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
(NCAVP) Roundtable. It was quite a trip, and I'm just beginning to get my bearings back.
I've been on staff with Community United Against Violence (CUAV) for a little over six months now, and this job has taken me on many adventures so far. In my work, I'm an advocate for LGBTQ survivors of violence, a support group leader, an organizer for under-resourced communities - in other words, as I like to put it, I'm pretending to be a grown-up. And the rest of the time, I'm a real-life mess of a human being, just trying to keep my shit together. In other words, I'm a poet.
I really appreciate that in my work I can show up as my whole self. The NCAVP Roundtable is a meeting of folks from anti-violence programs working to prevent, respond to and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) communities around the country.
So we're all kinds of people - lawyers, therapists, educators and more. And on one hand, we showed up at the roundtable to get down to the business of our work. On the other hand, our work is made up of stuff that's hard, and messy, and not always easy to fit into business-model workplans and agendas. Many of us are involved in this work as survivors ourselves, or as folks whose friends and family have experienced violence, so there's a part of this work that's deeply troubling and emotional.
We also understand that this work is absolutely vital. The NCAVP compiles data about violence against LGBTQH people. Alone, each individual story matters - these are stories of real people suffering pain and loss, of hate and violence robbing our people of parts of their hope, their humanity, and in some cases, of their lives. Together, these stories show strength in numbers. Through the NCAVP reports, we can see trends, like the recent rise in reported anti-LGBT murders
, and the disproportionate rates at which transgender people and people of color
fall victim to these crimes. So we can understand that each individual incident is part of a bigger picture, one that shows a need to care for one another and create better conditions in which to survive.
You can visit the NCAVP website
for the data and other resources, on everything from supporting LGBT survivors to S&M vs abuse.
At the Roundtable, we talked business - numbers, data, workplans. But we also talked about the stories behind these numbers, and about how we feel about those stories, and about how we plan to make change for those who deserve better.
With hate crimes on my mind, I can't help but see a connection to the recent shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Seven people were killed, and more were injured. Rep. Joseph Crowley has been calling for the FBI to count hate crimes against Sikhs
, and I have to believe that he might be right. As much as we can pretend that this was the act of a lone, crazed gunman, the truth is that there is a horrible history of hate crimes against Sikhs
in the U.S. And letting this shooting stand alone, treating it as an anomaly, really doesn't do anything to help prevent the next hate crime.
Sometimes, data is more than just numbers. Sometimes, the numbers help us gather our stories, and speak up to resist hate.
After I wrote about the "agenda" problem
yesterday, I realized there are certain subjects I've avoided lately, partly because I would have an impossible time approaching them without my "agenda" coming through boldly and unapologetically. Now I wonder why I thought that was a bad thing. I've avoided the hot topic of Daniel Tosh's rape joke, for instance, partly because I know my own experiences would influence my response. But how's that for silencing myself? I guess I fall under Sarah Silverman's joke about the laziness of rape comedy -
"'Cause who’s going to complain about a rape joke? Rape victims? They don’t even report rape."But I've been watching closely as others respond, and what I really like about this whole conversation is that it's so complex. The best responses acknowledge that there are no absolutes -
it's not that rape jokes always work, or never work. But Tosh has sparked an important conversation about how to make a rape joke work without being, well, a "lazy asshole." In the spirit of not showing an agenda, the Women's Media Center has put together this video of rape comedy. You can watch and decide for yourself why some of these jokes seem to expose injustice in a hilarious way, while others, well...I'll just let you characterize them for yourself.
Yesterday, when I took to the world wide web searching for music to match my mood (namely, the blues
), I came across what looks to be a really important, informative documentary. "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues" tells the stories of the legendary women who pioneered the role the blues have played in the U.S. It includes the indelible lives and careers of the unforgettable Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, and one of my favorite performers, Bessie Smith. These women sang songs that held the emotional truth of what it meant to be a black woman early in the 20th century. So this film shows a part of the history that came before me and my angsty, emotional writing - black women who struggled, and who turned their struggles into art that would move people for many years to come. Here's part of the film. You can visit the California Newsreel website for more information about the documentary and to order a DVD.
This morning I tuned my radio to KPOO
, a local station I love because of the way it lifts up the power of the people, moving away from the usual misrepresentation in the mainstream media to address complex issues. My reasons for listening today were quite simple, though - KPOO was playing the blues. And I sure am grateful for music that moves with the hard times. I'm thinking about that old saying, when it rains, it pours, because that's kind of how my life feels at the moment. Only in San Francisco, the rain is different. Sometimes, like this morning, when it rains, it mists. The water doesn't fall to the ground, but lingers in tiny droplets around you. You're not sure if you can really call it rain, and sometimes you start to wonder if it's raining at all or if it's just in your head. That is, until you get inside, to someplace warm and dry, and you realize your clothes are all wet and your skin is slick with something that's not your sweat. That works a little better as an analogy for my life right now. It feels like things have been trickling in, little by little, and I didn't really notice how much it was all building up until I felt soaked in my skin.
And now, I believe I'm slipping into a bit of a funk. Last Monday was The Siwe Project's No Shame Day,
aimed to encourage folks to talk about mental illness and break through some of the stigma
that often holds black folks back from seeking mental health treatment. Poet and Siwe Project founder Bassey Ikpi said, “We’re encouraging people to tend to their mental health that day without shame."So that's one of the reasons I'm trying to keep writing, without being ashamed of how I feel. Usually, a funk affects my writing in one of two ways. I might feel paralyzed, unable to create, and then I hate myself for it, sinking deeper into that bluesy feeling. Or I use the funk as fuel, writing my way through it. I'm trying my best to do the latter this time, to tend to my wellness by honoring how I'm feeling.
My hope is that someone else can get some wellness out of it, too. It works that way for me as a reader, at least. Just like I sometimes need to hear the blues, at times I need to read about how others are struggling. I can find hope in happy resources like the Happy Black Woman blog
, but personally, I wouldn't feel honest if I wrote about my healing
without also acknowledging the hard things I'm struggling to heal from. So I hope I can add to those stories, like the ones from No Shame Day
, which help us to feel not so alone. Writing keeps me grounded. It weaves some invisible thread through me and back to the earth. I can write to get perspective on the bigger picture. I can write to feel like somebody else cares, even if it's only my notebook listening. Without writing, I don't know what I'd do. I might just tune into the blues and out of the world, taking flight like a bird and forgetting that there are reasons to come back down. Here's one of my all-time favorite blues singers, Bessie Smith, singing "Backwater Blues."
She was one fierce artist, known as "Empress of the Blues,"
who certainly had no shame in her struggles.
It's been a while since I've been excited about a new movie, but here's one I can hardly wait to see, and it's not even completed yet!Creators of the film "Dear White People" released a trailer as part of their Indiegogo campaign to raise enough money to complete their project. Since then, they've received media attention, exceeded their original fundraising goal, and sparked a lively conversation about the concept of
race identity in a so-called "post-racial" society. Clearly, I'm not the only one eagerly awaiting the release of this film. The film
is "a satire about being a black face in a white place." I want to see it because it looks so funny, and I'm also curious about how it addresses the issues it brings up. I've been thinking a lot about humor, identity, and speaking up against oppression, especially after participating in last week's National Queer Arts Festival Edition of That's What She Said! The show was hilarious, and it also went beyond simple entertainment to speak to issues of gender, sexuality, and what it means to have to struggle to claim your identity. In an article on the Huffington Post, Justin Simien, writer, director, and producer of "Dear White People," discusses his motivations for making the film. He says, "
The truth is, my film really isn't about 'white racism' or racism at all. As I see it racism is systemic and is inherently reflected in any honest story about life as a minority in this country. What my film is about however is identity. It's about the difference between how the mass culture responds to a person because of their race and who they understand themselves to truly be."Watch the trailer and see what you think. You can visit the Dear White People tumblr page, and follow Dear White People on Twitter, to keep up with the film's progress.
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.