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
Tomorrow, CUAV and MCCLA present Color of My Spirit! This post is cross-posted from The CUAV Blog
To love ourselves is to celebrate ourselves is to give ourselves a moment to shine in the spotlight, I say. So I'm really looking forward to doing just that at CUAV's 3rd annual Color of My Spirit, our performance night of queer and trans artists celebrating our survival and resilience. This year, we have a really exciting lineup of performers, including our returning host, Yosimar Reyes, who will share new poetry and lead us on a journey through song, dance, film, and more.
When we applaud, we will clap as audience members, witnessing the gifts the artists offer us by bringing their work to the stage. And for many of us, we will also be appreciating our own strengths, reflected in the strengths of the performers. As queer and trans people, we deserve to show ourselves some love for how we've managed to thrive in spite of forces trying to put us down.
Color of My Spirit will coincide with the time we spend with the Spiderweb of Self-Love, our wellness tool that helps us finish the year with activities all about showing ourselves gentleness and care. When I think about the connection between Color of My Spirit and self-love, I think about the young person from Our Space who watched the performers last year
from El/La and was moved to tears, having their first experience of seeing such positive images of trans women, as they prepared to come out as transgender themselves. And I also think about my own life, because it is so meaningful to me to have this annual event to help affirm and celebrate my existence as a queer black woman.Color of My Spirit
takes place on Thursday, October 3rd, at 7:00 pm at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco. We hope you can join us there!When: October 3rd, doors at 7, show at 7:30Where: Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission @ 24th St, San Francisco
$10-20, no one turned away, buy tickets hereSpanish and ASL interpretation provided
Fully wheelchair accessible
Help us keep this event accessible by not wearing scents or perfumes.
Buy your tickets ahead of time to make sure you don't miss this powerful night!
Reading from Split Ears for the first time
at Aggregate Space in Oakland.
Photo by Kwan Booth.
Artwork by Christopher Burch.
My spirit's all aglow after this weekend
, which included presenting my newborn chapbook, Split Ears
, to the world for the first time. Featherboard Reading Series
turned out to be a great event, and I'm just simmering with gratitude for everyone involved, and for everyone who was present to welcome Split Ears
to the world with such a sweet reception. Look out for video from the event soon.
In the meantime, I'm steaming right along into the next events in my fall schedule. Next up: this Wednesday's Word Performances Reading Series
. Word Performances is "a reading series of poetry, prose, fiction, memoir and comedy, where words are the lead and music makes a cameo," and it promises to be a good time. The stellar lineup includes storyteller and Oakland Grand Slam champion Joyce Lee
, Litquake co-founder Jack Boulware, performance poet Cybele Zufolo Siegel, and more, and I'm just thrilled to be included. The Broadway World online magazine included a feature article on Word Performances earlier this month, so I guess that means I'm not the only one who's excited. Visit the Word Performances website to see the whole lineup, and if you can make it, join us on Wednesday, September 25 at 7:45 pm at Viracocha in San Francisco. I've got a lot going on this fall, so stay tuned for updates on other events and new publications. Also, I can't write a post about joyful poetry news in this moment without mentioning a great tragedy the literary world suffered this weekend. Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor was among those killed in the recent terrorist attack in Kenya.
Professor Awoonor was a legendary writer and thinker, and the uncle of my Pacific University professor Kwame Dawes. Kwame was also in Nairobi for the Storymoja Hay Festival
, and thankfully, he was not a victim of the attacks. He wrote a beautiful tribute
to his uncle, reminding us of the importance of the words
the man known as "Prof" left behind. Read "Across A New Dawn,"
one of Kofi Awoonor's final poems, in the Wall Street Journal online
. Sometimes, even the sunset
puzzles, as we look
for the lines that propel the clouds,
the colour scheme
with the multiple designs
that the first artist put together
Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski
I'm still brimming with emotion triggered by the court's acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer
, but I haven't given up hope. Oftentimes, the most hopeless moments are those that inspire us to look most deeply within ourselves and our own communities, and we discover, perhaps with surprise, that we're the ones with the answers we've been hoping to find. I've been coming across answers infused with creativity ever since I asked the question of "What will we do?"
The thing is, I'm not seeking answers from the criminal justice system. I already know that what I'm searching for can't be found in courts or prisons or police departments. Mia Murietta wrote an insightful piece entitled "Justice for Trayvon Martin: Why Punishing His Killer Isn't Enough
," posted on the Ella Baker Center's blog, Ella's Voice. As she pointed out, "Our 'justice' system doesn’t deliver justice. It enforces laws. It is a legal system that creates and perpetuates the kind of structural racism and devaluing of black lives that lead to killings like Trayvon’s, Oscar Grant’s, and so many other unarmed, young Black men
." The George Zimmerman case doesn't highlight some previously undiscovered flaw in our legal system. It sheds light on what many of us already knew – that when the criminal justice system operates as it's designed, it bolsters systems of oppression and continues to harm those who have been degraded for centuries. People of color know this. Low-income people know this. Queer and trans people know this, as demonstrated in
Toshio Meronek's Advocate article, in which he frames the choices of LGBT people of color facing violent situations as "Be Killed or Be Caged?" For those of us who aren't white or upper class or straight, it's no surprise that justice for Trayvon does not exist in a courtroom. So, how can we assure our minds to believe that Trayvon can rest in peace? How can we comfort one another in these times of fear, knowing that
any one of us could be the next one murdered in a violent act ruled "justifiable"? How can we hope for change, when every arrest, lack of arrest, or verdict contributes to our loss of faith? I still don't have all the answers, but as people are gathering together to help one another through this difficult time, I'm gathering more clues as to where the answers are for me. And for me, all answers point to creativity. With creativity defined as the use of imagination
or original ideas, it's no wonder that this is the source of hope for me right now. Justice for Trayvon doesn't exist in preexisting systems, so now is the time for our imagination to come to life. I see examples in the city of Oakland, where I live. Betti Ono Gallery has been offering safe space
for folks to come together in reflection and solidarity, to have dialogue about the verdict and the kind of change it calls for. Down the street, Solespace
has had Art 4 Justice workshops
to give those who are emotionally impacted by the verdict some time and space to express themselves. And I also see examples from around the world. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag
has spread throughout the internet to show that we value black lives, even if the courts don't. New pieces of art are coming into existence every day, to mourn for Trayvon
and to depict alternatives to the systems
that allowed Zimmerman to murder him without consequence. Writers are sharing their words of reaction, hurt, and healing – Vanessa Huang included my words in this found poem
, "a living monument of love." Stevie Wonder announced
that he refuses to perform in Florida while the state's Stand Your Ground is in place, and other artists are beginning to follow his lead
You see my point. When we feel lost without hope, we've got artists, musicians, and innovators to create hope for us. On the side of those who want to uphold oppressive systems as they are, they've got badges, uniforms, and gavels. That's a lot of power. It can feel like a losing fight. But then again, another definition of creativity
says that creativity is "marked by the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new."
Sounds like a lot of power to me. Where injustice currently exists, we have the power to create something new.
Okay, so I know I get really excited about every event
where I get the chance to read my work, but I must say, I'm really
excited for this weekend's reading. Let me tell you why.
- It's called Black Women From the Future. Enough said, right? I'll say more, anyway. This event, the latest installment of Black Futurists Speak, celebrates Black History Month and helps kick off Women's History Month, by lifting up the unique power of black women's voices. That's right, it's a lineup consisting entirely of powerful black women.
- Said badass lineup of performers is as follows: African-Jamaican dub poet d’bi.young anitafrika, poet and director of The Lower Bottom Players Ayodele Nzinga, the stunningly talented fiction writer Lisa D. Gray, poet and musician Amber McZeal as our host, and lil' ol' me.
- We'll be reading along with music by Kevin Carnes of the celebrated jazz-electronica trio Broun Fellinis.
- There's also an open mic, which means there will be even more badassery, which we have yet to hear of.
- The creation of this event is truly inspired, born from Warehouse 416’s current art show, African-American Icons (featuring the work of celebrated artists James Gayles, Esuu Orinde and Aswad Arif) and the theme for 2013’s Women’s History Month - “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” By celebrating black women of today, we are looking to "the future of the written word - where creative innovation and skill meet community responsibility and futuristic thinking."
Now you can see why I'm so looking forward to this event. Here are the details:
Black Women From the Future
Saturday, February 23, 2013
416 26th St in OaklandGet there early to sign up for the open mic!See you in the future!
I've made plenty of silly confessions on this blog, so I guess it's a good place for this one, too: there's been a ridiculous amount of giggling in my world these days. Giggling, and smiling, and even blushing, as best as I can blush in my dark skin.
Maybe you can guess what that means. And no, it's not just that I've lost my mind, though I suppose you could call it a form of madness
. I say this has been happening in "my world," because although we live on the
same planet, it sometimes feels like each of us lives in our own little world. Perhaps this is most noticeable during times of tragedy. While some of us struggle through the demolition of our worlds
, the rest of us keep living our lives. When I'm halted by grief
, everyone else's worlds keep spinning. And recently I've discovered that it's true for the opposite feeling, too – it turns out that while I'm consumed by amorous bliss, the rest of the planet doesn't stop and join me in schoolgirl giggles. One glance at the news tells me that injustice doesn't take a leave of absence from the earth to make room for love to flourish. Who knew? I've come across a movie that
captures how the earth keeps spinning throughout a lifetime of love. Chico & Rita
is a feature-length animated film that tells the story of a jazz musician and a beautiful singer, set against the backdrop of Havana, New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early 50s.
The setting of this film means, of course, that the two title characters can't exist within a blissful bubble of joy. Forces including racism, deportation, and the fight for revolution impact Chico and Rita's lives and their chances of being together. The influences of music and of fame also make their mark.
In addition to telling a complex story, Chico & Rita is an alluring film to watch, with dazzling animation, as well as a captivating original soundtrack by Cuban musician Bebo Valdés. Featured musicians include Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and many more who greatly influenced jazz music in both Cuba and the U.S.
Chico & Rita is really an enchanting movie, and I highly recommend it if you get a chance to watch. It's available to view on Netflix, and also on DVD.
I also recommend doing whatever it takes to welcome some more giggles into your world. As I'm discovering, silly laughter can be good for the soul, and though we can't forget about what's happening around us, we can remember that it takes more than injustice to create our worlds.
As you may know, I'm a little sensitive about tributes to the irreplaceable Nina Simone. When I heard that Hollywood executives cast Zoe Saldana to play her in a movie, for example, I had to join the chorus of voices
pointing out the trouble with having a petite, light-skinned actress represent Nina, who had to fight to claim the beauty in her dark skin. I'm drawn to Nina's strength, her struggle, and her damn good music, and I like to honor her as a personal hero of mine, so maybe that's why I feel so protective over her legacy.
Well, now musician Meshell Ndegeocello has released a new tribute to Nina Simone with her album Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone. And this time, I can't find a bad word to say about it. In fact, the album leaves me speechless, in silent awe, much like the music of Nina Simone. Since I can't find the words for it, I recommend this excellent write-up on NPR, which says,
"Ndegeocello's has always been Simone's heir apparent. Ndegeocello, like Simone, has dared to cross musical boundaries, express bold politics and be a steadfast presence as an African American woman instrumentalist in a male-dominated music scene."I still believe, of course, that
nobody could possibly take Nina's place. But it's good to know that she didn't just leave behind shoes too big and too bold for anyone else to fill. She also left her footsteps behind, and when we follow her path with the best intentions, we can continue to walk the road to revolution.
You might've already seen the video for Lupe Fiasco's single "Bitch Bad," since it's been out for about a week now (if you haven't yet, take a look below). That's enough time for the video to get over half a million views and counting on Youtube, and for plenty of viewers to chime in on a complex conversation about the kind of message Lupe's sending. It seems that the question comes down to this: should the artist be hailed as some kind of hero for speaking up against hip-hop culture's tradition of disrespecting women? Or is he out of line in his approach, actually demeaning women
as he claims to honor them? Full disclosure: I enter this conversation as a longtime fan of Lupe Fiasco's
work, particularly because of the way he challenges the status quo, breaking away from the misogynistic attitudes found in so many mainstream hip-hop songs.
But I'm also not one to give somebody a pass simply because they have good intentions. Addressing misogyny is a complicated matter, and it's possible for Lupe to make mistakes. It can be hard to discuss the issue in hip-hop without falling to one extreme or the other – how can we criticize the objectification of women's bodies without contributing to ideas based in shame around black women's sexuality? Is it possible to have this conversation while thinking outside of the virgin/whore dichotomy?Some argue that with "Bitch Bad," a song that sets up a hierarchy of women (
“bitch bad/woman good/lady better"), Lupe speaks against misogyny from the wrong angle, by slut-shaming, and by honoring only a certain type of woman – the chaste, mother-figure type. I'm following my usual habit of seeing this conversation as more complex than just one conclusion or the other. Sure, Lupe's video misses a few parts of the complicated issue. But he also does a few things right
, starting with the fact that he's willing to create this concept and contribute to a conversation about the issue in the first place. I agree with Akiba Solomon
and Rahiel Tesfamariam
on this one (and I link to their articles because I believe they've said it all already, and better than I can say it myself). It's not enough to have good intentions alone, but it's a good start, better than starting from a place of maintaining the problematic status quo. Here's the video, so you can take a look and decide for yourself where the message lands. What do you think?
Sometimes, you just need to pause and take in some art that's good for your soul. That's what I needed this morning, so I'm passing it on. Here's award-winning poet Iyoeka Okoawo using music, song, storytelling and spoken word to bring a message of hope.
This is a strange edition of Friday Friends. Usually, I use these posts to highlight a blog I like, or a literary hero of mine, or an organization doing important work. Today's Friday Friend is Nina Simone - not a particular interpretation or recreation of Nina Simone's work, but Nina Simone herself. Because some stories just need to speak for themselves. As a singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist,
Nina Simone made an unforgettable impact on the world. Personally, I have her to thank for helping me feel permission to love me for me. Her incredible sense of self-respect was nothing less than a fiercely radical act of courage, when she faced racism that said she wasn't good enough, and colorism that would call her anything but beautiful. Like me, Nina Simone looked in the mirror to see dark skin and big features, so like me, she had to see past the messages that attach the word "ugly"
to such features. Hers is a story that can teach us about true beauty, the kind that emanates from a spirit of self-love.
Now, Nina Simone's life is being adapted into a story as told by Hollywood, the source of so many of our messages about beauty. In Hollywood, beauty means lighter skin and smaller features, so in order for our Nina to be a Hollywood hero, she will be played by Zoe Saldana. She will be a romantic lead, because no leading lady is complete without the company of a leading man - never mind that the man in this story, her assistant Clifford Henderson, was, in fact, gay. And she will give us hope, with an altered happy ending - isn't it inspiring to know that every dark-skinned woman could someday be immortalized onscreen as a light-skinned woman? Perhaps there's hope for beauty after all.
Don't get me wrong - I do think Zoe Saldana is a beautiful woman, and for all I know, she could pull off the role very well, as far as the acting goes. And I'm not one to try to challenge someone's Black Card - her more mainstream features don't make her any less black than Nina Simone. So why does it matter if her skin is the right shade for the role? Because, unfortunately, choosing someone whose experience of blackness is so far from the challenges Nina faced follows a predictable Hollywood pattern
reinforcing hurtful messages about what it means to be beautiful. It's very rare to see this happen in reverse - a dark-skinned actress picked to portray someone who was much lighter. Instead, those who don't fit Hollywood standards of beauty must be replaced. And why? Will audiences relate more to someone who is thinner and more conventionally gorgeous
than the average woman? Will we learn not to let history repeat itself, to avoid underestimating the power of a dark-skinned woman, when we see her depicted as a light-skinned woman? Nina Simone's daughter has spoken up about the movie plans, sharing that the project is unauthorized, and giving clarification about her mother's platonic relationship with the film's "romantic" lead.
She also speaks about her mother's unseen beauty, her intelligence, and her revolutionary spirit. All of which could have an indelible impact if it were captured on the big screen. So I prefer to leave Nina's story as told by Nina, through her music, her soul, and her vision for justice. We don't need to rewrite lives, alter people's appearance and sexualities
, and ignore their truths in order to tell their stories. Nina Simone had no shame in who she was. We can respect her enough to know that she doesn't need to live up to Hollywood standards to be beautiful. I've posted this video a couple of times before, but it's always worth re-posting. Here's Nina Simone singing the words of William Waring Cuney's poem "No Images."