Ntozake Shange

“Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff…”

This line starts my favorite monologue from Ntozake Shange’s award-winning choreopoemfor colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf . Shange recently passed away at the age of 70. Her death has received little attention in mainstream media. It has been mostly Black women honoring her life/work, probably because Shange wrote about our lives in such an honest and frank way, it’s hard for many people to digest.

ntzoke

Shange detailed our pain/fears/disappointments, but also our healing. In a society that is anti-black/woman/poor etc., Black women often find themselves navigating a myriad of oppressions (racism, sexism, classim, heterosexism, colorism).  Shange’s for colored girls… captured all of these “isms” so eloquently, it’s not surprising it’s considered an iconic piece of work.

The homegoing of Shange (as well as Aretha Franklin), highlights the importance of always celebrating brilliant Black women, when the world quickly wants to forget them. Thank you so much Ms. Shange, and rest well.

 

 

 

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The Future is…Hannah Eko

 

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This past summer I hosted a workshop on women of color: creativity and self-care. I decided to reach out to good friend/fellow writer, Hannah Eko. Eko has done amazing work on the issues of self-love/body positivity/mental health. I knew she would have some fabulous advice for attendances. So, I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview.  I thought I would share with y’all as well 🙂

Hi Hannah! Tell us about yourself/background…

I’m a Nigerian woman who was born in London and mainly grew up in Southern California. I’m the oldest of four. I’m also an Aries with a Gemini Moon and Ascendant in Aquarius. I served in the Coast Guard for 8 years and was Miss Tall International 2014. Currently, I’m a third year MFA in Fiction student at the University of Pittsburgh.

I first met you at a zine event. Why did zines resonate with you? In your debut zine, The Weather up Here is Great! you write about your experiences as a tall Black woman. Why was it important for you to tell this story?

I grew up reading TONS of magazines as a kid/teen. I went to this after-school center. The site leader, Cristina, would gift me all her magazines. I read Teen, CosmoGurl, YM (my fave back then), Teen People, and Seventeen. I had adolescent dreams of being some kind of model-writer person, but obviously wasn’t really seeing too many models that looked like me. Nor was I always interested in the banalities covered within the articles. So, when I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was really looking for something to express myself. I somehow luckily got wind of your Black Women Zine Group and immediately loved it. I loved how with zines, anyone could create what they want and share their unique vision with the world. I loved the creativity and the community. I had a lot of insecurity about being taller than the average woman. So, zines were the perfect place to write about this. I wanted other tall girls to know that they were gorgeous the way they were. Of course, I wanted to tell myself this as well. My experience being a tall woman is multi-layered and a lot less straightforward than I was seeing presented. I wanted to at least showcase my own point of view.

You’ve been published in various magazines (Bust, Bitch, etc.) Did you always want to be a writer? How do you stay passionate about writing? Are there any writing tips you can give to folks? 

I always wanted to be a writer, though I had absolutely no idea how one “became” a writer. I honestly thought you were just kind of discovered (a nod to my modeling dreams, I’m sure.) First I was into drawing, probably around age 4 or 5. And then writing soon followed. I love writing because it helps me make sense of the world. It’s a way I talk with myself, it’s a way that my thoughts become crystallized and I can sit back and be like, wow, so that’s what I think. Writing allows me the room to create whatever I want to see. Though I have many interests and extra-curriculars, writing is the one thing that has been a constant. I sometimes get frustrated with my own progress and fearful of the fast pace of the market and all these new, sparkling writers. However, I will forever love writing. I don’t really have to push myself to be passionate about it. I’m a constant journal writer, so I am always writing. I think my only suggestion is the piece of advice I am doing my best to live out, which is: write from your deepest self. Let go of ego and awards and fame and being clever and cute. Write fucked up things. Write things that make you cringe and propel you to go deeper. Write the thing you most want to see.

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Well, That Escalated Quickly

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I’ll never forget the first time I saw Franchesca Ramsey’s “Sh*t White Girls Say.” I watched it over and over again. I couldn’t stop cracking up. I thought it was an accurate portrayal of some of the ridiculous things white girls say to Black girls. I actually used the video as an example of the microagressions Black women experience, for a paper I was writing at the time. I was working on the paper to submit to an essay contest at my university. I won the $500 award (thanks, Franchesca).

It’s hard to believe that video debuted six years ago. It’s been amazing to see Ramsey go from a YouTube talent, to a well-known persona on shows like MTV’s Decoded. So, when she announced she was coming out with a book, I waited with anticipation. I was curious to learn more about the funny young woman with the lovely locs.

Because I’m a busy single mama, I cheated and got the audiobook. I’m actually glad I did. There were some parts in the book that made me burst out laughing. I startled a couple of folks, while out and about, with my hee hawing. Ramsey has a great speaking voice, and reading her own story with her voice inflections will tickle you.

The one thing I took away from her book, is that she is hopelessly optimistic. I don’t mean this in a snarky way at all. As a natural cynic, and a member of Generation-X…the original “side eye” folks, I found this to be interesting. Ramsey recaps her journey from an unknown content creator, to what she calls “an accidental activist.” She shares how she learned to deal with racism (and other isms), as she came into social justice work.

However, I wondered at times, if she’s too forgiving. In the book, she talks about call in/call out. Call in is basically talking to someone privately if they do something racist/sexist/etc. in public. It’s considered a better strategy than calling out or as the young folks say, “dragging” someone.

I have mixed emotions about this approach. I think it’s because the call in method requires you to educate/explain to the offender what they did wrong. I don’t know, I guess I’m sick of educating folks. Personally, I think most people know what they are doing when they engage in oppressive behavior. Not everyone is naive or ignorant. Some folks just don’t care. Sometimes a good clowning or calling out will do.

For example, Ramsey speaks about having dinner with Lena Dunham. After meeting Dunham, she felt guilty that she used to bash her show and speak negatively of her. She decided to give Dunham benefit of the doubt, and try to have an amiable relationship with her. Dunham has been hella problematic and is symbolic of white feminism/white hipster racism. Also, I’m still trying to figure out how she got away with practically bragging about sexuality exploiting  her sister when they were children.

Someone likes Dunham deserves to be called out. I would never waste my time talking to her about anything. This is not to say Ramsey agreed with everything Dunham has done, but this is where that hopeless optimism comes into play.  The idea that we need to leave space for racists/sexists to become “better people.” Yes, that works for some folks. But most people just aren’t going to change. No matter how many bell hooks books you recommend. I feel Dunham is one of those people.

I did enjoy listening to Ramsey speak about the power of social media, and the impact it’s having on people’s lives. The good and the bad. Especially, for folks her age. As someone in her 40’s, I’m still trying to get a handle on all these damn apps. It’s fascinating to know there’s this whole generation where things like Facebook, twitter, etc., have always been apart of their lives. Ramsey talked about making videos, blogging, and graphic designing as a teen. These are skills I’m just now learning.

A couple of months ago, I took a class on training materials. The instructor talked about the do’s/don’ts of PowerPoint. One student talked about the horrible ways his teacher in high school made PowerPoint presentations. I almost fell out. When I was growing up, we were lucky to have a chalkboard in the room. I still remember teachers writing on overhead projectors.

“Well, That Escalated Quickly” was a good read…uh, listen. Ramsey brought humor as she covered everything from activism to her interracial marriage to “trolls” online. She does not disappoint. My grade: A-

Have you read Ramsey’s book? What are your thoughts?

The Oppressiveness of Childcare

When you are a new mother, you are juggling numerous responsibilities such as waking up every 2-3 hours to feed your newborn, constantly changing diapers, obsessing about your little one reaching milestones, and so on. It’s easy not to think about childcare, until you have to think about childcare.

Most mothers are able to stay home with their babies for the first few months.  Soon, the reality of returning to work/school looms over their heads. Even if a woman is able to stay at home for a longer period of time, she still needs “self-care” days, errands that need to be done child free, etc. At some point, she will need someone to watch her baby. She will need childcare.

Initially, when I first got to the shelter with my baby, it went well. The director was supportive. I was the first person they had in a long time with a “fresh” baby. She believed strongly in mothers being able to bond with their children and rest and recuperate.  Childbirth can be emotionally and physically draining. Unfortunately, she left for another job, and the shelter got a new director.

High Cost of Child Care–MSNBC

The new director was a recent widow from California. She and her late husband had owned a vineyard and other business ventures. They had been married for years and never had children. She was a well-off white woman who couldn’t relate to the stress of childrearing. This made it difficult for her to empathize with the mothers at the shelter. She didn’t understand why they couldn’t “just go get jobs.” Despite the fact many of the women were trying to heal from trauma in their lives (domestic violence, drug addiction, etc.), they had children that made it difficult for them to “just go get a job.” It’s not like she offered any resources.

Eventually, she targeted me. I think it’s because she knew about my educational background. She figured because I was one of the rare women at the shelter with a degree, I should especially be working. She failed to take into account I had an infant, recovering from a c-section (c-sections are considered a major surgery), and dealing with slight depression. She became pushy about me finding employment. When I would respond with “who’s going to watch my baby?” She would shrug. Well, that was helpful. The harassment became so overbearing, it wasn’t long before I left the shelter.

Later, I wondered why there weren’t better childcare options for mothers. This society is so bizarre. It makes a mockery of women who don’t want to be mothers, but provides little support for those who decide to become mothers. If anything, poor mothers are seen as an annoyance. Black mothers, in particular, are treated with hostility.

Continue reading “The Oppressiveness of Childcare”

Happy Friday!

Just yesterday I stood for a few minutes at the top of the stairs leading to a white doctor s office in a white neighborhood. I watched one Black woman after another trudge to the corner, where she then waited to catch the bus home. These were Black women still cleaning somebody else’s house or Black women still caring for somebody else’s sick or elderly, before they came back to the frequently thankless chores of their own loneliness, their own families. And I felt angry and I felt ashamed. And I felt, once again, the kindling heat of my hope that we, the daughters of these Black women, will honor their sacrifice by giving them thanks. We will undertake, with pride, every transcendent dream of freedom made possible by the humility of their love. June Jordan, On Call, 1985

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Eloquent Rage

A month or so ago, there was a huge debate regarding singer Bruno Mars. Mars, who has had a succesful run making r&b music,  was called out as a cultural appropriator. This shocked a lot of his fans. Usually, it’s white artists who are accused of cultural appropriation. Folks wondered how Mars, a man of color, could be considered a cultural appropriator. His fans pointed out Mars was of Puerto Rican descent, thus had enough Negro in him to sing Black music/use Black cultural images.

We Talked to the Woman Who Reignited the Bruno Mars Cultural Appropriation Debate

It was a YouTuber, Seren, who sparked the national conversation. I’ve been a follower of Seren on YouTube. While I don’t always agree with her, I find her to be a well-informed young woman. She’s passionate about her views, particularly the importance of maintaining Black culture/Black legacy/Black history…as it seems to be up for grabs to any/everybody these days. I really didn’t find anything wrong with her argument, so it was surprising when people reacted to her with hostility, even threats of violence. Some folks thought it was tacky she said she didn’t care if Mars ate a cake and died, or something to that effect. Umm.. I’m sure most of us have celebrities we don’t care for, that if they fell off the face of the earth, we would say “oh.” To me, her dis didn’t warrant the vitriol she received. So, what else could it be?

I was on a messageboard, when someone pointed out what I had been thinking, the hatred toward Seren seemed to be because she was a Black woman. I read several posts were people felt she was loud/stupid/had an attitude, stereotypical words used to describe Black women. Or basically, Ms. Seren didn’t know her place. It was fascinating to see the abusive language coming not just from white folks, but people of color (they failed like hell on their allyship to a Black woman) and even some Black people. Black women are never allowed to be angry. Even when that anger, was really in protection of what this young woman saw as an erasing of her culture/her people’s contributions to this racist country. She wasn’t saying some off the wall shit, she was stating facts. Folks just couldn’t handle it.

Continue reading “Eloquent Rage”

The Future is…Coreena

*My new series “The Future is…” highlights innovative Black women/Non Binary folks.*

A few weeks ago, I was reading my new favorite online magazine Divine Dark Skin, when I saw an ad featuring singer Coreena.  I love learning about upcoming Black women artists, so I double-clicked. I liked what I heard, and decided to follow her website. Not long after, I was pleasantly surprised to find out Coreena was a member of an internet forum that I’m part of. I enjoyed her vibe in the group, and decided to reach out to her. I almost fainted when she agreed to an interview. I’m glad I asked. What I found was an adventurous young woman, carving her own path/identity/career.

Coreena Pic

Hi! So, tell us about yourself…

Hello and thank you for having me. Just want to say your blog is the bomb!!! Okay, enough of me gushing! My name is Coreena, I’m a musician currently based in Seattle Wa., but in two weeks moving to Berlin, Germany! I was born and raised in Seattle, went to college in Boston, MA at Berklee College of Music. I got married in Southern California and was in that relationship for 8-9 years. I divorced and moved back to Seattle. I currently teach voice/piano and perform /record music.

After my divorce, I started stepping into the person I wanted to be. My favorite quote is…“your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your actions do.” So, I became an ethical vegan. I’m more spiritual than religious. I followed my true path of becoming a full-time musician, no more side giggin. I wanted to use all of my talents to make a living.

I started getting into activism for animals and made the connection of oppression, abuse and subjugation in all forms. I was always aware of social justice issues in the Black community, but I was a bit of an elitist. I used to think the Black Panthers were too “extreme” and thought that upward mobility and respectability politics was the path to success for Black folks. Thinking about it now I’m like…who was that woman? She had all the best intentions, but allowed fear to guide her.

Currently, my “politics” and/or belief systems may be viewed as radical or extreme. Although, I think its ridiculous that some would view equality for all as radical! I proudly identify as a Black feminist/womanist. Let me be clear this identity for me includes trans women and gender-nonconforming femmes. Black feminism has really taken heat and so many folks don’t have a clue of what this identity embodies.

When I interview Portlanders of color, I often ask “What do you like/dislike about Portland?” I know Seattle is a bit more diverse than Portland, but is also known for being a white city. What are your unique experiences as a Black woman in Seattle? 

Seattle is my home so I’m sentimental and nostalgic about my physical surroundings, seeing familiar family and faces. I like that some of the younger Black folks and POC are already clued into radicalism. Maybe these younger folks can make the changes I’d like to see. What I don’t like is how Seattle prides itself on being very liberal, yet drinks diet racism. Many fail to ask the question, “How can I use my privilege to help and contribute to equality?”

Has music always been a passion of yours or did you have other interests? You are also a songwriter/producer. Do you think it’s important singers be “multi-talented?” 

I started singing when I was a wee little girl 5-6 years old, but professionally my career started when I went to Berklee at 19. It has ALWAYS been a passion. I can’t imagine doing anything else, maybe little things on the side like acting as I did in high school. My other interest was history, it’s so fascinating and important to know. You don’t know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you came from.

YES! I think its very important, but not necessary. It’s not public knowledge that a lot of “singers” are actually multi talented. Aretha Franklin played piano, wrote her own music and was her own music director at times. Chaka Khan played drums and did many of her own back up vocals in the studio. Bjork writes and produces. And the list goes on and on…

Your music has an electronic/Afrofuturism flavor, that reminds me of Kelela and FKA Twigs. What are your thoughts on the current state of Black women singers/artists?  How do you define your music? 

I’ve been making music in this genre and have had this sound for the last 13 years. It was not popular to see Black faces let alone a Black woman doing this back then. One of the main reasons I’m going to Berlin is because electronic music and its sub-genres are thriving there. As a Black woman who is an indie artist I get questions like…do you have anything that sounds like Beyoncé? Don’t get me wrong I really DIG Beyoncé, but I’m not her. I can get down singing some R&B/soul music tho! Don’t sleep! LOL!

I think the U.S. has a long way to go still in its acceptance of Black women “alternative” artists. I define my music as Electronic/Ambient/Trip Hop/Alternative/Beat Driven/Downtempo…with hints of jazz.

Your YouTube channel “CoCo Reena Goes International: A musician’s guide to travel, food, and discovery” chronicles your move to Germany. What do you hope to accomplish in Germany?

I decided to go to a place where the genre of music I do is celebrated and not tolerated. I’ve always want to spend quality time abroad and I do not want to get to a place in my life and look back with that big regret. After the election of #45 that was my push…escaping the U.S. in the era of Trump. I’m so disgusted by him and how bold his supporters are. The current climate in the U.S. is not healthy. I told myself I need to go be a citizen of the world for a while.

I’m girl crushing for real! I think your beautiful smile, exemplifies the positivity that radiates from you. What keeps you joyful/optimistic? Do you engage in self-care? Do you have any tips for Black women maintaining a healthy sense of self? In our “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” society (to quote bell hooks).

Oh, Thank YOU!!! What keeps my mind in a productive place really is music. Thru music I have the opportunity to do my passion while expressing all my feelings, thoughts and activism! Music is my self-care. I also get those books out, take those baths and veg out!

I think for Black women to obtain a sense of self and foster healthiness is such an effort that it has to be done EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Specifically, for those that are dark-skinned Black women such as myself. We are perceived with so much bias. The images, social media, and person to person contact…just about everything in the outside world will remind you to “stay in your place.” What I do to fight this is surround myself with media, books, and people who reinforce what I believe to be the truth. Black is beautiful. Black is diverse. Black does not mean wrong or bad. Black is me and I love me.

Thank you for your time

Thanks for having me!

HOW TO SUPPORT COREENA

Website– https://www.coreenamusic.com

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/coreena

Youtube (Coco Reena)https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC432n57Sb0mnmcNnr2zzlyA

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/coreenamusic/

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/reena0519/

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/coreenamusic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. It’s a great opportunity to support women’s organizations/businesses. Here are some of my favorite Black women led groups:

Pay Your Teachers: How to Compensate Black Women and Femmes on Social Media for Their Emotional Labor

A Long Walk Home

Black Lives Matter

Black Women’s BluePrint

Bloom Beautifully

Divine Dark Skin

#metoo

Safety Pin Box

SisterSong

The Feminist Wire

PDX Black Feminism 😉

 

Black Panther

As wacky as it sounds, I haven’t had a chance to see Black Panther yet. Unfortunately, I came down with a terrible cold, this past week. Then, my city became engulfed in snow. It seems like a conspiracy to keep me from seeing the movie! I’ll get there someday 🙂 However, it’s been wonderful reading all the critiques of the film (I don’t mind spoilers, I’m the type to read the end of a mystery novel…first).

A few of my favorite takes on the film:  In Defense of Erik Killmonger and the Forgotten Children of Wakanda, Black Panther film fuels calls for release of  jailed political prisoners, and ‘5 ways ‘Black Panther’ celebrates and elevates Black women.

What’s been amusing about the release of  the film…is folks response to it. There’s been white folks hostility towards “Black Panther,” since it was announced last year. The fake outrage of “reverse racism” due to an all Black cast. Nevermind the fact, Black folks have no qualms watching the ton of white superhero films that flood the theaters every summer (all those damn Spiderman and Batman roboots).  There’s even been Black criticism. Some Black folks thinks it undermines Black empowerment, think Black superheros are silly, etc.

I don’t think Black folks think a movie is going to save us. Black folks, just like other communities, have subcultures. There are Black nerds/Black cosplay folks, who love comics. There are Black parents (like myself) who see it as fun event for their children. There are some Black folks using this as an opportunity to broaden the issues of Black activism/politics. As with anything, it’s what you make of it.

There’s actually been some great things to come from this film…whether if it’s flawed or not. The call for a syllabus resource submissions (due this Friday!), as well as a Wakanda Curriculum created for secondary students. If nothing else, “Black Panther” definitely made an impact in 2018.

Black History/Future Month

“All that you touch, You Change. All that you Change, Changes You. The only lasting truth is Change.”–Octavia Butler

It’s Black History/Future Month. A time to reflect on the past contributions of Black Americans, as well as the visions/creativity/activism of the next generation.

The purpose of my group (PDX Black Feminism) is to honor the barriers broken by Black women/Non-Binary people. We provide a space to talk about issues affecting us in/outside of our city.  It’s also an opportunity to explore the Afrofuturism tools of resisting oppression.

Please support our work this month. The funding helps rent space for meetings, provide refreshments, and self-care needs. In celebration of Black History/Future Month, we will be hosting a showing of “Unbought and Unbossed.” The film explores Shirley Chisholm’s run for presidency, a Black politician trailblazer.

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