ah, here come the women. There will be a whole week of love poems to celebrate Valentine’s Day. But I couldn’t wait one more day before pulling out Sonia Sanchez’s Shake Loose My Skin (published by Beacon Press, UUs!)
This is not a small voice
you hear this is a large
voice coming out of these cities.
This is the voice of LaTanya.
Kadesha. Shaniqua. This
is the voice of Antoine.
Running over waters
navigating the hallways
of our schools spilling out
on the corners of our cities and
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.
This is not a small love
you hear this is a large
love, a passion for kissing learning
on its face.
This is a love that crowns the feet with hands
that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails
mends the children,
folds them inside our history where they
toast more than…
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I want us all to remember who is actually making the magic here. Who among us are the ghetto mermaids shopping at corner stores for lunches made of honey buns and cheese curls through thick ass bullet proof glass. I want us all to remember that the magic Beyonce just made isn’t possible without the girl who’s trying to figure out if she has enough money to make it to her job on time or is on probation for shoplifting kids clothes from Burlington.
I want us to remember the girls wearing the cheap bamboo earrings from the beauty supply store turning their earlobes grey and rough. The dark skinned girl getting laughed at because she’s wearing sunshine-colored lipstick from the same store, because she’s got on tights from Rainbow, and because she’s walking these streets until she scrounges enough money for her bus pass. This isn’t a Beyonce diss; I just want us to remember how vital the black girls who get dissed and laughed at, called sluts, thots and hoodrats are to this thing we call #blackgirlmagic.
These are the same black girls that go missing and nobody gives a damn. Turn up dead covered with bleach and get blamed for it. Get murdered by her baby daddy over diaper money and nobody even holds a vigil that ain’t from the same block as her. I loved #formation. I want us to love us more. I want us to love poor black girls and women so much that we don’t even bat an eye when a celebrity-black or not- claims their love for us because our love for us is evident at every turn. I want black girls and women to be valued even when they don’t know the latest social justice language, can’t read above a 6th grade level, or that their lives are even #intersectional.
I want us to know the names of murdered black girls and women like we know the names of black men shot down by police. I want us to care about the messy black girls with 7 kids and 5 baby daddies who can’t get housing because she did a three month bid two years back. I want us to care about the black mothers being forced to have sex with their landlords in exchange for housing because nobody is really out here taking section 8. I want us to care about us before it gets hot on the radio. I want us to remember who is helping to make the magic that gave all of black america a visceral reaction.
I want us to remember what the cost of that magic, that ephemeral beauty is. The magic that really made the #worldstop. And I want formation to just be a tiny example of us paying attention to us and loving us fiercely, not only when it’s commodified and cool. I want us to remember where that intellectual labor, that emotional and psychic labor comes from. #Blackgirlmagic is more than an anthem to sing to, it’s how we survive in a world that don’t love us or give a fuck about us everyday.
I’ve seen a few articles, most recently the one written by Linda Chavers on Elle Magazine, disputing #BlackGirlMagic. I think that any title that one does not give oneself, one is free to reject. I also see how #BlackGirlMagic can tipple over into the territory of #StrongBlackWoman.
For me, however, #BlackGirlMagic reverberates through me and gives me the space to be an exist. As a working mother of five beautiful beings, black girl magic is a title that allows me to be more than just a mule, a vessel for suffering, a statistic. Black Girl Magic is the vehicle that gives me the space to claim my full humanity, a participant in the creation of beauty that defies a system that is designed so that I do not survive. Black Girl Magic is my resistance and my testimony. Black Girl Magic is me reveling in how sweet life can be as well as accessing the sometimes overwhelming rage and grief I feel in the midst of constant attacks on my being, just for existing. It is me existing where I am as who I am. Black Girl Magic is me taking the days that I have spent lying on the floor barely being able to move, the suicide attempts and hospitalizations and abuse and sexual assaults and still being able to exist in this world.
I think Black girls are miracles; not because we are superhuman and above pain and suffering; but that we continue to exist in a world that does not want us. It is continuing to dream and spill out those dreams and share those dreams against the onslaught of violence that denies that we have them at all. It is seeing the magnificent truth of my ultimate worthiness in spite of what tells me that I am not worthy at all. It is me knowing that my life is tied to a rhythm that is older, deeper and more vital than misogynoir and that that rhythm, that essence, that divine calling is what I answer to. It is loving my flesh, my heart, because yonder they do not love it.
It is the magic that Lucille Clifton evokes in her poem, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me”:
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
And no, I don’t always feel “magical”. Some days I want to roll over and die. Some nights I go to sleep hoping I don’t wake up. I feel scared, alone, grief stricken and overwhelmed a lot. But I don’t think that this is in opposition to Black Girl Magic. I think that, for me at least, the whole point of Black Girl Magic is the understanding that we are not less because we are suffering, that we are not failures because we don’t measure up to some white supremacist patriarchial standard of long suffering mammy and strong black woman. Indeed, it is my ability to feel, to be vulnerable, to not go numb and cold that is magic in and of itself. I declare that my entire being- the whole of who I am- is magic and holy.
It is the understanding that we are magic because we exist, we breathe and we struggle to love ourselves and each other when by all accounts we should not. It is our telling the truth about who we are, about our pain, and still declaring that our lives have meaning, have worth, have value and are divine. It is the prizmatik glory of the entire spectrum of black girlness. It is our continual push and protest to recreate the world in a way that sustains all of us Black girls.
Black Girl Magic is a celebration of our survival and existence and humanity, when and where we enter, not a narrowing of ourselves to an easily dismissed trope. And nobody deserves to be celebrated and to celebrate themselves more than Black girls, everywhere.
A letter to a younger me
I’m telling you right now, young girl, I will always come for you. I will come for you because nobody came for me and they should have. I’m talking to the young girl struggling in school and struggling with suicidality. I’m talking to the one who is constantly in fights and doesn’t go to school & no one really seems to miss you. I’m talking to the one preyed on by the r. kelly’s in the world. Who are desired and grow into women that are needed but never loved. I mean loved in that deep down soul way that you don’t have to walk through the world with a metal rod for a spine and a stone jaw because someone fucking loves you. I mean to tell you that I fucking love you. I’m telling you young girl, when you run away you don’t have to run to that grown man who is not your boyfriend but you think he is. You can run to me and you can tell me about all the ways you hurt. and I will make you tea and I will protect you. Because nobody protected me, and they should have. You deserved to be protected. Not just prayed over and preyed on, but loved so deeply you never have to question your commitment to this world. Let me tell you how beautiful you are. Let me tell you how you are made of stardust and not crushed glass. Let me tell you to think about your future. Because I am 33 and I am just now thinking that I am maybe going to live to be an old woman. I never thought I would live past 21 and I am glad that I did. Let me tell you, young girl, that you can make it. That I believe in you. That I trust in the importance of your life, and that I will fight for you. I will always fight for you. Because nobody fought for me and they should have. And when things happen that rip you apart, that make you question your value and your worth in this world, I will grieve with you. And I will hold up a mirror to your face and remind you every minute of every day of your goodness, of your rightness, of your destiny.
One day I just washed up on shore. tangle of seaweed, two legs I didn’t know how to use. And dry. So dry. It was a word that I had been taught but never understood fully, even when I would take brief excursions to sunning on briny rocks, far away from people.
“humans ruin everything,” mom used to whistle harshly under her breath. “always poking around where they have no business.” Mom was a drowner. She hated her job, hated culling anything that she couldn’t eat, but she was the best hunter in our pod, and so she was, of course, a drowner.
I lay there on the beach for a while, not understanding what had happened, only that I could not return. Every breath felt like sandpaper inside my newly formed lungs. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
2. Of course, we were like them once. Grand Mama walked off the coast of this same shore and never looked back. They didn’t make it to the home they were looking for. They walked and grieved and got lost in a storm that moved the ocean sideways from the stars and got their maps confused.
3. I have legs. Breasts. Hips. I don’t know how to move in this place. The rhythm on land is harder, more demanding. I see so many of us that have washed ashore. I wonder what this is about. We come to each other, in the coffee shops that we live in, the libraries, the internet we catch each other with. We come to each other at night. Having legs. Breasts. Hips. Means something in this world. I’m not quite sure.
4. I have dreams that I am a drowner. That I am snatching some person with blue skin down from the top of our home and skinning them gently while they squirm away from me, trying to breathe their can of air bubbles. I take off their mask and they are so pearly and raw, flaccid like babies. I hate to drown them. But this is our home.
5. I discover that we who have been washed ashore are black. and none of us know how to get back. Every once in a while, somebody thinks they have found the answer. They usually end up washed ashore again, drowned or defeated and half insane. The insane ones walk around with seaweed in their hair all the time, talking about Atlantis. Atlantis is not real, at least that much I know. Sometimes, one of us has slipped away, and does not come back. They do not tell us that they are going. But they go. And they do not come back. We notice.
6. I got my first jellyfish sting the other day. I do not think I can ever go back now. I taste like the enemy to the ocean, so dry. I read about shark attacks and I think that I can no longer call the sharks my Great Aunts and Uncles. Because I am raw now as well.
7. My lover is one that is not like me. He says that I smell like the ocean, and some days slightly fishy. I thank him. He is confused. Buys me perfume. But he loves my skin. rubs my nipples like talisman and that sends waves of pleasure through my body. I feel like bursting and I want him to rub my nipples more. Nobody has done this before, and I ask him to do this all the time. He gets bored with my nipples, and he tells me so. His eyes remind me of a replica of the ocean. He leaves me. I want to find more people with eyes like oceans. Maybe they can take me home.
8. I go to the swimming pool. I watch them in their bathing suits, looking like half open oysters. Moving through the water, Ssmetimes I think they move like us, and other times they flail like they are fighting the water. I step in. The water is different than what I know. It moves against my body different. Or it may be that my body is strange to me now. It is indifferent, compliant. I cannot dance with it. I wade in up to my shoulders, my neck, and I stop, unsure. The water doesn’t speak to me. I don’t know how to use these legs, these feet. I get out of the swimming pool, feeling even more dried out than I had before.
9. Black is a funny word. It is empty, like the water in the pools, It seems to be a prefix that means “not”, or “exception”. None of us. It feels like never knowing what it feels like to be who we were. We don’t talk about who we were. It doesn’t seem to be relevant now. The people here don’t like us. When I see ones with blue eyes, they don’t look like oceans to me anymore. They look like I mean “not”. They don’t know anything about “home”. Some days I feel like I mean “not”. I try to slip my tongue around the words I used to speak, but my tongue doesn’t work the same. These words I use now, They are like a shackle on my tongue. I used to think that shackles were jewelry when mom used to show me the shackles that GrandMama turned into teeth when she turned shark. Thick, ugly jewelry. But I know what shackle means now.
10. I have another lover. black like me. She goes by Star. She makes me homesick too much. Because she’s dry and wet at the same time. We fight a lot. When she cries I lick her tears and they remind me of home. She says I’m dry and wet too. I don’t feel any ocean left in me, but she says she does. We fight and then we kiss and then we remember things together. Sometimes when we fight, she leaves and then I go looking for her for days. I always find her again. I hate the feeling. It feels so good that I’m afraid that she is not real. And we fight so that I can make her real. And then we kiss and I remember. Too many days like this. It’s like another shackle. I begin to count time by the days. The days that she is here and the days that she is gone.
11. I have a baby in me. In the ocean, we would always have twins. But when I go to the doctor, it is one, only one. The doctor asks me who the father is. I say the baby has no father. The doctor looks at me like I am “not”. I look back at him because I want him to know that I am, even though I have no words for what I am. He looks away like he does not even see me anymore. He tells me that everything is fine, and I should come back in a month. I am lonely. All this time on land and I have forgotten about my twin.
12. I have been looking for her for 8 days. I give up. I don’t want this baby in me anymore. I go to the clinic and they vacuum me out for $425.00. I am bleeding but I am ok. I go home, feeling a storm in me. I sleep for 3 days.
13. My twin comes to me in a dream. There is a storm in the ocean and my twin is calling for me because all of the pod has to move. Twin says that they need all the drowners and that I am supposed to be next-in-line. Twin shouts at me. “Wake up! Come Home!” and I wake up. But I cannot go home. I go to the corner store for a bag of flaming hot cheetos. The bleeding between my legs annoys me, and I adjust my pad all the way down the street. “We need drowners,” I say to myself out loud.
14. I don’t understand how we are all here, we have all come from the ocean, and yet none of us know each other. None of us remember the names of our pods. We know that we had them, but we cannot speak their names or see their faces in our minds, except sometimes when we dream. We remember only broken bits of our stories. We talk and try to piece it together, sometimes, until somebody sucks their teeth and mumbles how ridiculous the whole conversation is. I remember my dream, though. And I remember twin, even though I cannot remember twin’s name. Maybe there is a way to go home. I do not say anything to the others when I am in the library with them. I am quiet, thinking.
15. The other humans have begun to cull us. It is on the news everyday. They say that we break the law. They have their own drowners when people break the law. But sometimes we don’t know the laws that we are breaking, because we try to act like them, to fit in. And when they break the law, they don’t cull themselves. Sometimes we even study the law and tell the drowners what the books say and they still cull us.
16. I have started to feel afraid, all of the time. Fear. Fear for no reason is new to me, and I shake it away, but it still grows in me like seaweed. Maybe from the place the baby was growing. I wonder where Star went. I hope that somehow she made it back to the ocean. I hope she wasn’t culled.
On the horizon-on the horizon- I see the rising of a new movement.
I see the rising of a movement that cherishes all of us, black brothers and sisters and siblings, that will say her name, his name and their name.
I see the dawning of full moon black witch magic, the kind that refuses to be relegated to foot soldier but that envisions black futurisms and makes plans and preparations to join that future.
I see a movement hungry to protect the life and the love and the vibrancy of black people and our divine right to inhabit this earth and breathe and be sustained, not through the illusory power of oppression of others, but through our connection to each other globally, with the universe, connection with our ancestors and our spirits.
I see a movement that survives the onslaught of genocide and remembers who we are.
We are not here for your tired, dusty rhetoric. We are not here for your false memories of a trickle-down liberation.
We are here, determined to be black and free.
With gratitude to the Movement for Black Lives, Black Quantum Futurism, Black Witch Chronicles, Wildseeds Collective, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs and many, many, many more-
There are so many coming over the horizon.
We are coming over the horizon together. Let’s not lose sight of each other. In the struggle, let’s not lose sight of our freedom.
If a black person is murdered by the state and there are no cameras, did it really happen?
It’s not modern-day lynching. It’s just lynching. The same lynching that has been the reward of uppity black folks since we crossed the ocean. And now even with dashcams and iphones documenting the deaths of black people at the hand of the state, we are still being told that we are hanging ourselves, reaching for weapons and resisting arrest. Black people have never stopped being hostages of America. The lie, the egregious lie, that we are told is that if we act right enough we will not be murdered.
What is acting right, though? What are respectability politics if not a continuation of enslavement? When I watched Sandra defying the disrespect to her freedom, her personhood, I saw a woman who refused to bow to the whims of a man who, through the mechanisms of a colonialist slave state, was able to take her very life.
The lie, the egregious lie, is that black people are afforded personhood in America. That we have rights, enforceable rights to life and liberty which will be upheld on the streets and in the court of law, as long as we “act right”. That there is some human power other than ourselves which we can appeal to to say “Black Lives Matter”.
How many agonizing seeds will we tend? How many more missing must rest in our bones? Who are we appealing to with protest and marches and chant? What exactly are we trying to change, to appeal to?
If racism is the distraction, as Toni Morrison says, the distraction that has us arguing about whether Sandra hung herself, whether Michael Brown deserved to be shot like a dog in the street, whether being called a “thug” is racist or not, then we must begin to turn our minds to the issue at heart, the one that we’ve been ignoring since black folks have bought into the idea that we are no longer 3/5 of a human being in American law.
I think it is time for black folks to look deeply into the history of this country. I think we must avail ourselves of the truth that America has no mercy and no tenderness for us. That the illusion of progress, our historical and contemporary amnesia, is belied by facts. We are no safer here, statistically speaking, than in places that are considered in American imagination to be warzones unlike itself.
Black people did not “build this country”. Black people were stolen and slaughtered and forced into labor in order to build a nation that at its foundations was never for us, never meant for our personhood, our humanity, our freedom.
I know that there are white people who presume themselves to be allies that are reading this. I want to tell you to save your tears. Save your proclamations of you, as an individual, seeing black people as human. Recognize that your identity, your idea of humanity, is a false one built on the oppression of others. That the idea that your personal opinion on the personhood of black people should have some weight and some bearing on the matter is absolutely ludicrous. That you are not a good person because you understand white privilege. That you cannot come to this work to help us, that you must wrestle with your own definition of humanity because whiteness is a manufactured condition that is killing people, including yourselves.
But as for us, as for us. Our deaths maintain the status quo. The negation of our humanity is the rule, not the exception in this country. This is not simply an issue of morality. The morality of this country is built on the lines of the current power structures.
As Sandra’s death reminds us, freedom is not free. And often times it costs us our very lives. But when you know that you are not free, then you have a choice. We, black people, have a choice to make. Will we assert our God-given rights to our lives that no system has the divine right to take?
I don’t have the answers. I can’t speak for all black folks. But I know what I call on is not a simulacrum god. i call on my ancestors as sharks. I call on the earthquakes in my bones and the lightening in my heartbeat. i call on the missing to fortify my spine and my spirit. I call on comfrey that i might not break. I call on my tears to remind me of my own humanity. i call on the drums of Ayiti. i call on history to disabuse me of lies i might tell myself. i call on my black skin and my black body to live, to live, to live, to rebel against the terror that black folks swim in, every single day. I call on us, all of us, to stand for our freedom. To stand for ourselves. To stand for each other.
Let me preface this by saying never in all my life did I think I would have so much blogging to do about facebook. I have spent more time thinking about facebook and the ramifications for me -and others- than I enjoy. Nonetheless, I gotta get a few things off of my chest.
My reinstatement to facebook has, at least on the surface, changed nothing about the way facebook operates. Without acknowledging the racist, queer and transphobic policy enforcement that got me blocked in the first place, facebook has not committed to making the structural changes that enforce antagonism against vulnerable people who dare speak their minds.
To date, Michael’s block has not been lifted. Son of Baldwin’s personal account continues to be blocked for a few more days. Facebook, as an entity, is not accountable for the ways in which it impacts people’s connectedness and livelihoods. Facebook’s tagline begins with “giving people the power to share”. But who in fact has the power?
I don’t know if I think that facebook policy change is the answer, although I think it’s a step in the right direction. Ultimately, black and brown folk, queer and trans folk do not control our means of communication. I think that is cause for concern. I think it is important for us to begin to strategize the ways that we will remain connected to one another if our voices are silenced on facebook, twitter or any other social media site that we do not control.
I think that we have to start thinking deeply about social media beyond just a like and a share or a retweet, but thinking about the ways that we build effective platforms of communication that cannot be snatched away from us because somebody don’t like what we are saying. I think we have to think about the unprecedented access that many of us have to speaking our own narratives in a way that gets heard and changes shit. I think we have to fight to maintain that access and create avenues where we are controlling that access.
If folks are out there that know about platforms that are built for us or being built for us and by us, (fubu!) Hit me up, let me know!