Toni Morrison is a phenomenal writer. Her writing grabs the reader by the ears and makes them hear the heart beat of the characters she creates in their minds. What she provokes is not reading, but a way to see with. words.
All the great writers, from Gertrude Dorsey Brown, to Wallace Thurmanto James Baldwin—perform a similar function with their writing. Yet, a common complaint about the black writer is one of grammar. A quick look on Goodreads, Amazon, or any other hegemonic platform, features countless comments that condemn black authors for their imperfect writing. An anti black agent conventionally referenced as a college professor, boasted of correcting the flawed grammar of Wallace Thurman. This feckless comment capitalizes on Thurman’s general obscurity, and begs an ignorance to the fact that the late Wallace Thurman, though a novelist, was also an editor.From consistent criticism on black speech that ignores the imposition English marks on the black tongue, to the formalized ridicule of the black college student for writing deemed inferior to the institution of “higher” learning,it is no secret that “higher” translates to “whiter.”
Inferiority by Ink
The general labeling of the black body as linguistically inferior is an anticipated complaint of our oppressors. The consequences are variant, as even the black body has internalized this poisonous perspective of their collective and upon occupying positions of pseudo authority, perform the policing that hindered their youthful dreams of writing.
Being a student nearly all my life, I am quite familiar with the white suprematist wrath on black writing. Youth coerces the black body to afford teachers a trust that many did not, and will never earn. Many blacks trust that our teachers wish to make us better, not cast us in the image of institutionalized defeat. I was rather shocked to see that many of the ambiguously hostile commentary of my academic past and present was reflected in the commentary one of my articles posted on platform Lipstick Alley. In hindsight, I know that I probably should not have clicked the link, however, considering that LSA is supposedly a platform of black voices, my vestment in black perspective led me off a cliff.
These comments, in chorus, articulate an expectation for me to write white.
The Ink Can Be Black, but You Can’t: Writing as Weaponry
By write white I speak specifically to the not so silent demand that I, a black woman, abide by the very grammar and mechanical rules that has articulated my collective inferiority for centuries. My writing is to demonstrate mastery of the very technicalities that legalized the niggerization of my people.
Though actualized as issues with grammar and mechanics, these formalities functions to veil an anxiety. Now here is where the conventional arguments of this sort speak to an anxiety of black intellect. Intellect however is a problem, but it is not the problem. The black collective is not at a shortage of intellect—whether developed or underdeveloped. We are at a shortage of confidence. Accusations of grammar and mechanic deficiency functions to attack black confidence–to seduce the exercising of black talent to become what Langston Hughs labeled “ a dream deferred.”
To write white means to be a parrot of white supremacy. Instead, I prefer to write with soul.
Now, most black writers who function at the mainstream level to demonstrate mastery of oppressive grammar rules. This mastery though makes writing conventionally good-but it is not enough to make any writing great. Great writing is done from the soul. Great writing is an espousal of past and present, of body and mind, of feeling and sight.
The superficial criticism of black writers for failing to adhere to the oppressive standards of grammar and mechanics, ironically marks outstanding writing. The writing made these scorned feel an emotion that they perceive as incongruent to the climate of white supremacy. Yet instead of investigating these feelings, they clutch the ways of white supremacy and cast the same denigration they experience daily onto their kinfolk.
In “Da State of Pidgin Address”, Lee A. Tonouchi, makes a bold declaration of pride in his regional and ethnic dialect, pidgin. His essay articulates a non-negotiable espousal to pidgin, as pidgin represents everything the academy wants to pull out of him. Most resonantly, is perhaps his proclamation of writing letters of recommendations in this language. Now Tonouchi is not a black man, and his arguments are hardly unique. Plenty of black men and women have also refused to code-switch, but have not been granted the prestige and agility Tonouchi, as a non-black person of color, receives by default. As a non-black person of color, the choice to speak in a language other than English is in fact a privilege. The decision to speak in this language is seen as a choice, not an ability to acquire or perfect the language. Ethnic whites and non-black persons of color are never as ridiculed or undermined for their use of English language as black people. In America, no black person’s use of the English language is ever enough. Even those demonstrating an unprecedented mastery of a coerced language with a severed tongue, are demeaned and treated as language degenerates.
I have no interest in mastering my oppressors language, and have no interest in inspiring others to do so. For too long, my use of the English languagehas functioned as a weapon against my personhood. This of course is two fold. On one hand, this language symbolized a an tongue cut and draped like a flag over African identity. On the other hand, this language has consistently functioned to personify my alignment with beasts, and general ineptitude. Moreso, playing into these beliefs allows the English language to foment my individual and collective dehumanization.
I am posting this piece because it is something I wish I would have read a decade ago, when the dreams of an undergraduate girl were uprooted by the university. So for the black boy, girl, man or woman who has felt the sting of superficial criticism—keep writing.
Science fiction was probably the only genre I did not read growing up. I read A Brave New World as a senior in high school, proud of the mastery I demonstrated of my master’s tools.I had a ninety-five grade average, which documented my lauded hypnosis delineated in my memory of the white Man’s text, history, and theory. Kindred illuminated the dearth that surrounded by education up to that point. True, my time out of school was inundated with blackness, but my time in school was unapologetically African adjacent. It was wrong, even violent, what they did. But like slavery and lynching,it was legal.
I first discovered Octavia Butler at Howard University. Kindred was the book selected the year I entered college which was also the year Butler transitioned into what I always envisioned as one the worlds of her prose. The entire Freshman class of 2006 would read the echoes of her influence, as she returned back to her innate form of suspension between life and death—reunited with her ancestors—elevated to a power life only let her grace as she wrote. Kindred proved haunting and inspiring, changing the way my eighteen-year-old self would see the world forever.
Like Octavia Butler’s protagonist Dana, I too am a black Women that is both in the past and the present. My struggles and oblivion to the training I’d been subjected to, is, like the black experience as a whole, something passed down from the struggle of my ancestors.
Kindred follows the story of Dana, aa twenty-six year old black female writer who physically visits a foremother and witnesses firsthand the blood spilled during the horrors of physical bondage. Her time travel places her in the years preceding the union that would eventually engender her existence. Her great grandmother Alice is owned by Rufus’ family. Rufus will eventually father Alice’s two children. ThoughAlice doesn’t like or love Rufus, but he “loved” her the same way a farmer loves his chicken, or cow. His privilege severs her loving union with a black man, and through a coercion that translates into consent, eventually goes on to become a great great grandfather to protagonist Dana.
The text illustrates the shared experience of what it means to be a black woman or man. Being black is not an individualistic experience. To be black is to be part of a whole, to be a page in a book alongside faces you’ve only seen in sullied photographs, or in some cases, faces that you have never seen at all. Dana’s individualism burdens the text, as it is her deed of saving a dying Rufus that enables the rape of her grandmother. Yes, it illustrates that blacks are empaths and innately human. This depiction also illustrates that black humanity, enables white dehumanizing.
The text also calls into question the idea of freedom.
Though supposedly far removed from the institution of enslavement, Dana’s foremother Alice illustrates more insight and understanding towards blackness and black female integrity than Dana. This illustrates a non-distorted reality as a benefit to overt racism. Alternatively, the distance many descendants of the enslaved placed between themselves and a past of coercion and cruelty creates a dissonance that is ultimately, if not immediately, dangerous.
For example,Dana is a black Woman, married to a white man. Despite the ugliness she experiences, her union with her white spouse remains in tact. Though Rufus speaks of Alice “coming to him without being called,” Alice’s actions are one of survival. She is disgusted with herself when she declines to feel hate towards her rapist, a shame Dana never feels.I was moved and devastated when Alice ends her own life after Rufus stages her children’s sale to manipulate her emotions. Alice’s life was one of sacrifice, her person was one of power. In death, Alice shows that she was not living for herself, but for others. Namely, at this point—she lived for her kids so devoutedly, she’d die in their absence.And she did.
Additionally, her deed does something else.This action, while a blow to the reader who learned to love the strength of this beautiful woman, illustrates an agency absent from Dana, but tragically executed by Alice in bondage.
For years after reading Kindred I found myself bewildered, and to be frank, angry. How could Dana possibly stay with her white husband after witnessing first hand, the horror of her great-grandmother? Her cognitive dissonance hits close to home, as the contemporary climate remains inundated by black women who have forgotten the face of their foremothers. The scars on our foremother’s body may have dissipated as their bodies became one with the earth, but these lashes made a mark on our legacy—on our collective soul. This book opens this systemic wound and bleeds into the reader’s mind. Dana’s journey back to her great grandmother was never about her, it was about the readers.
Kindred holds hands with novels that precede it’s brilliance, showing us that these protagonists are “kindred” to the black reader. What makes Butler such a wondrous talent is that she places the reader as the protagonist. The reader goes back in time with Dana, and resents her behavior at times because the penetrating prose places the reader in the position to right a wrong. Dana, in her predisposed imperfection, does not right any wrongs. Instead she plays along, like so many of us have done and still do.
She is imperfect, but her imperfections, prove a means to steer the imperfect reader into the right direction. Particularly, Dana illustrates that the contemporary black body has more power than we are lead to believe. We cannot change the past, but the past can change us.With Kindred, Butler plants a seed of intellectual curiosity. Kindred suggests that this feat lies at our collective footsteps by literally placing it right before the reader’s eyes.
Thank you, Octavia Butler for authoring the prose that foments your people to do better. We are a better people because of your contribution.
Just as Dana held the hands of her foremother in Kindred, I hold yours through time and space. Through distance and date. Through life and death.
I hold your hand as we continue to plow our way through the flames, into a blaze of glory that awaits us at the mountaintop.
They laugh and smile with one another as the melanated faces mistake anti-black attitudes as kindness. I can’t laugh though, my face frozen in seeing what others do not, or simply will not acknowledge.
They are telling me the benefits of teaching my narrative. They teach me the socially acceptable way to intertwine blackness in the canonical genre of my discipline. This is the violence they don’t talk about. How the systemic asphyxiation of the so-called elite grabs you by the hair and holds your head underwater. They let you up for air only in hopes that you suffocate a little more intensely the next time, your gargling a soft chortle beneath the laughs and confident speech of the oppressive faction.
The corpses flatten the bubbles of my distress. These corpses regarded as ideal by colonizers who call themselves a mirage of creative names that veil their socially accepted cruelty. These names veil their evils like cologne veils an unpleasant odor. This stench does not stop them from patting themselves on the back for how well they taught The Other Wes Moore, Between the World and Me, and other texts that speak of what they can never understand.
There is a loneliness in being the only one not smiling—in being the only one not shucking and jiving for those who drink black blood like smoothies. I am constantly frozen in the conscious stupor of wanting to use my positionality to educate, but also realizing what I say and suggest can and will be used against my collective.
By this I mean that if I suggest a novel, poem or short story by an under-represented black author, I risk making it so that another black body has to feel how I feel. That they have to be taught how to feel about their narrative by he or she who’ll win accolades and earn a comfortable salary for including colored folks. By those lauded for bringing in the bodies they stepped on and down right butchered, to stand where they stand. I can’t do that to the illusive black freshman unfortunate enough to get these people as an instructor, paid to turn their naivety and thirst for life into a functional inferiority. I won’t do it to myself either. I won’t receive tips from those who exploit my collective story. From those who use black artists like decoration on a tree where black bodies hang off branches.
Instead I will sit in a ring of fire. I’ll sit perched with pursed lips amidst flames cast by what the world calls black girl rage. They’ll forget that I’m there but whisper later about my indignant “attitude.” Though few will have the nerve to say it, I’ll be regarded as a bitch, everyone overlooking the vast ways in which every institution on the globe treats black bodies like bitches, like female dogs tied to a post and forcibly penetrated to ensure she literally the bears the burden of bondange. The insincere queries that are sure to follow will wonder what’s “wrong” with me, refusing to even consider that there was something wrong with the environment as a whole. None of the other darkies complained, so let’s cast this one overboard before she convinces the others that this is a slave ship and not a cruise, that this is a plank not a position.
While they do this, I’ll count the seconds until we are relieved. I will see visions of a black past and seek council from those killed yesterday for my tomorrow. I will fantasize about walking out until I cross the threshold when the time comes.
“Where to?” I ask myself as I walk as fast as I can in heels.
“Up” I say as I realize that what I idealized for years never was. That my entire climb upward was actually a slide downward into a pit of anti-blackness called success.
I have spent the bulk of today, reading Malcolm X quotes, and listening to his speeches. His smooth, precise, passionate speech personifies the poetic prose of black power personified. He is “our shining prince” as they say, in both life and death. He shines because his internal freedom bleeds outward. Yet, this year, perhaps more so that previous years, illustrates the necessity for this light to dim.
I received in my inbox a number of invites and notifications for events to take place on what would have been Malcolm X’s 93rd birthday. These events however, were not anchored in Malcolm X. No, El Hajj Malik Shabazz was a co-star on his own day. Though our “shining prince” he is juxtaposed to those who contributions pale to his own. To this I draw the comparison on the pig and chicken to a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. The pig made a sacrifice, the chicken made a contribution—this sandwich is an American staple, because this alignment is central to American deflection.
This is deliberate. Most evident in the “competing” showcase of today, which I refuse to mention. Malcolm X engenders “self” andbelief in a collective self. His legacy inspires the black mind to see the best in him or herself, to question as he did “who told you to hate yourself? From the bottom of your feet to the top of your head?” Questions, antithetical to the submissiveness demanded by the lethally pervasive white supremacist culture. Burying Malcom X’s legacy, or shooting it with holes, ensures that the black collective remains distracted. That we continue to believe in everything but ourselves, and continue to relish in knowledge that also buries the totality of contributions and global oppression.
Malcolm X is a black success story, because he did not rise to conventional standards of success. He was not wealthy. He didn’t have fancy degrees from institutions built on the backs of his ancestors. What he had was an education given to him by a black man, a black organization that while flawed had an ideology functional in freeing the black mind from colonization.
What Malcolm X had was esteem. He culminated a pilgrimage to self, a journey so many of us never take, because we are conditioned to, as Malcolm once said, “suffer peacefully.”
I thought of this pilgrimage as I made my way to Ferncliff Cemetery, the earthly resting place of Malcom X and Betty Shabazz. The journey is one I took with full acknowledgement that it was symbolic, but necessary.
I appreciated the ceremony. I reveled in the ability to see what the media would never cover or admit, that there is beauty and unity within blackness. However, though beautiful,this pilgrimage is not what makes or breaks blackness. The journeys that we take are not physical.
We see this with our kinfolk who were not physically abducted, but subject to the mental torture in their own homeland. They too were culturally raped by the white man, their culture stolen from them as they slept in the land of our ancestors.
The journeys that we take, like all that was taken from us, must be mental. That is the lesson that I have extracted from Malcolm X’s legacy.
Malcolm X epitomizes mental freedom.He embodied the state of “free African”,he or she who is willing to die as they lived—in power.
Malcolm X, not validated by the limitations of American society or global white supremacy, imbued a freedom that enabled him to live without fear.
They took his last name, and his language. He divorced himself from that last name and used the language of his colonizers as a weapon. Then then took what they thought was his home, but his home was in his heart and and in his blood. So they strove to take what they thought they could, his life.
The ceremony today, however, attended by hundreds of people in the violent rain and unseasonable cold, fifty-three years after his assasination—proves that his oppressors could not even take his life.
Despite everything that’s happened to us, we—the African people are still the bearers of life. We have made it so that the candle of Malcolm X still burns, a flame significant because as the late Ossie Davis said at Malcolm X’s funeral:
Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves.
Malcolm X, was and is our blackness.
Father. Teacher. King.
“Rest” seems alien next to the pillar that is Malcolm X. But I will say King Malcolm, that I hope you rest in me.
I attended a lecture at Rutger’s University about two years ago to view a presentation on the book Ebony and Ivy by Dr. Craig Steven Wilder. The lecture was as informative as it was passionate—its most resounding words being
“ I used to feel thankful to be here, but now I feel as thought I belong.”
There words were powerful, but more so was his presence.
At the time, I was someone aspiring to be within academia, and Dr. Wilder possessed a voracious intellect paired with an unapologetic confidence—attributes I had previously only seen in black professionals in black spaces. To be honest, I have yet to see that confident intellectual charisma, on any black scholar since. This dearth is not accidental but strategic, and directly connects to Dr. Wilder’s words.
Wilder’s sentiments of course do not denounce the obvious gratitude he has for his platform and ability to share his research with interested parties. His sentiments speak to an often unaddressed facet of institutionalism—the implementation of inadequacy. Particularly, blacks who seemingly “gain entry” into an institution because of their skill, endure consistent reminders of their displacement into traditionally white spaces like universities and other so-called professional spaces.
An Ingrained Inferiority
Reminders of this displacement come in many forms. As an instructor, I had an elderly white male supervisor who in addition to consistently treating me as too intellectually deficient to grade my own exams and too “urban” to be trusted with departmental documents, staged an in-class hearing where I was verbally assaulted by my students as he looked on. Given that we had identical credentials, it was obvious that my complexion reflected an incompetency that he would not assume if I were a young white woman. His actions, while crass and demeaning, functioned with cavalier disregard because to him I was “lucky” to be in this space to begin with.
In recent interactions with institutional gatekeepers, I am consistently nudged to be thankful with consistent reminders of how “lucky” or “protected” I am. Rather than acknowledge black achievement and potential, or simply leave blacks to fulfill their purpose in silence, whites, and others who believe themselves to be white or operate as white people, mollify their discomfort by sullying black conventional success with shame— a shame many of those believed to be white feel in the stupor of their own mediocrity.
The Institutional Insult
Like so many black bodies before and after me, I experience daily the wrath of institutionalized racism that has plagued any black daring to reach beyond altheticism and celebrity marketed as the sole escape routes for so called black destitution. I have learned that something as seemingly innocuous as a syllabus can operate as a weapon, mirroring the colonialized perception of black bodies that overtly decorated the ideologies of the centuries that precede us. I’ve obtained an invaluable amount of informal lessons pertaining to black life— inside and outside academia. But most importantly, I have learned the cost, best labeled as consequence, of black confidence and an unwavering belief in oneself. I have met extreme adversity that although tempting to render an individual experience, illustrates a collective effort to destroy the black mind that does not fear whites or the potential for their own greatness.
Despite gaining entry into a institution of higher learning, I have learned firsthand what black female scholar and esteemed writer Audre Lord said decades ago, that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” As a so called student at the “master’s” school, I know that I will never be handed the keys to my own liberation. I know that every book, every lecture, and every assignment functions to entangle me deeper into the labryinth of institutionalized insanity, known as submission. But, this can only happen if I perceive myself as a student of the institution. That I am not.
What I am, is a student of institutionalized racism.
I am learning first hand what ancestors and elders from Dr. Bobby Wright and Dr. Amos Wilson to Dr. Francis Cress Wesling and Dr. Neeley Fuller (amongst others) spent lifetimes working to articulate in books that function as keys to the mental chains that bind us to the various manifestations of white supremacy. As Neely Fuller famously stated: “If you don’t understand white supremacy/racism, everything that you do understand will only confuse you.” Understanding racism, makes this experience difficult , but necessary in explicating the experience for the majority of blacks displaced in white spaces.
Most blacks do not understand racism because they are conditioned not to. Most whites do not fully understand racism, because they do not have to understand racism to benefit from it, or to be racist. This is s statement I must make to myself daily, so that I do not harbor resentment or excessive disappointment in the daily attempt to navigate the institution while black.
It is very hard being black any where in the globe. But a prisoner of my ancestor’s captivity, I will say that it is very hard to be black in America. But it is even harder to be black and proud, as this pride is deemed as a threat to whites, but also blacks beaten into submission by the pseudo promise of white acceptance.
Denouncing Inclusion: The Black Female Form as a Pre-Woman Form
In my enlightenment, I see this this submission is perhaps most deeply embedded in inclusion. This inclusion is not simply wishing to obtain a seat at the table alongside whites, but inclusion into so called radical factions like “feminism”, “marxism,” etc.that seek to place seemingly de-centered factions as central. Regrettably,“womanism” performs this same deed. Womanism, although an attempt to engage the intersectionality of blackness and femininity, still implements the term “woman”— a concept established on the exclusion of black female bodies. The rape, physical bludgeoning and mental mutilation of the black female birthed the piety, domesticity, submissiveness, and chastity attributed to white womanhood. As a black female striving for consciousness, I can no longer strive for inclusion in the woman concept. I acknowledge that I am female, but the woman concept is far too small to encapsulate the totality of black female identity. Thus, my pending dissertation and future blog post now even mores than before, will function to push the black body beyond spaces established in their exclusion.
I wish to clarify that my use of the word “woman” on this blog in part and whole, does not to speak to black female inclusion, but to reference the black female body as a pre-woman concept. Thus, I do not wish to compartmentalize the black female as woman. Instead, my use of the term “womanism” functions to assert the black female form as a being far greater than “woman.”
In challenging what Sylvia Wynter called the over-representation of man, or pervasive whiteness, I find my purpose in replacing this fascination with pro-black initiatives. So the adversity of watching white professors overly praise whites and non-blacks for mediocre work, a brown professor highlighting black “insecurity” as the crux of the course, amongst other evils, I too feel as though I belong. I feel a sense of privilege in having a front row seat to the inter-workings of white supremacy. A proximity that breeds a strength that emerges from sitting so close to the fire without being burned is a strategy I hope to teach other member of the black collective in years to come.
I worked a really long time to occupy the illusive space I currently occupy. Upon my acceptance I was thankful that my hard word had “paid off.” My experiences have shown me that this ideology is wrong on so many levels. That way of thinking “paid” for my current frustrations, and hindered my sense of belonging. Feeling as though my hard work needed to “pay off” symbolized my desire to subconsciously “belong” to an institution.
Similarly, when I started this site I did not even realize that I sought to belong to the woman concept with the title “womanism.” Now, in my pending consciousness, I am on a journey to belong to myself, to my collective. So while black spaces are integral to the advancement of our people, the first space we must possess as a collective is the one in our mind.
So while there is an “I,” in institution, there is no “we.” That is because the “we” combats institutionalism. When “we” symbolizes a collective anchored in unity, the intent to institutionalize, an intent strategically embedded in the commonality of western conventions, becomes an obsolete agenda unable to annihilate a people anchored in their majestic past, and not the enslavement socially reproduced for centuries by who the late Dr. Francis Cress Wesling called the genetically inferior race.
To a man as gifted with words as he was with people Espoused to justice Awarded an eternal flame of posthumous enlightenment. Though romanticized as a dreamer by the oppositional gaze, You are our treasure You are our dream You are our mountaintop
I’ll be honest with you, I never intended to author a post on Cardi B. The post reflects an aspiring writing seizing an opportunity to practice the skill to which she has dedicated my life.
Before I continue, I want to state that I do not regret anything that I posted. I do however regret the aftermath of my articulation—namely bringing the disingenuous and intellectually impenetrable to a blog designed to expose the labyrinth of a global racial paradigm.
Soaring Stats: A Gift and a Curse
Saturday marked the most readers my blog has ever seen. Three and a half years ago when I started this blog, this news would have been great. The traffic however, was not those seeking a collective consciousness, but those who maintain a proximity to blackness but seek to centralize what they compartmentalize as their faction, in discussions of blackness.
Specifically, this increased traffic was solely credited to Cardi B, and those solely interested in engaging blackness from an Afro-Latin/Latinx perspective. So while the majority of the hate-spewed comments accuse me of being ethnocentric, the argumentative interest prompted by my Cardi B. post was in fact fomented by ethnocentricity.
To those who counter my assertions, I ask you—where was the influx of “Afro-Latin”* commentary on my post remembering Recy Taylor—the black woman gang-raped by white men in 1944? Where were you a last week when Erica Garner passed? And where are you yesterday when as the black community honored black author Zora Neale Hurston on what would have been her birthday?
I want to point out that all of the previously mentioned names are those of black females born in America, just like Cardi B. But neither of my articles speaking of those bearing the same blackness my skeptics claim to believe in, garnered any traction from the Latinx community.
Where was your interest in blackness when not anchored in the location of your drop off?
The answer is simple— basking in the ethnic deflection created by the sorcerers of white supremacy, claiming the many labels, like Puerto Rican and Dominican, created by the white man to diversify how they call us all n*ggers.
I would have welcomed a proposal to partner with a diasporic sibling to widen my pan-Africanist scope. I would have welcomed a critique demanding I acknoweldge the diasporic black female form like the late Isabel la negra—but this is not the critique.
No, the overwhelming amount of insults, accusations of ignorance, and declarations of my misunderstandings of colonialism, reflect the colonized minds of those who place nationality before race, and attack truth to maintain the fallacy necessary to eschew looking the true villain in the eye.
Most of the comments on my piece on Cardi B, are from those who did not bother to read
the article. The article specifically acknowledges diasporic Africans as descendants of the same black bodies abducted from the shores of Africa. But rather than take the article for what it actually said, many approached the piece with their own insecurities regarding all that they’ve gained from blacks whom did not choose their placement in America.
Yet despite my descendance from the same abducted black bodies that birthed by brethren outside the U.S., I have been credited for stealing my own ancestors, for doing the white man’s work of dividing the most beautiful and resilient people offspring of Africa.
Namely, what makes these comments problematic is the personalizing of a collective argument, by attacking what my skeptics perceived as a representation of the haughty “African-American,” while the true villains escape these scathing replies and instead maintain their esteemed place in the bloodline, the employment, and bed, of my mythic adversaries. These verbally violent acts– socially reproduced almost two-hundred times in the last seventy-two hours– not only depict misdirected anger, but reflect the type of cowardice that brings our shared oppressors to tears of joy.
Africa is the common branch to all her lost children, but to act as though some of her children have not forgotten the black foremothers and forefathers of their past, is sheer denial of the part many of Africa’s children play in the wrath of white supremacy. While certainly not limited to Africans outside the U.S., the migrant black is often given an easy out by the American white supremacists who wish to discount the horror inflicted onto blacks in the “land of the brave and home of the free.”
Now, my blog does not discount that that there are diasporic Africans, like the late and prolific Arthur Schomburg and Dr. Ben who made incomparable contributions to blackness. Though also born in Bronx like Cardi B, Dr. Ben is absent from ALL criticisms of my diasporic siblings, which reflect the limited and prejudiced scope of my skeptics. Dr. Ben reflects those who placed nationality second to their African origins– those throughout the diaspora that welcome their separated siblings with open arms, and dedicate their life to the whole of blackness. But in the same breath that I remember and honor the late Dr. Ben, I would be remiss to acknowledge the overwhelming majority that do not mirror his actions or ideology.
This assertion does not mean that those with African ancestry must identify as black–there is no pressure to associate with blackness. The conscious objective is not to “convince” folk that they are black, but embracing those who do.
Yet, the issue with the post was not so much my analysis of Cardi, but that me, a person of the black collective not only understands the unmatched contribution of blacks to the globe, but possesses the confidence to shout it from the mountaintops.
I, like countless other blacks who stand up despite the pervasive expectation that blacks must lie down and take the exploitation and appropriation violently handed to them by those inside and outside the black diaspora, endure the labels of “bitter” and “angry.” Labels that function to cloud black confidence with the same negativity–namely bitterness, anger, and hate– that foments our continued disenfranchisement.
The animosity that accompanied this post, mirrors the animosity endured by the outspoken black deemed bitter, angry, and difficult by whites threatened by blacks who articulate an incisive understanding of what has been designed to destroy them.
The question is not and never has been whether an individual is “black enough,” but how present blackness is in the life and identity of a person who considers themselves black. Light skin does not discount one’s blackness, as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Beyonce, while flawed, have never stated that they are not black. Rihanna, though a black woman, has never identified as a black woman—Amber Rose, though birthed from a black woman discounts her blackness—though both reap the benefits and support from black people and their proximity to blackness, and also function to illustrate the pervasive ideology that the black female form oozes an animistic sexuality.
Orange is the New Black actress to Dascha Polanco, on the other hand, an African of Dominican displacement, has openly proclaimed herself as a black woman, although she plays a Puerto Rican woman on the series. Thus, the issue is not whether you are of African ancestry, but whether you function as a black person. Cardi B, and Bruno Mars have African ancestry, but do not function as black people. Having black blood does not make you black, its about owning your blackness and not treating blackness as a fair-weather friend. It’s about enduring the good, bad, and ugly of the black experience.
It’s about understanding the road you walk on as paved in the blood and bones of your brethren. It’s about joining forces with your black brethren, about aiding in the production of black commerce, be it economical or intellectual—not using black people, black support, or black currency as a key to enter the master’s house.
Rather than accuse me of dividing the black collective, I encourage those who identify as Afro-Latino, or Latinx to consider the ways they function to divide the collective. Particularly, do you check “black” or “hispanic”? “Hispanic,” “Latin,” etc all function similar to terms “mixed” and “biracial.” They are mythic labels implemented to divide the black collective. Thus, by calling yourself any of these names, an individual becomes a facet of a collective war waged against black people.
Namely, the systemic distinction between “black” and “hispanic” is a deliberate act implemented by those who observe a place at the top of the hierarchical structure to divide the black collective with an implication that black and hispanic/latino are mutually exclusive. So rather than ask me whether your displacement in the diaspora or bilinguality qualifies you as black, ask yourself whether you are black enough to check black on paper?
As seen in countless countries populated with Africans displaced in the transatlantic slave trade like Brazil and Haiti, blacks displaced in the United States sacrificed for centuries to engender modern (temperate) liberties. Our efforts, while birthing many feats, have largely knocked down the door for many throughout the diaspora who voluntarily flee to the US to get places that that young boy or girl in the projects will never obtain an opportunity to visit even on a school trip. Contrary to popular belief, this young boy or girl that does not get a chance to seize his or her full potential does not reflect lack of ambition or motiviation. This illustrates how white supremacists have succeeded in dividing and conquering the black collective, how the white supremacist society has succeeded in using our own siblings to systemically disenfranchise their own people.
(If you read this reference in the comments under my original Cardi B. post, I apologize for my redundancy.)
In her autobiography, Assata Shakur delineates the divide and conquer technique in an anecdote from her childhood. She recalls a summer trip to an amusement park where she and her family were initially refused because of the color of her skin. Once her mother begins to speak Spanish, they gain access to the park. Shakur concludes the anecdote with the following reflection:
” Anybody, no matter who they were, could come right off the boat and get more rights and respect than Amerikan-born blacks” (Shakur 28).
Were, Assata and her family any less black then when they first tried to gain entry?
But at that moment, their blackness took a backseat to the mechanism, or in this case language, manipulated to grant them a cruel duality, where their blackness birthed their exclusion, but the foreign nature of their blackness garnered their temperate inclusion. Thus, they opted out of blackness in order to opt into a white space.
To celebrate Bruno Mars, Cardi B, Jennifer Lopez, and others employed in the same malevolent intentions to maintain the stagnancy of the African displaced in North American as occupying the base of American society, is to wave and smile at those granted entry to a space you were “too black” to attend.
Yes, I am saying that there are plenty of children lacking Bruno Mars, and Cardi’s racial “choice” that exceed their talent, but will never get the chance because they are “too black” to be anything but a rapper, or a “star” on Love and Hip Hop.
To this I would aptly engage criticisms of those who perform a similar deed in vacationing and staying at resorts where their brethren are suffering. To vacation at resorts when our diasporic brethren are rendered invisible by the culturally unenlightened and those indulging in a selective amnesia, who eat shrimp cocktail where diasporic Africans barely have enough to eat, is to also occupy a space established on the exclusion of your kinfolk.
But this is not the criticism.
The criticism is my failure to celebrate those who have the ability to choose whether they function as black. As a black person not subject to this choice, it is essential to my individual and collective survival to note that having black ancestry or a black ancestor does not make you black. People like Cardi B, Bruno Mars, Zoe Saldana, Christina Milian, etc,. have an option whether or not to identify with their black forefathers and foremothers in a way that author Wallace Thurman, singer Sam Cooke, and activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not.
This criticism, in its abundance and fiery presence under my initial Cardi B, post, proves an unintentional declaration of the low regard to which blacks displaced in North America are held. We are expected to smile in the face of a division that discounts our humanity to not seem divisive to those who imbue temperate benefits in the collective bludgeoning of black people from the white strategy of divide and conquer.
______ Conclusion: What Happened When I “came for” Cardi B.
So what happens when you “come for” Cardi B?
You are accused of lacking blackness in a failure to comply to the stereotypical traits expected of black people. It means being accused of dividing a people, while simultaneously subject to the division imbued in an accusation that me, a bearer of the black female form, “jumped Spanish girls in high school because they had better hair than me.” (actual quote)
I want to specify that I never “came for” Cardi B., I simply articulated a stance against cultural exploitation and appropriation encouraged and featured on the white media. I simply stood up for my people and my culture, and the aftermath illustrated diasporic blackness with regards to the black displaced in North America, as more abjected and ostracized than any article I could ever write.
So what happens, when you come for Cardi B?
White people everywhere snicker while the African displaced in Latin America and the Caribbean sulk in the exposition of the envy they hold for those they seek to emulate, but remain reluctant to appreciate and truly identify as.
This envy solely comes from those who pledge an allegiance to an African identity they do not truly feel, who separate rather than sync themselves with their displaced sibling separated on the ship that did not not sever our bloodline, but parted our bodies.
Bodies that in some way, shape, or form face the option (at varying degrees) to “opt” out of blackness, to become a weapon used against those born from the same continental womb, be it via skin color, hair texture, education, tax bracket, ethnicity, etc.
All the conscious community asks is a non-fickle choice to embrace or ignore blackness in part and whole, and to refute any and all options to work against your people.
While the systemic crippling of black folk throughout the diaspora, make it nearly impossible for the average black person, despite their placement in the diaspora, to travel or relocate from one drop-off to the next, in enjoying the richness of a diasporic culture, we, as Africans, must remain mindful of how our bodies can easily transition from familial to fatal.
In journeying to the places where our abducted brethren created culture out of kidnapping (in travel or migrancy), our goals should never be to get in with the master, but to get in with our people.
Thus, my issue with Cardi B, Bruno Mars and other diasporic Africans turned “hispanic” “Afro-Latino” or “American success story,” is not so much their selective blackness (for those who argue that they function as black at all), but that their goal is not to get in with black people, but to get in the black mind and purse. To get into spaces created by those raped to birth the privilege they presently observe.
Nevertheless, there is no shame in refusing to claim those who do not claim you, but there is great shame and entitlement exhibited by those who perceive blacks with the same disdain as our colorless counterparts yet demand support from those they see as subjugates.
So what happened when a being of black female form “came for” Cardi B?
She was reminded that all desire central placement in blackness, but few actually desire blackness.
*Members of the black collective need not occupy their time or thoughts with those who do not claim them, or only claim black to attain access to some benefit. Which is why I choose to end my post here :-).
Black Power, and all Power to the People Who Truly Identify as Black.
*The author places “Afro-Latino” in quotations as she includes all factions of diaspora in her use of the term “black” unless indicated otherwise.
Last week, I was assigned the task of editing a manuscript of a now popular piece of literature or poetry. The assignment failed to satiate my desire to be consumed in blackness by offering no black authored texts for edit. Although certainly not in the same position as my privileged peers, the assignment awoke within me the pertinent role of the editor. I was never particularly fond of white people editing black thoughts, but this assignment would make me far more devoted to the task of vetting black works.
While heavily invested in the black experience on a personal level, my assertions speak to what I will reference as communal ethics. By communal ethics I speak specifically to ethical behavior towards a community, or collective of people, not an individual. This assertion is prominent as it protects the black narrative from those seeking individual fulfillment. By ethics, I do not speak to its conventional use conjured by those of the majority who unethically succeed due to the detriment of the darker hued. Communal ethics with regard to publishing the works of marginalized authors, requires that all prospective editors bear a shared experience to the author, or in other words belong to the same community as the author. For example, if I were to write a novel or book prior to my death, communal ethics would require that anyone who can publish my work would be a pro-black individual like myself to ensure the integrity of my work.
I shared these comments in class after the instructor, a middle aged white man, referenced a vulgar detail about late author Wallace Thurman with regard to his short story, “Cordelia the Crude.” I will purposely omit the comment from this piece to eschew granting the white conscious a subtle victory in reproducing a negative image of the black body.
The comment cast the late Thurman who lived just over thirty years, as the product of an oppositional gaze, imprisoned by a hyper-sexuality. The comment, made to a classroom full of budding scholars to whom Thurman was an enigma— know nothing of this contribution to black literacy but can cite him as another example of black male sexual degeneracy. To this. I articulated a statement regarding what I now reference as communal ethics to which the instructor responded with a story about Ralph Ellison’s posthumous novel Juneteenth. For those who do not know, Juneteenth was assembled by a white man after Ellison’s death.
Glorifying a white editor’s “masterpiece” in assembling Ellison’s work, in addition to the Thurman comment set a searing rage through my body. The rage was not a personal rage, but one erupted from the injustice rendered by yet another white person seeking to justify whites tampering with black literacy. Isn’t it enough that the most prominent authors of the black collective are severed from their native language and bear a white man’s last nam?. No, whites must assume ownership over everything, wearing the elusive cape of a white savior who seek to “save” blacks from everything but whiteness.
To his proud assertions of white assemblage of Ralph Ellison’s novel Juneteenth, I responded by asking if white editor John F. Callahan was in the in fact the invisible man? And if not, his involvement with the project was an abomination to Ellison’s writing and legacy.
The professor grew indignant and yelled:
“Well don’t read it then. Go about your merry life without reading it.”
I do not paraphrase or mince words. This is what was to said to me in a class of ten or so of my classmates. The tone and words were indeed problematic, but mores the suggestion to just not read it.
The comment simultaneously denounces and performs the reality of white male privilege. For its not intrusive of a white man who assumes his visibility from the invisibility of Ralph Ellison and every black man throughout history to author the black narrative. It is however intrusive for me to denounce his actions. I am simply not to read it, but this white man is not deterred from assuming authority over the black narrative.
It is imperative that figures of black literacy— black writers, thinkers, and creative minds remain figments of the black memory and not casualties of the oppositional gaze. It is imperative that the black collective come together and form a community to which we collectively find purpose. This oppositional gaze not only worked to sully Wallace Thurman’s legacy, which include notable works like The Blacker the Berry, but also his founding of the Niggerati– a group consisting of prominent black authors Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and other brilliant black minds dedicated to black literacy, with an incriminating rumor. This admission was not accidental, but reflective of how the white gaze remains committed to ensuring that black excellence is demeaned by a caricatured blackness. As a black female, I was to be grateful for my professor’s inclusion of Thurman and Ellison in our class dialogue. I was to be even more grateful for the white man’s handling of he black narrative— ridding Ellison’s writing from the inferior idiosyncrasies of blackness such as bad grammar, lack of punctuation, and perfection of their master’s language.
This scenario was undoubtedly one of the worst classroom experiences I have had as a instructor or student. But it’s trouble stems from not the individualism of this incident, but in representing a larger portrait of the abducted narrative and silenced advocate shamed for possessing something the white world tries to strip from the black body—dignity. My professor tried to strip Wallace of his dignity in painting him a sexual deviant in a time where every day a new white man is outsed for sexual perversion. His attempt is a strategic attempt to redirect the current conversation of white male sexuality to the sullied sexuality of a prominent author, who wrote from a perspective no white man could emulate.
Furthermore, this scenario is most infuriating in representing a larger battle blacks have in demanding communal ethics from the unethical praxis of institutionalization.
Ellison and Thurman, may you rest in a peace denied to you in life and this unfortunate classroom dialogue .
I write from a place of extreme frustration. I will eschew implementing the term anger as my term of choice, because “angry” has become synonymous with black emotion. Particularly, “anger” has become banal in compartmentalizing justified black emotion/action, and white extremism in “response” to what conventionally functions as anger. I write this piece as an effort to ease my mind, and to eschew individualizing a collective black experience.
Without granting too much energy to an undeserving source, I will provide you with the crux of the dilemma at hand. To summarize a long and tedious experience, I was assigned to work alongside a white male on a departmental task to which his contributions were delinquent, a delinquency he casually displaced onto me. His actions, while both insulting and enraging, are also quite predictable.
His behavior mirrors that of the whites who created the construct of blackness to project their shortcomings and deficiencies onto black bodies. The white delinquent performs a masterful act of deflection in which whites speak a language internalized and understood by all white people—something is wrong, so a black person must have caused this error.
A quick skim through Ida B Well’s Southern Horrors, or any short-lived black publication throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, illustrate the countless black fatalities and conventional misfortune that resulted from said scapegoating. Thus, what makes this experience so troubling is not its racist stench, but that it reflects the same white cowardice that transformed too many black bodies into corpses.
In the provided example, the initiative and legwork were executed solely by a black body. Yet it is a fictive black error that deterred his contribution. In his world of white male supremacy, white delinquency is non-existent. In its place is a black body, or as seen through the oppositional gaze— a blank canvass to be painted with the sin of white men (an women). His actions are identical to the countless white men who blamed their crimes on innocent black people who they eventually murdered, and the countless white women who also perpetuated these myths of black criminality and inferiority destroying or ending the lives of many–case in point Emmett Till. White deception through deflection is a functional facet of insanity to which the white body eschews the reality of their delinquency.
In The United Independent Compensatory Code/System/Concept A Compensatory Counter-Racist Code, Neely Fuller outlines what he calls the “three basic goals sought out by most people in the known universe” as follows:
To survive by any means necessary
To dominate others through deceit and or direct violence including the threat of direct violence
To establish “peace.”
It may seems as though only the second point is applicable to the provided situation, whereas all three bullets issue insight into the thinking of a white supremacist. Deflecting white deficiency onto a black body, is not a casual act. As Fuller articulates, numerous times throughout his anti-white supremacy workbook, whites are malicious, hostile, powerful, and smart/sophisticated. I do want to note that white supremacist smart/sophistication and power does not function in actuality, but in function. White manipulation of a system created for white manipulation functions as sophistication, intelligence and power-but is none of the above. With regard to white hostility, as a member of the black collective it is imperative to note that this hostility is not always conspicuous. The most hostile behavior of white supremacists comes with a smile that to blacks seeking acceptance masks the most evil and cruel intentions. In this particular case, the white coward masks his delinquency and abrasviseness in a strategic ingenuity designed to provoke the black mind that craves justice in a habitually unjust world.
To engage the scenario at surface level is to say that had the tables been turned, I would endure a painful misrepresentation. To engage the scenario in a scalding reality is to note that the oppositional gaze instantly compartmentalized my black body as incompetent and reason as to why things would inevitably be derailed. The white male racist knew this. His familiarity with the oppositional gaze, fomented his delinquency, and provided a veil for his his shortcomings.
His actions and seemingly pleasant demeanor also veil a purposeful negligence strategically implemented to induce failure. Yes, his name may be on the project, but his face will not be face of pending failure and/or inaptitude.
So as a black female on thirty’s eve contemplating how to navigate these white spaces in endeavors where the black body must interact with those who gloat in our abjection, the only solution I can come up with is striving to exist in a space where these encounters are vitally non-existent and reflective of choice not necessity. Furthermore, black spaces for and by black people are not only a social convenience, but necessary for survival, self-possession, and inner peace.
In closing, it is also imperative to note that the most sickening component of this scenario is not the events in themselves, but that the delinquent white male incurs benefit, praise and security that even the most capable black will never experience. White male (and female) cavalier treatment of professional endeavors exposes the dismal disparity that remains between the black and white experience, despite fallacies of equality in our contemporary setting. Most importantly, this scenario when juxtaposed to its identical predecessors reveals it is not white achievement or “excellence” that warrants societal esteem, but whiteness in itself.
Making the choice to continue my education has unveiled a slew of surprises and stresses that affords me a literal and figurative headache after each class. The implicit and explicit racism of the white, and non-black students “of color” does not surprise me, but the behavior and ideologies of the black students implemented as intellect is both unsettling and dangerous.
Before I render the crux of my argument, allow me to paint a picture. The setting is a modern day plantation known to many as a university. Although a plantation, many of the inhabitants are non-blacks. The black presence amongst doctoral students is only slightly more abundant than the black faculty. None of the overseers are black, and none of them are black women. The dearth of representation is ever-present, which when combined the thinking of many of my black classmates, breed a loneliness that makes my experience as a doctoral student feel like a one woman play.
I use the analogy of a one woman play to evoke the fictive singularity afforded to those on a stride towards consciousness–those that color outside the lines of a caricatured blackness. During a class discussion in a post colonial class taught by a brown, not black man, I commented that my being is black, black encapsulating every dimension of a collective identity— an assertion made out of pride, but proved quite contentious to my black classmates. Interestingly, both of the agitated identified as gay–an orientation each made sure to mention alongside their obvious blackness. Their commentary berated blacks for failing to “accept” them, comments I contested by saying that all commentary on black life is “not meant for mixed company.”
Namely, berating other blacks is not a topic for mixed company. The response was that airing these comments is “educational” for those outside the diaspora, a response that could not be more weak or predictable if written for a prime time series on a white network. Dissonance amongst blacks foments the dominance and subjugation of blacks by whites and other non-blacks person of color. Other groups often do not, but can feud publicly because their discordance does not affect their privilege.
Similarly, berating other blacks because of their reaction to your lifestyle, does not contest the centuries of torture at the hands of whites and other groups seeking to stand on the backs of black people to consummate whiteness. Reactions to lifestyles that deviate from what all have been conditioned to see as normal, induce fear within the black collective—a fear anticipated by those truly able to conceptualize racism. To run into the arms of whites or non-black persons of color in the face of adversity from blacks, is a reaction induced by our oppressors to deflect from the poison planted into the soil of the black psyche.
Blacks are imperfect, but much of this imperfection is the result of colonialism. Thus, I am not asking blacks to pretend these imperfections do not exist, but to make an effort to understand racism—to assume a self determined stance as a collective. The agitators vehemently attacked my argument, by attacking me— an defensive act by the weak negro who feels exposed. It is this exposure that provokes the debauchery in which the weak negro seeks to become strong by shutting down those of their collective and siding with their oppressor.
My peers sided with our oppressors in a similar discussion on interracial marriage. I commented that the author of the text was not credible to divulge black theory given his marriage to a white woman. It was a black female student, who defended the rights of blacks to date and marry interracially. This is troublesome, because we live in a state in which the problems of our elders have become our burdens. Thus, there are plenty of things blacks should be fighting for, the right to date a white man or woman, is not one of them. A black person advocating for the right to swirl is black only in skin color, and desires advancements for blacks that place them alongside whites and non backs, or places members of these factions in their bed.
These moments was embarrassing to the black collective, but dangerous given that the participants, despite the obvious belief in their own intelligence, failed to see the weakness in their words and error in the pseudo enlightenment.
In accessing the commentaries of other graduate students in the program, it envelopes the troubling reality that superficiality is at the base of all contemporary thought. To clarify my assertion, it seems that many blacks do not desire freedom—they desire whiteness. This desire for whiteness was perhaps most evident in the patriotic comments made by my black classmates.
Both individuals spoke adamantly about loving America, words that composed one of the most disturbing things I have ever heard in my life. This proclamation proved that emancipation is just a word, because as they spoke I heard the chains of mental bondage. To love America is to love the white man who penetrated his way into black familial history by seizing the indigenous African tongue and branding the black body with his last name. To love America is forget and forgive those who have stolen everything from the black diaspora. Forgive me, but I much rather love myself, and my collective.
Nevertheless, these experiences fall nicely into the contemporary social climate where unity between blacks is heavily doused in the desire to be white or consummate whiteness. In both past and present efforts to combat white supremacy, there has never been enough blacks desiring and fighting for blackness.
To fight for blackness does not mean that we should all share a single idea— it means that we should unite on the basis of trying to understand one another. With this in mind, this article does not function to judge my peers. I understand the struggle to be black. I also know that to dig deep is scary. Its far easy to verbally attack a black woman from your collective, then to realize that this anger is displaced to drive the black collective further apart at a time where we should be closer together.
While this closeness is integral, this closeness it is not contingent on denying personal or collective insecurity. As a member of the black collective, it is essential that blacks acknowledge these insecurities to ensure that they do not function against us, as seen in the examples noted above.
These scenarios are provided not as a means of individual judgment or castigation, but hopefully a means for those within the collective to examine their own behavior.
I am stressed, disappointed, and mentally exhausted, but I have also never been more inspired. I have never been more sure of myself, where I stand, and that I wish to spend my entire life explicating blackness. I also have an increased appreciation for enlightened blacks who experience similar victories veiled as adversity.
These experience illustrate how common and dangerous it is to be weak. It also highlights that in this contemporary world, weak is the new strong. These performances highlight that despite the challenge and loneliness that accompanies the courageous black spirit, this courage is essential for the survival of blackness. This courage is paramount in paving the path to the elusive mountaintop of cultural consciousness.
May these experiences encourage you to be and stay strong. May the ancestors guide us all.