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Thinking About Audre Lorde And Ferguson

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.

–Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

Last night, sick to my stomach, I watched the “Prosecutor” of Police Officer, Darren Wilson, explain to the town of Ferguson and the world why the life of the unarmed teen, Michael Brown was not worth a trial (See yesterday’s post, “Ferguson on My Mind”.) He explained why Wilson was justified in shooting him five or more times, two of those shots were to the head. I was disgusted by how much the Prosecutor sounded like the Defense Attorney for Wilson and not the one responsible for making sure he went to trial.

Immediately following the announcement that Wilson would not stand trial for killing Brown, I watched Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, in pain as she heard the verdict. I cried for her and I cried for the families of other black victims whose lives were not worthy of consideration from the American judicial system. Michael Brown never had a chance in that court room.

I hugged my daughter closer to me because unarmed black girls and women get shot by police officers and racist citizens, too. They, too, can be victims of a judicial system that does not recognize their humanity (See the story of Marissa Alexander in The Root.) I cried because for way too many people in this country, black lives have no value.

I watched President Barack Obama talk to Americans about our country being built on justice, and all I could think was “no, it wasn’t, it was built on thievery and slavery.” He continued by telling Protesters that he is standing by the statement given by Michael Brown’s family to protest peacefully.

His sentiments felt shallow because not only has he failed to admonish the behavior of police who racially profile and carefully carelessly snuff out the lives of black youth, but he also failed to connect with the Brown family in a meaningful way. He couldn’t even offer as simple of a statement as he gave Trayvon Martin’s family when he said, “If I had a black son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.”

I asked, “How do I write about this? How can I write about this when I am in so much pain for the future of our children?”

Twitter IThis morning, I awakened to the heaviness of the night before, still feeling ill. I picked up my phone and immediately got on Twitter. I read the Tweets from the activists in Ferguson and noticed a significant number of white people spewing anger and hate at the activism in the area. They wanted to silence the voices in Ferguson. They called them hateful names and wished bodily harm on them, but Ferguson activists ignored their comments and continued to address their ultimate goal: to make #blacklivesmatter.

As I continued with my morning routine of dragging Nina out of bed to get her dressed for school, I still pondered TwitterIIhow I would write about Ferguson. Between the news media using language like “rioting” instead of “protests” or “social unrest” and others on Twitter attacking the activists for the work that they were doing, I was utterly disturbed by the way in which the narrative was being told. The story of black people protesting the systemic victimization TwitterIIIof black bodies was being constructed by the mass media as deviant. It was sick and twisted to watch people stand up for the protection of property in ways that they would not stand up to protect a teenager’s life.

Meanwhile, Nina came down stairs and picked up her pen and finished working on whatever she was writing the night before. She was upset when I told her that it was time to go to school. She told me that she needed to write.

I thought to myself, “What would Nina do if she were confronted with some type of struggle in her 7 year old life?”

She would definitely write.

So, as I walked her to school this morning, I became determined to write/right a story of Ferguson.

During this walk, Nina and I talked about writing. I told her that she may not understand what I mean right now, but she must “right” the world with her writing. I reminded her of her magical powers and that everyone doesn’t possess the ability or desire to write as she does. I told her that she needed to use her writing powers for good: She must tell the narratives of people who don’t possess her magic to write. She must tell their stories because other people needed to hear her truth. Because her truth is important. Her voice is important. Never stop writing.

I needed her to hear these things, on this day in particular.

We have a responsibility to write/right the stories that are being told about Ferguson. Audre Lorde said in the “Transformation of Silence,” “We share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that Transformation.”

I know that when I am no longer around to be the voice for people through my writing, I know someone else who will continue in my place.



Ferguson on My Mind

In the news today:

One Brown body.

One Brown body lying in the street.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet. At least two bullets to the head and four to the arm, maybe even more.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet. At least two bullets to the head and four to the arm, maybe even more. The gut wrenching sound of crying rings like a tortured freedom bell.

That one Brown body lying in the street was somebody’s child.

Next week’s news story . . .

Another black body lying in the street.

How Do You NaNoWriMo?

So, as many of you know, Realist and I are participating in National November Writers’ Month, which challenges writers to write 50,000 new words by the end of November. We decided that maybe if we share what works for us, you WriMos could offer some advice to us. So, here goes…

Da Hype 1

No word shaming

No Word Shaming!

1. I prepare for NaNoWriMo by creating a working outline. I try to start a couple of months in advance so that I can add ideas here and there as they emerge. I use vague terms and ideas, with hopes of exploring them throughout the writing process. Most ideas make it in the actual draft, while others don’t. Sometimes, I explore the ideas in ways that I never imagined. So, be flexible.

2. I write on Google Drive, that way I have access to my documents on my laptop, tablet, and smartphone. This helps me mostly when it comes to my outline. This way, I am able to add an idea or two to my outline whenever/wherever I am.

3. I don’t “word shame.” Sometimes I reach my word count goal, other times I do not. I really try to make 1,666 words each day, but sometimes I just can’t. Fitting 50,000 words into your month is not an easy fete. If it were easy, everyone would have written a novel. I don’t make myself feel ashamed about not being able to accomplish my goal, I just work extra hard to find time another day to make up for the time I lost writing.


Da Realist 1

Image Courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image Courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

As you can see, Hype is really organized when she writes. She gets her outline in order before she begins. She also made a spreadsheet (that she shared with me) to log the number of words that she has written each day. Although I marvel at her process, I #NaNoWriMo quite differently.

Having tried my hand at novel writing in previous years, I am convinced that I am no novelist, but I did want to participate. I decided I would modify the process by making it nonfiction. When I tell stories about my family, I always crack people up. (Well, maybe just Hype, and she may be a bit biased.) I decided to write about my grandparents. I was fortunate to have known my grandparents and most of my great-grandparents and to have had special relationships with all of them. I’ve wanted to do this for a while. If you think about it, it’s still NaNoWriMo–National Nonfiction Writing Month. But guess what, someone has has already thought of this. (Click the links for more info.)

I wish I could say there is a specific method to my madness, but there isn’t. I’m not even sure what I will do with stories/histories/thoughts/feelings I am recording; I just feel compelled to write them. I just get out my little notebook and smooth writing pen, think about my loved ones, and I write. I write longhand rather than at my computer. I enjoy writing like this. For me it feels more thoughtful and creative and less like work.

So, 2 Dope followers, that’s how we do it. How do you NaNoWriMo?


NaNoWriMo My Way

NaNoWriMo setupI like a challenge, especially one as gigantic as writing 50,000 words within a month. This is my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo and I intend to win this year by reaching my writing goal. The first year I participated, I wrote about 25,000 words (24,409 words to be exact). For me, I was bothered by the fact that I did not complete the task of writing 50,000 words, but it was pretty amazing to have accomplished what I did on the first go around.

That year, I utilized all of the tools that were provided to help writers become successful. I attended the write-ins at my local Panera and participated in the virtual write-ins as well. They were both an integral part of my success. The Panera write-ins had leaders encouraging us to write, and they gave away small gifts like pencils and erasers. The atmosphere was wonderful: everyone was in the spirit of writing and it diminished the loneliness and isolation that the writing experience often creates. The virtual write-ins also worked because of the writing sprints that were used to push writers to accomplish their daily writing goals.

I remember falling off the writing wagon once Thanksgiving came around. Not only is this time of year hectic because of the impending holiday and all of the preparations that come along with making a family happy and full of turkey, but this time of year is particularly busy for college professors, like myself, who are busy grading papers and getting themselves ready to submit final grades for the semester. So, for those 2014 WriMo newbies, prepare yourself for the business of Thanksgiving.

I am not exactly sure what happened the second and third years, but the writing barely got off of the ground before I quit. This year, however, I’m in the game. I’m barely in the game, but I am definitely playing.

Da Realist 1 wrote a little bit about NaNoWrimo in her post, “Partners in Crime.” In the post, she says that writers are encouraged to write approximately 1,666 words a day. So, when I started writing on day 5, I was already behind by approximately 8,330 words!!

I had already prepared for the month by outlining, but life continued to get in the way and it prevented me from starting on time. I had a job interview for which I had to prepare, too many papers to grade, and my daily responsibilities of chauffeuring my daughter around from one activity to the next. I just could not fit in NaNoWriMo for 4 days.

On the 5th day, I contemplated giving up as I did the previous two years, but then I changed my mind and got in the game.

Somehow, this weekend, I closed the deficit by about 5,000 words. I decided that I may not make 50,000 words by the last day of November, but I will have started a project and a routine of writing that I will not want to give up.

The truth: fitting 50,000 words into your daily routine for a month is challenging, but there is something about having a goal in sight that promotes the act of writing for many of us. By the end of this past weekend, I realized that my ability to write is a super power, and that many people are not capable of doing what I did in one weekend.

Press on WriMos, and keep writing.


For more information about National November Writers’ Month, click on this hyperlink for their website. They do a great job of preparing writers before November and encouraging writers all year round.

Book Review: The Cross & the Lynching Tree

James Cones_The Cross & The Lynching Tree“I wrote because words were my weapons to resist, to affirm black humanity, and to defend it.”

“Being able to write about lynching liberated me from being confined by it. The cross helped me to deal with the brutal legacy of the lynching tree, and the lynching tree helped me to understand the tragic meaning of the cross.”

I teach a black nationalism (BN) course that looks at the earliest manifestations of the ideology in this country and how it still presents itself today. Black nationalism, loosely, subscribes to the idea of creating a separate black state/body politic. When that is impossible, the ideology seeks to create all-black institutions or programs. So, when black people thought that slavery would have no end, many believed that the answer lies in emigrating to Africa and the Caribbean, places where there were large populations of blacks.

Many of you who are familiar with black nationalism, are familiar with the particular versions that emerged out of the 60s: the Black Power Movement and the Nation of Islam. When analyzing the writers of the 60s, my students always made comments on the significant influence of the Nation of Islam on black nationalist ideology. Many asked if Christianity spoke to black nationalism in any way. The question drove me right into the pages of James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011). Reading this book made me sorry that I had not read his other work sooner.

In his Introduction, James Cone addresses the premise on which he compares the lynching of hundreds of African Americans in this country to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He argues that, because the “cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the ‘cost of discipleship,’ it has become a form of ‘cheap grace,’ an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission” (Kindle location 198). Because of the ways in which white supremacy has historically and continually used Christianity as a tool of oppressing African Americans, specifically where lynching is concerned, Cone argues that theologians cannot thoroughly engage the the meaning of Christian identity in America by negating the role of white supremacy.

I really enjoyed Cone’s book and appreciated it from both an academic and spiritual perspective.

The Worst Moments of 2013

Da Hype 1

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

There were a number of really rough moments for me in 2013, but the absolute worst moment has to be the announcement of the Trayvon Martin verdict. (See 2DS posts on “Keep Calm” and “From Don Imus to George Zimmerman”) It was really difficult for me to grapple with the reality that George Zimmerman had not been convicted of murdering this young boy, who was guilty of “walking while black.” It felt as if a heap of new injustices had fallen on black people. I felt suffocated and was depressed. It didn’t help that the verdict was followed by a number of deaths of young black women and men who were shot and killed while knocking on white people’s doors, seeking help (e.g. Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell).

The Martin verdict was announced while I was celebrating 100 years of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Angie Stone, India Irie, and Patti Labelle each took the stage, and all three felt compelled to recognize his life. As news of the verdict spread throughout the crowd, the crowd shuttered in utter surprise. We were hurt.

That night, I was delighted to see my favorite singers, ecstatic to celebrate with my sorority sisters, but in pain for the Martin family in particular, and for black people in general. So, I cried in the middle of a concert.

Da Realist 1

The Trayvon Martin case–the lead-up to the trial, the trial itself, and the reaction to it–was difficult for me as well. I wrote about it at least three times last year. No matter how many times I hear awful stories like his–and it happens far too often–I am always deeply affected by how much black life is devalued.

Da Realist1, Jesse, and me in front of W.E.B. DuBois statue on Fisk University's campus

Da Hype 1, Jesse, and Da Realist 1 in front of the W.E.B. DuBois statue at Fisk University

However, my worst moment was when I found out that Jesse, one of my best friends, had died. Both Da Hype 1 and I wrote about our friendship with Jesse last year. (See 2DS posts I Had Such a Friend, For Jesse, & Foto Friday: Someone You Love).

On May 20, 2013, Da Hype 1 called me crying and screaming  unintelligibly. I had to get her to calm down so that I could understand her. She was so upset because she had just received a message that Jesse had passed away. For some reason I thought she had misunderstood the message. Jesse was in the hospital awaiting a liver transplant. He’d had a surgery (for some other issue), but he was not dead. He was getting better, stronger, right? I don’t remember whether she read me her message or if I looked on my phone and saw the same message, but I felt like someone had knocked the air out of me. After that, we continued to talk. I attempted to console Hype the best I could. She was in her car, and she still had to drive home.

Somehow we managed to pull ourselves together. Hype drove home safely, and I just sat on the couch staring into space for a long time thinking about my friend. I will never forget Hype’s heart-piercing scream that day. It broke my heart.

Wacky Wednesday: The Best Moments of 2013

Da Hype 1

Black Twitter at its best

Black Twitter at its best

Do you remember Paula Deen from 2013? Do you remember the controversy surrounding one of her employees who sued her, and as a result, a number of accusations emerged, claiming that she and her brother used racist language often at work? Well, that was not my favorite moment in 2013, but the #paulasbestdishes hashtag on Twitter that followed did. Black Twitter came alive and brought to the media’s attention the story that was otherwise falling off the radar.

This hashtag showed so many how powerful Black Twitter is, and it has been a platform for a resurgence of black feminist politics as well. My best moments in social media in 2013, all involve Black Twitter.

Da Realist 1

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigital Photos.net.

To be honest, 2013 was not a great year for me. So, good riddance! I was glad to see it go. Life wasn’t working out the way I planned it. The job market has been tough. I lost one of my best friends. I felt isolated because I live far away from my sister-friends.

Then, one day I was talking to Da Hype 1 on the phone (as I do pretty much every day), and we came up with the idea of starting this blog. I don’t remember who suggested it  (probably Hype), but I knew it was time to try something different. Blogging was something that I’d thought about before. In fact, my husband had encouraged me to blog, but I had absolutely no idea how to start.

Well, Da Hype 1 and I put our heads together, and 2 Dope Sistahs was born. Although it has sometimes been hectic, some of my best moments of 2013 have been related to working on this blog.

Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), 1934-2014

A young Amiri Baraka

A young Amiri Baraka

In 1965, immediately after the assassination of Malcolm X, LeRoi Jones moved from Greenwhich Village to Harlem and started the Black Arts Repertory Theater School.

The Black Arts Movement was born, providing a vehicle for writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, Jayne Cortez, Ed Bullins, Hoyt Fuller, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez,Haki Madhubuti, Ishmael Reed, and many others. This very important literary movement inspired writers like Toni Morrison and Ntozake Shange who came later.

Amiri Baraka I value the work of Baraka tremendously, and appreciate his ability to usher in an entire movement of black writers who challenged racial oppression in such a way that they had to be heard by the elite black literary establishment (e.g. Ralph Ellison), middle class African Americans, white liberals, white supremacists, or anyone else who felt the need to silence their voices. Like other black feminists, however, my scholarship challenges the ways in which some of Baraka’s early work silenced black women’s voices. I stand by that challenge. I also stand by my appreciation for all that he has done for black liberation.

I celebrate Baraka the activist, Baraka the writer, and Baraka the scholar. Rest in Power, Amiri Baraka. May your voice live on.

Racism in the Classroom: I am Shannon Gibney

Cheryl Harris's "Whiteness as Property" is published in this anthology

Cheryl Harris’s “Whiteness as Property” is published in this anthology

I remember the first semester that I decided to teach Cheryl Harris’s “Whiteness as Property,” my students were completely resistant to reading it. They read the first few pages and realized that the essay was about white privilege and decided that they would read no more. Harris’s essay is complicated, but her argument is solid. They disagreed with it in its entirety, but were incapable of saying much more. They were done with the subject -matter and angry that I required them to read it. This protest to my teaching occurred in an African American literature class.

Structural racism, a topic discussed by Shannon Gibney at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, is one that could have easily been discussed in any of my classes, especially in the context of white privilege. In her Communications course, Professor Gibney was interrupted by two white males who did not want to hear about structural racism. They verbally attacked her in her own classroom and claimed that the discussion of structural racism made them feel like they were being attacked personally.

Professor Gibney’s students, a lot like my students did not take the time to read and understand the material being presented to them. Had they attempted to understand the lecture, they would understand that structural racism analyzes systems of racism, and not individual racism or how specific people are racist. That was of no matter to the students or to the college that eventually reprimanded her for the way she chose to teach her class.

People in support of the students argue that her discussion of structural racism had no place in her class. I find that a problematic assertion, considering none of them had seen her syllabus. And, that does not necessarily have to be the case, considering my white students did not want to talk about it either in an African American literature class.

The real problem is that the discussion of race and racism is an unsavory conversation in any context in America.

Da Realist 1 discussed this in “Teaching and the Power to Disrupt” in Tuesday’s post, where she states,

When you mentally wrestle with a difficult topic–whether it is calculus or philosophy–it may blow your mind at first. Once you begin to understand, you can pick up the pieces of your mind and rearrange them, but you are never quite the same again. This thinking process can be uncomfortable, but it is a necessary exercise in order to learn.

This way of thinking is acceptable in the sciences, but less so in regards to the humanities. And, to be honest, these same critical thinking strategies are deemed unacceptable by our own colleagues in liberal arts, when it comes to our courses in Ethnic and Gender Studies. The students’ and college’s response to Professor Gibney represents the country’s larger issues with engaging in productive conversations about race.

When I first heard Gibney’s story it wounded me deeply because I understand how easily it could have been me. I know what it is like to have spent more than a decade of my time on research, scholarship and teaching, to only be dismissed by students who do not believe that I deserve to be in the classroom. I wish Professor Gibney did not have to experience this and I send her positive energy, wherever she may be.