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.

#BlackLivesMatter

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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?

 

Partners in Crime

IMG_1005 (2)Have you ever had a friend who is always getting you into. . . (ahem) “things”? Well, I do.  I’m looking at you, Hype 1. I wouldn’t say she gets me into trouble, but we do have adventures. She has a unique ability to get me to try new things, sometimes dragging me along kicking and screaming because I am essentially a “stick-in-the-mud” kinda girl. Hype has gotten me hooked on various podcasts and persuaded me to get a Kindle years ago. She also introduced me to Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest. Part of me thinks that she gets me to try new things just so she’ll have a “partner in crime.”

A few years ago Hype asked me casually, “Are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year?” I asked, “NaNoWri Who?” Seriously though, I’m pretty sure I asked, “What is that?” National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) happens every November. It is a national challenge to write a novel in a month, spending time each day in November writing, in an effort to reach the goal of a draft of a 50,000 (an average of 1,666 words per day) word novel by month’s end.

Hype is a literary scholar; she also writes fiction– short stories and novels. So, it’s not surprising that that NaNoWriMo appeals to her. Even though I am a historian, she seems to think I can write a novel because of the funny/crazy true stories about my life and my family.

Although it wasn’t quite kicking and screaming, I have agreed to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo with Hype. I thought it would be good opportunity to write down some of my stories and get back into blogging. We’re a little tardy to the party, so I’m suggesting that we write from November 3 to December 3.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, let us know. If you think you’d like to try but need more information, check out the National Novel Writing Month website. Happy writing! 🙂

Top Five Poetry Lines

National Poetry Month Poster, www.poets.org

National Poetry Month Poster, http://www.poets.org

April is National Poetry Month, and I love poetry! I still have the first African-American literature anthology that I ever purchased. I remember going the through book and reading the poems out loud with a friend of mine. And I even try my hand at free verse every now and then.

Last week USA Today posted ten notable lines in poetry. Today it’s time for the 2 Dope Sistahs’ Top 5 Poetry Lines.

5. From Langston Hughes’ I, Too, Sing America

I, too sing America./I am the darker brother.

4. Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

stealin my shit from me/don’t make it yrs/makes it stolen

3. From Nikki Giovanni’s Beautiful Black Men

I wanna say just gotta say something/bout those beautiful beautiful beautiful outasight/black men/with they Afros

2. From Paul Laurence Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,/It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes

1. From Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise

You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies,/You may trod me in the very dirt/But Still, like dust, I’ll rise.


 

Well, what do you think of our choices? Do you have a favorite line of poetry? Please share it with us.

 

Wacky Wednesday: Nicknames

 What does your nickname say about you?

Image courtesy of sixnine pixels/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of sixnine pixels/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Do you have a nickname? If you grew up in a family like mine, a better question might be: How many nicknames do you have? I’m sure I have about nine, with three in active rotation. Most people in my family just call me a by a shortened version of my name, but my father calls me something that no one else does.

Now, my mother is very southern, so she calls everyone babyhoney, or darling (daaah-lin, with her drawl). My father, however, calls me “Shorty,” except it sounds like “Shaw-tee.” He’s been calling me that since I was a little girl. Other people used to taunt me about being short, but I always thought he meant it as a term of endearment. In school, I was usually one of the shortest kids in my class. As a matter of fact, mother claims I was so short that I could walk under the kitchen table until I was about five years old. (She exaggerates.) But I think (I hope) my father continues to call me that because, in a way, he still thinks of me as a little girl. He never seems to know my age, and he seems surprised when I tell him how old I am.Then again, I could be reading too much into this.  Maybe he still calls me “Shaw-tee” just because it’s the truth.

So, 2 Dope readers, do you have a nickname? You can tell us. We won’t tell anyone else. 🙂

**Last week’s Weekly Writing Challenge on WordPress.com was to write about the power of names. This post was my first attempt to participate.

Should We Ban the B-Word? Sharing My Bossy Story

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Have you heard about the effort to ban the “b-word”? No, not that one. This time the b-word is “bossy.” The Ban Bossy initiative was launched by the nonprofit LeanIn.Org, founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and the Girls Scouts. This campaign seeks “to ensure that girls grow up with the confidence and support they need to become leaders. They argue that the fear of being labeled “bossy,” “aggressive,” “know-it-all,” or something worse, causes girls to shun leadership positions.

“I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills.”~Sheryl Sandberg

I did not know anything about this “bossy” debate until about two weeks ago. For International Women’s Day, someone in my social media network posted a picture of Sheryl Sandberg with a quotation that read: “I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills.” I identified with that and replied that when I was a young girl I had also been called bossy. So, I could relate. I understood what it meant although it had never been a particularly troublesome term for me, but I realize the gendered nature of the word. Little girls, rather than little boys, were often called “bossy.” These “take-charge” kind of girls are viewed as overstepping their boundaries and being too self-assured, too aggressive.

“Unbought and Unbossed.”~Shirley Chisholm

Much to my surprise, several men also began to comment about “bossiness” and conflating it with bullying. One in particular tried to take me to task. Certainly, my mistake was in attempting to have a rational conversation about the gendered nature of language with an irrational person. He brought theory into practice because he characterized me as “part of the problem,” and a “bully” because I remained unpersuaded by his argument. Just as “bossy” is used to silence girls, he was trying to silence me by calling a bully. I responded, “I am neither ‘sad’ that I have been called bossy nor that you have called me a bully. That this conversation regarding an inspirational quote has degenerated into name-calling says more about you than it does about me.” I then resigned from the discussion. I had been perfectly cordial. He was merely upset because I refused to let him boss me. This person later apologized to me by saying “his reply did not enter into to the spirit of the discussion correctly.” (Like I didn’t know that.) He was conflating me with some female boss he had, as if that were relevant. But by then I was no longer interested in the conversation.

“I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”~Beyoncé

So, what are we to do with this word that seems to have lots of emotion connected to it? Banning a word is impractical. The prospect of banning seems to give a pejorative word more power, more venom. It’s plain to see that the word “nigger” is alive and kicking despite efforts to remove it from the dictionary, bury it, and end its use by calling it “the n-word.” Perhaps the idea of banning the term bossy is merely symbolic, and the more attainable goal is to start a dialogue on messages we convey to young girls through language and action.

“I like bossy girls, I always have. I like people filled with life.”~Amy Poehler

“Bossy” girls and women could reclaim the word and use it to mean something positive, as many other groups have done with names considered problematic. That is an option I could support. As I stated before, I have no problem being referred to as bossy. Since many women do, however, maybe there is another alternative. I suggest we address the destructive, gendered behavioral expectations and leave the words alone. We should equip girls with the language they will need to defend themselves and challenge, and perhaps even change, societal norms that destroy their sense of themselves.

So, tell me what you think, 2 Dope readers. Should bossy be banned?

No Longer Laughing: Jerry Seinfeld and the End of Fandom

In 2002, TV Guide named Seinfeld the “greatest television show of all time.”** During the show’s nine seasons, I watched it almost religiously; it was literally “must see TV.”
I enjoyed all of the characters–Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and especially George–as well as Seinfeld’s/Larry David’s irreverent way of looking at the world. I have seen almost every episode of this show and have most of them memorized. From time-to-time, I still watch the old shows if I run into an episode while flipping through the channels. I did, that is, until February when I saw a BuzzFeed Brews interview with Jerry Seinfeld during which he derisively dismissed a question about diversity and his internet show, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

Honestly, I had never seen an episode of Seinfeld’s internet program prior to watching this interview. (Subsequently, I did watch a couple of episodes in preparation to write this post.) But this was not a new criticism for Seinfeld. On the old Seinfeld show, some critics pointed out its lack of racial diversity. The main characters and the majority of the recurring characters and guest stars were white, but I was never concerned about that. I had watched established shows with predominantly white/all white casts attempt to insert people of color, and it just seemed awkward and disingenuous. Besides, I was often uncomfortable with Seinfeld‘s depiction of African Americans in the episodes where they made an appearance.

I even endured Seinfeld’s support of his former cast mate, Michael Richards, after his very public meltdown on stage at The Laugh Factory in 2006. However, his racist diatribe against black audience members, laden with racial epithets and lynching imagery, was the reason that I refused to purchase the Seinfeld show’s DVD set. I was not about to let “Kramer” get one thin dime of my money.

It seemed that my fandom knew no bounds until the BuzzFeed interview. Although the interviewer, business editor Peter Lauria, was quite deferential to Seinfeld, he gingerly brought up the fact that “most of the guests are mostly white males.” Whether he was feigning anger or genuinely annoyed, Seinfeld relayed that this “really pisses me off.” He asserted that he had “no interest in gender or race or anything like that.” Folks who brought up those issues were simply “anti-comedy” with their “PC nonsense.” Well, he didn’t pull a “Kramer,” but Jerry Seinfeld’s comments were defensive and dismissive. He was unwilling to consider, even for a moment, that it was a valid criticism. Perhaps Lauria was just being ironic when he asserted that the interview would be “a very serious and earnest conversation.”

Clearly, Seinfeld doesn’t feel the need to think about or respond to racialized or gendered “others.” According to him, his only concern is comedy. But humor, like beauty, is subjective.  Maybe Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he said if “you’re funny, I’m interested.” Well, I’m no longer laughing, so I’m not interested.

_________________

**A subsequent list in 2013 listed The Sopranos as “the best series of all time.”

Beautiful Black Girls*

(Because it needs to be said)

Image courtesy of satit_srihin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of satit_srihin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I want to say

Just got so say something

About those beautiful, beautiful black girls

Rocking Afro puffs, dreadlocks, and braids

I see you

Making it do what it do

You so fierce

Everyone wants to be like you

What? Don’t tell me you didn’t know!

Tiana, Lamya, Nyla, Lauren, and Nikia

Go ‘head girls!

I see you

Cutting your eyes

Looking so cute

With your beads that match the skinny jeans and the shoelaces and your backpack

For all my smart, sassy, introverted, extroverted

Singing, writing, dancing, swimming, skating

Ball-playing, bike-riding, double-dutch jumping, chess-playing, music-loving

Princesses and tomboys

Keep doing your thang!

Brava, young ladies!

You should know

I’m sitting at home, in the audience, on the sidelines

Cheering you on

With tears in my eyes

For all of you beautiful, beautiful black girls

Rockin’ dope Afro puffs, dreadlocks and braids

©2 Dope Sistahs, 2013

*Inspired by my favorite poet, Nikki Giovanni and her poem “Beautiful Black Men”

The Good, The Bad, and The Hebetudinous!

Somewhere between “Mama” and “actually mommy” my five year old developed a pretty decent vocabulary. I never used “baby talk” when speaking to her and was often accused of talking to her as if she were an adult. So, she happens to be my favorite conversationalist.

I became perplexed last year, her Kindergarten year, when she began to chastise me for using bad words. Each time I used what she would describe as a bad word, she would let out a resounding, “awwwwwwwwwww, mommy, you sad a bad word!”

I was confused!

First, I was confused because I knew for certain that I had not said sh*t, d*mn, b*tch, or the mother of them all around her, so I had no idea what I could have possibly said. To my pumpkin, “bad words” were determined to be “dumb” and “stupid.” To my credit, I was pretty proud of myself that my little darling’s world of “bad words” were limited to “dumb” and “stupid.”

Let’s face it: many of us worry that they’ll pick up a word we say when we stump our toe or get stuck in morning traffic, dropping off our kid and the crossing guard puts that hand out just before s/he gets to you, making you late! At that very moment, all you think is, “Ain’t this a b*tch!!! I have to get out of the car and sign her in to school on the one day that I did not brush my teeth or comb my hair because I thought I would be right back!!” You look in the mirror and notice lint in your fro and a Fruit Loop stuck to your forehead. On days like this, you are liable to say anything.

Anyway, my point is that, I am thankful that her definition of bad words are limited to “dumb” and “stupid”, but if we are looking for a culprit to the usage of these two words, I am guilty as charged! I never call people stupid (around her), but I am always calling things and ideas stupid . . . always. I do not use stupid for lack of a well-rounded education. I use stupid because that is the most polite word I can come up with.

The second reason I was perplexed is because, while I always call things dumb or stupid, I limit my usage of the words “good” or “bad” as much as possible. I seldom attribute the label good or bad to words when engaging her in conversation, well, because . . . what the hell does that mean?

Should there be a word that I don’t want my daughter to use, I would simply say that the words she is using is inappropriate. For me, that is easier to explain. It allows me the opportunity to introduce context when necessary. I can easily say that thus word is appropriate to say at home, but not school. For me, not only is “bad” vague, but it is also subjective and more difficult to challenge in a disagreement.

Should she call someone stupid, we could discuss being impolite, rude, mean or obnoxious and how obnoxious kids are generally disliked by other kids. No one wants to play with a mean kid. For me, that conversation means more to a child. They learn exactly why the word is problematic and the ramifications of using it. What would she learn if I simply tell her that “stupid” is a bad word? She would only learn to avoid saying that word around me.

Once, Nina was playing with something that she shouldn’t have played with and I was so busy that I didn’t engage her. I simply told her to stop playing with it. A month or so later, she played with the same item again, but this time I had more time and told her the dangers of playing with that item. Her response: I wish you had told me before why you didn’t want me to play with it. I wish parents could tell kids everything so that we would know what was dangerous.”

How astute, I thought. Although I know that it is impossible to tell her all that she needs to know at once, I do know the importance of telling her why because the “why” is very much a part of the learning process. One remembers the reason they need to “look both ways before crossing the street is because they could get hit by a car” much better than if you simply tell them “don’t walk across the street without looking both ways.”

So, I have learned a couple of things from this exercise:

1. When engaging my child, the “why” is an important aspect of the learning process.

2. To substitute the word “hebetudinous” each time I want to call someone/some thing stupid.

“Read Everything”: It’s Banned Books Week

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window”.–William Faulkner

banned books bar 2013

Bibliophiles unite! September 22 through 28 is Banned Books Week. It was launched in 1982 to celebrate our freedom to read while highlighting efforts to censor reading material. Every year there are hundreds of attempts to remove books from schools and libraries or to restrict access to those books. Now you know 2 Dope Sistahs love to read, so we’re sharing our thoughts on two books that are frequently banned.

Da Realist 1

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tells the story of two runaways–Huckleberry Finn, a teenage boy, and Jim, a slave. I did not read this book while I was in school, possibly because it was banned from the curriculum. Indeed, it is one of the most challenged books of all time. In 2011, I found out that there was going to be a new, sanitized version of the classic novel, and this inspired me to read the original. This edition, ironically published by New South Books, removed offensive words like “Injun” and “nigger” and substituted contemporary terms that are more appropriate. But Huckleberry Finn is a nineteenth-century novel, not a contemporary novel. While I found the more than 200 uses of “nigger” to be excessive, changing the words removes the author’s intent.

Da Hype 1

The Catcher and the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher and the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I was assigned to read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in high school. Although I cannot remember too much about the novel, I do remember being excited about reading a book with a protagonist about my age. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, contemplates his sexuality, smokes cigarettes, and curses–all of the activities that challenge teenagers past and present, making this novel timeless.

For more information on Banned Books Week, click here.

To find out if your favorite book has been banned, click here.