Miscellaneous Reflections

When Did She Get So Angry?

and a few more thoughts for the road

Black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people’s salvation or learning. But that time is over. My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.

-Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” 1981.

I’m breaking my hiatus from this blog so soon just to revel for a moment in how freeing I have found it to shrug off the unwanted weight of respectability, and to celebrate my anger loudly and often.

This blog has never been a destination for those in search of butterflies in their stomachs and warm fuzzy feelings in their chests, or wherever those feelings take place. It’s not a coincidence that my writing became harsher, more biting, around the time I studied in Dakar with lots of white people, some of whom were great friends, and the rest of whom were more concerned with getting ill-fitting outfits made out of wax print than they were with actually learning anything about Senegal (special shout out to the few people of color on the program as well, the shade alone made the trip worthwhile)!

I was used to being the dissenting or challenging voice in class throughout college, but hadn’t yet began to imagine the limits of the classroom (especially one in a predominantly white university) as a space where any kind of radical work can occur.

My blog posts settled deeper into anger after I graduated and moved to Boston for grad school, which should be no surprise considering the city’s glaring whiteness and its continued efforts to keep people of color in the margins, (what’s up housing segregation, over-policing and discrimination in schools!)

In my everyday life, I became used to being antagonized and picked at by classmates who seemed to either resent my presence, or wanted to claim me as their “not a racist because Black friend” trophy. These personal incidents were taking place within the larger, frightening context of incessant police violence against Black people in the US, and unchecked (“unchecked” because it is all going according to plan) government corruption ensuring the continued suffering of Black people across the continent I call home.

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How I feel arguing in class every day. 

(Source: GIPHY)

Most importantly, my graduate courses began to nudge and then shove me to a place of more meaningful political consciousness. I grew ashamed of the complacent state I was living in as an undergraduate, still reasonable “aware” of systems of oppression but unwilling to be hyper-critical of how I was buying into them, and how I was standing on the backs of other Ghanaian women in order to “achieve my dreams.”

For one thing, most of my time outside of class in college was spent planning events for the African student organization, a group I loved dearly, but one whose strong reputation became mostly linked to our large social events (as vital and fulfilling as those were) at the expense of more political organizing, during the time that I moved from member to leader. Our political events were still well-attended, usually by white students who only saw the African continent as a wasteland ravage by conflict, and a site for potential “development” and profit. Still, we thrived, in spite of the somewhat one dimensional narrative around our groups identity, still putting on panel discussions, film screenings and conferences, some of which felt like they were mainly for ourselves rather than for our entire campus community to expand their knowledge about the African continent.

My own wishy-washy politics didn’t allow me to fully process the boundaries that existed between the Black groups on campus and how to turn those into potential for more solidarity with concerns from across the African diaspora. I couldn’t get past the feelings of invisibility or hurt I felt in seemingly insignificant moments when, for example, I tried to explain the Adinkra symbol our collective of Black on-campus groups had been using as a logo, with someone choosing to consult Google over listening to what I had to say as an actual Ghanaian person in the room.

I didn’t know how to understand how the idea of “the motherland” as it was frequently used positioned me somewhere in a distant and inaccessible past, and that all of us Black people were seeing incomplete and inaccurate images of one another filtered through white supremacist channels. I didn’t know how to express how I felt about most of the on-campus organizing for Black liberation centering on the US in a way that was necessary but also confusing in the broader context of Black people’s struggles elsewhere. I couldn’t fully grasp the toxic effects of our highly competitive campus environment that placed immense pressure on Black women, who often occupied several leadership positions at once, to be magical all the time with little regard for our personal relationships and our well-being.

How would I learn to walk the line between the tired and unfair expectation that Black American students take on the burden of fighting for every single other cause, and the yearning for a solidarity that transcended divisions within the African diaspora? How would I make differentiate between personal misunderstandings and conflicts that represented larger fractures between us as people of African descent? How would I begin to move beyond a place of authenticating Blackness, and obsessing over who gets let in or shut out based on “cultural difference” and old resentment remaining from childhood taunts?

After reading my mother’s books throughout secondary school, I had the voices of characters created by Toni Morrison, Ama Ata Aidoo, Zora Neale Hurston, and many others shaping my understanding of Black feminism, pushing me to think more deeply about power and oppression as immediate life and death issues rather than abstract theories, as well as the celebration that it is to be a Black woman. I didn’t know what to do with these influences, and so I didn’t really listen.

All these conflicting forces within and outside of myself stirred up with an unexpected disaster of a “relationship” however brief…

This is a friendly reminder to avoid any man that uses the terms “socially responsible” and “capitalist” in the same sentence without a shred of irony or shame. Avoid any man that makes it a point to tell you that he has a “global dating pool” because of frequent work-related travel, and feels the need to mention that he has dated mostly white women (as a Black man) and always imagined he would ultimately have biracial children until he met you.

Run fast the minute that person says, “You know I’m just a really private person so don’t post any photos of us.” Turn that run into a sprint for your life when this man makes disparaging comments about other women he has dated, and shows you multiple other examples of his misogyny, internalized anti-blackness and general gaslighting and terrible-ness.

When you have gotten far enough away, think about how blessed you are to have escaped this misfortune, especially since you may eventually discover that all along you were playing second fiddle to his real relationship with Becky with the split ends… I’m trying to get an essay about this published so you’ll have to wait a little longer  for the full story!

Disclaimer: Most men have proven themselves to be terrible in some way, whether they can cite bell hooks from memory, or expect you to cook fresh meals every night after work. Or both. Proceed with caution.

I still don’t know what to make of the fact that much of my embracing and tapping into my anger has happened in reaction to external factors in my personal life, the overbearing whiteness of my MFA program, being abandoned by a guy I hadn’t sought out to begin with, dealing with a non-existent relationship with my father, and so on (and not because of some latent impulse to contribute to righting the world’s wrongs).

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After two years in graduate school of learning to become a more careful reader and writer, I am now able to see anger as more than a moment of meaningless lashing out, and rather as a source of creative fuel and a path to possible healing. I can now throw curse words into conversation as much as I please, and I think I’m a lot funnier and more tolerable to spend time with now that all the fucks I give have expired. I am after all the daughter of a woman who does the same. (Can you imagine how annoying I was when I used to be to shy to be anything but the prim and sometimes sarcastic persona I was performing??? I still have so much love for my reserved and/or slightly awkward girls, we are all on different journeys.)

In no way I am I suggesting that learning to curse is the way to get us all free. Rather, it is a small personal change that has shown me how being “well-behaved” is the ultimate scam, and that Black women have the right to express anger and frustration at oppressive structures in any way they see fit. I’m also aware that I can adopt this attitude with little risk for my personal safety because I still enjoy the respectability conferred by degrees and other trappings of middle class life, and (particularly when I am in the US), an accent that is hard to place and is immediately read as less threatening when it is convenient for others to make unnecessary distinctions between me and other Black women, my sisters.

I can’t express enough gratitude to my all my Sisters Killjoy, my roommate and my friends who have given me (probably too much) space to be messy and complicated without apology, and to all the wonderful professors and mentors who have talked me off many a ledge. These women have shown me that feminism is more than a cutesy movement that stops at women getting into power suits and graduation regalia, and involves a concerted and difficult effort to dismantle complex networks of power that place value on people based on strict and harmful constraints based on race, gender, sexuality, disability and on how much they produce and consume among many other factors.

And of course, a million thanks to Beyoncé for the angry section of Lemonade that comes before all the softness and reconciliation. My 2016 would have been a lot less bearable without “Don’t Hurt Yourself” on repeat.

(Header Image: A life-giving book that I’ve only recently come to understand fully. In the background is one of my grandma’s many beautiful scarves.)

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Miscellaneous Reflections

Choosing Joy

or something like trying 

The list of PMDD symptoms on the clinic’s website are clearly separated with bullet points marching down the page like ants following a trail to their nest. “Psychological Symptoms: Anxiety. Feeling overwhelmed or out of control. Sensitivity to rejection. Social withdrawal.  Physical: Abdominal bloating. Appetite disturbance (usually increased). Sleep disturbance (usually hypersomnia.) Behavioral: Fatigue. Forgetfulness. Poor concentration.”

The list may as well be a roll call of old friends from my contacts list. They explain why I have been known to snap my reply to my roommate’s simple question, “Are you the one boiling water?”

I am becoming increasingly fixated on and disgusted by my bloated belly during the weeks leading up to my period and remain unsatisfied when it reverts to its usual and lesser roundness in proportion to the roundness of my hips and thighs.

I got home early from work a few days and was driven by this latest preoccupation to spend all afternoon trying on all the fancy dresses I wore during my graduation season in 2015 to make sure they still fit.

I spend entire days in deep sleep and unable to complete the simplest of tasks when I wake– send that email, reply that text message, braid your hair, take a shower. Every single mundane obligation seems to require effort that I can’t find in any corner of myself.

The dependable memory I often brag about feels more like a mosquito net with huge holes in it, details of stories I heard just days before immediately escaping after I hear them; Ah, didn’t I already tell you this?

My messier, more complicated states of mind defy the order of any list. The minute I start searching old text messages and emails for hurtful or unprofessional things I said, no matter how many years have passed since, I can bet my entire student debt that it’s two weeks before my period.

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These photos remind me of the Sunlight commercials that used to be on Ghanaian TV channels when I was little. Those people looked so excited to be doing laundry. (Lloyd K. Sarpong, April 2017)

Two weeks of picking through past mistakes obsessively, the time I was a terrible student leader and sacrificed a team member’s well-being for the “reputation” of our organization, or when I ended up hurting and losing a friend for venting about ways she irritated me to everyone but her, or the time at morning assembly circa 2010 when I made a rude comment about a girl’s outfit loud enough for her to hear. I now feel compelled to provide a disclaimer that I’m not rolling out these memories in some complicated attempt at self-deprecation, to paint myself as the supremely self-aware person who has grown for her past mistakes.

The kind of guilt I feel at these and a multitude of other mistakes sits on my chest at night like a bully daring me to get up, to fight back, knowing that I do not have the strength to. The list of wrongdoings extends before me, off the edge of my bed and into the shadows of my room; like the time I missed several office hours meetings with a professor I respect greatly because I just couldn’t make it out of bed and didn’t fully understand why at the time. I’m just burnt out, I thought. Senior spring after all, I thought.

The bully’s voice gives way to a more sinister one, something like a hiss, working hard to convince me that this collection of evidence affirms what I ready know, that I am undeserving of care or even the right to exist at all. Where do I fit these on the approved symptoms? How much of this is regular human obsession over cringeworthy moments? How much should I worry?

Again, I feel compelled to interrupt myself, to point out that I use metaphor not simply to grab your imagination, but to express that I hear myself being hateful to myself, sometimes like a schoolyard enemy, annoying but mostly harmless, sometimes like something much more cruel and dangerous. I’ve taken to carrying out painstaking scrutiny of my past self, dedicating whole essays to tearing down my half-formed politics from years past. (I’ve done that once here, and there are a few other posts I never put up on this blog.) Mean-spirited navel-gazing, if you will. I mean, girl. how can you claim any kind of radical feminism when your CV includes an organization founded by THE feminist imperialist herself, and another named after Woodrow Wilson? How? And those study abroad blog posts you wrote, girl…

This song improves my mood almost instantly and motivates me to get work done, despite containing the lyrics “Who needs a degree!”

Paranoia is another state of mind that refuses the precision of a bullet-pointed list.

Are the whispers in the next room about me? Did I do something? What did I do?

This is why you are trash.

What does this text message really mean? Was it clear that I was having a hard time, or is this person being dismissive because they can’t pinpoint the gravity of my tone?

This is why you’re trash.

Am I breathing too loudly in this elevator? Did I seem interested enough in that conversation? Am I talking too much? Am I wasting their time? Why aren’t they talking to me? Did I do something?

This is why you’re trash.

Was that story too personal for this setting? Have I used the term PMDD too many times in this conversation? What is self-care, and do I deserve it?

The conclusion to all these unrelenting questions is always, I’m trash, and everyone is just pretending they don’t already know. See? This is why.

What scares me is not being able to draw a straight line through all these elements, to categorize what is “normal” for my at times scattered emotional experience and what isn’t. I would hate to find out that there are more acronyms and names previously unknown to me that describe some other mood disorder. (Is it presumptuous of me to even hint at a self-diagnosis so casually? Am I being too casual?)

It’s been a while since I decided to leave the curtains open to my performance. I offer full access to what happens behind the scenes in the name of full disclosure. I’ve been trying to transcribe the terrible questions circling around inside my head like some nightmarish carousel. In this spirit of full transparency, a few more realities I’ve been trying to share instead of hiding–

I sometimes cancel plans because I can’t bear to leave the house again once I return from work, and not because I have too much homework to do. I’ve chosen to say hidden in my room, hungry and thirsty because I can’t bare to face any human being, purposefully isolated but wishing someone would check in on me. It’s so frustrating to feel completely stuck, craving company and flinching from it at the same time behind my closed bedroom doors. I once spent an entire weekend in intermittent panic, self-loathing and bouts of crying because I felt so awful for not finding it in myself to be as welcoming to a person dear to someone dear to me as I was expected to be. Selfish. This is why you’re trash.

I detest the saying “something’s gotta give.” Of course, I can manage. Keep in touch with everyone, run your errands, calm your nerves if you need me to. I’ve only recently realized, after dropping some of the many conversation threads and obligations I’ve been juggling, that more often than not that “something” is me. For every time a friend reminds me that someone or something in my life is demanding too much time and energy, or is being neglectful and careless, I am often left confused when that friend isn’t able to apply those boundaries to their own actions. “Prioritize yourself, except when it comes to me. And if you don’t hear from me, well. I’m sure you’ll be fine. You always are!”

I almost resisted at this point, but am inevitably giving in to the guilt of how selfish the preceding paragraph may read. What’s even more upsetting is that these voices, or symptoms, are working their hardest to convince me that hardly anyone has noticed the slip in my act. No-one is wondering where you’ve been. No-one will wonder if you’re gone. And again, the guilt reminds me, I am trash for expecting…what? Round the clock attention? For my friends and family to be punching bags for all my emotional twists and turns? To avoid me or hover and fuss at my whim? To drop everything they’re doing and pay attention to me? Whose job is it to do all this? I don’t even know what I want or need. One of the few things I’m sure of is that I don’t expect to be get away with hurting or neglecting others because of my chaotic internal life. I can hold myself accountable, I just need to express how much time I spend hating myself just for living.

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I wish I knew what the joke was here!

For the moment, I’m done explaining. I think I’m now generally a more tolerable, maybe even interesting, person than I was when I was an insecure teen torn between the respectability politics flying around my head and the carefree irreverence my mother was constantly nudging me towards, cover up those thighs (or don’t’), get that extra piercing (or don’t) ladies don’t curse when they’re angry (but they do), do as you please so long as you are comfortable (your body is a temple). I need to write about how my mother fiercely held on to her agency and autonomy in a male-dominated field that punished her for daring to do so while being brilliant and the best at her job. I will never be as amazing as she is.

I’m off to go write about that, among other things. I’m taking a break from this blog, because I have a thesis to write and joy to catch up to even as it may continue to elude me. There’s so much important work to be done, and I’m trying to ignore the guilt and fear of empty self-indulgence long enough to get it done. I’ll be back to post updates if anything exciting happens in my life that I may want to share. Wish me joy!

(Header image: Lloyd K. Sarpong, April 2017)

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Miscellaneous Reflections, Not Quite Prose

Mute

I just had a short story published in the “Power and Money” issue of Saraba Magazine! You can find my work here, alongside several great pieces of fiction and poetry.

I was very anxious about this story from the time I turned it in to a fiction workshop last year, and all throughout submissions and rejections from different magazines. I’m still anxious about it now, mainly because it’s part of a larger project to trace links between Ewe and Fon folklore and cosmology in traditions to other parts of the African diaspora.

Who am I to even attempt this? I’m not from the land that is now known as Benin. I’ve never visited Haiti or Louisiana, two other locations my research has led me. How can I do my work without turning deities and beliefs I know little about into objects for sale? Who am I to even attempt this, when on my best day I can’t write a full sentence in Ewe that is grammatically correct without help from relatives?  How much can I fictionalize without being disrespectful? Also, is every market scene in an African story automatically cliché?

The pressure of these unanswered questions was made much more bearable by the Saraba Magazine editors who were incredibly patient and thoughtful during the editing process. I never once felt like I was being forced into changing any aspect of the story to fit the magazine’s aesthetic, nor did I ever sense that my concerns and suggestions weren’t being taken seriously. It’s an amazing feeling to entrust your work to people whose approach shows that they actually care about your writing.

This particular story isn’t based on any one folktale that I’ve come across, but rather combines details about actual places I have lived in and visited with the narrative of a supreme being that exists in my imagination as much as she does in Ewe religious beliefs. This story is part of a much larger project that still mostly exists as a mood board, scattered passages and research notes. It wouldn’t make sense to say much else at this time.

You can find links to my other published work here.

(Image: Cover page of Saraba Magazine’s “Money and Power” issue. Artwork: Daniels, Aisha. “Untitled.” 2016.

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Miscellaneous Reflections, Poetic Ramblings

All Hail

If there’s anything I’ve learnt in my poetry workshop this semester, it’s that I’m not a poet. I spend most of my time feeling belated embarrassment for all the poetry-related opportunities I’ve applied to, or that I’ve even dared to submit poetry for publication at all. There are different sorts of writing I do well, and I’m not sure poetry is one of them. I solemnly swear that I’m not tying to force positive comments out of you, I’m just stating what I feel to be true.

Still, I’m swerving out of my lane momentarily and I might as well do it wholeheartedly. Here’s a work in progress I wrote for my class. It’s a response to one of favorite poems from Lucille Clifton, “what the mirror said,” second only to “won’t you celebrate with me” also by Clifton.

***

All Hail

 “listen,

you a wonder.

you a city

of a woman.”  (“what the mirror said,” Lucille Clifton)

Here, I

tear up the skyline

fix it to my belt loop and pull alongside me

twist telephone wires into hair ribbons

string trucks for earrings– helpless drivers

dangling from windows screaming terror–

drown panicked car horns in the plenty of my laugh

root firm legs on river bank one side and deep valley one side

snap tree trunks halfway

clean my teeth with the branches

darken lashes with highway tar not yet dry

satisfy thirst on lake water and sun’s rays

Am splendid some person

Universe daughter

hail glory or perish

***

My dear friend Breauna printed out a copy of this poem and left it in my mailbox on-campus after I had a particularly rough week, and I have since memorized and retweeted it more times than I can remember. Apart from Breauna herself, a few other supportive friends, faculty and staff at my school, this poem is one of the only things keeping me focused on that glorious day when I can dance across the graduation stage, because “everyday/ something has tried to kill me/ and has failed.” (If you think this statement is melodramatic, I don’t blame you. You must be new here 🙂 )

(Image: Wikipedia)

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Miscellaneous Reflections

Can I Live?

Because I’d rather be writing about more interesting or urgent things, or I don’t know…brushing my scanty eyebrows, than turning into Twitter fingers (typos and all), or putting together angry posts about the latest episode of Bring a Black Girl Down- Grad School Edition.

***

There has to be a more accurate term to describe “microaggressions.” A finger caught underneath the relentless hammering of a sewing machine needle, or a tattoo gun striking the same patch of skin over and over again, only to move on the next clear space to continue its damage. The metaphor has to call up an image that is almost hypnotic in its unstoppable motion, and incredibly painful until one grows numb, or until the skin gives way, followed by possible death? The image becomes far too dramatic and eventually falls apart the further I try to extend it, but I’m still convinced that there has to be a better way to explain the deep impact of this everyday harm than what we already have.

It may be helpful to explain microaggressions in terms of time wasted­­:

Approximately 8 hours spent in two seminars each week, fidgeting constantly because late night classes are difficult enough without also biting down on all the sarcastic retorts I should have made, and regretting the ones I did make.

25 minutes on the bus meditating on how self-obsessed and over-sensitive I must be to continue to fixate on that one ignorant comment (was it just one?) someone made in class, when *someone’s* president is determined to kill us all.

Roughly 15 minutes of my roommate and her boyfriend’s evening spent mopping the bathroom I flooded because I was missing my glasses, in addition to being too misty-eyed and wallowing in PMDD fog and post-workshop emotions to notice that the toilet was overflowing.

Or maybe I could take the hyperbolic route, channel Kanye for the briefest of moments, and point out loudly to anyone who will listen that all of this stress is “hindering my creative process!” I mean, I’m actually a ray of sunshine. In fact, I am all of the suns shining over all the planets. A celestial experience, really. Yet, I’m being forced to extinguish this cosmic brilliance for the comfort of unworthy mortals.

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A celestial experience

(via GIPHY)

I could also simply present the facts as I remember them occurring:

Last Wednesday, the professor in my poetry workshop called on me to read my poem out loud before the class would launch into a discussion about its strengths and suggested edits. The woman sitting next to me turned to me as the professor was talking and waiting for me to begin.

Laughing, she said, “You know your hair is so big that when you lean forward I can’t see around it!”

I was already flustered, because having your work discussed as if you’re not in the room will never stop being a little stressful. For the most part though, I was confused because I couldn’t figure out what was so fucking funny. What was I missing?

I mumbled, “Wait, what?”

She repeated herself, gesturing this time with her arms to show just how huge my hair is in case I wasn’t already aware, “Yeah it’s just so big, it’s like whoa when you lean forward!”

I then rushed through my reading, and barely paid attention to my classmates’ comments because I was toying with all the possible smartass comebacks I could have given, instead of the garbled apology I managed to produce.

Girl, what exactly am I supposed to do about that?

Maybe a more forceful, Beyoncé-esque: Who the fuck do you think I is?

Or even a simple, you mad? How mad are you? Big mad? As big as my big ass afro?

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via GIPHY

I then had to sit through a discussion of an edited version of this piece, and it became immediately clear that most people hadn’t bothered to look up the novels Sula and Mama Day which I referenced in the poem, and were dismissive about whether it was Toni Morrison who wrote Mama Day or not. (It wasn’t). Imagine if I had said, The Bell Jar, that was Virgina Woolf, right? Or, Wuthering Heights? Jane Austen’s finest work, honestly. Shock, horror and tragedy!

Some more logistical details: We sat conference-style around a rectangular table. The professor was sitting to the left of me and my huge head of hair, at one of the short ends of the table. Also to my left were two other students, including one who didn’t speak that frequently throughout the class. The professor used the board once to quote a poem he had mentioned at some point in the discussion, and it was during the break when most people had stepped out to get snacks or use the restroom.

Was I really blocking her view? Or was it just a little reminder that my being was just intrusive and unwanted in general?

Just the week before, this same woman (who is a non-black person of color) was gushing about how nice my hair looked and how she almost didn’t recognize me, before asking to borrow one of the textbooks for the class. Even that was uncomfortable and slightly irritating. As far as comments about Black women’s hair go, “I almost didn’t recognize you” every time we change twist out patterns or get a light blow out is as tired as Rachel Dolezal’s “soul sista” bit.

In this same class during the second week of the semester, another Black student cut me off mid-speech to complain loudly about how he couldn’t understand me. While I was an undergrad, I had a white girl hit my head while yelling in my face, “Tame it, tame it!” because my hair was apparently blocking her face in the group photo at the office holiday party.

This “big hair” situation isn’t the worst microagression I’ve encountered by any means. It was just an unpleasant reminder of this compulsion white people and some non-black people of color have to try and exert control over Black women in whatever petty way they can. My hair grows up and out and in several other directions, so why point out that you can’t see around it, when there’s actually nothing to look at in class?

Perhaps this is my payback for all those times in secondary school in Ghana– when I was still permed up and slicked down– when I didn’t say anything when some people in the class constantly told the one girl who sat in front that she was blocking their view just to show their spite. Now to be fair, the only girls (including the girl I just described) whose natural hair wasn’t fried into straight submission were biracial and had what was considered “quality” hair, and I honestly didn’t know any better at that time. That may be the most overused excuse known to humankind, but that’s all I have…

This story is about why it’s never “just” hair.

It’s about schools and companies banning locs and other natural styles for being “dirty” and “unprofessional.”

It’s about misogynoir, a term coined by queer black feminist scholar Dr. Moya Bailey, and developed extensively by Trudy of the womanist blog Gradient Lairto describe the interaction of anti-blackness and misogyny as experienced by black women.

It’s about the exertion of control over Black women’s bodies, because the mere fact of our being and daring to take up space is bothersome and unwanted.

It’s about how fed up I am of arriving at school feeling like “Pose, bitch!” only to be reminded after a few minutes in the building that there are so many people who would rather I wasn’t there at all.

It’s about the fact that I’m still managing to be creative in a hostile environment, (Boston, what’s good?) while having to manage symptoms for a mental condition I’m finally starting to get the better of, for now at least.

It’s about how incidents like these succeed in making me feel isolated and unloved, as though no one at my school actually cares about me, though that isn’t the case.

It’s about how I’ll continue to respond to the urgency I feel to write for us as we carve our way to liberation, as much as I possibly can. And when I say “us,” I’m specifically talking to and about Black women. Always. Calls for a “wider” audience are sadly transparent, and I don’t have to grant white people unlimited access to my writing or myself no matter how they phrase their demands.

And don’t even get me started on my other class.

In conclusion,

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via Tumblr

(Header Image: On my way to side-eye all the “nice white ladies” at the Boston Women’s March who don’t usually *see* Black women but could see enough that day to copy Beyoncé song lyrics onto their posters. You know, for the resistance. Taken by Lloyd K. Sarpong.)

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Miscellaneous Reflections

Self-Check

I’m in the middle of a PMDD-induced haze of self-loathing, and my mind has decided to fixate on one of its easiest default obsessions: how terrible my writing is; all past, present and even future works that only exist at the moment as notes and excited text messages to friends. I’ve been thinking specifically about this post, which I wrote and posted hurriedly in 2015, propelled by my offended middle-class-but-still-conscious-how-dare-you sensibilities. Then, I had just started a graduate program, newly angry and always talking about my anger. I’m now drawing closer to graduation after having read a lot more and learnt to be even harder on myself than I thought was possible. I’ve disliked that post for a while, but haven’t had the time or energy to go back and underline all the moments in which I went wrong. At the time, I believed I was writing in response to an article I read which was calling on elite African women to re-focus their feminist praxis and prioritize the needs of women who have far less access to wealth and vital resources. In reality, I was telling on myself, bristling at this other writer’s use of the word “basic” to characterize what she believed African feminism should be. How dare she, I thought, suggest that “the life of letters” wasn’t a worthwhile pursuit for African feminists? I laid my anxieties bare when I wrote:

 “The point I’m trying to make…is that we have to create an African feminist space that makes equal room for the women who are striving to achieve PHds, for stay at home mothers, for women who have suffered extreme gender-based violence, for sex-workers, for women who are organizing and rallying for policy change, for queer women, for women who are the breadwinners while men sit under trees and throw dice, for all of us.”

Girl…what? I’m sure at the time I was aware that there are no such thing as mutually exclusive ways of being as Kimberlé Crenshaw explains in her coining of the term intersectionality and her extensive body of work on Black women and the justice system in the US. [See “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color,” and “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.“)  That I had this knowledge at that time isn’t very clear in the above passage, but I did, and do know so many women who exist in so many different locations where identities and oppressive systems meet. I made some tentative moves to acknowledge that I am in a position that relies on sustained oppression and violence towards other Ghanaian women,

“Yes, there are certain needs and concerns that are more immediate than others, but our struggles and identities are interconnected. One cannot be seen as more important than another because one woman has the cushion of higher education and class resting behind her neck while the other doesn’t.

 I believe that we can make, and have been making space for each other to confront and dismantle these structures rather than upholding one cause over another as more deserving of space. It is also important within that space to realize how certain women benefit from the oppression of others based on their socioeconomic status and access (or lack thereof) to resources, and their visibility in social spaces. This is what must be undone.” 

 These days, I’m working to understand that power is a lot more complicated than I attempted to explain in that post, and that it was very dangerous for me to try so hard to validate the concerns of educated, middle-class women at the expense of the women whose oppression they have a hand in. I’m not exactly negating everything I wrote, but I wish I had spent more time pointing out the ways that elite Ghanaian women often throw their sisters under the bus while attempting to strive to their own liberation. I’m also thinking about many Ghanaian women who are trapped in violent, lonely partnerships because they have “married out” of poverty and have relatives relying on their continued support, women whose career advancement is blocked at every turn by misogyny in the workplace, women who have been able to collect one degree on top of another, but are perpetually held hostage financially, stifle creatively, abused emotionally and physically and many other combinations of oppressive circumstances.  These same women actively contribute to sustained violence and oppression against other women from other class spheres with less access to resources, wealth and personal freedom. We’re all caught in the matrix. I’m still learning this language, and most days I’m convinced I don’t have the range. bell hooks, whose range I can’t even begin to warp my head around, writes in  Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness,  “margins have been both sites of repression and resistance.” In his article, “Provisional Notes on Feminism, Keguro Macharia thinks through the idea of “center” versus “margins” and how they canrather reinforce oppression, serving to keep the “racialized, working class, and poor dispossessed at the margin.”

I have found that I’m able to be a lot more critical and biting in my creative writing (most of the time, there are some tragedies hiding in the archives of this blog), leading to the conclusion that it would be better for all involved (myself, Sallie Mae, friends who have to endure my half-baked scholarly musings) to stay in my lane and stick to fiction. I’m doing a lot of work I’m excited about, but don’t talk about often because I struggle to see its merit if it has any at all. It is very ugly when PMDD, self-doubt and largely white and unsupportive classrooms collide. On Twitter, I tend to stick to sarcastic one-liners paired with GIFs–I can be pretty hilarious, ask about me– because I’m having trouble believing that my ideas and my work are and will be meaningful to others.

On a less self-deprecating note, I’m finishing up a directed study project about preserving memory in the African diaspora from a womanist perspective, and maybe one day you’ll catch me in a reader-friendly, *free* journal talking about this in more detail with no jargon or pretension. I’ve also been curating reading lists and resources on Black feminism and womanism for my job because intersectionality is not just a cool buzzword, time to read up! You can find some of those here.

Now that I’ve gotten this out of my system, I’m thinking of how I grew tired of the pressure I perceived to perform “African-ness” as an undergrad in DC, and how that lead me to make some harsh and unfair statements to other Black people from different parts of the diaspora. It was exhausting, I mean, person couldn’t just hide a tragic hair day under a headwrap and go unnoticed. I started lashing out in small ways, and the easy target became anything that felt like a caricature of “African culture.” These are things I now understand in much more complex terms than I did then, people who have painfully and beautifully come to terms with what it means to be “rooted” and fragmented, who are imagining futures out of the violence of slavery and colonialism.

Not every day sneer, “Ah, but this is not African” –Girl, what is “African” anyway– sometimes just be quiet and listen.

 This is a topic for another post anyway…

(Header image: Lloyd K. Sarpong took this on my ashiest day of the year…I mean would you take a look at those knees? I could cry.)

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Poetic Ramblings

I [would love to] love myself when I am laughing*…

but mostly I’m in a forever panic hoping no one can tell how cowardly I have become, or how ashamed I am that I haven’t listened:

[Toni]

The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.

[Flora]

not a piece of wood

letting down– Cécile, Sanité, Dedée

Warrior mothers I can only imagine hurling bodies over fortified walls– war prisoners and weak soldiers alike– just hush up your whining we’re in charge now!

[Zora]

Girl, your knife is as dull as a short plank and WE ARE NOT TRAGIC, do you hear me?

***

I would love for my laugh to be a festival

To live a life in which I could say that and mean it

Beyoncé surrounded by assorted flower arrangements rubbing her rounded belly

Rihanna blowing smoke straight into the camera

Rihanna shaking white feathers and rhinestones at carnival

Rihanna at any time of day or night, frankly

***

Actually

Not anyone who is light-skinned and wealthy

I would like to be the two girls I saw on the train this morning, one with Afro puffs parted by a sharp zig zag down the middle of her head, the other with cornrows swinging past her shoulders, sharing headphones and dancing their joy onto the platform and out into the world

Or the me who hadn’t yet started to fake humility until it became a nervous tick

When I was all

Itchy frilled socks filling with dust after church, and still twirling for frame after frame of photographs

Fluffy ponytail balanced on top of my head in the only way my mother new to style my hair

 ***

Especially in these times, I realize I need to be

 [Alice]

outrageous, audacious, courageous

To write us into revolution

Ink for poison, pen tips for murder

and other kinds of delusions

***

Instead I am here

crying through rain at the bus stop at 6am

jaw twitching resistance of false exuberance by 2 in the afternoon

By 10pm, roommates have to sweep up the shreds of my sorry self

And let me tell you about how in class white girls get to be basic and then offended by that label

“And isn’t this postcolonial stuff so dense?” means “Tell me you didn’t understand the reading either because there’s no way you can be better than I am at my own game…”

“Wow I’ve read your writing about colonialism. So powerful. Here’s more work for you. I want more.”

We’re all women first, sisters even

Empire wears an adorable pink hat with lopsided ears, don’t you know?

Out here struggling over words like Emecheta and bildungsroman

and ordinarily I would not judge and dismiss others by who wields this basic language best

But

For the sake of Black baby Jesus

I’m the one who isn’t making sense?

***

[Toni]

Alright, but what did we say about distractions? 

 Listen, I’m trying, ok? I’m finally over that guy and Becky with the split ends

[All sing refrain]

Oh honey, Daavi, not this again. Men absolutely do not treat us like that, and definitely not those with knuckles of that ashy nature. I mean at least let them be moisturized.

Are you listening? Look at me! And look at you:

Expending energy in self-doubt, crawling through the Internet for words of affirmation circled by hand drawn daisies and clouds, and supply store glitter

Unthreading at the seams,

you might want to get your fraying checked out,

mended

But at least your self has more trouble to write about, right?

Tragic

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*In a letter to photographer Carl Van Vechten, Zora Neale Hurston said the following in reference to some photos he had taken of her, “I love myself when I am laughing, and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.” This quote is also the inspiration behind the title of an anthology of extracts from Hurston’s works edited by Alice Walker.(Go to the library and borrow that book, now. Or you know, wherever you get your reading material. Just read it!)

Image: This was taken by Lloyd  K. Sarpong, best photographer this side of Dansoman, Somerville, and everywhere in between. I needed a headshot for a journal that will be publishing my work later this year, and it turned into a whole string of pictures because “we need to catch the light” *strong side-eye.* It wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t long-suffering and sarcastic, but I actually loved how these pictures came out especially because most of them weren’t posed.

I have two stories and a personal essay coming out this year, AND your girl is going to Barbados in May for the Callaloo Writing Workshop! It feels so early in the year to  have this many exciting writing-related things to look forward to. I’m trying to put my joy in my pocket and keep on working, instead of feeling guilty for being wrapped up in personal pursuits when a lot of us are terrified of what Suntan Satan is going to do next. I keep reminding myself that everything I’m doing currently is helping me to improve my writing. As I’ve said before, my writing is the best thing I have to offer others, and I can only hope that it will be meaningful for whoever gets to read it.

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