Tag Archives: Black Women

The Contours of Voice: Meditations on Vocal Revolution

I’ve been a reader all of my life. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read or didn’t pick up a book intent on sopping up the words written inside like a giant sea sponge. Books helped me to understand voice. As the descendant of enslaved peoples who were forbidden from reading as well as a grandfather who only went to 6th grade because he was needed to work on the farm but read the New York Times every week, my mother insisted that we read instead of watch television. Reading was revolution and believe me, we did it well. 

 I remember reading Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” one summer. I was 13 and had just gone through a traumatic rape the summer before. Unlike Pecola Breedlove, there was no unexpected pregnancy to broadcast my shame and I hadn’t told anyone, not even my mother or best friend. I remember sitting with this book in my hands and feeling as though I could escape to a better world. Was it true? I still don’t know. What I do know is that books have saved my life. In high school through to college and even now after “entering the real world”, I find myself caught and enthralled by the words of black women writers. Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Ntozake Shange, Toni Cade Bambara, L.A. Banks and Mia MacKenzie. 

What is it about black womxn writers? We’ve found a way to save ourselves, to continue to use our voices even though to know your own voice is revolutionary in itself, and to transmit that voice is power. But lets back up, because as usual, I fast forward when I talk about black womxnhood because I get excited. 

Reading is one thing, writing is another. I’ve never really been a good writer in the conventional sense. I hated writing papers but I’ve always kept journals from childhood to present day. Something about academia and the way it sought to stomp out my individual tone rather than build it up gave me intense anxiety. I am a procrastinator by lack of spirit at the right moments and while I intend to to do things in a certain fashion, if inspiration doesn’t hit, well then I’m stuck there in front of my computer wishing and waiting for the writing gods to bless me. I don’t do well with deadlines and finality. But isn’t consistency, key? In the polarities of life, how am I finding my voice?  

Voice changes. Literally. Our vocal capacities change with time. It’s proven. Sometimes our voices get heavier with time, raspier, etc. As our voice changes literally, does it change with perception as well, our artist voices a mirror of what our physical realities offer? Reading young Maya Angelou is very different from reading the seasoned woman. If we continue living, our views should continue changing right? We continue to adapt to the world around us or we die. I keep finding myself in states of aporia, where everything I thought I knew is actually what I don’t know at all. I’m constantly back to the beginning. I may not be a huge fan of old Socrates, but he was definitely on to something with the method of Socratic questioning that he learned from his African predecessors. Yes, I had to sneak that in there. 

Learning my own voice is a constant state of questioning. Nothing is final. What I love today, I might despise tomorrow. Everything changes just as the seasons do or don’t. #ClimateChange. But seriously, what is my style today? Who is it that I am today? What helps me to find my voice? In the midst of a world in turmoil, how do we, black womxn and on a larger scale, human beings find our voices? How do we reach those who need the physical help, and soul soothing needed during times of pain and struggle? 

Love Always,
Damali Speaks Xx

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I’m Insecure & Queer: The Importance of Visibility & Big Dreams with Even Bigger Plans

I’ve been glued to Issa Rae since The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. I was in the early years of college or maybe late years of high school, I don’t really remember now. I do remember being glued to my computer screen thinking, “Oh shit! She knows my life!”. I loved everything about Issa, her style, her awkwardness, her confidence, her work. The joy I felt at watching not only that series, but the appearance of a whole YouTube Channel eclipsed anything else that I might have wanted to watch. My friends and I would call each other up or message each other post episode drop, “Oh snap girl, she finally gave White J some!” and we would launch into laughter and recalling of our own lives, sighing in relief that we finally were feeling and being seen. It wasn’t just a dream. There was nothing to wake up from.

When Insecure was finally announced on HBO, I remember doing a happy dance in my bedroom. I had moved on from being a semi-awkward Theater & Africana student to a semi-confident Education Intern at one of the best theater companies in the US and yet still felt like so many things were missing. I was one of the very few people of color in most spaces, including my living space and I was hungry. I oftentimes found myself in situations with either queer men of color who could and would shut me down and desire my silence or with white women who wanted to empathize but not actually do any work required for change. These people all wanted change to happen at a comfortable pace for them, but I needed to see and speak with people in the entertainment world who looked like me and who were visibly making change. I needed to know that it was possible, that all of it was possible. I didn’t have to choose between being an actor and writer. I didn’t have to only put down director or producer on my resume. But at the same time, I didn’t have a black theater/film fairy godmother to guide me along. So I looked to Issa. Issa always got me through. The first episode of Insecure, Season 1 found me hunched in front of my computer screen yet again, and having finished an entire bottle of wine, I don’t remember much, but I do remember screaming “TAKE THAT LENA DUNHAM!” and then falling off to sleep. As Season 1 rolled into Season 2, I continued to watch, joy filling me at the fact that the 20s are just messed up and I’m just normal and that black people look gorgeous in all shades, sizes, sexual positions and hilarious anecdotes.

But still, in all of that visibility and glorious blackness, messiness and realness something was always missing for me. I’m Black, Womxn, Queer, Pansexual and Polyamorous and I want to make work that highlights the art, realness, and humanness of the spaces that I find myself in. Most often, the shows and web series that I find center either white women or drama. The L Word, was the first show that I watched that featured queer women. I remember sitting in front of the computer in college thanks to Netflix and binge watching The L Word. Although it made me feel invisible because of my blackness, it made me feel seen because of my queerness. I’m not saying that the world of queer womxn of color isn’t dramatic, cuz it certainly can be at times, but people don’t need to be murdered for a following to build. So then, what’s the point?

The point is that visibility is possible in all it’s variables. We already know that POC make money. No one wants to see all white anything anymore unless it’s the Bordelons dressed in all white on Queen Sugar (Cuz that was black people magic on all levels). But the thing about production that bothers me is the who. No matter what, are we always engineered by white men because they are the ones with the bank? Literally. How many Oprah’s and OWN Networks are there? Right now? Oprah. That’s it. She’s got it. But even in that, there’s a closed door. I love Oprah, but Oprah isn’t queer, poly or foregoing the idea that GOD isn’t the end all be all for the black community. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up going to church, but at this point in my life, I choose to believe that there’s a lil bit of truth in everything but that doesn’t mean that I have to subscribe to it. So what’s next?

I’ve made it my mission to center varying art forms alongside black, womxn, and queer. I know that’s what I want to see. So why not make it? It’s hard. My biggest obstacle so far is capitalism. I need a team. I want a team. I want to work with artists who are just as hungry as I am. But most of the time, that means money and at 20 something, who has money? But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Right? If that’s my only obstacle, then I’m doin pretty damn well. I also want to highlight theater.

I don’t work loudly. I work mostly in silence. You don’t see that I’m doing work until the work is done. So often, my friends and I sit and dream and plan for our future world where there’s artist housing that’s cheap, studios to work in that houses various forms of art and a collective of beautiful people that just get us. Isn’t that the dream? As good as all this visibility and dreaming feels, how good will it feel when we finally get further along in our process? Maybe that’s the whole point. That it’s never ending and each moment is in fact a process to be savored. I used to say, “I’m the next Oprah”. Now, I simply say that I’m the best version of me, day to day, I’m working towards elevation and building and creation and art.

Thank you Issa for pushing me to be better. Thank you for being visible. I may never meet you and you may never read this, but know anyway, you’ve helped more than one black womxn to find her purpose, just by being you.

 

Love Always,

 

Damali Speaks Xx

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Learning Liberation: Week 3 – On Abuse

“Hit me and it’ll be the last thing you do.” I saw my father hit my mother one time. I was young, maybe 3 or 4. Previous to that moment, I had watched them fight only verbally. They would spar with words like boxers before a long awaited fight, ducking and dodging each others’ blows, some landing with fierce force and others just glazing and narrowly missing the tender skin of their face or neck. The one time I remember physical blows being exchanged, she went after him with a bat, the cops were called and I remember her saying that if a man or woman ever hit me, I had full permission from God above to beat them to within an inch of their life. They probably don’t remember this moment themselves, or maybe they don’t remember that I remember. It’s funny what sticks in a child’s brain, isn’t it?

How do we, keep ourselves safe in a world marked with active bombs ready to detonate at any minute? Maybe the bigger question, concerning the reality that black womxn are currently being killed at higher rates than anyone else in the United States, is how do I as a part of that targeted group, preserve my mental, physical and spiritual self in the midst of a war?  Today’s topic is on the many forms of abuse that are slowly killing black and brown women in the world and how we maintain our selfhood in the midst of it all.

I didn’t think it would ever happen and so I didn’t think I would ever have anything to worry about. I also didn’t ever think that I would experience any kind of abuse. But as I grew older and first physical, followed by sexual, then on to emotional and secured by verbal abuse arrived into my innocent bubble of comfort, I realized that abuse is insidious and can take many forms. It makes me heartbroken to realize that my truth isn’t singular. So many of my black womxn peers have experienced the same and worse across boundaries of sexual orientation and gender identity. Just as black men are guilty, so are other people. Domestic violence happens so often in queer relationships. Let’s not forget it.

I was in college when I discovered the writing of Pearl Cleage and her essay called “Mad at Miles”. In it, she talks about black men and women who were known abusers, mainly Miles Davis, but also including Bill Withers and even more.  How is it that Pearl Cleage can write about so many forms of domestic abuse in 1975 and it still rings so true in 2017?

The idea for this post came from a bar in New Orleans. I sat and enjoyed the music being played until “Use Me” by Bill Withers was played. I stopped and my blood turned cold. I wondered if he had written the song after beating a fellow sister, or maybe after she left him, refusing to be continually abused by someone who claimed to love her unconditionally.  As “Use Me” played on, I thought about what a cosmic oddity it was that I, a black queer woman could dance and enjoy this tune written by a man that would and could have easily beat me into submission before I could have ever enjoyed the loud and yet lilting sounds brought forth by black struggle. 

In this week of approaching and now waning eclipse energy, I thought a lot about what it is to be a black womxn that is healthy, centered and working. If I don’t have my mental, psychological state in check, I can work all I like and make no headway at all. In order to thrive, I have to first establish my center, my groundedness, my spiritual self, my emotional well-being, etc. How often do fellow black women allow ourselves the space and time to self care? How often do we even get the time to evaluate? It may seem cliche, but it’s necessary. If we don’t put ourselves first, how can we hope to move forward? Black womxn have always been the background of movements here in the United States and elsewhere. Without us, there would be no past, present or future and yet we’re dying at higher rates. Black womxn are the most likely to be sexually assaulted, abducted and  abused starting at younger and younger ages. How do we distinguish foe from friend?

Abuse isn’t always obvious. I do think that it comes in many forms and facets that may actually be difficult to spot and even harder to call out. I do think that it’s easier to approach abuse if I truly love myself. When I truly do care about my own investment in self and security, I can choose to truly engage with the best and worst parts of myself from balance while at the same time, choosing the best that I see in others who only mean me well and not ill. I choose to actively engage in self care and moments that speak to the best parts of my soul and reality.

The narrative isn’t that we’re victims. I don’t wish to bring forth energy that says that we all must pity the black womxn her plight. I want us to mobilize for black womxn like we do for black men. I want us to engage with the problematic and hurtful narrative that keeps vulnerability from entering a conversation honestly and openly. I want to talk openly about toxic masculinity, misogyny, and patriarchy that result in the emotional crippling of both black men and womxn in our communities. We can’t talk uplift until we talk unlearning.

Damali Speaks Xx

Flash Forward Friday – Passage Two

“Mommy!” A little girl screamed with joy as she ran around in the tall grass, woods surrounding her as she was chased by her mother. “I’m gonna get you!” The woman, her mother screamed after her. 

They moved with such grace, the woman and the small child who seemed almost a carbon copy of her mother. Through trees as tall as the sky itself, they ran and ducked and dodged. In this time, no sounds of modern technology surrounded them as they ran and played. No planes or trains. No cars or buses or cellular phones. With no shoes, clothes made of animal skin and the golden and strong look of brown skinned people who spent precious time in the sun, the two looked perfectly at home in a natural scene such as this. Around and around they ran, laughing the whole way. It somehow seemed that the more they laughed, the faster the world whizzed by.

 Finally, in one swoop the mother of the child, let’s call her Andrena, picked up the young girl and down they fell in the tall grass, the sounds of a waterfall thundering close by. They continued to laugh, mother and child until they could laugh no more and together, they rolled and looked up at the sky.
 “Mommy?” the little girl said, inquisitive as ever. “Yes, my love?” Andrena responded. “What’s up there past the sky?” the little girl turned and looked at her mother with such a look of earnestness and curiosity that seemed beyond her young years. “Well, no one truly knows. Some say heaven, some say space, some even say the Gods and Goddesses.” The little girl snorted a laugh. “But what do you say mommy?” Andrena turned and looked at this little girl; her little girl. The only child she had ever truly given birth to. The child’s beautifully coiled braids had come loose during their time of play and her big poofy hair framed her face like a lions’ mane. 

Her pupils were a light green and as Andrena stared into them, she knew very well how interesting life would be for her “new-being” daughter as different as she was. “I say that discovering your own truth is the only way you’ll know. Now come my little Cora. It’s time for us to be going.” 

Andrena held her daughter’s hand, the girl’s eyes returning to their original deep dark brown and together they flew onward. 

Open-Minded Is Dangerous: Meditations on Un-Learning, Re-Learning & Listening

“You have to be willing to teach men, baby.” My mother said as we delved deeper into both conversation and cheesecake. I looked up at her like “Que?!” This was coming from the woman who raised me and my brother as a single parent, and is now happily tied with my stepfather as they treat each other like beautiful gifts instead of roles to be set and conquered. I sat confused. I sat hurt, not because of anything to do with sexism or patriarchy, but because in some ways I was reaching too high and my wings “needed” to be clipped by a “reality” that I never consented to join in the first place.

Hey Speakerz! Yet another Meaning-Full Monday with yet another blog post! This week was one that seemed to fly by and while time is a social construct, I do think that weeks/days/years/hours/seconds have their own distinct feel. Last week felt like Unlearning to me. “Unlearning” is a term that my friends and I tend to use in conversation regarding discovery of self and the world around us. Most of us are millennials in our mid-late 20’s. Yes, we’re the ones who are constantly shit on for being different. Every generation has their “moment” in which the previous are like “they’re destroying everything”  and we’re no different. “Unlearning” encompasses the act of deconstruction. Taking apart everything that you’ve been taught, evaluating and deciding what to salvage, what to discard and how to move forward. Today’s post is largely concerning “unlearning”, “re-learning” and “open-mindedness” in terms of black queer womxnhood in conjunction with experiencing patriarchy, sexism and misogyny.

The other day, I sat with my mother in Juniors (a magnificent place for Cheesecake in NYC. Like seriously. Go there) and as we sat and talked, she asked me some important questions as she usually does. Black mothers have this uncanny way of making you think about the exact thing that you might have been avoiding in a gentle but firm way. I honestly think it’s genetics. But I digress, my parents who are older than your average Millennial parent have no idea what to do with me or the Millennials in general. Sometimes when I talk with my mother, our views clash because I have no intention of living my life as the generations before lived theirs and I realize that the uncertainty in many ways leaves anxiety for those who are nearing the end of their cycles on this plane.

Explaining my Openness in my sexuality to my mother was something that I never really considered as an anniversary, mark on the calendar moment. I never really had a “coming out” moment. She knows my preferences and has her own reservations and homophobic moments and I establish boundaries. I’ve been attracted to so many various types of people for so long that for me, embracing the fact that a “scale” of attraction is in many ways unnecessary for me. Embracing a label, even Queerness is something that I use for convenience in conversation rather than to define myself. At the same time, as long as I know myself well, and know what it is that I want and need and can communicate that openly and honestly, then that’s all that should matter right?

One topic of conversation that sat so strongly with me all week was the danger in being so open-minded. With all the beautiful, brown, open and openminded womxn that I know and love, all of us have found great love amid great strife. As educated and in many ways privileged as we are, we find ways to filter a space that annihilates ideals of right and wrong, good and bad and ugly and beautiful. We simply exist in our truth as different and in many ways holy as they are. Black and brown womxn in the new generations in specific seem to be unwilling to compromise as we move forward and I honestly believe that is what will change the world for the better.

This idea that womxn have to be gentle with men and their fragile egos is something that I find myself and my sisters pushing back on. If I can dismantle the problematic ideology that I was conditioned with, so should men. The expectation should be present more than anything else. Let’s change the narrative. I’m finding more and more that as we unpack this conditioning of marriage and children being the height of a womxns’ life, we find more equality and stability. I have no intentions of being “equal” with anyone. I have every intention of engaging in humanity. I’m human and so are you, different as we are. I want equity. I want accountability.

So often, I’ve been confronted with conversations that start with “well that’s just how it is”. But don’t “we” as a society make it that way? Therefore, that very same “we” can dismantle it. Taking part in the problematic behavior does nothing to correct it. Blame and shame are games that society toys with, especially with black women. We are shamed for our preferences, for our thoughts, for daring to reach higher than our foremothers did. Yet still, we do so unapologetically. Therein lies the danger. To be black and womxn is dangerous. To be black, womxn and open is another type of danger entirely. To have an open mind in my opinion, which changes every day is to acknowledge that learning is constant. I may think/feel this way today, but tomorrow, I can think/feel something else entirely. I grow with every moment that I spend in this body, time, place, etc. To find all types of people sexy, to want to experience them sexually, intimately, emotionally, and/or otherwise and to be unapologetic about that behavior is in many ways contradictory to society’s goals of sameness and this is again seen as dangerous. It is something to be ashamed of rather than liberated by. Sexual assault is not a coincidence or a random throw of the dice, it’s a tactic. 

Patriarchy and misogyny along with a host of other societal pressures and conditioning prevents human beings from fully experiencing our whole range of capability. Black Queer Womxn have for centuries turned all ideology on it’s head and for that we’ve been assaulted, molested, raped, killed, etc. It may hurt to speak about, but poison bites two ways, on the way in and on the way out. To acknowledge and to move forward is to raise a new generation of womxn. Womxn who are strong and fearless, are human and precious. It’s all a part of the un-learning.

Re-Learning is fun because it’s all a new process. Actively creating a new way of operation is a part of the healing process. We can’t have one without the other. In positions of privilege, how do we as human beings and more specifically as black and brown people, best support one another?

Do we listen? I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently on the importance of knowing how to listen. Last week, I was with two friends, both black males and I just sat and listened. There came a point where they both asked me what I thought about something and while I gathered my thoughts, they talked over and past me and soon the moment was gone. I could’ve pointed out the misogyny, but I decided that all of this was a learning moment for me. I don’t always want to have to teach men, especially black men about their patriarchal tendencies. Be accountable for and to your own self!

Just how do I listen? I enjoy listening to others speak and while I take everything in, I become a sponge. I’m not in a talking mode because I’m fully invested in listening mode. So often we listen to respond and especially for those conditioned as male, the expectation to specifically grasp the idea that deep thought is separate from a moment of deep listening isn’t present. Listen with more than just ears. Listen with your whole self, your entire atomic self and see just how much you pick up. I say this for everyone, all people.

How do we spend our time? In my world, time is my most precious friend, partner and confidante. If I choose to spend my time with you, if you have access to me, then you are probably important to me in this moment. How do you decide who gets that access and why? If someone abuses it, how do you handle the misuse?

How often do we pass the mic and let others speak? It’s not always important to speak. Your experience isn’t the only one that matters. There are different levels of this even among black queer womxn. If the space is for a specific moment, acknowledge that and act accordingly.

Everyone wants to feel and be seen. Just see them. 

As I continue to grow and learn and listen, I hope that I stay open-minded, but I also commit to doing the work to stay that way. Open-mindedness is a choice. A dangerous one. One that can cost life and love, but I like to think that we can all find completion in what we desire with knowledge of self.

Love Always,

Damali Speaks Xx