In the past day, six different people have asked me what was going on with my blog. Whoops. It honestly didn't occur to me that folks were checking for my work like that. I mean, six is a small number, yes, AND it's more faithful readers than I imagined myself to have. I see the numbers in my squarespace analytics app. My readership ain't as low as it could be. Just over 15,000 people from 27 countries read my Black Panther review. A few thousand read my Kara Walker piece (I even got an email from the NYT telling me to remove or license the image) and another few thousand the first Anti-Imperialist Parenting post. But reading an essay cause the title piques your interest while scrolling through social media and actively seeking out new writing by the essayist are two different things. In short, I can't even put into words how grateful I am to hear that my work is resonating with people so much that they're coming back for more. Thug tears. I take those questions as a sign. To answer: I spent all the spare $16 I had at the new vegan soulfood spot on Broad, several times over, instead of paying for my website subscription. It was well worth it. And now I'm back to pick up where I left off. Full of the most delicious bread pudding - but not shit, cause greens, fresh juice, and good sense.
"[T]he responsibility of the exploited and underdeveloped of the world is to eliminate the foundations of imperialism: our oppressed nations, from where they extract capitals, raw materials, technicians and cheap labor, and to which they export new capitals — instruments of domination — arms and all kinds of articles; thus submerging us in an absolute dependance [sic]."
- Che Guevara, "Message to the Tricontinental" (1967)
As a black feminist, my life practice centers anti-imperialism, the rejection of and resistance to global capitalism characterized by the U.S. and select European countries' (alternatively referred to as "the State") monopolies on raw materials in the Third World/Global South, exploiting the labor of people of color, especially women, in the process; and as a parent, keeping my child alive and content is 99.9% of my life practice. Starting with this introductory post and continuing for the next several weeks, I will be publishing a series about my and a few guests' explorations in anti-imperialist parenting. From cloth diapering to carcerality, the series will include personal narratives, theories, and tips for everyone - non-parents included - to become and to teach children how to be more independent of the state in both thought and action.
Anti-imperialism is a constant exercise in relinquishing our dependence on the State, organizing to subvert our exploitation, and hopefully.. someday... maybe... no pressure but pressure... eliminating capitalism and redistributing wealth and life chances. The conveniences on which we've come to rely, from gas-powered anything to plastic to smart technology, are soaked in blood. The blood of the people killed by the Imperialists' "human rights interventions" that justify occupation of other countries and gain access to raw materials; as a result of the environmental degradation of extraction, manufacturing, transportation, use, and disposal; by starvation as a result of forcibly maintained underdevelopment; by each other as we contend with the trauma of economic abuse. To rely on the conveniences used to comfort us from our exploitation is to be complicit in the violence that the Imperialist state generates in order to make such conveniences available to us. To exercise independence from the state, loosening our dependence on the conveniences it grants us, requires time, a luxury that a lot of parents, particularly those at the intersections of being black, Indigenous, poor, and/or woman, don't have. Across the board, including in our child-rearing, we're encouraged to save time to maximize our labor capacity, from spanking to microwaving meals, often with no thought about how these actions are born of our experiences as subjects of the Imperialist state and how they will shape our children's relationships with the Imperialist state. Nonetheless, I believe in us - black and indigenous peoples, women, poor people, and everybody else too. I'm a 25-year old, low-income, black, single mother with little outside support - if I can do the bit I do (which is, admittedly, far from complete independence), you can do something.
The first rule of anti-imperialist parenting is to accept that we're not raising anti-imperialists. We cannot make our children embrace anti-imperialism. In other words, the first rule of anti-imperialist parenting is to practice consent.
The denial of children's right to consent is the basis of white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist empire-building. Describing all the dark-skinned peoples of the world whom they encountered as childlike (and feminine), European colonizers justified their murders, the theft of land and resources, the erasure of cultures, and the exploitation of labor. Reclaiming consent for children (or perhaps more accurately reclaiming our ability as adults/parents to respect children's right to consent) is a fundamental prerequisite to thwarting imperialism. Parenting a child does not mean we own them and can turn them into reflections of ourselves. We do, however, wield a lot of influence, and that influence can be detrimental if we teach them in word or action that what they do or don't want doesn't matter to us, their primary caregivers, when in actuality, what they do/don't want has material consequences for people all over the world.
In the next post, I'll be writing about my experiences of consent, my approach to practicing/learning to practice consent with my ten-month old, and the decisions I've made for our family in his pre-verbal stage to minimize his complicity in the evils of imperialism (to which he most certainly did not consent yet). I'm also hoping to include ideas and experiences from parents with older children - holler at me if you'd like to share.
I feel crazy as hell for writing this. But I like it.
In a 2013 Baller Alert (yes, that's a real website) article, tech billionaire Ben Horowitz is quoted saying, "Black wives are for grown ups." Listing examples of wealthy white men with black woman partners such as the dude who made the original Star Wars and Melanie Hobbs, the Nortons of Norton Security, and David Bowie and Iman, the writer equates grownness with wealth, whiteness, and manhood. Stevona Elem Rogers, a New Orleans-based writer who identifies as a womanist, appropriated and tweaked the quote to build her brand Black Women Are for Grown Ups, or BWAFGU (pronounced phonetically). Rogers' slogan asserts that this same grownness, seemingly a class-based ackright, makes someone eligible to own a black woman. And lots of black women agree with her. The statement shirts and chapbook sell. Two Dope Queens named an episode after the brand when Lavar Burton wore the shirt as a guest on the show. Refinery29 listed Rogers as one of their 20 black women to follow in 2018, along with Yvonne Orji (and some questionable people who work for pretty neoliberal, pro-gentrification ass institutions like Teach for America and Airbnb).
I'm all for exiling ain't-shit lovers to yesteryear. But... Black women are for? Grown ups? Seriously?
Capitalism, patriarchy, and racism go way back. European men disabled European women from competing in the market by subjecting them to male relatives and husbands on the basis of being child-like and, later, similarly disabled the native peoples of what came to be the Americas and Africa on the basis of them, the men specifically, being feminine insofar as they did not privatize land or paternalize women (while expanding the market through the theft of their lands, resources, bodies, and labor).
To be "grown" one had to be a white man, made wealthy through colonization. To be a white man meant to be uniquely capable of the possession of self and others. It was the white man's burden to take care of us all and to benefit from all of our labor and the wealth of our resources. Poor guy(s).
Early portraiture consecrated the idea of manhood as a result of one's possessions, with wealthy patrons sitting for commissioned artists surrounded by the things that mattered to them and that represented what made them matter: globes, books, travel logs, children, wives, and the occasional black servant.
[Brief aside to muse on the Obama portraits: what does it mean that President Obama is seated in front of plants and Michelle in front of a sky blue backdrop given the ecological terror that continues to shape black people's relationships to this country - before, during, and after the presidency of the first black commander-in-chief?]
To be anything other than a white man of means - a woman, a person of color, a child - was (is?) to be inherently possessible and violable. The ideologies of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy evolved each other in the colonial context, creating the matrix of domination of which Patricia Hill Collins writes, a web of simultaneous oppressions and intersecting, inextricable identities. In the age of #MeToo, shouldn't we want to subvert the power dynamics, this matrix of domination, that suggests that black women need to be surveilled, controlled, manipulated, and for anyone (including ourselves)? Can we exist without belonging to anyone, as part of complex ecologies that support mutual growth, love, health, wealth, etc?
Here's a brief list of things that, unlike black women, are "for grown ups" (warning: they're not particularly fun, cute, or glamorous):
(1) Student loan debt.
(2) The blame for gentrification.
(3) The responsibility of making the world a safer, more just place for everyone by challenging and projecting ourselves beyond white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist ideals of owning (e.g. Cardi's "I'm a boss; you a worker") or assenting to being owned (e.g. BWAFGU).
I had trouble brainstorming more cause, well, most things don't lie squarely on the shoulders of any one age group. There are exceptions, even to these rules.
UPDATE (3/6/2018, 9:28 PM CST): The author has responded with a request that I remove this post. I choose not to do so in favor of open critique within arts communities.
New Orleans' niggerati (and some - ok, lots of - white people) rolled deep, traveling by bike, ferry, and motorized vehicle, for a Saturday afternoon performance of Kara Walker's "Katastwóf Karavan" installation that premiered on the West Bank of the Mississippi River for the closing weekend of Prospect.4. Algiers Point residents looked askew at our multiracial coalition of art enthusiasts intent on seeing MacArthur Award-winning pianist Jason Moran's activation of the 38-note calliope inside the nine-ton, pioneer-style wagon wrapped with Walker's signature silhouettes in steel. Viewers circled her work before the performance began, taking selfies and pondering the images' meanings aloud, then made their rounds to the various groups of friends and colleagues perched on the grass. It was like the monument protests of last spring but without the mobs of gun-toting white supremacists - a reunion of sorts, a place to see and be seen.
Finally, Moran sat at his keyboard to the side of the wagon, the front of which featured a girl and a man dragging a woman through a wooded area by her hands and feet as a monster hanging from a tree pulled her heart out, and began to play. I couldn't recognize the songs, though a shade-filled New York Times article explains that the playlist includes both Negro classics like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" and original compositions; the music sounded to me like tortured screams being covered up by jolly tunes, the perfect metaphor for New Orleans in 2018. Yes, all this contemporary art talk was just a ruse to rant about New Orleans Tricentennial. In this year 2018 of my parents' lord, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his administration are trying to drown out the screams of the economically imperiled majority with a festive response to the 300th anniversary of this millennia-old crescent-shaped port and commercial metropolis' misnaming by French colonizers. Here's a few reasons why I am screaming this year:
(1) UPDATED FOR ACCURACY: The City has installed 80 blue-and-red flashing cameras around the city, with 250 more to be added (neither of which need City Council approval) even though studies have already demonstrated that this type of surveillance does not actually decrease crime. An ordinance that's up for City Council vote on March 8th, if passed, will require every business with a liquor license to install a camera outside of their establishment - AN ADDITIONAL 1500 CAMERAS! The 80+250+1500 cameras will feed into the Real Time Crime Monitoring Center, and other private property owners will have the option to direct footage from their security cameras to the Center as well. This is the crown jewel of Mayor Landrieu's $40 billion security plan, in collaboration with the governor and, you guessed it, the Convention Center and Tourism Bureau. The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) has been organizing to ensure that the City Council votes against it. Call your city councilperson and come out next week! (Thank you, Hannah Kreiger-Benson, for rectifying my inaccuracies.)
(2) The City Council approved the building of a $250 million gas-powered electrical plant in the predominantly Black and Vietnamese area of New Orleans East. It's 2018 - nothing new or that expensive needs to be powered by gas.
(3) In the midst of an on-going housing crisis, nearly 4,000 units of housing have been removed from the rental market by short term rental operators. The City's regulatory measures do not actually equip them to, well, be regulated.
(4) Most of what used to be the best restaurants in the city are now considerably less great (originally, I wrote "suck" but that felt disrespectful) cause they're catering to newcomers' and tourists' mayo-and-white-bread palates.
(5) The city government refuses to get out of bed with corporations that are committing human rights violations. Last month, the City Council unanimously passed a proclamation stating council members' plan to create a review board for city contracts to ensure that they were not hiring corporations involved in human rights violations. When the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish something or other of Louisiana responded that it was supposedly anti-Israel/anti-Semitic, they recanted, telling the press that the organizers who'd prepared the document (along with certain city council members, FYI) had tricked them into signing something that somehow none of them had ever read. Mind you, it did not mention Israel or Palestine at all. Though some of the organizers are Palestinian-Americans and/or do pro-Palestine work.
(6)There are active white supremacist terrorist cells in and around the city. I don't think I need to explain this one. It's a regular ol' New Jersey out here (reference: Assata Shakur).
[The above was included to toy with all the idiots who still believe that "the North" is progressive and "the South" is backwards. Step your game up, boo. Take a look - it's in a book and shit.]
(7) Public transportation is paid for by residents and planned for tourists, leaving many of those who fuel the tourism industry with their underpaid labor, already having been displaced to the margins of the city by rising housing costs, with two hour bus trips to and from work downtown.
(8) Cardell "Bear" Hayes was wrongfully convicted for the murder of former Saints' player Will Smith. Just one example of the inefficiency of our so-called criminal justice system.
(9) The white women strippers are mobilizing around the criminalization of sex work, most specifically the NOPD raids of Bourbon Street strip clubs, and they seem to completely lack a racial analysis. Black women, in and outside of strip clubs, will always be more vulnerable to police violence. Plus, any black stripper or person with black stripper friends will tell you that bourbon street clubs are notoriously racist AF. Management has a colored quota they do not surpass, constantly body shames black women, and often refuses to schedule more than one black woman for busy, money-making shifts. I hope that they can develop a more nuanced critique of gendered racism both in the police state and their workplace and push for the implementation of practices that allow all sex workers to flourish, not just save the clubs with all their inequities intact. But really, I'm not even mad at the Beckys cause it's 2018 and I don't expect much from them. I am screaming at all the social justice-oriented black women who are supporting their work via social media and not criticizing this obvious blind spot.
This week's listicle was presented to you by my insomnia and my ancestress Josine who was in New Orleans with four baby daddies in 1740.
Last week's episode of MTV's Catfish took a surprising turn when a social media paramour was revealed to be a Russian operative seeking to upend U.S. politics via social media.
Two years ago, LaPlace, Louisiana resident Darnell Duplessis commented with a praise-hands emoji on a high school friend's Facebook post condemning anti-Confederate monument efforts as revisionist; Shelley Rogers responded to him with an invitation to a pro-monument demonstration organized by Louisianians for the Preservation of Everything Except the Wetlands (LPEEW). After clicking on her profile, which featured a picture of a bikini-clad woman on a beach (who Catfish hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph later identified as a model from Belarus), he says, "it was love at first sight."
Duplessis and Rogers began communicating through Facebook messenger, sharing articles about Hillary Clinton, gun control, immigration, and self-love. But Rogers ultimately was unable to make it to the pro-monument demonstration, or the six other demonstrations to which she'd invite Duplessis in the 16 months they communicated leading up to the November 2016 presidential election. And in spite of their intensifying affair - they read books together and sent each other nudie pics - she wouldn't talk to him on the phone or via video and she was never available to meet up even though she claimed to live 30 minutes away in Gonzalez.
Duplessis became suspicious when, the day after the election, Rogers stopped responding to his messages altogether. He waited for a month before contacting Catfish.
"She told me, 'Vote your conscious or don't vote at all'. It's one of the things I respected about her," Duplessis recounted to Nev and Max.
Duplessis was just one of at least 338,000 Americans who were exposed to Russian-generated rally promotions through Facebook, though his experience was probably a bit more intimate than most others according to Columbia University political scientist Dr. Russell Decker.
Decker, who teaches a course on Post-Cold War Espionage, says it's unlikely that many Americans were "catfished" by the Russians. "Most likely, this was a rogue operative experimenting with the form. Developing one-on-one relationships isn't the most efficient method to influence an election, and efficiency is the Kremlin way."
In the time since the show was filmed, Duplessis has been staying busy to, as he says, distract himself from his broken heart. In addition to his full-time job as a janitor at a petrochemical plant, he is leading an LPEEW initiative to place historical markers at the sites of abandoned oil wells.
"I've got to make it up to my community."
(1) Killmonger's revolutionary impulse is characterized as misguided and his analysis embittered, limited to personal experience, and theoretically unfounded. It erases, like, a solid 150 years-worth of critical race and anti-capitalist theory that was born of the Black experiences in the Americas.
(2) Killmonger's mother (a Diasporic African woman) is completely unaccounted for within the story which, at best, is a narrative oversight and, at worst, is, well, anti-black AF (for further context on how a movie about Africans can be anti-black see Malcolm X speech about how African comrades visiting the States could eat at restaurants where 'Coloreds' were not allowed - lemme find this reference right quick).
(3) Re: Killmonger's dying words - romanticize Black suicide if you will, but there are a lot of unsettled spirits at the bottom of the Atlantic who I pray and light candles for regularly. See me - I'm pretty glad my ancestors didn't opt for that. I don't think we are out of options in the way that I believe them to have, understandably, felt that they were on a slave ship and I'm not trying to tap into that energy cause, well, it's not a collective solution. TBH.
(4) What kinda neo-liberal hell do we live in where starting a non-profit in the United States and committing to the redistribution of wealth THROUGH and/or in collaboration with THE UNITED mother-fucking NATIONS is revolutionary?
(5) Why is Dr. Watson here??? And why has Wakanda chosen him to shoot down the planes that are sending the weapons out to "oppressed people" to revolt against their respective nation states?
(6) T'Challa could've saved Killmonger the same way he saved Dr. Watson, with a bead from his bracelet *side eye*
(7) Michael "Bae" Jordan with them golds though *swoon*
(8) It's just an American film with a black screenwriter, director, and actors; and film (Hollywood especially) has always been propaganda. This reality undermines the whole safe space construct - the idea that people with whom we share identities won't propagate our suppression. I mean, it was entertaining though or whatever.
(9) Speaking of safe space, everybody wants to be in Wakanda but can't even navigate interpersonal issues with Black people who live in their neighborhood lol.
(10) I saw some folks sharing some bullshit post about 'don't over politicize' Black Panther. How, Sway?! Are we, black people, really arguing for art to be depoliticized? As if that's even possible. Guys. C'mon.
(11) But, like I said, Michael "Bae" Jordan with them golds, lawd.
(12) Wakanda - as a nation whose borders would have been defined by Europe in the Berlin Conference - is comprised of several ethnic groups (real, real) that relate to the King as vassal states and have varying aesthetics from tailored suits and lip plates to wool-looking shawls that double as shields worn by men who herd rhinos. Thank you, costume designer Ruth Carter (I had brunch at her house once courtesy of Douriean Fletcher, who designed the jewelry for the film).
(13) I see myself best reflected in Killmonger's mama. Representation matters :)
This exhibition review was originally published here by Pelican Bomb on September 4, 2015.
Dedicated to Albert Woodfox, the only unliberated member of the trio of black male political prisoners known as the Angola Three, “#ReHumanize, for Albert Woodfox” at the UNO St. Claude Gallery highlights the commodification of those imprisoned by the American penal system. With Jackie Sumell’s delicate drawings and hand-written profiles of former and current prisoners and Devin Reynolds’ jarring, advertisement-like paintings, the exhibition asks viewers “to imagine a world without prisons and to begin to dream of ways to better insure [sic] public safety and wellbeing without the need to simply dehumanize and punish.” “#ReHumanize” does not allow viewers to imagine or to dream; instead, it force feeds them a skewed perception of the “other” to elicit a superficial, empathetic response on the basis of shared humanity with those victimized by the Prison Industrial Complex.
To rehumanize means to make human again. The concept of humanity is a collection of hegemonic values that are projected onto us to regulate social behavior and to perpetuate the status quo; our ability to reflect it and the institutional response to our reflection of it largely depends on where we exist in the socioeconomic matrix. At the intersection of art and activism, those who are best able to reflect the human ideal are endowed with institutional visibility, allowed access to funding and a platform. Thus is born the career social practice artist. The title of the exhibition rightfully suggests that humanity can be given and revoked. However, “#ReHumanize” operates on the deluded beliefs that it is the role of the social practice artist to project humanity onto the “other” and that viewers of these projections can liberate said “other” with their gaze—a delusion many buy into because it is consistent with their savior complex. Reynolds and Sumell fail to realize that their projection of humanity onto prisoners actually prevents the abolition of the Prison Industrial Complex. As long as humanity is the basis for justice and compassion, white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism—the forces that sustain the Prison Industrial Complex—will continue to thrive.
As an example of the ways in which the prison system dehumanizes, Reynolds and Sumell focus on the replacement of prisoners’ names with inmate numbers. Sumell couples pencil drawings of objects that have stock-identification numbers identical to prisoners’ Department of Corrections numbers with brief profiles of each prisoner. By placing the drawings where viewers might expect an image of the prisoner, Sumell argues that the replacement of names with numbers is evidence of prisoners’ dehumanization. Reynolds and Sumell prove that the concept of humanization is synonymous with colonization when stating in a large manifesto-like wall text that, by having their “real family names” taken away, prisoners are dehumanized. For most black, Latino, and Native-American prisoners, family names were forced upon them by the Europeans who colonized and/or enslaved their ancestors, replacing indigenous African and Indo-American names with European ones, followed by other forms of degradation intended to alienate them from their cultures of origin. The purpose of humanization is to organize and control.
As with the inextricably tied systems of global oppression, compartmentalization and competition power the human ideal. The privileged subject identifies the “other,” in the case of “#ReHumanize,” prisoners, and assesses similarities and differences. Sumell chooses not to detail the reasons why the profiled prisoners are or were incarcerated; she compartmentalizes because to acknowledge a history of crime would limit many viewers’ ability to perceive the prisoners’ humanity. But the prisoners’ crimes are as much an aspect of their humanity as their love for ice cream and walks in nature, which she does include. All so-called crime is a reflection of the human ideal—of hegemonic views regarding women, poor people, people of color, money, liberty, social acceptance, and respect. It is the projection of humanity that lands people in prison in the first place. Yet, Reynolds and Sumell propose that, to counteract the trauma of the prison experience, we must project humanity onto them again.
In efforts to rehumanize the people in the St. Roch neighborhood, Reynolds deconstructed the barrier between the community and the gallery by installing over two dozen small paintings on the chain-link, barb-wire fence that divides the gallery’s gravel parking lot and the sidewalk. With a mixture of sadness, bewilderment, and condescension, Reynolds told me that the day before the opening, he arrived at the gallery to find that a piece that reads “MiKKKael Jordan” with the image of a white-hooded Nike Jordan logo had been ripped out of place and hurled toward the building. Unaware that it is the same humanity he is projecting that leads people to want expensive tennis shoes, Reynolds mocks Jordan-buyers’ efforts to reflect the human ideal. Humanization is funny like that.
The strength of the human ideal lies in its transmittable and transmutable nature. The human ideal functions cyclically because our projection of humanity is a sign of our humanity. When we humanize someone, we train him or her to project. A country of humans is a country of complacent slaves deceived by crumbs of access and privilege to ignore the white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist, and imperialist nature of the humanity that they perpetuate. Once one has been humanized, humanization comes easy. The real work is acknowledging how we have all been traumatized by the projection of the human ideal and working to heal from that instead of continuing to project our trauma onto others by being human and humanizing.
Throughout United States history, the human ideal has been touted by self-proclaimed allies to bring institutional reform. Thomas Jefferson advocated for an end to American participation in the transatlantic slave trade. In a presidential message to Congress, Jefferson described the transatlantic slave trade as “those violations of human rights.” But not only did he continue to own and domestically trade enslaved Africans, he openly opposed private manumission and public emancipation and proposed legislation to outlaw free people of color. Forty-six years later, Harriet Beecher Stowe published her classic novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Though she had never been to the South, Stowe wrote about fictional black characters there to enlist the support of northern white women readers like her for the abolitionist movement. But when Harriet Jacobs, the author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, wrote to Stowe asking that she write the preface to her soon-to-be-published slave narrative, Stowe declined because, she said, Jacobs’ inclusion of extramarital sex (a relationship that Jacobs explains in the text she had to protect herself from getting raped by her owner) was un-Christian and undignified.
Neither the transatlantic slave trade nor domestic slavery was abolished because of African people. And to be clear, only one was abolished at all. The United States abolished the transatlantic slave trade to sever economic ties with Britain, the largest international trader of enslaved Africans, and to accelerate the domestic slave trade. The United States reformed slavery (enter: the Prison Industrial Complex) because free slave labor in the South impeded the economic growth of the industrial North and threatened the stability of the Union. The transatlantic slave trade was abolished and slavery was reformed to protect humanity—that is, white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism. The revolution will not be led by humans.
Oppressed people are conditioned to seek evidence of our humanity in the gaze of those who best reflect the human ideal, and in doing so, we alienate ourselves from the people who are capable of seeing us for who we are and not for our potential to be more like them. From the Big House to the Ivory Tower to the six-by-nine-foot cell that Albert Woodfox has been kept in for 43 years, we’ve long known privilege is a joke, but it’s a narcotizing one if you’ve got it and an appealing one if you don’t. When we relinquish the need for validation, when we relinquish the desire to be perceived as human, that is when we unite. We seize control of Attica. We set fire to sugar plantations in Saint-Domingue. We slice throats in Virginia. We throw trashcans through the window of Sal’s Pizzeria. Our actions seem illogical to some, riotous. Unhuman, unreadable, we see each other.
Reynolds and Sumell command us to rehumanize. I refuse.
This exhibition review was written for and published here on PelicanBomb.com on April 14, 2016.
I do not believe that white people are inherently incapable of facilitating conversations about the impact of white supremacy on black and brown lives. In fact, it is because I want white people to be having these conversations that I criticize them when their attempts are haphazard or merely self-congratulatory. Boyd | Satellite’s “What’s Going On” bills itself as “an homage to Black Lives Matter,” but its choices don’t reflect an understanding of the movement or its commitment to meaningful change.
To its credit, the exhibition includes some great pieces by individual artists. The late Jeffrey Cook’s sculpture Song of Silence, 1996, memorializes two friends lost to gun violence with upward-facing, cast-iron guns, the barrels of which have been wrapped in black twine and cloth—the tools of death preserved, stripped of their power, now rendered sacred objects. John Isiah Walton’s painting The Farm, 2016, depicts a white man on horseback looming over a black man picking cotton at Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary, highlighting the transtemporal exploitation of black labor from plantation to prison. These and other scenes of anti-black violence are literally reflected on the graphite surface of a work by Ron Bechet, which is etched with statistics of unemployment, income inequality, juvenile arrests, and housing insecurity, all relayed in second person, mapping these realities on to the viewer and the gallery.
But “What’s Going On” suffers from a lack of curatorial vision and intentionality that detracts from the potential power of these works. A faint reference to Marvin Gaye and the superficial dedication to black resistance in the exhibition’s title don’t provide enough context, making the pieces feel like disconnected jabs at sentimentality. An homage to Black Lives Matter is, by necessity, an argument for the value of black life, and the curation of the show should reflect this.
Though the Black Lives Matter movement was started and has largely been led by black women, black female artists have been excluded from “What’s Going On.” When asked if the work of any black women was being shown, gallery owner Ginette Bone responded, as though it had never crossed her mind, “Now that you mention it, no.” Local Black Lives Matter activists, many of whom are also women, hadn’t been contacted either.
Furthermore, Boyd | Satellite has centered white artists in the exhibition’s promotional materials and in the physical placement of their works in the exhibition. The flyer for the exhibition only shows gallery owner Blake Boyd’s photograph Swat, 2008, and, in the reminder email for the opening, only Ti-Rock Moore’s works are distinguishable. Moore’s pieces are also the largest in the show: the three eight-by-twelve-foot panels of Possession, 2014; her now-infamous installation Angelitos Negros, 2015; and the Jeff Koons-esque Cracka Please, 2015, a collaboration with the artist Cypher. Only one black artist, photographer L. Kasimu Harris, has more than one piece in the show.
By not dedicating enough space and attention to the works of the black artists, the exhibition undermines the ethos of Black Lives Matter and devalues the works of the black artists that are included, while placing the white artists and gallery owners on a pedestal for their choice to take a stand. Just because a gallery on Julia Street is highlighting an important subject doesn’t mean that the exhibition actually addresses the issues at hand. I’m not convinced that black lives matter to Boyd | Satellite beyond the visibility and publicity that their pain brings to the gallery.
This interview was commissioned and originally published here by New Orleans-based arts criticism publication Pelican Bomb on April 20, 2016.
Lydia Y. Nichols: You created your landmark installation What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag 28 years ago. Looking back now, how do you feel about that project?
Dread Scott: It was a project that I did when I was much younger, but I think it’s still right on time. The ideas behind the piece were deep questions: What is the U.S.? What is U.S. patriotism? What does the U.S. flag represent? Allowing for people who’ve been victimized by what this country has done, here and around the world, to take part in that debate and to know that their perspectives are valid, that was important. And while I think that I’ve grown and matured as an artist since then, the piece was a good one. And frankly, looking at the world, I wish more places would show the work now, even though it’s nearly 30 years old.
LN: Much of your more recent work is rooted in performance. What are the strengths and weaknesses of performance-based work specifically when dealing with revolutionary subject matter?
DS: I work in a lot of different mediums. Some of it is installation, photography, painting, sculpture; some of it is conceptual. I’ve been doing a lot more performance-based works for the past six years or so. As an artist, I started out in photography. But performance was where I first began to align my political ideas with the art I was making in an overt way. Those were just student experiments, but I’ve returned to performance with more consistency. In part, it’s because the audience has a different relation with the work generally, and the performer in particular, in terms of accessing the ideas. When something happens live—especially if it’s a non-permitted, public performance, where people aren’t expecting to see work—it collapses the filters they would otherwise have going to a gallery or a museum.
I don’t think one medium is inherently better than others. If all I knew how to do was paint, and I was really good at that, I would engage with the same ideas through painting. I typically try to think about important contradictions in the world that I want to address and then figure out a way that would be interesting to engage an audience with those ideas. And so, I don’t start with, Oh, I think I’m going to do performance, or sculpture, or make a photograph. It’s just like, Okay, here are the ideas and then…. But recently they’ve been coming out as performances as a way to have a more visceral experience. There’s perhaps more vulnerability and more risk for the audience, but certainly for me as a performer and for my collaborators.
LN: In 1811, a small group of slaves from Louisiana’s German Coast revolted and marched to New Orleans, picking up hundreds of additional fighters along the way. Though the revolt was soon extinguished by a local militia, it remains a significant, though little-known, example of the oppressed rising against the oppressor. You’re in the process of trying to stage a reenactment that follows the 26-mile path of those rebels. How did you come upon this idea? And why not one of the more well-known rebellions?
DS: One way I think about art is wondering what doesn’t exist yet. I was writing down notes for another project and thought, Oh, a slave revolt reenactment. That’d be hype. I’d love to do that. And I just left it at that, as an idea that I didn’t have any plans for. Then I got invited to the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, “Well, I’d love to do a slave revolt reenactment.” I didn’t think they’d go for it because it wasn’t going to happen during the time period of the residency. And, in the South, it was an especially politically charged proposition. The interim director of the residency program pointed me to Daniel Rasmussen’s book American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, which talks about the 1811 revolt in New Orleans. And I didn’t know anything about it, so I decided to check out the book and the story was amazing. The book borrows very heavily from the original scholarship of Leon Waters and Albert Thrasher’s On to New Orleans!, but I discovered their book later.
The fact that it wasn’t particularly known was a real strength because I was thinking about doing something about Nat Turner. That this history was unknown or buried was all the more interesting to me. Also, all the other slave revolts that I knew of in the U.S., their best case scenario was kill some white folk and then escape to a maroon colony, or kill before being killed. The 1811 revolt actually had a plan for seizing all of Orleans Territory and ending slavery, which was a radical idea from an enslaved position. They wanted not only to free themselves as individuals, or free themselves and their families, but also to end slavery. What was the problem they confronted? They were enslaved. What was the solution? End slavery. That’s bold and something I think modern-day people can learn a lot from.
The other thing that attracted me to the 1811 revolt: It was big. It was the largest slave revolt in North American history. It’s probable that 500 or more people actively participated in the rebellion. So for doing something, in public, collaboratively with lots of artists, where you’re trying to change the conversation about how people think about freedom and emancipation and risk, it’s perfect. Imagine seeing armed black people, even if only armed with 18th- and 19th-century weapons. If you have four of them, it can be written off as dangerous or criminal shit, but if you have 500 of them, it’s like, “What the fuck am I looking at?” And if you’re like me and hate what’s going on in the world, you’re like, “Can I hook up with that? Can I join?” And if you agree with what’s going on in the world, you’re like, “Oh shit, the negroes are getting restless. Something ain’t right.” Now imagine if they had been successful. American and world history would’ve been different. Isn’t that a story that people need to know? Wouldn’t it be great to have the opportunity to embody that?
LN: So what’s your process for organizing this? How are you going to get 500 people involved?
DS: Well, I’m just going to call up the actors’ union. (laughs) But seriously, it will take years to develop with people. The project is twofold. One part is the actual reenactment over two days, spanning 26 miles. That will be epic and amazing. But much of the project is learning from this history and having people engage with it. The process will mirror the history itself. Slave revolts had to be planned clandestinely, obviously. So, a man or a woman would only talk with a handful of people whom he or she felt that they could trust with their life. And if they gambled right on that, those people would talk and organize more. So similarly, I’m going to be working with only a handful of people initially—it might get up to 60, 70, 100 people. But then those people will talk, recruit, and organize others into the army of the enslaved—that is assuming that they have some reason why they would want to walk 26 miles, rain or shine, warm or cold, sometimes not even seen by an audience, but actually just experiencing this collectively with 500 other people. Those that see some connection between that past and this present, and why they want to reenact and embody this history, will be brought into it. And they will in turn bring others into the army of the enslaved. Throughout the process people will be both learning from and embodying this history.
A ROADSIDE SIGN ACKNOWLEDGING THE GERMAN COAST REVOLT, THE LARGEST SLAVE REBELLION IN NORTH AMERICAN HISTORY. PHOTO BY THE ARTIST.
LN: What have been some of the reactions as you’ve begun to talk with people locally about this idea?
DS: In some of my initial investigations and inquiries, one thing that’s been very heavy and moving for me, speaking especially with college-age and younger black people, is that a lot of them have said, “Look, at first we didn’t want to talk about slavery. We felt sort of ashamed. We couldn’t figure out how our ancestors could allow this to happen to them. But when we learned that there was resistance, including actual strategic plans to end slavery, we wanted to know more about this. And we want to tell people about this.” It’s something that lifted a whole weight of shame from them. This aspect of the project, these conversations with people, changing their understanding of their past and their present, is huge.
LN: Given the migratory patterns of black people in Louisiana, a good portion of the descendants of the people who lived on the plantations from which the organizers of the 1811 revolt came probably live in the region still. How do you engage these black and potentially poor communities that are generally alienated from the art world? How do you get them to engage with this project to the point where they are internalizing that we are a people who have resisted?
DS: It’s a fair question. I’m hoping to work with a range of people, not just in the arts but within activist communities. There’s a housing project a little upriver from Kenner that I both want the reenactment to pass by and want to recruit some people from. I don’t know if I’ll be successful. They might be like, “What the fuck are you talking about? Walking two days in the cold? Fuck no, I ain’t gonna do that.” But I have a lot of confidence in people and confidence that this art will resonate with them. It’s a word-of-mouth project; the more out of my hands, the better. If people are taking up this project as their own and nobody even knows Dread Scott exists, that’s great for me. As long as people are deeply engaging with this history and ideas of emancipation and we get the numbers for the costumes and people show up on the right day.
LN: Is there any process in place for documenting the impact that planning has on the performers in the year leading up to the reenactment?
DS: The process for planning it, yes. The aftermath, no. In the process, many of the conversations will be recorded. I can bring a high-quality film and audio crew when I’m involved, that’s easy. But I intend to give equipment to other people that are recruiting with simple instructions so that they can document their conversations. That hasn’t begun yet, but I’ve given some thinking about how that’ll work.
LN: With the petrochemical plants as the backdrop along that Cancer Alley corridor, what does that juxtaposition with the performance do for you? Southern Civil War reenactments typically take place in open green spaces miles away from the actual battle sites in attempts to recreate a past unaffected by the present. So you’re melding those two settings. What does this project say about progress?
DS: My work draws on the past to talk about how the past sets the stage for the present and how it exists in the present in a new form. A lot of traditional reenactment wants to excise and get rid of the present because they’re trying to let people live in the past and imagine what that would be like. While I do want people to imagine freed slaves—not slaves that were granted their emancipation but who took it—I want them to imagine that, but I more want them to look at that clash with the present. What would it mean if you have people with this sort of vision walking around in the present? And I think that poses an interesting challenge.
Two hundred years ago, just upriver would’ve probably been sugar fields and plantations. What were plantations have been replaced by oil refineries. I can show you a map of Destrehan Plantation. There is a sign. Where is it? (flips through Fragments of the Peculiar Institution, an artist book of his research into slavery) “This historic site donated by Amoco Oil Company.” So they quite literally bought the land that had plantations and put up oil factories, taking one mode of production and then updating that. So there is something that’s interesting to me about seeing 500 hundred people with antique weapons, including torches and sabers, muskets and blunderbusses, and horses marching past the modern-day incarnation of what is actually enslaving people all over the world.
LN: As a black man and a revolutionary communist artist, given the black labor exploitation in our society, including within the art world, what does success for this project look like? And how do you use this project, which is about a people’s response to black labor exploitation, to reconceptualize power as a working artist?
DS: If I can actually do the whole reenactment and have people who are embodying this history, who are deeply engaged, who feel themselves becoming ambassadors for freedom, then that would be success. I want it to be filmed and the film will be screened either at a museum or be broadcast as a more traditional documentary. That’s important to me because I want more people to see it than can see it live. But still I think the optimal viewing experience is the guy driving to work, driving to a gypsum production plant or whatever, who sees this ghost slave army and thinks, “What the fuck am I looking at?” I want people talking about the project. I want curricula to be created so people can actually study this at the college and high-school levels.
There’s a real need for people to think about freedom differently. I mean, today, so many people talk about social change based on what they think is possible; this was a situation where people dreamed the impossible. They didn’t start with what was easy. They started with what was necessary and then worked backwards towards action. It was a long shot, but it was courageous. They ultimately failed. But, you know, life expectancy on a sugar plantation was nine years, so it was really a freedom or death situation. That’s the situation billions of people are in right now all over the world. Half of the world is trying to survive on less than $2 a day. People are picking through garbage across a sewage canal across from opulent, gleaming skyscrapers. People are being robbed and having their lives robbed from them, even in this country. So even if you have just 500 people grasping the significance of this rebellion where people were boldly imagining freedom and taking action to do that. I’m tired of “maybe we can get some lobbying” or “if things go really well, maybe we can get Hillary” or “maybe we can get Bernie.” And it’s like, alright, Bernie’s not Trump. Great. But Bernie ain’t fucking freedom. He’s running to be head of this empire. So people’s sights are way too fucking low and having 500 people really engaging with this and connecting with each other and an image of this spectacle for people to contemplate and to think about, that will be successful for me.
This exhibition review was originally published here by Pelican Bomb on July 15, 2017.
In 1944, a 29-year-old Jean Chenier Brierre boarded a ship in Port-au-Prince for Montreal to study medicine with a still-life oil painting of two coconuts, artist unknown. The coconuts reminded him of home, he’d later tell his eldest daughter Monique.
Brierre’s home, as he left it, had been crippled by 140 years of bullying at the hands of the United States and France for having set the example of self-liberation for enslaved Africans in the New World. In 1825, more than 20 years after untrained African soldiers fought for and won Haitian independence from Napoleon’s empire, France demanded reparations from the young republic in the amount of 150 million gold francs for land and labor lost (the French said that unless the indemnity was paid, Haiti would not be acknowledged in the global economy). Publicly funded education was nearly eradicated and the land had to be all but stripped bare of natural resources to pay the “debt.” The Haitian treasury forked over the last Francs in 1947.
Just a decade before Brierre left home, U.S. Marines withdrew after a 19-year occupation of Haiti during which the Haitian Constitution was altered to allow for foreign ownership of their mineral-rich land and a corrupt puppet government was installed.
Yet, as anyone who’s ever had one knows: home is home.
Ever wanting to preserve ties to his home and to educate others about the beauty of the African diaspora, the late Dr. Brierre amassed a collection of more than 500 acrylic and oil paintings, sculptures, and ironworks by Haitian artists over the course of nearly 70 years. Sixty-two of the works from his Haitian Cultural Legacy Collection are currently on display in “The Spirit of Haitian Culture: Creativity, Perseverance & Resilience” at the McKenna Museum of African American Art and Le Musée de f.p.c. Curated by Lana Meyon Watson, the exhibition speaks of the first black republic’s lasting spiritual wealth through the seductive depictions of rituals, marketplaces, celebrations, and other facets of daily life—an intentional contrast to the barren land and impoverished people more often shown to us as representations of Haiti through mass media.
Matching the vivid color and texture of each piece is the story behind its acquisition: stories of the Brierre family’s summertime trips to Haiti, the births of their children (Dr. Brierre’s mother-in-law would only allow him to take her daughter to the U.S. if he promised that all of their children would be born in Haiti), and frantic calls from Mrs. Brierre about pieces she wanted Dr. Brierre to purchase. The kind of stories that come, not only from experiencing life in a foreign land, but from simultaneously trying to hold onto and root black children in a culture that celebrates black identity, while living in a nation that seeks to render black victory invisible.
Originally published here on The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities' online publication KnowLouisiana.org.
There is nothing more American than passing. And at no other time and place in American history have necessity and opportunity so dramatically conspired to create the possibility for passing as in late 19th century New Orleans. Reconstruction had failed to establish equitable institutions for those whom the Constitution had denied 2/5 of their personhood; and by 1877, the Southern Democrats (former Confederates) had reclaimed political and social dominion over the state. As W.E.B Du Bois writes in Black Reconstruction, Louisiana’s government was to be “a government of white people, made and to be perpetuated for the exclusive political benefit of the white race.” Though identifying as neither white nor black, New Orleans’ Afro-Creoles, who had enjoyed relative mobility prior to the Civil War, were kicked out of schools and churches, cut off from quality education, and pushed to “colored cars.” It became clear that hybridity was no longer acknowledged or welcome. Well-educated, multilingual, and able to pass for white, unknown numbers of Creoles left to seek whatever security their ambiguity would allow. Among them was George Joseph Herriman, a ten-year old boy who in time would become a white man and a pioneering cartoonist.
Michael Tisserand provides a painstakingly well-researched analysis of Herriman’s life and work in Krazy: A Life in Black and White (HarperCollins). Herriman, a man of diverse interests and experiences, created comics laden with allusions to classical literature and philosophy; written in immigrant, black, and southern vernaculars; and often incorporating foreign languages. The most famous and longest-running of his comics was Krazy Kat, a gender non-conforming, color-changing cat in the southwestern desert who regularly drops philosophical gems in his own dialect of English. Literary and visual arts giants such as Amiri Baraka, e.e. cummings, Langston Hughes, and Willem de Kooning lauded Herriman’s work, and his peers described him as “a cartoonist’s cartoonist.” The 1971 discovery of a New Orleans birth certificate that identified Herriman as “colored” threw fans, friends, and scholars for a loop, inciting many questions, chief among them: was he of African descent, and when did he become aware of his ancestry?
Tisserand hints that Herriman did know and even that he possibly knew his whole life, but he chooses instead to focus Krazy on “how Herriman imagined himself” and if Herriman’s self-image informed the content and style of his comics, particularly Krazy Kat. With that choice, Tisserand decenters whiteness and the pseudosciences used to prop it up without pretending that they aren’t key characters in Herriman’s life, thus humanizing Herriman as a prolific though sometimes indecisive artist with deep-seated insecurities without condemning him as a tragic mulatto.
In 1890, ten-year old Herriman, his parents, and two younger siblings climbed aboard a westbound train departing from New Orleans to the “frontier town” of Los Angeles. As Tisserand explains, the Herriman family had belonged to a class of property- and business-owning, educated, civically-engaged free people of mixed African and European ancestry. Afro-Creoles had flourished in downtown New Orleans afforded their mobility by the retention of Spanish and French colonial norms that the Anglo-Americans across Canal Street couldn’t erase after taking power following the Louisiana Purchase. After Emancipation, things shifted. Jim Crow loomed, and regardless of proximity to whiteness as signified by color, class, or education, if you were known to have any African blood, you were part of “the Negro question” – what to do with all the free Africans?.
While southern and northern whites experimented with answers, New Orleans Creoles were asking a questions of their own: who am I and what is my relationship to the color line? Many embraced the dichotomy and committed to using their resources to advocate for the emancipated and the manumitted alike, yet but others sought to determine that relationship for themselves. They, striking struck out for new homes, places where unfamiliarity with racial mixing would allow their ambiguity to go un-othered.
Having sided withChoosing the latter, the Herrimans, huddled in an emigrant car, were on their way to bound for Los Angeles and a new life of to passing.
The Herrimans did fairly well for themselves therein their adopted home, Tisserand recounts. Herriman’s father, George Jr., began working at a local tailor shop and eventually bought a house, and his mother, Clara, gave birth to two more children. George thrived academically at the Catholic boys’ school he attended – taking special interest in literature and language, which wouldaffinities later be reflected in his comics.
By 20, Herriman had made it to New York City, although how exactly he got there would become a running joke among his friends. Herriman “knocked on the doors of the great metropolitan dailies, but they found his work too bizarre to publish.” William Joseph Hearst hired him a year after his arrival to draw for the New York Evening Journal, providing a $10 weekly salary which was raised to $15 after two months.
Tisserand writes, “From the start, Herriman’s comics jumbled high and low culture, citing Greek historian Xenophone, the Latin book Viri Romae, and the Macedonian general Parmenion, as well as trafficking in stock ethnic caricatures such as Chinese launderers and coin-pinching Jews.” His editor abruptly fired him, but the professional lull didn’t last long. Cartoonists familiar with Herriman’s work recommended him for freelance gigs. His comics were well-received, but he knew that “the real ticket to success was a continuing character.” It took him 14 years to find that ticket.
Citing the memories of Herriman’s own friends, Tisserand admits that Herriman was a difficult person to get to know. Herriman The cartoonist didn’t communicate much outside of his art, perhaps because of his family secrets. His letters contain little more than pleasantries. Though he developed close relationships with his colleagues, their descriptions of him don’t seem to go beyond superficial comments on his demeanor, kinky hair, and creative genius. In Tisserand’s hands, Herriman, characterized by his inability to be characterized, is ultimately overpowered by an exhaustively detailed backdrop, a dizzying number of names and dates that make a commitment to Krazy difficult. This hardly signals a failure on Tisserand’s part – a definitive text is a hard thing to write and all the more so when you’re looking to an oeuvre that spans 40 years for clues about an artist’s hidden identity.
At ten-years old, Herriman had made a life-long commitment to becoming white, a process that could never quite be completed, the consequences of which he could not have understood or predicted. Herriman’s great triumph, though, was not coming into professional and economic success on the other side of the color line or keeping his secret once he did. Herriman found and maintained his creative voice - absurd, worldly, and self-aware. A voice that, Krazy testifies, could only have come into existence as a result of the identity politics he’d had to navigate.
More than 15,000 miles of pipelines snake through the state of Louisiana, so many that if you didn't know where to look you wouldn't be able to spot it in the above diagram. Daily, pipelines push millions of gallons of crude oil, petrochemicals, and other shit through an underground network that connects refineries, terminals, and plants all over the country. Refineries process crude oil and some break it down into petrochemicals. Terminals store them along the route. Chemical plants transform them into other things like vinyl chloride and the like.
Throughout this process, refineries and plants dump the byproducts into adjacent waterways and release all kindsa toxins into the air. They erase the often black land-owning communities that surround them by slow violence and/or eventually buying their land at prices that do not reflect the pre-pollution value or the cost of resettlement.
Even when the displaced are able to relocate somewhat comfortably, dioxins produced by industrial sites (at which they used to and next to which they lived) resist metabolism, storing themselves inside fat cells for years. They can move to 1492 and still end up developing chemical diabetes or giving birth to a child without a brain.
No branch of our checked and balanced government is about to lift a finger.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which supposedly works "for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people," actually does close to nothing. The EPA requires that refineries and plants self-report pollution and frequently sides with them when communities present research-backed complaints. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate pipelines, requires that pipeline operators notify the commission of the location of the pipeline within (for Louisiana) a 500 foot margin of error that they do not verify. For some pipelines, FERC doesn't even have records of who the operator is. This is a huge issue for emergency responders looking to repair any pipeline accidents.
Cases for environmental justice that have reached the Supreme Court on the basis of Civil Rights legislation (that historical fools gold that makes people think we're progressing) have been lost because, regardless of the harm caused, it cannot be proven that it was the intention of the corporation to cause harm specifically to a "minority" community.
Meanwhile, the white-dominated environmental movement willfully overlooks the ways in which communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the presence of the petrochemical industry, choosing instead to focus on wetlands and wildlife. Oil-covered pelicans and dying trees. Not because environmental racism isn't real but because it doesn't get you much funding (and therefore, doesn't keep those invested in the non-profit industrial complex employed).
Regardless of the urgency and proximity of environmental racism, it doesn't seem to have become fashionable to discuss it among young black activists in New Orleans yet. Which I hypothesize is because, for the vast majority of them, their connection to the Gulf Coast is about as shallow as a three foot-deep pipeline (which is very shallow, and yes, pipelines do be as little as three feet under, son). They did, however, have a protest in solidarity with Standing Rock. Which I mean... would be cool if, you know, given Louisiana's significance in the pipeline narrative, it was grounded in the material realities of the place where they live.
As a woman of both African and indigenous descent whose people been on this coast since been, whose ancestors is them fossils we use for fuel, I air my grievances.
Whether the indigenous occupants of any portion of U.S.-colonized land signed a treaty for tribal sovereignty or not, this here whole Turtle Island is sacred land. To prioritize the impact that industrial infrastructure has on people in a distant region without connecting their resistance to the place in which you breathe, eat, and drink water - that, in the case of Louisiana, happens to also be the source of and much more greatly impacted by the issue - is not solidarity. It's evidence that you don't know or care about where you live. Or you think a white man's signature on a piece of paper makes their claim to the right to preserve the health of and to live on the portion of their ancestral land to which the government has confined them more valid than ours. Or you really just want visibility by association with a popular issue. Or some combination of the three.
It's evidence that your activism is as entrenched in a fragmented understanding of ecology as the capitalism of the pipeline supporters.
There isn't an item at a protest aside from the bodies themselves (and, really, even that depends on what topical body products, medications, and foods the protesters consume) that doesn't require pipelines and petrochemicals for production - not to mention the transportation of manufactured goods by some combination of plane, ship, or cargo truck, which run on gas and pollute air and waterways.
The aesthetics of the modern protest are deeply rooted in imperialism and the domestic colonization of peoples of African and indigenous descent. Until organizers understand their complicity in the ecological violence perpetrated against black and indigenous populations among whom they live and strategize ways of organizing that minimize damage to the land that grows our food, to the water we consume, and to the air we breathe, "solidarity with Standing Rock" ain't nothing but a catch phrase.
Fun facts and petty statements that I couldn't fit in the essay:
(1) A certain facebook page by New Orleans organizers about Standing Rock erroneously claims that the origin of the term "maroon" (as seen in the name of this here blog) is the mixing of black (African) and red (Native American). But... African and indigenous American relationships predate the European colonization of the New World through which "black" and "red" identifiers became a thing. Blackness and redness weren't widespread concepts when Africans and the indigenous peoples of the Americas began entering into clandestine relationships to subvert captivity and labor exploitation. Just... no.
(2) Can we stop playing like our word-is-bond, indigenous asses ever really believed in a written treaty or expected the American government to honor one?
(3) I'm really looking forward to the day when folks stop trying to impose northern organizing strategies on a community that clearly doesn't respond to them.
(4) Supply and demand. It really is that simple. Before you start that GoFundMe campaign to finance your road trip to North Dakota, ask yourself: Am I doing more for the cause and/or the earth by seeking to be on the ground even though, to get there, I will be creating demand for the products that necessitate pipelines both in the place I'm going and the place from which I come?
Thank you for joining me on this journey. Now let's massage our sixth chakra together and envision a world in which we are unified by deeper analysis. Woosah, my nigga. Woosah.
I return home from Whole Foods and a group of at least seven middle-age white Airbnb guests are sitting on the porch next door laughing, drinking beer, a cluster of bikes slumped against the wooden post nearby. Cute, a group bike ride. One bike, however, leans across the stairs to my house (well, my friends' house that I'm house-sitting but still...).
I don't see the bike as I'm parking, but I do see them all staring at me as I park. I wonder if they stare because they think I don't belong in the successfully-gentrified neighborhood of Treme (where I spent every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon/evening at my father's business before a man-made disaster destroyed it; where my father still owns property that he exhausted his savings and his senior citizen-self repairing after said disaster and now rents, like a decent human being, to New Orleans residents and not tourists) or because they assume I'm going to the house where the RBG and Haitian flags fly to which one of their bikes is blocking access.
I get my groceries out and, with hands full, approach the house. They all continue to watch me.
"Can the owner of this bike please move it?" I ask, more politely than I needed to. I'll judge myself for that later.
No response. Stares.
I repeat the question, more loudly, less politely.
Silence. I imagine myself sitting my grocery bags down and rolling that bitch into the middle of Kerlerec Street. But I'm tired. I'm carrying three grocery bags, an unnaturally heavy purse (didn't I just clean this thing out yesterday?), and an eighth generation Louisianian fetus. I can only muster up enough energy to lift my right, suede booty-covered foot to its rear tire and, lightly tapping my toe to the rubber, kick it over.
With a very gratifying clank, the bike hits the cement. I step over it, climb the steps, look back, and possessed by the spirit of black mothers the world o'er, declare, "It better not be here next time I look out this window."
According to proponents of whole-house rentals, the presence of white people, tourists included, stabilizes historically Black communities.
This is NOLA. Y'all can have it.
New Orleans is an idea I carry in my blood wherever I go.
From the edificio's fourth-story ledge from which Wifredo's one-and-a-half-year old brother fatally fell 19 years ago, Zora can see the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Tia Deisy, Wifredo's tia abuela, worked there from 1952 to 1959. Fifteen-years old when she started, a negra de pelo with green eyes and culo apolulu (a fat azz), everyday she'd walk 13 or 14 kilometers to catch a boat to the Base where she watched the naval officers' children. One night, as she was leaving, they accused her of theft, and though she denied it, their hands searched between her legs and inside her blouse for something they knew they wouldn't find. She doesn't describe it as sexual assault, but she never went back.
Tia Deisy still has pictures of the American children in a latch-less tool box amongst wedding, baby, and school pictures of her children, grandchild, nieces, and nephews. Much like Zora's grandmother, who keeps pictures of the children for whom she had worked as a post-slavery mammy atop the upright piano and on the coffee table in her living room in Fairhope, Alabama. Neither of them has seen or corresponded with the aforementioned white children since they stopped working in their houses - Zora has asked.
Zora Neale Hurston sat, so-called Indian-style, on the edge of the bed scratching dried semen from the inside of her right thigh. In the periphery of her vision, an ant crossed a wrinkle in the cream-colored sheet that covered her lover. She considered picking it up and placing it on the poorly tiled floor but it was a lost cause. Nature had crept in through the cracks where the floor didn't quite meet the cement wall and crawled straight into their bed. Well, Tia Vilma's bed that they had occupied for two weeks and were due to occupy for another two.
In three months, said lover, an Afro-Chinese Cuban guajiro with a pierced penis (mid-shaft; called a perla), will marry a 45-year old white American middle school teacher from small town Kansas and relocate to the US. Meanwhile, Zora will turn 24, enter her second trimester of pregnancy, and, hopefully, finish paying off a four-year old credit card debt.
Dorothy called an hour ago, a few minutes after they'd finished making love or whatever (Zora's never been completely comfortable with that phrase), as Wifredo Lam was telling Zora how satisfied he was, how happy, how much he loved her. Unlike Ashanti, he is always there when she calls. Zora, who has 36 unheard voicemails that she plans neither to listen to nor to delete, wonders if it's his lack of familiarity with modern technology that makes him so available or his fear of jeopardizing his chance to leave Cuba.
Que país! he says when se va el corriente. Does he think the electricity never goes out in Yuma?
He hasn't seen Wizard of Oz. Whats the opposite of "we're not in Kansas anymore"? We're still in Kansas? We'll always be in Kansas? We never were in Kansas? The only thing I know about Kansas is that there's a city in Missouri named after it. And, I think, Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" was set there.
If you know of a better way to say "they laid intertwined" please let me know because it's easy and overused... But that's what they did - Zora and Wifredo. In the middle of a Cuban mattress, old, khaki, covered in indecipherable stains. Inclined towards the middle where years of use had collapsed the springs. This mattress had experienced the Periodo Especial.
Wifredo placed the phone in between them. Zora laughed at Dorothy's broken Spanish - the 30 seconds it took her to complete each clause, how she expressed every word as if it were a question. Some 45-year old woman, she thought, so indecisive with language. But then Dorothy ask-states that she's sending her paperwork for their marriage to the Cuban embassy tomorrow.
Wifredo wished Dorothy good luck with all the gusto of a man who has to watch porn while inside of his soon-to-be wife in order to maintain an erection. Zora played it cool for the embryo's sake. Nobody wants to emotionally damage a quarter-of-an-inch lump of cells that's just developing ears.
"The head carries the body. Use yours." - Ifa text
Two years ago, my cousin shot herself in the head in the driver seat of her white toyota corrolla. Earlier that morning, my father later told me, she'd asked her mother, my aunt Debbie, to talk, but Aunt Debbie was running late to the meeting for field service and said they could talk when she got home. Having spent a few hours going door-to-door to share "the good news of the kingdom," she returned, parking next to and obliviously walking past the car where her daughter's lifeless body lay slumped over the console.
When Aunt Debbie couldn't find Christian in the house, she waited and called, called and waited. She trotted back out to her car with a slight, post-hip surgery limp, whether to meet with the afternoon service group or to continue her search I don't know, and that's when she saw.
I'd last seen Christian at our cousin Erica's wedding in L.A. We sat outside the reception hall as she regaled 16-year old me with tales of her sexual exploits, how she'd had a threesome with two guys, how she'd been fingered in a New York City cab on a trip to Bethel. I asked her if she would ever confess to the elders. She responded with an emphatic "hell no" and then asked me. "I don't know. Maybe."
It's weird seeing pictures of yourself in a funeral program. A five-year old flower girl at her oldest sister's wedding standing in between her cousin whose funeral it is and their grandmother who refuses to say the word "suicide." She prefers to refer to Christian's manera de morir as "a thing like that," but at least she's talking to me. Mama Helen's 95. I won't see her again before she dies unless someone else dies first. Update: Monica died, but I was in Los Angeles for a conference and couldn't make it to the funeral in Mobile.
I emailed my dad a few weeks ago. We hadn't spoken in a month, which, for us, isn't that long of a period, but I know it's important to my parents to know my whereabouts. I'm working on being more compassionate. "I'm Alive" I typed in the subject line. He replied, "It's good to know that you are physically alive." The subtext being that I'm spiritually dead.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the congregation at Corinth that "Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and the head of Christ is God."
Daddy says that my independence is my god. I pray regularly.