The Turf Chick

Poetry Month Spotlight

The Turf Chick

Some said I was the female Pac, Some said I was the female Biggie, some said I was the female Rick, and some said rappers can’t mess with me

–The Turf Chick, Untitled

I get up every day with a new goal on my mind, the same frown and the same broken spirit from doors opening and shutting right before my eyes. It feels like I’m working overtime. Overtime with no pay.

Some days I just want to give up and live a regular life, you know? Go to work, pay rent, and enjoy the rest of my funds doing the things that excite me.

But no. I was given the gift of song, and no matter how much I try to be normal, my soul releases words that move the world!

Music is the only reason I am still alive. You get me? Being a homosexual and a woman and, I may sound cocky, but extremely talented — better than some who are very well established — it’s hard! It’s hard to prove a point. It’s easy to make you listen, but when men see me they realize I’m good for nothing because they can’t get anything out of me in exchange for a deal.

Sometimes I hate being a woman. You can tell, right? Sometimes I wish I wasn’t used as a sex symbol, used to get the things I work so hard for in life. Coming up in the music industry is tough, because you have to have the mind of shark and the heart of a beast! But the soul of pure woman. Give yourself away or work harder with the same amount a faith after every door has been slammed in your face for being a woman in the music industry.

Honestly at this point I don’t wonder when I’m going to make it or when I’m going to finally get through that door… All I want to know is, when are people actually going to listen. Before they look.

On 2229

When everything was all alright, and momma held my head when I cried on 2229, I watched my brother come in and out of jail thinking how he get that phone in his cell.

On 2229

–The Turf Chick, “2229“

The realest people crossed me and now they’re fake as ever so I’m ready for whatever

–The Turf Chick, “Whateva”

I never knew my day ones, wasn’t really there for me, they wanted my dream and everything that came with it, all us eating living life was the plan for me.

–The Turf Chick, “FearFull”

About The Turf Chick

Local rising star Gabrielle Gilbert, who goes by the stage name of “The Turf Chick,” was born in East Palo Alto and raised in Sacramento since age eleven. In the beginning, Gabrielle Gilbert, with the childhood nickname “Gi-Gi” performed for her brothers, sisters, and cousins. When she was only thirteen years old, she made her first recording at a friend’s studio in South Sacramento, rapping “I GO.” From then, Gi-Gi became “The Turf Chick,” writing and rapping messages of hope, street life, and personal struggles. Inspired by music icons Lil Kim, Messy Marv, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Eve, Gabriel says her fans best describe her music as “urban and underground hip-hop with a mix of hard-core bursting lyrics.” The Turf Chick was the only solo hip hop performer at the 2007 Hub Choice Awards in Sacramento, performing in front of nearly 1,200 people.

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National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month 2016

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.

The Exene Chronicles Is a Beautiful, Brutal Glimpse into 80s Punk Culture

"The Exene Chronicles" Is a Beautiful, Brutal Glimpse into 80s Punk Culture

When I initially read the synopsis of Camille A. Collins’s book, The Exene Chronicles, part of me expected a novel written as a series of letters and poems.

Part of me expected an angsty, maybe slightly melodramatic book about a young Black female punk rock fan writing letters and poems to the lead singer of her favorite band. Instead, I got something more genuine and relatable.

At the center of The Exene Chronicles is Lia, a fourteen year old Black punk fan in the 1980’s living in Coronado, a San Diego suburb. As one of the few Black kids in the area and at school, she befriends Ryan, a white girl her age acting rebellious and grown up to cope with unwanted sexual advances for her pubescent body. When Ryan disappears, Lia uses the punk rock singer Exene Cervenka as a guide to cope with what happened, what led to Ryan’s disappearance, and Lia’s falling out with Ryan.

One notable aspect of the book is the depiction of the joy and tumult that Lia deals with as a Black punk fan. On the one hand, seeing Lia become enraptured with Exene and punk rock through listening to CDs and viewing the 1981 punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization is enjoyable and relatable. During these moments, Lia reminded me of my teenaged self in the early 00’s discovering alternative rock bands Linkin Park and Evanescence through CDs and YouTube.

Although we lived in different decades and listened to different rock subgenres, I really related to Lia’s feeling of alienation and frustration and how punk rock became the catalyst for her to express herself and feel better about her life. Some particularly memorable thoughts Lia (and Ryan) have about Exene is expressed in the following: “And as much as they admired Exene, watching it all unfold bolstered their perception of themselves also, and made them, for a moment, feel fearless — of every place they’d been and wherever it was they were going.”

On the other hand, Lia also experiences racism, not just in the punk rock scene but also in her daily life. Some of the racism is overt, with Lia being called the “n-word” by white people during certain interactions. As a Black reader, I did find these scenes stinging me a bit, especially during one particularly harrowing scene involving Lia encountering Nazi skinhead youth. Other times, the racism is more subtle, Ryan making race “jokes” and Ryan’s mother thinking “Lia should’ve been the one abducted because Black people are used to suffering.”

Skillfully intertwined with racism is a critique of America’s glamorous white middle class standards, toxic masculinity, and sexual assault and harassment. These issues are depicted not only through Ryan and Lia, but also through secondary characters such as Ryan’s younger brother Jeff and the predatory young half-Mexican man, Neil. The book’s point of view alternates between the main characters and the secondary characters, providing a multi-faceted look at some of the ugliest aspects of the American ideal.

Despite the seriousness of the book, Collins manages to add some beauty in the story with lyrical turns of phrase. This writing style was especially notable when reading from Lia’s point of view, displaying her dreamy side. Notable examples of this include, “Many of the songs began in a flurry, the gates open on a racetrack and the horses fly! Played fast and ending abruptly with the slam of a door that gives finality to an argument, the notes standing on tiptoe.”

All in all, this book is a beautiful, brutal glimpse of 80’s punk culture. Lia is a young, alienated Black female punk fan who must navigate a sea of whiteness and racism to define herself on her own terms. Through the highs and lows of punk rock music, Lia’s story of eventual liberation from confining standards inspires all.

The Afro YA promotes black young adult authors and YA books with black characters, especially those that influence Pennington, an aspiring YA author who believes that black YA readers need diverse books, creators, and stories so that they don’t have to search for their experiences like she did.

Latonya Pennington is a poet and freelance pop culture critic. Their freelance work can also be found at PRIDE, Wear Your Voice magazine, and Black Sci-fi. As a poet, they have been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, Scribes of Nyota, and Argot magazine among others.

Top photo by cottonbro

Learning How to Say My Name

Throughout my life various songs, books, and films have been crucial in teaching me how to name myself.

At ten years old, in the last singing competition I ever lost, Whitney’s “Greatest Love Of All” challenged me to find my voice, to cultivate range, and to love myself through the early hardships of childhood abuse and primary school bullying. Through reading Maya’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and watching the live action blockbuster adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple I was able to identify my traumas, to know that I have never been alone, and to seek out my kin who would facilitate my—and our collective—healing. Between Tracy Chapman’s rich timbre and searing vulnerability in “Be Careful Of My Heart” and the vibrant and flagrant descriptions of Jamaica in Fiona Zedde’s Bliss I learned that my experiences of black queer love were too pure and delicious to ever be prayed away. Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues taught me the name of my gender and Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater has compelled me to learn what it is called in my mother tongue.

Beautiful

I was ten years old when I lost my first singing competition. I befriended the girl who won by singing a song I hadn’t heard until then. Because of how beautiful the song was, and because I was keen on learning how to win, I learned the song. I was both terrified and impressed by the song and the enormity of Whitney Houston’s voice. I listened to it repeatedly, overcome by the visceral shifts I experienced with each listen.

“I believe the children are our future

teach them well

and let them lead the way

show them all the beauty they possess inside.”

— Whitney Houston, “Greatest Love of All”

Whitney’s declarations about believing the children are the future made me believe there was a safer world out there for children like me. A world in which adults treated—and taught—us well and showed us all the beauty we possess inside. “Greatest Love of All” initiated the first instance in which I considered that I may be beautiful. I was ten years old and that was the first time a song made me cry. I learned to sing that song well. And when other people heard me sing it, they cried too. I learned that my voice was an instrument I could utilize to make people see my beauty, and thus treat me with even momentary kindness.

“Learning to love yourself

it is the greatest love of all.”

— Whitney Houston, “Greatest Love of All”

No one at that stage in my life had taught me that loving myself was something I could—let alone should—do. Many people who were meant to love me hurt me. Despite the many instances of abuse and pervasive bullying at school I was subjected to, Whitney taught me that I was beautiful and worthy of love, not just the love of the people around me, but also my own.

Survivor

At the age of nineteen I realized that I had endured near-constant violence for the entirety of my life and that my body didn’t feel like it wholly belonged to me. I was in a relationship with a girl who hated me but sometimes bought me thoughtful gifts. During one of our anniversaries and following one of many stormy fights she bought me a copy of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. At that point in my life, I developed the language to understand some of the things that were done to me as a child. I knew that I was a rape and molestation survivor and I recognized that that girlfriend and my first had crossed consent boundaries with me, but I struggled to name their harm as what it was.

“He held me so softly that I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go. I felt at home.”

— Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Through this sentence, in which Maya describes how her violator made her feel, I came to understand a crucial lesson about surviving intimate violence. Violators sometimes came in the form of people you trusted. This is a part of their violence: giving you a false sense of safety so that the harm they perpetuate against you feels less severe. And so that you—and not them—carry the residual shame. Maya’s vulnerability in writing about this particular element of surviving intimate violence helped me learn to start shedding my shame.

I internalized the value in Maya’s vulnerability and started telling my story and naming the various kinds of harm I had survived. This not only helped me release my shame but also resulted in me cultivating a makeshift virtual community of fellow survivors.

I internalized the value in Maya’s vulnerability and started telling my story and naming the various kinds of harm I had survived.

There is a scene in the blockbuster adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple that introduced me to reflections of myself which shifted my relationship with my survivorship. The long-suffering Celie—portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg—watches in awe as her new and eccentric friend, Shug Avery—played by the legendary Margaret Avery—enchants a crowded underground bar with a sultry blues performance.

In each woman I see parts of myself: Celie, the trauma-afflicted, perpetually dissociating survivor-victim who didn’t know that sex was meant to be consensual and mutually satisfying until she met her new ally. And the mostly triumphant survivor, Shug who—while bearing her own scars from intimate violence—has reclaimed enough of her power and sense of sacredness to facilitate the healing and ultimate freedom of her friend. Although I was—and in many ways still am—far from the almost hedonistic and decadent free-ness embodied by Shug, she was a powerful possibility model for what a healed me could look like. And in addition to showing me who I could be, Shug’s relationship with Celie reinforced the importance and possibility of collective empathy and healing.

Pure

Years before my first queer relationship I prayed that my mother’s God would rid me of my sinful attraction to women. When I was twenty, after—and during—at least three mostly disastrous queer relationships and dozens of casual encounters I found myself truly in love for the first time. Friends had introduced me to the African American, Cleveland-born folk singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman. The rich timbre of her voice and the simplicity and searing vulnerability in her music opened me up in ways I hadn’t imagined possible.

“You and your sweet smile,

You and all, your tantalizing ways.

You and your honey lips,

You and all; the sweet things that they say.”

— Tracy Chapman, “Be Careful of My Heart”

It took me a very short amount of time to collect almost her entire discography and watch damn near every YouTube video there was of her performances. She occupied my mind and senses in ways no one else had before—or since.

When I read Fiona Zedde’s Bliss that same year, I was smitten—not only with the gorgeously depicted Jamaican backdrop or the beauty of the first black lesbian love story I’d ever read, but with one of the protagonists, Hunter. Fiona described her in a way that—in my mind—conjured a very vivid picture of my sweet Tracy. I was so convinced of this likeness that I contacted the author about it.

I was smitten—not only with the gorgeously depicted Jamaican backdrop or the beauty of the first black lesbian love story I’d ever read, but with one of the protagonists, Hunter.

“Dear Fiona,” I wrote excitedly, “I can’t get this out of my head, but Hunter in Bliss looks just like Tracy Chapman to me, and that’s made this beautiful book that much more enjoyable for me.” She graciously wrote back to say she totally saw Hunter as a “young, late 90s Tracy” and we talked wistfully about the book being adapted into a film some day.

From then on, Fiona’s Hunter was my Tracy and my Tracy was Fiona’s Hunter. I kept the book for much longer than the two-week period stipulated by the queer library I volunteered at. And I read it so many times with my love’s voice as the soundtrack that it is impossible for me to listen to Be Careful of My Heart without visions of Bliss Sinclair leaving America after a torrid affair ends in mild heartbreak only to wind up in a delicious but complicated love affair in her birth country.

The fullness of my heart from marrying that story and song in my mind forever convinced me that black queer loving and desire were things too pure to ever be prayed away.

Worthy

I’d been alive twenty-one years before I learned the name of my gender. I picked up a copy of Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, excited to indulge in a story about stone butch lesbian women and the pre-Stonewall bar scene. And while that brilliant book delivered on its promise of giving in depth insight into the emerging LGBT(QIA+) rights movement—it also served an immensely special and pivotal purpose.

I felt my whole life coming full circle. Growing up so different, coming out as a butch, passing as a man, and then back to the same question that had shaped my life: woman or man?”

— Leslie Feinberg (Jess Goldberg), Stone Butch Blues

It taught me—through a stunning depiction of Jess Goldberg’s painful journey towards embracing queerness, finding community, and being forced to pass as a man to secure employment and the simultaneously isolating and liberating experience of determining their gender beyond the binary—that I too, was non-binary.

While Leslie never uses this term to describe Jess’s gender journey, that book—and subsequent internet research into who Leslie was—was the catalyst in me understanding who I was. And while the language I eventually acquired—pronouns that fit snugly and gender names (agender, genderqueer) that felt like cozy favorite jackets—brought me a bigger sense of self than anything else pertaining to my identity, there was a niggling discomfort in the back of my mind.

While the language I eventually acquired… brought me a bigger sense of self than anything else pertaining to my identity, there was a niggling discomfort in the back of my mind.

Everything about this identity seemed firmly rooted in a Western context. And while I couldn’t deny my distinctly Western outlook on the world, despite being a black person who had only ever lived in South Africa, I felt a quiet yearning to know who I was within the context of my ethnicities.

It’s Akwaeke Emezi’s breathtaking debut novel Freshwater that almost grants me permission to seek the context of who I am in accordance to my ethnicity and lineage. Emezi daringly carries their queerness, trans-ness, non-binary-ness, and neuro-divergence and places them firmly at the center of Igbo Ontology and themself in the holy yet precarious position of straddling two worlds.

“The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.”

— Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater

Emezi’s work teaches me that my names—the ones I have learned, and those which I have yet to discover—have always been sacred. That the stories that introduced me and led me back to myself did so to reinforce my innate worthiness of an affirmed and hallowed existence.

Top photo: “Tracy Chapman 2” by Hans Hillewaert on Wikimedia Commons

Pigeonholed

Rihanna released the widely anticipated video for the Drake-assisted “Work” last month, the first single off her eighth studio album, Anti. Not only were we lucky enough to receive two separate clips in a single sitting, but the Barbadian singer graciously took us into a steamy night of Caribbean-tinged twerking and whining (two dances that she executes quite well).

While the catchiness of “Work” is irrefutable and Rihanna yet again showed us her vocal versatility, her sexuality as a black woman—not her undeniable talent or almost magical pop star staying power—is at the forefront of discussion surrounding the song. In fact, anytime a black female pop star shows conceptual complexity, it is almost inevitable that mainstream criticism will soon follow. Publications and outlets balk at the idea that black women can be multifaceted—and Rihanna’s latest visuals are just the tip of the iceberg.

Anytime a black female pop star shows conceptual complexity, it is almost inevitable that mainstream criticism will soon follow. Publications and outlets balk at the idea that black women can be multifaceted.

At twenty-eight years of age, Rihanna has literally grown up right before the world’s eyes. She signed her record deal with Def Jam when she was just sixteen. Over the course of her career, she has publicly dealt with financial troubles, family turmoil, and high-profile relationships. Despite all of her setbacks, she has remained fearless when it comes to artistic reinvention and uses her music videos to convey the power of her brand and agency.

Considering the history of black women in this country, to say that Rihanna shows resilience and confidence as she navigates the music industry would be a vast understatement. It is groundbreaking to watch her become so successful by disregarding what society deems acceptable and by following her own creative impulses.

Considering the history of black women in this country, to say that Rihanna shows resilience and confidence as she navigates the music industry would be a vast understatement.

All too often, this particular narrative surrounding her career is ignored in favor of focusing in on one single aspect of her life, regardless of how irrelevant it is to her artistry. As a survivor of domestic violence, her personal life is often used to frame her every musical move; others view her as a sexual object whose sole purpose is to perpetuate male hedonism. Her cultural roots make her an exotic entity to some, and her current stint as creative director at PUMA left naysayers wondering what her credentials are when it comes to designing fashion. While her contemporaries are also subjected to unwarranted scrutiny, the words used to describe Rihanna and her professional endeavors are always harsher and often contain racist undertones.

Why is it so hard to believe that black women can occupy such visible spaces while being multidimensional?

This question has never been more prevalent than when Beyonce recently released the video for her latest song “Formation.” A departure from her signature universal love ballads and boisterous club anthems, the single celebrates her black roots while addressing police brutality and promoting sisterhood. Her Black Panther tribute at this year’s Super Bowl cemented the predictable backlash centering on Bey’s “newfound” political awareness, and a bevy of ridiculous questions and critiques soon followed: Is Beyonce now anti-police? How could a light-skinned, blond black woman be pro-black? Doesn’t her being rich make the likelihood of Beyonce experiencing racism obsolete?

Once she used her platform to voice what matters in the black community—and step outside of the comfort zones of her listeners—the adverse reactions became inevitable.

Once Beyonce used her platform to voice what matters in the black community—and step outside of the comfort zones of her listeners—the adverse reactions became inevitable.

Nicki Minaj is another talented black female musician in the limelight who is often forced to justify her sexuality, outspokenness, and drive in a genre dominated by men. Her gritty and brilliant delivery of bars is frequently juxtaposed by her choice to treat sensitive subject matter, yet her creativity and proliferation in hip hop is overshadowed by her body type and how she chooses to showcase it. Minaj is aware of the controversy surrounding her career and has stated that young women can dance and dress as provocatively as they want yet still be well educated—though society encourages us (read: black women) to choose between the two.

And earlier this year, former video vixen and model Amber Rose had to explain—in the most elementary of ways—to two grown men on a naturally syndicated television show that just because she used to be a stripper and has dated famous men doesn’t mean that she wants to be viewed as a sexual object. She is a mother, a feminist, and an author—but that seems to be lost to the mainstream, which has written her off as they see fit. Will black women ever be embraced as the complex, talented, and fascinating beings we are?

Despite the strides made by the aforementioned celebrities, the lens used to view black women in pop music and culture is dangerously narrow. What is even more disheartening is that for many, perception equals reality.

The depiction of black women over hundreds of years has been nothing short of an assemblage of conflictions. We are regarded as hypersexualized yet undesirable, simplistic but routinely analyzed, and renowned while being innately feared. While many look to pop culture to clarify, exacerbate, or extinguish these tired tropes, we are led to believe that we somehow bear the burden of disproving both historical and generational stereotypes.

However, black women are not responsible for the ignorant assumptions surrounding how we talk, what we wear, how we dance, who we date, and ultimately who we are. There was a time in this country when our bodies were sold, then literally caged and put on display. It wasn’t that long ago that there were laws concocted to remind black people of the disdain America had for us. The criticism that black women in the music industry face today is also a reminder of this contempt, although it is guised as harmless commentary instead of as thinly veiled racism.

The burden is not on Rihanna or Beyonce or Nicki or Amber to prove they can embody various principles and ideologies—it is on society to cultivate and continually harbor safe spaces for their complexities to exist in the first place.

The burden is not on Rihanna or Beyonce or Nicki or Amber to prove they can embody various principles and ideologies—it is on society to cultivate and continually harbor safe spaces for their complexities to exist in the first place.

top photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash

Shadowshaper, Art, and Reclamation

Shadowshaper, Art, and Reclamation

As a poet and lover of music, fiction, and other creative media, I’ve always considered art to be magical.

There is something fantastic about how a poem or a song goes from the creator to another person and makes them connect to things. In Daniel José Older’s urban fantasy Shadowshaper, Sierra Santiago uses art to reclaim her magical heritage and strengthen her community.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, Sierra Santiago is an Afro-Latina teenager who just wants to enjoy her summer vacation with her friends. When she notices a neighborhood mural fading and the expression of the subject growing sad and angry, she is urged to finish her own mural by Manny, a friend of her grandfather Lazáro. Then, a walking corpse of a neighborhood man crashes a summer party and Sierra is thrust into the magical world of the shadowshapers. In order to protect her loved ones, Sierra must uncover the shadowshapers’ connection to her family and become a shadowshaper herself.

As an urban fantasy book, the real world manages to feel just as wonderful as the magical world. This is mainly due to the wonderful cast of characters that make up the people in Sierra’s life and the personal backgrounds that they come from. Two of my personal favorite characters were Tee and Izzy, lesbian girlfriends that were funny and loyal. Other favorites included Sierra’s Uncle Neville and Sierra’s intelligent, fashion opposite friend Bennie.

Besides their personalities, each character has a way of speaking that feels magical. One bit of dialogue that caught my attention features a back-and-forth between a group of domino-playing older gentlemen that were friends of Sierra’s grandpa Lazáro. In chapter six, Sierra pays them a visit and hears the following:

“Trouble at school, Sierra?” asked Mr. Jean-Louise. “Public school is a cesspool of poisonous bile.”

Manny threw his hands up, “¡Cállate, viejo!The child needs her education. Don’t ruin it for her just because you dropped out of kindergarten.”

Since the characters have strong ties to each other and their neighborhood, having the magical world of shadowshaping just underneath it makes them even more memorable. Shadowshaping involves giving spirits of departed loved ones and ancestors a physical form by fusing them with art. For Sierra and the other shadowshapers she encounters, the art is mainly visual, but shadowshaping can also be done through other creative means such as storytelling. The purpose of shadowshaping is to remember those who have come before and recently passed, preserving the past and present for the future generations.

In the real world, we already use art to remember and pass on the memories, traditions, and cultures of departed loved ones. Murals painted around cities become memorials and certain songs are sung, listened to, and written in tribute. However, Shadowshaper takes these things a step further by using the magic of shadowshaping to fight back against forces that try to eradicate an entire heritage. Protagonist Sierra Santiago must learn not only about shadowshaping, but also to stand up for the neighborhood and the culture that makes her who she is.

At the same time that the shadowshapers are being eradicated, Sierra’s multi-cultural neighborhood is experiencing gentrification. Places that Sierra and her friends used to go to are being transformed into establishments for white, middle class consumers. When the book opens, Sierra is in the middle of painting a mural on a building known as The Tower, a large-scale incomplete building that looms over the junklot where Manny and his friends play dominos. It is later revealed that Manny has a connection to the shadowshapers and that Sierra painting the mural was his way of trying to protect the neighborhood and the remaining shadowshapers.

Not only is Sierra fighting a battle within her own neighborhood, but she is also fighting an internal battle as well. Although she is confident in herself, there are times that she doesn’t feel she is enough of an Afro-Latina girl. Tía Rosa, her aunt, makes comments that contain anti-blackness and colorism (i.e. discrimination based on how light or dark one’s skin tone is). She says that Sierra’s friend Robbie is too dark and that Sierra’s hair is too nappy. In addition, Sierra also deals with sexual harassment while walking around her neighborhood, being shamed by her mom for her interest in shadowshaping, and sexism as a female shadowshaper.

Given all that Sierra experiences in her daily life, her heroic journey is deeply compelling. Sierra uses her artistic talent and shadowshaping to protect her neighborhood and reclaim a magical heritage she learns to appreciate through her family and friends. As a poet, I can’t help but admire Sierra Santiago and see part of myself in her. With paintbrush and chalk, Sierra Santiago shows that an artist can be a hero, a creative making something from shadows in order to express herself and preserve and protect what is important.

The Afro YA promotes black young adult authors and YA books with black characters, especially those that influence Pennington, an aspiring YA author who believes that black YA readers need diverse books, creators, and stories so that they don’t have to search for their experiences like she did.

Latonya Pennington is a poet and freelance pop culture critic. Their freelance work can also be found at PRIDE, Wear Your Voice magazine, and Black Sci-fi. As a poet, they have been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, Scribes of Nyota, and Argot magazine among others.

Top photo by cottonbro

Anger Is Energy

Solange Knowles may be Beyoncé’s younger sister, but that doesn’t mean she’s content to stay shadowed in a corner.

Yes, Solange may not be a household brand, but I can’t help but think that she prefers it this way. This level of celebrity allows Solange to directly critique anti-blackness and white supremacy in America without the fear of public backlash that could destroy her pop culture bankability.

Beyoncé, who rarely gives interviews, may not take a publicly vocalized stance on issues of social justice, but she often makes her support known through financial support. Earlier this year, Queen Bey and husband Jay Z donated $1.5 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, in addition to other civil rights organizations. In the beginning of the summer, she gave around $82,000 from her Formation World Tour to assist the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. People may criticize Beyoncé for not literally speaking out in a blunt, unapologetic way like the actor Jesse Williams is prone to do. However, this has never been a part of Beyoncé’s handling of her image as an entertainer or member of pop culture royalty.

In the case of Solange, she utilizes social media in a form that her older sister avoids. Her Twitter and Instagram, along with her website, Saint Heron, routinely confront racism and the country’s impulse to uphold white privilege.

In the case of Solange, she utilizes social media in a form that her older sister avoids. Her Twitter and Instagram, along with her website, Saint Heron, routinely confront racism and the country’s impulse to uphold white privilege.

I can only wish that I’d grown up with someone like Solange as a public figure who is so insistent on protecting Black girls and women. On her Twitter, Solange recounted an unpleasant and highly uncomfortable concert experience in New Orleans. Solange, her husband, and her eleven-year-old son, Julez, attended a Kraftwerk concert at the Orpheum Theater. The audience at the electronica concert was not diverse: Solange noted that the overwhelming majority of patrons were white. When Solange danced to a song, a group of white women told her to sit down. Solange refused, and the women threw a lime at her.

To be Black in white spaces means that you are suddenly blessed and cursed with hyperawareness…

To the naive reader, this story may seem nothing more than an unfortunate incident to be chalked up to rude and drunk concert attendees. For Black girls and women who understand what Solange meant by the term “white spaces,” it’s affirmation of a long-known truth.

To be Black in white spaces means that you are suddenly blessed and cursed with hyperawareness, injected with the X-Men ability to interpret not just outright racism but malevolence cloaked in a cloudy layer of passive aggression and microaggressions. To be Black in white spaces means that you are both the designated ambassador of your entire race and no one at all, invisible, with an interchangeable face. In an essay titled “And Do You Belong? I Do” and posted on Saint Heron, Solange elaborated on her Tweets. She wrote:

It usually does not include “please.” It does not include “will you.” It does not include “would you mind,” for you must not even be worth wasting their mouths forming these respectable words. Although, you usually see them used seconds before or after you.

You don’t feel that most of the people in these incidents do not like black people, but simply are a product of their white supremacy and are exercising it on you without caution, care, or thought.

Many times the tone just simply says, “I do not feel you belong here.”

Anti-blackness is not solely relegated to overtly hostile or malicious displays of bigotry. There are numerous ways to make someone feel as though they don’t belong, as though their safety has been compromised. Later on in her essay, Solange wrote, “You constantly see the media having a hard time contextualizing black women and men as victims every day, even when it means losing their own lives….You realize that you never called these women racists, but people will continuously put those words in your mouth.”

White people who have deluded themselves into believing that they are progressive liberals often tout the phrase, “I don’t see color.” They frequently follow up with something along the lines of, “I don’t care if you’re black or white or green or blue,” ironically disproving their point, as they classify minority status as akin to alien foreignness. I didn’t grow up in the South, but that doesn’t mean I’m a stranger to racism, and to feeling like my blackness, my “Otherness,” doesn’t fit into my very white surroundings. The institution of whiteness ruled that my identity wasn’t authentic enough, that my blackness was dependent upon adhering to a narrow vision of blackness as defined by the white gaze. Boys who I deemed the love of my life have accused me of being too sensitive, of imagining things, of seeing fire where there isn’t smoke. That’s the clever trick of white privilege: the combination of willful ignorance and lack of lived experience imagines equality where it does not exist.

That’s the clever trick of white privilege: the combination of willful ignorance and lack of lived experience imagines equality where it does not exist.

I don’t believe that silence is a beneficial defense mechanism. In a society where being Black is punishable by death, silence only aids white supremacy. Solange recognizes that silence does not encourage change. She also realizes that she can use her public platform to connect with other Black girls and women and make them feel less isolated and alone.

Solange recently interviewed actress Amandla Stenberg for the February 2016 issue of Teen Vogue and spoke to that feeling of unquantifiable kinship between Black girls. She noted, “There’s a secret language shared among black girls who are destined to climb mountains and cross rivers in a world that tells us to belong to the valleys that surround us. You learn it very young, and although it has no words, you hear it clearly.” Knowing this language has made it possible for women to produce safe spaces in the midst of uninhabitable land. It’s a sense of higher consciousness, the look that transpired between the only other Black woman and me in my graduate school writing class, the exchange that prompted me to grab the open seat next to her. A feeling of anchoring myself. It is less a shared code of pain than it is a show of solidarity.

Anger is often viewed as destructive. Solange challenges that idea, arguing that anger can be a healthy, even necessary response to unfathomable atrocities ranging from the physical to the emotional and mental.

Anger is often viewed as destructive. Solange challenges that idea, arguing that anger can be a healthy, even necessary response to unfathomable atrocities ranging from the physical to the emotional and mental. While Beyoncé seems to filter her frustrations through subversive tactics that are primarily based on a nonpersonal, business-first sensibility, Solange participates in racial politics via personal reflection.

The media may deem Solange “crazy” for speaking out, as is often the case when Black people refuse to be complicit in racially motivated abuse. Solange is not exposing anything new or revolutionary, but her comments are viewed as such due to America’s legacy of deep denial. In the closing part of her essay, Solange remarks, “We belong. We belong. We belong. We built this.” Anger is testament to this mantra, a reminder that blackness is not validated by trauma.

top photo: flickr / neon tommy