at the opening of the summer i found myself lost in the light of the day. hour. moment.
picking up pieces of myself i thought i had lost somewhere back in the year’s fall & winter. spring time dreams experienced with some summer heat. finding me. it was all me and my body. blocking out memories and hopes of one boy. pushing away whispers and pleas of another.
i wrote about my remedy. questioned the line between sexual liberation and ho shit. exposed my experience(s) with a host of (un)romantic encounters. and i still would argue: when tending to a bruised and battered heart sometimes a good fix is to slip into them fuck-me pumps and/or freakum dress and have some cutie help you out of them ( and if s/he isn’t cute, no worries—god made vodka and darkness, take a shot and hit the lights). summer has been roughly twelve weeks and here i am approaching the final days. a wealth of stories to share and (new) truths about self and world revealed. and for the first seven weeks i met what a few of my closer friends would call an “impressive” amount of boys (others would call it… “skank shit”). and i use the term ‘met’ loosely, as names slip my mind and its pretty safe to say ill never talk to any of those boys again. but it was what it was and it was what i needed. did it cure that bruised and battered heart? no. but it provided perspective and refocused my clarity. that which escaped me fall winter and spring.
i was on some shameless. emotionally dead. satisfying shit. mornings were hard…i was caught up in some thinking. but by noon’s sun i was up and exploring self and world. learning. living. writing. drinking. laughing. fucking. watching. experiencing.
but now here i am. up. late at night. thinking. lost all up in my [head][heart].
for the last four weeks or so i had this thing. bored of the hunt i found myself in a situation with one boy in particular. a stable, “not serious” scenario. a summer fling perhaps. a friend with benefits in a sense. the touch i wanted in the fall winter and spring. but without any of those pesky complications and complexities that fall winter and spring dawned. more than the empty touches of summers opening. and still less than anything either of us had. wanted. or would run away from. for four weeks or so i closed down my summer in a cool breeze. existing with a hint of romance but still maintaining my own. self discovery. reckoning with heartache. and being “free.” me and this boy were cool. and perhaps this is the only time ill write of him. simply because it was just that cool. but im up late. thinking. lost all up in my [head][heart].
today we reached our logical. planned. needed. and partially wanted conclusion. and im pondering. not on the loss. but on the possibility. in twelve days when i make my exit from california for the windy city. ill go exactly how i set out to do when i began this summer experience. clean slate. clear mind. cool heart. and that is the result of largely the last four weeks or so. playing in space of tempted emotion while practicing a swag of calm cool and collected.
perhaps this whole summer has been a state of pretending. but what in my life is not a performance? we’ll see what work chicago brings.
I don’t know how to read this, but it just happened and it’s… weird…
so I was working on a facebook status to mark 21 august as 180 years since Nat Turner’s rebellion and 40 years since George Jackson’s assassination. and I’m just reflecting on it quietly to myself, and I turn back to tumblr and…
i would have to say Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. Sula is my favorite book. Followed closely by Beloved. I have always had a soft spot for Giovanni’s Room and I just reread Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone a little more critically and it sat well with me and caused me to think some concepts through! I skimmed through The Man Who Cried I Am by John Williams a few months ago for a class and thought it was very exciting and definitely has a place on my list of books to (re)read this summer. Bruce Nugent really peaks my curiosity. His novel Gentleman Jigger is an interesting account of the Harlem Renaissance. I have a love-hate relationship with Zora Neale Hurston, but for the most part I enjoy her work. Hortense Spillers peaked my curiosity into the work of Gwendolyn Brooks so I am slowly but surely checking her out, so far mostly her poetry, but I want to start her fiction soon. I like the plays of Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), and I read a lot of Richard Wright in high-school. Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name always makes my list of favorite reads. I hope by authors you meant fiction… that would be my list of fiction. But if you meant something else, I’ll probably have a whole other list, haha. Who are reading currently? And who do you like to read (your favorites)?
“While generalizations tend to be useless, I would venture one that appears to stick—black writers, whatever their location and by whatever projects and allegiances they are compelled, must retool the language(s) that they inherit. The work of logological refashioning not only involves the dissipation of the poisons of cliche and its uncritical modalities but it also takes a stab at the pulsating infestations that course through the grammars of “race,” on “blackness” in particular.”—Hortense J. Spillers, “Peter’s Pan: Eating in the Diaspora”
CAUTION: Nigger will be used often and freely in this post > Black people, I’m Black, guard down. Non-Black people, read freely amongst your-self, but I suggest never aloud in a multiracial liberal room, but who knows what goes on when we aren’t there, it may go over well. < This was a joke… Breathe and commence the reading.
This is not my first situation dealing with the word nigger, and it will by no means be my last. The terms of the debate surrounding the issue usually fall within:
Who can use it? / How should it be used? / Is it different when Black people say it? / What to do when non-Black people say it? / Who is a nigger? / What is a nigga? /Something about appropriation. / A little about reclamation.
My disclaimer to you: this entry ain’t about that, but uses those frames to launch into a broader discussion of language, Black protest, and perhaps just how fucked up this world is. I’ll use the incident that I was involved in last night concerning the word nigger and hopefully meditate on something a bit different/grimmer/humbling.
THE SCENE: My final summer in Orange County, I decided to stick around campus and serve as a Resident Advisor for summer students (free rent before Chicago). I was placed in the dorm I worked during the school year as an RA, the African-American Studies themed house. During the summer, it’s simply a dorm, no theme, but me being me, I decided to leave the afro-centric/black loving decorations up for all my lovely non-Black students. Seriously, in this house I’m the only Black person, besides Miles Davis, Judith Jamison, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, MLK, Fred Hampton, Marion Anderson, Angela Davis, Booker T, and the other Black leaders that adorn the walls.
Last night I was sitting in the house study room, reading parts of Nella Larson’s Passing and Toni Morrison’s Sula, along with a chapter from Barbara Johnson’s The Feminist Difference. It was some side research –a kind of distraction from what I actually should have been studying, but I was still reading Black and queer, with a smile on my face. A group of residents were in the next room watching a movie and from what I could tell having a good time, laughter, conversation, and smiles all around. My headphones were in, so I wasn’t too distracted from them. NIGGER or perhaps it was NIGGA that I thought I heard from the other room, but I wasn’t too sure. I wasn’t sure if it was the TV or one of the three white males in the room, or perhaps the Asian female. Regardless, I wasn’t sure exactly what I heard, or where/who it was coming from, so I decided not to engage, plus Beyonce was playing in my headphones, and why ruin my night with pointless argument (I use pointless purposefully, which I hope will become clear by the end of this entry).
About fifteen minutes later, I noticed the gathering in the other room had moved to the patio, which I thought was for a smoke. Five minutes later, the party of four had dwindled to two upset residents sitting on the couch talking. I entered the scene to inquire the happening.
THE INCIDENT: All residents involved had been drinking. Nigger had been used repeatedly by a white male, and made the rest uncomfortable. An argument about the word was had, the argument was taken outside, in which the “Nigger-“using resident, physically assaulted another resident, then stumbled drunkenly into the night, threatening the assaulted resident of wanting to “stab him, kill him, and he should watch his back.”
All of it caught me a bit off guard (and secretly made me laugh) for multiple reasons:
a) surrounded in a room of visible Blackness, operated by an openly Black RA, niggerdom just can’t be shaken,
b) in a group of non-Blacks the word nigger will be violently argued over (either the right to use it, or the right to ban its use), and finally
c) at no point in time did anyone think, perhaps my RA who is sitting in the next room should be involved (not to mention: our openly Black RA, who happens to be a somewhat known campus activist).
I would like to think the latter statement about myself is what kept them from coming to get me; I can often be seen around campus wearing a “Negroes with Guns” shirt.
I talked to the residents who were offended by the word Nigger, and they all kept reminding me that the “Nigger”-using resident was really drunk, and it was probably an isolated incident that would blow over in the morning. They all supported the zero tolerance policy against racially and sexually offensive language. I sat and I listened until about 2am, and then went to bed with a lot on my mind. And here I am now, writing… because what I would like to do about the situation I probably can’t while wearing the title Resident Advisor.
THEY JUST DON’T KNOW
“I’ve been called it enough, I’ll say it when I fuckin’ feel like it. In fact I say it about 100 times every morning, ‘nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga…’ it makes my teeth white.”
- -Paul Mooney
Remember, this entry ain’t about who can say Nigger and when. The above quote from comedian Paul Mooney is mostly for a laugh, but we’ll see if we can do some more with it.
Last night I remained calm, cool, and collected. Perhaps even somewhat unattached/uninvolved from the situation—as I usually do concerning the use of the word nigger. And just to put my cards on the table, I use the word and I use it often. But, I also understand why people are offended and I know that the word has a violent history that needs to be reckoned. In the eyes of my residents and in their demeanor their response to my somewhat non-response fell into either one of two categories (or perhaps both simultaneously) that I associate with liberal reactions to the word Nigger. Why aren’t you as upset as I am about this? And/or, aren’t you happy/grateful I defended the Black honor?
I put my thinking on the table to search for ways to deal with the situation in less of reactive manner that usually breeds reactionary solutions. What has us up in arms concerning this word? Why does its use still garner so much shock value? I would argue that once the word enters conversation (particularly from non-Black people) post-racial, post-civil-rights, and now Obama era happiness is thrown into crisis. And the shock comes from recognition of the violent history the word Nigger conjures. I’ve consistently found, both moves are acknowledged in liberal reaction but almost immediately disavowed when a response is formed. As with last night, alcohol was to blame. But more prominently, its usually that “people just don’t know the history” or “but, Black people say it all the time.” Neither excuse sits well with me; nor actions that attempt to address those excuses. They do little if nothing to rectify the problem. THE PROBLEM. If it were an issue of historical accuracy, perhaps I can get on board with the history argument, but the fact that Nigger is associated with Black people, slavery, and violence, I would go ahead and say is not the great American secret. Disagreement? Talk to me. Seriously, I would love to discuss it. But in anticipation, I want to launch a frontal attack on the history argument with some historical evidence. A showcasing of the entanglement of Blackness and niggerness, with the help of a scholar by the name of Ronald Judy. In the essay “On the Question of Nigga Authenticity” Judy walks through the history of this word:
- According to the Oxford English Dictionary, nigger belongs to the French negre, which, like its Spanish cognate, negro, was used in early modern time to designate black people.
- It appears to have come into English through the Dutch, sometime in the sixteenth century, and by the seventeenth century, it appeared in variant forms: neeger, neager, negar, negre.
- In its earliest known literary reference of 1587, it is already associated with slavery: “There were also in her 400 neegers, whome they had taken to make slaves.”
- By the time it reaches the Virginia colony, it simply designates black people as slave-labor, as in Captain John Smith’s 1624 observation: “A Dutch man of warre that sold us twenty Negars.”
- The Latinate, niger, was used by Hellowes in 1574: “The Mass gets bordering upon the Indians, and the Nigers of Aethiop, bearing witnes”; and by Reginald Scott in 1584 in the precise sense of black-of-color:”Askin likea Niger.”
- By the time Samuel Sewall began writing his Diary, the appellation also referred to slave-labor as property: “Jethro, his Niger, was then taken”(1 July 1676);
- In 1760, G. Wallace argued “Set the Nigers free, and, in a few generations, this vast and fertile continent would be crouded with inhabitants.” Robert Burns added the second “g” to the Latinatein 1786: “How graceless Ham laughed at his Dad, Which made Canaan a nigger.”
-Hence, niggerdom as the designation of black people in general, whose despised status Henry Fearon(1818) thought was deserved: “The bad conduct and inferior nature of niggars(negroes), “and William Faux(1823) lamented-“Contempt of the poor black or nigger, as they are called, seems the national sin of America.”
I’m in no way implying that we should all have these dates and quotations memorized verbatim and ready to gun sling in argument (or perhaps we should, haha). Rather, in addition to my claim that we all know Nigger is associated with Black people, there really is a historical archive that can be walked through to prove that point.
Nigger and its negative value and its association with Blackness is not a fact to be discovered in day-to-day conversation! And we all know nigga comes from nigger.
A Nigga, Nigger, Negro, Black, African-American in a house of Humans
As I stared into the liberal demeanors searching for my response to the word “nigger” being used in the house, all I could think is what I can’t say because I am an RA. What if my response to my offended residents was, “Cool! Let him say nigger, lets me know what I’m dealing with. He can bring ‘nigger’ to the table and this nigger will show up with a gun.” Sadly, things just ain’t there yet. For those of you shaking your head right about now, hold on to this thought, we’ll come back to it.
What changes in the world if we rid it of the word Nigger? Perhaps an easy chance to conjure the dark history? Maybe an opportunity to (un)name “people”/objects deemed lesser?
If I am reading my Fanon correctly, not too much changes. In Black Skin, White Mask he writes, “Dirty Nigger! or simply, Look, a Negro!” Update the language a bit for 2011 and Nigger stays, but we’ll change Negro to Black. Concerning the incident in my house, Niggerness operated in a conversation regardless of whether or not a Black was in the mix. For further illumination on the complexity of THE PROBLEM, I return to the essay “On the Question of Nigga Authenticity,” Judy writes:
“The value of the nigger is not in the physical body itself but in the energy, the potential force, that the body contains. The Force is there in the nigger body, standing-in-reserve, as it were, for its owner to consume as he/she likes” (Judy, 223).
As I have been writing this entry, I have been contemplating what I could have done at the moment I first heard NIGGER (or perhaps it was NIGGA) that evening my house. I could have stepped in and rested upon my authority as being the Resident Advisor of the house. Or perhaps used my intellectual prowess and wielded my knowledge of Afro-American, African-American, Black, Negro, Colored, Nigger, Nigga history. Maybe, I could have just inserted my openly Black demeanor and let the room know I’m not okay with the word Nigga or Nigger. No matter what, there is an extra piece of the puzzle operating no matter what action I would have taken. Whether I’m there or not, I’m always already there. The Niggerization precedes any gesture I can make, as Judy writes, the value is not in my physical body, but rather in the energy, the force of Blackness operating in the conversation regardless of my physical absence. All of my gestures toward “authority” may have temporarily quelled the use of the word “Nigger” in the room, but what power, what force do I have access to in disrupting the logic that rest upon the presence of Nigger, Niggerness, the logic that was at play while I was away in the other room?
NIGGA SECTION: excuse me, i mean, CAN I TALK TO BLACK PEOPLE FOR A FEW LINES?
I don’t claim to have any answers, and at this point I’m not even sure I want answers. All I know is this: this Nigger debate keeps going around and coming around. The line I used from Fanon was first published in 1952, and as I said, Negro may have changed to Black, but Nigger remains the same and we have yet to come to a “Black” consensus on the matter. But we all know what the world consensus is on Nigger—who the nigger is, why it exist. That social fact is what needs to be reckoned, and when I use the word ‘reckon’ I don’t mean, needs to be known. Rather I am thinking toward something a bit more pressing if you will. When I read Saidiya Hartman:
"The demands of the slave on the present have everything to do with making good the promise of abolition, and this entails much more than the end of property in slaves. It requires the reconstruction of society, which is the only way to honor our debt to the dead. This is the intimacy of our age with theirs—an unfinished struggle” (Lose Your Mother, 170)
A knowing of the slave experience is placed squarely in front of me, or perhaps bonding me. Which is to say, I can not know myself outside of this slave experience. Because the slave structures social relations so intimately, I was involved in the Nigger conversation without being involved. I may be the openly Black conscious RA, but Fanon’s dirty Nigger is still alive… and writing.
 This section of Judy’s essay was broken apart and reformatted for your viewing pleasure on negrosunshine, the words are from page 222 of the essay, in which all sources are cited, I apologize for not citing them here, if you can not find the essay, hit me up, I’d be happy to provide it and/or the citations.
“[W]hen the white American, holding up most twentieth-century fiction, says “This is American reality,” the Negro tends to answer (not at all concerned that Americans tend generally to fight against any but the most flattering imaginative depictions of their lives), “Perhaps, but you’ve left out this, and this, and this. And most of all, what you’d have the world accept as me isn’t even human.””—Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act
“We live in a culture that makes it seem as though having contradictions is bad—most of us try to represent ourselves in ways that suggest we are without contradictions. Contradictions are perceived as chaos and not orderly, not rational, everything doesn’t follow… [Contradictions] mean we are in a process of change and transformation.”—bell hooks
laying in bed or on the couch thinking. about shit i wish i could forget. The Smile still tends to rank up there in the first thoughts of the day. even though im over him right? whoever’s name i was calling the night before to the delight of a response of my name in return tells me The Smile is a “non-muthafuckin factor” right? haha. the mornings tend to be the hardest. so i write.
and i keep challenging myself. im only as good as the last word i write. but i don’t have shit to say. so i lay in the morning thinking about all the books i need to read. articles. essays. chapters. so much to do before happy hour. how will i ever be able to get it done when i need to contend with flashes. dreams. and thoughts of The Smile?
plus i got Revolution to plot!
so im just writing down these thoughts. in hopes that if i document them (him) perhaps they (he) will leave my mind? i still have to wake up in the morning. and in these quiet moments with nothing but myself. my thoughts. i have to be productive somehow. find myself again. cuz in the morning im lost all up in my thoughts. my imagination. my reminiscing. and that’s no way to be. too much on my mind. but reckoning the strong possibility that when concerns him. its actually nothing on my mind at all. ha! too much of nothing.
its time to read. ive admitted though. i still be thinking in the morning. about shit i wish i could forget. but ocean sings it better than i can write it.
ive been thinking about you / do you think about me still? / or do you not think so far ahead? / 'cause ive been thinking about forever…
'Cornered' in the Mix: Adrian Piper and My Political Arsenal
It’s not often that I am engaged in a conversation in which the truth of The Paradigm is centerstage and all parties involved are staring unflinchingly into its abyss. That said it’s not everyday that I stare into the abyss without a flinch of my own. But, when those moments do happen, or those conversations come about, the trajectory of my day-to-day gets all messed up in some type of way and I’m left to ponder the violence shaping Black everyday “living.” Some will say that’s no way to go about life! And here I insert some Paul Mooney, “all you Jim Jones kool-aid drinking muthafuckas,” this ain’t for you (but keep reading, maybe you’ll put down the cup a little later in the article).
“IM BLACK. LETS DEAL WITH THE SOCIAL FACT”
The conversations I enjoy most I will admit come from like-minded Black conscious folk—those who have dedicated some aspect of their life (if not the whole damn thing) to progressing an understanding of anti-Blackness and Black existence. I find in these interactions a devotion of entire intellectual capacity and/or political work towards understanding the complexity of the problem without an air of “what should we do?” distracting us from that very complexity that birthed the interaction. In conversations with other Black people that aren’t necessarily thinking in terms of The Paradigm that sidetracking question operates in a very specific and complex way that I do not wish to unpack here, now. Rather, it is in conversations with white people, particularly liberal white folk that that question plagues most and I have come to expect in at least 98% of my interactions. My response is the same every time: I do not know. I don’t know what white people should do when Revolution breaks out or what to do in the meantime to help pave the way for Revolution. And while I do have some ideas on the matter, Ill keep them to myself for now and encourage everyone to contemplate the work of Adrian Piper in this waiting period. And whether or not she herself admits it, I do believe certain aspects of her work to be speaking specifically to ‘white’ people and I specifically encourage ‘white’ folk to listen up (we will quickly see why the scare quotes matter).
“YOU MUST FEEL THAT THE RIGHT AND PROPER COURSE OF ACTION FOR ME TO TAKE IS TO PASS FOR WHITE.”
I was first introduced to Piper’s work through a fleeting reference in a conceptual art class I was taking at the time. Her LSD paintings of 1965-67 were held in high regard, and I was intrigued, but my research didn’t extend much further than the three slides presented in class and a few flashcards with (1) artist name (2) title of work (3) series title (4) year.
It wasn’t until nearly three years later that I learned Piper was Black! And I wasn’t even in an art class.
Piper, Self Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features, 1981
“I HAVE NO CHOICE. I’M CORNERED. IF I TELL YOU WHO I AM YOU BECOME NERVOUS AND UNCOMFORTABLE OR ANTAGONIZED. BUT IF I DON’T TELL YOU WHO I AM I HAVE TO PASS FOR WHITE. AND WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO DO THAT?”
I was taking a class entitled “Race Mixture Politics,” with one of the leading critics of multiculturalism and coalition politics. We were staring at the Paradigm through a tracking of the nation’s entanglement with miscegenation—Blackness. Piper’s article “Passing for White; Passing for Black” popped up on the syllabus toward the end of the quarter and I was captivated. A half Black, half white woman, who to many could pass for white was proclaiming her Blackness and forcefully rejecting what she was terming the “racial club” of whiteness. But it was a complex rejection, one I still do not fully understand and perhaps never will, but I offer her work here now on negrosunshine for us to all think through together.
One of my favorite past times I share with some of my closest friends is making white people uncomfortable, either about Blackness or their whiteness (which is actually all mixed up together so I suppose there is no “or” in the matter). Adrian Piper does this well. The above photo is a screen shot from her video installation, “Cornered” (1988). Imagine with me. Walking into a gallery, in the corner of the room a Piper installation. An overturned table leaning against a television set. Above the TV are two copies of her father’s birth certificate. One reads he is white, the other that he is octoroon (one-eighth Black). Chairs await the viewer’s body in front of the screen and the cornering begins.
“NOONE IS SAFELY UNQUESTIONABLY WHITE. NOONE”
“SOME RESEARCHERS ESTIMATE THAT ALMOST ALL REPORTEDLY WHITE AMERICANS HAVE BETWEEN FIVE AND TWENTY PERCENT BLACK ANCESTRY”
A talking head, poised like a newscaster, perhaps a teacher, librarian, someone with some type of importance in the corner we’ve just entered stares straight on from the television. She blinks a few times, adjusts her head, sighs, and then explodes (figuratively, or rhetorically quite literally), “I’m Black, now, let’s deal with the social fact and the fact of my stating it together. Maybe you don’t see why we have to deal with it together. Maybe you think this is just my problem and that I should deal with it by myself. But it’s not just my problem. It’s our problem.” Our problem of Blackness? What do we do with this as we view it in the gallery? Whose seat becomes uncomfortable? Which one of us is ready to get up and leave? Who is drawn in further?
Piper’s video is sixteen minutes long. She speaks in a manner sounding and appearing to be a middle-class, well-educated white woman. “I’m Black,” are the first words out of her mouth and she continues with a host of rhetorical gestures: does her Blackness upset us? Is she simply making a big deal of her race? Is this a shallow attempt at gaining attention as an artist? Does she hate white people? The most stunning part of the video, which I also found to be the most noteworthy argument in “Passing for White…” was the claim that her Blackness upsets whites for two reasons: (1) they have to check themselves to make sure they don’t dabble in racism and (2) whiteness is called into question, their presumptions and their own “white” standing.
“IT IS A GENETIC AND SOCIAL FACT THAT ACCORDING TO THE ENTRENCHED CONVENTIONS OF RACIAL CLASSIFICATIONS IN THIS COUNTRY, YOU ARE PROBABLY BLACK”
Departing from my mental escape in a swanky New York gallery, I’m placed squarely back in the Long Beach (CA) queer coffee shop I’m writing this from. Looking around the room occupied predominately by white males while Piper’s video is playing in my headphones; I’m wondering how their Blackness is structuring their conversations and/or lives. Or how they and I have recognized I’m the only discernably Black person in the room, but do they know that if I were to leave, Blackness would still be ever so present? Of course this is not the average thought of the day, not even for me. Rather I am thinking about my initial arrival at the coffee shop. I waited in line behind a “white” man engaged in conversation with the “white” barista. A friendly exchange of strangers that let me know I had entered a friendly atmosphere, until I got to the counter. The barista’s demeanor changed, subtly, but noticeable. Nothing that alarmed me, just let me know I was not his interest, a decision he had made by either one of two things: the iced chai latte I ordered, or my skin that was about two shades darker than the drink. I wonder: at that awkward stare he gave as I smiled and paid, what if I would have said, “yes, I’m Black, let’s deal with this social fact.” Could it have led to a fruitful conversation on the implications of his presumptions about me, and about himself? Or would it have led to a pointless awkward exchange now had through language rather than just stares? I’m not sure I can answer these questions. But if we take serious Piper’s claim, “It is a genetic and social fact that according to the entrenched conventions of racial classification in this country, you are probably Black”, you being most reportedly white people, these questions deserve some contemplating while certain presumptions about the “whites” in the coffee shop (barista included) and their whiteness, and subsequently my Blackness, are all thrown into the air. And as I sit here, certainly not a member of the racial club that surrounds me and dictates my interaction with the barista, I must contend with it, for I need a place to breathe, write, and drink coffee. And just as Piper ends her riveting video “Cornered,” I say to you all reading this, WELCOME TO THE STRUGGLE. I’ll keep her work easily accessible in my arsenal for daily use.
Adrian Piper was born in 1943. Her art, which can be viewed as autobiographical, address issues of race, gender, and racism in the U.S. context. Piper is a philosopher by training, which truly shows in the intelligence, wit, and grace of her art. In the 1970s she offered a series of guerilla street performances, often dressed as a Black man, which she referred to as “the mythic being.”
Adrian Piper. Ashe.
 I use the term Revolution in opposites ways simultaneously. While I believe/want my work to operate towards progressing a reckoning with the anti-Black paradigm; there is much I do not know or have no words for, so I can’t explain or even begin to imagine what Revolution is. But I’ll use a capital R for now to let you know its serious.
 I don’t want anyone to read this and think I go around looking for rhetorical spares with white folk. Things just ain’t that loose, yet. Rather, I pay acute attention to the logic structuring my interactions and experiences (I blame Wilderson and Sexton, the paradigm men, for that). Every once in awhile, I’ll poke holes/challenge some logic, to get/give a better understanding of how society operates. I believe some of the most radical political work can be done in the small, intimate, sometimes ruled mundane moments, by pointing to the particular violence structuring Black being and the coherence taken by others because of its particular incoherence.
It was a three-square box kind of place. The first box had books. Loads and loads of books. There was a small case, but the words overfilled it. They popped out the front, landed on the floor, and some even fell behind. Then there was that empty table. Doing nothing, except for when it had a few words on it too. The desk was a mess, papers all over. Drawers filled to the brim, articles, journals, knick-knacks, and perhaps just trash. Shuffle hard enough, books could be found there too. Only Jesse knew how it all made sense. The couch, quite plain, usually empty except when a resting body found its place. A poster of Dizzy blowing his tune hung on one door, and Mingus faced him from across the space. Sarah was there too, posed in black and white. It was a real cool party, but emptiness filled this box despite all that stuff. Behind Dizzy was the second box. Just a bed, some light, and on one wall Miles thought a kind of blue. A small door led to an even smaller box. In there just a dirty mirror, a toilet, and shower. It was cool, this three-square box type of place, but the nothingness resounded clearer and louder than the sound gods adorning the walls.
Jesse sat at the desk. Ozzie had found his way to the couch. They were both reading—Jesse his own words, Ozzie someone else’s. Routine was habit in this box. Jesse wrote, read, and wrote some more. Perhaps that distracted him from the emptiness; finding more words to overfill the case, and when they couldn’t be found, he would produce them. He was happy to have Ozzie on the couch. However, showing it would ruin the cool of the room, so he continued to write.
“Do you want to go out to dinner?”
Jesse looked over and responded, “No, I think I have plans tonight. You’ll be okay here by yourself right?”
Ozzie glanced up from his book. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” He turned a page. “You know I could have stayed…”
Jesse interrupted, “No! You’re fine. You can stay on the couch as long as you need.” He closed his laptop and turned to Ozzie. “I’m just going to go meet a friend, I’ll be back before you know I’m gone.” Jesse smiled and stared at Ozzie.
“And who is this friend?”
“I don’t know, just a friend. Just kind of met.”
“And you don’t want to bring him here? Because I could have…”
“No! Jesse cut Ozzie off, before he knew what he really wanted to say. “It’s not like that. Just going to go out and we’ll see what happens. Not planning on anything.”
“Do you ever plan?” Ozzie closed his book, laughed, and looked away from Jesse.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
The two knew each other differed despite sharing what bound them so closely. Both the subject of skin attacks, and a desire deemed perverse. They were different. Yet they still found themselves in that box, turning away from each other and still charging in the most intimate type of battle.
“You meet a lot of friends, that’s all” Ozzie said.
“Yeah, you don’t need to say it so, so, so I don’t know, blah.”
“I guess. Just be safe.”
“Safe? You think I’m unsafe?”
“No. Well. I don’t know. Meeting a lot of people, you may…”
“May what?” Jesse turned back to Ozzie.
“I don’t know, catch it. That’s how people do, you know?”
Jesse laughed. “I’m safe. And just because I’m meeting people, doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to catch it.”
“But what? Oh, because I’m out there, it’s going to get me?”
Ozzie straightened up on the couch. “I’m just saying, people who are out there, always just seeing what happens, and well, it always happens… they are more likely.”
“So because I have sex, I’m going to catch it?” Jesse laughed.
“No, that’s not what I said”
“Its what you implied” Jesse shot back, “and somehow its my…our…sex that gets all the attention.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just trying to tell you to be careful.”
“I am careful. For whatever that means. And just so you know, there’s lots of other ways of catching it besides being out there and meeting all the friends…men… I do, and yes when I say meet, I mean letting it happen” Jesse jumped up and began to move his hips, “over and over, and over again,” Jesse laughed. Ozzie turned away trying to hold back a smile. “Come on man, loosen up” Jesse poked Ozzie “It’s okay, we can be safe and have lot’s of sex. Perhaps if someone told us that, you’d be a lot happier.”
“Shut up. I’m plenty happy.”
“Yeah, but is your sex happy? Or is it scary? Or feared?” Jesse laughed. He moved into the second box, searching for a shirt, and other required things.
“If we just met a friend, instead of all the friends…men” Ozzie laughed “Perhaps it wouldn’t be going around, over and over and over again” Ozzie mockingly said.
Jesse shouted back from the other box, “And there goes the choir. Or are you preaching? I don’t know. I’m standing outside the church on this one. There’s ways of catching it other than just doing it. Especially just our kind of doing it, you know, my,” Jesse laughs, “meeting people.” He walked out the second box back towards Ozzie. “I’m just saying, focus doesn’t need to be on how to fix me, or fix our sex. We can be safe. And fuck like the rest of them.” A tone sounded. Jesse reached toward the desk for the phone, “Or forget the rest of them, I’ll fuck the way I want.”
“Is that your person to meet?” Ozzie asked. Jesse staring at his phone smiled and walked toward a door. “I’ll be safe.”
Jesse’s car rode slowly down the street of large matching houses. Stopping at 49, it was dimly lit and a brass gate kept him from looking in. An absence of sidewalks sent an uninviting chill down his spine. He turned his car off, looked around and locked his doors. Reaching for his phone, he noticed a light come on in the 49 drive way. Death and pleasure wrapped possibilities as a shadow appeared from behind the gate. He made out the figure, a boy waving at him. Jesse unlocked and stepped out his car. “Jesse, right?” the boy said. Jesse walked up and through the gate. He nodded his head and examined his surroundings further. The boy led Jesse down a brink path with a small pond on the side. Movement in the water caught Jesse’s attention, but the lighting was too dim to make out what was in there. Jesse was cautious as they headed towards large wooden doors. The two turned right, a few steps before the doors onto another pathway toward a smaller house outside of the larger home. His host pushed open two glass doors and slid a curtain out the way. “You can put your shoes over there” the boy said and pointed to a corner of the room occupied by a stack of Vogue magazines. Jesse removed his shoes and placed them neatly next to August 2010. It was the bed that took up the majority of this room. Jesse glanced around for signals of personality. Clothes, shoes, and magazines occupied the non-bed space. There was a case. It held candles and pictures. Jesse sat on the bed next to his host and they stared at each other. “You have nice shoes,” the boy said. Jesse pushed the boy onto his back and the two locked lips.
After moments of flipping and licking, Jesse found himself in his underwear. The point when he was most comfortable. The boy pushed Jesse on his back and began the descent that Jesse had come to dread in some moments and love in others. His host reached in and pulled Jesse out. Holding him there, the boy whispered, “I’ve never done a Black one before.” Jesse turned his head and looked toward the two glass doors now covered by the curtain. He mumbled “welcome to the show” as he found pleasure in the boy’s taste.
Ozzie woke to the sound of a door opening. He smelled and felt the heat and funk, as it breezed in the box. Ozzie stayed still and never opened his eyes. The door shut, then Dizzy opened. A faint light shined in from the second box. Jesse left the door cracked and Ozzie lay on the couch playing sleep.
Jesse removed all his clothes and left them next to the door. He entered the third box and caught a haze of his reflection in the filthy mirror. He turned the shower on and let the steam overfill all three boxes. In the first, Ozzie sat up as his body became wrapped and made uncomfortable by the actions in the third box. The steam filled the space. Jesse stepped into the shower and just stood. Thinking on the events of the evening, thinking about his host, the room, the home. He wondered what Ozzie thought, what he felt, what this steam was doing to him. As Jesse began to scrub, he started with his Black one, focused on it. He ended there too. Unable to wash the show away, he stepped out the shower and returned to second box. Barely covered by his towel he stared into the first box at Ozzie “sleeping” on the couch. After a few moments, he closed and locked Dizzy. Jesse found his underwear, picked up a book, and slipped into bed.
Reflection. Retrospection. Peace in Writing at Night’s End.
one. i tend to come out in one of two ways. either my sexuality is thrown on the table. or im compelled to reveal notions of Blackness that extend further.deeper. than the lovely skin i adorn. defining me for me as Black-queer wraps a certain amount of pride on an individually intimate level while still placing (my)self at odds with the vast majority of people surrounding me on a day to day basis. how do i locate this self. my politics. against and through violence so intimate. so mundane. it is unrecognized. misrepresented. routinized? ive spent the last week working a summer camp for recent high school graduates taking the community college route and considering transferring to my recent alma mater. going into the position i knew the mission of the camp would be against my politics. the program sought to reach underserved populations (Black&Brown communities) and provide them with the resources to transfer from a community college into a four year university (*cough*the four year university hosting them*cough*). to be clear. im not against kids going to college. rather the special brand of ideological multiculturalism and mantra of diversity operating/dominating all week makes me nauseas. finding the quite moments to write was the only medicine i could find. and if you are asking why did i even do it in the first place? for the money.
for the past two years i have been engaged, along with my closest comrades, in political education geared specifically and unapologetically at/for Black students in effort of exposing the university and its inherent imbrications with anti-Blackness. a critical analysis of racist/anti-racist discourse, hetero/homonormativity, capitalist desire, and patriarchy shaped about 98% of my interactions, the other two percent i was in one of those few dreamless sleeps, five shots in, or lip-to-lip with The Smile. since i cant sleep my summer away. i need to preserve my liver. and The Smile is some place else. i have to work and it makes for good writing on negro sunshine.
two. the moment of “coming out” is a space of confusion for everyone involved. ive learned to not only study it. but love it. that particular instance when a confirmation of my queer identity is given and my sexuality is on the table and me and everyone else involved are staring at it. sometimes it’s a second of silence, other times its followed by a question or two, and on the rare occasion a conversation of sorts is sparked and im catapulted into “expert” status.
i was giving a tour of campus housing and explaining the benefits to living on campus as opposed to at home or off campus. at this point in the camp i had not revealed my queer sexuality and was actually making a conscious effort to conform to heteornormative notions of “proper” Black masculinity. why? no reason in particular, just having some fun i suppose. when i spoke i kept my hands in my pocket as they tend to flare about in conversation. i spoke from my diaphragm to keep my tone low, and slowed my speech a bit. steered away from topics of dating, sex, and beyonce. and kept my hips squared as i walked around. everything was on the straight and narrow. real hetero. and i even found a few of the female participants flirting with me.
during the tour, i was explaining that the campus had a LGBT themed house, and i had supported the creation of it and specifically helped a few trans-activist on campus push for gender neutral bathrooms in the house. one of the participants asked me what “LGBT” meant and i explained Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. before i could finish the “-bian” in lesbian i saw many eyes roll and heteronormative grumbles overtake the group. the looks i received called into question the authenticity of heterosexual masculinity i had been portraying up until this point. and more specifically the validity of anything i was saying as the leader of this group. a few homophobic statements were strewn together by some of the more vocal participants and a distraction was formed. a housing tour was shadowed by a search for sexuality. my usual reaction in situations like this is to confirm my queer identity by stating with a certain amount of ease that my primary affirmation of love and sex comes from men, and challenging homophobic comments. but this time, i thought id let it ride out and hold onto my pseudo-heterosexual validity. i changed the topic and continued the tour. leaving a healthy number of the participants questioning my sexuality. particularly with the female participants. i felt in the interactions with them the searching for signals of deviation from proper Black masculinity. i kept my hands in my pocket, hips squared, and conversations short, knowing it was just a matter a time before a beyonce song came on and i was compelled to make a dance floor.
three. Black authenticity was a theme running throughout the camp. of the staff. our director. keri. was Black. and of the seven counselors myself and one other female counselor (hilson) were Black. the problem of the week that caught the entire staff off guard. myself included was the authenticity politics running mainstream and the attacks leveled at the three Black staff members from the participants and a few reverse attacks from staff toward participants. i sat in staff meeting after staff meeting listening to hilson vent about how a couple of our Black participants from compton and long beach were calling her white-washed and asking her questions about her life that searched for evidence of her “traitor” status, “where did you grow up?” “is your boyfriend Black?” “why do you talk like that?” “you think you’re better than us?”
of course all of these questions were irrelevant concerning anything to do with the camp. and while the ease in which they were spoken was surprising. i was more concerned with the shock and reaction the staff had to them. the product of certain class privilege. and a student of top-tier elementary, middle, and high schools, and now a graduate of a top-tier research university. all these questions and more have been leveled at me at some point in time and i have not escaped the charge of being called “bougie.” i stayed silent during most of the meetings. listening to hilson’s complaints and the staffs repulsion at authenticity/identity politics. instead of finding a way of addressing the issue. the staff wrote it off as ignorance and relied on the diversity workshop scheduled halfway through the week to take care of that business. knowing good and well an hour and half of multicultural diversity training would not address intracommunity issues and would crowd out class analysis. i still remained silent. i wanted to maintain a civil working relationship with my colleagues and i knew any effective effort at addressing the problem would need to question what assumptions we as a staff were making in writing the problem off as ignorance and passing the buck to diversity training? how was our own education and class status haunting our interactions with these ‘underserved communities?’ and specifically to hilson, what notions did she have of “proper” Black identity that was shaping her reaction and disgust? what analysis was the staff crowding out by placing blame on the individual students speaking a prevalent ideology?
four. diversity training came and it went as expected. tears were shed. keri was happy the group was exposed to difference. and the staff had hopes the rest of the program would be filled with multicultural hand holding. all but myself and one other counselor, ala (the former chair of MEChA). held such high hopes.
the workshop was led by the director of the university’s cross-cultural center. as a board member of the Black student union, i spent a great deal of my time working in the center, which proved to be working at odds with the director. ala had spent her time in the cross working against the director as well. both the BSU and MEChA had publicly stated that the mission of cross and the director were in fact against the missions of the two organizations and we spent a tenuous year entrenched in the unique and specific issues pertaining to our respective communities. this is not to say ala and I were eye-to-eye by any means, the way i see it, the cross was your standard liberal multicultural bullshit, ala and MEChA were slightly Left of that. and myself (along with the more radical voice on the BSU board) were pushing a stance informed by something left of Left (see Wilderson’s “Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?” for insight). but ala and i both shared a disgust for the special brand of diversity proffered by the cross and its director.
the workshop asked participants to think through ways they “felt” “oppressed.” throwing identity markers on the table such as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, age, religion, citizenship, and physical ability. participants and staff were asked to express which identity they were most conscious of by standing under the sign with the designated marker. in another move we were made to stand by the marker in which we felt most oppressed by. in my conflicting work for/with the university, i had gone through this workshop many times before. its always a surprise that people of color overwhelming choose race or ethnicity for the identity they are most conscious of. but when the question of oppression comes up race and ethnicity are retreated from and all the categories get a fairly equal representation.
i maintained my position under race for both movements of the workshop and listened as people shared their experiences dealing with the issues posed by their identity markers. every story nothing new and a testament to just how unjust our society continues to be.
two things caught my eye/ear most. (1)hilson and keri, two Black women retreated from race and gender completely. Particularly concerning the question of oppression: our director chose ability status due to her recent injuries and hilson chose nothing, which she later revealed she does not experience oppression because “despite stereotypes and all that, [she] does not allow anyone to oppress her.” i laughed a little bit to myself (which im sure was exhibited as a stank face); in a program that proffers a mission of serving underserved communities (due to race and class) the program director and one of its counselors retreated from any discussion of those social determinants. and the director of the cross-cultural center (a space in its essence admits the university/society lacks the capacity to deal with “issues of color”) allows/calls for a retreat from critical dialogue concerning race and the issues most affecting communities of color. all of its really quite funny/sad.
the previous issue garnered a laugh from me. what made me feel like throwing up and/or reaching for a torch was (2) the issue of whiteness. which is why I HATE MULTICULTURALISM. in room of forty people predominately from low-income Black&Brown communities. a white body in the room became the center of sympathy and somehow assumed the throne of most oppressed. the goal undergirding the workshop is an attempt to make people aware of oppression and how they are oppressed due to certain identity markers. the fact that it is a “safe space” to share everyone’s experience always proves to be story time of who is oppressed either most or just like thy neighbor. ignoring any specificity of positionality; toward a holding of hands around a common bond we are all human. we all suffer. it is always a twisted pleasure i find in watching how the oppressor somehow always seems to miss these meetings.
the only white participant (a white male) stood alone under religion concerning the question of oppression. he told a few stories of how he has been rejected by friends. family. and a few love interest upon revealing that he is an atheist. i do not want anyone to think that i am about to say that because he is a white male he does not experience hardship. i just find it disgusting that his experience of unjust treatment is likened to one in the same as students sharing their stories of undocumented status (assumed/actual). police brutality. or access to healthcare. even further the only white participant spoke the longest and garnered the biggest reaction from the group on whole. cheers. hugs. and “we love you” surrounded the room after his speech. the amazement that white people suffer too captivated the room and shifted focus away from the students of color who made the overwhelming majority of the room. all in the name of diversity!
“…when we were together time would slow to a pace that gave ease and let us rest calmly in each others arms and enjoy the stories of our day, making laughter as easy as breathing.”—water4thenile.tumblr.com
finding the line b/t sexual liberation and ho-shit
the phrase ‘unrequited love’ has been popping up all around me this summer. between hearing it said in daily conversation, on TV shows, reading it inside album covers, and now im sitting across from a man at starbucks reading a newspaper with the phrase scrawled in a headline. im convinced the spirits are telling me to reckon something here. and well. i think my current strategy of fucking love away (figuratively and really quite literally) has been a mixture of success and avoidance.
i woke up this morning again on my couch. why the couch? at night once ive kicked someone out of my bed, and ive gotten out the shower, im often too lazy to change the sheets and what not, so i make my way to my living room and spend the night on the couch. true story. and yes im talking about sex. i spent the better part of last week reconnecting with my body…through other peoples bodies…over and over and over again. and last sunday, when i successfully left a Black queer mansion party without bringing some stranger home, or going home with anyone, i thought i had quelled my ho game and was getting back on track toward my somewhat conservative, quiet sexual life that i had been leading the last two years (we need not discuss what i was doing in the years before that). then monday came, fourth of july, independence day, and what better way for a black queer to celebrate “freedom” day than to fuck a colonizer? true story. tuesday i just needed to make sure i wasn’t getting into white boys all of sudden… so i had another take me to dinner, and well, one thing led to another, yadayadayada, and it was the worst sex of my life. so to make up for it i simply had to reclaim my POC standing and have a familiar queer of color come show/remind me what this thing call “good” sex is. and here i sit, in starbucks the next morning contemplating the line between sexual liberation and ho shit. and staring me in the damn face (literally and really quite figuratively) is ‘unrequited love.’ i spent the last year on both sides of this concept. two boys floated in & out, out & in my life. one i “loved” and one “loved” me. neither instance had any reciprocity, or so i think, which is why the quotes matter. don’t worry, for those of you still reading this because you were hooked in by the talk of sex, ill make this love part brief and return to that hazy, very thin line between fun and scandal. both boys in the end left me. don’t worry, i wasn’t cheating on anyone, i wasn’t in a ‘relationship’ with either boy and for the most part they knew about each other. and as i write this. i realize i sound like a ho-ish asshole. but i swear the story is much more complex than i can document here, now. ill give them nicknames now though, just in case i mention them in another entry.
the one who loved me, The Hair. he was half black, half white. he had gorgeous golden brown curly hair. he danced. and was learning. we had lots of conversation about Black shit. he was curious. he wanted to know all about my research and was confused and interested in my unapologetic love of Blackness. i was there for him when he came out to his family. he told me he loved me and showed it to me in everyway possible. i never returned the words. i felt more like his teacher than his lover. and i definitely taught him some things in the bed ;) AND about Black and Queer shit! he moved a few weeks ago to the east coast to pursue his career. im still wondering, if i could have gotten over myself. what could have been?
the one i loved, The Smile. he had a really nice smile. but i name him a little more bitterly because in the end, a smile was pretty much all he could offer (despite a lot of lofty promises and a few interesting gestures). he was my Black hope of revolutionary love. in an ideal world, we’d be perfect for each other and he knew it too. but we live in this world or at least he does. in the words of badu, “people always trying to find what world im in / im the envy of the women and i rule the men.” now, in that world, i should have had him. but apparently that world has population of one. im not sure i can adequately describe my feelings for this boy here. or perhaps its just that i don’t want to cuz it would send me off track for the summer. he left me too. after a year of back and forth, forth and back. confusions and clarities toward promises of romantic futures he left without a word. no ‘goodbyes’ or ‘see you laters,’ just that dumb ass gorgeous smile.
but the summer is here! and i expected all of it. i was waiting for The Hair to leave. and i knew The Smile couldn’t offer anything more. just about a month into the summer, ive washed my sheets more than i have in two years. not quite a true story, but sincerely close. they tell me the best way to get over someone is to get under another, well i see that and i up the challenge by saying “the best way to get over someone is to stay under or on top of some other(s).” and while i continue to sit in this starbucks and contemplate that line between summer fun and skank shit. its better than thinking about what The Smile is doing. or if i should call The Hair back. ill keep enjoying myself. SAFELY. because as this man closes his newspaper, and ‘unrequited love’ is taken out my face, an old hook-up just walked into the shop (thank you spirits), i think ill say hi ;) there’s no trust in love. so im resting awhile.
Where Does All That Ugly Go in Our Beautiful Blackness?
I’m interested in powerful images that strike chords embedded deep in the resevoirs of our subconscious
Trapped within the mundane white living of Orange County, California it becomes of paramount need to find the quiet moments of mental escape.[i]. Those breaks in the reality of the situation when I surround myself with nothing but Blackness, Black ‘living,’ Black thought, and Black ‘culture.’ When I scroll down my tumblr dashboard I’m always in a state of shock-excitement-peace seeing the numerous blogs devoted to maintaining a loving relationship with this thing we call Black. That thing/stuff that is constantly misrepresented, unrecognized, feared, yet still hypervisible and overdetermined. One of the themes running across these blogs (my own included, in my relationship/work with Black visuality) is beauty, often addressed through the notion of Black love—of self and culture. I’m pleased to be linked with others in this remarkable act of unapologetic Blackness, not new, but now hip, chic, and constant—in step with the ever-evolving technology age. My, your, our Blackness is represented as just as relevant and pleasing as the MacBook I type these words from. The blog world has become a space of representing our interest in transforming, self-making, and ultimately protesting. What is to be said of this affirmation of beauty? Or what can be made in these life-affirming words and images of Blackness? A lot can be said on those questions, but I’m currently most intrigued/engaged with another question: where does what we transform, make, and protest figure into our notions of Blackness?
The work of Wangechi Mutu plays with all of these questions and pushes our ideas of transformation and beauty to the (performative) limits. In responding to and protesting stereotypes, our blogs often obscure and avoid the violent notions of Blackness we daily encounter. But where does that violence go in our mental escapes? What happens to those things not spoken? They certainly don’t evaporate.
As I have stated elsewhere, what is remarkable about the work of artist like Carrie Mae Weems or Michael Ray Charles, is their ability to confront what is known/thought and bring it out for all to speak, contemplate, and confront. Kara Walker mines the same vein and abstracts, imagines, and digs into fantasy space toward an account of the same notions of Blackness. Particularly concerning the idea of beauty and self/Black love, I am captivated by Wangechi Mutu’s ability to abstract and amplify stereotype.
In an interview with Lauri Firstenberg, Mutu noted:
"Camouflage and mutation are big themes in my work, but the idea I’m most enamored with is the notion that transformation can help us to transcend our predicament. We all wear costumes when we set out for battle. The language of body alteration is a powerful inspiration. I think part of my interest in this comes from being an immigrant but I’ve also always been interested in how people perform and maneuver among one another."
In contrast to the Walker, Weems, and Charles, Mutu’s work does not present clear cut renderings of stereotypes, but they are always present. The violence forming and shaping Blackness is highlighted, exposed, and abstracted in such a way that flips the formula: finding beauty in what is equated to ugly (transforming, self-making, protesting), toward highlighting the complex/constant relationship between beauty and ugly: the two are always with each other and always visible.
Mutu is a New York artist from Kenya who was educated both in Africa and the States. Her work uses collage not just as a crafty, chic art medium, but rather to speak to the ways in which one’s life is organized. She culls sexual imagery from fashion and porn, ethnographic photographs in National Geographic and high-gloss populist coffee table books such as Africa Adorned toward deconstructing the female body until it becomes a series of leprous dismembered pinups.[ii]
“Violent incidences are often fastened to images of privilege in my drawings. Images of altered or slightly mutilated bodies with diseased skin sometimes look like bizarre and colorful fabric costumes. There is this tiny percentage of people who live like emperors because elsewhere blood is being shed.” -Wangechi Mutu
“Women’s bodes are particularly vulnerable to the whims of changing movements, governments, and social norms. They’re like sensitive charts—they indicate how a society feels about itself. It’s also disturbing how women attack themselves in search of a perfect image, and to assuage the imperfections that surround them.” -Wangechi Mutu
[i] I say Orange County simply because that is my current physical location. I keep in the forefront of my thinking, “what Black utopia exist where this would not be a need?”
[ii] Lauri Firstenberg, “Wangechi Mutu: Perverse Anthropology: The Photomontage of Wangechi Mutu,” in Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora.Lauri Ann Farrell, editor (New York: Museum of African Art), 136-143
haven’t gotten up. memories and thoughts. dreams of what not. lies awake waiting… searching for a spot. perfect in nature. lies is what’s bought. poems will be written… for dreams with no luck. still here…to be gotten up.
“I think many black intellectuals don’t know who black artist are… black artist can be very quiet. I learned a new respect for the quite ones; it is precisely the ones who are most quiet that we need to pay attention to. These people—black visual artist—make things and make visions. Their job, their goal is to re-envision vision… I think we need to begin to understand how regimes of visuality enforce racism, how they literally hold it in place.”—Michele Wallace
* Few artist gain fame and critical recognition in their later years. Alma Thomas did, in her seventies and eighties. Determined to identify with the avant-garde, Thomas has become recognized for her keen use of color and shape. Drawing forms based on her observations of nature, she pushed and pulled the optical properties of paint itself. She came to believe that “the making of a picture involves two processes: a taking in of impressions and a giving out of it by visible expression—a seeing of the subject with a visual and mental eye, and a communicating of what has been so seen to the visual and mental eyes of others.”
i will just say. jill’s first album “who is jill scott?” is her best album. but with this new work “the light of the sun” she reinvents her sound and goes places she hasn’t been before. and its awesome. let this track ride out and go with her. “the light of the sun” (title track for the album, bonus track) is my summer groove.
i was asked a question earlier today from an anonymous follower about the work of artist michael ray charles. i responded in effort of creating further dialogue. i figure i should open it up to everyone! so below i am posting a few pieces from the artist. i have no definitive thoughts on the work, other than it intrigues me. charles has been regarded as an astute cultural critic, prolific in understanding and translating stereotypes, and also a producer of “coon art.” what do y’all think?
White Power, 1994
Buy Black (Forever Free), 1997
Hello, I’m Your New Neighbor (Forever Free), 1997
The Fall of a Proper Nigga…Not Guilty? (Forever Free), 2000
do i run the risk of being accused of cooning out, by displaying his work so prominently on my page?
The quiet buzz of america. Glenn Ligon’s Rückenfigur (2009) faintly pulsates in one of the final rooms of the “Human Nature” exhibition currently running at LACMA. To stand before, below, and behind Ligon’s neon work that ‘reads’ “AMERICA” is perhaps to question the standing of america as a concept. What perspective is the viewer made privy to at a site of deconstructing through inversion of language, signifiers, and normative understandings? Standing below and before Rückenfigur is to (re)think the concept of nation, and one’s relationship to the body of america. Upon initial view, the word/concept is recognized; but another recognition—its backwardness—is almost immediately caught and the viewer is positioned behind or america is positioned in front. To be before the work quickly becomes to be behind it, behind the nation, placed in a position of other, or outsider.
Further reading from behind reveals a nonsense to the inversion of “america.” If to stand at Ligon’s “AMERICA” as a point of disequilibrium, a break from normative understandings of the rightness of nation, search for equilibrium-restored will produce no success. Looking to the neon sign, a question of being on the other side will reveal its backwardness from that vantage as well. Where can america stand right in this rendering? In the “Human Nature” exhibit, Ligon’s Rückenfigur stands across the room from Bruce Nauman’s Human Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know (1983). The two are juxtaposed—the vibrant highlighting of complexity of existence versus the subtle, quite meditation on existence. Which is not to say the two works disagree with each other, rather the two are in deep conversation with one another and their pairing reveals tensions in understanding the world and the self.
It should be wildly apparent, as I want it to be, this blog is focused on Black cultural production, and being. So I will not flesh out Nauman’s work here, now. Rather I hope to push our attention toward Ligon’s Ruckenfigur on its own terms. And I encourage everyone to stand before, below, and behind it and meditate with me. What does it mean to be behind america? And if to progress in front of or past this state, the backwardness does not change.
Rückenfigur turns “america” around with no hopes of resituating its right standing, but rather towards a different conceptual understanding, a different way of thinking the order of the things. Perhaps not new, but now turned on, highlighted, made visible in the neon glow and quiet buzz.
i was wondering if youve ever checked out any of michael ray charles's work before. it tends to be quite controversial especially among black communities...
i have my opinion on his work but i was wondering what you thought about it :]
i have seen michael ray charles’ work. i haven’t had a chance to write on any of it, so i have not developed any strong thoughts. i would just say as a viewer, and critical thinker, im drawn to his work. ive written/read a lot on kara walker and i think charles and walker tend to garner some of the same reactions: perverse pleasure, critical praise, and repulsion toward middle-class respectability (Black & white).
charles’ work plays with the american cultural imaginary. perhaps this is why it is so uncomfortable for people. where/how does Blackness operate in the imaginary? what type of libidinal investments are revealed not just in the work, but in the reaction and consumption of the work? with artist like charles, and walker, the assumptive logic forming their work and consuming their art must be paid due attention.
thats a little thought on the matter. i will revisit some of charles’ work though and continue thinking. i would love to hear your opinion as well! conversation. i would also sugget checking out Tavia Nyong’o’s essay, “Racial Kitsch and Black Performance.” I think some answers lie there, well if not answers at very least a critical lens toward answering some of the complex questions michael ray charles art brings to light.
Lyle Ashton Harris, Brotherhood, Crossroads, Etc. Two, 1994
i was first drawn into this photo by the beauty of the black men pictured. surrounded by the colors of black liberation. an homage to black love? the kind that marlon riggs and essex hemphill term “revolutionary-” black men loving each other. closer examination reveals the gun, held by one man, pressed to the chest of the other. further research reveals the two men are brothers. should i be having a moment of crisis? or drawn in further?
lyle ashton harris often makes portraits of himself, made over in drag, signifying his queer identity, while repositioning what can/should be conjured with sights of Black skin. In the above photograph, harris is pictured holding a pistol pressed to his brother (thomas allen harris, also queer), while the two kiss. what can be said of this intimacy? the image is aesthetically pleasing, yet wrapped with violence, and a certain perverse closeness. Black love. Black intimacy. Black kinship. Black queerness are all topics thrown into the air with this photograph. what is harris making claim to by situating a certain sexual freedom amidst notions of kinship? why does the gun link these two men in the same fashion the kiss does? what stake in black liberation is harris making?
perhaps i am not repulsed by this photo due to the recurring theme of these strange intimacies running through Black cultural production. to name but a few, the relationship between ruth and milkman (mother and son) in toni morrison's Song of Solomon. the male-male sexual violence paul d. experienced on the chain gang in morrison's Beloved. or the relationship between louis and cisely batiste in kasi lemmons' Eve's Bayou.
definitive answers i do not have. but i think that is what is great about this piece, it offers no answers. just a space for meditation. i thank harris for this work. and all the artist pushing conversations of Blackness into uncomfortable, but wildly necessary conversations. in search of what hemphill deemed the “ass splitting truth.” i post Brotherhood, Crossroads, Etc. Two here, in hopes of sparking dialogue.
so i pull up to the gas station to put some air in my tire. i run into a brother named toussaint. so the day is going well. if you dont know who toussaint is. look it up. quickly. if the revolution happened to bust out right then and there. at least i was with a brother whose name would imply he was ready to get loose. i digress.
im walking up to the cashier to tell him to turn the air on. and this white lady. pumping gas into her benz. is staring at me as i walk up. not a quick glance. but a full on checking me out stare. now. i know i was looking especially summer today. short shorts. tank top. toms. donning my BEAUTIFUL BLACK SUN KISSED. HEAVEN SENT skin. but im no fool. clearly i was performing my queerness in every possible way. from my too short short shorts. colorfully stripped toms. and a switch in my hips. that i believe to maya angelou would signify i might have oil wells pumping in my living room. i was looking good. Black queer. and in need of the gas station attendant. not some orange county housewive looking to live out a plantation fantasy. BUT. my queer demeanor. and even a brother named toussaint couldn’t keep the white lady at bay.
she walks up behind me. taps me on the shoulder. and asks. do you have the time.
the fuck!? lady its 2011. im pretty sure there is a button on your benz you can push and get the time in melbourne australia. thats the best you could come up with? i told her no. i don’t have the time. she looked heartbroken and walked back to her car. i wish i would’ve said. “white lady. its whatever time you want it to be im just a slave trying to make it through your world.” or yelled to toussaint. “its the time of the Paradigm.” and set some shit off at the gas station today. perhaps thats why i wear my too short short shorts, easier to kick white people.