i’m mad at him too. i thought id have me a white slave by now. i thought it was vengeance day.” —Patrice O’Neal, Elephant in the Room
i’m mad at him too. i thought id have me a white slave by now. i thought it was vengeance day.” —Patrice O’Neal, Elephant in the Room
Audre Lorde (2011 ) from ‘A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer’ in I Am Your Sister. Oxford University Press, p. 83.
Audre Lorde reflecting on the unavoidable risk of being a Black public figure. The risk of being celebrated in death (always in death, it seems) not for what one has done or said or stood for, but for what ‘those forces which serve non-life’ would like for one to have done or said or stood for.
And so it is that everybody except Black women may declare what constitutes a hierarchy of oppressions, or which tools are the master’s tools and which house is the master’s house.
According to the state, no suffering warrants rebellion; although “freedom from tyranny” is one of its hallmark phrases. Perhaps what is explicitly meant, but only implied, is that no black suffering warrants rebellion.” —Joy James, “Black Suffering in Search of the ‘Beloved Community’: Political Imprisonment and Self-Defense”
1) Blind Date:
Black: lets meet at The Whistler (bar).
Non-Black: Yeah, for sure that works. What time?
Black: I’m at hip-hop show now, but it will be over soon. I’ll cab over. Let’s say 1030.
Non-Black: K, great. See ya soon.
10 minutes later
Non-Black: I just realized I have no idea what you look like…
Black: yeah, awkward. But, that’s a blind date….
10 minutes later
Black: haha, well I’m 5’10 about 150, I’m black, and have a hat on. can’t miss me.
Non-Black: oh, okay. Maybe we should meet first before we go to the Whistler.
Black proceeds to do a few shots of whiskey at the hiphop show before going to meet Non-Black.
2) Impromptu first “date”
Leaving the party, walking to the train.
Black is thinking: nothing wrong with a one-night stand. I don’t really care about giving it up on the first date. He’s white (well not really, but he’s a ‘junior partner of civil society’) I’m pretty sure he’s racist, I just hope he doesn’t say anything crazy before I…
Non-Black: The train is like four more blocks up, its pretty ghetto around here ya know? maybe we should cab it?
3) Picking someone up at a bar
Non-Black: wanna get out of here? I know of a pretty chill party in an artist warehouse
Black: for sure. let me finish my whiskey and then we’ll go.
Non-Black and Black arrive at the party. A grungy artist warehouse with a bunch of white folks standing around getting high and watching weird “artsy” (*cough*make no sense*cough)* films
Non-Black: I’m so happy we left that bar, I mean no offense…
Black is thinking: oh shit I don’t want to kill him, but where is my knife?
Non-Black: but I hate the way that bar gets on certain nights. It gets all ebony.
Black looks out the window, the warehouse they are standing in just so happens to be in the shadow of the Chicago juvenile detention center.
I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.
during my time at UC Irvine, i was lucky enough to struggle, learn, teach, grow, and organize with a group of radically conscious Black queer students. we called ourselves the Black Queer Collective and functioned as a space of shared energies and talents. we were political, academic, social, and everything in between. i miss those folks.
i post this letter here now toward a recording of our history. and while i think myself and many of the writers/thinkers involved in this letter have evolved in our political stances, after re-reading it tonight, i find it still relevant and a testament to our struggle.
we collectively wrote and delivered this letter in the heat of one of the most politically charged seasons UCI had ever seen. after the arrest of the “Irvine 11” followed by the arrest of the “Irvine 17,” many students organized in coalition for a battle in exposing the interlocking systems of power that operated against students and workers. iFest, an event organized by “Anteaters for Israel” (the local student pro-Israel group), took place in the spring following the arrest. many student groups chose not to participate (in support of the “Irvine 11”). However, the LGBT center participated, which put the Black Queer Collective in an awkward position due to our open support of amnesty for the “Irvine 11” (and of course the “irvine 17” but that goes without saying because many of the Collective members were apart of that action) and our active role with the Black Student Union. due to David Bishop’s (Director of the LGBT center) lack of enthusiasm in dealing with many of the issues, the Black Queer Collective staged a boycott of the center following the deliverance of this letter and conversations to no avail.
Dear David Bishop,
We are writing you regarding the participation of the LGBT Resource Center in iFest this past week. We understand the need of our shared queer community to build bridges and make a visible presence on our campus; we also understand the policy of the LGBTRC to not take political stances. However, participation in an openly pro-Israel event is both a political stance and antithetical to a progressive queer identity. It is this dual action that the Black Queer Collective takes issue with and hopes to create dialogue with you and push toward a better future.
This past year has been an extremely politically charged year for our campus, especially in the realm of Israel-Palestine relations. Participation in the iFest event is to openly endorse the mission and politics of a pro-Israel/ Zionist agenda. This local agenda has been the subjugation and hyper-surveillance of Arab and Muslim students on our campus. Whether or not you agree with this agenda is besides the point we make here. Rather, participation in the iFest event is unequivocally displaying a sympathetic stance to the pro-Israel/ Zionist ideology being displayed on our campus. That said, a sympathetic stance to Israel is to take an affirmative position against a free Palestine and end to an apartheid state.
With the above said, it is clear that you have broken the LGBTRC policy of not taking a political stance, however, it is rather the political stance that you have assumed that alarms us and is pushing the Black Queer Collective to respond. As mentioned above, a pro-Israel state is antithetical to a progressive queer identity. That is to understand the unique histories of colonialism and “othering” of ‘native’ bodies in relation to the “othering” and subjugation of queer bodies. Unique histories of oppression should pull our queer identity to stand firmly against other forms of oppression, be it directly related to our community or not.
Futhermore, it is the Black Queer Collective’s position to denounce Zionism as a structure of oppression through modes of colonialism. While we understand the need for the LGBTRC to remain politically “neutral,” it comes as a shock and disappointment to see your own policy broken in support of iFest. While we denouce the position of the organizers of iFest and the participation of the LGBTRC, it is not our intention to denounce the LGBTRC in general. Rather we hope this letter finds you well and opens dialogue to building a stronger, more progressive queer community.
Sincerely,Black Queer Collective
Everything around you see
The Ankhs, the wraps, the plus degrees
And yes even the mysteries
Its all me
Sometimes it hard to move you see
When you growing publicly
But if I have to chose between
I chose me
Had [some girls then some dudes]
And for them [all] my luv was true
This is my last interview
Hey there’s me
This year I turn [twenty four]
Damn it seems it came so quick
My [lips and hair] have gotten thick yea
Its all me
I use to pray to God above
But now Im filled with so much luv
But even if the world cant see
Its still me
Will I escape this vanity?
Or will I keep on smoking trees?
But I’ll just let it go and be, Me
Sometimes I dont know what to say
So many leaders to obey
But I was born on saviors day
So I chose me
And in the world of greed and hate
They may try to erase my face
But millions spring up in my place
believe in me
As sure is all and all is one
We all should grow before its done
So I salute you [Baldwin]
Cuz you are me
Before I end this crazy dream
Before I take one for the team
Yo ass done matched the gasoline
Tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop
you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?
sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
comes back to my mouth and I am quiet
like Olympian pools from the running
mountainous snows under the sun
sometimes thinking about the 12th House of the Cosmos
or the way your ear ensnares the tip
of my tongue or signs that I have never seen
like DANGER WOMEN WORKING
I lose consciousness of ugly bestial rapid
and repetitive affront as when they tell me
18 cops in order to subdue one man
18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle
(don’t you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue
and scuffle my oh my) and that the murder
that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn
street was just a “justifiable accident” again
People been having accidents all over the globe
so long like that I reckon that the only
suitable insurance is a gun
I’m saying war is not to understand or rerun
war is to be fought and won
sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
blots it out/the bestial but
not too often tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop
you think the accident rate would lower subsequently
i write my nightmares away
i write to make everything okay
which means i write
because things complexly aren’t alrite
but i suppose that’s a fact
simple truth of this life
and i write because i need a dream
something to twist this life
that happens to be a nightmare
into something anew
a new vision perhaps
where dreaming is life
and its not so nightmarish
but for now ill twist these words
because when i write
i write my nightmares away
A central tenant of modern feminist thought has been the assertion that “all women are oppressed.” This assertion implies that women share a common lot, that factors like class, race, religion, sexual preference, etc. do not create a diversity of experience that determines the extent to which sexism will be an oppressive force in the lives of individual women. Sexism as a system of domination is institutionalized, but it has never determined in an absolute way the fate of all women in this society. Being oppressed means the absence of choices. It is the primary point of contact between the oppressed and the oppressor. Many women in this society do have choices (as inadequate as they are), therefore exploitation and discrimination are words that more accurately describes the lot of women collectively in the United States.
- bell hooks, “Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory”
Derogatory terms do not mean; they assault. Their intention is not to communicate but to harm. Thus they are not discursive signs or linguistic statements but modes of aggression. They express a structure of power and domination, a hierarchy that contextualizes them and gives them their force.
- Steve Martinot and Jared Sexton, “The Avant-Garde of White Supremacy”
I have long contemplated my relationship with Black feminism. My understanding of it, my hostility toward the way it reorients things, my reliance on its strong explanatory power, my exploitation of its unique ability to ground arguments in radical shifts toward acknowledgement of the anti-Black world, and my tenuous inabilities to actually capture, sit-in, or experience the Black feminist perspective. Which is to say, or perhaps attempt to address, a certain tension between theorizing and progressing Revolution and being situated at or embodying the locus of complete abjection. Where ontology meets a particular lived experience, and the two dance a two-step of death, only to be broken by a kick-ball-change of rape, violence, and silence. I choose my words carefully, for at this moment, it is only these words I have to get my point across, to reach my reader (if only myself) and we meditate on an understanding of our condition. Too often I’ve been at odds with people surrounding choices in language, trying to understand exactly what is meant when things are said to or at me, as well as defending my own positions because of lazy attempts at humor or colloquialism or at my best moments: unflinching stances against racist heteropatriarchy. But what I always fall back on is an interrogation of conversations (and I do not escape my own investigations), trying to capture or document the intricacies of power—where the discursive reveals, conjures, and rest upon my own or others relations to power. This has been made possible through the opening sentence of this statement: I have long contemplated my relationship with Black feminism.
At this point, I don’t recall whether it was by happenstance or if someone pointed me in the direction, but when I was beginning a development of consciousness surrounding sexual identity and sexual politics, Audre was there. I remember long days spent with the Sister Outsider collection and thinking through notions of “difference” and theorizing and acting from the margins. Trying to understand and deal with my own position in activist spaces, classrooms, work environments, and personal relationships. I look back on that time as a great moment in my political development, personal growth, and academic grounding, but also as a dark time of misreadings, abuses, and bad-faith advancements of self (and a particular position) founded upon a specific relationship to power left unexamined. Held as one of the founding documents of radical Black feminism, the “Combahee River Collective Statement” (1977) purports Black feminism emerging in response to the failures of racist white feminism and sexist Black Nationalism. The Statement demands an intersectional analysis that accounts for the ways in which race, gender, class, and sexuality intersect in the lives of Black women. In its view Black feminism was the logical conclusion for those who sought a framework that was inclusive of all women. And many critics have pointed to the “problems” of the Statement; taking issue at points in the document that imply only Black women could be Black feminist. And in that tension I situated myself at odds with its purpose and in need of its analysis. At that particular point in my consciousness raising, there was no voice quite as pronounced as that of radical Black feminist scholar-activists. They resonated with me as I had grown up with the teachings and love of my mother, grandmother, aunties, cousins, and a few family friends I claimed as my sister. And my experience of growing up as a feminine queer boy put myself at odds a lot with my father, grandfather, uncles, cousins, and a few family friends I claimed as brothers. Which is not to say I found my place with women and not men. Rather, my relationship to maleness was complex and upon reading Lorde and her company of Black feminist it became easy to conflate their relationship to patriarchal power with my relationship to the feminine and sexual identity. And their plight against racist White feminism and sexist Black Nationalism was misread as a universalizing battle for the Black sexual deviant. Putting stock in the critique of the Combahee River Collective Statement, but also understanding the valiance of a vertical understanding of oppression, I made Coltrane-styled ‘giant steps’ toward applying myself as a “Black feminist” and acting in manner as if I suffer just like them, all the while quoting Black feminist for their unique perspective from the bottom of the hierarchy. Which was a struggle on a political level, how does one organize a bottom-up strategy without knowing what it means to be on the bottom?
I remember Audre. She spoke unapolegtically Black, feminist, and queer. And perhaps gave me a glimpse of the location I should be organizing from, but somewhere along that consciousness raising, experiences became intertwined in such a way that I lost her, and I lost myself as well. I have chosen not to reproduce any Audre Lorde quotes here because of the way I see her overly used, often taken out of context, and the weight of her words often ignored toward a preservation of the one who wields her words. All mistakes I made myself: when I needed to point attention to race inside of queer spaces I spoke Lorde; when I needed to make a queer point in Black spaces, I spoke Lorde. Largely ignoring the unique specificity she was speaking to and from as that of the Black queer female position, thereby casting myself at the locus of racist, sexual oppression: an authority I assumed through speaking from my own experience which was validated on the back of Black feminism. Of course this (I hope) unforgiving meditation on my relationship with Black feminism is an attempt at an apology, but not a call to put down the tenants of Black feminism(s), particularly radical Black feminism if one is not centrally located in that two-step of death, only to be broken by a kick ball change of rape, violence, and silence. Instead, I hope this becomes a moment to (continue to) reflect on the radical potential within Black feminist analysis and reevaluate the ways in which certain discursive moves fleet away from Black women, while claiming the tenants of Black feminism.
Toward a radical queer critique, spoken by Black males, that doesn’t displace Black women.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30Cj1DsLmv0&feature=share < check out the video!
A good friend sent me the video link I post here now on negrosunshine. I watched it the other night and was excited to see the three men featured in the short documentary were here in the Chicago area at DePaul University AND talking a good game around issues of gender and sexuality (if anyone knows these guys, hit me up! I would love to sit down with them and talk more). And overall I thought the video was an interesting look at the word “faggot” and the gay-male relationship with the feminine. And while I will take the risk of sounding overly critical, I want to point to a few discursive strategies in the production and the responses of the participants that inspired me to write.
The first instance that revealed contradictions in the intent of the film and the way it was laboring came at 1:14. Zach explains that he is often the target of hate due to his sexuality and the camera pans down to his shoes. The quick glimpse of his boots can be misunderstood as displaying “girl shoes,” which links the hate Zach receives to his performance of femaleness, or a transgression against gender norms. An interesting shot, which I thought/hoped would open the discussion into the complex relationship between gender and queer identity. However, the conversation is cut to Kylon who announces he does not experience the same treatment as Zach, despite wearing his “lady Uggs” around campus. The three men discuss fashion, and the screen goes black with a title shot reading “5 minutes later,” implicating the three gay men with accepted stereotypes of women and fashion, women and shopping, women and shoes. Which one could read as a now accepted gay male stereotype, but we must keep in mind the ways in which gay male stereotypes are often used to effeminize gay males, thereby linking them with something innately female (inferior)—the inner workings of heteropatriarchy. While the film’s overall intent was giving voice to gay males, it rested on a power tied to patriarchy that largely went uninterrogated.
The title of the film is “The Power of Faggot,” which in and of itself leaves the reader/viewer (pre-screening) largely open to interpretation. A ‘reclamation versus abandonment’ argument immediately comes to mind, and one is left to ponder, what is the power of “faggot?” I tend to leave these conversations alone because I myself can’t even commit to one side of the debate and speaking on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality I am guilty of using nigger, bitch, and faggot…often. However, what always shakes me to my core and causes me to reflect on my uses of language is the second epigraph of this post. Sexton and Martinot aptly point us to the power inscribed inside of language, specifically derogatory terms. When the terms enter conversation, whether or not they have insulted someone, they always assault certain positions, because they reveal, conjure, and rest upon ‘a structure of power and domination.’ And while this film attempts to dance with this argument, it falls secondary to its labor of linking sexual identity with gender-bending, and a conflation of the feminine with gay male transgression. In a nine minute video about the word “faggot” a discussion of the word does not commence until two minutes in, on the foundation of “lady Uggs” and “switching of the hips.”
The second major issue I found was the respondents’ use of certain language that signaled a homogenization of sexual deviants despite the intent of their message of intersectionality. Kylon and Zach’s use of the term “sisters” and John’s use of the word “oppression” revealed an understanding of Black feminism while also displacing a reference point that could adequately speak to/from a site of oppression. And this critique is by no means made to disregard the intent of their message, but rather made in a ‘spirit of solidarity’ as an analysis of the discursive toward an articulation of a radical queer position. How do queers, particularly Black queer men, think through relationships to the feminine in the face of Black female subjectivity? What reveals itself in our notions of gender and sexuality when solidarity rest upon uses of “sisterly” bonds? Perhaps our difficulty in answering further reveals itself in our thoughts on the word “oppression.” In the leading epigraph of this post, bell hooks points us to the uses of language, much like Sexton and Martinot, but explicitly takes a bold step in highlighting certain positions that are conjured when we rely on generally accepted terms. The ‘absence of choices’ hooks speaks of is quite the position to be in, and my experiences in activist spaces, the classroom, and personal relationships reveal I may not know what it means to be without choices. But conversations on oppression, at their best, point to differences in experiences, “your oppression is not like mine,” but rarely take that radical leap toward, “you are my oppressor.” And if we accept hooks logic, can there be a position void of choices, yet wrapped with the ability to oppress? Perhaps here I open myself up to the same critique made of the Combahee River Collective Statement: “only Black women can be Black feminist?” An answer to that question I do not possess, and maybe it’s not even my place to attempt a solution. Rather I want to point to the ways in which discursive strategies work to do harm, and how we desperately need a language of Revolution.
As I said earlier, I hope this article sparks a moment of reflection and further conversation, because holes in our tactics won’t bring about the liberation many of us are searching for. And I’m not the first to make this call. I remember Audre (and many before and after her). To harken: what is the theory behind racist liberalism? Or essentializing queerness? Or perhaps more aptly, what is the benefit of radical thought with blind-spots in its analysis of power?
With the Spirit of Desla,
all good questions. the second one I will admit though, I don’t really think of it much. perhaps because I am light skin(ed)? the twisted ways “privileges” work, it doesn’t cross my mind? Or perhaps because for a long time I rocked a fro, and I have both a visible ankh and Africa tattoo, Blackness (and im talking that gritty, scary type Black shit, not the Obama-Oprah acceptable stuff) regardless of my light skin is always inscribed forcefully on any interaction I engaged. Plus the fact that in high-school I was chair of the Black Student Union, and in college I was an African-American Studies major, so Black shit just fell out my mouth in about 85% percent of all my conversations. Perhaps it is a combination of the “privilege” and my “longing” to “reject” that “privilege” that allows me to not think of that question of desiring light skin much. And yes, all the quotes matter: regarding privilege, I’m not sure how to qualify or measure privilege when it comes to escaping or disregarding, or living despite, the ontological void of Blackness; regarding rejection, I hate the notion that because of the revelation of one’s own privilege, one can somehow actively quell the affects on self and other (there appear to be a host of liberal folk who were raising the Tim Wise banners a few years ago, now rethinking what they thought was radical thought, or at least the best of them); and as for longing, well, if I truly do possess a certain level of privilege, I’ve been pushing the boundaries of my own theoretical limits of racial formations, and the lack of thought on this matter may be a defensive move in the interest of preserving some socially accepted notion of sanity, in other words, why give up this leisure of light skin and really sit in what it means to be Black, ‘a slave to not only what others think of me, but of what I think of myself’ (heavily pulling on Fanon, I apologize for the loose way I use him, I’m in a coffee shop instead of at home near my books).
my love life in this anti-black world? well, as for love, its non-existent because I don’t think of it anymore. I’m not sure what it means or looks like, but I had some thoughts on the matter a few months ago when I was really contemplating, theorizing, experiencing, rejecting, and seeking Black love. Which was wildly complex and fucked all my shit up! So now, I don’t think of it much anymore, which coincidentally keeps my sex life vibrant. Haha. And by “love-life” I am assuming you are talking about romantic love? But more broadly Black love… how do we think it through in the face of natal alienation and generalized dishonor. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, if loving Blackness necessitates a certain level of insanity and shame, then to do it in the face of a world that can never recognize your claims in self and others as legitimate… well that is downright depressing. So… I did it! haha. I loved a Black boy, and really thought we came close to what Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill term “Revolutionary Love; Black men loving Black men,” and we both admitted it was something we had never experienced before, it was truly quite revolutionary (small “r” on purpose… because here I am talking strictly a personal level and at the preconscious interest, and perhaps unconscious identification levels, certainly nothing about our romance changed our structural positions [see, F. Wilderson). But despite that revolutionary shit… it was carried out very much in private, and largely unexplored due to the complexities it produced, and largely his fears of it in and of itself, and my fears (translated to “craziness”) of the anti-Black world which at the time I used as a tactic in the war: attempting to build an intimacy based upon a) our Blackness b) our mutual understanding of the weight of the world c) our mutual efforts in fighting the world and finally d) our attraction to each other (which should have been explored a lot more extensively before investing time and energy). All that and I sit in Chicago single! Looking for love? Not really. But for someone (or people) to talk to and get to know? Certainly.
So, how do I deal with it? I’m not sure. I try not to think of it too much. I’ve been dating a lot of non-Black boys since I’ve been here and the space of ontological wasteland between myself and them is profound, but I remedy that by understanding that on the first date, I’m not looking for the love of my life, just dinner, drinks, and perhaps some dancing. And though, as Wilderson points out, some of the most “radical” movement’s in the country still prove an unwillingness to “dance with death,” I find that a few drinks and a reliance on stereotypes brings all the boys to my yard when the music starts playing, I just won’t be relying on them when the Revolution breaks out (capital “R” for a reason).
To circle back to your query about Black men loving me for my light-skin, again I would meditate on the profound implications of Patterson’s findings in Slavery and Social Death and Saidiya Hartman’s overarching thesis of this “unfinished project of freedom.” To ground that abstract thinking in the real of my “living,” I learned my lessons most clearly from working in, theorizing against, and at times desiring the tenants of the modern LGBT movement. A desire for marriage: what is marriage in the face of the Black? Notions of property and state reliance of recognition thrown into crisis. A desire for adoption: all these gay couples adopting Black children—reliance on the child welfare system—state orchestrated violence against the Black family (Black women in particular). I could go on, but I won’t because I hate the modern LGBT movement. But… those common sense assumptions of equality get myself as a Black to where? So, I would push again, a desire for light-skin gets us where? Of course it upsets me to be desired because of my light-skin (though, I’m not sure I have any concrete examples of this happening to me that I know of). Like seriously what would it get us (me and my light-skin-loving partner), or him in particular? Better home-loans? Probably not. Get out of jail free-cards? Certainly not. Cabs? I’m not that light. Ontological recognition? ‘Where’s the Revolution?’
So at the end of all those challenges, we are still left with Audre Lorde’s dilemma between herself and the white feminist movement (which I read as between her and the world) she, me, and my light-skin-loving partner, will watch our Black children grow-up and fear they will be dragged out their cars and beaten by the police. And well, that bothers me.
I used to borrow my girl-friends jewelry and rock it as my own. Pretty soon, borrowing became stealing and ‘rocking’ became a way of life. Bangles, rings, and necklaces. Gold, silver, brass, and copper. They all would add that extra Badu look to my outfits and enhance my hipster-boho, urban steeze in the dry, mundane, cookie-cutter Orange County (and yes in this instance, I do hope you all read the word “urban” as Black). I had been telling my friends for the past year that I wanted to get my ears pierced so I could rock a feather in one and an Africa stud in another. It was all a bunch of big talk until I came to Chicago. Back in Orange County I was growing tired of seeing the feather look repurposed for the sake of “ethnic” style. Perhaps a byproduct of globalization, the others actually do exist! And they can enhance our style! Let us take a moment together and reflect on this place where trend meets capitalist consumption………………………………………………………….
I landed in Chicago and met a girl who repurposes style in a different fashion, and her product has caused me to get my ears pierced! So, in the time I wait for my piercings to heal and I begin to rock some more hipster-boho, urban shit, let me introduce you to King Onye, the reason I’m no longer borrowing and stealing, but buying and collecting.
Last Friday, I went out with King Onye to various vintage and jewelry stores around the Wicker Park area of Chicago’s west side. She was checking on her line of jewelry that is currently being held in RGB Lounge, The Silver Room, and Oxala Boutique. Not only was she handling her jewelry business, she was also scoping out locations to hold both her upcoming December trunk show and the arts-festival she is helping organize for the Others Collective, a Black arts group made up of musicians, painters, graphic designers, film and media heads, fashionistas, and who have coincidentally adopted yours truly, negrosunshine. King Onye was actually the founder of this group in a response to what she saw as the systematic denial of certain artist from the academic scene and gallery system in the Chicago area, “Why push to be in the gallery only to be rejected or misrepresented” she explains, “there is nothing wrong with creating your own space.”
We step into a new jewelry store located on Milwaukee Ave. I’m looking around for something to complement my style, and I quickly learn King Onye is searching for inspiration, and materials to make anew. I pull the most “ethnic” looking item in the store and she immediately laments me on the poor quality of the piece and why and how it could be so much better. So I challenge her: I buy the twelve-dollar necklace and ask her to make it better for me. She accepts, and last night I was lucky enough to be able to sit with her and chat about the business/art and process as she repurposed my twelve-dollar necklace into a one of kind King Onye creation.
Her work is painfully simple, while appearing to be wildly complex. The necklace I bought: blue beads, wood pieces smoothened out and shaped as stones, blue wicker tweed wrapped around cardboard framing, all strung together by silver wiring. King Onye takes the necklace apart and removes all the silver, “This was so cheap, they should be ashamed of themselves, and look at how easy this shit came off. But these beads are nice, and I like the wood.” She pulls from her craft case gold wiring of much better quality and proceeds to wrap the wood pieces with the gold and crimp the wire by hand.
“I taught myself how to make jewelry. And my work is a reflection of my own personal style. Slightly punk rock, slightly all this other shit. I attempt to stray away from neatness, all those neat categories.”
Her material base is a mixture of natural elements with industrial findings. Metals of all kinds, lots of wiring, wood, rocks, and of course feathers! Still, she understands current trends and is beginning to move away from the feathers on toward beading and chains, which is the basis for what she is terming “King Onye (Re)Introduces the Door-Knocker”
“I’m annoyed when something is too plain. I enjoy mixing and contrasting different lifestyles. It’s all in my work, my art. The vintage-feel is nostalgia for classic, yet a yearning for the modern…. And my doorknocker is big! It’s for the girl who wants to be seen. All of that is in the doorknocker, which is why I like it, it’s a big canvass for me to work with.”
She calls herself a “repurposer” or “recreator.” Inspired by things already made, she sees the next level, where pieces of jewelry can go to become, what I will pull from Spike Lee as, “mo’ betta.” You can often catch her thrifting and digging for things to buy that inspires her process of taking apart and building anew. “On your necklace, the wood really inspired me, and you know that cheap little silver they put with it did it no justice. You like gold right? This is going to be nice. Its very Badu, which I know is you” King Onye jokes.
Around her home are boxes and jars filled with beautiful beads from around the world. What makes her doorknocker remarkable is the quality and expense of the beading she uses, which she molds and shapes into the Salt-N-Peppa, hip-hop styled doorknocker. All of you reading this know I’m cautious of how I use the word “ghetto.” As I have said before, it should be reserved for conversations in which the forced containment of Black bodies is being discussed. But, in this instance “ghetto-chic” works (particularly because I’m too lazy to launch a rhetorical attack on the uses of ghetto and will rely on generally accepted terms)! King Onye’s (re)introduction of the doorknocker merges and contrast a ghetto aesthectic (read, poor Black, particularly female) with a boho, elegant style (not that my definitions of elegant rest on a natural contrast between poor Black women, I simply lacked a better term for Euro-centric standards of beauty, and as I just told you: I’m lazy).
The buzz for her jewelry came in the natural hair community, and she explains “Before I could really devote myself to making and selling my art, I had to find a way to articulate how I felt about myself as young Black woman, once I did that, I saw my jewelry as helping others find away to express how they too were beautiful.” She explained to me how her art was a natural extension to the activism she was engaged in the prior year. Particularly her organizing in the undocumented youth movement, which is a subset of the larger immigration rights movement. “I was frustrated in those spaces a lot, but I also found art in those spaces,” she states. “My jewelry is the logical extension of my sociological work, I am multicultural and my jewelry shows that.” I responded to that statement asking if there is any special connection between herself, her jewelry, and other Black women. Without hesitation she replied, “Of course there is a unique energy between Black women, and I love that. But I’m excited when anyone wears my stuff, respects my craft enough to add it to their beauty.”
And there I was, snapped out of my lazy fantasies of Black only spaces, and reminded of the reality of the situation, we are selling our shit, and things aren’t loose enough yet to ‘copyright our Blackness,’ so in the real I’m happy if you have made it this far in my article, and King Onye and I are both happy you are checking out her work, who(what)ever you may be.
Onyeka Ijeoma (King Onye) was born in Tarrant County, Texas in 1989. She is currently a student at Roosevelt University, majoring in Political Science and Sociology. Her work can be seen around the Wicker Park area, and it adorns what I will refer to as the truly hip people in Chicago, including myself; #shameless. Her website and the “King Onye (Re)Introduces the Doorknocker” campaign will be launched this winter, for now you all should follow her on tumblr at kingonye.tumblr.com