A Black Woman’s Battle Cry

priscilla-du-preez-172598-unsplashJust like I promised last week, here is my piece that was performed in the Original Women’s Narratives Saturday night. Fair warning, there is explicit content in this and it’s a bit longer/stronger than what I usually write.

For good reason.

Growing up, I feel like the conscious stares whenever my classed talked about MLK in elementary school or the mumbled apologies when I walked past someone saying the n word in high school always showed up in my peripherals. Not because I wasn’t ready to notice them– I was– but because I was tired of having to notice them.

Did I ignore the stares? Yes.

Did I accept those apologies with a nod before moving on? Yes.

Should I have? I don’t know. That’s the thing, I don’t quite know where I stand on what it means to stand up for myself without seeming like the angry black woman in my own head.

That doesn’t mean I never said anything.

Sometimes I might stay quiet, but that doesn’t mean I plan to. I let my writing say what I usually won’t. So this is me, my definition and what I know I need to fight for in my own life. What we all need to fight for– not only equality, but equity.


Here is my spoken word poem, A Black Woman’s Battle Cry.

A Black Woman’s Battle Cry

eye-for-ebony-399310-unsplash.jpgWhen I was thirteen, I realized my hair was not like the other girls.

It didn’t swish and sway, shining as I walked.

It didn’t grow past my ass in less than a year.

No, it was different, it was curly, messy, kinky as they say.

All I knew was what it felt like, that I was different.

Then my mother called it one word: nappy.

That is the lifestyle of a black girl living around so many others who look nothing like her;

Standards get confused, unspoken boundaries get crossed

and people might ask me if I get “tanner in the summer”

or “did your hair grow 10 inches overnight?”

All I could ever reply was “sure.”

I let it go.

Because it’s not their fault they were ignorant, that they didn’t know…

Except maybe it was.

In youth, those words are a mistake.

In adulthood, this becomes ignorance.

etty-fidele-407371-unsplash.jpgBecause when the ignorant boys believe in that mistake,

they grown into ignorant men; they belittle me.

Whispers here and there, as I see a nudge and hear the words

“I ain’t never tasted chocolate before.”

As if I am some commodity to be consumed and disposed of.

That is not what I am.

Yet it makes me question exactly what defines that; what defines me beyond my skin color or my hair texture?

My athletic ability or my home life?

My academic record or my grammar usage?

What about my skin color makes it seem like it’s okay to overstep the bounds of being treated like a human being?

No, you may not touch my hair.

No, I do not play basketball.

No, I do not come from a one parent household.

And no, I am not someone you can throw the word “nigga” around with because you think the color of my skin is some invitation to violate the simple rules of morality.

Just because you know someone who looks like me, just because you’re friends with people “like me”

does not mean you know anything about who I am.brannon-naito-414362-unsplash

You do not know me unless I allow you to.

You do not touch me until you hear the word “yes.”

Am I a black girl, born and raised in a nice town, who acts a little more white than black?

Am I an achieving, dedicated student, with brains overlooked for color and assumed to be less than I am?

And am I a minority at one of the most prestigious CSU’S, representing women of my color while holding onto my own identity?

Because I am a scholar, I am an African American, I am a second generation college student, I am a minority,

and I am a woman.

Not a single one of these things alone can define who I am, yet we live in a world where people act like any one of them does.

Where pay is determined by chromosomes.

Where equality is determined by color.

And where opportunity is determined by causation.

So my question is, does society determine my purpose too?

Is it my nappy hair that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the girls;

camila-damasio-2720-unsplash.jpgNo easy “5 minute hairstyles” or “elegant updos done easy” that applies to me in doctors office magazines.

Or maybe the way they see me as a commodity, an opportunity, before tossing me around and treating me like a toy;

Not because my skirt was too short, because I was “asking for it.”

No, because they wanted to try out a darker shade for once.

Or maybe it’s the difference between a man and a women when I do everything I can and yet, my “womanhood” takes away from my proficiency.

Just enough to get paid twenty percent less, take out another dollar for the unprofessionality of my “nappy” hair.

How do we define purpose, define being, without looking past what we see?

How do we make change when so many people do not seem to want to see it at all?

I want to walk into a room and not be judged by my skin or by my body, no. Judge me by my mind.

By my intelligence.

By my character.

For it is believed that being born into different circumstance automatically puts you three steps back from the rest.

As we live in a world where it is assumed that the color of our skin and identified gender are constraints of our being.aman-bhargava-282998-unsplash

But they are not, if anything at all, they are simply boundaries to push,

lines to cross,

and glass ceilings to keep breaking down again and again

until they can exist no longer.

Because I am an African American, nappy haired, powerful woman who wants the equality I deserve.

And I’m ready to break this shit down.

A Lesson Learned

If you read my blog post on Friday, then you know what today is: Today is the day to share more writing with you. writer's life

This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I wanted to share poem I wrote in my AP Literature class during my senior year. This was in response of support to another poem two students read aloud in class, Lindsey Hobart’s How to Tell a Rape Joke which you can take a look at hereA Lesson Learned is straight out of  my poetry anthology (page 66) and even though I could probably quote every line of it in my sleep, here it is. I hope you like it.

 

A Lesson Learned

She’s insecure in her own skin,

andy-wang-39028.jpgthough most people don’t really know why.

She worries about the scars on her body,

about how difficult they are to hide.

Because they define the mistakes of her past

and everything she thought herself to be:

a one-out-of-six, a statistic,

that most people cannot understand, do not see.

She is scared, the lonely kind of isolated,

the way her mind replays and goes back to

the moment it happened, what she did to deserve it.

Though in the end no one does. If only she knewclem-onojeghuo-111360.jpg

how to protect herself, how to stay safe.

How to know what to be, what she needed to say.

Or in the aftermath, how to put herself back together again,

that soon enough, she would somehow be okay.

But she will be stronger next time. She hopes and she prays

that maybe she will be guarded and able to show

the man who stole her dignity, her faith, and her pride

how damn good she has gotten at saying No.

PS. Since I forgot to mention it last week, I did a guest blog post a few weeks back for my publisher! You can take a look at it here, happy Monday.

 

To This Day

But our lives will only ever always

jonatan-pie-216311.jpgContinue to be

A balancing act

That has less to do with pain

And more to do with beauty

Back in 2013, I was a sophomore in high school and somewhere along my needs for procrastination, I found something that changed how I looked at poetry and at people— it was so honest, so incredibly beautiful… I had no idea what to with this gem I had just found.

For I had stumbled upon the To This Day Project video on youtube, by Shane Koyczan.

Years later I am still impressed with what it has to say and now, now I know that it was there not only for us to to see, but to think about what it means. It is there for the bullies and the people and the lives it is all talking about, for the people who need a touch of inspiration. That is what spoken word is— it is honest, it is true, and for so many people, it is a reality.

There are countless lines within this video that I wish I could hold onto but this one applies to all of us.

seth-willingham-64594.jpg“If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself

Get a better mirror 

Look a little closer 

Stare a little longer

Because there’s something inside you that made you keep trying.”

Every day I look around this campus and I see people who are still trying. I talk to friends away at other schools or hear about the ones I miss still at Vista and I can tell every one of us is still trying… Trying to what?

We are trying to live our lives, to find our way to a place we know we deserve to be. Because in a society where it is believed we are defined by the amount of money we make or the degree that will be written on our diplomas, there are a lot of people who have a hard time feeling like they will ever get there.

Let me tell you this, if you believe you can get there and you do everything in your power to do so, the only thing standing in the way is yourself.

Our mentalities and the belief we hold in ourselves is one of the most important things we can hold onto in this life. Because in eighteen years, if I have learned anything else, it is how to keep on trying.

splitshire-01466Maybe sometimes it gets hard to believe in what we are doing when the world around keeps telling to turn in a different direction. Think of the women this month is about and the ones it has hopes to inspire— where would they be if they took “no” for an answer?

Where would we be?

Take a moment (7 minutes actually) out of your day to take a look at this video, and remember the power that words hold in our lives, the power we hold in others. And never forget to believe in how priceless this life can really be when we look past the standards, the money, and the stereotypes, into what truly is the balancing act “that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty.” 

To This Day Project

 

 

Black Excellence

little-lightsIn the spirit of Black History Month, I did some writing after the spoken word performance last Wednesday. Before I knew it, pen was running on paper and this is what I had left in my hands. It’s funny how you find inspiration in all the places you never think to look. This year, I have been paying more attention to the people around me, who I am, and what this month means to me. In doing so last week, somehow I found a new rhythm to run with, so without further ado, here is my new poem and I hope you enjoy it— feel free to leave any comments below!

 

Black Excellence

 

How to write a love song, how to feel inspired

when things just ain’t so pretty—

my people are so tired.

What about the times you left us

shot down on the streets,

for making music out of tragedy,

for walking to our own beats?

shadows-on-mountainWhat about the rest of us,

the writing on the wall,

the scripture found within our hearts

when He says, let the future fall

where it may? For we have a right to stand

to ride out in the heart of the storm

in a holy war, of love but so much hate

of anything but silence for he said

We have a dream.

To let our hearts sing with the faith that we bring,

sing it out sing it loud, give your brothers and sisters

a hand.

For we are beautiful, we are strong,

this world is all we’ve got.

This is our day, this is our chance,

raise your voice and take a stand,

as we are searching for the truth

in a world where promises come with fingers crossed.

But we are not lost.

As we stand together, right fist high in the airProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

that is not America, that is not the beauty we see,

that is cutting us down at the knees.

This idea we stand for is so much more than a crowd of people

with something to say, something to believe in

and no way to have their voices heard.

This is more than America, this is more than a stand,

this is more than than any one of us.

For you look at my skin and I know what you see:

light-mountainA hoodie, or some skittles,

maybe everything you think we would be.

Because they say black lives matter

but their actions do not make sense

when I see beauty, I see strength,

I see everything we are.

For this is a stand, these are our voices,

and this,

this is what we call Black excellence.

Unapologetically Black

1/240

More than a student, a woman, and a freshman here at Cal Poly, this is the number that represents me.

I am one out of 240 black students here.

Welcome to Black History Month, one that I started off with something different here this week. On Wednesday night, I went to an open mic series celSplitShire-01466.jpgebrating this month in our theatre called Another type of Groove with one of my best friends. Neither of us were sure what to expect, but what we got was something more that we imagined it would be.

What we got was a beautiful expression of color, honesty, and the complete art of spoken word.

If you haven’t heard of him, I suggest you take a quick look at Judah 1 (click that link) who was a part of the series on Wednesday. As both a writer and someone who absolutely loves spoken word, he was something completely different to listen to. From the idea of love to his experiences in watching the young boys he teaches in camps or prisons years later, Judah 1 had something to say. And he said it well. Throughout the night we heard from him, his apprentice, and several other students here at Cal Poly who simply believed in something strongly enough to tell us about it. Some people spoke of the tragedies we see around the world and others shed light on a truth some of us may not be able to understand. Though there were students of all colors present in that room, I left that theatre with one idea left in my head.

This is Black Excellence.

Though there may only be about 240 of us here at this school, there is something so different about being around people just like you… Something I don’t think others understand easily. It’s like changing my hair extensions every few months in high school and having girls who knew me ask me if I cut my hair— there are things that I no longer have to explain or no longer have to try to be for other people when I’m surrounded by those just like me. As true as it is, it’s hard to believe that being around people of color here brings such a feeling of home and familiarity that I cannot find in most places. Even our Black Student Union club has a T-shirt to represent who we are: 1/160 (the number from last splitshire-5620year), with two words on the back.

Unapologetically Black.

Because that is who we are, this is what we represent, and we are proud to celebrate everything we are with the representation of our history reflected on our skin every day. Last week, I shared with you a poem by Langston Hughes, I, Too. Within those words is a past that we will always be bound to. Black History Month can be told through story after story, from the leadership of Dr. King whom we celebrated last month, to the literature of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

This month is so much more than the one chapter in a US history book that tells you about slavery, or remembering that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that “freed” the slaves… It’s about remembering the black members of society who are recognized for something more than the color of their skin. We can’t just remember the Barack Obamas or Harriet Tubmans of the world, what about Marc Hannah who helped to create the 3D technology in films like Jurassic Park, or Patricia Bath who helped to create The Cataract Laserphaco Probe for removing cataract lenses. Every culture has it’s own story, it’s own journey to get to what it has become today, and there are so many people we aren’t educated about who paved the path that we now walk on. This month represents my culture, the history so many of us do not know behind it, and the pride my parents raised me with to be a part of it.

And to think, Cal Poly almost made the mistake of making my brother 1/239.

From the inspiration of the past and the open mic night on Wednesday, I have found myself writing a lot in the last three days. There was one line a student read on the last set before the event ended that I still haven’t forgotten.

youthThey tell children to pick out the love from the cracks in our promises.”

What does that mean to you? Think about that line, what it says about the reliability of our human nature, and hold onto the fact that I’ve got something new to share with you. I promise to be timely with this one— no cracked promises here. Keep an eye out for a new poem on Monday, one that goes right along with the theme of this month and a new style that I’ve got to say, I’m quite fond of. 

So here’s to another week of midterms, a fantastic Black History Month, and my new poem to come. Have a wonderful week, wherever you are in the world, stay safe, and be on the lookout for some new writing soon.