I’m still transcribing some panel thoughts and general ideas of AWP, but I wanted to send a note in its place. Sort of like flashes of thoughts going on in my mind at 2am, when I’m just getting back from my sister’s Super Bowl Party, and my belly is full, and I don’t want to go to sleep with all of this left to digest, so I spent some minutes on facebook, and heard myself humming in response to thinking/reading some of the status messages of my friends, a Jill Scott song, sung to a “Brotha”, quoted in parts below:
Jill Scott’s “Show Me”
If I asked you to trust me on all things,
Could you do it?
If I needed you to map your position,
Would you try it?
Your constantly talking about how much you love me, want me, need me, you told me stop talking.
No more conversation necessary.
Show me, show me, show me, show me, show me, show me, show me, show me, show me.
Show me, show me, show me, show me, show me.
If I needed you to replenish my faith in brothers,
Could you do it?
If I needed you to be, cool with my strength,
Could you do it?
Your constantly talking about how much you love me, want me, need me, you told me
No more conversation necessary.
Warrior keep fightin, I know you’re there.
Keep fightin, warrior I know you’re there.
[Repeat until end]
I took great, great notes (in my opinion) for yall at AWP. I thought about ways I could convey in words my experience. Those posts will come. I feel like, though, I would be remiss to pass up this timely opportunity to begin a conversation here about Race and Gender (also, Sexuality) and Poetry and Publishing and Prizes. All capital letters.
I have to admit, I can’t tell you where I was when the Claudia Rankine and the Academy of American Poet’s panel went down. I think I began to get overwhelmed by the masses of bodies floating up and down the escalotors, in the book fair, streaming in and out of the Mariott hotel, that I grabbed a friend of mine and walked across the bridge to Adam’s Morgan, and took a breath. Someone said it was something like deep sea diving. I agree. I feel like the only way I could survive was if I went to the surface for air. In that survival move, I missed something big.
The poet-men-of-color in my life…those with whom I speak on a near-daily basis about the poetry world and the larger, non-poetry world, know my stance on a lot of things in the list I articulated above. I feel with (I hope) great confidence that I will not alienate them, but, I want to also point to the lyrics that I posted by Jill Scott. They are so simple. But they are so…real. So straightforward. Demonstrative. Show Me. It is so intimate. Jill has such admiration for this person she is speaking to. She wants nothing more than to believe everything that this man is telling her; she wants to believe in the possibility of a “we” or wants to witness this brotha’s powers. But she says simply, “No more conversation necessary/ Show me.”
I feel like, the poet-men-of-color in my life will appease me and have conversations with me, and I’m thankful for our hours hashing out poems or essays or fiction or speaking about the mechanics of a poem, and I’m thankful that I have someone that will tell me what they think about my poetry and push me to be better. But Jill says, stop talking. I’m tired of talking. Jill says Show her. I find that to be a constant refrain in my head when my poet-men-of-color friends and I begin to start down the long, winding road about Race and Publishing. We are in the same boat. We can speak in terms like, “We” when we just speak about Race and just speak about Publishing. But when I say, “black women…” the conversation shifts. It is almost like during the women’s movement(s)…black and white women, when speaking about Gender, could use the term “We,” but when the conversation shifted to race, the black women were left alone, and the white women asked, “Can’t we just keep one agenda?” and the black women had to go off and fight their own battles, create their own terms for their own struggles, and the “We” dissipated.
I’m having this conversation with a friend of mine. He starts in on how hard it is for him as a black man in the world. I believe him; I see it day in and day out…watched many loved ones succumb to the perils of this non-post-racial society. He said it with such authority, like he was the only one that could have that feeling, and I let him own it, I didn’t want to take away or lessen the pain, but I wanted to remind him that there was, in fact, a “We” in this idea of hardship and suffering in the faces of our other constituents in this America. I told him that I felt that if his abuses were in his face and overt, and he could articulate several accounts…then in my experience, black women are invisible, unseen, ignored, and that, too, is a type of oppression and should not be considered greater than or less than his, but should be acknowledged: look, this happens to us. Somehow, I bring in the we, the us, and the conversation shifts, and because I love him for more than our inability to speak about race and gender, I let the conversation shift, and allow my voice to be ignored, and think: you’re accentuating my point right now.
What’s most fascinating about stalking people’s Facebook pages for status updates to try to piece together what happened with Claudia Rankine (hey, I studied History in college, I’m used to creating narratives out of fragmented information) is that I’ve only seen evidence of the conversation on two male friend’s pages vs countless (I will go back and count) female friend’s page. MAYBE it’s because of the Superbowl? No. I don’t want to be sexist. Because, here I am, having watched the superbowl and posted it..so my argument is invalid. But those two men, for sake of argument, are men of color. One of the two, I’ve counted from my own friend list, mentioned it peripherally. The other is engaging in multiple transations with other women (noted: no men) with regards to Tony Hoagland’s poem “Change” and his depiction of the black female body in a poem. I understand that my count is extremely skewed…I’ve since purged my friends list and have less than 500 people “as friends” on my page, and maybe some man out there is discussing it, and maybe he’ll show up here, on this page, in my comments section, on his own blog, in a literary journal, in the world, and speak out and prove me wrong. What I do know of my count is that not one white male has spoken a word. There were several white women staging solidarity with the black women voicing their opinions, but I have to wonder: why is it that when men of our community are attacked, we (black women) come to the battlefields, to the front lines, and get down in the trenches…but when we are attacked, it is for the most part largely only women who enlist?
This is NOT to say that I haven’t had very sympathetic conversations with black men and other men of color backchannel on the phone, on gchat, on facebook chat, in coffeeshops and bars, but Jill Scott says: “Stop talking/No more conversation necessary/show me.” I’m waiting for action. This is also NOT to say that I am waiting for someone else to fight my battles. I’ll fight them when I can and when I feel like others are in danger. Ask my sister (a 4th grader at the time): when I was in preschool, and I thought she was being bullied, I ran to the corner of the playground and kicked the boy where it hurt. I fight. I still find reprecussions for decisions and words I might have uttered years ago. But I feel that if I am hurt or hurting or enduring pain inflicted (physical, emotional, social) upon me by others, I am going to speak out. I’m going to take action in any way I can. Sometimes, it’s not much.
I wish that I weren’t such small potatoes. Or invisible. I guess I am saying that I feel like people in positions of privelege within a community should put their privilege to [better] use. That’s like: in first grade, I shared a desk with a girl I thought was my friend. She let me put my crayons (she did not have any, and I had 96!) in her pencil box (I did not have one, and she had one with her name on it). My friend then told me that since my crayons were in her box, they belonged to her now, and she refused to give them back. I tried to play nice and not involve any other parties and mention that this was wrong, and I just wanted my crayons back. I didn’t want to hurt her–I just wanted my injustice fixed, and found someone that could help me out of it. I kid ya’ll not–my mama came to my first grade classroom and demand the girl give me back my crayons. That’s what I mean. Someone in a position doing the work. My mama coulda said: it’s all right, people take things, we grieve and move on. She could have. Instead, she recognized someone she cared about was hurting because things were being taken away from her, and she came to my class to ruffle some feathers and straighten things out.
Disclaimer: This post is not to say “All men” or to say “All black men” or even to say “All black women.” It’s just my observations and thoughts and challenges. It’s just my attempt to show the world the conversations I have backchannel…my attempt to continue the conversation.
As per the title, well, I think I nodded too well when I learned the lesson Janie did in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Nanny said, “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.” Oh, to say, “Zora, your words are old now. Things have changed.” Oh, but to say, “Zora. Girl. How you tell it.”
Can we start a conversation?