Brown Girls Do Ballet

A week later, I’m still staring off into space trying to process Prince’s death. As a proud Gen-Xer, Prince’s music was an integral part of my childhood. The iconic singer’s album “Purple Rain” came out in 1984, right as I was preparing for middle school. Even as a kid, I recognized the magnetism of his music, if I didn’t understand it completely (or catch onto all the sexy double entendres that Prince was notorious for).

Since his passing, there have been numerous articles/tributes honoring the singer. One article that stood out to me looked at Prince’s relationship with women entertainers. Prince seemed to have a genuine respect and admiration for talented women. This is not to say he was perfect. He did tend to engage in colorism in the women he choose to promote and was said not to be the greatest guy to be in a professional (or intimate) relationship with, but overall he did go out of his way to highlight exceptional women.

One person he is credited with giving shine to is Misty Copeland, the first black woman ballerina to be a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater in over 75 years.

How Prince Gave Ballet Star Misty Copeland Her Big Break http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/the-wrap/article/How-Prince-Gave-Ballet-Star-Misty-Copeland-Her-7294782.php

The popularity of Copeland has created an increased interest in black female ballerinas. Copeland’s journey has been particularly inspiring to little black girls who rarely see themselves reflected in the world of ballet. The organization Brown Girls Do Ballet goal is to provide space for black girl ballerinas and other girls of color.

“Brown Girls Do Ballet® is a start-up organization dedicated to promoting diversity in ballet programs through various media platforms, training resources, and an exclusive network in the world of ballet. The mission of Brown Girls Do Ballet® is to help increase participation of underrepresented minority populations in ballet programs through organizing and arranging ballet performances and providing resources and scholarships to assist young girls in their ballet development and training.” http://www.browngirlsdoballet.com/

If you scroll the website, the images of all the brown girls in their poses/outfits is beautiful and touching. Almost makes me wish I was a little girl again. Never mind the fact that I have two left feet 🙂

See Prince what you started…Rest in Peace.

ballerinas

Black Women and the PIC

While I was banished to the land of sickness,  I was still able to see Kendrick Lamar’s interesting Grammy Performance. The 28-year-old rapper made a heartfelt statement about black men and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).

It was a bold stand at an event that has become too pop/boring/white washed.  I know I personally haven’t paid attention to the Grammy Awards show in years.

I read an article critiquing the lack of space given to black women prisoners in his performance. I’m willing to give Lamar a slight pass for this. As a young man, he’s probably had more experience with his male friends/relatives/young folks he mentors having contact with police/the prison system.

With that said, despite black women being incarcerated at an alarming rate as much/if not more so than black men, the focus still tends to be on black men in prison.

Years ago, I took a class on women and the PIC. Our class read “Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women,” by Victoria Law. Law, an anarchist writer and prison abolitionist, detailed her experiences working with women prisoners. A zinester/DIY artist, she helped the women create a zine showcasing their words/art on prison life. The majority of women she came into contact with had children.This brings me to why it’s urgent we also focus on black women in prison.

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The truth is, women tend to be the primary caretakers of their families. It doesn’t matter if there is a male partner in the home or not. This is particularly true in black communities, were we rely heavily on our extended female relatives.

A disturbing trend I noticed in our class readings, is that whole black communities are being wiped out due to the PIC. It’s leaving significant amounts of black children without parents or guardians. Because not only are the mothers being overly incarcerated for minor/non violent offenses, but so are grandmothers/aunties/cousins etc. I remember reading about a grandmother and her daughter and the daughter’s daughter all locked up   in the same prison (drug addictions). The young daughter’s children were in foster care. There was no one to take care of them.

These mothers are losing custody of their children left and right. Obviously, they are in prison. They can’t just walk down to the local courthouse to attend court dates etc .

The PIC is destroying black motherhood/families. This issue really needs to be addressed in folks anti-PIC activism. Good job to Lamar for highlighting the problem of black men in prison, but we need to expand the conversation.

A Litany For Survival: the Life and Work of Audre Lorde

March is Women’s History Month.

“Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is celebrated during March in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8, and during October in Canada, corresponding with the celebration of Persons Day on October 18.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_History_Month

While we tend to be a bit more open talking about racism in this country, we fail to discuss the hatred of women that permeates in our society. It’s not hard to pick up on the loathing via mainstream media.

As a Black woman, I often have to navigate high levels of anti-blackness/femaleness in my daily encounters with white folks/men.

Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey coined the term “Misogynoir” to speak to the unique form of hostility that is geared towards Black women simply for being Black and women (Yes, Madonna and Patricia Arquette you can be both).

While I haven’t been able to do too much for Women’s History Month, I was able to attend a film showing of “A Litany For Survival: the Life and Work of Audre Lorde.”

Audre Lorde tends to be revered in feminists communities. After watching the documentary it became clear why the self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” is loved. Lorde was a great creative spirit/orator/intellectual.

It was hard to watch the latter years of her life, as she battled cancer. There was one scene (I can’t remember if she was with her daughter or a friend) but even as she could barely speak/was weak from cancer, she was brainstorming how to put an activist conference together. Her daughter/friend told her “No, I wanted us to talk about you doing something fun.” Lorde titled her head slightly and let out a soft sigh.  She had a small smile on her face. She was a thinker/organizer until the end.

I highly recommend the film. The documentary made me realize that Black women intellectuals don’t get enough shine in or out the Black community. Pop stars, actresses, fashinonistas do…but not our Black women intellectuals. Black women pretty much still have to be oversexualized or playing Mammy to get some love.

If you do nothing else this Women’s History Month, at least check out this documentary 🙂

Black Music Month (BMM) #3

The current state of black music is so stifling to black women singers, that if they want to be outside the box, they have to create their own spaces to do so.  I heart alternative/DIY black women artists. They have been the saving grace of an unimaginative contemporary black music scene. It’s one of the reasons why I like the work of THEESatisfaction.

“THEESatisfaction are Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White. Stas was born and raised in Tacoma, Cat in Seattle and Hawaii. The pair live/laugh/love/dance and create in Seattle, WA. They write, produce and perform their own material, funk-psychedelic feminista sci-fi epics with the warmth and depth of Black Jazz and Sunday morning soul, frosted with icy raps that evoke equal parts Elaine Brown, Ursula Rucker and Q-Tip. They met by what was clearly cosmic happenstance at the University of Washington and haven’t stopped the flow since.” http://www.theesatisfaction.com/

I went to one of their performances, a year or so ago, after getting their album THEESatisfaction-awEnaturalE:

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THEESatisfaction – awE naturalE

Most of the songs are only a couple of minutes long, but they all are jams. I highly recommend it. They currently have a mixtape out.

The group also hosts “Black Weirdo” parties. It’s a dance space for the black queer community and allies.  They also showcase quirky black writers/poets/performers on their website, as part of their Black Weirdo movement.

Any who,  check out this performance of their song “Deeper.” The song is on the awE-naturalE album.  It’s a hypnotic groove, that will make you move.

 

 

Black Music Month (BMM) #1

June is Black Music Month (BMM).  I am dedicating the blog this week to all things black music.

“African-American Music Appreciation Month is a celebration for African-American Music every year in the month of June in the United States. It was originally started as Black Music Month by President Jimmy Carter, who on June 7, 1979, decreed that June would be the month of black music. Since then, presidents have announced to Americans to celebrate Black Music Month. For each year of his term, President Barack Obama has announced the observance under a new title, African-American Music Appreciation Month.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African-American_Music_Appreciation_Month

Since the early 2000’s, I have been side-eying contemporary r&b. I am a 70’s/80’s baby, so I grew up with amazing black female soul singers like Chaka Khan Aretha (she’s been around every decade 😉 Patti Labelle, Anita Baker, Angela Winbush, etc. There has been an agenda to destroy the black female soul singer. We have a few holding on in mainstream r&b (e.g. Fantasia), but overall the black female soul singer has been weeded out.

Sadly, for black women singers today, they are encouraged to assimilate to white standards of beauty and sell sex/their bodies. I have younger women of color feminists friends who talk to me about “respectability politics” when I lament about how oversexualized black female singers are today. I hear them. I think it’s a thin line of these women genuinely being empowered in their sexuality vs. being forced to by record companies/to stay popular.

So, I don’t buy much mainstream r&b music, these days. However, I am loving African female artists. They are bringing the soul, funk, and creativity that is being denied to American black female singers.

I recently found out about the music of Iyeoka Okoawo.

“Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo is a Poet and Recording Artist, a 2010 TED Global Fellow, the 2nd place 2009 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, and a spokesperson for the Amenawon Foundation. Daughter of Nigerian-born parents who both hold Doctorate degrees from Boston University, Iyeoka was a practicing pharmacist before launching her career as a poet, singer, activist and educator. In her native Esan language, Iyeoka means “I want to be respected.” By channeling her culture and ancestral influences, she delivers an authentic and inspiring message of healing through accessing the power of the moment.”http://www.iyeoka.com/bio/

Updated to say: Iyeoka is actually Nigerian-American, so there’s still hope for American black female singers. heh.

Check out my favorite cut from Iyeoka…

 

Black Feminist Film School Fellowship Fund

I love interesting DIY (Do It Yourself) crowdfunding projects.  I came across the Black Feminist Film School Fellowship Fund on Facebook. They are so close to their goal. Support if you can 🙂

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“The answer, the vision, the liberation. Black Feminist Film School is an initiation journey that will transform all involved toward love and light. I invite you to join in and support in the ways that make sense for you….Black Feminist Film School Summer Session (bffs Summer Session) will take place June – August 2014. We will be focusing on building skill and practice as Black Feminist storytellers using the filmmaking medium and accompanying art forms. Within the three month session we will cover all phases of filmmaking including research and writing, pre-production, production and post-production.” http://www.alexispauline.com/apgblog/cause-view/support-the-black-feminist-film-school-fellowship-fund/

I have a lot of respect for Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs. She’s an amazing young artist/organizer/radical activist. She is also a fellow zinester.  I have the SPEAK! CD that she and fellow women of color zinesters created a few years ago.   It should be added to folks DIY collection. Check out this great interview with Dr. Gumbs:


 

Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone

So, Zoe Salanda decided to go ahead and look foolish in a new movie based on Nina Simone’s life. Yesterday, For Harriet posted this new image of Zoe from the film:

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😦

It’s bizarre that Zoe doesn’t seem to get why it’s wrong to dress up in blackface to portray a dark-skinned Black American woman icon:

“I know who I am and I know what Nina Simone means to me,” Saldana said. “I can only rely on that and maintain as much humility as possible, so that when I have to face the world and we have to then give the movie to the world to see, and share it with them, that if it comes back in … a negative fashion or positive, I’m gonna keep my chin up. … And Nina was like that too.”–http://www.ibtimes.com/zoe-saldana-defends-nina-simone-role-says-im-doing-it-my-sisters-video-1107937

Umm, okay. The irony is that Nina Simone had to keep her chin up in the face of the colorism/marginalization of Black women’s voices that Zoe is participating in. She really should have passed on this role. As a friend said, why would all the folks involved in this film waste time having to “transform” someone to resemble Nina(blackface, prosthetic nose, and such) when they could just have hired someone who genuinely looked like her.

Normally, I like Zoe. However, she’s a fail here.

Any who, I definitely plan to see this film. I want to get my laugh on…

The Pamphleteer Project

I heart zines and Indiegogo campaigns, so you know I’m feeling The Pamphleteer Project:

“HI! MY NAME IS MARYA– I’m the founder of ABQ Zine Fest, (now in its 4th year) The Albuquerque Zine Library, and a co-founder/curator of The Tannex, a DIY performance clubhouse, in this outpost, in the high desert of New Mexico. I love my creative community, and I do a lot to support and nurture it. I’m asking for your support as I embark on a new project that expands my love for zines, self-publishing, and storytelling . . .THE PAMPHLETEER PROJECT MISSION: to help diversify existing zine collections, or help establish new ones by presenting women/feminist focused, people of color influenced, gender-inclusive zines and comics to groups and collectives around the world.” https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-pamphleteer-project

I have met Marya a couple of times at zine festivals. She’s a great writer, researcher, and artist. I love her Mocha Chocolata Momma zine (isn’t the name da bomb…yes breaking out my 90’s slang).

Y’all know I’m big supporter of DIY (Do It Yourself) folks, so help Marya if ya can! She has some nice perks! 🙂