Month: July 2015

To be Black and Woman and Alive – A Lesson on Calling Out Black Men who Hate Black Women

Yesterday on YouTube, Button Poetry published a powerful video titled “To Be Black and Woman and Alive”.  The video shows spoken word artists Crystal Valentine and Aailyah Jihad performing the aforementioned piece at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam finals in April of this year.

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Zeba Blay of Huffington Post writes:

“These black girls need to watch out, ’cause white girls is winning.” 

Thus begins the viscerally honest poem, ‘To Be Black and Woman and Alive,” performed at the  2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational finals in April.

College students Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad teamed up to recite the poem, and Button Poetry posted a video of their performance to Youtube on Sunday, July 19.

“Puerto Rican, Italian, Bajan, Thai — I know they want me to be everything I’m not,” the poets powerfully recite together at one point during the performance explaining the misogyny, colorism, and constant pressure to be more “exotic” looking that black women face. 

The poem perfectly encapsulates the reality of being a black woman, highlighting how ironic it is that while black men make black women feel undesirable, black women are also on the front lines of civil rights issues that affect black men — and rarely getting any credit for it. 

One of the last, powerful lines in the poem: “I grew up learning how to protect men who hate me…learned how to be the revolution spit-shining their spines.” 

Jihad and Valentine (who also performed the profound poem “Black Privilege” at the event), were part of a six-person team of poets representing New York University who eventually went on to win the competition.  

This piece is especially important, given the political climate we currently face within the Black community and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  The senseless deaths of Black men like Eric Garner and Michael Brown have been the catalysts for worldwide outcry, while similar deaths of Black women like Rekia Boyd have been largely ignored by our community.  It is ironic that the same men who expect us as Black women to ride for them every time they experience an injustice in society can often not be bothered to #sayhername when we need the same support in return.  The situations surrounding Bill Cosby and Rachel Dolezal come to mind as especially hurtful  when put into this context, and Valentine and Jihad capture the essence and agony of what it means to be a Black woman in this world so perfectly in this three minute poem.

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Check out the video below to see these two formidable artists in action, and then let us know how you felt about the video in the comments!

~  Kioshana

PS – Check out Blay’s original HuffPo article here.

#IfIDieinPoliceCustody – 5 Things I Need You to Know

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TSLP has officially suspended services for the weekend in recognition of our fallen sisters who have been the victims of police brutality this week.

However, I haven’t slept in days, thinking about those women.  Sandra Bland’s death, in particular, has shaken me to my core, and I just can’t stop thinking about her.

I didn’t know her personally, but I feel such a deep and unwavering connection to her that it scares me.  Sandra Bland was me.  She was my age.  She and I had the same education and socio-economic backgrounds.  Her activism was ardent and outspoken and exactly the same thing that I seek to do every day.

She had a good life – she was a woman who loved herself and her community fearlessly.  She loved hard.

She wasn’t committing a crime.  She got pulled over for failing to turn on her blinker…

And now she’s dead.

A Black woman was lynched in Texas this week.  A Black woman was lynched in Texas and it is so important that we #sayhername.  Black women and girls need to know that our lives matter, too.  And those who seek to hurt us need to know that this is not okay.

Sandra’s death has sparked much thoughtful discussion in our social circles about what to do if something like this happens to us.  #IfIDieinPoliceCustody is now trending on every social media website as activists issue unofficial advance directives to their families and friends on what they should do, what they should know, if they’re ever killed in the same way as Sandra.

There are a few things I want my family to know, as well… here goes.

1. – #IfIDieinPoliceCustody – know that I did not commit suicide.  I did not overdose on some drugs that I don’t take, I did not hang myself, and I most certainly did not “accidentally” shoot myself in the back of a police cruiser.  Ask questions – hold them accountable for what they’ve done.

2. – #IfIDieinPoliceCustody – know that I died fighting for something that I believe in.  This cause is so important to me that I refuse to stop speaking about it – even though I now know that these are the consequences.  Know that my life has meaning and purpose, and so does my death.

3. – #IfIDieinPoliceCustody – don’t let them paint me as “respectable”.  Yes, I have advanced education. Yes, I have a good job and I’m comfortably middle class.  Yes, I’ve never been in trouble with the police.  Yes, I’ve never been a drug addict or other social untouchable.  No, none of that makes a damn bit of difference.  My life mattered because I’m a human being and that is my basic right as such.  My life is/was important, but no more important than any other Person of Color who is murdered by police officers #every21hours in this country.

4. – #IfIDieinPoliceCustody – tell Tansley that I love her.  Tell my baby sister that she is the most important person in the world to me, and that everyday when I put on my armor and go out into this fight, that I do it with her in mind.

And finally –

5. – #IfIDieinPoliceCustody – Make. Them. Say. My. Name.

Black women and girls are valuable.  We are not disposable, we are not erasable, and we will not be silenced.

I love you.

~ Kioshana

#WCW – Amandla Stenberg

Over the last few months, the internets have been abuzz, talking about a fiesty little actress who rose from near-obscurity after facing severe racist backlash for her role in the original Hunger Games movie to become one of today’s freshest Hollywood faces.  Floating within circles among the likes of Jaden and WIllow Smith, this young lady is quickly becoming Young Black Hollywood’s new “It” girl.  And although she is absolutely beautiful and talented, it isn’t her pretty smile that has captured the hearts of the masses – instead, it is her unrelenting critique of institutional racism and the prevalence of cultural appropriation within Hollywood (and our society in general).

This young lady is none other than the talented and fierce and flawless Amandla Stenberg.

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The girl who played the iconic role of Rue in 2012 film adaptation of the bestselling novel The Hunger Games has shown us that she is more than just a pretty face as she grows into her own.   She is an outspoken and endearing advocate for Black women and the Black community and she gives us life with every edge she snatches along the way.

Earlier this year, a video she shared on Tumblr titled “Don’t Cash Crop my Corn Rows” (below) went viral, earning her mainstream attention on major media outlets like Huffington Post and MSNBC.com.  Since then, Amandla has been consistently speaking on the issues of cultural appropriation, all while slaying us with her style and class in typical #carefreeblackgirl fashion.

Over this last weekend she once again delivered the good by calling out Kylie Jenner on being a habitual offender of the cultural appropriation phenomenon as she showed off some (poorly done) cornrows during the #whitegirlsdoitbetter trend.

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While Kylie chose to respond like the catty 17 year old that she is, Amandla left it alone after making her  point clear, and has instead only issued additional messages about the obsession that mainstream beauty has with Black girl features and aesthetics, but not with Black girls themselves.

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Amandla, for your fierceness, quick wit, and refusal to stop talking about something that is such an important issue, we recognize you as our #womancrushwednesday today.

Keep doing you, Sis – we can’t wait to watch you take over the world!

Kioshana

PS – link to Amandla’s awesome video “Don’t Cash Crop my Corn Rows” below – enjoy!

On Bill Cosby, Victim Blaming, and What it Means to be a Rape Survivor

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Trigger Warning:  Discussion of rape/victim blaming experiences

Fourteen years ago, I was raped.

It was late fall, 2001.  I was in the first semester of my 9th grade year in high school, 14 years old.  My parents had just gotten divorced, and I’d recently transferred to a new school district for a fresh start and to escape the familial bullying I’d endured for years at my old school.  I was walking to my local Boys and Girls Club branch after school when some kids invited me over to their house for a few minutes.  It was on the way to my destination, and I was really excited that these kids – older than me – wanted to hang out with me.  In my naiveté, I was flattered and excited that I – a freshman, new transfer, and kind of nerdy kid – was being invited to hang out with the “cool kids”.

It only took about an hour for me to realize that this was the worst mistake in judgement I’d ever made in life.  In that hour, my entire life changed.  One of the boys at the house (the brother of the girl who’d invited me over) forced himself on me, taking my virginity and most of my self-worth with him.  After it was over, I did what any traumatized victim would do – I ran, as far away and as quickly as I could get.

I never spoke to any of them again after that.

I also never told anyone what’d happened to me… at least, not until years later.

This wasn’t out of some misguided attempt to protect my rapist – although most people would like to think that.  It wasn’t even so much out of guilt, although I did feel some measure of guilt for a long time.  No, it was mostly because I didn’t see the point in telling anyone – I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

I was afraid to tell my parents because I didn’t want to get into trouble.  My father had told me once the year before that, if I ever told him someone had raped me, he wouldn’t believe it because he felt I was “big enough to fight anyone off”.  I realize now, so many years later, that he didn’t really mean that at the time… but as a scared and damaged 14 year old, I felt exactly that.  I also didn’t want to tell my parents because I didn’t want to hurt them.  As I mentioned, they’d recently been divorced and my mother especially was dealing with serious bouts of the depression that accompanies letting go of a failed marriage.  I didn’t want to add additional stress and anguish to her life at that time… so I kept it to myself. I’d come to the conclusion from years of watching other women that this was probably my best bet anyway – like I said, who was going to believe me?

It took about ten years or so for me to finally come clean with my mom about what’d happened to me.  We cried and talked for a long time about what happened and why I never told her.

I’ve still never been brave enough to tell my dad.

I decided to write this today, because of Bill Cosby.  Over the last year I’ve watched numerous men and women cape for Bill Cosby, ignorantly conflating his image as Heathcliff Huxtable with his actual self and defending him mercilessly because of it.  I’ve watched as each of the women who have stepped forward and accused him of rape be lambasted with terrible slurs and accusations of gold-digging.  I’ve watched as people I once loved and respected a great deal denounce these women without a second thought because “if it really happened, then they should have spoken up sooner”.

I’m writing this because you need to know that it isn’t that easy.

Rape is a crime that I can liken only to murder.  It kills a part of you from the inside… the only difference is that at least murder victims are able to escape their suffering at the end of the crime.  I, on the other hand, will carry these scars with me forever.

I still remember every little minute detail about that day, from the denim Tommy Hilfiger dress I was wearing, to the faint smell of bleach and Fabuloso on those green tiles in the bathroom where he found me, to the sickening feeling of dread in my stomach as he pressed that sharp blade into my neck and warned me not to make a sound as he did his work.

I remember all of it.

It’s the reason that I’m 28 years old and I still sleep with the television on every night – because I’m afraid of the dark.

It’s the reason that my first instinct when entering into a room with unfamiliar people is to immediately look for several mode of exit.

It’s the reason I have panic attacks sometimes when people – especially men – try to hug me or touch me without my permission.

It’s also the reason I do this work.  It’s the reason I wanted to create a safe space for Black women somewhere in the world.  And it’s the reason I go so hard for my sisters every single day of my life.

1 in 6 women are the victims of rape in their lifetime.  18.8% of Black women and 24.4% of mixed-race women experience the same trauma that I’ve been made to endure, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network).

So many of us never report – never call our attackers out for what they are.

I don’t begrudge any of us for that – it is not our responsibility to hold an attacker accountable for his/her crime.  Our criminal justice system has a demented way of forcing rape survivors to relive their trauma over and over again, putting each experience and memory on trial when/if we do ever decide to come forward with the truth.

I want you to think about that the next time you hear from one of Bill Cosby’s victims.  Instead of framing her as a “gold-digging hussy” trying to ruin a man’s career, I’d like you to just think of her as a person.  Think of her as your mother, your sister, your daughter.  And think of how you would feel if someone said the same things you’re saying about that survivor to one of the women in your life.

Survivors don’t owe you an explanation or an apology for how and why and when we decide to disclose our status as survivors – if at all.  We don’t owe anyone anything.

To those criticizing the women who have been victimized by Bill Cosby and others, I hope that you’ll take a critical look at yourself and really think about the damage that you could be doing, not only to those women, but to the potential survivors all around you that you may or may not know about.  Think about what your dismissal of these women’s experiences is teaching your daughters and your sons about consent, agency, and their value/worth as people.

To my fellow survivors, I send you nothing but love and light today, and every day.  You are beautiful and special and deserving of love, whether you feel like it or not.  You don’t owe the world an explanation and you have nothing to feel ashamed of.

You never need to apologize for how you choose to survive.

I love you.

~ Kioshana

My Declaration of Independence

Today is Independence Day – the day that our country celebrates freedom from English rule.  I’ve never been a big fan of this holiday, because, as a Black woman, I realize that this day has never symbolized freedom or independence for my people.  So instead of celebrating the fraudulent independence of this nation, I am taking today to declare my own freedom from some things in my life.

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Four days ago I turned 28 years old.  Since my b(earth)day, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about where my life is at this point and what I would like to see going forward.  One year ago today, my life was going in a completely different direction, and, while I thought I was happy at the time, I knew that I wanted/needed more.  The last year has seen incredible changes take place in my life from all aspects, and I am now in a completely different (but better) place.  As I prepare to enter into another year of my life, there are some things that I’m no longer willing to give power to.  Outlined below are three things that I am declaring my independence from going forward, in order to maintain my newfound happiness and peace of mind.

1. – Expectations:  (This includes my own as well as anyone else’s…)

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Throughout my entire life, I’ve always been the girl who did just what was expected of me.  I behaved well, made good grades, was demure and mannerable, rarely got into trouble, and was generally a good child.  After high school, I attended college before returning home, buying a house and a car and settling into the typical American lifestyle.

Somewhere along the way, though, I began to realize that these were not the things that made me happy.  Instead of feeling secure in my lifestyle, I felt smothered and disappointed in myself for settling for complacency.  I craved freedom and independence, and resented all of the “status symbols” I’d accumulated in my quest to be a “real adult” because they limited my choices.   I realized that I was in this situation because it was what was expected of me… it was the “proper” thing that “successful” people did – not because I actually wanted any of it.

2. –   Fear

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Eight months ago, I went from having it all to having absolutely nothing.  In the span of less than a month, I went from owning my own home and having a stable job, to being laid off and moving in with my mother.  I’d never experienced unemployment, and it terrified me.

I wound up re-locating from Alabama to Ohio in a span of about two weeks last November.  I sold my home, packed up everything I owned, and made the trek to a place where the only person I knew was my father… who I’ve always had a rather tenuous relationship with at best.   Over the next few months I battled some severe depression and anxiety as I struggled to come to terms with where my life was at this point.  I was 27 years old, broke and going through a bankruptcy (another story for another day), and grasping at straws to find any semblance of peace in this foreign place.  I was determined to move back home as quickly as possible, no matter how much it cost me… because I was afraid.  I was out of my comfort zone and far away from just about everyone I’ve ever known… I was scared to death.

It took me until just a few weeks ago to realize that this has actually been incredibly good for me, though.  It has been a terrible struggle and there have been so many days where I wanted to give up, pack it in, and go back to Alabama… but I’ve decided not to give into the fearsome little voice inside my head that keeps telling me I can’t do this.  I can, I am, and I will.

3. – Regret

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My life hasn’t been perfect, and neither have I.  Although I do my best to be a good and honest person, there are times when I, like everyone, fall short of who I would like to be.  So many times in the last year I’ve looked at my life and been disappointed with what I see… not because I have a bad life, but because it isn’t where I thought I’d be by this age.  Not being married, and especially, not having children is something that I have struggled to deal with for a long time.  However, the thing that I’ve come to realize is that I’m exactly where I am supposed to be at this moment in time.  Every thing that I’ve been through up to this point – good and bad – has molded and shaped me into the person that I am today.  Instead of regretting the things that didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped or planned, I count them as experiences, accept the lessons I’ve been given by them, and move on.

The thing I’ve learned about life is that it keeps on going no matter what.  Remembering that I have no control over anything that happens to me – only the way that I react to what life brings my way – has allowed me a sense of peace and internal freedom from strife that I’ve never experienced before.  It is amazing that it took having to hit rock bottom, and have everything taken away from me to see how truly blessed I am.

My life isn’t perfect,  but it is a damn good life, and I am happy to be alive and in it, in this moment.

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These are my resolutions – things I’m no longer allowing to have power over me.  What things are you declaring your independence from today?

Whatever it is, know that you are strong enough to do it, and that you deserve to live a full life without fear or regret.

I love you – happy independence day.

~ Kioshana