Darkness Is Just a Sign that Sunshine Is on It’s Way

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. - Mary Oliver

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. – Mary Oliver

Sometimes we are bitch slapped by life. Often times overworked and underpaid, constantly running against time and not with it. Hard pressed for the 8:10am train to only be depressed as we see it pull away, wishing that if only you had not pushed the snooze button that one extra time, or took two extra minutes to apply mascara. My mornings are always filled with “what ifs” or “if only this” or “why didn’t I” or “I should have.” My body and mind are always anxious, my shoulders tense, my hands numb, and my eyes cold. I  entered this year more anxious than ever. I wondered why I have anxiety because I am a 25 year old black woman living in the greatest city in the world, going to a highly regarded graduate school, and working at one of the best media companies in the entertainment industry. Why am I so anxious when I should be on top of the world? I am surrounded by opportunity, intellectual stimulation, and access. My material world is perfect, my pockets a third full, but my mental world is empty. I am running but running without a stable mind. It has only been 11 days into this new year and I have already cried more than half of those days.

As a result, I have questioned myself and my capabilities. In the end, I realized that in order to capture the beauty around me and restore my energy to build an even stronger foundation to enable maturity, growth and acceptance, I have to have a stable mind and stable heart. Last night, I reflected on what it would take me to achieve this without the influence of others or the longing for others to fill those voids. Below is my healing plan. It is not perfect. But hopefully it will serve as a roadmap for me to build upon and for you to create your own.

  1. IDENTITY. Sometimes we are stressed, depressed, insecure, and unhappy simply because we do not know who we are. Identity is not some ethereal word that leaves a void in your stomach. Identity is tangible in a sense that you can touch and feel when you take time to know yourself. Like reading books by bell hooks or Rachel Maddow or Audre Lorde. Their books for example provoke the mind, body and spirit so much that you will start to ask yourself personal questions. When discovering your identity, it’s ok to talk to yourself. Hash out your cultural, political, social, gender, sexual issues. I promise it’s healthy. If you are too afraid of talking out loud, too afraid that your neighbor may hear, then take out a pen and let your mind go.

  1. ACCEPTANCE. Sometimes we think that our imperfections are what make us flawed and at a disadvantage. In actuality, your imperfections are what make you more interesting and different from the next person.???????????????????????????????So what if you have one more booty dimple than Beyonce, occasionally get a pimple during that dreaded time of the month, have your weight fluctuate that you may go up one pants size, or your hair doesn’t look like that girl from the pantene commercial. Find value and acceptance in your body. Once you accept your body, other people will as well. There’s is honesty and love in self-acceptance.

  1. SEXUALITY. Two words. Own It. I used to feel that I had to fit into a mold when I got into a relationship. That I could not be as sexual or sexy because I was in a committed relationship and I was too afraid of other men commenting on my attire. It’s ok to feel sexy. To have a night to yourself and wear that sexy sparkly dress. Sexuality and confidence in your sexuality, no matter what your gender identity is, means taking the time to invest in yourself and do the things that does not make you feel like you are losing your sexuality.

  1. PASSION: Don’t be afraid to do what you love. I’m a painter, a lover for the smell of oil pants, a sucker for a blank canvas, and the voice of Lianne La Havas to guide my brush strokes. c11056d80473e31b447e2493e4b93850Unfortunately, I do not have the time to paint 24/7 as I would like to. I have to keep a roof over my head and maintain my one bedroom apartment. As a result, I work a full time job. Even though I can not do what I love all the time, does not mean I cannot make time. I lost myself because I stopped painting. Painting is what makes me complete. Now I am dedicating time each week to paint and hopefully it will lead to an beautiful escape.

  1. YOU ARE THE COMPANY YOU KEEP. Surround yourself with beautiful spirits. People that make you better and love you despite your flaws. Friends that are not afraid to tell you when you are wrong and who have their own goals and aspirations. I do not think I would be able to have a piece of mind if I did not have the beautiful, courageous, resilient women behind me to love me.

Hopefully, this short list of 5 pillars to a stable mind will help you and I both have a healthy mind, body, and spirit.  Remember to not give into darkness. Sometimes darkness is just a sign that light is around the corner….

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Life, love, health, and feminism.

Tiffany

Taking Control of the Lens: Julie Dash and Leslie Harris

“I grew up at a time when it was an anomaly to see people who looked like me on TV. When you don’t feel seen or heard, you don’t feel validated or valued.” – Shonda Rhimes

          Space is what defines our bodies, fashion, style, dress, hair, mannerisms, and skin color. Depending on where a person resides, space determines an environment’s specific ethnic and aesthetic makeup. Black women filmmakers negotiate and utilize space differently than their male counterparts. Black male directors generally tell stories of the black male experience, masculinity, manhood, and urban experiences. These are themes seen in films like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song. Black women filmmakers, on the other hand, use space to explore black womanhood, gender relations, and class through the black woman protagonist(s) in film. The 1990s was an especially revolutionary period for black women filmmakers because they produced films that engaged women spectators around the world.

Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1992) was the first full-length film by an African-American woman with general theatrical release in the United States.

Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1992) was the first full-length film by an African-American woman with general theatrical release in the United States.

Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust opens with the line,

“I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the barren one and many of my daughters. I am the silence you cannot understand. I am the utterance of my name.”

The powerful lyrical prose transitions beautifully into first scene when the Gullah Islands enter on screen with the presence of a boat treading through water. The audience is immediately immersed into a distinctive African culture that is defined and narrated by women. The voiceover invites us into the filmic space to experience the Sea Gullah Islands, home of the Peazant family, the members of whom have sought to sustain a unique, imaginative, original African culture. When the boat enters the on screen, we assume the boat is representative to the boats that crossed the middle passage to bring slaves to America. However, when the camera zooms in on the boat, the audience sees a regal woman who is soon to be revealed as Yellow Mary standing starkly in the boat, upright, and prideful. Her position is not a position of powerlessness. She is powerful and the women who will be unveiled in the film, following Yellow Mary’s entrance, have the same power and agency granted on screen.

Dash strategically time stamps the film, situating the setting in 1902, an important historical period for Blacks living in America. By doing so, the audience is able to enter into culturally specific space where blacks survive, exists, preserve, and remember their ancestors at Ibo Landing. Ibo Landing is a symbolic space because it serves as a canvas to glance back to slavery, the Middle Passage, African religions, Christianity, Islam, print media, photography, moving pictures, and African-American folkways, as elements with which black people must come to terms in order to glance forward as citizens of the United States. It serves as a space where the Peazant family can articulate their family history without the intrusion of whiteness. Whiteness is completely marginalized in Ibo Landing. Dash does this to show the audience a true authentic black culture where decisions are made and life is experienced on their own time and in their own space.

1002004012415809On the other hand, space in Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. functions differently than Daughters of the Dust because the film is situated in a city rather than a rural environment. The opening scene shows a young black man with a garbage bag in his hand, walking

slowly in the dark. He anxiously scans the area and places the bag next to a trashcan and walks away. This image is taken from second to final scene of the movie where Chantel, the protagonist, gives birth to her child in her boyfriend’s bedroom and frantically asks her boyfriend to dispose of the child. The media often frames the story as an unfortunate mishap that only happens in underprivileged spaces, such as low-income neighborhoods. The subjects are not granted a voice in the media to tell the story from their perspective. Leslie Harris revises the narrative and inserts the voice of 17-year-old Chantel Harris to tell the story.

In the first few seconds, Harris places the narrative in Chantel’s hands and her voice over is directed to the audience. Chantel states “You know tomorrow you might be reading about this in papers or you might even see it on TV. Y’all might shake your heads and think and say somebody was real bugged out or was on crack or something. Some people hear about my neighborhood and assume some real fucked up things. But I am going to tell y’all the real deal.” Instead of whiteness defining Chantel’s lived experiences, Chantel uses space to give an authentic voice to young black women living in urban environments.

Brooklyn, like Ibo Landing, is a symbolic space because it serves a foundation to build Chantel’s story. After the opening scene, Harris brings Chantel’s voice to the foreground and shows her standing at the Park Place subway stop in Brooklyn waiting on the Manhattan-bound train to take her to Midtown where she works at a local grocery store.

While Chantel is on the platform Harris cuts to the sign above the subway stop, which is covered in graffiti. Behind it are the tall high-rise buildings that make up low-income housing. Chantel boards the train and Harris makes it a point to briefly display the passing subway stops signs. Each sign along the ride is more clean then the last, each subway station nicer than the one before it.

The mis-en-scene of this shot is important because it shows how Chantel moves into spaces of familiarity to spaces of unfamiliarity. It also represents the social circumstances that Chantel experiences daily. Before she enters the store, Chantel abruptly turns to the camera and openly states,

“I’m a Brooklyn girl. Lots of people think Brooklyn girls are tough. I guess that’s true. I don’t let nobody mess with me.  I do what I want, when I want.”

Despite the drastic change in environment, moving from grimy to affluent in only a couple of minutes, Chantel doesn’t change her attitude but declares Brooklyn as her identity. Brooklyn defines Chantel’s experience and how she interacts in other spaces unfamiliar to her.

These stories of black women navigating restricted or granted spaces would not have been explored if it wasn’t for black women filmmakers creating these films. These films are critical to explore how the various types of black woman navigate their worlds whether in Ibo Landing or Brooklyn.

Welcome to the THANK A FEMINIST Issue!

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Thank a Feminist Issue!

We are happy to introduce a new editorial year of Re/Visionist! The editors wanted to begin the 2013-2014 academic year on a note of gratitude, so we decided to devote our entire Sept./Oct. issue to thanking the feminist inspirations in our lives.

The inspirational people/ideas/icons included in this issue are from both the past and present; some we know well, some we admire from afar. Some are self-identified feminists, others would not use that label. In a world hostile to feminism and queerness, what matters more than what our inspiration looks like is finding it in ways both expected and unexpected.

This month features:

  • Two pieces by Re/Visionist co-editor Tiffany Williams about 20th-century artist Millicent Fredericks and activist/partner, Kamau Nkosi
  • A letter from Re/Visionist web editor Carly Fox to her brother James about his feminism
  • A collage from contributor Kate Amunrud reflecting her gratitude to her feminist icon–her mother
  • A letter from contributor Jessica Lynne about her Grandma’s unknowing plight in feminism
  • A letter from contributor Nicole McCormick where she gives thanks to Bruce Lansky for allowing her to enter new imaginary spaces
  • A poem by Blake Williams about his feminist inspiration

Sincerely,

Emilie Egger and Tiffany Williams, Re/Visionist co-editors

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As always, we welcome your suggestions and contributions. eegger(at)gm(dot)slc(dot)edu/twilliams(at)gm(dot)slc(dot)edu. 

Martyrs are Made or Forgotten

Dear Millicent Fredericks,

You are not forgotten. I repeat. You are not forgotten.

You may not be found in my history books like America: A Narrative History, American Story, or other ‘American’ history texts. These books are written by white, upper class men armed with a privileged lens that systematically undermines ethnic minorities in order to sustain a patriarchal society. American is a term I use loosely because within this word are barriers prohibiting brown, black, and red voices from entering the narrative.

Although discouraged by the books that plague our public and private learning institutions, I am thankful for the feminists who grant voices to the unknown. I am grateful for the collection of essays published in 1981 by radical women of color called This Bridge Called My Back. Instead of minorities operating in the margins, these radical feminists created a platform for women of different ethnic, racial, and sexual backgrounds to be heard.

Gabrielle Daniels found you in the creases of the diaries of Anais Nin. Anais Nin was a Spanish- Cuban woman born in France in 1903 who grew up in the United States where she became an established author. It’s funny how a woman who didn’t understand your color or class paved the way for your voice to be discovered so people like me and Gabrielle could write about you… simply because we look like you.

Your dark brown cocoa skin, rough callused feet from long work days and little sleep, the deep wrinkles in your hands from washing too many dishes, folding too many clothes,washing too many plates filled with food that could feed your entire family, you were discouraged. Even though you worked until your skin turned charcoal grey, it was never enough to satiate your brilliant mind. The life you intended to lead was a life you never saw. You were uprooted from your home in Antigua and sought freedom in America where you married a black man and birthed four beautiful babies.

You witnessed your son be gunned down and killed by a gang. You saw your husband stumble home after late nights of drinking. Still, you were a certified teacher who taught kids how to do math, read books, and to grow up with dreams.

It’s funny how history can leave people like you out. It says something about who writes our history and who controls it. Maybe you are the solution for feminists and women of color to take ownership of our history. To commit our stories to paper so our children can understand their ancestry.

I imagine that if you were here, sitting next to me, you would be writing the same thing about another woman you knew that is not woven into the fabric of our memory unlike Thomas Jefferson, The Pledge of Allegiance, or Declaration of Independence. All things that are supposedly important to our freedom. I say it’s a bunch of fallacies and inconsistencies that deprives us of the truth.

Just know that I tried to capture you with words and recreate you in a painting. I attempted to paint your cocoa skin that breathes Antiguan sands and I tried to capture the fluidity of your beautiful body. I tried my best to give you the life you deserved through oil paints and brush strokes.

But the truth is, martyrs and saints are made or forgotten. You are not forgotten even though history chose to forget you.

Sincerely,

a feminist that chooses to remember

To My Partner- Marching in Feminism

Dear Kamau Nkosi,

You are a silent feminist. Not a loud, verbose, self-righteous, attention-seeking, ‘all-hail-feminism’ type of feminist. You have never been the one to post soliloquies on Facebook to parade your liberalism or acceptance of gender equality. Because, for you, your actions are more important than words posted on a digital platform where sentences and ideas live only for half a second.

You are the feminist that attacks with calculated intentions.

You penetrate the thirsty minds who thought they knew about systematic enslavement, second wave feminism, the prison-industrial complex, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Sybrina Fulton and challenge them so nonchalantly that they have to self-reflect on their own ignorance and misconceptions.

When I say you are a feminist, some people might think of it as a negative. But I ask: why can’t a man be a feminist? I don’t understand why some men are afraid to claim feminism as a philosophy that they believe. In their minds, feminism equates to radicalism or women only. In reality, feminism utilizes race, sex, gender, and class as tools of analysis to address economic reform, health care, stop and frisk laws, social issues, and politics. It’s an all-inclusive philosophy that should be integrated in the way we think about policy and reform. It should not be considered the exception or an option women seek because they hate men.

When you organize events like the Bronx Defender’s Block Party, Youth Justice Summit and your trips to City Hall to rally on behalf of Ramarley Graham, you stay awake countless nights planning, pondering, sending emails, and worrying because your passion for justice is not just a thing you do. It is who you are.

I see your love for feminism when you buy me books by bell hooks and expose me to shows like “The Wire” where the victims are chained to a socioeconomic space from which they are unable to escape.  Because black mothers couldn’t be mothers, black fathers couldn’t be fathers, and teachers can’t teach because politics and power govern policy and the police.  And in the end, jail becomes home to petty crimes and black faces that thought selling heroine would grant them self-esteem.

In reality, no else was around to teach them how to dream.You realize that the tools for self-empowerment and self-liberation are not equally distributed amongst everyone.

You understand that beauty wears many shades, comes in different heights, and in different shapes. And despite the shortness of my kinky golden curls, you have never sent me a text message that read “I think you look better with long hair, a woman should have long hair.”  Hair, for you, never determined a woman’s beauty. It was the confidence and the way she carried her crown that made her beautiful. Thank you for never placing beauty in a box.

Even though you are quiet in your actions, you are deliberate and thoughtful. You may not knock on a thousand doors to announce your presence or intentions. But when you decide to knock on one, it has a ripple effect and everyone listens…including myself.

Thank you.

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