Chained to the White Man

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By Tiffany Williams

Fuck the white man who told me
Dyslexia was an incurable disease
That being left-handed was worse than
Being Right

Momma told me to be silent when the white man was talking
Told me to listen to the white man
Act like the white man
Dye my hair blond
Get blue contacts
Don’t tan, you’re already dark
Go to the beauty supply store
Buy European hair and forget your roots
Momma said, Don’t dream… It’s too dangerous

Too afraid of saying the wrong thing
When the wrong thing was the right thing to say

Fuck you Soddy Daisy Elementary
made me afraid to be myself at 8
Mrs. Smith, my second grade teacher
never called on me
thought I didn’t know the answer
didn’t get picked for the spelling bee
no praise for the perfect scores
no smiley face sticker, no “good job”

Fuck the white kids
called me a Nigger at recess
Ate alone at lunchtime
An apple, cold turkey and cheese sandwich, my companions
5 feet of space between me and the table full of whispers
and wide open eyes
I heard them call me monster
Said my hair looked like weeds
Nothing you kept in your yard
I hung my head low
Eyes never met my enemies
I thought we were kids
and hatred couldn’t exist

Fuck the month of February
During black history month
teacher told me, Speak
Tell the story of your people
Couldn’t they see
That I didn’t know a Damn thing?
That I was learning too?

At home momma told me
“you can’t eat, until your homework is done”
I worked for hours
Math, more Math
Math
English, More English
English
Science, more Science
Science
Gotta get ahead if you wanna survive in this world
But would I ever get ahead?
Was it even possible?

Nighttime
Heard momma yellin
Daddy cussin
Hid in my closet
Prayin
Momma bleedin on the kitchen floor.
Knew I was never gonna get married.

Momma was right
I listened to the white man
Held my tongue for the white man
Relaxed my hair for the white man
Wore baggy clothes to hide my curves
Didn’t sit outside, too afraid to get too dark
Forgot what it was like to walk proud, head held high
Wait…
I was never taught that

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 ART as a form of ACTIVISM Issue!

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Art as a Form of Activism Issue!

Our November issue is dedicated to poets, filmmakers, writers, visual artists, and feminists who utilize art as a means to inspire and empower. From the classroom, to the streets, or behind a camera lens, words and themes of self- empowerment, feminism, and activism are being spread to individuals around the world.  We wanted to highlight those who are devoted activists and artists.

This month features:

  • A piece by Re/Visionist co-editor Tiffany Williams that looks at two black women independent filmmakers and how they allow black women subjects occupy space in film.
  • A poem titled ” Beauty Rest” by Alicia Cobb
  • A review of a recent poetry reading by Mary Oliver from co-editor Emilie Egger
  • A paper excerpt about themes of prostitution in early-1920s films by Emilie Egger
  • An analysis of Mary Magdalene in medieval art by women’s-history student Kaitlyn Kohr.
  • A review of a recent spoken word performance by Andrea Gibson from web-editor Carly Fox
  • A poem by Carly Fox titled ” When Will We Be Feminists?”

Sincerely,

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

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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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