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Brown Girl Lifted

because life @ the intersection is personal & political

Inheriting America’s violence: an immigrant kid on home and leaving

10407623_1656932877859372_5773064684406291616_nPerhaps this makes me ungrateful, but I know that as america stands today, my citizenship cannot save me. I have been talking with friends about using our american passports to fly somewhere far away where we can make a new home and begin our lives as expats. We will not be known as a refugees, though the state of violence against Black people and Blackness in the u.s. is genocide and has been petitioned to the U.N. as such.

I know that being born into my americanness is a privilege. I did not have to risk death to arrive on u.s. soil, I did not have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in a taxing and never-certain process. Even though there is a place my parents call back home, I do not have to fear harassment and deportation. Still, despite having been born and raised in “the land of the free” I am concerned deeply about death.

I have scrolled past countless articles detailing Black death in america. I have glanced over them and lowered my head. I am exhausted by the news. I worry that I’m silent and yet don’t know what to say about the death abounding, the murders made of hate, so many Black lives taken, so many trans* lives, muslim lives, so many children, elderly, and ill individuals murdered. I have a friend who is very certain of one thing: he is finished with the u.s. and I do not blame him.

Although I’ve dreamt of it, I am less certain than he is when it comes to leaving america behind for good. As the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants I carried a rasta-esque ideal vision of back home. I considered it a place to escape to. I wrote this poem called “abandon” because I thought as Ethiopia stretched her hands to God, she would scoop me up, cradle me in her arms, and keep the u.s. from eating me alive.


In December 2015, I visited Ethiopia for the first time and will spend my whole life reflecting on what my first trip to Ethiopia meant, what every subsequent trip is going to mean. I feel there is so much I cannot say, only having glimpsed a bit of Ethiopia during my four-week stay in the capitol city. I will say, that for all the promised land dreams I had, I always knew, even if vaguely, that Ethiopia has its own violences.

There I was in Ethiopia, loved, cared-for, blessed. Also, undeniably a foreigner and a guest. I went for many reasons and quickly realized I could not be saved from america or my americanness, it was embedded in me. In fact, that I feel refused full citizenship and rights to healthy, happy, and uninhibited survival within the u.s. is part of my americanness because of its history and what was built long before my family ever arrived.


In my father’s house, CNN is always on and when Trayvon Martin was murdered, his face, constantly in the news cycle, became part of our living room, like a portrait. One day, my father said, “he looks like your brother.” This moment of admittance said aloud what I knew to be true the moment I began filling forms and naming myself as I have always felt and been seen, as Black/African american. I knew these dangers could befall our family, no matter our names or our origins, no matter where we came from.

I dropped my head when I read about the tragic loss and violent murders ofTaha, Muhannad, and Adam, three Sudanese american boys who were shot execution style in Fort Worth, Indiana. Though police have said their murders are not a hate crime, the deaths of these three boys are being attributed to racism, anti-Blackness, Islamaphobia. Their lives existed so deeply in targeted intersections it makes sense to suspect a hate crime. While we wait for more information to arrive, a petition for justice exists.The petition demands the Fort Worth, Indiana authorities to conduct an active and thorough investigation.

When I learned they were Sudanese I couldn’t help but think of their parents and if they ever imagined the land of opportunity would eat their children like this. Did their fathers see a young man slain by white fear and think, “he looks like my son?” Afaq Mahmoud, my friend and the cousin of Taha and Muhannad, asked her own questions in a statement that has been shared on the Our Three Brothers Facebook Page: Do you know what it takes to run from war? Do you know what it means to flee from one war zone only to land in another? Do you know what it means to flee to “safety” and have it swallow you whole?


Beyond grief my life consists of archaeology articles and labs, surviving on a white campus, and working to remember Black Joy. In the midst of this all I eagerly await a moment to read something away from my course work. A copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me sits on my bookshelf. I’ve yet to read it but I’ve listened to interviews, I know the reading is required. I know he tells his son, “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” I know this to be a truth of my own life — america is my country no matter how I feel about it and no matter where I go.


Hiwot Adilow is a singer-songwriter, poet, and performer. The Philly born daughter of Ethiopian immigrants writes most heavily about Love and the complexity of immigrant Blackness in all its gore and glory. Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Apiary Magazine, Duende Literary, and The Offing. She has also appeared on NPR’s Tell Me More and Wisconsin Public Television. Hiwot is a member of the First Wave Learning Arts Community’s 7th Cohort. She currently at UW-Madison pursuing a degree in Anthropology with a certificate in African Studies.

Elephants

When I was thirteen years old

I sat at an Olive Garden in upstate new york

My mother’s fiance

was complaining about his nose.

This lumpy broken thing

in the middle of his face

that barely allowed him to breathe

Always ruddy, red, rebelling angrily

at his otherwise pale complexion

His mother agreed.

Silly rugby accident.

Oh, well. Still a handsome man.

Her nose however,

would you look at how big it was?

Nothing delicate about this bridge.

You should see Grandmother Ward,

now that’s a nose to be proud of.

My mother joined in,

examining the slightly larger flare

of her own nostrils with a mirror.

Not enough “elegance,”

she determined.

For the millionth time

another part of her lacked

enough whiteness to be beautiful

I felt the anxiety immediately.

My nostrils are much wider than my mothers

And the complexion of my skin is just

a couple shades darker.

The bridge of my nose is nowhere

near “just short” of elegant.

“Well, I guess I have the worst nose of all!”

Silence.

The missed beat felt like a brick

thrown into the face of my father

His nose, wide and mexican

could not be beautiful

and yet neither of us

had a place at that table

Silence stretched itself

out like a cat

grooming time

At that age I hadn’t yet learned

how to turn shame inward or

how to fashion self hatred out of insecurity.

At that age I still believed

that elephants in rooms

were supposed to be acknowledged,

that we were supposed to be bigger

than our silence.

It wasn’t until years later

that I learned the price of ivory

and understood why everyone

killed their discomfort,

and stuffed its

skeletons into closets.

I want to say that that was the day

I decided never to collect shame

nor bones nor silence

but the truth is I’ve become

an expert at organizing

the things unsaid.

Now my resume reads:

Expert elephant killer.

Well-read in silence

and the spaces between lines.

(Encounters a minimum of 200 elephants a day.)

Professional.

(Never mentions said creatures.)

Skilled.

(Collects, delivers, and organizes bones.)

Secrecy is currency.

We drown rooms in silence,

and those

who remember the elephants

collect their bones.

Our closets are heavy

with what the blind call ivory.

You might call it humanity.

A note from the author: We celebrated MLK day just a few days ago, and after seeing countless reminders that only love can only drive out hate, I got to thinking about how, regardless of his nonviolent message, many white people seem to forget his disappointment with inactive white “allies”:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years, I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedoms is not the White Citizen’s Counselor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice…who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until “a more convenient season.”

This is a poem about my frustration toward white people who don’t outwardly admit they have said racist things. This is a poem expressing my anger at those who excuse their actions because they have a black friend or significant other. This is a poem expressing my anger about white folk who are down on social media but fall silent when it’s time to organize in real life. To call yourself a supporter of black lives and black liberation means that you support our methods and actions we take, and be as altruistic as humanly possible when advocating for us.

-Samantha Adams, 01/25/2016

honeybreath  (or words and things I think of when I hear ‘white liberalism’)

empty

false / promise

fake

old plastic smell

colorless

lacking

flighty

weightless

slippery

the chemical aftertaste found in a blue icee.

unhealthy

sticky

tea bags, black tea leaves smothered by honey

I agree with your mission but not with your method

be quiet,

post an article

fight the power with a fractured wrist

spoiled milk

skim milk

stuttering

covert

secret

scratchy, quickly knit blanket left red rash

soft language

prejudiced (in quotation marks), not racist oh no

mold forms relatively fast when you buy fruit just to leave it on a surface of something.

your fruit, sitting on the state-of-the-art granite countertop is growing spores

and once it starts good intention becomes rancid mush.

middle class vanilla lady watchin’ MSNBC likes to put a hyphen

between two words African and American to describe someone

doesn’t like a stir of

bigger noise or broken glass but bigger

words make her feel better. she’s kinda like

a dog with a slimy tongue begging for a treat

from a black hand straining to lift white weight.

-Samantha Adams

 

This year I resolve not to confuse the piece for a whole

to recognize the peace in the hole (give me peace in my soul) 

the cavity: negative space left in absence of friends near to heart but far from body

never-quite-replaced by impostors close to body but never meeting eyes

This year I won’t want for someone else to understand me

This year I resolve to protect my best friend, even when she is me

even when her words hit too close to home

lambasting me with lashings

spinning webs of weaponized thought

jumping the myelin bridges in my unguarded still-naive

not-yet-fully-developed

young adult mind

even when my flaws are swallowing me whole

impulses shorting — crack! 

unencumbered by

inhibitions lubed with alcohol

sometimes it’s not safe here

with a heart in swollen pieces

because I cut it up

for reasons I haven’t lived my way to the bottom of yet

This year I will write more and say less

I will want for grey matter — not for grey friendships

I want for grey hairs — but for now I’ll settle for flecks of blonde (because I’m fun)

& I’ll stop spelling gray the British way just because I think it’s classy

Nothing is inherently classy except a good book and a healthy respect for all living kind

This year I won’t confuse a piece for the whole

I think maybe humanity shares a collective soul

else, why would I find something

I want to keep in every person I meet

Even if my mind is trained to categorize and to stereotype

in spite of view

I stubbornly fight for the right to match and to defy

others’ projections/definitions/rising inflections and shady looks

remembering we all have a right to identify ourselves however we choose

& I have that right, too.

There is a part of every person that shines like the sun

There is a part of every person that wants to run

I want to run

to the future

& find my own light

& give only the best pieces of myself to the world

even as the worst parts poke out of the collective soul, thriving like weeds,

surviving generations like those light sleepers and those heavy dreamers — never wiped out by random chance

This year…

I’ll stop asking for permission to be my complete self

I’ll stop taking silence for rejection & I’ll finally buy a bookshelf

I’ll take up space and live my life

converting my potential into kinetics into weaponized love–into light.

I’ll give less of myself to each person, and more of myself to the world

This year I won’t confuse the piece for the whole

This year, I’ll create peace in my soul

-Aarushi Agni

Why I Can’t Do Christmas…

 

For the past month you have likely been barraged by the sights, lights, sounds and smells of what is called “The Christmas Spirit.” You’ve pulled out your ugliest ugly Christmas sweater, and you’re ready to “deck the halls.”

You’ve watched The Grinch and Buddy the Elf about 10 times this month, blasted Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” so loud ya neighbors came knocking (what happened to her voice anyway??), and you’ve decorated your crib to now include a 7 foot tree complete with garland, lights, candy canes, and whatever else y’all use to pimp out trees.

You’ve emptied your wallet in a shopping frenzy for the newest gadgets, and when it’s all over some of you will ponder whether all the stress and expense was really worth it.

Here’s a perspective from one browngirllifted writer who said adios to Christmas once and for all.


**Before I begin, I’d like to issue a disclaimer. I do not hate anyone who chooses to celebrate Christmas, nor do I have any interest in condemning anyone for observing a religious holiday. I simply wish to share my voice.**

I remember what Christmas used to mean to me as a child. Pictures with Santa at the mall, decorating Christmas cookies, sneaking in the basement to get a glimpse of gifts I assumed were for me. Yes, it was all very exciting. Every December I looked forward to getting a chocolate advent calendar just so I could count down the days until Christmas (even though I usually ate them all during the first week). For my family and me, December signified all things Christmas.

Christmas music.

jackson

Christmas programs.

2.

Christmas movies.
3.

Christmas shopping.

4
NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 24: Black Friday bargain hunters shop for discounted merchandise at Toys R’ Us, which opened at 9PM Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2011, in New York City. Marking the start of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday is one of retailers’ busiest days of the year. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

Christmas cookies.
5

Christmas outfits

6

Christmas decorations.

7

Everything. Christmas

So how did I, your typical Christmas loving child, say goodbye to “The most wonderful time of the year?”

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Continue reading “Why I Can’t Do Christmas…”

For Colored Girls

-Nyesha Brown

I am frequently intimate with myself.
Because I am intimate with myself
I realize that the stumble of words across my tongue do not have to
constantly explain to others the wires of my hair
Or my brown skin
Or the sound of my voice.
I am borrowing a line and I want to be self-serving when I say
I wish myself well on my journey to the sun.
I wish you well on your journey to the sun
To the core of you, of me burning and throbbing and raging
There is a growing mind in here
And it is fertilized
But it used to be simultaneously plagued with a blight
Of whiteness and micro-aggressions
masquerading cradling lilywhite hands for ones that constrict and strangle
And dilute the richness of my blackness into “you talk white, you speak well.”
There is a growing mind in here
And it is not close to tiring
There is no holding it back
Only holding it tender
There is no holding it back
But there will be some who wanna hold it captive
and someone who will render it inactive
Incompetent
In. in. in.
I’m not folding in on myself
I’m throwing by blackness on a white canvas
my skin turning the color of earth’s clay I smile
my minds eye my eye’s mind opens to light
opens to darkness for without the dark who could shine
my eye’s brown and black thank god for that eye
that lets me see how the world operates
you know, the world that holds the sclera above the pupil
and how could you treat the black center of something so cruelly even my burnt kneecaps are fed up
the pigmentation comes to a head on my legs
I used to see them as burdens why aren’t my legs the same color throughout
But then again I’m not the same color throughout
“I’m not white I’m golden” my seven year old tongue spits
Split in half
And once my skin called out to be named (a political statement, self-preservation)
i became fluent in the language of myself
and i pray my syntax seeks to confuse the uncomfortable
who cringe in white cocoons


Samantha Adams is a 19 year old sophomore at UW Madison pursuing a degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing, and a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. She lives in Madison but her heart resides in her hometown Milwaukee, WI. She believes her words can be just as powerful as her actions. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of black girl magic…and she’s working on new ways to take care of herself in an environment that is not always kind to women of color. She thanks Aarushi from the bottom of her heart for the opportunity to be featured on such an empowering blog!

Addressing Racism Online: An Open Letter

A couple of days ago, someone I consider to be a close friend sent me this mildly offensive meme that for one reason or another, she assumed I would find funny rather than offensive and hurtful.

racist meme

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Had it been something that somehow ended up on my Facebook timeline, I would have scowled in silent indignation and kept on scrolling. This ugly thing was staring at me in my messenger presumably waiting for verbal approval accompanied by LOLing emojis.

We’ve never discussed issues of race or racism in the past mostly because I felt some trepidation about addressing the issue directly for fear that she would shut down and become defensive as we have come expect from those who declare themselves “colorblind”.

What I DID say, in retrospect, left much to be desired.

“There are a bevy of fucked up implications in that meme. You probably shouldn’t share it with anyone else”

In that moment, I thought it got the point across — a conversational, softball way of saying, “Yeah, no, not funny, definitely racist.” without having to explain too extensively. I didn’t want to run the risk of insulting her intelligence by giving her a run down of why it was offensive, but then, if she saw this meme on Facebook, chuckled to herself and thought, “I know who would enjoy this, let me send this to Trisha”, then I probably should have assumed her racial aptitude also leaves much to be desired.

This is an open letter to my friend. Words I wish I had the quick thinking and intrepidity to actually say when it happened.

Continue reading “Addressing Racism Online: An Open Letter”

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Contact Aarushi Agni at browngirllifted@gmail.com with questions, or fill out the Google form below. Read more about the blog’s mission here.

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