Search

Brown Girl Lifted

because life @ the intersection is personal & political

Tag

intersectionality

“Holy Shit, That’s Me” – Aarushi Agni

 

You may have noticed if you are a woman, a person of color, or a woman of color, we are constantly being gaslighted by the media. For example, not all people of color only date other people of color – also, no one keeps their bra on during sex. And even though there are so many ways to be beautiful, many of us grow up with the narrative that only small white women deserve love and empowerment. In her piece entitled “Holy Shit, That’s Me” Aarushi Agni talks about trying to find herself in the American cultural world, and learning to trust her own experiences instead of the messaging.

Continue reading ““Holy Shit, That’s Me” – Aarushi Agni”

I’m a first generation African American. Not an African-American, but an African American. My parents were the first members of my family to arrive in America.  Although I am by every legal definition an “African-American” man, I don’t fit the social and behavioral molds Black people fit in the American cultural imagination.  According to others, I don’t act like “black.” This has at times made me feel as if I was standing on a racial periphery. Certain parts of the black culture simply don’t apply to me.

Even though I don’t consider the history of African-Americans to be my own, learning how they were treated in the United States was fascinating and appalling. It disgusted me that a group of people so marginalized were forced into building up the very systems that sought to oppress them. After empathizing with that painful history, I started to step inside the periphery.
I am shaken and puzzled by the use of one of the most controversial and infamous words in American English—“nigger.”

This was a word that has many meanings: property, worthless, animal, object, inhuman, garbage, criminal, prey; it was and is still used to keep the proverbial boot on the necks of black men, women, and children. In contrast, decades ago some members of the black community turned the word into a term of endearment. The modified term nigga also has many meanings: buddy, friend, brother, cool guy, understanding guy, trusted individual. So now we there are two words with very different meanings. In regards to my experiences and racial identity, I never fully stepped into the center of the black perimeter until those words were used to describe me.

Oddly enough, that was the moment that I truly felt “black.”

I remember in elementary school, my friend, Omar who fit the stereotypical black mold addressed me as “my nigga.” Without fully understanding the term, I felt accepted. I was proud to be acknowledged as black. After this experience, I found myself using the word frequently to describe myself and my friends, not knowing the entire time that I was swinging a double-edged sword.
Years later, near the end of my senior year, I invited one of my newer friends to go with my group of friends to our senior prom. My newer friend was a Southeast Asian who was very open-minded and loved all cultures, and respected the urban and black cultures. When I picked her up from her aunt’s house, she told me it was very important that I not be seen by any members of her family. The week after prom, she told me that her aunt had seen me and told her father, who told her, “Not to hang around dirty niggers because they could be selling drugs.”
Before I heard her repeat those words, I had always considered the word nigger offensive, but I’d always brushed it off as a relic used by incompetent, uneducated, bigoted, stubborn white people. It wasn’t until that label was slapped on me that I felt it. And it stung like hell. And oddly enough, that was the moment that I truly felt “black.”

So what does “being black” mean for people like me?

I was born in the United States, but spent two of my formative years in West Africa. I returned at the age of four and knowing only my Ivorian culture. I’ve always known what it means to be African—proud, moral, and strong.
Being African American is harder to make sense of, but I am beginning to understand what it means for me. Being black means having resilience—possessing both the same stature and fortitude as cockroach for centuries. Being black means being precarious. One word, one action, one misstep and everything can be taken from you by those who are waiting for you to fall back on old stereotypes. Being black means being ambitious. Although society sometimes says otherwise; no man is born wanting to be a slave, and many who have been denied success want their place at the top. Lastly, being black means being fragmented—broken but not destroyed.

On a daily basis, African-Americans have their images shattered and put back together again—by celebrities, by real-life experiences, and by that big bad wolf we call the media. When I was first called “a nigger,”I realized that in someone else’s mind I fit the mold: jobless, violent, incompetent, and short-sided. Funny thing is, I didn’t fit any of those descriptions, and although I was angry, my dark sense of humor couldn’t help itself. I had had my image broken, and felt the urge to piece it back together by, well, being myself. I suddenly needed to sway a person I’d never met and would probably never meet against his own prejudices, just like many African-Americans are forced to do each day, especially with that cancerous word still floating around. A relationship in which one party is working to appease another party who lacks any concern for the former’s well-being, improvement, or any suffering caused by them. Do you know what to call a relationship like that? Slavery.

Being black means being precarious. One word, one action, one misstep and everything can be taken from you– by those who are waiting for you to fall back on old stereotypes. Being black means being ambitious. Although society sometimes says otherwise; no man is born wanting to be a slave, and many who have been denied success want their place at the top. Lastly, being black means being fragmented—broken but not destroyed.

Now that that uncomfortable conversation is over, how about we answer a question that it could’ve lead to: what does it mean to be white?

The derivation of man-made ideology and cultural practices is fascinating, isn’t it? While keeping in mind that the allegorical polarity between black and white is often pulled into real life, we still don’t understand that this is very dangerous. Or, we’ve been warned but we just don’t care.

It might surprise some folks to know that the word “white” is used as somewhat of a slur against people of color. Since elementary school, I’ve heard my black friends use it to describe another person of color, usually with an annoyed, impressed, or comical tone: “He looks so white!”

In high school, one of my oldest friends, Tasha once described her first impression of me. It started out as flattering….”I remember thinking that you looked cute–but then you opened your mouth and started talking so that went away.”

Confused, I asked her why, to which she responded, “You sounded so white. You used all these big proper words; you sounded like Uncle Phil from the Fresh Prince.”Other than feeling a little self-conscious, I didn’t know how to respond to her. She did however, make a point of saying “That’s how you’re gonna be!” whenever we watched the Fresh Prince and the Uncle Phil character came on-screen.
As a slur, the word “white” has several forms and implied synonyms: boujie, uppity, oreo, Uncle-Tom, etc. All of these words are meant to describe a person of color who aspires to be proper, intelligent, graceful, and eloquent. These traits are included in white stereotypes, and aren’t negative. But despite both “black” and “white” traits being built on inaccurate assumptions, anyone who steps outside of the racial perimeter can sometimes be singled out and ridiculed.

“You sounded so white. You used all these big proper words; you sounded like Uncle Phil from the Fresh Prince.”

Being white is sometimes seen as the polar opposite of being black, and it keeps both “races” from learning more about one another, leaving little room to be malleable. I’ve been called white several times by my peers because of my interests in stereotypical “white” culture and my lack of knowledge concerning “black” culture. Something as simple as liking the band Linkin Park or not having seen the movie Friday was started an orchestra of sneers and gasps of misbelief. There are times when being called white cuts deeper than any other insult, and why? Because without warning, you can once again find yourself in that lonely void I call the racial periphery.

Nigger and “white” should’ve never existed, but somehow we’re too proud to let go of them. Despite all of our talk about acceptance, tolerance, and the ‘melting pot,’ some parts of our society hold on to words that allow room for distinction. All Americans are entitled to “liberty and justice for all” but has the dream been fulfilled?

Speech is used to keep people in chains that they don’t have the key to.

Speech is used to keep people in chains that they don’t have the key to. Do we like the word nigger? Many Americans would say no. But if we took away the word and replaced it with something less painful to describe African-Americans…say “ghetto,” the two words would possess the same implied meaning. Is it fun to use the word “white” to make fun of our black peers? I can only speak for myself but yes it is or has been. Do I and other blacks like that that word is associated with mostly positive traits? A number of us would say no.

Yes, we are bound by the words we use to describe each other due to the historical and societal implications of those words. But the sweet, dark irony of it is that we choose to accept those implications. We choose to accept that nigger is black and black is bad. We choose to accept that goodness is whiteness and therefore goodness is bad. So then, as citizens of the world, I believe we’re left with two options when it comes to these slurs: redefine them or forget them.


Eleazar Wawa is an African who also happens to be an American, who appreciates and honors his identities the best he can. Wawa dedicates his professional life to mentoring, teaching, and encouraging kids so they can create their own paths in life. While he doesn’t currently call himself a ‘social justice crusader’ at this point, we’ll see what the future holds.

Just a Bad Joke

Dave_Chappelle_(cropped)Dave Chappelle tells a rape joke and my boyfriend stifles a laugh
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I feel my face turn red
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and my memory finds the midnight my friend called me sobbing & suicidal & unsafe
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and my boyfriend laughs
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I remember finding out that my friend raped eight women
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I wonder how many of my friends have raped my friends
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and it gets harder to breathe
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I remember being told I couldn’t sleep over at my friend’s house because her dad tried to rape my mom
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and the men in the theatre slap their knees while cackling
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I am nine years old dreading pool days because my friend’s dad stares at me and winks
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and the entire theatre roars in laughter
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I don’t dare wear a swimsuit for over a decade
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and my little brother learns to laugh when my sister is abused
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I know I can never have a daughter
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and the men in the theatre look monstrously happy
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and my boyfriend laughs
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and everyone laughs
Dave Chappelle tells a rape joke and I wonder if I am ever ever ever safe

-Bet-Zua Jimenez

the narrow ledge between sorrow and a blank stare,

just remember:

 

They are offended by your capacity to feel.

They are threatened by the tears cascading down your cheeks.

Tears with the potential to turn into a tsunami,

to break down bridges, to wipe the shoreline clean,

and expose the sharp rocks hidden in the sand.

 

“You are too much,” they say.

Too much for speaking, and too much for crying, and too much for shouting.

You should’ve learned to sit down,

to cross your legs,

to contain your sadness into small boxes.

Didn’t your mother ever teach you to be polite?

To color inside the lines?

Your anger is a fire that must be extinguished.

If it grows too large it just might expose the truth;

it might just burn down this city of lies.

 

 

Don’t let them take your pain and turn it into something cruel.

Don’t let them take your anger and fray the edges, tear the seams,

Reshape it into something else.

They try and paint you as dangerous, as excessive.

Society has taught you to be small, how dare you try and become larger,

try and outgrow the narrow space you have been assigned?

 

They are afraid because they want control.

They want to own you,

every part of you

in its entirety.

 

But they cannot have you.

 

Because you own this anger, this pain.

You own this rage; this sorrow belongs only to you.

The way your blood boils, the way your heart sinks

and your breath thickens and your knees begin to shake.

This is your weapon; hold on to it like a handful of seeds.

No matter how much they ask or how hard they demand, do not give it to them.

For, with these seeds, you are able to grow a garden.

You are able to cultivate strength.

You are able to start a revolution.

 

After all, this vulnerability–this raw and uncensored ability to feel,

is the closest a human being can come to God.


Nivedita Sharma is a daydreamer, avid tea drinker, aspiring writer, frequent people-watcher, and lover of words. She recently graduated from UW Madison with majors in biology and psychology and certificates in gender and women’s studies and global health. Specifically, she is interested in promoting social equity through working on reducing health disparities and focusing on minority and women’s health. Additionally, she strongly believes in the power of sharing and embracing diverse experiences through writing and performance as a method of initiating social change and creating a more inclusive, more beautiful world.

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

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!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑