From Here to Timbuktu

The concept of Freedonia and this alternate world the story takes place in is an interesting one.  Essentially, in this world the Haitian Revolution spread beyond Haiti and allowed the black population of the American South to drive back their oppressors and form a new country called Freedonia.  This country is flourishing and while very young, is starting to take an active part in this world.  In many ways, it’s the kind of world I could have only ever hoped for but we all know it’s not what we have.  Ultimately, that is the biggest strength of this novel.  It fills you up with renewed optimism and faith in your people being able to do great things.  I know Mr. Davis doesn’t necessarily write with the political in mind, but I think it still manages to leak through if ever so subtly.  A world where blacks actually get to command their own destiny without fear of being stomped down for it….the idea seems far away and unattainable when we look at our present reality.  That’s why we need stories that allow us to imagine better.

Of course, the meat of this story is a lot of fun.  It’s an action adventure set in the backdrop of this new, but still familiar world.  Famara Keita and Ezekiel Culpepper are the main characters and they take us through a romping adventure that stretches from Atlanta to London to the legendary city of Timbuktu.  It’s amazing the amount of pride I felt while reading this book.  We weren’t limited to the role of criminal or dead beat or scary muscle like we so often are in the media.  Both of these were no pushovers by any means, but they were nuanced and had many sides to their personalities.  Ezekiel may have been a great sharpshooter, but all he longed for was some peace at home.  Famara could probably beat you down with his pinky toe, but friendship and loyalty mattered more to him than anything else.  They become quite the duo throughout the story and the proper amount of time is taken to make sure that the friendship is developed properly over the long term.  They aren’t just thrust together and become Batman and Robin.

I don’t want to spoil the story because I think there is a lot of this that should be experienced with new, wide-open eyes. But there is one part of this story where one character is singing blues and my lord…it was so wonderfully done.  I sat there as I read it and started tapping my hand on my thigh singing along with them.  We need to imagine a different, better world for ourselves.  My extensive reading experiences have taught many things and one of them is that the imagination is the greatest and perhaps only platform to initiate change.  You have to be able to imagine a better world in order to actually want a better world.  I’m almost sure that the only major goal with this story was just to tell a good one, but it’s so much more than that.   A book like this shown and given to people who don’t ever get to see themselves doing better and achieving more…that’s powerful.   Books like this and writers like Milton are absolutely necessary.  To me, Freedonia isn’t just a place to dream and fancy about.   It’s something we can build right here, right now.   Let’s follow the author’s example and imagine better.

(SIDE NOTE:  Annette Bijoux is THAT lady and I want to see her get a solo story or something.  She was just too striking a character to not see pop up more.)

Black Witches – The Pilot

Black Witch Chronicles- The Pilot

What guided me to finding this on Youtube?  Well, I think it was more that it came to me.  A writing associate of mines posted the link up in a writing group that I’m a part of.  I found it interesting, but I wasn’t immediately ready to watch it.  Then the Bruce Jenner interview came on and I saw some horrible, prejudicial, and outright hateful comments about the man coming from members of the black, straight and mostly Christian community.  It filled me with a lot of anger and major disappointment.  I needed a reason to feel good about the black community again after seeing some of that stomach churning stuff.  So I decided that the sisters in this video looked like they might be some free thinkers like myself.  And man….hope restored.

I’ll be honest and upfront.  The video quality on this isn’t great as it’s basically a recorded Google Hangouts conversation.  But if you can get past that then you’ll find that the genuine, compassionate natures of the two women here are just so heart filling.   They are active parts of their community and don’t sit behind a computer using it for hate.  Theirs is a message of love, support, and preparedness.  Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about these areas of spirituality so my knowledge base is a bit lacking when they talk about certain terms like mercury retrograde etc.  But that’s part of the fun of this for me.  I’m writing down the things I don’t know and I’m looking them up.   Increasing my knowledge base is something I never, ever shy away from.   I find the most compassionate human beings are often the ones who take understanding the thoughts of others seriously and these two women fit the bill.

Even if you’re not necessarily into their spiritual practices, there are some great feminist points brought up during this discussion.  They talk about women reclaiming their bodies for themselves and to stop allowing their bodies to be treated as commodities.  One of the ladies who works at a health center talked about how so many of her female clients have never even looked at their vagina and don’t even want to.  Yet, they can freely give up this part of themselves to someone else.  It struck me that women have been mentally and psychologically assaulted in that way about their genitals.  Because you certainly do not see that kind of behavior amongst men typically.

I really enjoyed their discussions on support in the community, how the African ancestral communities didn’t necessarily operate off monetary systems and how women need to go about staking claims on their bodies again.  They were so genuine and truthful about the subject, I found myself smiling and not even realizing it.  There is definitely something to latch on to here.  I loved it and will be watching more.

Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements

As a fan of speculative fiction and an aspiring writer in that domain, Octavia Butler has always been my matriarch.  She is the writer that may not have been my first inspiration, but she certainly left a deep, lasting impression on my soul.  Her work is so seminal and I want to weep every time I encounter a reader or writer unaware of her contributions.  Octavia is as important in my mind to the fabric of “blackness” as any Civil Rights activist.  Her work empowers and calls us to be great.  Octavia’s faith in humanity’s ability to rise above so tremendous.

So imagine my absolute delight when I found out there was going to be a book from social justice movement figures dedicated to Octavia.  I was ready to devour the stories and see just what was given birth from the minds of people who were already accustomed to dreaming.   Any work where you fight for the marginalized if you’re not careful can make you cynical and cause you to lose sight of those dreams that propelled into doing the work in the first place.  I wonder how many of these authors walked away from this collection feeling rejuvenated about their work.  Because they certainly made me feel rejuvenated about mines.

There were quite a number of works in this collection and admittedly, some were stronger than others.  But they all came packed with a message and I think that alone is powerful.  In the interest of time and modern day attention spans, I’m going to mention the works that really crawled into my mind and/or heart and lingered there for a while.  Like that one friend who you know will tell you what you need to hear even when you’re not quite ready to hear it.   Some of the ideas took me to sad, contemplative places.  But we need to wander through those spaces as much as we need to enjoy our happier moments.  A reader and most certainly a writer has to take in the full richness of life, not just its sweeter moments.

“Revolution Shuffle” by Bao Phi was an excellent choice for the opening story.   I was introduced to a new fear I had never thought about.  Never even considered it whenever I watched anything related to zombies, but it’s a powerful point.  We all know the privileged would be looking to point the fingers somewhere and in the story it was the Asians and Arabs.  Like I said, it was a fear I never even considered and didn’t even realize that these groups probably live with daily.   The day something terrible happens to America they’re likely going to be the ones with the finger pointed at them.  It put a new perspective on things for me because it made me wonder just how much terrified a Muslim-American is of a terrorist attack happening versus your average American.  They have to know that the hammer will fall on them first if such a thing was to occur.  What a terrible thing to live with and this story takes that kind of racist stereotyping to a dark conclusion.

“Black Angel” by Walidah Imarisha struck me with its rawness and it also taught me something new.  Any story that give me genuine knowledge will always anchor itself to my mind.  This tale is gritty and revolves around a fallen Angel, but fallen because she disobeyed God by saving lives during a terrible war.  It makes God seem cruel, but the Bible is full of enough examples of that to have precedence.  And I enjoy stories that dig into the greater religious questions without being overly for one side or the other.  The reader is allowed to draw their own conclusion.  As far as what I learned, I had no idea that illegal immigrants were shipped away to maquiladoras like chattel.  The story made me do research and I became livid with what I read.  In that way and the first, this story enlightened me.

“Homing Instinct” by Dani McClain made me fearful for those who are so young and for those are still yet to be born.  It broke my heart because the premise of the story seems like something that could potentially happen.  The story centers on climate change and people being forced to choose a place to live in an effort to slow down the terrible damage we’ve already caused.  People are going to be allotted only so many travel miles a year and people who are on the other side of the U.S. from their families (like myself) have to make some real hard decisions.  This story was perhaps the most striking to me because it struck so close.  I could relate to the main character’s struggle of wanting to stay true to themselves, but not wanting to leave their Mother all alone.  My God, what a terrible decision to have to make on so many levels.  Dani captured such immensity in such a small space.  Truly a great piece of fiction here.

There are quite a few other pieces in this anthology (22 if I’m numbering right) that cover topics ranging from sexism, breaking gender norms, racism, deforestation, cultural destruction, twisted medical breakthroughs and so much more.  There really is a plethora of topics here available for any sci-fi fan to explore.  The anthology makes a powerful point early on that if you are interested in social justice then you must be interested in science fiction.   Because the black people of today were only dreams and science fiction to our ancestors longing for freedom not so long ago.

Adapting Will Not Stop That Bullet

One bit of rhetoric or “wisdom” (as I’m sure they perceive it) is that Black people should adapt to their racist environment and merely “comply” with police if they want their lives to matter.  I have to be frank and say that shitty ass logic should be jettisoned to the end of the Solar System.  And Pluto would probably send it back to us because of how filthy and wrong of an idea it is.  Adaptation to a racist environment will not stop the bullets of a cop and it will not stop the inhuman views of people who willingly choose to see Black people as “less than”.  Let’s run through some of these strategies and see exactly what we’re looking at.

Adaptation Strategy #1: Drive a Cheaper Car

So Chris Rock was in the news recently for the many times he was pulled over by police in a phenomena many of us know as “Driving While Black” (it’s a crime in 50 states didn’t ya know?).  Don Lemon (aka one of the biggest idiots we’re unfortunately going to have to deal with for the next ten years) had Isiah Washington on his CNN “show” (I use that term SO loosely) and Washington suggested that Rock should “adapt” and drive a cheaper car.  The suggestion is basically to help avoid the stereotype of black people with expensive cars being seen as drug dealers.

Let’s follow the logic here.  So driving an expensive car creates more police interaction then the inverse should be true and driving a less expensive car should create less police interaction.  This adaptation strategy is so painfully easy to call BS on because by that logic no poor black neighbor should have any traffic stops occurring. Yet, statistics on police traffic stops show again and again that it is black drivers that are more routinely stopped.  And I seriously doubt these are all Bentleys and Jaguars getting pulled over.

It is not the make of our car, but the color of our skin that automatically makes us suspicious.  And let’s get to the real root of why Black people in expensive cars are thought to have drug dealings.   That belief stems from the racist view that Blacks ultimately cannot generally be successful without it being handed to us, garnering the success through illegal means or just happening to be one of the few to “make it out”.   The middle-class, educated Black American does not exist in the country’s psyche and if it does it’s only there as a rarity.

That is the attitude that should be changed.  Not the make of our cars.

In a nutshell:  I drive a car.  I will get pulled over more.  End of story.

Adaptation Strategy #2: Dress Respectfully

This is one I see frequently thrown around when it comes to sagging pants, baggy clothes and even hair styles like dreadlocks (looking at you Anthony Mackie).  The idea behind this is that if we are more “presentable” then it’s less likely we’ll encounter racist attitudes in our daily lives.  Do you smell that?  That’s the horse shit piling up from every time someone has opened their mouth to spit that lie out.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a fan of dirty underwear exposed in public.  But the idea that this style of dress has somehow contributed to racist reactions and attitudes just isn’t true.

As I often point out to people, if this logic was true then Martin Luther King and participants in the Civil Rights Movement would have had the red carpet laid out for them and The President would have had a gala waiting for them to celebrate signing The Civil Rights Act.  Because if dressing properly somehow deflects racism then you have to look no further than MLK to find the “appropriate” attire.  He was dressed in a suit quite often and the people who marched with him were in their Sunday’s best.  Yet, they were still hosed down in the street like animals and had vicious dogs set loose on them.   Their manner of dress had absolutely no effect on the racism that was unleashed upon them.

Let’s take it back further.   Look at the 20s and the style of fashion in that time.  If dressing nice is somehow a “racism blocker” then Langston Hughes should have won back to back Pulitzers and Bumpy Johnson should have had twenty years on City Council.   But that’s not how it worked.   Our manner of dress does not give us humanity in a racist society and it shouldn’t be the thing by which anyone’s worth as a person is measured anyway.

In a nutshell:  I can catch a bullet in a white tee or a Polo shirt.  My life is valued the same either way.

Adaptation Strategy #3: Speak Articulately

I hear this one a lot and as an aspiring writer, I do value language and using it well.   And it would be foolish to suggest that communication skills aren’t vital in many areas of life.  But it’s not just Black people that suffer this misbegotten “wisdom”.  It’s also levelled at Latinos, Asians and generally anyone with the status of immigrant.   It would seem in America that if you want your life to be valued, you have to be able to speak “proper” English.  We would probably have a lot less problems with world relations if we approached learning another language with the same vigor, but that’s another topic.

The problem with this particular adaptation is that Blacks who are considered to fit the bill suffer through their own racist indignities.   You’re often told that you’re “different” (particularly when an individual or group of white people are criticizing your racial group and you walk into the room).  You hear that “you speak so well”, implying that so many others of your kind they met haven’t.  In essence, you become like that animal in the zoo that everyone wants to “ooo” and “aahh” at because you’re so rare.  It is humiliating when you’re constantly treated like some anomaly that shouldn’t exist.

And let us not forget the example of Martese Johnson, a well-spoken college student, who still found his head bashed into the ground.  Or Kam Brock, a woman of executive level status, who was placed in a psych ward against her will for saying President Obama followed her on Twitter among other things.  I’m sure this woman was very well-spoken and her humanity was still utterly disregarded.

Not speaking “properly” certainly comes with a unique set of perceptions and racist viewpoints, but fitting the notion of what it means to “speak articulately” is just trading in those perceptions for a set of new ones.  And let’s be real, if speaking properly was really that important to the American people we would not have had George W. Bush in office twice.

In a Nutshell:  The words that come out of my mouth cannot and should not determine the level of racism I experience. 

I don’t want to drag on too long, but the problem with telling people what to do to avoid racism is essentially blaming the victim.  We did not create the racist infrastructure that exists in this country today and somehow it ends up on our doorstep to “adapt” to it.  But the problem with adapting is the idea that somehow racism is a fluctuating thing that only applies to a certain type of “person” within that racial group.   I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never heard the KKK say they only disliked Black people with baggy pants.   Hitler didn’t say he only wanted to eradicate Blacks that spoke badly.

What needs to be fixed isn’t the perceived actions and behaviors of Black people.  What needs to be changed is a system that allows those misguided notions to take root and have validity in the first place.

Cecelia and Miguel Are Best Friends by Diane Gonzales Bertrand

This book made me smile from beginning to end because it shows a healthy relationship between two children of opposite genders that grows over the years into something beautiful despite challenges.  People of color are so often presented with dysfunction and abuse as the norms for their relationships in media.  We’re not able to see healthy interactions despite the wealth of them out there in real life.  So books like this are important as they battle the tidal wave of images telling minorities in America that the basis of their lives is dysfunction.

It also shows a side of relationships that we don’t normally get to see in in the media, except for maybe in romantic comedies.  The book depicts the relationship between Cecelia and Miguel as a slow-growing one that takes its time to mature and blossom into something beautiful.  We don’t see that so much anymore.  The standard seems to be two people with an attraction to each other immediately end up in emotional and psychical complications.  This book doesn’t take that approach and not that I suspect it would considering it’s a children’s book.  But my point is that the foundation for many of our interactions later in life are established in our childhood.  Much like a diet has an effect on our bodies, what we read and see in media has some effect on our minds.

In the era of “50 Shades of Grey” where you see abuse being glorified, it’s good to know we still have books out there that present healthy relationships based on mutual respect and care for one another.   This may be a children’s book, but what we read as children carries powerful weight. Positive media and positive relationships are vital in a land that constantly tells minority children that they are worth less.

Some might read this and think this book somehow enforces old gender roles.  It doesn’t.  I never once felt like Cecelia and Miguel weren’t on equal footing.  There was definitely an equality of value created between the two characters.   Neither were shoe-horned in expectations of what girls and boys should do.  Along the way, you get to learn a few cultural items that readers outside of the Latin-American community might not know about.  Though these touches were simple, they felt very deliberate and helped to make a simple story into a very progressive one.

Dalia’s Wondrous Hair by Laura Lacamara

Dalia's Wondrous Hair - Children's Book written and illustrated by Laura Lacamara

So this is the first children’s book that I am featuring on the blog.  I know a lot of the people who actually read the blog and keep up with it have children.  And it’s vital for children to see themselves in media.  The earlier they see themselves positively, the better it is for their self-esteem and it keeps their interest too.  Despite what some critics of diversity might have you believe, seeing yourself visually is important.  It is a sinister, subversive matter when people try to suggest that the skin color of characters shouldn’t matter. That is simply racism by omission and it harms our children.

This book doesn’t play into that notion thankfully.   The illustrations are vibrant, colorful and make the backdrop of Cuba look absolutely amazing.  Through its tiny references, this book is unabashedly embracing a locale that is often demonized in America.  I loved seeing this beautiful country come to life and displayed as something besides for a so-called “communist prison camp”.  America finds a way to always portray the worst parts of other cultures like Mexico, Cuba, and many African countries.  Let’s call it for what it is, it’s propaganda.  It makes books like these even more important for people who might never see Cuba, but can see it properly through this book.

Another issue this book tackles is the notion of hair.  As Adiche has said previously, “hair is political”.  Why?  Because American culture attacks the beauty and “rightness” of hair in other cultures all the time.  It is a psychological attack on our kids right from the very beginning telling them that their hair doesn’t meet a certain level of beauty and therefore, they aren’t beautiful.  And people with lower self-esteem are less likely to demand changes in the social and political atmospheres. This is why media is important and why books like this are vital.

The character of Dalia is a vibrant, spirited young girl who is unafraid of people’s opinions and believes in the beauty of what she’s doing with her hair when even no one else does.  She remains me of so many young girls who are ready to go out and tackle the world before they’re told over and over again that they shouldn’t.  When I closed the book, I couldn’t help but to think how far would a young woman like Dalia go in life?  What changes could she bring about? There’s such promise in this children’s story.  Grab it for your kids and show them that beauty isn’t defined by the American “default”.

Spotlight On: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin (Day Six)

Chapters Thirty-One – Epilogue

So we come to the conclusion of the story.   The identity of the Reaper is revealed and it’s exactly who I thought it was, but I don’t imagine the author intended that to be any great surprise.  The clues were obviously laid out.  The greater surprise comes in the awful truths that the Prince spills about the Hetawa and the religion that Ehiru has spent his life dedicated to.  I said earlier on that I found myself agreeing with the Prince in some way and this is why.  I can’t help but to agree with him on some level in his disgust for the religious order.

Unfortunately, his solution doesn’t put an end to the corruption and simply replaces it with something equally disturbing.  There is a terrible logic in the Prince’s awful deeds though and I think the sincere manner in which he chooses to go about his affairs is what makes him a good villain.  As I’ve said and so many others before me have said, the best villains are the ones who don’t believe they’re the bad guys.  The Prince sees the terrible nature of some of his doings and probably regrets a few of them, but believes that the ultimate result will make it all worth it in the end.

The power of The Reaper is truly a horror and I can imagine why the secrets of it was buried away.  We didn’t get to see that full power on display, but the little bit we did see was like something out of a horror movie.  The conclusion to the Prince’s schemes was a satisfying one if not somewhat expected.  But again, I don’t think the point of this tale is to keep the reader guessing.  There is very much an underlying message in this work and it’s that no religion, no belief system should have absolute control over a society.

On Malcolm, Martin and that X-Men Analogy Thing

As a comic geek this is immensely fascinating to me

Phenderson Djèlí Clark

malcolmmagnetoOn the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the activist, orator and the man once referred to in eulogy by the late Ossie Davis as “Our Shining Black Prince,” El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (most commonly known as Malcolm X), I quite foolishly decide to wade into that whole X-Men analogy thingy. Of course I’ve been warned. Of course I know better. But since when has that stopped me? So then, let’s do this thing.

And that supremely bad ass Malcolm & Magneto mash-up art you’re seeing, is courtesy of the amazing John Jennings and his 2012-2013 exhibit Black Kirby. If yuh dunno, now yuh know.

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Spotlight On: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin (Day Five)

Chapters Twenty-Two – Thirty

So we finally see the origins of narcomancy and just how powerful the fabled Reapers are.  These guys are pretty scary and able to take down a whole city with just a thought.  And this kind of power is what the Hetawa sees as blasphemy and I can’t much say I blame them on that.  Learning this kind of puts the restraint that the Gatherers have to show into perspective.  These guys have to maintain a strong level of self-control because they’re just too powerful to not have it.

Ehiru is starting to slip into madness.  The reasons for which are actually very well explained and seamlessly flow into the story.  I remain impressed by Jemisin’s world building skills and as I’m reading I’m certainly taking notes along the way.  I’ve always liked Ehiru throughout this story, but I think I feel like his humanity is being revealed more the closer he edges to a state of being he loathes.  It’s a kind of humanity that only a truly empathetic writer would be able to inject into their character.  This isn’t to give the author gravitas, but merely a statement of fact.  I just don’t think you can write good stories if you don’t have a basic empathy for people.

In my mind, this story is really an exploration of the wages of religious devotion and just what it can cost a society and the people within it.  The rigidity of life that the Gatherers followed left them wide open for a conspiracy to take place right under their noses.  A conspiracy that it doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to stop anymore at this point.  It’s definitely a statement on what happens when you close your mind to other points of view.  An unwavering world view can allow corruption and decay to happen right in front of you.