Interviewer: what does freedom mean to you?
Nina: Its just a feeling. It’s just a feeling. Its like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love. How are you gonna tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love. You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things but you can’t tell them. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free. Ive had a couple times on stage when I really felt free and that’s something else. That’s really something else!
Ill tell you what freedom is to me NO FEAR! I mean really, no fear.
If I could have that, half of my life – no fear – lots of children have no fear. That’s the closest way, that’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it is something to really, REALLY FEEL! Like a new way of seeing! LIKE A NEW WAY OF SEEING SOMETHING.
When you live chained to a life not of your own making, when you are born into it from a system that permeates even your mothers womb, freedom is a new way of seeing. And one of the most disturbing things is that we have been so inoculated by our oppressors that we have come to accept these chains as freedom, some kind of gift of modernity. Many people, especially here within the United States, have been robbed of an understanding of what has come before and what stands in front of us. The potential of real liberation if we dare to trust ourselves and each other to really live and fight for each other. One of my favorite quotes from Assata Shakur’s biography Assata speaks to the power of consciousness and liberation,
‘the less you think about your oppression the more your tolerance for it grows. After awhile people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free you have to be accutely aware of being a slave.”
And to understand what it means to be a slave in this system you have to be shaken up and opened up as Nina describes in this interview featured below. This is the role of the revolutionary, the dreamer and artist. To open people up from this mental/physical slavery so that they may feel something. It is the feelings that humanize us. Humanizing ourselves is a revolutionary act, which reaches its highest potential when the people are in motion doing this work together through real struggle that can take down capitalism and patriarchy. But before we can reach such critical moments in history, the people need to understand this task and it has always been the militants and creators through out time and space that have inspired the people to do so. Have planted seeds in ones consciousness, emboldening them to act. To conquer fear and self doubt, which stifle our movement. To be free. Womyn like Assata Shakur and Nina Simone are two very important womyn who have done that; and they dedicated their lives to doing that, because they feel. They loved their people enough to want them to wake up. To fight for something greater. I will forever feel close to these womyn, because that is what they did for me.
I’ve been intending to blog about Nina for quite some time. It is her song ‘in the dark’ off of her 1967 album Nine Simone Sings the Blues, which provided the inspiration for the title of this very blog. I was introduced to Nina Simone at the tender age of 15 by my super cool older sister Elicia, who sent me a care package full of cd’s that she thought I might like: An eclectic bundle of Nina, Louis Armstrong, Bjork and Alice in Chains. Elicia is 11 years older than me and a brilliant and creative person. I did not spend a lot of my adolescence living with her, but I always had interesting books and music and intentional gifts to look forward too via mail. Alice in Chains doesn’t make it into the rotation anymore, but I took to Nina quite instantly. Her music was like nothing I had heard before; it’s blending of gospel, soul, classical, and the blues. I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for the dynamic complexities of her music over the years, but even at 15 when I didn’t always get it, I drew strength from the fact that Nina always did her own thang, despite being a black womyn from North Carolina.
I love the slowness of ‘In the dark’. I love the ways the harmonica fills the spaces between Nina’s vocals, which capture a moment and feeling that pulls you in. Nina wants you to feel the music; there are no formulas or stale emotions expressed through lyrical cliches. Her music is very intentional; cultivated by her spirit with the purpose of touching others. It is a total experience. That is where the power of art lies in the ability to move you; compel you to connect with yourself in ways denied by the system. Any artist must reckon with themselves if they are striving to move people. It is this honesty that appeals to people. Nina understands she is a force and she wants you to reckon with it. This is reflected in the opening track ‘Do I move you?’, written by Nina and sets the tone for whats to come. The back up band brought together many great blues musicians, but the music is pretty tame in comparison to the passion and life that Nina’s performance brings to the songs. Some of the tracks have very stripped down instrumentation to expose the raw emotion of the tracks and the stories they weave. I am a romantic daydreamer type so I gravitate towards art that reflects some of those feelings, which is why the romance of ‘In the dark’ touched me. The whole album is quite good though, and a necessary addition to your music library if you don’t already have it.
Along with the song i have also included this short excerpt from an interview, which was recently shared with me by my dear and talented friend Justin. I have had it on repeat for the past 24 hours. I simply can’t get enough of it: her words, the feelings, the expressions, and the intent. This video feels like medicine to my tired spirit. What I really love about this interview is the poetically direct way she captures the feeling of alienation in our society, and the work she does to transcend it and how it relates to our overall liberation. Beautifully spoken here,
‘Everybody is half dead. Everybody avoids everybody all over the place in most situations, most all the time. I know. I’m one of those everybody’s, and to me its terrible. So all I am trying to do all the time is just open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That is it.’
This work is so humanizing and therefore so radical. Many of us carry our wounds daily from the trauma of living within this system, and it prevents us from opening up and connecting with each other or doing right by each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the ways we are harmed by the system and the retaliation we direct at each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the levels of sectarianism that permeate the left; the gossip; the cliquishness; the competitiveness. I wonder about the future and I fear the doubts that creep into my thoughts. But then I watch this video and I feel Nina’s energy and I am reminded of the path I have set for myself and the path that has been set for me before I existed. When I was just an idea. And I find comfort and inspiration in that. I only hope you can too and that we can together. Enjoy.
It is a strange feeling to look into the eyes of someone you love as you break their heart.
’I love you but I cannot be with you the way you want right now. Probably never. I love womyn. This is who I am. I don’t want to complicate your life or my own.’
I see his eyes sink back into his skull like two glass beads swirling in ambers and gray. Gazing into them is like looking into the moon; that emotional center. I am drawn to it but sometimes its light hangs uncomfortably on my vulnerable skin. We sometimes shrink from ourselves when fear gets in the way. I look into his moon eyes and feel the depth of souls he’s held within himself; residue of their own deep fears and emotion. To look into them is to plunge into landscapes vast as the universe. Yet there is something hollow there and the alienation of this living settles in. the world is populated with millions of people yet loneliness seems to be a permanent condition.
He tells me everything will be okay. That he knew already because I told him through the spirit. I nod, because I did, but the emotion was still draining for both of us. I felt the weight of the energy filling the small room. I could barely stand. He sensed my fatigue and wrapped his arms around me for support. We embraced and I felt my limbs crumple in surrender against his trembling body.
‘It’s ok,’ he whispers over and over as if he was convincing himself more than I.
I breathe into his open heart space and felt my own emotions peeling off of my chest. He takes in everything so that I may be free.
So many spirits
And I am overwhelmed by the blessing of this release.
And if we don’t fight
If we don’t resist
If we don’t organize and unify and
Get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is.
The above words are taken from warrior poet Jayne Cortez’s magnificent poem And there it is. They radiate with much power and truth, and I have found my thoughts resting on one line in particular, ‘the dehumanized look of fear’. Fear is dehumanizing in many ways; it prevents us from living the way we want to. The system conditions us in fear so that we won’t resist its doings. We are conditioned to systematically having our desires and needs denied to us so that the ruling class may continue to profit off of our dehumanization. It works so well we do it to ourselves. As I gather more years on this soil I have realized the ways fear has marked my origins. I have built my whole world out of fear, adding to the harmful conditioning of this world. This has stifled my own development. We must organize, unify, resist and fight for a different world, where everyone has control and autonomy over our lives and we are not disconnected from our feelings and needs. However, it also takes courage to challenge the many layers of fear that accompany our daily living; it takes courage to confront ourselves and the state with the intention of building something better, more beautiful and healthy for ourselves, our community and the earth. It is this desire for wholeness for myself and my people, which lead me to revolution, and it is revolution which lead me to healing myself. And at the core of it all is love, and love is truth and justice. Patriarchal capitalism is not truth and justice and therefore stands in the way of the people fully living on the basis of love and togetherness. The system breeds fear and distrust amongst the people so that we do not fight for love through our actions, because that would be revolution, but revolution is the direction we must go. For me, to commit myself to this historical task must also mean that I must commit to challenging fear and cultivating love for myself and community. I wanted to share some recent reflections from those experiences as I progress into 27.
I am almost half way through my 27th year; the beginning of my Saturn return, and I have a lot of feelings about what that means to me. The planet Saturn brings structure and definition into our world. Often associated with responsibilities and adulthood. According to astrology saturn is suppose to reveal our own fears and limitations. Your saturn return means that the planet saturn is travelling back to its position at the time you were born. This first transit usually occurs between the years of 27-30. There seems to be a lot of anxiety around the saturn return and I think that relates to fear of all sorts. Fear of responsibility, fear of your deepest fears being revealed, fear of change. Change is necessary though and the only thing we can depend on. I am learning to find comfort in that as I try to ease through the movement of life. In some ways I see age as just a number; another thing manufactured like everything else under this rotten capitalist system. On the other hand age also brings wisdom and birth rituals and greater understanding of ones self and the world. These things are important, especially if you are a radical seeking to change the world. We are molded by this system, and positioned against each other within it. If we are not intentional about healing and rooting out such conditioning then we will carry it into our political spaces. If we are committed to changing these conditions of misery then we must be committed to making changes within ourselves to accept the challenges that lie within such necessary revolutionary work. I have studied, seen and experienced too many revolutions, struggles and movements ruined, because of patriarchal bourgeois ego and false consciousness. As revolutionaries we must be better than our oppressors. The people are not the pigs, and we must hold each other accountable to that if we are ever going to get organized well enough to find unity and to flex it in struggle against the ruling class.
The last few years I have been trying to heal my body and spirit so that I may do this revolutionary thing well. I was a part of a collective that I seriously dedicated 2 years of my life to building. I left, because I felt like it was no longer a place for me to grow in the ways I needed and therefore I could not help them grow in the ways they needed. It was a challenging experience that is still shrouded in a lot of mystery and hard feelings, but ultimately it was a beautiful experience. Through the challenges I was forced to reckon with myself in ways that brought me closer within. I grew to find love and compassion for myself, and therefore others, and that has helped guide my movement in ways that are more positive for my community. I have experienced, like the rest of the working-class, a lot of pain and trauma in my life that I didn’t know how to properly release in ways that strengthened my accountability to myself and others. I didn’t know a lot about communication and conflict and how to navigate those things healthily and I still don’t, but I am searching for guidance. Growing up I saw a lot of ways of how to do that unhealthily or not at all. As I have healed and continued to work with other working-class children I see these patterns of emotional neglect and lack of guidance. It’s hard for working class parents to be present with their children and give them tools on how to be a spiritually whole person. We don’t live in a society that supports that so we must do that for ourselves and that’s extra work on top of our waged work, and most of us don’t always have the time at the end of the day. The last few years I have been doing a lot of catching up and learning how to be a good human being and a humble warrior for my people. As I am now entering my Saturn return these reflections are sharpening into positive actions for myself, as I am learning my own truth and putting these reflections into thoughtful strategic practice. Before, there was a lot of chaos in my mind and movement. I was not grounded and I was seeing the ways it was effecting my own sense of myself and my political work, which lies at the very core of who I am. I asked myself If I could not do that work well then what is the point? So I made decisions that were scary for me, and I lost a lot of friends. But I also gained friends and new guidance and understanding on how to fight the system in a way that feels right for me; that reflects who I truly am, and that is deeply connected to our ancestors and Africa, something missing from the political spaces I was in.
Developing a revolutionary spiritual focus has allowed me to connect back with my body in ways that I have never done before. As colonized womyn this has always been revolutionary work; to keep our bodies for our own despite the fact that they are and have always been the subject of violence and sexual exploitation by the system and men socialized, as we all are, through the system. Under capitalism, health and wellness, like everything else, is a privilege. The vast majority of us struggle to obtain the basics, shelter, clothing, ‘food’. A lifestyle of wellness, where you have health insurance, non-toxic food, rest, exercise, and connection to the wilderness is a luxury. Most of us do not have the time or resources to obtain this lifestyle, but if you are an intentional, spiritual hustler like myself you can cultivate these things within your life. Over the last few years I have become more health conscious, and not because its being marketed to me by Whole Foods, which uses organic produce/products as a way to mask the real anti-worker exploitation that lies at the heart of its green capitalist enterprise. It was a natural process that developed through a conscious connection to my ancestors and what has come before me, and this oppressive system. At the core, health and wellness to me our revolutionary, when collectivized. There are folks, even radical folks of color, who want to talk about it in terms of self-care and how that is a revolutionary act. It is when applied to a larger analysis of the capitalism system and a need to destroy it in order to rebuild a world where everyone can live this way and not the privileged few. Individualized acts of self-care are not the revolution, but they are important if we are trying to keep our bodies and spirits strong so that we may have the energy and determination to prepare and inspire class struggle.
As I have become more connected with my body through my revolutionary/spiritual work, the idea of a raw juice fast was born within my consciousness. It seemed like a good way for me to deepen my conscious connection within my body through the abundance of the earth. However, there are material barriers to being able to accomplish a fast. First you need a juicer and they are not cheap so it is a luxury to own one. I am grateful for my mama who gifted me one a few years back. You also need to have good quality produce around at all times; ideally organic, because of the heavy pollutants and toxins in ‘conventional’ food. This will of course effect the length of your fast. Ideally I wanted to go 7 days, but I also knew that I was consuming larger quantities of produce throughout the week and that can be pricey if I am not strategic on how and where I shop. This brings up more privilege, because I have a car that allows me to leave my hood and go to the areas that have good grocery stores with deals (Berkeley Bowl, Trader Joes, Farmers Markets). People who don’t have that luxury are forced to accept what is around them and in East Oakland the options can be pretty dismal. My preparation consisted of googling juice fast recipes and plans to get a little more information and wisdom beyond my own intuition. The politics and realities of race, gender and class that structure and condition our society were reflected in the variety of sources that came up within the search. There was the immediate confrontation with Eurocentric Patriarchal gender conditioning; advertisements with skinny white womyn encouraging you to drink juice for 5 days and lose 5 pounds, and a slew of more harmful weight lost ads designed to make you hate everything about yourself and buy more commodities to fix it. Those were not my intentions for this fast. Then there were the liberal, appropriating, pseudo-spiritual lifestyle websites that contained a more intentional/magical perspective that I was searching for, but also reflected A LOT of race and class privilege, because these blogs/websites were mostly by white people, whose different positionings within this world have allowed them to obtain a lifestyle of wellness. This always frustrates me, because non-European people have always lived with the earth and have understood the beautiful life energy that runs through everything, connecting us with each other, and something much larger than us. We have known how to grow our own food and use the earth to manifest much abundance for our communities, as well as for corporate agribusiness which continues to super-exploit migrant labor. Capitalism changed things through European colonization. White people’s economic privilege supports their abilities to travel and learn about other cultures and religions, and then take that knowledge and present it as if it were their own. I think about this every time I am feeling alienated in a health food or spiritual/metaphysical store. Magic in western society is presented in a very Eurocentric fashion, but a lot of the ideas have been appropriated from non-European spiritual and religious practices. When I think of magic I think of Africa and the Diaspora. I think of the healing practices and beliefs of my ancestors and their profound connection with the earth and the cosmos; the power and force in what is unseen and yet all around us. However, I had to seek this out, learning to trust myself so that I may find this path of connection; connection to myself and what has come before.
I did accomplish a 4 day juice fast, and it left me with a lot of new-found appreciation and gratitude for my body. I have never felt such close intimacy to it and it’s inner workings. This is largely due to the fact that Patriarchal capitalism disconnects our minds from our bodies; this weakens us and strengthens our dependency upon the system for survival. It felt empowering to overcome some of the alienation by engaging in an intentional activity that could unpack some of the trauma spiritually and physically. After completing it I discovered that for the last few years Saturn has been positioned within the physical health sector of my sign Taurus, but come October it is moving into my relationship/intimacy/love sector, where it will stay for three years, the entire length of my Saturn return! This was all very thrilling for me to find out, because it affirmed the paths that I have instinctively set myself upon. My healing process began 2 years ago and my focus was on my physical health as a way to strengthen my emotional health, and the relationship between the two. Loving social relations are at the core of my revolutionary politics, because they stand opposed to the material exploitation and oppression that structure our society and relationships. Real communism seeks to restructure the world in ways that are built on love and the community. This is the work I am dedicating my life to doing, but when I made that choice I was not healthy enough to do it in a way that was physically and spiritually sustainable. As love becomes my healing focus I realize how much fear was a deterrent to me really receiving and giving the love I seek. Releasing fear is an intention that I struggle with daily and will continue to struggle with. I have fear about sharing these more personal reflections; fear of the vulnerability; fear of judgement; fear of rejection. I strive to have all my writing, creative and political, come from a place of my own truth and experience. It helps me continue to discover who I am, as well as break down the abstract and elitist nature of academic theory. As a child I organically identified as an artist and a writer, because I felt righteous power in those activities. My voice was strongly situated in my work, but as I progressed through my education I saw and felt the ways my voice was stifled as I was forced to accept this formal logic, Eurocentric, patriarchal way of thinking and writing. These last few years have been so important for me in reclaiming my voice and the strength I carried from a very early age. I feel more grounded in my writing, even when fear exists simultaneously. I understand that overcoming these fears are so necessary for liberation. We must always come from a place of feeling, because this is what keeps us whole and human despite a system, which seeks to deny us our humanity…And I have much gratitude for all of you who take time to read my words when you could be creating, dreaming, wandering, reading something else somewhere else. It fills my life with much encouragement and affirmation, which I have not named enough. So for now please accept my vibrations of gratitude and appreciation. I hope they find you steeped with inspiration for this new day, this new season, this new moon unfolding all around us.
With much love and magic.