they always try conflate our power with ego
Accusing us of narcissism
when we fight for ourselves
in these spaces
trying to carve out room
in the crampness
of their straightness
we try to work with our brothers
so that they may understand
that their own liberation
is connected to our struggle for wholeness
our struggle to shed objectification
through the wage
through the gaze
and force of empires
on our land
and in our intimacy
we struggle to be free
and we will not apologize.
they say we are selfish
not understanding the patriarchy that clutches at such accusations
You say im selfish
because you expect a certain kind of womyn in the movement
that self sacrificing, positive, femme
working thru the back doors
of your male dominated struggle
as you stroke the cock of the next ego filled man ‘runnin shit’
I say my truth is my power and I use it for my people
and you will not break it to hold on to the white mans power.
you will not.
I feel for my brothers
especially my queer brothers
who feel so much
for other brothers
moved so much by other brothers
because my brothers feel deeply
hurt deeply too
as we all do
underneath this system
but my brothers
my brothers are robbed of feeling
but are forever feeling
the weight of the world
Choosing your own name is a righteous tradition
for black people
closer to Africa
to our ancestors.
I’ve thought about it
but I’ve always secretly liked my name.
chosen by my mother
taken from my great grandmother
whose great grandmother was a slave.
the ‘blackymore maid’
an african womyn
who rebelled against her slavery
during the transatlantic trade.
My name comes from warrior womyn
who guided large bodies of water
against currents of domination.
Freedom in their movement
in their determination to live
and I have gathered enough years on this soil
to want more than just living.
I want to feel in my whole self
what it might be like
to know love.
These are times of great shifts, emotionally and physically, which can take quite a toll on the spirit. I wanted to share a spell I crafted for a close friend to help ground them through times of uprooting. Surviving within this system is nearly impossible. We cannot forget who we are and where we came from.
This is a healing spell, and for me healing means achieving or reconnecting with a sense of wholeness. When we are seeking healing, physically or spiritually, it is because there is some type of disconnection or rupture within our vital life energy that runs throughout our body and mind. For an example, when we break a bone we get a cast to mend it back to the skeleton so it will be a whole foundation again. When we feel depressed and emotionally broken we seek out therapists or self-medicate in order to feel whole or at least reclaim some kind of self-control. Capitalism keeps us in a constant state of disconnection; disconnection from ourselves and each other. The separation between the healing of the body and the healing of the mind reflects this disconnection. Therefore we must also strive to be in a constant state of healing in order to stay strong as a community so that we may achieve our revolutionary tasks of liberation and wholeness. Spiritual awakening and reconnection with our ancestors plays a role in struggle; our spiritual struggles within as well as against the system.
This is a healing spell birthed out of love, conceived under the rising sun, and to be completed under the illumination of the full moon. The sun represents vital life energy that keeps our bodies strong; solid foundations to house our spirits. Its light, reflected against the moon, grounds us in the present and now, while the moon draws us back into the past through connecting with our feelings. The moon radiates our emotional centers; the parts of ourselves that rest deep within. Together they represent our totality. Our origins and our present. The spirit, which helps us be self-actualizing people.
One gold pouch mixed with sacred herbs: Mugwort, sage and lavender. I broke the herbs up and mixed them using my mortar and pestle. After that I blessed them in ceremony, which involved the burning of sweet grass and cannabis, and prayer song of healing and love. When the ceremony is done I place the mixture in the pouch.
Purpose/Significance of Materials
Container: The gold pouch represents the ankh and the sun, which is sacred to our ancestors, because of its connection to life energy and overall health.
Sage: Offers protection. Helps clear the air and remove negativity. Brings clarity to our thoughts.
Mugwort: Also a cleanser and protector, it helps stimulate our creative center and flow of life energy. A strong healing herb that promotes vivid dreams and visions. It will nurture intuition and psychic abilities.
Lavender: Stimulates love and calm and brings peace and health.
Place the pouch of herbs under your pillow or near your bed to protect you from bad spirits and help conjure healing visions of transformation. Hold on to these visions until the full moon, where you will release them in ceremony into the universe to be manifested.
With love and magic
In honor of Miles Davis, whose birthday recently past on May 26th, here are some thoughts, a poem, and the legend himself. Constructed freely out of inspiration from the art and the struggle.
My Gemini brother. The messenger delivering new mental landscapes in sounds. Music cosmic in its effects; revolutionary in its purpose. Miles Davis nourishes your soul. The moving’s of the people creating and then moving people, bits of consciousness bursting forth practically, materially in the changing of the times, spiritually in our hearts and energy. The ebbs and flows of struggle producing art producing struggle. Miles’s spoke to this movement, helped guide it. Jazz spoke to black power and black power spoke back, all the while people begin to see themselves as valuable. Not value quantified in paychecks and profit. The value of being from the earth and universe. Something more cosmic and irrelevant to the commodities and slave chains of this system. They. Whitey. The ruling class. They feared jazz. The darkness. The power within mystery. They tried to tame it and chain it but the people move in rhythm and riot.
Music, like all art, is manifested through the spirit and limbs of the people. Physical embodiment of ones own useful labor manifested for the purpose of survival and revolution. This is the communist understanding of what art should be; its focus and effect. Entertainment is the bourgeois manifestation of art; its sole purpose and use wrapped up in exchange value. Money. The bourgeoisie does not care about ones spirit; its rule is based on denying that from us; we are manipulated and molded into workers and producers of our oppressors opulence. Our wealth lies within our consciousness; within our abilities to create more than just the ruling class’s profits. We cast visions of new worlds, carrying these visions in practice through art and struggle. The ruling class socializes us in Eurocentric cultural norms and aesthetics. Their art is sterile and lacks dialogue and action. Our art moves. Our art is the vision. Our art is revolution.
Revolt. Overthrow. Rebuild.
We honor Miles Davis, whose ever-expanding love of the art and the people created new sounds and thoughts for our ever-expanding struggles for liberation. It is the love that brought me in. Romancing us through ballads painted blue and lavender. I remember first being held by Mile’s horn. ‘It never entered my mind’ from the legendary first generation of the Miles Davis Quintet off of the 1956 Workin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet. I understood what emotion could sound like. What it could feel like. Capturing that late night aching for love. The composition is crafted by John Coltrane. The innovator himself. Transcending jazz onto a spiritual plane that could heal and move. Coltrane begin to develop as an artist through his early collaboration with Davis in the quintet. Coltrane’s desire to experiment was in sync with Miles’s improvisational bebop roots. They would both go on to evolve and become freer in their sound, although not within the same group. Coltrane’s work as a leader was significant to the development of free jazz, demonstrating the revolutionary potential of art. Coltrane’s deepening spiritual development led him to transcend harmful divisions within himself and others through music. As he began to find wholeness within himself through spirituality he begin to see the interconnection between us all and the ways music can connect and express that emotion. These are communist values that do not exist under the current system. It is no coincidence that Coltrane was developing these ideas amidst a backdrop of struggle taking place all across the world. Struggle’s for wholeness and love. Righteous struggles that Coltrane supported. Miles speaks to these qualities of his brother quite lovingly here,
“Trane’s music and what he was playing in the last two or three years of his life represented, for many blacks, the fire and passion and rage and anger and rebellion and love they felt…..Coltrane was their pride – their black, revolutionary pride…..When he died it was much like when Bird died for a lot of bebop musicians who looked to him for directions….it seemed a lot of what he stood for musically died with him.”
Miles nurtured Coltrane and was inspired by him too. Although less avant-garde than Coltrane, Davis drew from the blues tradition as well as the more experimental musical laboratory of bebop. Miles was always seeking to go beyond the norm. This was apparent in the 60’s with the formation of the second great Miles Davis Quintet. Released in 1967 during a time of worldwide black rebellion, the album Nefertiti represents a freer more complex sound. A type of explosion in consciousness. The quintet was fire. Some of the best musicians of the times: Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (Bass), Tony Williams (drums), and Miles (trumpet). Miles was building upon the work he started in the 50’s with his collaboration with Coltrane and others. Miles on this formation,
“I wanted the music this new group would play to be freer, more modal, more African or Eastern and less Western. I wanted them to go beyond themselves…if you put a musician in a place where he has to do something different from what he does all the time….He has to use his imagination, be more creative, more innovative, he’s got to take more risks……I’ve always told the musicians in my band to play what they know and then play above that. Because then anything can happen, and that’s where great art and music happens.”
Below you will find some tracks off of the albums mentioned above, as well as a live performance with Coltrane of ‘So What’ off the classic Kind of Blue. And a poem I wrote out of love and inspiration.
Rest in Power
May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991
Born in western soil
my mind resides elsewhere
In the branches of ancient redwoods
In the tired arms of my grandmother
Who weaves black magic
within tales of our ancestry
An expression of the dreams of the people
cosmic in its scope
earth shattering in its effect.
the people create and the creations move the people
we are anew
reborn through the fires of struggle.
through Miles’s rhythms
enticing our synapses
glimpses of possibilities denied to us
because we are still not free
but the music
the music sends messages
if our minds and hearts stay open.
through the horn
through the drum
For that is the substance of revolution itself.
If you cannot hear it you are not awake.
As a mixed black person I am always interested in showcasing the intersections of art and culture; the blending of identity that has occurred with colonization and the development of capitalism globally. Race is a social construct that exists out of the need to compartmentalize people within capitalist society. I am black, but I am also African. Indigenous to, but removed from, a land that my ancestry was stolen from, and then placed on land stolen from the indigenous peoples of the Americas. I am also mixed. Portuguese from Cape Verde and the Azores. I am othered. Placed within the margins of a system that socializes people into identities that meet the need of a profoundly oppressive and exploitative division of labor, which provides the foundation and engine of capitalism. What does it mean to be black? What does it tell you about a people? Anyone black growing up in this country can speak to the diversity of the experience, but the bourgeois racist ideology that socializes us fetishizes this history. It doesn’t reveal how that identity was birthed out of the rape of Africa and the Americas. It doesn’t speak to the fluidity of that identity; how blackness transcends borders. There are African american, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Latin, and Afro-Carribean people all across the Americas. Growing up mixed and poor politicized me and and lead me to question much of what was presented to me in school and in society. My consciousness was nurtured through black history, struggle and art; all material manifestations of consciousness. It gave me the courage to confront my own alienation in practice through creating art and participating in struggle.
As a way to transcend the material and spiritual divisions of society and race, I like to feature artists and art from all over the diaspora. I appreciate seeing the intersections of one’s own identity and culture expressed through their art. The interaction and relationship between oppressed people has always been expressed through struggle and new art forms, all interacting and strengthening each other. I have written about this before when looking at Fela Kuti and Afro beat, and its relationship to American jazz and funk and African music. Or the Cape Verdean musical genre morna and its connection to the blues and the Portuguese fado, made popular through the music of Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora. Today we will explore the fusion of samba, funk, tropicalia, and rock through the music of popular Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor.
There is a large African presence within Brazil, one of the largest populations throughout the diaspora. Like the majority of black people in the states, black Brazilians live in poor conditions. United States or South America, black is still associated with poor under capitalism. These are the results of slavery: generations of black and brown people living with less access to material wealth. Our lack of access exists so that others may dominate and use it for their own opulent rule and lifestyle. Jorge Ben Jor was born March 22nd 1945 and grew up in Rio de Janeiro among working class Brazilians. His mother was African with Ethiopian origins. He begin making music as a teenager performing in clubs that would eventually lead him to recording success. Known as a musical alchemist, his style was grounded in hybrid sounds that mixed rock n roll with traditional samba, and bossa nova, which is a fusion of jazz and samba. Ben Jor released his first album in 1969 amid the rise of Tropicalismo. He collaborated with Gilberto Gil, but was not actively involved in the development of Tropicalia as a cultural and political movement. However, the 1970’s marked an experimental turn in in his career, where he released several albums, the most noteworthy being ‘Africa Brasil‘. The record is an incredible explosion of funk, samba, Afro-Brazilian beats, and guitar. It is a classic and often hailed as one of the best Brazilian recordings from the 1970s. When I listen to it I hear other musical genre’s, such as funk, soul and disco, enmeshed within the Brazilian sounds. I see this piece as an important contribution to funk music, black music, and music in general. It demonstrates arts abilities, like revolutionary struggle, to convey truth and connect people. Below are a few samples from the album: the raw opening track Ponta de Lanca Africano and my favorite the seductive Xica da Silva. Both tracks have a lot of rock n roll energy with guitar riffs centralized throughout both songs. It reflects the influence of rock on funk music, and the origins of the blues running throughout it all. Africa Brasil reminds me of the american funk classic ”Maggot Brain‘ by Funkadelic. Released in 1971, Maggot Brain is known for its mixing of rock n roll and gospel within its funky sound. Xica da Silva is a perfect example of the many layers of musical styles interacting to create a sensual yet funky atmosphere. The track opens to the scratch of a bass strum leading into a grooving guitar riff, which crashes into the Afro-Brazilian percussion that greets Jorge Ben Jor’s intimate and alluring vocals. A song you must feel in your body. It also tells the story and myth of Xica da Silva an Afro-Brazilian slave, who was freed by her Portuguese lover, and able to acquire material wealth in society through their union. There are many opinions around her that are reminiscent of La Malinche in Mexico. She is seen as a powerful symbol of racial justice or as a loose woman who used sex to achieve more social power. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Or within the margins…Below you will find the two tracks from Jorge Ben Jor, and to honor some of his influences I have included the classic, Can you get to that, off of Funkadelic’s Maggot brain. Enjoy!
Malick Sidibe is a West African photographer from Mali known for his portraits of youth and youth culture in the capital Bamako. When I first looked at one of his photographs my body vibrated with complex emotions of love and frustration. Love because of the beautiful images of blackness staring confidently into the camera’s gaze; exuding life and power. It was a different representation of African people; one that veered away from the colonial images of Africa, as object, reflected in western culture and media. It made me realize how so much of my early exposure to Africa has been through a western and Eurocentric gaze, which treats Africa and African’s as objects to be observed, studied and exploited for the western viewer/reader. Africa has often been presented to me through the thoughts and gaze of White people. This, of course, effects the outcome of the work. For an example, when I look at photographs of Africans in the National Geographic there is a sense of distance between the subject and the photographer that feels cold. I believe that this is due to the material and cultural divisions between the subjects and their foreign photographers, who are there for their own purposes. There is no organic connection to the community; and they are not trying to build one that would support the self-determination of the community. Sidibe’s portraits, on the other hand, radiate a warmth that comes from the relationship between the photographer and his subjects.
During the imperialist scramble for Africa France seized Mali, where it ruled until 1960, when Mali achieved it’s ‘independence’. The European domination of Mali, like all colonized land and people, created an antagonistic, oppressive and exploitative relationship between the indigenous Africans and the European colonizers, who now controlled everything. African’s did not have access to luxury items, such as cameras. And the European ruling-class, who did, chose not to photograph the humanity of African people. That would go against their own colonial ideology, which justifies their dehumanizing actions. Sidibe had the talent and intellect as well as good luck to be able to study at a university and work for a French photographer, where he was able to get practical experience and access to a camera. At the time it was rare for a European photographer to sell a camera to one of their African employees. In 1958 Sidibe opened up his own studio in Bamako, where he immediately got work taking photographs of the youth and their friends, parties and other gatherings. Sidibe was able to capture the movement of the people within the country during a revolutionary anti-colonial/post colonial period.
Sidibe has been doing photography since the 1950’s, and continues to work in the same little studio. However, it was only in the 1990’s that his work got any recognition in the west. This explains why I heard about him only a year ago, and why his photos immediately stood out in stark contrast to the sea of commodified images expressed in cultural anthropological studies and documentaries. Why is this so often the case? Because this is the legacy of imperialism. People, especially men, of European descent are given more privilege in society; even amongst the working-class, and this is due to western/ European Empire. The development of capitalism throughout the world was/is through force that violently uprooted people from their lands, and either proletarianized them or enslaved them. In order to prevent class struggle developing among the different sectors of the oppressed (enslaved indigenous people, enslaved Africans, European indentured servants and proletarians) the concept of ‘race’ was invented by the bourgeoisie helping to define a hierarchical division of labor. For an example, Africans/black people were defined as ‘inferior’ ‘lazy’ and ‘stupid’. This justified their enslavement and continual lower position within the division of labor post slavery. Materially, poor whites were not always much better off than black people, but often had more access to material opportunities and better paying jobs. This was, and is, at the expense of the oppressed brown and black people.
The division of labor is still incredibly hierarchical, and the fundamental conditions aren’t much different. People of color, who share an indigenous and colonial history, are still positioned within the bottom layers of the working class and unemployed. They make the least money, are the most vulnerable to state violence, fill up the numerous prisons, and continue to live in impoverished and oppressive conditions that are only getting worse with the economic crisis. White people have more material wealth and therefore more movement in society. They are able to travel and vacation in foreign lands. They have more access to privilege institutions, such as universities, where they are able to study abroad. I am not implying that people of color do not go to college; but the fees/tuition hikes, along with cuts to financial aid, are effectively pushing out working-class people of color.
My focus on the white university student and their relationship to the colonial gaze was sparked up again recently after I read through a debate between my comrade Crunch and a mutual acquaintance about whether white college students should be able to go to Africa or not. Crunch was speaking to the material privilege white grad students have in bourgeois society, and how it gives them access to move more freely in this world, and the emotion that that stirs up in black people, who long for such a journey, but lack the capital to get there. The acquaintance seemed to take the position personally, disagreeing with Crunch’s comments, and asking him if white academics should only study in Europe, thus reproducing a Eurocentric view of history. Crunch was not trying to reproduce borders; rather he was trying to place the influx of white academics in Africa within the context of a colonial history and white supremacist capitalist system that has given white people more material and social privilege in this society, and therefore more privilege. I believe Crunch sums up the emotion and politics quite well below in an excerpt from the debate,
“White kids (the grad students going to Africa) have the privilege of accessing a land that is sacred to me and my people because of our connection to it and the trauma surrounding our removal from that space and the oppression of that space, on all levels, by the White Imperialist nations since they looked down and realized it was there to conquer. These kids, who usually have vestiges of white privilege because we are all socialized and have our own vestiges of the old society within us that need to be transformed, go to Africa with their White gaze and analyze, in some part from that, they then have the privilege of coming back and becoming an authority gaining social status, economic benefits or just “get into heaven” (anti-racist) points from everyone. And they, most times, have faulty- racist- or other wise incomplete and problematic analysis.
A lot of Black kids, from all over the Diaspora, don’t have that privilege because Black people, globally, have become mules to White Supremacist Capitalism and the permanent mascots of the under classes- meaning getting the worse material/spiritual/psychological treatment from the society. They cannot, or must work 10 times as hard as the white kids to access a land that should be free for them to access and would provide a kind of spiritual healing and knowledge. It would also heal the Diaspora in many ways.
Also, Africans need to speak for Africans. I don’t want to read someone elses study of shit. And if we say that those people don’t have the means of creating that study and having it seen then we must ask ourselves why? Which means we must confront White racism and the rape of Africa by the White imperialist West which is still murdering, raping, colonizing, and otherwise fucking up the country. White people need not go to Africa! Period! I thought this discussion was done when we acknowledged Sarah Bartman and Apartheid.”
The university is a product of the capitalist system, and therefore reflects the bourgeois social relations of worker/boss, master/slave, that structure the world creating an antagonism between who owns the means of production and wealth in the world, and who doesn’t. The objectification of the African through colonization is reflected in the university. The academy is not about reproducing revolutionary subjects; Its about reproducing and maintaining the structures of the ruling class. Sometimes this results in community programs and direct services too, but all this does is maintain the status quo. People of color have always been objectified within the academy, reflecting the objectification that occurs within society and has been occurring since our lands and bodies have been appropriated by the European ruling class. When white Phd students go to Africa they are representing these institutions and politics. And even if they personally disagree with them they must be mindful of them, because if that privilege is not understood then it will continue to be reproduced within our social relations. And that is not revolutionary.
Art, as an expression of the people, has always been a powerful weapon to inspire and nurture, and Sidibe’s photographs reflect that. It is so important for the oppressed to express their own truths and narratives, because we must understand and feel the power within them and our own agency. This will not be felt through the academic studies conducted by white grad students, which often leads to further silencing and invisibility. Through the sharing of our stories through words, visual art, theory and struggle, we become closer to each other. When we become closer to each other we develop understanding and compassion for our similarities and differences, while learning how to support each others own power together collectively. This work is revolutionary, because we live in a system, which denies us the opportunities and tools to do that. When we are alienated from each other we will divide and conquer ourselves, while the system reaps the benefits. This work is revolutionary, because when we come together on the basis of expressing each others truths we begin to see the truth about the system, and perhaps decide that such a harmful system is no longer necessary, because we have found each other. And finally, this work is revolutionary, because not only does it help us understand what we are against, but, most importantly, it helps us collectively cast visions for what we are for.