Crossing Muddy Waters (For John Lewis)-#2

This is one of the most shared pictures of Congressman John Lewis, when he was a young man causing ‘good trouble.’

Has indeed become the door,

the standard, banner and cause.

There are bridges that have now

been erected which have the blood

of the elders, seeing us in them,

now we can see them in us.

We have a charge to keep,

and a God to glorify,

so we will be catalysts

for change and the manufactures

of Good Trouble.

We are trouble makers,

wall-scalers,

jail breakers,

and believing that we

have come this far

by faith because we

cross over the waters

in and on moonless nights

because he is with us.

(c) JBHarris, August 2020

A Review: Why We Needed “Black Is King”(Part 1).

“Step out of your estimate and into your essence.”

I downloaded The Gift, the comparison Beyonce album to The Lion King live-action remake. I loved the album, and Key To The Kingdom, Spirit and Find Your Way Back are my favorite songs! The whole album is a vibe, really. Being totally honest with you all, after LEMONADE? I became a Beyonce Stan. I work part-time and weekends at the BeyHive.

But, what has impressed me about her, what made me become a Stan, is her raw talent and willingness to challenge herself–and in that challenging, to let us see only what we need to see. And, like all good artists, she wants us to see ourselves. I have seen and listened to her become more herself, more confident and self-assured as an artist. She is no longer just Beyonce that was the lead in Destiny’s Child! Like she said in HOMECOMING, the world wants Black women to just stay in their little boxes. Well, Black women don’t really do that–and have never stayed in boxes well.

Not ever.

The world, all vain and White-seeking, wants to relegate anything which is non-White, not White-seeking, to a box designated for erasure. We as minority people, especially Black people, need to be able to see ourselves as we are, as we must, as we have always been. Black Is King is a loveletter…to us! Every depiction in this film is positive, is beautiful, is detailed and brilliant! Every aspect of this film, from the significance of colors, to how she wore her hair, to the languages (yes, LANGUAGES!) she sang in. No detail is overlooked!

You have to appreciate the time and detail it took for her to compile this, to do this, to release this! The film is a masterpiece, rich with symbolism, clearly made with a love for a culture, and a people. The artists that were featured on the album were in the film as well for their respective parts! Why? Real artists, like real leaders, know you build as you climb. You leave keys, maps and ladders so that those after you have a path and a way up and out!

I watched this film with my daughters. I watched as my youngest, fascinated by all things creative, watched in rapt attention. I watched her see herself on screen. And her eyes lit up. It was the same light that I had once I found out I could create worlds from thought–the first time a saw a Black Barbie doll. It was a stirring that I am sure my baby girls felt as they watched this woman they had only seen in sips and pieces create a lovenote for them.

Especially for them.

As I heard the words of Waran Shire come through the vessel of Beyonce’s voice, it was a confirmation of the power of words and the visibility of myself in print. I sat straighter as I watched. I sang and danced around my living room, feeling myself light up from the inside. You see, according to African mythology, all the stories of the world belong to Anasi The Spider. In being a storyteller, in being a writer, I am only doing what my ancestors did. Gathering wisdom, gathering strength, and giving it as gifts for those who need it. I am doing my celestial assignment. I am doing what I was purposed on Earth through the mind of God to do. And for that reminder, I am grateful.

We as a people needed this film. We needed to see ourselves as we have always been. We have always been great, despite people and time and circumstances! There is never a bad time to remember who you are. There is, and will never be, a bad time to remind your children who they can become.

For this love letter, thank you, Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter, mother of Blue, Rumi and Sir. Thank you.

Note: If you enjoyed the film, please consider becoming a supporter of the poet Waran Shire (she did the poetry for Lemonade too!). All her work is on Amazon, especially her most noted, Teaching My Mother To Give Birth. Thank you.

Shepherds By Other Names (for Cori Bush)

Written in the celebration of Pastor Cori Bush, in her defeat of long-time Congressman Lacy Clay on August 4, 2020. She is the first Black congresswoman from Missouri! Activist. Mother. Warrior. Servant. Thank you for everything, Cori. We love you. -JBHarris

Cori Bush Ousts Veteran Congressman From St. Louis, Says Voters Saw A  Candidate 'Willing To Fight' | Here & Now

It is the shepherds

whom protect the flock.

Some inherited, some stray

some lost from owners

who valued not

what they had,

but always…there are shepherds.

Guiding with wisdom, light and staff

they, have made protection a duty—

with humility fuel to do

all which is is good,

to honor He whom sends,

appoints such help.

It is the shepherds

who tend when none

are watching,

feed when no one

is able,

and stand when

all and every

falls around them.

They guide.

They cry.

They hold.

They assure.

They become pillar—

both wall and window,

able to sustain

the weight and light

of vision.

To shepherd is to be a hero.

A shepherd is a hero.

(c) JBHarris, August 2020

[image from wbur.com]

In Remembering John Lewis

I as well as the rest of the nation, are reeling from the loss of Congressman John Lewis. And after doing so, I feel now that I can put words to my mourning. I can put feeling behind action. I can begin to unpack the loss, so that hope can be repacked. So, over the course of the next three days (starting Monday, August 10th), I have made a three-part elegy for him.

Part 1: In Remembering Lions

Part 2: Crossing Muddy Waters

Part 3: This Bridge Called His Back

It is my hope in celebrating his life so publicly on this platform, all that follow after this thing called ‘good trouble’, will be reminded of the legacy laid before–which is now both map, light and path. The reward for a hero is rest.

To that, I say rest easy, John.

In Defense Of ‘WAP’

Note: This is review is for grown women only. I knew what WAP was when I saw this image. Why? Cause I’m grown. Check the notes at the end. You’re welcome. -JBHarris

I am not a virgin.

I know how babies are made, and where they come from.

I like sex.

Now, with that out the way, I thank you that your misogyny hasn’t overruled your common sense! I also thank you for continuing to engage in this discourse. At this again (I am a year from 40), I know what I like and who I like it from. Also, the concept of dancing to sexy music is not a new thing. I mean, I listened to Lil Kim and Trina when my mom wasn’t home during my last two years of high school. So, when I heard WAP at work two nights ago? I vibed to it, and was mad I couldn’t be anyone’s Meg Thee Stallion! But let me not ahead of myself…

My mother and father taught me to not and never be ashamed to be Black. My mother never told me to be ashamed of my body, even though my mother is of the generation that still call Black girls fast–and I, too, was warned about the ‘danger’ of being *’fast’ or being ‘a fast-tailed girl’**. It was work to begin to love my body, and all it could do. It was a whole other struggle to remind myself that sex, and liking sex doesn’t make me anything but a sexual being.

In growing up as Black and girl, whom will become Black and woman, there can be this almost oppressive chastity imposed on you! To own your body as a Black woman is a revolutionary act! It a declaration of your personhood and ownership–complete ownership!–of your body. There are still people (read: men and ‘conservative’ women) that think to own you body, and to take pleasure with it, automatically makes you a whore! Slut-shaming is trash LD/DAP energy. I said it.

The video is a declaration of the ownership of the female form! I still have no idea why Kylie Jenner was in it! WHY?! Other than for the reputation her sister has and it being a declaration that she is DTF. But, I digress.

I have no idea why sexually confident women scare people! In the two days this song and video has been up, the complete backlash is almost comical! Too $hort can talk about pimpin an Cocktales, video vixens have been the ornaments to all hip-hop videos, NWA has a song called ‘My Penis’, but let a woman declare just how bomb her body is! Let her declare how well she can use these hips Lucille Clifton talked about! Let a woman declare that as Meg said in Captain Hook ‘I like to drin and I like to have sex’, now she is undesirable?

Yet, there is a large swath of these so-called outraged men that still watch porn, by the ‘services’ of women and have ‘known’ more than a few hoes in their ‘player days’. But, you want the woman you want to be pristine, low body count and just do ‘hoe shit’ for you? Do you hear yourselves?

In literature, there is this idea called primo genture. This ideology comes up alot in Shakespearean plays. The idea is to police and control female sexuality, you can then assure legitmate heirs to a line. Notice the legitmacy of an heir falls to a woman–even though she can neither determine when she gets pregnant, or the sex of the baby. We need only look to recent history to men–married men!–whom had whole families outside of their ‘legitmate’ families! What does that mean for them?

Oh, I forgot. Men are supposed to ‘sow their wild oats’, right? Get all that hell-raising and bed hopping done with before getting married. I cackle laughing at this every time someone mentions how chaste a woman is supposed to be. Yet, this wisdom is never expected from men.

The fact that WAP exists, and I’m SURE is on many a playlist the kids can’t listen to, and been ‘tried out’ by now, I need ya’ll to grow up. If you don’t want to listen to it, don’t. If you think Cardi and Meg are too much–don’t listen! But don’t come for those of us whom have done the work of loving ourselves, including those of us who know we have WAPs, and like using them from time to time. Use that energy to take down the president who likes to ‘grab women by the pussy.’

Women are allowed to own their bodies, their sexuality and express that however they see fit. Societal approval is not needed for a woman to be seen. A woman need only a mirror for that–and the right to not be judged because she looked, with the audacity to like what she saw. And twerk in celebration.

Note to help you not be a prude:

Shameless Plug #1: Read Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women A Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall.

Shameless Plug #2: Read by miniseries from last year FOR A FAST GIRL. Click here to start that.

Shameless Plug #3: Listen to my podcast, The Writers’ Block (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play). For the month of May, I did a miniseries called For The Love of Hip-Hop and I talk about sex, women and hip-hop on the third and fourth show.

Shameless Plug #4: Listen to the Sexpectations podcast hosted by Nicole Powell.

Revolutionary Warfare: Remembering Toni Morrison

“Don’t die with your dream in you.” -My mama, Bessie

I first met Toni Morrison in my Sophomore Spanish I class. There was this girl who sat behind me, Lolita (No lie, that was her name!), and she was reading this book with a purple cover. I asked her what she was reading. With all the Black girl swag she could muster, she said, “The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.”

I am ashamed to say that I had no idea who she was. I knew who Maya Angelou was, but had no idea who Toni Morrison was. I remember asking her to see the book. She obliged and let me read the back. I purposed in my mind that I was going to read this book. I was going to find out who Pecola Breedlove was.

From then, it was on.

My ears were keen to pick up on anything that Toni was doing, anything that she read, recommended or spoke on. So, when Pieces I Am debuted in May 2019, I purposed to watch it. Through other demands, I wasn’t able to see it in theaters. When she died 5 month later? I felt like my grandmother had died…all over again. It was on August 3-4, that I was able to have time and space to watch it. And I am glad that I did.

When I saw her face, heard her voice, I cried–and the film was only 5 minutes in. In hearing her, hearing her story and journey (even thought I was familiar with her voice and story), I cried. It was an affirmation, a coming home as Black, woman and writer. It reminded me that I was always a writer–a storyteller, and the footsteps I follow in are not new…but worn.

As I finished by undergrad at UM-St. Louis, I took ENGL 3870: American Literature After 1865 (Shouts to my mentor, Dr. Kimberly Welch!). This class–I am ever grateful for. Not just because I got to meet Dr. Welch (the first Black English professor I had at UM-St. Louis), but the first book we read for class was, Beloved. It took everything in me not to shout like the little Black Baptist girl in me wanted to! I was studying my shero. I was studying a woman that I had admired since I was 15. Whose books and words and imagination told me, showed me, the possibility of language.

Just like Nikki Giovanni does…still (Have you read EGO TRIP by Nikki?! You need to. Go do that now!).

And to study Beloved right after she died, with Dr. Welch telling me to go to grad school, with listening to her voice on film–it was a hug. It was that nudge that all writers have (I believe) when they are on the precipice of something great–to keep going.

The tears came.

The sobs racked me.

The grief shook me.

I gave over to the power this gift has, and purposed to never hide it again. Afterall, if you surrender to the air, you can ride it. That’s what Toni said.

Red Table Talk: Part 2- Jada’s ‘Entanglements’

Facebook Renews Jada Pinkett Smith's 'Red Table Talk' Through 2022

I have been a fan of Jada Pinkett since she was Lena crushing on Dwayne Wayne on A Different World (SN: I so need A Different World to be on HULU!)! I always thought she was short and loud, and reminded me a little bit of my Aunt Linda–never a bad thing. I remember her being pregnant. I remember her marrying will–I mean she is besties with Tom Cruise at one time! Like she was the reason I wanted to keep my hair short! Her legacy and impact (for me) has always been bigger than her being Stony in Set It Off!

I know that she is the daughter of an addict. I know she and her father are either estranged and or never got along. The most infamous part of her public life has to be her relationship with Tupac Shakur, son of Afeni Shakur. If you want to make an insecure man mad, mention the connection between Jada and Tupac! Every time there needs to be a documentary about him, someone go gets Jada. I mean, the synergy she had with him–that is nothing but Twin Flame energy!

With following her career, and her journey in being a mother to her son and daughter, I thought this thing with August Alsina was a stunt. And I still do! So imagine how crazy I felt when this manchild produced all these receipts about their relationship! And yet with all this dirt thrown on her, I only have observations and a radical empathy. It is that radical empathy that made me hesitate in weighing in about this! I have been Jada. I have been Will! I have been August! And for that reason–radical empathy.

In that radical empathy, there is a dose of truth. Multiple doses. And if you are a woman past, 35–you already know where this is about to go! I am going to base this on what Jada said in this Red Table Talk–which was DEMONSTRABLY SHORTER than any other Red Table Talk. But I get it!

Women of a certain age don’t like to talk about the things they believe are embarrassing or painful!

I really believe 2 things about this situation: (1) August is mad and (2) this is a stunt at all cost.

But the semantics, Jada! The word play! That told me everything I needed to know. Will said, “We were on a break.” Jada said, “No we were over.”

RIGHT THERE.

And Will’s face was a mixture of “I can’t believe she did this” with a dash of “I have to relieve this again!” It is always most interesting to watch a man’s reaction to a woman’s indiscretions. Yet, that isn’t the buzzword is it? Ah, yes. Entanglements.

When speaking about this ‘indiscretion’ they couldn’t get the definition of what she had actually done. She called this an situation an ‘entanglement’. Will called it a ‘relationship.’ And he laughed when she called it an ‘entanglement.’

THAT’S TWO.

I know Will is hurt by this! But what I got from Jada looking at this was, “I was tired of feeling bad. I was tired of doing for everyone else. And no one looks out for me!” I get it. She was tired. She was angry. She was wanting to feel something else. This is the language of a woman that has tried to be some many things for so many people. It is the language I have said myself when admitting that the situation I found myself in demands more than what I have! I have BEEN Jada!

Yet. What I find more interesting other than semantics, is the reaction from Will! I mean when he said, “Really, Jada?!” I felt like I got a peek into the fight that happened when all this was revealed. It truly feels like there is more to the story than what we are seeing! But, as I watched I saw Jada in the space of “This is the truth, but this aint nunna y’all business!” Oh, Jada! You have been in the public eye for more than 20 years! You know that people will always have something to say–but we we see now is that there is some DEEP stuff going on.

Jada wanted something for herself, and is used to fixing people! It is deeper than this woman being ‘friends’ with her son’s friend! It is! I mean, think about this! She was in a relationship with a man/manchild that was SICK when she met him! That’s codependency at it’s finest! But in that space of being a support to this young man, she may have felt needed. Wanted, even!

As my mother says often, “You aren’t the first woman to be tricked!” And this is no different! She thought she would feel young again, more desired, ‘more like herself’ in the arms of someone else. I mean, I have been there! Conversely, she put the thing down, flipped and reversed it! I THINK when either she said, “I’m going back to my husband.” or “I don’t to see you anymore.” And Lil Aug couldn’t cope! It was a Stella Got Her Groove Back Moment. He wasn’t supposed to catch feelings!

Now look at him! Aired all this information, spilled all this tea, and people still don’t know who he is! And the corner conspiracy theories of the internet are saying she is still in love with Tupac (maybe, maybe not). That might be so. With that, Jada will have to reckon with that. And there is no Red Table Talk when you have to look at yourself in the mirror.

Red Table Talk: Part 1-Will’s Teary-Eyed Anger

Facebook Renews Jada Pinkett Smith's 'Red Table Talk' Through 2022

I have been a fan of Will Smith since he was the Fresh Prince, making all these hits with DJ Jazzy Jeff! I mean one of the first raps I learned (aside from It Takes Two) was Parents Just Don’t Understand. Yes, I am that old. So, I remember when he and Jada got married. I remember when she was pregnant–with both Jaden and Willow. I remember how happy they looked,and how thrilled Will seemed to be because he was no longer with mother of his oldest son, Trey.

Now far be it for me to tell how messed up someone else’s relationship is. I, myself, have had 2 failed marriages. So, it would seem that I would have no idea on how to be someone’s wife! When the details broke about August Alsania? I ignored it. Why? I figured it was a publicity stunt! I mean, who would brag about having a sexual relationship with Jada Pinkett–the WIFE of Will Smith?!

Like, who would have the audacity?!

Imagine my surprise when this man came out with pictures, text messages, and all matter of manhood in gray boxer briefs! Imagine my horror when all of Beyonce’s innanet, powered by Black Twitter made all the memes about Jada ‘lying’, and championing August’s shenanigans. But thing that made me break my silence about what is going on was Jada announcing that she would confront these slings and accusations–with WILL at the Red Table.

Chile, look.

Jada Pinkett and Will Smith's Bizarre Red Table Talk | Higher ...
This face–this face right here–told me this man is hurt on levels you cannot even name.

In this almost 13 minute segment on Red Table Talk, I watched both of them play with language. I saw the semantics. I saw the word play, and I saw the hurt on Will Smiths face. Now, it has been an ‘open secret’ and suspicion the Smiths were in an open relationship. Even Will eluded to this in this comment: “It good to know you can do what you want with no fear of losing your family.” Um, excuse me, sir?!

But the thing that got me in this interview (besides it not being an hour long show like she does with other people–we see you Jada!), was Will’s expressions. He laughed trying to play it off, as if he was ‘passed’ everything they were talking about! the striking thing to me was–his eyes. He looked like he had been crying! But y’know–the innanet and the world at large cannot handle (or conceive) that Black men emote! I do not care what anyone says–this man was hurt! And he was hurt by the person he chose to spend this life with!

What I have always thought was funny about men is how fragile they can be when their hearts are involved! Like, he told Jada, “I was done witcho (witcho=with your (for my non-AAVE speakers) ass!” And he also said, “I’m surprised that I’m even speaking to you!” I really believe the only secret between people whom are famous, and non-famous people is the fact that when we (non-famous people) mess up–the world doesn’t notice or care! I cannot imagine what it feels like for Will Smith, dealing with this–from a woman that he has been with 25 years!

His presence here added an element of fall out to this situation. While Jada was matter of fact, with this demeanor of “I just want to get through this”. Will seemed stuck on “I cannot believe that I have to relive this! I cannot believe I have to come through this again with the world watching!” The part of the twosome who said, “It’s bad boys for life” is dealing with a woman he felt he could not make happy! Y’all saw the show!

In being with someone that long, of course they have dirt and issues. Of course there are things we as a the thirsty, nosy, prying public want to know–but just AIN’T our business! But what Will’s face told me all I needed to know! I have been will. I’ve also been Jada! But with Will being this focus of this part, I saw his heart broken. I saw his emotions go through paces–because he wasn’t safe enough to say what he wanted. There is definitely more to this than we are seeing…

Yet, what I want to do is have us begin to normalize men–especially Black men–being vulnerable. Being emotional! Being able to say, “This is what hurt me, and I don’t want to hurt anymore!” Pain and trauma are inevitable in a world that seeks to devour people–but we never expect that from people we love; whom we think love us. Men experience struggle love too.

Healthy love is for everyone. I hope Will has it.

Waiting On ‘Candyman’

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the retelling of ‘Candyman’ will be in theatres on September 25–pushed back from its original June 2020 release date.

I saw this new trailer through my Facebook feed early this morning, and had to watch it twice. Despite (and perhaps this is too my detriment) never having hear of Nia DiCosta before directing ‘Candyman’, this short film–this new trailer–has me more hype than I was before to see this movie. And if you look carefully, you will see snippets of other Black history/horror stories in it as well. Within 2 minutes, I am that much more of a fan of hers. The short is intelligent, complex and telling. It reminds me of something that should have been included in the SHUDDER documentary, Horror Noire (Please cop this book! Please watch this documentary!).

The thing that is awesome about this teaser, about this retelling is found in the tweet of the director: “…the symbols we turn them into and the monsters they must have been.” This goes into the controlling of narrative, the controlling/ownership of language, and how minority people will always suffer from the retelling of their own stories by people who don’t look like them! This dovetails into the quote by Tananarive Due: “Black people have always loved horror–horror hasn’t always loved us.” And my favorite quote by her being, “Black history IS Black horror.”

Perhaps the issue remain in the fact that this story was originally written as a short story by Clive Owen. From that story, was the film. From that film, with its premise, allowing pain, anguish, revenge and autonomy through the vehicle of this angry spirit, I believe, is one of the reasons relegating Black people to tokens, magical/sacrificial Negroes or the ‘other’ is comforting to White audiences!

There is a shift vibrating through Black art right now–through all its medium. Besides, if there can be literally 10 movies featuring Jason Voorhees, the world will deal with the angry vengeful spirit of a Black artist whose hand and life were taken because he dared be who is was–and loved who he did! Jordan Peele said it best when he voiced the White male lead horror protag has been done—to death. Now, in this age where freedom is continueally paid for with time, I am anxious to see what else Nia DiCosta is allowed to create. This has to be–must be!–only the beginning.

In Memoriam Of The Charleston 9

It has been 5 years since Dylan Roof walked in the Mother Emmanuel and killed 9 people at a prayer meeting. I remember watching this on national news, and my heart breaking. BREAKING in my chest. At the time, my [then] husband and I were pastoring in Ferguson, Missouri–trying to figure out how to be married, clergy, activists and sane a year after Michael Brown, Jr. was murdered not even 10 minutes from our apartment. 

What Dylan Roof did was evil. The absolute level of evil is for God discern when he closes his eyes for the last time. As for me and mine, my [then] husband and I kept pastoring. We kept serving, kept loving the community we were in, and trying to do what God told us. In 5 years time, what I have seen is two fold: people running away from anything Jesus-related, or they are clinging to it. 

The folk whom are running from it, say they have abandoned it because it is a ‘White man’s religion.’ Forgetting that Jesus isn’t White, the Gospel went to Africa before it went to Rome, and the ‘fishers of men’ didn’t speak English at a native language. I say all that to say this. The White Evangelical Church has a lot to explain. A whole lot! Once more, it has taken the death of a man who was innocent to have dramatic, world-wide effect. You have to understand, as a woman of faith, the housecleaning that is happening in the faith community is overdue! It is overdue! Do you know how hard it is to preach this gospel with the assertion that most people believe that Christ is a ‘white man’s savior’? Let’s not even get into what it means to be a woman doing this work! 

In the light of this resistance–this once in a generation resistance–it seems fitting that this memoriam would be commemorated! However, the best thing about this? The White Evangelical church is having to deal with these chickens coming home to roost, dens of foxes in henhouse, and packs of wolves in sheep’s clothing. What reassures me that a reckoning has come is when WHITE pastors are confronting racism in their respective denominations. 

One of those pastors is Pastor Judah Smith of ChurchHome-Seattle. On a June 4th Zoom live, he said these two things: “We have colluded with the culture.” Meaning, there is still a thread of racism (real, palpable RACISM) that is going through the church. But the quote that struck me was this: “We have preached America as if–at times–its is scripture.” I see no lie present in this. None! The church, the one founded by Jesus Christ was NEVER supposed to collude with a culture. It was never supposed to align with one race of people! It was never designed to be a place where all people were not welcome! The fact Dylan Roof did this, killing the pastor of this church, only to have his body taken to internment under a Confederate flag? Insult isn’t even the word. In commemorating this tragic event, it is right that the church–a entity of change, hope, protection and security, begin to examine just how much of Christ is in the church. 

I mean, it was founded by a Middle Eastern man, whom didn’t speak English and was a refugee whose non-English speaking parents teenage parents fled their home to prevent his murder, only to be murdered by this state in front of his mother for being a threat to power—maybe, the legacy of this moment is the change it would bring. Rather, that is bringing. Octavia Butler said it this way, “All that you touch is change, all that you touch changes you. God is change.”

Change has now come.