His Skin

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

Handsome does not conjure the strength succulent enough
to uncover the sun underneath his skin.
Shame on those who sexualize him.
Who sees his body as cheap and public.
Who does he think he is, being darker than a brown paper bag?
Sometimes they notice him
like the sun swinging in the sky
and still, he is only handsome for a dark-skinned guy.

They do not know that he is the color of the gods.
I will describe him the intensity of ebony
a precious rarity.
How’d he get so lucky?
Who bathed him in sunlight?
This black hardwood-colored flesh.
Delicately bronzed.
He is black keys on a piano.
Play a song for me.
Whisper truth through lips thick and sensual
remarkably soft and pliable.
This espresso-colored body.
Dangerous when diluted.
Potent when raw.
They do not know any better.
How do you greet someone so breathtakingly gorgeous?

It will take them a minute to get used to the truth.
That not even the bite of winter can dare diminish
his light.

SugarCoated and Springtime

They get tired of hearing it.
Ain’t nobody got to say it,
I know that they get tired.
Tired of these distractions in brown-colored skin
waking up from Valley’s
with muscles and tendons
all conscious-like.
Uncovering the blood in the American Flag—
Tired, tethered, and intoxicated
with his story.
Unraveling the color of bigotry on a beautiful glass,
Smeared fingerprints and fallen stars like
Why they keep sittin’ in?
Between our comfort and a hard place.
America,
This be some kinda hard place
for brown-colored skin
in the springtime.

Strange fruit popping up again on trees,
‘cept Nina ain’t here to sing us a song.
After 400 years
songs just don’t work anymore.
Tired of these guns accidentally going off,
Landing somewhere in my purse.
somewhere in my womb.
Somewhere in my future between lipstick and foundation.
I’ve got to warn my sons
about accidental guns.
Generational homicide got me on my knees praying
the badge
ain’t got his name on it.
Let’s be accurate about it.
Will I be left with the fragmented
pieces of my husband’s shoes
between our front porch and the living room floor?

Will my kiss linger long enough to bring him home tonight?
Or will I suffer a widow’s fate of mistaken identity?
After all, these brown, tan, bronze, and mahogany-colored
skins all do look the same…
Don’t they?

I’m afraid of your guns.
They don’t know the difference
between friend and foe–
or maybe, they do.
Funny how bullets be mistakin’ themselves for judges
that ain’t got names on them.
They say a gun
ain’t got a name on it.
Why are they sugar-coating it?

‘Cause people get tired of hearing about all this black…
All this oppression,
All these curses,
All this power like,
Why we won’t pour sugar on top of these bodies?
Get ’em up off the street.
Don’t want our bullets to get stirred up, ya know.
Getting up outta beds,
loading themselves into chambers
and taking walks at night,
in the afternoon, and especially in the morning,
when it’s springtime.


Fun Fact: I first wrote this poem four years ago (almost to the day). Reposting because it is still fitting for today’s climate. You can find it in my I am Soul poetry collection. 

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Marital Relationships During Slavery

The inspiration for today’s topic comes from a heated discussion ongoing from an episode of The Real. The Real is a talk show that prides itself on being centered on discussions on current events, fashion, family, relationships, and celebrity news. The show’s host includes Jeannie Mai, Adrienne Bailon, Tamera Mowry-Housely, Loni Love, and now Amanda Seals. The show’s hook is presenting real topics, having real discussions, and giving very real opinions. But some audiences do not find the show to be as authentic as it prides itself to be and Loni’s comments don’t help.

Co-host Loni Love found herself in some hot water over her comments about Black men, cheating, and slavery. Here is a clip of what was said:

Whether you agree with Loni or not her comment opened the door for further discussion on this topic. I would like to use it as the catalyst for exploring what relationships were like for enslaved men and women and if there is any truth in Loni’s statement.

Questions to ponder as you read:

  1. Should we isolate Black men as cheaters who use money and power to take advantage of women?
  1. Is it fair to use slavery to support the theory that Black men, in particular, have a problem being faithful in relationships?
  1. Are we descendants of slaves? Or are we descendants of people who were enslaved?

Family separation became increasingly common during the antebellum period and being sold on the New Year was a common occurrence. Widely known as “Hiring Day” — or “Heartbreak Day,” as the Black abolitionist journalist William Cooper Nell described it — enslaved people spent New Year’s Eve waiting, wondering if their owners would rent them out to someone else, which would split up their families. (Waxman, O, 2019) “Hiring Day” was part of the larger economic cycle in which most debts were collected and settled on New Year Day,” says Alexis McCrossen, an expert on the history of New Year Eve and New Year Day and a professor of history at Southern Methodist University, who writes about Hiring Day in her forthcoming book Time’s Touchstone: The New Year in American Life.

Enslaved people were bought and sold like cattle and auctioneers appraised women based on their ability to reproduce. Women who birthed children during slavery were called “breeders,” and their children were referred to as the “increase.” The mother and father of the “increase,” could have been a legitimate couple or they could have been forced together.

Black people were not people in this sense, they were commodities. Their bodies had a price tag. Slave-masters/owners could mortgage, loan, trade, or exchange the enslaved body. “The nature of exchanging enslaved people meant that this seller was open to the idea of getting them back, perhaps after the child reached a certain age and the mother was no longer breastfeeding.” (Berry, D, pp 20)

Enslaved men, women, and children incurred interest and even in death the enslaved body was traded and sold, many of them ending up on the tables of medical schools for hands-on medical research. Slave farms existed, where Black men and women were raped and forced to have sex with one another. The South,” writes Sublettes, co-author of The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry “did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people.”

“Because slaves were property, Southern slave owners could mortgage them to banks and then the banks could package the mortgages into bonds and sell the bonds to anyone anywhere in the world, even where slavery was illegal. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia’s capital stock by four percent annually.”

– The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry

Enslaved couples were not married or in a relationship in the same way men and women are married or in a relationship today. Since this is a private area of the enslaved life, it’s difficult for historians to say for certain how these relationships worked or did not work.

“Research into the intimate areas of slaves’ lives has proven problematic for historians because the typicality of private sentiments is always hard to establish, and within slave testimony such as the WPA narratives, the reference to issues of marital discord, abuse, or adultery is rare.”

Emily West (2004) Tensions, tempers, and temptations: marital discord among slaves in antebellum South Carolina, American Nineteenth Century History, 5:2, 1-18, DOI: 10.1080/1466465042000257837

What we know is that it was illegal for Blacks to marry in the traditional sense, that many of them were forced together for breeding, and that some enslaved couples did not live on the same plantation. There’s something else we know: due to the complex and brutal system of slavery, relationship bonds between black men and women (that weren’t forced or instituted by the slave owner) were strong. “Marital ties created bonds that warrant attention equal to the bonds of motherhood.” (Berry)

Enslaved couples who married under slavery loved each other deeply because there was no guarantee they wouldn’t be sold away from one another. The story of Tamar, an enslaved woman from Camden County, North Carolina, ran away several times, was sold several times, and had her children sold multiple times. According to her brother’s testimony, Tamar “traveled by night, and hid herself in the woods.” (Berry) While in hiding she had more children with her husband. Pregnancy, in this case, could have resulted from genuine love and marital affairs.

In The “Chords of Love: Legalizing Black Marital and Family Rights in Postwar Texas” Crouch tells the story of Fannie, a slave woman who wrote a loving letter to her husband. “I haven’t forgot you,” she writes, “nor I never will forget you as long as the world stands.” (Crouch, B, Journal of African American History)

“…it’s not across the board because what is happening is that we are still dealing with the point of slavery. And we are descendants of slavery and because our families were broken up…” – Loni Love

Is there a correlation between a Black man who cheats, and the enslaved Black man who was forced to have sex with and impregnate lots of women without attachment or commitment? Has this trauma passed down through generations caused Black men to perpetuate similar behaviors as was required during slavery? Is this what Loni Love of The Real was trying to communicate?

Certainly, we have all inherited both good and toxic behaviors from our ancestors in one way or another. To this day many Black families say they eat pork because “at slavery times that’s all we had to eat, so we made food taste good by trying things out,” says Big Mama on the 1997 movie Soul Food.

But Black people aren’t the only people who eat pork or are known for eating pork (and eating like you did when you were enslaved is not wise). 

“Cheating is a matter of choice. And when you cheat it is a choice that you as a man are making to feed your ego. It has nothing to do with your boys not being around. It has nothing to do with men working too hard. It’s not a matter of race. Men make choices and cheating is always a poor choice because it’s ego-driven.”

– Charlamagne tha God

While there are certainly questionable actions we’ve picked up from being an enslaved people, there is no evidence that directly links Black men cheating to slavery. Cheating is not a trauma-based response from slavery that causes Black men to be untrustworthy and unfaithful more than any other race. Men and women of all races and backgrounds make poor choices that cause them to cheat for one reason or another.

What further complicates things is that Adrienne adds that this is true “across the board,” which is a good point. This could have been an opportunity for further clarity, historical context, and teaching but Loni cuts her off, further clarifying her point that she is specifically talking about Black people and in particular, Black men:

“No, it’s not across the board because what is happening is that we are still dealing with the point of slavery. And we are descendants of slavery and because our families were broken up we still do not have a idea of how to have…together, families were broken up…”

We are not descendants of slavery.

We are the descendants of a people who were enslaved.

If it’s true that because of slavery Black men struggle with fidelity, then we also have to say something about the white slave masters who raped and forced black men and women to breed. And we have to talk about the white slaveowners who cheated on their white wives with black women.

Black men during slavery did not have the same capacity to cheat as men and women have today. Marriage during slavery did not mean the couple could exercise fidelity because they did not have a right to their own bodies. While married, the wife may have had children by the master after being raped by him and the husband could have also fathered more children through force. The only guarantee was the love each had for one another and the hope that they could see each other as often as was allowed and cultivate some sense of normalcy for their families (as normal as was possible under slavery).

Is it fair to say, “lots of white men beat their wives because they are the descendants of slave-owners and masters who beat their slaves?” Is it ever fair to make generalizations about a group of people, gender or race?

Imagine the frustration of being a Black man in America, honorable and striving only to look and see your own woman (The Black Woman) consistently publicly declare to the world that you are not capable of doing right.

“Black men everyday are dealing with our character being shamed.”

– Willie D

If we say “black men don’t know how to be faithful because we are still dealing with the point of slavery” we first miseducate people on the history of our enslavement. Next, we alienate Black men, assume Black women and other races of people (across the board) don’t cheat, and throw Black men under the bus.


Books I recommend for further research on Slave Breeding and Blacks used as Commodities: 

The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned and Constance Sublette

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation by Daina Ramey Berry

Medical Apartheid: The Dark Experimentation on Blacks from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Do Not Ask What, Ask Why

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We’ve known “What” since stepping foot off slave ships. We’ve known “What” since the crack of the whip. We’ve known “What” since Lynch mobs and sharecropping. We’ve known “What” since overseers, paddy rollers and colored signs. We’ve known “What” since the back of city buses and Jim Crow. We’ve known “What” since crack, ghettos and foster homes. Indeed, if there is anything black people are familiar with, it is what. The question is therefore not what, the question is why? Why the haunting images of public executions of black men? Why does the protests of Black Lives Matter mirror that of the Civil Rights Movement when we should have moved passed this? How is it that what happened 50 years ago and DIDN’T work, will somehow work today? Have we not marched? Have we not protested? Have we not already sang freedom songs and willingly gone to prison? Why are black people at the bottom of every single ethnic group and society there is? Why have we been here for nearly 400 years and have yet to produce the economic standing of nations who have been here not even half that time? The question is not what, the question is why? Why are things always so black and white? Why is it always black against white?

In the book of Exodus there is a story. This story is about the Israelites. Pharaoh said to kill off the Hebrew boys for fear that the Hebrew population would grow and that they would overrun the Egyptian population (Ex 1:9-16). More so, they will do unto the Egyptians what the Egyptians have done unto them. Fears of uprisings among African Americans can be traced back to the days of Nat Turner. To think this fear has been lost or has gone away is not to have been alive.  You see “Why?” has been around for centuries and on the tongues of every prophet. “Why?” is in the blood of every black man and woman walking this earth today. It is in every breath we take, and every move we make. “Why” is in our very DNA, our living souls breathing proof of the covenant we made so long ago. Do not tell black people that they should not be angry when our sons blood cries out to us from the ground. Instead, ask “Why?” Do not ask What, Ask Why because why is the key to everything. Why is understanding that what is happening out there is bigger than any man. “Why?” is understanding there is a reason black lives do not matter in this land. “Why” is understanding the story of Israel, the covenant they broke, and its connection to the black man and woman in America today. You see, “Why” is the key when you are the people of the book, when the police is Pharaoh, and America is Egypt.

His Birth Pains

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There’s a woman
laying in the hospital
and armed with the next generation in her womb,
and she’s about to give birth real soon
she breathes
in another breath as her body jerks,
to the sound of the television… it is the news.
reporting another mass murder of black men
he moves
inside of her
tucking his head underneath his soft bones
she moans
at another kick
to her ribs
his tiny fingers have just curled around them
holding her insides with the delicate force of a newborn
he hesitates “This is it.”
The end of nine months only to see another nine years
of bars
he fears
this new place
leaving no more space
for his body to stretch out
than his face
pressed tightly against
the skin of his mother’s uterus.
Of this new world he thought he’d be curious
but the sounds of the outside has only made him furious
the sounds of police in the distance
kicking,
he kicks again this is resistance
forcing the woman into painful sensations
but he kicks
constantly
cause this is not an invitation to leave
it is a plea to stay
“Don’t worry lil man”, the doctor says, “Mama’s just a lil tense,
but he shutters at homelessness
debating to himself if to pass up his first breath is worth it
his ground iron
his heavens bronze
his prayers polluted like falling stars
trying to break lose what’s already bent
rocking his mother’s body once more
this can’t be heaven sent
but
it’s too late
something has pushed him out of his place
and its holding him tightly,
his screams echo, “let go of me.”
but he has already lost his authority
and he doesn’t even know his name
and these are just the beginning
of his birth pains.

Guest Feature – A Modern Day Slave Plantation Part 3 by Laura Dimon

*Note: This article was not written by The PBS Blog, it is featured as part of the continuation of an ongoing series and is written by Laura Dimon. This is the last part which includes my commentary. Please view our Guest Feature or Article Section for Parts 1 & 2*

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In King’s trials, the juries were all white, with one black person. This past March, Glenn Ford, 64, walked out of Angola a free man after 30 years on death row. He was Louisiana’s longest-serving death row prisoner, yet he’s just another black man who was convicted and sentenced by an all-white jury. King said Angola today still reminds him of a slave plantation, but not as much as it reminds him of a graveyard. “There seems to be an artificial sanitation that is disturbing to me,” he said. The land is “beautiful, whitewashed, looks like a college campus.” But underneath, “The bones are rottin’.”

 
Angola exists in the shadow of slavery, a time when black men did not have rights. In a state with the motto “Union, justice and confidence,” there is certainly a lingering stink of a bygone, ugly era for which “union and justice” is simply not a fitting description. The other two members of the Angola 3 are Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace. There is overwhelming evidence of their innocence and accordingly, state and federal judges have overturned Woodfox’s conviction three times, citing racial discrimination, misconduct by the prosecution and inadequate defense. But Louisiana’s Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell holds the ultimate power, and has contested the rulings, claiming they were based on technicalities.

 

To this day, after 42 years, Woodfox remains in solitary confinement in Angola. He’s thought to be the longest-serving inmate in solitary. In the documentary film, he says, “If a cause is noble enough, you can carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. And I thought my cause, then and no, was noble. So therefore, they would never break me.”
They might bend me a little bit. They might cause me a lot of pain. They may even take my life. But they will never be able to break me.”

 
Wallace was released in October 2013 with advanced liver cancer. King went with Woodfox, who was permitted to leave briefly, to visit their friend and tell him he was out of Angola for good. “We told him,” King said. Wallace couldn’t move or respond. “[But] we saw it in his eyes. … He knew he was getting out.” Wallace took his last breaths a free man, after over 40 years. He died three days later.

 
King continues the fight for Woodfox. So when he is asked about his own release, he responds with this apt adage: “I was free of Angola, but Angola would not be free of me.”

 

Image Credits: AP, Peter Puna, Robert King

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angolaCommentary:

The disturbing reality, is that no so called African American should be surprised by this article. At some point we must realize that under the fine print of America’s democracy you were never intended to be citizens. Your stay here in this country was never received with the certificate of adoption and thus you were never granted the same rights of America’s children, and that is why such institutions such as the Angola Facility still exist in the first place. You have Civil Rights but you have no Human Rights. It is no surprise then, that the mental state of the African American people is worse today than it was during slavery. Even during the Civil Rights Era your state of consciousness was not like it is now; for Freedom Rides denoted an understanding that you were not free here and you understood that. But the worse thing about mental enslavement however is that if the mind thinks itself free it doesn’t really matter what happens to the body. You can continue to mistreat it and it will still not grasp the understanding that it remains confined. You can put it in a hog pen, lock it up inside the inner rooms, isolate it and because the mind has been warped it will still think it possesses some kind of freedom. In The Mis-Education of The Negro Carter G. Woodson said it best, “when you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.

  • Prison institutions determine how many more beds to add to their facility, based on how many black boys can’t read by the 4th grade

 

  • According a recent Brookings Institution report, black men born in 1975 who dropped out of high school had a 70 percent chance of ending up in prison by their mid-thirties. The probability is actually greater for young black men who drop out today.

 

  • The bible prophecy’s of black men being hidden in prison houses and that their heavens will be bronze and their earth iron (Deut. 28:23, Lev. 26:19)

 

  • According to Prof. Michelle Alexander’s analysis of U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are now more black men in prison than were enslaved in 1850.

 

  • The so called African American was never included in the U.S. Constitution; his civil rights were amended or added on, this means they can also be removed

 

  • The 13th Amendment, when it abolished slavery, did so except for convicts. Through the prison system, the vestiges of slavery continue.