During the past few week after witnessing the no indictments of Darren Wilson,for the killing of Mike Brown and Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner, in addition to the numerous cases of police violence, brutality and negligence acted upon black people before and after the two incidents, I have wondered how do we move forward and find hope and refuge in the face of so much destruction.
The one thought that came to mind over the past few weeks has been that we need to value ourselves and our own stuff with more force. I have seen efforts such as #NotOneDime, #BlackoutBlackFriday, #BlackonBlackFriday and #BlackDecember. I have seen several posts on The Anti-Intellect Blog about how we don’t as a whole value our own schools, like HBCUs, and our own awards and recognitions. I was watching News One Now and Roland Martin was having a similar discussion with Cornel West with Roland mentioning that someone had told him that they needed to get him a “real show” on a “real network.” Saturday I attended the Afrikan Poetry Theater’s Buy Black Market. But it wasn’t until Sunday at J.P. Howard’s Women Writers in Bloom Salon where poet Amber Atiya led the workshop and introduced June Jordan’s essay, “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan” that it clicked fully in my head.
Jordan’s essay centers on Willie Jordan, a student of hers whose brother, Reggie, is murdered by the police, and she and the rest of her students decide to write together messages to be sent to Willie Jordan and his family, to the police, and to Newsday. But the main decision for the messages was whether to write it in Standard English or Black English? As Jordan, who was a writer herself, knew all language is political. As a writer myself, I know that. I have a friend who recently dropped out of an MFA program because she as a black woman wanted to express herself in a certain way and the program became to constrictive for her. Her and many other people of color have brought awareness to the lack of diversity in MFA curriculum and approaches to language and culture in writing. We have seen how those in power in the media, police and the legal system have manipulated language and descriptions of events to benefit their side or demonize those whose lives are affected by their abuses. Language has power and how we express ourselves has power, too.
Jordan wrote in response the question: “How best to serve the memory of Reggie Jordan? Should we use the language of the killer — Standard English — in order to make our ideas acceptable to those controlling the killer? But wouldn’t what we had to say be rejected, summarily, if we said it in our own language, the language of the victim, Reggie Jordan? But if we sought to express ourselves by abandoning our language wouldn’t that mean our suicide on top of Reggie’s murder? But if we expressed ourselves in our own language, wouldn’t that be suicidal to the wish to communicate with those who, evidently, did not give a damn about us/Reggie/police violence in the Black community?
At the end of the longest, most difficult hours of my own life, the students voted, unanimously, to preface their individual messages with a paragraph in the language of Reggie Jordan: ‘At least we don’t give up nothing else. At least we stick to the truth: Be who we been. And stay all the way with Reggie.” It was heartbreaking proceed, from that point. Everyone in the room realized that our decision in favor of Black English had doomed our writings, even as the distinctive reality of our Black lives had doomed our efforts to “be who we been” in this country.” (p. 372).
In previous parts of her essay, Jordan critiques the supremacy of White Standards over language, but it extends beyond that. It extends to beauty, media, businesses, schools, books and publishing, our records of history, cultural values, and various other parts of society and our lives. So, as Jordan and her students decided, we must learn to value ourselves more, value our cultural productions more, value our businesses more, value our own standards more, value our own stuff more even in the face of doom, even if others will value it less because our survival for ourselves depends on us valuing us not expecting others to value us.