Recently I received a copy of Octavia Butler’s Kindred graphic novel, which was adapted by Damien Duffy and John Jennings. Reading the story in graphic novel form gave me a chance to see aspects of the book that I didn’t pay as much attention to as before. One was the mechanism by which Dana traveled back in time. On her second trip back to the past, Rufus mentions to Dana that he had seen her in the water right before she came traveled back to the past to rescue him. Rufus tells Dana that he saw her with his eyes closed and that he had stepped into a “hole” in the river where he saw her in a room full of books. He also heard both Dana and Kevin before the second time Dana came back. Rufus, although problematic, has inklings of visionary insight, but does he because of his connection to his future legacy in Dana (Rufus only has black descendants as he only had children with Alice) or because he was at the edge of imagining a different society but the slaveholding, racist, sexist, generally oppressive society around him impeded that?
One of my favorite mottos is to find the magic in the mundane because in doing so you realize how interdependent we all are to each other and to the universe. When we look at the sun and moon, we are so normalized to them that we can easily forget how we are dependent on them for our existence and how much they shape our existence. It has been our ability to use our imagination to see the world beyond the mundane and search for knowledge and meaning as well as our creation of technologies to observe the universe that has allowed us to see that. As I was reading Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Race is/as Technology, or How to Do Things to Race,“she writes that “According to Martin Heidegger in his 1955 ‘The Question Concerning Technology,’ the essence of technology is not technological. Indeed, by examining tools, we miss what is essential about technology, which is its mode of revealing or “enframing.” So how does the creation of technologies to look and observe also reveal ourselves? Who is watching who and who is creating who at the same time?
Warning: some spoilers ahead!
This is for all the Diesel Funk fans out there and for Women’s History Month!
What legacy are we leaving for others when we dare to dream our special dreams, despite all the limitations that face us or all the naysayers? That is what Madeline McCray aims to answer in her one-woman performance, A Dream to Fly, at the Schomburg Center last Friday, taking on the voice of the first Black women licensed aviatrix, Bessie Coleman.
Beginning with a radio announcement reporting the death of Coleman at the age of 34 from a tragic airplane accident and a eulogy from Ida B. Wells, Coleman is in a limbo state shocked by the untimeliness of her death and wanting to tell her story before she goes. The radio turns into a kind of God-head allowing her to tell it but reminding her that it is time for her to go. McCray inhabits and brings to life Coleman, showing all the facets of her — her strong, independent will and bold personality and the doubtful, lonely side of her that fears she is making a mistake going after this dream so outside of her reality, a daughter of a sharecropper in Texas.
But even with that McCray still gives Coleman in the writing and performance a magnetic charm and hope that you know Coleman will overcome because her spirit searches for something more, to grasp that bright shining star as she says. No person could hold her back search for her dream, not her drunken veteran brother who laughed at the possibility of her being a pilot as she worked as a manicurist in a barbershop, not the lover of her life, Freddie, who wanted to marry her but only if she gave up her dream of flying, not the homesickness she felt as she went to France to become a licensed pilot, and not society who told her to conform to conventions and that her goals did not fit the stereotypes of what a black women should be, that she needed a man, was a man or was an uppity negro because of them. Coleman even declined to filmmakers trying to put her in a box by wanting to make a film, Shadow and Sunshine, which would degrade black people more, and took the backlash when she did. She stood up to all the people who looked at her funny at airplane shows. Coleman always chose the sky, that is where her passion and power lay.
When some think of the song “Lady Marmalade,” one of their first thoughts is that it is a song about a New Orleans prostitute. On the surface it may be, but the song is much more nuanced and has deeper meaning beyond that. Listening to the song, I realized how ambiguous it is.
First, the title is “Lady Marmalade” for a song supposedly about a creole prostitute. For a woman who is a sex worker to be still called a “lady” is important despite that this aspect of the song is rarely discussed. She is a lady no matter what she does; she is still respected. Another is that she is creole. Looking into Caribbean studies, there is a lot of literature on the significance of creolization (creolite)– the hybridity or syncretism of cultures (ex. Santeria’s use of Catholicism), but in connection to the song, also the fear of racial and sexual miscegenation that Lady Marmalade represents. How do men in power suppress their fear about a sexually independent or powerful women or guilt about taking advantage of her; they usually call her a “hoe” or “prostitute” (i.e. Jezebel). Additionally, the lyrics themselves do not fully suggest she is a prostitute; it at most sounds like she is a sexually powerful woman. But even it being about a prostitute, the song refutes the sentiment that a song about a woman classified as a “hoe” or “prostitute” is not about one of us; it does concern all of us (“hey sista, go sista”).
Angela Davis is more than an afro and if you think wearing an afro is radical and revolutionary enough, then you do not know much about Angela Davis’ life. Having grown up in Birmingham and knowing the girls who were murdered in the Birmingham church bombing, Davis seemed destined to want to make a change in the world and she did. Here was a black women who received a Ph.D. in philosophy, spoke out against the Prison Industrial Complex long before it was a popular phrase and in the mainstream, was tracked by the FBI for her outspokenness and links to communism and the Black Panthers, and later came out as a lesbian. And she did this all as a black woman!
Living in a world where power and knowledge is equaled to mainly male, white and heterosexual, all of that was quite a feat. We need to know about her and others like her as a part of our history, and the many aspects of them that connect to us. As Erykah Badu said in The Black Power Mixtape, what we need to do is read, write and document our stories because if we do not, we allow people to twist those stories in their favor. Shola Lynch’s film Free Angela and All Political Prisoners is another chance for the hunted to take back their story from the hunter. Happy Women’s History Month to Angela Davis and the film will be in theaters April 5th.
Since yesterday was International Women’s Day and today is International Fly Girls Day, here is post dedicated to some topics, news and resources about us black women. But first, “I’m Every Woman” from Chaka Khan, one of the first music videos: