Written by Stephanie Renee on February 21, 2016
“Living manifestation of Plessy v. Ferguson
Ghetto flower who blossomed under the rays
Of a separate, but equal, sun
Yet, they tried to shade me like night vision
So, I vented my angst through poetic composition
Better be glad that my pen was closer at hand than a gun”
Sometime in the late 90s, I felt a need to explain the who, how and why of my decision to be a spoken word artist. The above lines were from a piece titled Now You Know that I greatly enjoyed performing, an homage to my intellectual upbringing that found a voice through my poetry and other artistic pursuits and refused to be silenced. A lyrical middle finger to anyone who heard I was from Southeast DC and assumed I was somehow ghetto and damaged. I’m bourgie and damaged, thank you. Get it right.
It was James Baldwin who said that being Black and living in America was to be in an almost constant state of rage. True, but very unhealthy. We all need a way to vent, and a method to eradicate the root cause of our dis-ease. Poetry was one of those methods for me. Take away my creative outlets and, well…I may not have grown up to be so well-adjusted.
In this year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, nearing the end of what may go down in history as one of the Blackity-Blackest Black History Months of all time, I am completely enamored with what I see as a renaissance in Black realness from the creative set. And no, it may not pass the sniff test from those who insist upon what they deem as authenticity and the receipts to prove it. But, honestly, I’ll take a bit of contrived culture over the absence of our presence and voice, any day. Beyoncé in Black Panther Party-esque onesies with fishnets? A lil problematic, but I’ll support it. Kendrick Lamar in silhouette on the Grammy Award stage, in front of a screened image of Africa with Compton written on it? Rhyming while sisters in African garb and facepaint dance around him in front of a bonfire? Yes, sir. Debbie Allen and Judith Jamison holding dance class at The White House? C’mon son! Two thumbs up. It’s like we’ve collectively awakened and screamed out “Eff it!” to anyone who has ever called us inferior or to whom we’ve toned down or disempowered our expression in the name of respectability. No diss, White folks. We’re just tired of using your dollars or applause as a barometer. Love it or leave it. Your choice. We still outchea.
With so much at stake, so much on the line for Black survival and empowerment, there will always be critics who say that this burst of unapologetic Black creativity is only window-dressing for the real work ahead for our people. And that is surely true. But I will also stand firmly on the side of our venerable elder Toni Morrison, who emphatically states that she never wrote any of her highly-lauded novels with “White gaze” in mind. She was telling HER stories, her way, for her people and from her deep well of experience. And that, friends, is the best form of radical expression we could ever hope for. Do you. Celebrate YOU, us, unapologetically.
Melanin and our history, on fleek, as the young’uns say. It’s a beautiful, radical thing.