“Stories centered around Black Women occupy an oppressive gaze that silences her voice. In these stories, the performance of her voice is used to the benefit of the protagonist and written in an “othered” form that is separate from her body. With the structure of the story being centered around Black Women, the writer is positioned to inform the audience how her body should or may perform to drive the plot and assist in completing the story. This storytelling style objectifies Black Women’s lives and presents her as a spectacle in constant response to her circumstances. She Chronicles focuses on Black Women centered stories that explore her livelihood from a holistic perspective.” – Nikki Skies
Happy Birthday Toni Cade Bambara!
March 25, 1939 – December 9. 1995
The boat whistled its’ way through the waters and soon the screams of the women faded. The air was now filled with the constant yells of families sitting on roofs screaming for help. They approached Memorial Medical Center and Chris decided to seek refuge there. As he got closer, he could see through the lobby window hundreds of people camped inside. Every seat was occupied and people were sprawled out on the floor with blankets. Police were patrolling the doors. Chris knocked but the policemen just stood and shook their heads in the negative. Chris trudged through the water to the other side of the hospital and policemen were standing heavy guard at those doors too. He knew besides the sore bones and loose teeth, he had no serious injury and they were not going to let him in.
Chris double tied his bag of food and treaded through the water on his tippy toes. He began to reminisce on the summers growing up in New Orleans. His father worked as a mechanic in a neighborhood shop and in the summer Chris would help out by washing the cars once he was done. Afterwards, instead of joining his cousins down at the local swimming pool, he hung out with the neighborhood knuckle heads and smoked weed. Or they convinced one of the older drunks to buy them liquor. He was all of nine years old. With the water slapping up against his chest and occasionally splashing in his face, he wished he had taken those swimming lessons instead.
A few blocks from the hospital, Chris found himself pacing in the water side by side with a dog. The dog was a dark brown cocker spaniel probably looking for a dry place to rest his feet. From atop, the dog seemed to be relaxed. But he knew underneath he was probably paddling his legs wild as the devil! Chris remembered how easy it was to tread the dog paddle when he was younger so he picked his feet up to give it a try. He quickly dipped in the thick, murky waters and emerged panicked. He struggled to get his stance stable but soon regained his pace and continued down the street with the other stranded people.
A little ways down, Chris spotted the small boat and whistled to get their attention. They acknowledged him by waving. Other people began to whistle and try and make their way to the boat too so Chris picked up his pace. The eyes of the dog swimming nearby were showing signs of exhaustion. There was no telling how long the dog had been in the water. The dog let out a bark, then went under the water. Within seconds, his head reappeared and he began to bark in desperation. Chris was mindful to stay as far away from the dog as possible to avoid being bitten. The small boat reeved it’s engine as they waited for him. The dog’s bark now became aggressive as he continued to swim towards Chris. The men on the boat splashed water towards the dog to slow him down and distract his concentration on swimming.
“Come on man! Dat dog look mad or summin’!,” one of the men said.
Chris turned his head to witness the dog go under again. He started to run on his tip toes because he knew he would get sprayed with the dirty water when the dog came back up. He reached the boat and threw his bag of food aboard. He could feel the water spray on the back of his neck as the dog shook its’ head. The men reached down and pulled Chris on the boat.
“They wasn’t lettin’ nobody in down at the hospital huh?,” Gunner asked.
“Naw,” Chris simply replied.
The boat pulled away and the dog continued to swim behind it. His eyes were bulging as he barked pleas of help. There was nothing in sight for the dog to take refuge on. The dog’s shiny, brown coat disappeared under the water a third time, not to emerge again.
a snippet from the short story book, Mississippi Window Cracks.
“Pretty little baby, I have raised you like a woman… when you see the crocodiles you will come to your mother and we will laugh at them.”
It landed on the kitchen table next to the watermelon. Like a Sunday newspaper on Thursday. Set aside for recycling. Or an abandoned spoon after dessert. It sat there foreign but familiar. Like an African American in America.
The carousel sang loudly. Drowned out the relief of parental duties. Playful screams resonated the atmosphere. Cotton candy decorated white faces pink and blue. Mustard stains on white t-shirts. Scraped knees caused by unattended shoelaces. The day was glee and the night carefree, as flying gravel spun under running feet.
Her bladder was full of miles like her mother’s. She watered the ground with chocolate auburn. The spices enticed the clouds to cry and capture the streets. She met him where the sun sat in the fire pit. He kissed her hand to summons a feather so she wouldn’t doubt his words. His eyes were complete like the turn of an owl’s head. The preacher announced their commitment where roads met corners with mirrors. He hung their picture in a birdcage to catch time. He told them not to be afraid.
The first season spread the hours like a bridge. He supplied water to dry, fallen branches daily. Believers of the unseen. She carried unicorns in her pockets. They wore audacious yellows and greens in a black and white world. Demanded freedom like 8 a.m. school bells. Unbalanced as thick as unjust. At night she placed sweet onions on his eyelids. He remained rooted. His tongue poignant from the aroma.
Dog’s were death’s best friend. Hydrants absent from fires. Hoses present at protests. Tilted buses full of spiritual songs. Northern boys with fresh fists. Southern boys with patched will. Northern girls with golden intuition. Southern girls with ancient maps. Laughter extinct. Spit like rain. Freedom rides. Spirits flew. Red summer. Blue years. Freedom wide. Hatred tall. Black bodies hung/ burned/ mutilated. Daylight tardy.
Soprano saxophone accompanied her screams. Vibrato in her hands. His head in her lap. His eyes meeting her’s was the prize. “Sit me up, turn me loose.” Abandoned from forever. She sat him up. Erect as pillars. Baroque rocked. Down. She sipped tea in China.
Scores for his name. His verses rhymed her forward. Her passion sweet as fruit. Seasoned. Made days wet cement. For imprints. Slops. Hills. Concrete with purpose. His remembrances sleep at our feet.
a prose from the book,
the idea the African saw through the cracked wood of
the Henrietta Marie
the seed of the new woman
the ecstasy in the fire
the gospel after poetry venues
praised on sidewalks and parking lots
you are now a prophet amongst preachers
burdened with the beauty of the entire rose
pick the thorns or keep them
just stay in tact / you came prickly and prissy
with a rampant river under your feet
your commitment will be constantly tested
through people using revolution to work our personal
they’ll say you don’t fit the role / don’t look natural / ain’t ready to fight
you’re not committed to the destruction of the system
and they’re right
because you are a Creator / never forget that
You are a Creator
and you destroy the idea of death in order to live.
from the book, “Pocket Honey Wind & Hips”
Sex education for me and many young black girls in the 1980s consisted of shallow, scary, guilt-laden directives on what to and (especially) not to do. From the women in my family I learned, 1. Keep your skirt down and your panties up. 2. Good girls don’t… (do anything related to sex with men, definitely not with women, and especially not with yourself). 3. All men want is sex. The only thing my father ever said regarding sex was, “Ain’t no abortions in this house”. From school I learned that if I insisted on being a wild, unruly, teenager and having sex, absolutely use condoms because unprotected sex causes pregnancy and nasty diseases that itch, burn, stink and cause sores. Finally, from the church I learned that my body is solely for my husband’s pleasure when making babies and premarital sex will certainly send me straight to hell.
To say old school sex education was less than comprehensive is an understatement. Additionally, girls’ education was drastically different from, and often in direct opposition to, boys’. While girls were taught to guard and value virginity at all costs, boys were often encouraged prove their prowess by having sex with multiple girls and women before, during and after marriage. Girls were given chastisements for chastity. Boys were given condoms and told, “Just don’t bring home no babies”.
In addition to being inaccurate and contradictory, these lessons lacked information on anatomy (female and male), autonomy, consent, sexual assault (particularly by acquaintances and family), the reproductive process, and pleasure. How do you talk about sex and not talk about pleasure?
Not only was the teaching incomplete, it was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually dangerous, proving detrimental to girls’ development into holistically sound women. Hence, the staggering number of sexual assault survivors who have come forward during the rise of #MeToo is not surprising given society’s, especially women’s, poor sex education. Sadder still is that as bad as the sex education of the 1980’s was, for previous generations it was worse. Basically, our parents didn’t teach us better because they didn’t know any better.
But better knowledge is widely available now. And those who know better must do better and teach others so they can do better as well. We must uproot the culture of sexual guilt, shame, oppression, repression, silence, toxic masculinity and rape that has grown from the seeds of miseducation and flourished under sexist and patriarchal reign and rain. Simultaneously, we must sow new seeds of equality, respect, honesty, trust and communication to cultivate a new society free from sexual violence.
In teaching we must continue learning, to avoid inadvertently imparting obsolete and therefore erroneous information to those trying to learn. Education, like sexuality, is fluid: it can change over time. We must be prepared to adapt. And now that we know what we must do, let’s begin. The bell is ringing. School is back in session.
More information on the author can be found at: pviljoen.wordpress.com