BLACK in CUBA

I Went To A Hip-Hop Party In Cuba. What I Learned About Race Was Eye-Opening

By Fire Angelou

I could feel the music knocking the dust off the steps. Dana led us up three stories of narrow and dark staircases to his house that was about thirty minutes from Havana. His blue and white shrine for Yoruba orisha and the creator of human bodies, Obatala, was neatly organized beside an antique bookshelf. His mother, a dark-brown Cuban woman, smiles the way mothers smile when there are too many people in the house, but she loves her son too much to tell his friends to leave. The rooftop welcomes seven girls from Baltimore with warm Havana air and the fresh oxygen of ten potted plants on the floor. Alan has a DJ stand draped in the tri-colored Cuban flag and is bending over to scratch American Hip Hop tracks. “Step into our world,” sweetly sings a woman through the speakers before the beat drops and KRS One enters. The three Cuban men lean against the wall and nod their heads.

“Do you understand what he is saying?” I ask Dana later in Spanish as KRS One enters the second verse in “Sound of Da Police.”

“Si y no,” he says. He places his hand over his heart and says, “I feel.”

America feels so far, and so near.

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The view from the rooftop at the hip hop party.

Before long, drinks fill our hands and music fills our bodies. English and Spanish are mixed in conversations like black beans and white rice. More people arrive and lighthearted conversations warm up into political conversations.

“I love how Black Americans are,” a young Cuban man says to me. “You guys seem to be really united.”

“United? Why do you think that?”

“Well, the movements you have there together.” He cites The Civil Rights Movement, Black Lives Matter and mentions Malcolm X.

“Well, there are various trains of thoughts for Black people. Our identity in America is complicated. Cubans seem to have singular identity. They identify with Cuba. I barely want to say I am American.”

“Yeah, we are Cuban. But, we are Black.”

“When I talked to people in Havana, they say that racism doesn’t exist in Cuba,”

“Were they light-skinned?”

“Yes.”

“That’s why.”

Silence smooths over us. He has skin of smoky quartz and a nappy fro. We talk for a while and I give him a copy of my bilingual book. He smiles and his cheeks deepen with dimples. I smile back. There is no joy like seeing a Black man smile.

Later in the night, I meet a man named “Ghetto Planet.” He has brown eyes, a fade with a rat tail, and speaks four languages. He presses his hand against my shoulder and looks me directly in my eyes as he says, “I’ve traveled some as an artist, but that is hard for most Cubans,” I nod. “Not unless you’re a part of the agency.”

“What agency?”

“The Cuban Rap Agency. The government will take the most political artists and offer them exposure and ways to travel. The Black people speaking out. They’ll pay them and eventually their message changes.”

“What? There are hip-hop artists owned by the country?”

Mira, mira (look, look)… hip-hop is powerful. Especially how it exists in Cuba. It benefits the government if they control it. They can control the minds of the people.”

I look at him with wide eyes as Rakim booms through the speakers.

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Ghetto Planet performing at the hip hop party.

Cuban people have pride. They celebrate their rich culture of revolution, fresh fruit and seasoned cuisines, soul-touching dances from rumba to salsa, and the deep influence of Yoruba cultural traditions. African heritage is seen in the constant playing of the bata drums and Santeria houses where orishas derived from Nigeria, Africa, have been synchronized with Catholic Saints. To be Black in Cuba is to have African heritage celebrated, but not always have Blackness celebrated.

Often, being Black in Cuba can be totally erased from a national identity. One day, during my 2-week stay in Cuba, we had a driver take us from Havana to the countryside of Matanzas located on the northern shore of the island. The driver played smooth jams on the hour long ride. He turned the music down when we started to talk about race.

“Racism doesn’t exist in Cuba,” the driver stately plainly.

I look at him. He is a light-skinned Cuban man. His hair, cut to the center, is thin, straight and greasy.

“That’s not what I heard.,”

Mira!” He exclaims, lowering his black sunglasses. “From who?”

“Cubans.”

“We are all Cuban. There is no difference.”

“How come there are no dark-skinned Cubans that own cabs?”

“You think I’m rich?”

“No, I know that driving a cab is one of the highest paid professions in Cuba and that barely any Black Cubans own a cab.”

He denies that racism exists for the next twenty minutes. He reminds me of a lot of White Americans. When we arrive at a rest stop, he asks his driving partner that is driving the rest of my group, if he thinks racism exists in Cuba. The other driver laughs and says no. My driver appears slightly reassured, but his eyes still have a gleaming curiosity.

“Many people will outright deny that racism exists in Cuba,” says University of Havana scholar, Esteban Morales Domínguez, during his lecture with our group one day in June. “For some people in Cuba, race doesn’t exist unless it does.” he continues. His book “Race in Cuba” is one of the first scholarly works that addresses the issue. While the revolution is highly revered in Cuba through a plethora of murals, Dominguez states in his book, “if you don’t deal with “skin color” as what it is, a historical value of social differentiation among Cubans, you could forget that blacks, whites and mestizos did not start from the same place in taking advantage of the opportunities that the revolution provided.”

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A sign in Havana, Cuba.

For Black Americans, the Cuban national pride is often jarring, to find people in the world sincerely delighted in their land. “No, Cuba is not perfect,” many Cubans will say, but their criticism never stops them from claiming Cuba. “American” never rolled off my tongue even though it came through my language, clothes, and actions. I never exchanged tales of love for my national identity. I could never say, “I am American” without a “but”. I always talked about America as a domestic partner that I was too abused by to leave or fully love.

In the tourism industry, the most visible faces are light-skinned people. Also, in the tourism industry, only CUC is used. Currently, Cuba has a double currency system, CUC and CUP. As one Cuban said, “CUC is the real money.” He grabs a CUP (peso) out of his pocket and hands it to me. It is flimsy and reminds me of money in board games. “CUP is shit.”

The tourism game is the come up. I’ve seen European tourists give 20 CUC for a fly-by sketch that equates to about 480 CUP. ($1 = 1 CUC = 24 CUP) Some people in Cuba only make 15 CUC a month. I met an acclaimed professor at a university that made 30 CUC per month. The confused Americans that equate CUC to American dollars can think a meal for 10 CUC is not expensive, but a Cuban monthly salary is on their dinner table. Black Cubans are seemingly left out of the tourism and transportation industry where most economical advancement lies.

The day I brought my two Cuban friends to my hostel, they said that no Cubans were allowed. The night before, an Italian tourist stumbled in with a light-skinned Cuban woman for an affair and no one seemed to notice their creeks up to his bedroom. My friends were two dark-skinned men. I tried to reason with the hostel staff, a young Cuban man, in all the languages I knew. He did not break. Dana and Alan left the hostel after a short tense conversation with the hostel staff.

“Hey, I’m sorry about that,” I say approaching them as they sit on against the wall on San Lazaro Street in Havana. “I didn’t know they had that policy.”

“Si,” Dana snuffs. “It’s because we Black.”

I look at him. Skin like brown sugar, hair curled into spiraled locks, and a tattoo of Africa tattooed in black-ink across his chest. His mouth full of another colonizer’s tongue. His green, orange and yellow dashiki wet with his Saturday Havana sweat. He puts on his dark sunglasses and cooly says, “Let’s walk.”

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Ghetto Planet, Alan and Dana at dinner.

We walk to a popular strip, The Malecon, and the five- mile seawall is packed and everyone has their phones out for the wifi-zone. The saltwater shores hit the rocks and then our noses.

I say to Dana, “Thanks for having that party at your house the other night. I had a great time.”

“Thank you for coming and performing,” he smiles.

I flashback to when I performed a spoken-word poem after a few performances from popular Cuban hip hop artists at the party.

“We may not be in the same place, but we are from the same place,” I say after my poem. “Black people, I love you –”

“We love you too!” the group yells back. The energy is raw, ancestral, and vibrating. Tears nearly fill my eyes.

“We may not speak the same language, but I understand you. We have survived and we continue to survive. Stay strong and Black, always.”

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Our last night on the Malecón.

“Mira?” Dana says, noticing my day dreaming. “You ready?”

At that moment, I feel like I remember it all. All the ways we were taken away from our homelands, forced into new lands and languages, but not into new bodies. And, no, for some of us, we don’t want lighter-skinned bodies with straight hair. We want our bodies: thick hair, big lips and wide noses. We want to be Black, and Cuban or American, no matter where we are in the world. We want to remember.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” I say, logging out of my wifi and grabbing my purse.

“Vamos!”

Dana walks ahead of me. Perhaps, I could walk faster and get in front of him, but there is something about the Assata Shakur quote on the back of his shirt that makes me want to cry, smile, dance, and rebel. Maybe they are all one in the same. Maybe being Black is not just about skin, but about the choice to be aware of who we truly are.

As we cross the street, Alan plays a hip-hop song on his phone and it wakes me up inside. We walk through Havana like our Black skin is so strong it could slice the city in half. We walk past the cops and in English, I say mildly above a whisper, “fuck the police.”

Dana looks at me, knowing.

“You understand what I said?”

He chuckles a bit. “Yeah, for Black people, fuck the police is a universal sentiment.”

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Fire Angelou (b. 1993) is a Black American writer and spoken word artist from Baltimore, MD. She is a columnist at international web magazine, AFROPUNK. Through her fearless and widely personal narratives, she explores race, gender, class, and the survival of the African Diaspora. She has performed from southern California to New York City, across the mid-west and internationally in Cuba. She has competed in multiple international poetry slam competitions and uses writing to tell herself, and the world, the truth. She likes her plantains dark and sweet

BLACK in MOROCCO

For the Soul

after fat girl by caira lee

By Bird Jackson

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Two weeks into Africa

Waist-deep in slender, slanted Arabic

Fat girl misses comfort food.

Summ Southern you know?

 

That three cheese macaroni

does not call once to check in, despite its promises.

Sweet cornbread and cooked collards

are not here for her to wrap her tongue round.

Thought she was running to summ–

running to the beginning, but

even sitting in the crown on Big Mama fivehead,

Fat Gurl still can’t seem to taste

home.

 

Is craving the thick clever fingers

of dark glazed baby back ribs

the sound of kitchen knife through watermelon

haunts her belly button

and Fat Gurl’s host family be throwing home girl bowls

of pretty new names and mind blowing flavors, but

Fat Gurl greedy

Fat Girl want hush puppies

want arroz con pollo y maduros

want all the juices runnin down both her chins

Fat Girl

misses chicken and waffles, BUTTERED to core

sweetened with rivers of syrup,

dark gold and filling and warm

Baked sweet potatoes w/ w/ w/

BUTTER… brown sugah-sprinked–

Fat Girl reaches brown sugar fingers for

any trace of home wherever she can.

But here, she is not allowed to suck them clean.

She remembers chop cheeses at the bodega

pork chops heaped with hot sauce,

curried chicken over fluffy white rice

Sweet Tea

hitting every nerve ending before finally hitting

the spot.

Double (triple) chocolate brownies,

two scoops of vanilla stacked one on top of the other, sinking sweet and lazily into that dark bread….

Fat Girl is drooling now.

Day dreamin bout comfort

Counts the daze till she can wrap herself up in the wings of a southern fried chicken

Bird Jackson is a twenty year old poet originating from Newark, New Jersey. She spent a year slamming for the College of Wooster on KnowEye Slam, and went on to create Ra Poetry Collective. She is currently studying migration and Arabic in Morocco, researching and working with slam teams in Rabat to explore the use of poetry slam as a mode of expression across the diaspora.

BLACK in GHANA / UK / USA

Straddling

By Yvette Tetteh

I returned to Ghana recently, after almost twenty years living abroad.

And, since being back, I have been unequivocally informed that I am not Ghanaian. I am, instead, Senegalese, Ivorian, East African (mostly Kenyan), Jamaican (!), and sometimes even American.

A security guard at my office explained, almost breathless in his conviction, that with my hairstyle (a vaguely daring part shave), and my accent (British), there was simply no way I could be Ghanaian.

After sifting through a series of possible responses to this I decided on, “I’m not going to argue with you” and walked away – vaguely wishing I’d come up with a sharper, wittier response. Alas.

The moment stayed with me, though, and got me thinking again about categories. As someone who has straddled categories since birth (‘British-born Ghanaian’,) it’s an inevitable line of thought I suppose.

Straddling categories, I was reminded, is disconcerting.

Partly because it means people I meet (often barely removed from being total strangers) want to insist on a single category for me. Or, at least, on the category I don’t get to be in. At other times I think it’s because it’s hard to tell whether I’m neatly bridging two categories – or whether I’m actually just dangling off the edge of one category, perilously close to free-fall into another.  Still, it can be curious. Sometimes even amusing. It is always unsettling.

And because of that, when I was younger and didn’t know what else to do, I tried at first to un-straddle.

At age 12, having already spent eight years living in mostly white middle class neighbourhoods in South Africa, I embarked on what was to be a six-year long journey through the heart of white, upper-middle class elitism – the British boarding school.  So instead of un-straddling and becoming Ghanaian (or maybe ‘Black’), I became ‘British.’

Needless to say becoming British, which in my privileged world really meant becoming white, did not work. I just didn’t have the money, or the hair, or the lack of melanin.  Especially the melanin! Sunscreen became my eternal foe. And, by extension, sunny summer days and track meets.

“Do you want some, Yvette?” one of my milky-skinned friends would ask me, as we stood waiting to be called to race.

I’d look over to the half outstretched arm, follow it to the inquiring face, and note (always) the squiggle of a pitch in their voice. It betrayed their attempts at casually posing this inevitable and inevitably awkward question.

Did I want some sunscreen? Yeah! Did I want to partake in the communal defiance of the sun and its wicked skin-burning rays?  Oh, absolutely! Did I, at age 15, just want to fit in by blithely smearing thick white cream on my body? Yes, I tell you! Yes. But did I, all darkly rich UV-absorbing skin, need sunscreen in temperate England? No.

But occasionally (I admit it!) I would accept the sunscreen. “Hahah! Yvette you look so funny! You have purple skin!” No fewer than fifteen minutes of statements to the obvious, and painfully unfunny comments.

Age 18, and I packed up my failed attempts at British whiteness, and all my awkward memories, and shipped off to Stanford University. If I couldn’t un-straddle into British-ness, well, I could still find something else. In the land of Dreams and Opportunity, I could surely find new experiences — and a new me!

And if I was looking for a New Me of the single category sort, America was precisely where I needed to be. For America continues to be the land that simplifies your African origins and makes you Black.

But becoming Black, as determined as it may have been, was still sort of awkward.

Like the time I had to dance front-and-centre of the university marching band with a handful of other black people…because we were black.

I wouldn’t precisely say I was given a choice; maneuvered as I was from my comfortable position in line by an African American band member. She bobbed her head and pursed her lips to the tune as she tugged on my arm. Bobbing my own head, and shaking my hips, I gathered – quickly – that this was the norm whenever band (mostly white) played this jive-style song. I felt weird.

Probably about as weird as when an African American boy, another Stanford student, told me that I wasn’t black enough. I’m definitely still confused about what he meant.

I think maybe he was talking about my behaviour? The way I didn’t hang out at the Black house, or have many friends in the Black community? But, man, so direct! And, why did he have to tell me post-hook up, and while we were watching 90s stand up on YouTube? So many questions! But mostly I remember wondering how he expected black people to be black?

These sorts of fumbling (questionable!) experiences of the New [Black] Me at Stanford were enough to deter me from most other forays into Stanford situated blackness. Hiding in my British-Black-Ghanaian niche, I could just about get away with this. Instead I cycled through as many different personalities, and interests, as I did classes, in my other attempts to reach the New Me.

I think I threw a few too many ingredients into the mix, though, even for the all-powerful American processor. Because freshman year, despite yielding fun things like a fresh new haircut, did not also yield the anticipated – single category – New Me.

Which is why sophomore year I began looking for myself on the other side of the straddle; actively, for the first time, entertaining the idea of being Ghanaian. I got a return on some of that exorbitant tuition money we have to pay (I got a grant) and spent the summer in Ghana making a documentary about religion and identity-making.

I mean, I was already Ghanaian right? On both sides of my family we’re full-blooded Ghanaian (whatever that means) all the way back. All-The-Way. And my mother never let me forget it; even during all those years I spent trying to un-straddle into Whiteness, “You’re African!” she’d yell at me.

Which never failed to infuriate me into a confused, tight-lipped silence. What did that even mean? I never responded. Who was this African girl she insisted on? How was she (the African girl) supposed to behave?

If other people had an idea of how she was meant to act or whom she was meant to be, I never did. And I wasn’t particularly interested in finding out.  I got tired of trying to be – and to prove – that I was one thing or another. So after years of futile engagement in battles for my identity, it was easier to put away my strategies and walk away from the war.

Until that sophomore summer. I can’t say precisely what I found of myself in that time in Ghana. But I suppose I found something; maybe the glorious internal calm I felt having tea with my grandmother, or the warmth of talking story with my favourite aunt and uncle.

Chances are it was also recognizing myself in Ghanaians: the same skin tones; the same range of features; the same way I sassily ask “who told you?” when I want to tell someone that they are wrong, or that I don’t believe them. This recognition has the curious effect of making me feel more conspicuously foreign everywhere else.

Whatever it was – and is – I might live here in Ghana now.

But this is not a heart-warming story about discovering my Ghanaian identity after years scrambling in the wilderness looking for myself. Let’s recall that I am, by popular Ghanaian opinion, not Ghanaian. I am reminded of this constantly, and not just by the security guard at my office.

Towards the end of a business meeting last week, one of the regional government officers my team had just presented to gave me a knowing look as he smiled and asked how long I’d lived in the Ivory Coast before coming to Ghana.

While I had been waiting for the meeting to be over so I could stop fighting the sleep-deprived ache in my eyes, the six executives in the office had been waiting to find out what kind of foreign I was. Within seconds (seconds!) of his question had sprung a highly engaged debate about my nationality, and my voice, and my hair.

I schooled my face and thought (rather than said), “You’re joking.” Except, expletive.

I was so stunned – and annoyed – at this debate, and at how disbelieving they were when I coolly explained I was (surprise!) Ghanaian, that I can’t quite remember what I said in the moment. But I must have asked why they thought I could be Ivorian because the original questioner answered, “You’re figure is not Ghanaian.”

Which would be hilarious, if it weren’t so infuriating.

Each time someone takes away an option for who I can be it gets more difficult to define myself. Which is hard when I’m still struggling to decide who I am even to myself.

I think we would all like a simple answer to the “who I am” question.

Little candy responses that we could pull out of our pocket; red boiled sweets that are nothing but sugar, and simple wrapping, and just waiting to be distributed. “Oh you want to know who I am? Sure! Here you go!”  How nice that would be!

But self-making is a treacherous activity. The world betrays our attempts to simplify ourselves, and we demand of the world our complexity.

So for all us British-Ghanaians, African-Americans, Introverted-Extroverts, Cynical-Optimists, Romantic-Cynicists, Trans and Gender-nonconforming people, and other category defying personalities out there, I think it’s going to be one step at a time on this identity thing. My hunch is that we’ll be learning and experiencing all that we are as we go along.

Which will be easier for some than for others.

For all we might demand the world respect who we are finding ourselves to be, the world may choose, mostly simply, to reject us.  Sometimes we’re shouting in a cavernous room.

Or maybe it’s that we’re the ones who are not ready to accept ourselves. For some people the immensity of trying to make our selves cohere is going to be too much, for a long time.

I think it’s going to be complicated for all of us. And I’m working to accept that.

If there’s anything I’ve learnt it’s that you can’t un-straddle.

Yvette Tetteh is (b.1992) is a British-born Ghanain artist and aspiring farmer. She holds a B.A in Cultural Anthropology and French from Stanford University (CA, USA). Her work is centered on the black body and the intersections of intimacy, reserve and performativity. Her astrological signs are: Cancer Sun, Aries Moon and Gemini in Ascendant. This sums her up perfectly.

Visual Art

We at Wusgood know that art is not reserved to what we find hanging on museum walls. We celebrate creative visual works that highlight the ingenuity of black people – objects and works that look good and reflect some aspect of urban culture.


Tira Heard, founder of Totally Twisted Wearable Art, captures this same enthusiasm. Her handmade jewelry not only looks good on us, but also focuses on healing and uplifting people through visual, wearable art.

 

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GET TWISTED WITH TOTALLY TWISTED WEARABLE ART

KIOSK TO OPEN IN LAS VEGAS NOVEMBER 1, 2016

Cleveland, OHIO, October 12, 2016 (eReleases) – For women who want to increase self-esteem while still embracing their individuality, TOTALLY TWISTED offers socially conscious wearable art, soon to be available in Las Vegas, Nevada. Each piece of art is uniquely hand crafted using copper wire, precious gemstones, fresh water pearls, crystals and or glass beads. These items currently are available online and most recently on the Marketplace in the Knot magazine. As of November 1, 2016, Totally Twisted will branch out to Las Vegas Nevada in a kiosk at Summerlin Mall.

 

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The copper used to make most art pieces, not only is aesthetic but also has healing properties. Copper may help to ease headaches, arthritis, joint pain, and zinc deficiency. The gemstones used also have many different healing properties depending on which gem is used. Totally Twisted ensures that each art piece is one of a kind.

 

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Totally Twisted was founded in 2011 by Tira Heard as a way to use her gifts of creativity and design. Heard fuses her love of fashion and her passion for women’s empowerment into her designs which are meant to allow women to “embrace their individuality”. This is what sets Totally Twisted apart from other lines of jewelry. Heard is a member of an international arts organization called RAW Artists and has participated in RAW Cleveland and RAW Miami. Totally Twisted designs have been featured and sold in various boutiques and galleries around the world.

 

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In addition to the new kiosk opening on Las Vegas on November 1, 2016, you can also purchase Totally Twisted pieces at www.TotallyTwisted.cool , on Facebook at Totally Twisted or https://www.theknot.com/marketplace/totally-twisted-cleveland-oh-994303

 

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Contact:Tira Heard
Totally Twisted

216-256-5598
tiraheard@gmail.com

www.TotallyTwisted.cool

Music – Essay

The Music section of Wusgood is to discuss all things musical, or life through a musical perspective


A Not-Review of an Album that Shouldn’t Be

By Amber Flame

Black Twitter has proven that the average Black person has access to a semi-professional recording studio, given the alacrity with which they respond with shade in song to any circumstance calling for it. And I, for one, am here for it. Do it. So when the girl I’m fucking tells me we need to hold off on kicking it because she was working on her album, I was 100% supportive. There wasn’t much we had in common besides music, particularly Prince, but we had fun fucking in cars and talking about concerts. I respected her focus on her art and listened supportively to her ideas.
Weekends passed, no booty. But I was going through my own shit and when I did see her, I was impressed to hear she was doing it all herself – the instrumentation and beats, recording and mixing, and all the vocals. I was… a little confused when she bragged about no hooks, saying, “I just say what I want to say, and that’s it.” But you know, I respected her giving up pussy for her art. Can’t say I’d have it in me.
And then the album dropped.
Look y’all. I know this is a music page. For reviews n’ shit. This is where I give you a couple of sentences about the hottest tracks, the ones that have potential. But this album was trash. 22 minutes I am never gonna get back. Each track, I had that squint of Black women everywhere when they trying to listen through something they already know is garbage. The face of patience ill spent:
And I wanted to make this a positive come-up for a local artist, an opportunity for people who would never heard of ________. I listened to the whole thing with the intention of finding the good. There are some good beats, some potential in working with people who… know how to write songs. But if you ignore the monotonous drone of semi-rap talk, if you don’t anticipate a hook to pull it all together – look, if you always wanted to know what someone thinks about with two blunts and a microphone, look her up. Or as she said:
If you lookin for a friend to eat dinner with/ Call me/ If you lookin for somebody to stunt on your ex on/ Call me/ If you lookin for a good time outside, girl, go on and just/ Call me/ I’m down for the night, but if you lookin for a main thing/ Don’t… call me
“Call me… Maybe” by Nerdoc
Fam, I ain’t been able to bring myself to call her since. That shit should have been fire. My pussy is offended, and I’m not going to be able to bring myself to fuck her ever again.
 An award-winning writer and performer, Amber Flame is also a singer for multiple musical projects. Flame’s original work has been published and recorded in many diverse arenas, including Def Jam Poetry, Winter Tangerine, The Dialogist, Split This Rock, Jack Straw, Black Heart Magazine, Sundress Publications, and Redivider, with her first full-length book, Ordinary Cruelty, to be published in spring of 2017. Flame works as The Hand for TWiB Media, LLC, is the slam master for the Oakland Slam and performs regularly on musical, burlesque and literary stages. Amber Flame is one magic trick away from growing her unicorn horn

kiki nicole | On Gender

I.

name a ghost.
call it Girl.
name a body
or,
name a weapon.
say pussy.

say it to her face.

now apologize for misgendering my pussy.

the moon & my pussy use they/them pronouns.

or u can call us bitch.
or u can call us nigga, i guess.
(the moon is black too)
the moon & i smile,
see, we smart.
we know most of u can’t call us that—
we on some trick shit,
wear lipstick
& orbit on beats 2 & 4

name a body.
call it a knife
say Girl,
right?

i call myself a boi & no one understands. i admit
i don’t quite follow my own damn self.
still i Fire
soft & sharp toothed boi.
i take Happy
& wear it around my waist.
i woo myself

i sing my pussy to anyone who will listen
but it sings back Blk

my blk body makes a home of my mouth.
we blk hole sun.
to have a body & not be able to pass
for anything other than blk & woman-
ish

you runnin yet?
don’t worry. It’s fine.
most people do.
it’s nothing we ain’t used to.

i ghost while still inside this body.

II.

In which my blk body goes blue//becomes something other than a body or
becomes Woman//
again//becomes recognizable & Easy to Understand
in which without a body                      I become a person

Jassmine Parks | the black girl never learns to fry

ode to black girls who were never seen as black enough

fry


 

Jassmine Parks is a two time nationally competing slam poet, the 2016 grand slam champion of Detroit’s Freshwater Wordsmiths and is currently the 2016 grand slam champion of Freshwater Wordsmiths Slam and is ranked 20th in the world for slam poetry.
Jassmine is also a skilled urban archaeologist, unearthing the buried. Her poems serve as museums, displaying the scarring and beauty of healing of herself as she navigates through this life as a black woman.

Ebony Stewart | This Poem Is About Joy

This Poem Is About Joy

 it’s not about water

remnants evaporation or sand

 

or thirst or dry

fruit or hinges or

 

being hung       today no

one died on the

 

street on the side

walk in the hands

 

of a police officer

or guard

 

today a little boy

is able to play

 

outside and be a

child with a full

imagination     

 

today the only time

he was asked to

 

put his hands up

was to show us

 

how he looks when

he pretends he’s flying

 

today a black woman

could smoke a cigarette

 

could laugh could do

whatever the fuck she

 

wanted to do with

her hair

 

no one called me

a nigger       today blatantly

 

or indirectly      today they

remembered my name      today

 

it sounded like joy

no matter who said

it

 

today being black was

not a reason to

 

die by its natural

causes

 

what I mean is,

no one tried to

 

kill me today      no

one black or dark

 

skin or the wrong

shade died

today

 

today the only time

we came inside was

 

to gather and tell

stories      remember

 

when everyday was a

funeral a sad song

 

and a eulogy      oh

but today

 

the only time we

cried was when we

 

rejoiced      the only

hashtag we used today

was #joy      today the

handkerchiefs only wanted

 

to feel the faces

of the ones who

 

cried with joy

 

This poem is about joy.

 

it’s not about fear

or anger or sadness

 

them emotions come to

us too easy this

 

poem is not about

glass or porcelain or

 

fragile things or being

weak or tired or

 

broken or how many

times or how long

 

we gotta work for

it

 

This poem is about joy.

 

how long it stayed

how we remember it

in us

always


Ebony Stewart is a touring performance arts spoken word poet and active artist in the Central Texas slam poetry scene and theater arts community for over ten years. She has coached Austin Neo Soul and Austin Poetry Slam, finishing 1st and 5th at the National Poetry Slam and They Speak Youth Slam finishing 8th in the world at Brave New Voices. The only adult female three-time Slam Champion in Austin Texas has shared stages with many brilliant artists including the late Amiri Baraka. Featured in the “Texas Observer”, “For Harriet” and “The Agenda: working for LGBT economic equality”, Ebony has published The Queen’s Glory & The Pussy’s Box and Love Letters To Balled Fists. In 2015, Ebony Stewart debuted her first one woman show, “Hunger” at The VORTEX Theatre, which was nominated for a B. Iden Payne award for Outstanding Original Script and won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. The former Sexual Health Educator with the resting bitch face sometimes known as The Gully Princess, writes because she has to and eats cupcakes for fun. #storyoftheblackgirlwinning

Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah | fade.

my          barber              started             cutting             when               everyone

was          copping   my           cut.          top      high

sides        faded       to            ether.      got      to

the           point       you          weren’t             cool         if

you      weren’t    rocking         it .          you          weren’t

no            barber               talking              bout        how         you

really            didn’t                really                 know               how to

cut           it .           cut      it .           I          grew

up      in             the           age          of        caesars .

afros       mowed             to        make       way         for

the      prosperity   gospel     respectability   politics   promised to  

prosper . now        I              massage   coconut

oil      into                                               my      scalp

feels                                                                               heavenly .


Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah is a Ghanaian-American poet living out the diaspora in Boston, Massachusetts. He is both Black & alive. Emmanuel serves as an associate editor for Pizza Pi Press and as the reviews editor for Winter Tangerine. The former director of curriculum for Boston Pulse, a youth-empowerment organization focused on promoting positive change for young folk and their communities through spoken word, Emmanuel currently teaches High School aged youth as the Walltalk Teaching Artist at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Emmanuel’s work can be found in places such as the Hartford CourantNarrative Northeast, and Bird’s Thumb. Whenever possible, he enjoys hot carbs, brightly colored chapbooks, and the long sigh at the end of a good book.

Yo Daddy n ‘nem – The Privilege of Presence

The “Yo Daddy n ‘nem” call for “The Privilege of Presence” is a call to address the existence and/or absence of a father figure in the life of Black writers.  Wusgood is excited to publish these stories for the development of community, dialogue, self care, and love.


Follow Suit

Princess McDowell

I’m standing in a mirror at a pop-up shop for Saint Harridan

crying because the suit jacket fits without tailoring. it smooths

into a snug neckline and cuffs my tiny wrist. my mother’s laugh

lifts the clouds and she opens her arms so I can heal in two

off-the-rack pieces. and I am no longer girl or weird or too

small for my father’s Sunday suits I could never wear because

only men wear pants in black Southern Baptist sanctuaries

and he has no son yet to feel all the blazer fabrics at Men’s

Wearhouse. just this daughter fingering the inch of new growth

under a black beanie who can’t tell him she died but still

goes by the name he gave but does not know the meaning of.

can’t say that I still wanna be like my daddy.

even now that I know what that means.

even now that I know he won’t understand what that means.

my mother doesn’t know but still stands behind me

to take pictures of my rebirths with a laugh and a smile and

under mine, I decide that when my father dies I will reclaim

the love I deserve and wear a matching suit in his honor

to say this is the way I want to be my father’s boi.

Princess McDowell is a poet, writer and journalist from Dallas, Texas. a black bipolar queer lesbian boi with a girly name who prefers purple over pink.
she’s a dapper book nerd introvert who uses multiple writing forms to process pain, trauma and legacy. she began writing her own journey in social commentary and poems, releasing her first album of poetry entitled Not A Storybook <3. She also self-published two chapbooks, faith move muscle and black boi: a bio.
she’s an active member of the national poetry community, competing and volunteering at Women of the World Poetry Slam, and co-facilitating the youth poetry organization Dallas Youth Poets. in 2016, she was selected as a Pink Door literary fellow. she tours regularly and publishes work online with Rebellious Magazine for Women, a feminist magazine out of Chicago, and other outlets such as Autostraddle, shades magazine, Black Girl Nerds. she’s currently writing her first novel, a young adult science fiction story birthed from a picture she found on tumblr.

At City Slickers

Breauna L. Roach

These men strolling out of store

over steaming downtown sewers

smog illuminating them like spotlights

Looks don’t make the man

My mother tells me. But I have

known my father to stride

those same curbs before. He and I would enter,

noses frozen stiff and my hands hidden

in his full length wool pea-coat pockets.

His hands gripped by tight leather gloves each

finger in a separate tomb of wonder. I would try

to fit them. But being 7 and a girl would not allow

me to do as my father did so I did the best I could

to imitate him. I was his only girl. Each year

he would let me pick his winter hat,

find the feather that matched the

sparkle in his voice. I would marvel at

the majesty of his felt, leather, suede

Fedora, water and weather proof, he was invincible, like

Osiris, and I, ever faithful and amazed.

Fix this here feather to the left side so my

girl can see if it matches he would tell Henry the Hatter.

We were an ethereal pair as he escorted me to the car with

his new handkerchief and feather, synchronized

colors in paternal harmony as were we.   I still can’t fit my father’s gloves

but he continues to dress up for me each Christmas when I come

home to visit. He still holds my hand when we

cross the open exhaling mouths in downtown streets.

Hands ever smooth now, weary worn suede palms

never callous at the bitter breeze

sometimes life blows. But my daddy always showed me

how to cup my hands to my lips

and bite the frost back.

My name is Breauna L. Roach, I am a poet born and raised in Detroit, MI. I am the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers Association’s Poetry Prize, and my work has appeared in Callaloo, Vinyl, Little Patuxent Review and various other publications. I am a proud Alumna of Florida A&M University,and has received fellowships from Callaloo and Cave Canem. I am currently a Graduate Writing Instructor and MFA candidate at Emerson College.

4 Haiku’s on Being a Parent

Joseph Harris

*

my one year old’s laugh

sits in her soul

waiting to brighten, the dark days

**

when your daughter asks

“Where’s heaven?”

just point to a picture of mommy

***

first game of hide and seek

my son chases his shadow

into the shade

****

grabs my shoes

tries to wear them

already following in my footsteps

Joseph Harris has been writing & performing poetry for over 10 years. Ann Arbor was his first poetry venue and from there he has spread his particular type of logic far and wide. He has been published in MingleWood, Off the Mic, A2 Brute’and Anthrax is Safer than Poetry. He was on the Ann Arbor Slam Team from 2003-2007. He was the Rustbelt Individual Slam champion in 2005, He was the National Head to Head Haiku Deathmatch Champion in 2006. In 2007 He founded the Spitfire Poetry Slam in East Lansing, Mi. In 2008 he was part of Scott Woods national 24 hour poetry reading. In 2010 he hosted the Midwest regional Rustbelt Poetry Slam. He is currently a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Teacher Education Department at Michigan State University where he teaches among other subjects “Reading, Writing & Teaching Poetry”.
Last but not least he is the father to 3 wonderful children and was husband to a beautiful wife all of whom provide him with endless inspiration… whether they like it or not.

How we ate

Ashley Harris

Great Great Great Grandpa

cut out his master’s

tongue and used it as a spoon

to cook up words so he wouldn’t starve

to silence.


Then he fed it to all of us

and we learned the language

with a dash of grandpa’s seasoning

so we would blend in 

perfectly like salt in hot sweat

but never forget where

we came from.


No Exceptions

Ashlee Haze

and again

the universe balances its scales

as if to say

Silly little girl

fathers are for other people

did you think that you could have a daddy

who is present and loves you

for more than a spell?

Awws honey, that’s sweet

but don’t you know I just can’t allow it?

It would be too much

and all the other kids would get jealous

you know that just won’t do

Ashlee Haze is one of Atlanta’s premier word artists. Earning the nickname “Big 30″ because of her consistency in getting a perfect score, she is one of the most auspicious poets in the sport of slam. She is a 5-time member of Java Monkey Slam Team and the current Slam Mistress. She appears in “3-Minute Activists: The Soul of Slam” a feature-length documentary that examines the lives and work of some of Atlanta’s Spoken Word Artists.

The Seed Examines an Excerpt from Fatherless Boy’s Backwards Bible

(-Chapter 1: 32-1)

Mathias

32 Weeks before he’d expel Himself from the garden my progenitor highlights the gospel of Matthew, 31    and teaches what first I know of God and there is always a torture stake involved looming high enough to touch the sun if you’re a child standing at just the right vantage underneath. 30 forsaken, without a genealogy sufficient to render any dream a foretelling.

29  Just a boy whose body is the perfect kindling for a sacrificing pit out back  28   in a barren yard that’s never had a ball tossed in or whose name is already washed clean of the legacy that never sends for him. 27  It’s either irony or purpose defeating itself

26  I am the second descendant of a distant patriarch with a blue cord on the fringed edges of  a Sunday only suit that belongs to shoulders that rumor has it,  I’ll grow into.

25  All I need is a holy name inscribed on my forehead. 24   If I could glean the father given in overflow to the rest of the congregation, 23  I would make of my flesh a tithe to compliment my blood sweat dry heaving prayer.

22   Instead all I am shown is a column of foreshadowing sermon and a cup

21  carved into the stone table next to my family’s proudest king James that won’t be removed.

20  It’s here .

19 That I’m Breaking my legs over a tree trunk reaching for a parable that might make my Dad burning bush, 18  or 17  voice on high passing down stone words I would break.  16  Or welcome me into His love without a scripture to comprehend at all.

15  But really neither. Renounce me of every parent I’ve been denied while this water spills in the place blood should have been. 14 A prophecy finally comes loose from cool tide of a the baptizing. 13 Somethings descending from the rafters of the only house I know would have me. It’s either a dove, Or a baseball that he’s never shown me how to catch  12  A voice I imagine, a face, magnificent in fire and earthquake and unfamiliar as the lineage I belong to  11  How could He disappear Himself right before armageddon?

10  Big mama told me about the point at the conclusion of the word where the world is on fire  9  The great dragon hurled down  8  His father cutting away that which started from Himself  7 I’m returning to the dust and being cast to the vicinity not sure which seed I am

6  If read backwards the Bible is the reassurance of every fatherless boy.

5  The world saved by the son coming to life

4 A mob retracting curses to their tongues,

3 a preceptor acknowledges his apostle three times, 2 a child unorphaned by heaven where home welcomes a prodigal father that would either take back all he’s created  Or say it was good. 1  And stay

Mathias has been on both teams that he’s slammed for with The Writers Block slam team in 2015 and The Writing Wrongs slam team in 2016. In addition to poetry Mathias has Hosted several events including “Italian Food and poetry Night” an annual event he co-created in Columbus Oh since 2013, “The Writer’s Block” poetry night twice, and serves as the official reserve MC for the Ness Open Mic Experience.  He is currently doing work with The Harmony Project as the sole poet on a full stage performance alongside the Columbus Arts Choir which will be housed at both the Lincoln Theater as well the Ohio theater.  
Faith and preservation of identity play a large role in Mathias’s work. He’s the middle child of a single parent household that was always the awkward nerd of the group. These concepts are weaved into his pieces and play a large part in his stage identity as well. The most import things to his art are God and family and how each play a pivotal role in keep the person grounded.

Essay on Black Fatherhood


My father’s name. His father’s name. My name.

An Essay by Grover D. Easterling

          Pops made sure I understood that everything I do represents more than just who I am, but the name that I carry.  That our last name isn’t a scar left from slavery but our own because a few generations back our ancestors had refused to keep a slave name.  That even though my middle name is the solitary letter “D”, it still stood for something because of the whole that it fits into.  That my whole name is a legacy to live by.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that things Pops had taught me throughout my life were exactly what led me to be as unapologetically Black as I am.  I understood that Blackness is part of who I am.  So before I was old enough to even question why Pops was Black and Moms was white, I knew that I was Black.  So when I moved to a racially diverse Air Force base in Okinawa, Japan, I understood that I was still Black. When I moved to the whitest place I know to exist at 10 years old, I was prepared in some ways that taught me to survive with dignity.

         In 1997, my family moved from Florida to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.  I’m not sure what the racial makeup of the base was, but from what I remember it was quite diverse.  I remember starting my school career in classrooms where I couldn’t tell you what race was the most prevalent.  I started kindergarten thinking this was how the world looked, that everyone was different – but that’s just how things were.  It wasn’t until it was time for Black History month projects that I realized that those differences can define how we navigate life.

         Pops is Black. Moms is white.  I’m not quite sure when I started thinking critically on this but what I am sure of is that Pops taught me the one drop rule before I was old enough for middle school.  One drop of Nigga blood and you’s a Nigga.  This wasn’t my father trying to disparage me or anyone else by using that word to make his point, but an acknowledgement of how white society views, positions, and attacks Black people in this country. My father taught me to never question my Blackness.

“One drop of Nigga blood and you’s a Nigga.”

         He also made it clear that he was with Moms because he loved her, not because of any disdain toward Black Women.  I’ve never once heard him speak down on Black Women or glorify white Women. My Mom is willing to listen and learn when it comes to the things that the Black people in our family go through and I’ve always appreciated that. Neither of my parents ever pushed the narrative we see in the media so often that mixed race families are somehow better.

         In 2004 my family moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Wyoming, a state with the lowest population in the whole country, yet somehow still with a less than 1% Black population. It was there that I learned how much of my life was shaped by being Black and it was my father who guided me through it. I got called a Nigger for the first time that I remember in 5th grade. It was by who I thought was my best friend. Pops sat me down and told me that I don’t have to accept folks attacking me for being Black. He let me know that there will be times that I’d find out that some non-Black people aren’t really my friends, no matter how tight I think we are. He also let me know that it might not have been the best idea to knock the white boy to the ground and start kicking him, but that he understood.

          By the time I was in 7th grade, I was constantly under attack by white kids in the schools I went to.  A niggerlipped, nappyheaded, enigma  to most of those white kids, I struggled to find friends and those that I thought were my friends were often replicas of the white friend from 5th grade.  My friendship to them was a free ongoing show of “What’s the Nigger gon do next?” and whenever I realized that that was the situation, I’d remove myself quickly.

I was put in a position where I had to choose between my dignity and regular human interaction.

         I could have friends if I was passive while my status as a human was being questioned. The world around me told me that I should be ashamed of being Black. Only thing that stopped me from feeling that shame was the pride Pops had instilled in me. I trusted in my father more than I trusted in what everyone around me was telling me, so I started doing research. I spent more time reading about revolution than I did spending time with those kids.

         That year was the same year that I started walking home from school, which is to say the same year I found myself being stopped by police. On any occasion, while walking the half-mile to middle school, rife with white verbal drivebys, a 12 year old Grover could be stopped by 12. It actually didn’t surprise me the first time. I had been called enough Niggers walking home that it wasn’t hard to believe a police would pull over and remind me that I am one. Some incidents were just a quick reminder. In other incidents, officers made sure they were thorough in exhibiting their power over me.

         Incidents with police prompted conversations about surviving with dignity that went deeper than the conversations we had before. We spoke on being true to ourselves while navigating antiBlackness. How I can read about the Black Panthers  all I want, but when a police officer starts harassing me, I have to know how to survive the encounter so I can grow old enough to make changes I want to. Speaking concisely and calmly without acting as if the officer is doing me a favor by letting me keep my life. I always kept this in mind and even though I’ve been attacked by police twice, I have to wonder how bad things would have been if I hadn’t followed that advice in those situations.

         Living through the gauntlets of white supremacy, I realize now how the legacy my name holds is so connected to my Blackness. How Granddad had migrated from Arkansas to Michigan to work hard and eventually own his own business. That that business gave Pops work experience and a sense of ownership that many Black folk don’t get the chance to feel in their lifetimes. That Pops joined the military because of the opportunities and stability that he knew could come from it. Opportunities and stability that most Black folk don’t find in this society. That Pops endured military life just so that my brothers and I could have those opportunities.

That the sacrifices Pops and Granddad made were displays of Black resilience that I should never take for granted.

That my name holds all that Black sacrifice, Black resilience, and Black Love. That for the rest of my life I will live to honor that.

Grover D Easterling III is a poet and revolutionary currently living in Detroit, Michigan.