BLACK in EGYPT/CANADA

This Skin

by Mona Mousa

 

i spent years denying the Nile as home

years trying to wash the Egyptian out of my skin

trying to straighten the Nubian out of my tangled ancestry

leaving my forced Sudanese lineage

spread out like ash on these too hot sands

 

my mothers eyes said to me

let your skin be a demonstration

of the political statement that is our bloodline

when people ask me where i am from

i will say my mother

she is the first place i called home

 

i imagine she is what a wise woman once meant

when she said we have be raised to fear the yes in ourselves

Photo cred: Artist: Unknown. email clee@wusgood.black to contribute info

 

my mother brought life into a world she couldn’t understand

let two go before me

told me when i was barely old enough to understand

to never let them silence me

she said to see veins in my hand when write

is proof that our stories reside in my blood

 

she would always say that a miracle

is catching a breath after gunpoint

blessed are those who catch it

that she only prays my brother to be that lucky

 

i asked my mom if she prays for me too

and she says honey,

every day i meet god between fears and tears and the only prayers he answers

and the prayers about you.

 

I don’t have the heart to tell her

that my skin tone is a narrative i just cant understand

when i was younger i asked my mom if egyptian meant black

and all she said was baby girl

you are 2 shades of a sunrise

still when people would ask me where i am from

i learned to avoid the questions

that my skin was still an unanswered narrative

 

one day my mom said to me

you will wear the weight of your skin like armor

she told me that she was trying to find place for me to stretch my bones

to lengthen my smile and spread my hair

 

she wanted to remind me thought he world will try to dictate my worth

based on the black space that is my skin

she told me to never forget that my skin is the space in time where the Egyptian sun sleeps

and the moons tried to tell you its story

 

she said darling the Egyptian flag is black for strength, white for light and red to show you to see veins in your hand when you write is proof that this stories resides in your blood


Mona Mousa is a spoken word poet and motivational speaker living in Toronto Ontario.

Having toured actively her whole poetry career, this year alone Mona has booked over 200 shows all over North America.. When she is at home Mona is heavily active in all facets of her community having been the special events director of Winnipeg pride, and is the founder and director of Central Poetry, an organization that exists to help poets with the branding and marketing of their poetry careers as well as bringing the highest quality performance poets to Winnipeg Manitoba. Currently Mona is curating a festival for poets of colour called Meli-Nation, set to come to life in August of 2017.

BLACK in MONTREAL/GHANA

Alex – the Wonder/Gem of Ghana’s Art Scene

 

It’s too easy. Watch how Alex Wondergem lives up to his name by producing short films and music (below) that takes the veil off of Ghana’s rich culture and allows the rest of us to witness the beauty, grit, and promise that lives within the country.

–> Listen to Messages of Hope NOW <–

Messages of Hope (EP) is about finding truth, my reality. I found it through art. Each creation speaks and reveals a message that leads to the next chapter. In a way it’s a diary of my journey for the past four years. It’s a record of my mental, emotional and spiritual growth. Life is more than what we’ve been taught and this is my journey.

Love to the Most High!


 

A film by Alex Wondergem  & Adu Lalouschek

Warrior’s Gym is a 5-minute documentary that explores the daily life of Ghana’s strongest man and gym owner – Warrior. Warrior created the gym out of recycled local material and motivates the group of loyal bodybuilder’s that use it. We get a personal snapshot of an inspired man.


Interview W/Alex:

Q: What do you want the world to Know about Ghana’s Strongest Man / the gym / or simply Ghana, that wasn’t captured in the above film?

A: The documentary happened because my film pattern, Adu, and I were working out [at the gym] while we were shooting our documentary Scrap Metal Men (bellow). After building a relationship with Warrior, we decided to put a short documentary together. We just liked his vibe and what he had going on.

Q: Tell us how your EP Messages Of Hope 2012-16 came to be, from first inspirations to final touches.

A: Messages Of Hope 2012-16 was inspired by the people who enjoyed my music. It was something I did for fun and just to experiment. I would make music and overlay a narration of a video I had just watched. Gradually, over the years, I had a couple short music pieces that had a message. Reflecting over the tracks, they were messages of my then current state of consciousness. I decided to put them together and make a project out of it.

Q: What’s the next step for you and your artistry? Can we expect more inspirational content?

A: I’m not sure what the next step is but I’m always experimenting and creating within the realms of film and audio. I really enjoy collaborating with other individuals. The fusion outcome of the work is what keeps me going. I’m always excited to see how it turns out.

Q: WusGood is dedicated to exploring what it is like to be black in the world. How do you see your identity and how is it being you in the world?

A: I grew up the notion that I was “mix-raced”. I was raised by a Dutch father and Ga mother. I’m a blend of both. People have a hard time identifying with that. I usually tell people I’m Ghanaian then explain my Dutch side. Being me in the world is pretty chill, always meeting beautiful people and creating memorable moments.

Q: Hip us to some artist (visual, audio, other) that we should be listening to and watching out for.

A: Kwa Mena, go check him out, he’s only getting started. We need more youth in the music scene like him. We need some woke shit asap:

Listen to Ghana School

 

Follow alex: TWITTER: @AlexWondergem

Black in Costa Rica

Hitchhiking with my Intuition in Costa Rica

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THUMB OUT to the road it’s time for an adventure. “Will I get raped?” It’s a damp day on the Caribbean Coast of the Costa Rican jungle as I stand by the road with an Australian I met just hours before. The bus we’re waiting on never shows so I decide we’re going to hitch a ride. It’s my first day off work from my random hostel receptionist job and he’s a guest continuing his journey. We chat the basic shit as we wait, and I think about the fact that country after country, hostel after hostel, none of the other travelers I encounter look like me. The cleaning people look like me. They my kin so we be vibin’. “I am a traveling Black Queen,” I tell myself. “I am an anomaly in motion.”

To travel the world as a Black Woman takes intention, knowledge of self and a special kind of patience  ̶  especially when ignorant travelers can’t seem to wrap their mind around how a Black Woman can speak fluent Spanish. I just want to scream, “The Diaspora Bitch!”, but I digress.

To travel as a Black Woman is also an exercise in fluidity; an exercise in how much you can challenge your mental conditioning and perceived inferiority; and an exercise in how much you are willing and able to trust your intuition. Us Queens are blessed with the unique gift of magically precise intuition from our ancestors, and on a journey away from all that is familiar, we learn to tune in to it in the deepest of ways.  I have a flashback to a meditation I practiced the night before on Uranus, the planet of spontaneity. I decide to let her be my guide today.

A car slows to a stop in front of me. I look in and see two young guys— the driver who I barely notice and a brown passenger with smiling eyes, shoulder length hair, and gauges in his ears.

“Where are you going?” He asks me.

Feeling poetic I respond, “To the end of the road.”

There’s only one road that runs the Caribbean Coast so he smiles knowingly and responds, “To Manzanillo?”

I say “Si.” He says “Si.”

The vibe feels Irie so I hop in the backseat with my trust in Spirit, and the Australian follows silently.

In the car I briefly start to question if I made the right decision but before I have the chance to go into a mental downward spiral the cutie with gauges whose name turns out to be Luis asks me if I have any papers to roll the Ganja {another word for weed ya lil nerds}. I laugh and tell him that something told me to get some papers earlier in the day but that I got distracted in the store and forgot. He laughs with me as he grabs a big bag of shaggy herb from under the seat. “Ayeee, I chose some weedheads?!” Intuition check—confirmed.

 

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I relax in my seat knowing that I chose well as we ride through the jungle, crossing narrow bridges and having easy conversation until we arrive in Manzanillo, a town that I heard to have very strong Rastafari roots. I feel the town throwing me that ‘we laidback but have a rough edge’ vibe as we pull to a stop in front of the beach at the end of the road. I like it.

“Good vibrations,” I say to no one in particular. Gauged cutie smiles with a nod. We are here.

The Australian goes off to find the guy he’s couchsurfing with and I shake his non-melenated vibrations off my wavelength like a rattlesnake shakes off a layer of dead skin. I walk towards the ocean and dip my feet in the water as Luis and his friend Kevin find a spot on a bench nearby. It’s the same Atlantic from the States, but it feels so different.  I feel Luis looking at me as a light drizzle starts to drip from the sky. Insecurity creeps into me as I wonder, “Should I join them? Do they even want to hang out with me?” But I challenge myself to walk back. When I reach them, Luis smiles with a freshly rolled joint in hand and says, “Smoking timeeee.”  I chill out and get cozy on the bench. Kevin sits next to me as Luis sparks up.

It’s my first time in Manzanillo so I’m taking it all in—the crashing waves, the kids playing, and the black and brown sand that somehow seems to mimic the pigment of the locals I see hanging out in front of the seaside bars and stores.  This place is vibrant—antique and decrepit yet pulsating with a hidden life that I know appears once the European and American tourists riding around on their brightly colored rented cruisers are gone. I’m intrigued—Luis passes the joint.

 

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We talk about the indigenous people of Costa Rica and how the Spanish colonizers raped them, figuratively and literally. We talk about how the United States is built on the backs of Black people. We talk about the Jamaican immigrants who came to the Caribbean Coast to work on the railroads.

“So were they paid?” I ask the guys, “Or were they slaves?”

They look at each other kind of bewildered, then back at me as they reply in unison, “They were paid.”

In my head I’m like, “Damnnn, so not EVERY place that has a Black population outside of Africa means that they were brought over in chains and whipped and tortured and raped for centuries? ”

Now don’t get me wrong, there Was slavery in Costa Rica, it lasted until late 1800’s, but this was my first time ever witnessing the setting created by a willful migration of Black people. No wonder the vibes here are so…different.

 

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“You want to go to the lookout point then go for a swim? It’s about a 30 minute drive. ” I hear Luis ask me. “Mmmkay they haven’t killed me yet AND they are droppin’ knowledge, should I take a chance and trust them some more?”

I hit the joint and calmly respond, “Sure.”

At this point, I’m high as a kite and we all have the munchies. I run off to the ocean because I’m having one of those, “I can’t believe this is real life, the ocean is REALLY right here!?!” moments while Kevin goes to get sandwich supplies. When Kevin returns, he and Luis strategically assemble a delicious meat, cheese, spicy mayo, tomato and Dorito sandwich on a French baguette—right there on the bench by the beach.

I watch intrigued because this is clearly something they’ve done before. It seems like they’ve been friends forever. A handful of locals stop by to chat with Luis while we eat, and once we’re done crushing the sandwiches we wash it down with some random orange drink then head towards the point. We are back to driving through the jungle, now better aquainted and barefoot, sippin’ on some light liquor from Panama called Tamborito (Little Drum) which goes down suprisingly smooth.

Punta Uva literally means Point Grape  in English. Maybe it’s called that because there are a series of rocky points along the Costa Rican Caribbean coast that resemble grapes on a vine. I could be wrong. We pull up and get out.  Luis tucks the Tamborito in his swim trunks as we pass the tourists on the beach. I think we’re just gonna chill and swim when Luis looks back at Kevin and I and says, “Let’s go UP to the point.”  No more intuition checks. These guys are kind and genuine; my Spirit just trusts. “Let’s go UP!”

Tipsy, full, and still a lil high, we begin our trek through the jungle. Our feet gush in the mud as we climb and reach for branches to stop us from falling. We slip and laugh and grab each other’s hands when we’re about to bust our asses. Luis does a little double squeeze everytime he grabs mine. I giggle but then go back to focusing on the ascent.

There are points when we could literally fall off the cliff and into the crashing waves below so I take a moment to thank my body for coming through when I need it most. When we’re near the top, Kevin accidently drops the random orange drink chaser off the side of the Point — I take the Tamborito from Luis and tuck it in my sports bra to ensure that it doesn’t suffer the same fate. A last stretch and we make it to the top.

We reach Punta Uva and I am breathless. It feels like we are in the middle of the ocean. We can see the surfers trying to catch the massive waves to our left, but straight ahead it’s nothing but deep blue. It’s absolutely beautiful. We all take a celebratory shot of Tamborito then I chill and meditate while Luis and Kevin relax on the grass.

 

costa-5

The guys snap me out of my meditation by singing my name. I rejoice in the sound of their lovely voices.

We drink more and talk about how they’ve been friends since they were 9, the hatred of the modern world, and my plans to escape the United States of Amerikkka. I tell them that I’m a creature of love just out here tryna vibrate higher. Kevin chuckles, Luis smiles, and we fist bump in agreement.

After a while we take a last shot of Tamborito to shake our nerves before making our way back down. This trek is just as slippery and hilarious as the climb up—mostly because we’re drunk and Luis is freestyling and singing Billie Jean by Michael Jackson every time we slip since we’re “moon walkin” through the muddy jungle.

When we get back to beach level, we peel off our sticky clothes and run our muddy bodies into the warm caribbean waters at Punta Uva Beach. Kevin is not a huge fan of the rocky bottom so Luis and I go in deeper and splash and float and play like kids. We laugh at the Europeans posing on the beach. We talk about souls and spirits. He spits a few bars and I act as his hype man as I float on the gentle waves.

 

costa-6

Before I know it, it’s dark. We get back in the car and head to Puerto Viejo aka Old Port. This is the bustling part of town where precious cargo like food and slaves and later the Jamaicans arrived on the Caribbean Coast, and where there are popping beaches, bars, and restaurants. We bypass all of that and stop at a little food stand run by an indigenous woman to get spicy beef patties. They are delicious. I’m happily shocked by how the natives and Jamaicans have found a seemingly natural harmony. Luis leads us to a basketball court where black people are gathered playin’ ball and rhythmically beating on drums. He joins in on the game while Kevin and I chill back and watch.

I’m vibrating like the drums.

When he’s done, he sits next to me and rolls another joint, and then we walk a few steps to the beach to puff and chat and rhyme. There is majestic ocean energy everywhere and I’m in awe and thankful that my life is unfolding this way. It all started with my thumb out to the road.

Intuition Confirmed.

 

  • First appearance in Daughters of the Diaspora  www.daughtersofthediaspora.com
Lennette Abad-Manzueta is an Afrikan moon child who lives her life in between the lines. Her life is anchored in the concept that we are born complete beings tasked with the challenge of digging deep within ourselves to uncover our truest potential — despite the forces obsessed with oppressing us. She hopes to use her words to empower and reinforce the Diaspora’s connection to Self, Spirit, and the Continent. Her outlets include meditation, yoga, cooking, and conversing with strangers. She’s also an avid explorer and warrior-in-training. Lennette earned her B.S. in Economics from the University of Delaware because it made sense at the time. Feel her vibes.

 

 

Black in the World

We not gon forget about our cousins in Haiti, Costa Rica, Ghana, London and beyond. BLACK IN ___ brings you literature and visuals from black creators outside of America. It’s a family renuinion!


 

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.