Mike Dodge, a 47 year-old master electrician, was going about his job when he saw the opportunity to change one woman’s life forever. “I don’t think of myself as a hero,” says Dodge. “I like to think that anyone would have done what I did in the situation.”
Teresa Sherry, 32, walked past Dodge’s worksite in midtown Manhattan early Tuesday morning. “She wasn’t smiling at us, and I immediately knew something was wrong.” says Dodge. Upon recognizing the sad, lifeless look on her face, Dodge quickly sprung into action and yelled, “Hey lady! How ‘bout a smile?”
Sherry, shocked and embarrassed, reflexively clenched her face into a grin before entering her building. It was clear that Dodge’s quick reflexes saved the day.
I know that Black creativity has saved your life many times before. I know, because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve listened as non-Black people in my communities raised on Hip Hop talked about how it was the only relatable, empowering culture they found that also educated and radicalized them as a youth. It was formational. I’ve watched people become politicized, shaping their new political identities after bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis and Frantz Fanon. I’ve watched as folks become activist celebrities using radical ideas from Black Power and Civil Rights movements to shape programs that do not benefit Black people. I’ve watched as people make livings and loads of social capital off of DJing Black music, dancing, walking and dressing like Black people, selling the Black aesthetic to others. I’ve heard that friends use Nina Simone and Sade to sing them back from depression, Rihanna and D’Angelo to get them in the mood. So many people in my communities, lately, have been using Octavia Butler to renew their hope for radical futures. Without Black people, what would your lives be? You might be thinking, you know, it’s so much more complicated than all this, race is complex, we’re all part of the human family, etc., etc…
Black art is not free for all damaged souls. When Nina sang about strange fruit, she was talking about a lynching…of Black people. When Black rappers say Fuck the Police, they speak to a state system of lynching…Black people. Your pain and isolation, however real it may be, is not the same as being Black. Your self-adoption into hip hop and djembe drumming and spoken word, makes our art forms all about you. You, however well meaning, have stolen Black labour and invention and used it for your own purpose. It warps the medium and changes the message, the magic, the healing. From now on, consider how the cost of consuming, appropriating, regurgitating, and getting your life in multiple ways from Black art, Black culture, and Black peoples’ creative genius detrimentally impacts our lives. Being Black in an anti-black world means experiencing daily attacks that threaten our dignity, our happiness, our freedom, and often our lives; and in order to enjoy Black culture, you’re going to have to take action to help get these back.
But because Black people’s labour, language, intelligence, creativity, and survival arts have always been considered free for the taking, you probably didn’t feel ways about using it. You probably didn’t think twice. Black culture is the most pilfered, the most ‘borrowed,’ the most thieved culture, and we’ve seen this happen time and tie again.
Quote is from her essay Black Art Is Not A Free For All on Black Girl Dangerous. Read it all. Truly exquisite writing, especially as non-Black people continue to use, consume, pilfer, plagiarize and be appropriative of Black cultural production and art while simultaneously suggesting that Black culture, especially that Black American culture, does not exist.
I’ve also watched non-Black people suggest Black people contribute “nothing” to anti-oppression theory or praxis while their ENTIRE FRAMEWORK for approaching it is via Black cultural production or Black women’s epistemology.
Like…the cognitive dissonance proffered via perspectives shaped by anti-Blackness is astounding.
In Addis Ababa today, cranes litter the sky like an alien invasion. With bare feet, workers balance on ancient scaffolding wrapped around modern highrises. The air is a certain spice mixed with the kind of smog that could give anyone asthma in a week. The city is overpopulated and growing fast. I see pictures of where I stayed last time I was in the country and barely recognize a thing. Needless to say, the price of real estate is climbing high… save Fendika.
Melaku Belay dances like lightning; or like traditional acoustic instruments are electrocuting his entire body. He was orphaned as a youth and slept in the streets for 6 months, dancing for tips. The previous owner of Fendika allowed Melaku to sleep in the club while he continued to dance for tips and grow with his craft, until 12 years later he had saved up enough tips to buy the club. Since that day in 2008, Fendika has been an Azmari bet (traditional music house) unlike any other.
Vocalists rock a packed house night after night, often with no microphones. I remember my first night there Melaku telling me I should get up and rap, and I say “No… not here, not now.” We had just done 14 shows throughout the country and Fendika is especially beautiful for how untouched by the West it feels. I wonder how much Hip Hop has influenced the musicians and dancers I see that night, or how much of Hip Hop is just similar to what Ethiopians have always done. People are doing the eskista which resembles popping & locking, and sometimes other moves that remind me of breakdancing. Two singers start freestyling in Amharic, first making fun of each other, and then members of the audience. For how traditionally and proudly Ethiopian it was, I also didn’t see anything more Hip Hop the whole time I was there. The energy of one night at Fendika is an experience you can’t capture in a recording, it is something you just have to be present for.
Melaku scouts younger talent from Azmari families in the countryside, as well as older musicians many have forgotten about. Azmaris in Ethiopian society have always been treated as outcasts, even though their importance to the culture is huge. For example, everyone wants an Azmari to play at their wedding, but nobody wants their child to be an Azmari. As a result, most places still only pay musicians in tips. Melaku currently has 30 musicians making a salary out of Fendika, and in addition to the club they have been touring the world as much as possible. Fendika has been giving life to outcasted musicians who are now giving life to people world wide.
Fendika is now in danger of being shut down, due to the owner of the land wanting to sell to an investor. The owner has given Melaku and Fendika until the end of this month one chance to purchase the land that Fendika is on. Melaku already has half of the money he needs, but is running an Indiegogo campaign now to secure the second half. If you are in Ethiopia, you can find ways to support via Melaku’s Facebook page. This is one fundraising campaign I can say with all certainty will affect the future of music in Ethiopia.
There’s a lot more information, history, and videos on the Indiegogo page. Head here for more great videos from Fendika
“The social and political legacies of radical actions carry long after violations have happened. Every time a young black girl reads a Nikki Giovanni poem about getting her phones tapped, for example, our work regains its urgency. Just because that sort of thing isn’t as prevalent in the US right now, you can’t ignore the history of artists as real political revolutionaries. Especially in Black America, poetry is a form of resistance.”—Morgan Parker (via ethiopienne)
Art speaking attainable truth to history and power is a form of resistance!
Growing up as a Black girl writer, various books and writers sustained me. One such writer was Zora Neale Hurston. I lived by her. Her robust unveiling of Black human experiences were the literary nourishment to my young mind. I read over and over again her short story, The Gilded Six Bits.It was like I was there. I could feel the spirited home of Missie May and Joe. I could taste the molasses kisses Joe bought for their new born baby boy. I was literally wrapped up in the entire story.
Yet what intrigued me the most about Zora as a writer was her free spirit. As a folklorist and anthropologist, she saw the world and soaked up its wonders. This captivated me. As I grew older, the list of Black women writers that ruled my universe expanded. In college I was enamored with Ntozake Shange, then in graduate school mesmerized by June Jordan. They all knew a part of my soul, they all held pieces of me in their words. It was a long running connectedness. With each page turned, I saw myself.
When it seemed like the world had turned against me or had become lopsided, they turned it right side up again. Through their writings they let me know, that the things I’m seeing and experiencing are real. Most of all I learned that I had the right to tell my truth, no matter how often its existence may be denied and its fullness unsuccessfully subdued.
This edging out is a tradition of oppression, while the ability to rise even in its midst is a signature testament to the dynamic tradition of literary inspired liberation through Black women writers.
Here are some quotes from legendary Black women writers that can be used as continual tools for learning, growth, confidence and fearlessness.
From NPR’s transcript of a Morning Edition story: Group of researchers ran this interesting field experiment. They emailed more than 6,500 professors at the top 250 schools pretending to be the students. And they wrote letters saying, I really admire your work. Would you have some time to meet? The letters to the faculty were all identical, but the names of the students were all different. […] Brad Anderson. Meredith Roberts. Lamar Washington. LaToya Brown. Juanita Martinez. Deepak Patel, Sonali Desai, Chang Wong, Mei Chen. […] All they were measuring was how often professors wrote back agreeing to meet with with the students. And what they found was there were very large disparities. Women and minorities [were] systematically less likely to get responses from the professors and also less likely to get positive responses from the professors. Now remember, these are top faculty at the top schools in the United States and the letters were all impeccably written.
Two more kickers: “There’s absolutely no benefit seen when women reach out to female faculty, nor do we see benefits from black students reaching out to black faculty or Hispanic students reaching out to Hispanic faculty,” and, “In business academia, we see a 25 percentage point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males vs. women and minorities.” Word, this sounds great, we’re doing great. [NPR]
But white male privilege doesn’t exist?
And then there’s this:
Milkman found there were very large disparities between academic departments and between schools. Faculty at private schools were significantly more likely to discriminate against women and minorities than faculty at public schools. And faculty in fields that were very lucrative were also more likely to discriminate. So there was very little discrimination in the humanities. There was more discrimination among faculty at the natural sciences. And there was a lot of discrimination among the faculty at business schools.
Uh-huh tell me again how science and money are ideologically neutral.
i will always reblog this because people always want to say “what gatekeepers?” “who is doing this racist stuff?” “why would you say that MOC and Women are discriminated against?” well lets think about it….. here is an excellent example. People reaching out on their own attempting to gain perspective/guidance/mentors because hey, bootstraps and shit, and they are largely ignored if they are not white males. Actual educators in the field who are molding and shaping the minds of the youth, who have invaluable information and expertise on the subject they teach, who are the gatekeepers to this information ONLY share it with white males. People would like to relegate racism to murder and brutality… but this is another type of violence. This is perpetuating a cycle of poverty by withholding the literal wealth of knowledge as well as withholding the benefits of a well built network. Do you know how invaluable having a mentor is for many MOC and WOC? a hell of a lot of us are first generation college students. I maneuvered the education system completely blind, stumbling into whatever. It took A LOT of getting things wrong to get it right. Can you imagine if I had a connection with a college professor to help guide you through the process? Give you insight on the field you are studying? How important that connection is? How important it is to know who they - as valued experts in their field - know? Now. When you exclude women and men of color from that experience, from that potentially life altering relationship then you are slanting the odds against us because of our gender/skin color. That is violence. You are limiting my prospective wealth. You are limiting my prospective growth. All in favor of white men.
“how far have you walked for men who’ve never held your feet in their laps?
how often have you bartered with bone, only to sell yourself short?
why do you find the unavailable so alluring?
where did it begin? what went wrong? and who made you feel so worthless?
if they wanted you, wouldn’t they have chosen you?
all this time, you were begging for love silently, thinking they couldn’t hear you, but they smelt it on you, you must have known that they could taste the desperate on your skin?
and what about the others that would do anything for you, why did you make them love you until you could not stand it?
how are you both of these women, both flighty and needful?
where did you learn this, to want what does not want you?
where did you learn this, to leave those that want to stay?”—warsan shire (via ethiopienne)