I don’t know the answer to the title of this post. Writing a poem in the face of injustice feels both pointless and like the strongest thing I can do. The story of Chikesia Clemons, who was assaulted at a Waffle House, by police, after requesting plasticware with a takeout order and having the audacity to protest an upcharge, enraged me. I know I’ve gone all kinds of sassy, snarky, uppity and uncalled for in the bank when things didn’t go my way. I’ve vented my ire at more than one undeserving customer services representative. But I’m white. I can behave badly and suffer the hangover of shame and move on. What of the black women who are my neighbors and coworkers and community? Where is the justice? How do we stand with them and for them?
This poem ripped through my guts, born of fire and fury.
For Chikesia Clemons
What goes unsaid
is that you were given a double-serving
of injustice. Twin lashes
for your duplicitous sins of being born
female and black. You,
the Queen of Heaven, sent into a life
of fun house mirrors that distorted
your every truth, reflected your image
back wrenched and marred
and nightmarish. Sorry Continue reading
“In a lot of places in the United States, you can still get a degree in English literature and not have to study any people of color,” says poet, author and educator Frank X Walker.
This postcard of a child with a book is from the The East Riverside Photographs Collection associated with the East Riverside urban redevelopment project of Asheville. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, UNC Asheville
“It’s part of the whole master narrative that displays the idea of a hierarchy in our society, that suggests whose work in this culture is more valuable. And it’s not women or people of color.”
I spent several months working on a three-part series about the history of black writers in Western North Carolina, and why the voices of those artists have been excluded from the dominant narrative.
Find Part 1 here (with quotes from Walker, UNC Asheville history professor Darin Waters and Asheville-based author Monica McDaniel); find Part 2 here (with quotes from authors Meta Commerse and Ann Woodford and poet Glenis Redmond); and find Part 3 here (with quotes from poets Nicole Townsend, James Love and Damion Bailey and author Charles Blount).
Now through Nov. 17, I’m participating in the fourth annual Mountain of Words, a Write-A-thon to support the work of Asheville Writers in the Schools and Community. I’ll be writing like a madwoman. You can help by sponsoring me.
This organization changes lives through engaging children, teens and families with innovative writing and arts programs for those too often overlooked and unheard. Programming is centered in communities of color and provide learning and healing spaces where powerful voices can be shared and amplified to create a more just and equitable world.
Your donation will help to fund:
• an online magazine program for youth of color, who produce Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jovenes, a bilingual online arts and culture platform for youth.
• Family Voices, a family writing and arts program for schools and community programs.
• Artist mentor residencies in schools, afterschool, summer and community programs .
Click the link below to sponsor me for the amount you feel comfortable in giving. All donations are tax-deductible.
Want to send a check? Make it out to Asheville Writers in the Schools, mail to P.O. BOX 1508 Asheville, NC, 28802 and put my name in the memo line!
What is the responsibility of venue bookers, music promoters, club owners, and festival organizers to create a platform for artists of color? It’s a tricky conversation to introduce, because there are so many issues — ticket sales, popularity, potential tokenism — but I think it’s more important to have the conversation than to be graceful about it.
Photo by Jorge Salgado from this year’s Neon Desert Festival
So I’ll start here: Asheville, where I live, is a predominantly white town with a nationally recognized music scene and a high per-capita number of excellent concert halls and listening rooms. But peruse the lineup of at least three of the most popular venues in town and you’re lucky to find one person-of-color-led act in any given month. I recently browsed the calendar for one such music hall that lists no artists of color from September through December. Continue reading