With the Devil at her Door: Notes on Jemele Hill and Korryn Gaines

 

636410985778596594-2017-09-15-jemele-hillJemele Hill must feel kind of like Korryn Gaines when she had the devil at her door demanding her submission in exchange for her life. But what is a life with no soul, what is a body with no heart, and how can one speak with no tongue?

 

They are afraid of a black woman with a rifle in her hand willing to kill to protect her son, to protect her freedom, to protect her dignity. And the police in Baltimore County Maryland felt like they needed all of that force to serve a warrant for a misdemeanor.

 

They are deathly afraid of a black woman that they can’t control. A sista that won’t be quiet. A sista that doesn’t want to twerk. A sista that doesn’t want to be their fantasy. A sista that knows that her place is at the top of the throne no matter what that throne is made of, like Queen Nzinga. A sista with opinions that she isn’t afraid to share. And ESPN scolded Jemele like a child, then suspended her for two weeks for telling the truth on two different occasions.

 

Well, if Ebonics be thy first language then let truth be thy second. My mother taught me how to stand in direct opposition to corruption. My mother showed me that the black woman is the embodiment of resilience. My mother showed me love. My mother taught me how to speak and my mother taught me how to listen. My mother spoke softly, my mother screamed loudly and sometimes my mother chose to be silent. No man could ever force her to be submissive, and no job ever succeeded in shutting her up—though many of them tried. So maybe she didn’t get that promotion and maybe they didn’t deem her to be a “team” player. Maybe she has had to suffer more and maybe she is paid less.

 

And one may ask why couldn’t my mother just be a good worker and go along with the company program? Why didn’t Jemele Hill just stop tweeting altogether? Why couldn’t Korryn Gaines just put her gun down and have a rational conversation with the police? Why didn’t Sandra Bland just put out her cigarette? Why couldn’t Miss Sofia just be a nanny for that white lady’s kids in The Color Purple? Why did she have to say hell no?

 

To this I would say no one should have to sacrifice their humanity to make you feel comfortable. No one should have to give up their rights to make you feel safe. No one should have to give up their voice in order for you to feel complacent. And at times it seems as though the black woman gave birth to a world that has been trying to destroy her ever since. Jemele Hill has been suspended as if she were in grammar school and Korryn Gaines was murdered in her apartment in front of her 5-year-old son by the police. And all because instead of looking down at their feet they chose to look power directly in the eyes. They both spoke truth to a culture built upon lies, and they spoke this truth with the devil at their door.

 

“they threw me a charge too late, got my “Big Girl” September of last year. Legit w/papers. Thought i was gon have to take out a nigga nd realized i had a bigger problem. Fuck it Let’s dance, i got some rhythm”

 

-Korryn Gaines

 

 

 

 

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No shame

 

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When the lights are all out you feel it more. When your eyes are closed you see it better. While in the moment of sin I prayed that it would never stop. I thanked god that it was real, and I lost myself. Restraint—as necessary as it is at times—can be so overrated. I wanted more so she gave me more. And just like the seasons tell the farmer when it is time to plant and when it is time to harvest, her body spoke to me in the language of the sun. It spoke to me in the language of the fertile soil down in the delta and I responded with primitive lust. She dripped, she poured, she rained, we left a collection of fluids on a silky crimson sheet. And we felt no shame.

The GO-GO Sound

I was approaching Baltimore Harbor when I heard the same syncopated rhythm that I heard intermittently on my one hour journey from Washington, D.C. Except this time it was live! It was right before my eyes so I could see the masterpiece as it was being created with two drumsticks, three buckets, a trash can, and a basket from a grocery store. What the man was creating was a sound called GO-GO. It made me want to dance, pray to my ancestors, and take the finest sista I saw back to my dingy little room at the Motel 6. It made me feel at once liberated and a slave to all my passions. It reminded me that I was an African, but also that I was very far from home.

They don’t play GO-GO music at all in the San Francisco Bay Area. I mean like never. I only know what it is because several years ago I asked a friend of mine that had gone to Howard what it was like to party in D.C. and he told me “The girls out there really like GO-GO.” I looked at him quizzically thinking that he was saying that they were strippers. I kept thinking GO-GO dancers and for some reason I conjured up Demi Moore’s dance routine in the movie “Striptease.” Thankfully he began to explain it to me. “It’s like that Amerie song. That’s kind of like GO-GO…ok ok you remember that song ‘Doing the butt’? Now that song is definitely GO-GO” It was only then that I understood. But that song was from the “School Daze” soundtrack. I think I was in the 2nd grade when that came out and after they stopped playing it on the radio I never heard anything else like it. But that was obviously because I had never been to Baltimore or the DMV.

So “Doing the Butt” isn’t just a song but rather it’s part of a movement that has been going strong for several decades. Like stepping in Chicago and Going Dumb in the Bay, GO-GO is a D.C. thing. And as I listened to it I felt very deprived. Why hadn’t I known about this? Why hadn’t this sound made its way to the bay like Trap Music, House Music, or Dance Hall? I was so enamored with how the continent of Africa had touched the region where I was vacationing. The sound I was hearing was so ill, it was so lit, it was so pure. I was feeling it. I put a little money down in front of the musician and left on my way to get crab cakes which were better than the ones they sell in the Bay Area but definitely didn’t live up to the hype as far as all of the fantastic things that I had heard about them, but there were no expectations for my experience with GO-GO. GO-GO somehow remains D.C.’s secret. GO-GO is an uncorrupted manifestation of ancient African musical expertise. I had to travel across the country to hear this sound and the journey was worth it.

Writing through it

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Sometimes I need to be disconnected from all people. I need to be alone. I need to be away. I need to not be reached. I want to believe in this world at these times. I want to have faith. I want to be a good friend and a good Christian. I want to be normal. When I escape into myself often times I yearn to hang out with large groups of friends and drink alcohol while we talk about our wives. I want that “broken-in” look that says that I am at peace with my place in life, and that I am at peace with who I am. Sometimes I don’t like being weird.

 

I wish that I could love and love again until I got it right instead of being trapped in a cycle of loving really hard, being devastated, and not being capable of loving again for at least five years. I wish I didn’t expect so much from people. I am convinced that pain hurts me worse than it hurts everyone else. I feel like there is something that I need to know and I fear that I will die without ever having found it out. I feel claustrophobic within my soul. I want to be somewhere else but I can’t afford to get there. I feel like happiness is temporary while anguish is everlasting. I’m not feeling this. I’m not feeling him. I’m not feeling her. I’m not feeling any of it. And I wish that I knew how to use my words when it matters. I wish that I could verbalize my discontent and move on. All I have is words typed on a screen or written in cursive on a page and I feel like that isn’t enough because that has never been enough.

 

I wish that I was understood. I wish that I didn’t have to write. That I didn’t have to run. That I didn’t have to fight. I wish that I was just like them so that I could know what it feels like to point my finger and whisper about a guy like me.

 

-YB

Royal Fanfare

I remember coming up in the early 2000’s riding down the Foothill strip with a car full of people that ain’t here no more. These people were my cousin’s potnas and I was just with my cousin because he didn’t want to go home, so he spent the night on our couch. My sister had to study and she didn’t like how our 19-year-old energy permeated the small house. It was distracting to her so my cousin called one of his homeboys and he swooped us up. My cousin had hella homeboys back then. Before the court cases, before John George Psychiatric Ward, right after he broke up with his baby mama, but before he played his last season of college football so his eyes were still looking to the future. We hopped in the car headed to Mills Hoagie on Seminary. We busted a left down MacArthur until we got to the light on 73rd when the driver, some chubby dude that I had never met before but my cousin seemed to know well enough said; “I’m tired of this shit” referring to Yukmouth’s Thuglord C.D. I was kind of pissed because Yuk was running the bay at the moment and The Outro was about to come on which was the hardest track on the album and the dopest autobiographical track ever written.

“Did she leave it in the car blood?” He was digging through the glovebox like crazy looking for something.

“Leave what?”

“The Jack?”

“What?”

“That Mob Figaz CD. The Jacka.”

“Oh it’s under the seat blood.”

He put that CD in and it stayed in. And we listened. And never, as we rode all around East Oakland to High Street to Fonk Town back to 106th, did we ask him to take it out.

 

“It’s the Jaaaaack. Yeah I’m a dope dealer and on top of that I’m a liar and a stealer.”

Every now and then I would ask a question about this rapper because, like everyone else in the car besides my cousin, I didn’t know him. As blunts were being passed around that little car in every direction and as girls were being hollered at and harassed like;

“Heyyyyy girl what’s your name?”

I found out he was from Richmond but moved to Pittsburgh. They told me that C-Bo had put him on. They assured me that he was hard and that he wasn’t next but that he was now. The Jacka is poppin right now!

“This shit pound,” my cousin said as he inhaled the smoke. And the more he inhaled the more he seemed to believe it.

“Yeah it do,” I confirmed.

I’ve never smoked but I didn’t need to in order to understand that this man was telling us about our own lives in first person narration. We were enraged by everything. We felt the walls of the trap closing in on us and we were fighting for more time, for more breath, fighting in order to figure out what was happening. Why did failure feel like our destiny? Why couldn’t we push these walls back and be liberated or have someone pull the lever into the off position right before we perished just like in an old episode of Batman and Robin or The Dukes of Hazard or The A-Team or MacGyver or any of those shows when the good guys never die. We were young men, but men all the same and we were beginning to understand that we weren’t the good guys. That millions of people weren’t watching our story unfold in suspense hoping so desperately that we survived, that they refused to go to the restroom because they didn’t want to miss the inevitable escape. We were beginning to understand with every false arrest, with every real arrest, with every funeral, with every ended relationship with a pregnant girlfriend, with every class that we dropped at community college, with every institution that refused to hire us, that no one ever expected us to make it. That wasn’t how the game was played. We were born at the bottom, and we were supposed to stay at the bottom, and never complain about it. And the only power that we ever had was to make our neglected ghettos with Arab owned liquor stores on the corner, and dope fiends tweaking on the sidewalk, and broken shards of glass in the street, seem cool. To play a trick on those who were fortunate enough not to hear men being blown away every night when neighborhoods feuded and go to schools where the ceilings leaked water on your journal in the middle of class whenever it rained, and make them feel like they were the ones who were missing out. The Jacka had put a spotlight on our particular Bay Area brand of misery and made our lifestyle feel glamorous. He had placed us right in the middle of the culture. All of us. I swear. And he never stopped.

I’m the Jack, ice cold mack from the Figaz

Locked in the county, shared my cell with a killer

All he ever said was Jack, I never heard a nigga realer

Fat shout out to the four XIV gorillas

All my niggas doing life, do what I can to make it better

Five years later and of the four people in that car: One of us would be dead, another would be in a mental institution, and one would be in prison. And we rode through town in that little bucket like we knew that the fuse was lit and we had to get it all in before we were blown to pieces. We gigged super hard at every stop light and rolled through stop signs like we didn’t have hella weed in the car and like we weren’t born looking suspicious. It didn’t matter. We stunted like we weren’t poor and confused and like that little car belong to one of us as opposed to the driver’s girlfriend’s mother. Let us tell it we were all bosses and it was nothing to a boss. It was our town; it was our world and somehow we were able to convince ourselves that we had no reason to be scared of what was to come because we would force the ruling class to make room for our greatness.

The Jacka spoke to all the pain that we were trying to numb out. The trauma that we were going through and would continue to go through. And he validated our lives in a way that even our own mothers could not because he was a man. Because he had to struggle mightily to be able to compare the California ghettos to a battlefield in the Vietnam War. He had to have been hated on severely to warn us that we might be the greatest but people will never say it. So we rode around East Oakland feeling like four kings being welcomed into Buckingham Palace and The Jacka’s CD was our Royal Fanfare. By the time I was brought back home it was pitch black and many daps were given before I exited the car. I went to bed thinking hard about the track called, Die Young until I fell asleep. The next morning I woke up and went to Tower Records at Bayfair Mall and bought The Jacka of the Mob Figaz and listened to it nonstop on my way to class.

-YB

 

 

 

On the wings of Atlanta: Notes jotted down during Jazz Night at Cafe Trieste

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Listening to this jazz band it’s hard to conceptualize that this music used to belong to us. Can you Imagine Charlie Parker being as big in the hood as Gucci Mane? Can you see Billy Holiday being as popular as Nicki Manaj? I honestly can’t, because we completely shifted. We gave that up and started anew. For the projects have been lionized while the ghettos are being sanitized—many of them have been completely liquidated.

 

Boy you better wash your hands before you touch that food.

 

There ain’t a clarinet to be found in a trap music beat, not an oboe neither, and there’s barely a trumpet either but it’s all good though. Just because you give a man lean to drink and pills to pop don’t mean you take away his soul. Ain’t no dope in this world that can chase Africa away. Africa is still gone be in your bloodstream. Ghana is still in the bone marrow. Nigeria is still in those hips, and you know Sierra Leone gave you those lips. So when you listen to Future you can hear my past. When you look at Two Chainz you can see Mansa Musa. The Migos could be members of the mighty Ashanti Empire. Up from poverty! Up from the bottom of the boat! Up from being down—you feel me?

We ain’t going back to Africa and we don’t have to because we brought Africa here. You may not be able to see it but you know you feel it. If you stand still for too long it will touch your spirit and make you move. All eyes cast downward—down to Atlanta. Since Outkast, since Goodie Mobb, since The Dungeon Family. Have you seen the show yet? Have you seen what Donald Glover has done? He never stops putting in work and I know that W.E.B Dubois would be proud of the beautiful wings that grew from his most beloved city. I know Dr. King would be proud. I’m not sure they ever seen this coming but the ATL is at the center of the black world, and has been for the past twenty years. The mecca ain’t Harlem, it ain’t D.C., and it ain’t Chicago neither. It is that city within a stone’s throw of master’s plantation and its glory was created by all those negroes that never left to work on the shipyards of California or in the factories of Detroit. All those faithful black folks that never gave up—that never left. And even a few that moved back down. The ones that got educated in the A.U.C. and saw that rich Georgia soil so they decided to plant seeds. This is what the ancestors down there in the black belt must have dreamed of. This is what W.E.B. wrote about when he asked “How does it feel to be a problem?” Now the brothers and sisters down there have created a solution for so many of us. Do you hear the music? Man that right there is slapping! Man turn that up. That’s the ATL.

-YB

 

 

Going deep inside of Antelope Canyon

I went to the magnificent Antelope Canyon outside of Page, AZ and while on the tour our guide, a Navajo woman named Lynette, would point out different angles and say “Do you see the burning candle?, Do you see the heart?, This one is called Abraham Lincoln, Can you see his nose and his top hat” but I couldn’t see any of those things. The whole time I felt like I was inside of a woman’s vagina. I felt very protected and reassured. It was such a revitalizing experience. It was almost overwhelming.

-YB