Laverne Cox Has the Best Response to Caitlyn Jenner’s Photo Shoot

lavernecox

Laverne Cox took to her personal blog to express her thoughts on the responses to Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair photo shoot.

“On May 29, 2014, the issue of timemagazine magazine which proclaimed the “Transgender Tipping Point” was revealed with me on the cover. June 1, 2015 a year and 3 days later, Caitlyn Jenner’s vanityfair cover was revealed proclaiming #CallMeCaitlyn I am so moved by all the love and support Caitlyn is receiving. It feels like a new day, indeed, when a trans person can present her authentic self to the world for the first time and be celebrated for it so universally. Many have commented on how gorgeous Caitlyn looks in her photos, how she is “slaying for the Gods.” I must echo these comments in the vernacular, “Yasss Gawd! Werk Caitlyn! Get it!” But this has made me reflect critically on my own desires to ‘work a photo shoot’, to serve up various forms of glamour, power, sexiness, body affirming, racially empowering images of the various sides of my black, trans womanhood. I love working a photo shoot and creating inspiring images for my fans, for the world and above all for myself. But I also hope that it is my talent, my intelligence, my heart and spirit that most captivate, inspire, move and encourage folks to think more critically about the world around them. Yes, Caitlyn looks amazing and is beautiful but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me. A year ago when my Time magazine cover came out I saw posts from many trans folks saying that I am “drop dead gorgeous” and that that doesn’t represent most trans people. (It was news to be that I am drop dead gorgeous but I’ll certainly take it). But what I think they meant is that in certain lighting, at certain angles I am able to embody certain cisnormative beauty standards. Now, there are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards. More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody them and we shouldn’t have to to be seen as ourselves and respected as ourselves . It is important to note that these standards are also informed by race, class and ability among other intersections. I have always been aware that I can never represent all trans people. No one or two or three trans people can. This is why we need diverse media representations of trans folks to multiply trans narratives in the media and depict our beautiful diversities.”

Read the entire post here.

Photo: Laverne Cox/Tumblr

Black People Killed by Police Twice as Likely to Be Unarmed as White People

thecounted

An investigation by The Guardian has found that Black and Latino people killed by police are more than twice as likely to be unarmed than white people.

From The Guardian:

Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people, according to a Guardian investigation which found 102 of 464 people killed so far this year in incidents with law enforcement officers were not carrying weapons.

An analysis of public records, local news reports and Guardian reporting found that 32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.

The findings emerged from a database filled by a five-month study of police fatalities in the US, which calculated that local and state police and federal law enforcement agencies are killing people at twice the rate calculated by the US government’s official public record of police homicides. The database names five people whose names have not been publicly released.

The Guardian’s statistics include deaths after the police use of a Taser, deaths caused by police vehicles and deaths following altercations in police custody, as well as those killed when officers open fire. They reveal that 29% of those killed by police, or 135 people, were black. Sixty-seven, or 14%, were Hispanic/Latino, and 234, or 50%, were white. In total, 102 people who died during encounters with law enforcement in 2015 were unarmed.

Read more at The Guardian.

Photo: The Guardian

Marilyn Mosby Launches New Program That Gives Young Offenders a Second Chance

marilyn mosby

Last week, Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced the launch of her new program  Aim to B’More. The program gives  people convicted of nonviolent crimes a second chance.

The first class of Aim to B’More included 30 non-violent drug offenders. The program requires participants to complete three years of probation, community service, a five-month internship, and search for employment. Participants will have their records expunged after successful completion of the program.

“I would prefer to utilize the inundated courts for the worst of the worst and give our young people a second chance at redemption. People talk about Baltimore’s crime problem, but what isn’t talked about is the real issue at hand: systemic poverty,” Mosby told the Baltimore Sun.

Read more about the program at the Baltimore Sun.

Photo: Marilyn Mosby/Facebook

Invocation: An Interview of Ariana Brown

By L.G. Parker

arianabrown

Some poets scream, others approach the microphone with a fierce control that sits you down and reminds you of your magic and your wounds. Afro-Mexicana poet Ariana Brown is the latter. With five years of experience as a poetry mentor and workshop leader, Brown has a commitment not only to her own page, but to studying and teaching the written word. In 2014, she was a member of the University of Texas-Austin’s nationally competing poetry slam team, Spitshine Slam, which she co-founded in 2011. Spitshine ranked first overall at the College Unions Poetry Slam International (CUPSI) in 2014. This past March, Brown returned to the competition with Spitshine and was awarded Best Poem of the competition for her poem “Invocation.”

I was in the audience and deeply moved by the poem’s haunting poem. It stayed on my mind throughout and beyond the evening, and I was fortunate enough to be able to interview her about “Invocation” and her work at large.

L.G Parker: In “Invocation,” being biracial pops up again & again as you say “you were asked questions about your dead father and your hair,” “you greeted a new ancestor in the mirror today,” and “which negotiations did you lose today?” How does your biraciality factor into your work?

Ariana Brown: I’ve actually always claimed both my lineages openly. As someone who is visibly Black and grew up in a predominantly Mexican-American family and city, denying any part of myself is not something I’ve ever been comfortable doing. I grew up around bilingual Spanish-English speakers in San Antonio, Texas who were very proud of their Mexican ancestry. At the same time, anti-Blackness is extremely prevalent in the Mexican community, as Mexico (like the rest of Central America) has a very small Black population compared to countries like Puerto Rico or Brazil. There is a lack of understanding there. The first time I was called the ‘n’ word was in daycare. – I was five years old. The following year, the principal at my elementary school told my mother my hair was ‘outlandish’ and distracting to other students in class.

PARKER: You shared with me that you had Angel Nafis’ voice in the back of your head “encouraging [you] to be holy” as you wrote “Invocation”.  Nafis has a particular cadence and liveliness both on the page and stage. What is the relationship between your writing and sound?

BROWN: Nafis has a poem, titled “Ode to Shea Butter”, I believe, that was an early jumping point for “Invocation”. She often speaks about Blackness in reverent, celebratory tones, something that has always filled me up with joy. I didn’t grow up speaking AAVE, and while I learned to codeswitch eventually, I still feel more comfortable in Spanglish. It was very important to me to include the word “chongo” in the poem, “Invocation” – the Spanish word for “hair tie”/”ponytail”. Nafis’ work encouraged me to go back for 6-year-old me who sat in her first grade class as my Latinx classmates threw pencils and erasers into my hair and laughed because I couldn’t feel it. I spent a lot of time in mirrors as a kid, wishing my hair straight. I always felt so visible and impossible – Nafis’ work is so unapologetically black, it makes me return for my girl self and release her from that trauma in a way that is gentle, forgiving, and holy. I think all black girls deserve that.

PARKER: “Invocation” deals a lot with ancestry in a sort of ghastly sense. The repetition of the word “of” seems to point towards a separation of self from some past thing or person, which also connects one to ancestry. This vibe matches well with the title of your upcoming six-week workshop, “Demons, Diaspora, & Magic.”  Aside from six new poems, what can interests expect to get from this? What types of work and questions might writers be challenged to ask themselves?

BROWN:  I’ve been dealing a lot with the history of Mexico’s conquest, a project that really led me to creating this course. “Demons, Diaspora, & Magic” really asks students to engage with at least one type of history – whether personal or cultural or both – and to tell that story from beginning to end. At the moment, I’m interested in the telling (and retelling) of legends and crafting origin stories. I took a class on Mexican American Indigenous Heritage last semester at UT, where my professor began the class with the Aztec migration myth – how they appeared first in the American Southwest and slowly moved south to Mexico. She told us that there are several different versions of the story, how different indigenous groups in Mexico claim Aztec lineage because of the stops the Aztecs made along the way. She then invited us to question which of the versions was the true one. I think, for anybody whose history involves colonization, coming to a place where one can say, what if there isn’t one true version of how it happened? What if there are many truths? And how can I begin to excavate or create these histories in a way that is useful for me, as a person who has survived the violence of colonization?

PARKER:  So then does your excavation of whether or not there are many truths involve a sort of biomythography? Not necessarily imagining something better, but filling in what cannot be known? And what role does language, poetry more specifically, play for you as you excavate and create these histories?

BROWN: I hadn’t thought of it before, but I suppose I am working on a biomythography. The only difference, I think, is that I believe these things can be known. My faith/medicine is curanderismo, a type of folk healing that was produced in Mexico post-conquest, with indigenous, Spanish, and African roots. A lot of the healing reminds the body of its ancestral connections to the earth and its history. In that sense, I’m not making up stories about my ancestors. I’m going into the body to excavate what is already there. Poetry is the most useful tool I can think of for this project because for me, it rests entirely on emotional intelligence. Its capacity for surrealism makes it interesting, but its ability to hold emotion makes it important.

PARKER: As I think about your commentary about excavating and creating a history after colonization, without regard to its ongoing forces, I’m reminded of something James Baldwin said in an essay about language. He said,  “It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.” In conversation with Baldwin’s sentiments, when you write and perform your work, who are you speaking to? What languages do you “create” or call upon to create a sort of re-storying of the past you are working through in your poetry?

BROWN: I grew up around English and Spanish, but I don’t speak any indigenous languages. (I am not sure what my indigenous Mexican ancestors spoke, though since my grandparents are from the border states, it’s probably an Uto-Aztecan language). After four and a half years of Spanish classes, I’m nearly fluent. My grandparents grew up in the 1950s in Texas, when it was against the law to speak Spanish in public school. As an act of survival, they began to assimilate by speaking English to my mother and tios. Though all the adults in my mother’s family are bilingual, they are most comfortable with English. Since I’m working with Aztec history at the moment, I’m learning some basic Náhuatl, which is full of discoveries for me.

Spanglish is where I am most myself. I regard Mexican Spanish and its methods, flexibilities, and slang highly – a language that transformed itself over after conquest, much like its people. Now that I have a circle of close black friends, we codeswitch into AAVE, of course – on any given day, I speak all the languages and their varieties. I give thanks especially to the coworkers and bus drivers who speak wholly in Spanish to me – those interactions are always the most meaningful. When I speak Spanglish, I feel very free; I am loud and outrageous, full of intent. In Spanish, I am more careful, second-guessing, and slow. In English I am comfortable; in AAVE, I am older, wiser.

When I enter my poems, the audience is always my ancestors and myself. I feel like I never saw myself represented; and we all know how much power there is in representation. I just wrote a poem about my love for avocados (from the Náhuatl word ahuacatl, and the Spanish aguacate) which incorporates English, Spanish, Náhuatl and AAVE and I’m so excited about the possibilities that offers.

This interview has been condensed for reading purposes.

For more information on Ariana Brown’s work, including purchasing her chapbooks, please visit http://www.arianabrown.com/.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Please Make Feminism a Big, Raucous, Inclusive Party

Chimamanda Adichie

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addressed the Wellesley College class of 2015 last Friday. Adichie urged the graduates to be inclusive.

“Recently a feminist organization kindly nominated me for an important prize in a country that will remain unnamed. I was very pleased. I’ve been fortunate to have received a few prizes so far and I quite like them especially when they come with shiny presents. To get this prize, I was required to talk about how important a particular European feminist woman writer had been to me. Now the truth was that I had never managed to finish this feminist writer’s book. It did not speak to me. It would have been a lie to claim that she had any major influence on my thinking. The truth is that I learned so much more about feminism from watching the women traders in the market in Nsukka where I grew up, than from reading any seminal feminist text. I could have said that this woman was important to me, and I could have talked the talk, and I could have been given the prize and a shiny present. 

But I didn’t.

Because I had begun to ask myself what it really means to wear this FEMINIST label so publicly.

Just as I asked myself after excerpts of my feminism speech were used in a song by a talented musician whom I think some of you might know. I thought it was a very good thing that the word ‘feminist’ would be introduced to a new generation.

But I was startled by how many people, many of whom were academics, saw something troubling, even menacing, in this.

It was as though feminism was supposed to be an elite little cult, with esoteric rites of membership. 

But it shouldn’t. Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms.

And so, class of 2015, please go out there and make Feminism a big raucous inclusive party.”

Watch the entire speech below:

 Photo: Wellesley College

William Chapman: 18, Unarmed & Killed by an Officer Previously Suspended for Shooting Another Unarmed Man

williamchapmansmall

Eighteen year-old William Chapman was killed by Stephen Rankin, a Portsmouth, Va. police officer, on April 22nd. Chapman’s killing has been highlighted by the Guardian’s series, “The Counted“.

William Chapman was shot and killed after an encounter in a Walmart parking lot. Accused of shoplifting, Chapman was approached by Rankin, an officer that had previously been suspended from street patrol for three years after shooting an unarmed man. Rankin had also been disciplined for sharing Nazi images online.

Chapman’s death was overshadowed in the media by the death of Freddie Gray three days earlier. Chapman is one of three teens killed this year by police officers.

The lack of media coverage has weighed on the Chapman family. “I feel alone because my son is gone and because nobody is trying to help me understand why,” Sallie, William’s mother, told the Guardian.

Police have yet to give the family any reasoning for the death of William. Further, Walmart called the police to remove Sallie Chapman after she went to the store to demand to see the surveillance video.

The medical examiner has ruled Chapman’s death to be a homicide.

Read more at the Guardian.

 

Stunning Illustrations Show the Black, Queer Children’s Book You’ve Always Wanted to Read

By L.G. Parker

“I’m very inspired by fantasy,” Kendrick Daye, illustrator of Large Fears, shared with me in an interview.

large fears

“I never challenge a story that is very rooted in fantasy and filled with adventure, because it becomes a coping mechanism for kids growing up and struggling to be accepted.”

Jeremiah Nebula, a little black boy who likes pink, spent most of his days alone during recess and without friends, until Myles E. Johnson and Kendrick Daye decided to help him tell his story.

large fears

“We wanted to see a queer black boy represented in children’s books,” the team says on their Kickstarter campaign[LP1] , “and instead of waiting for it to come to be, we created it.”

Although the aesthetics of Jeremiah Nebula’s story are very fantastical, he has a lot in common with his creators.  “Literature protected me,” Johnson says, “from a world that tried to reinforce that as a young queer black child, my story and experience wasn’t soaked in magic and opportunity for growth.”

“I think growing up and feeling like you’re misunderstood or marginalized,” Daye added, “you become a daydreamer naturally and create rich worlds where you’re always accepted, acknowledged and seen.”

large fears

Daye and Johnson have launched a thirty-day fundraiser through Kickstarter in order to print copies of the book and launch the Large Fears workshop series. “We wanted Large Fears to be more than a product that is sold,” Johnson explained, “but an experience.”

large fears

After launching the workshop in Atlanta in July 2015, the duo intends to travel to New York City and then San Francisco. Most funds raised will go towards workshops.

From the book to the workshops, Johnson says that he and Kendrick’s ultimate goal is “to see children with queer gender and sexuality stories participate in this, especially the ones of color, who will always be the focus of anything to do with Large Fears. We want queer children of color to know that their birthright is to take up space and live to their highest expression.”

Donate, today, to put Large Fears in the hands of black, queer youth and their parents.

L.G. Parker is a poet and writer living in Richmond, VA. She is a Callaloo fellow and regular contributor to Elixher Magazine, Blavity, and the Black Youth Project.

 

 

Michael B. Jordan Goes in on Racist Trolls

Michael B Jordan

Michael B. Jordan has a few words for the racist trolls upset that he will be portraying Johnny Storm in the upcoming “Fantastic Four” film.

From Entertainment Weekly:

You’re not supposed to go on the Internet when you’re cast as a superhero. But after taking on Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four—a character originally written with blond hair and blue eyes—I wanted to check the pulse out there. I didn’t want to be ignorant about what people were saying. Turns out this is what they were saying: “A black guy? I don’t like it. They must be doing it because Obama’s president” and “It’s not true to the comic.” Or even, “They’ve destroyed it!”

It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. I can see everybody’s perspective, and I know I can’t ask the audience to forget 50 years of comic books. But the world is a little more diverse in 2015 than when the Fantastic Four comic first came out in 1961. Plus, if Stan Lee writes an email to my director saying, “You’re good. I’m okay with this,” who am I to go against that?

Some people may look at my casting as political correctness or an attempt to meet a racial quota, or as part of the year of “Black Film.” Or they could look at it as a creative choice by the director, Josh Trank, who is in an interracial relationship himself—a reflection of what a modern family looks like today.

This is a family movie about four friends—two of whom are myself and Kate Mara as my adopted sister—who are brought together by a series of unfortunate events to create unity and a team. That’s the message of the movie, if people can just allow themselves to see it.

Sometimes you have to be the person who stands up and says, “I’ll be the one to shoulder all this hate. I’ll take the brunt for the next couple of generations.” I put that responsibility on myself. People are always going to see each other in terms of race, but maybe in the future we won’t talk about it as much. Maybe, if I set an example, Hollywood will start considering more people of color in other prominent roles, and maybe we can reach the people who are stuck in the mindset that “it has to be true to the comic book.” Or maybe we have to reach past them.

To the trolls on the Internet, I want to say: Get your head out of the computer. Go outside and walk around. Look at the people walking next to you. Look at your friends’ friends and who they’re interacting with. And just understand this is the world we live in. It’s okay to like it.

Photo:  Monica Schipper/Getty Images/IMDB