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Friday, December 21, 2007

10 reasons why you should never ask a mixed person the question, "What are you?"

1. It is customary to use the pronoun "who" when talking of persons and to use the word "what" when talking about things. While it is appropriate to ask a mixed person who she is, it is not appropriate to ask her what she or he is. What we are is human.

2. If you feel compelled to ask someone what they are it is probably because you have never seen someone who looks like them before. This means you are ignorant. Asking your question will make your ignorance public. Is that what you want?

3. The compulsion to racially categorize every person you meet is one you should resist. The desire to put people in boxes is rooted in a fear of the unknown. Indulging one's fears is never good.

4. Without racial categories racism cannot persist. Do your part to be a part of the solution not a part of the problem.

5. Knowing the exact ethnic or "racial" ancestry of a person will not tell you WHO they are.

6. Most mixed people find this question very annoying. Some find it offensive. No one finds it sexy.

7. Many mixed people (like myself) are fond of giving false answers to the question just to mess with monoracials stupid enough to ask. Is being made a fool of a risk you are willing to take?

8. You are more likely to get laid if you ask better questions like: How did you get such cool hair? Do you taste as good as you look?

9. If you are only asking what racial components a person is composed of so you can then reduce him or her to one race (i.e black +any race= black, white+Mexican= Mexican) why bother asking? Go ahead and jump to your own conclusions and spare the mixed person the pain of witnessing you do your "monoracial math".

10. You might get an answer you can't handle.

Monday, December 3, 2007

All I want for Christmas Hannukah Kwanzaa, the New Year

1. More national holidays (Sri Lanka has about 30, lets catch up people!)

and in particular more holidays that are not dedicated to the celebration of war or the memory of dead white men who owned slaves (Washington) or recommended the extinction of Indigenous peoples (Lincoln) or lead a campaign of extinction (Jackson).

1b. Is it too much to ask that ONE holiday be dedicated to a woman? Just One?

1c. The national recognition of non-Christian religious holidays (Hindu, Judaic,
Islamic, Indigenous, Vodun. Santeria, Native American Church,Latin/Catholic
(think Day of the Dead)

2. To become the first poet to earn a million dollars as a result of poetry CD

3. World Peace (overdone, I know but its elusiveness compels me....)

4. Invitations to perform my poetry in Tahiti, Ghana, Italy, Peru, London, South
Africa, Ireland, and Brazil.

5. The legalization of Gay Marriage and Gay adoption worldwide (straight people, get
over yourselves already!)

6.Reparations for the descendants of African slaves in the Americas ("white" people, get over your guilt already)

7. National Subsidy for any and all "feminine" products (tampons, pads, instead, sponges, etc.) making them all free for all women for all time.

8. National Public recognition, acknowledgement and gratitude paid to all women for
the pain and inconvenience they endure each month for their pivotal role in ensuring the survival of the species (men need to recognize!)

9. A Teddy bear for every child in the world (shout out to Joan Piper for organizing
the teddy bear drive in Volusia County! Way to Go!)

10. More rap music/hip hop dedicated to positive social change (shout out to Cornel
West! Way to go, brother!)

11. An international campaign to educate little boys and little girls (it may be too
late for us older folks) about the female body, female sexuality and in particular to educate them on the existence of the clitoris, its ability to produce pleasure in the absence of penises, or any risky sexual behaviors (numerous benefits of this campaign include bit are not limited to: empowerment of girls, reduction in STDs, and aids rates, reduction in date rapes, unwanted pregnancies, and orphans; overall increase in joy levels worldwide)

12. The overthrow of the Bush dynasty (Can I get a witness?)

13. Universal Free Health care (yes, that includes abortions)

14. Free university educations for all Americans and residents (Can a sister get a degree without starving?)

15. The organization of a federally-funded Task Force Against Misogynistic Terrorism
to end the epidemic of rape/woman beating/homicide rates in the United States

16. Free cake

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dozing Off in the Academy

In my dreams I am a poet who travels the world armed with inspiring words that eradicate suffering and induce bliss.

In my waking life I have a job where I am expected to act serious, do serious things and take myself and my co-workers seriously. More and more I find it hard to remember who I really am. It seems I have lost track of that silly justice-loving artsy woman I used to be. I waste countless hours ironing shirts, gelling my hair, collecting toll money, buying gas, grading papers, sitting in meetings, filling out forms, and consulting calendars. Why?

Will my students go out in the world and do amazing things? And if they don't does my day job matter? Does the time I do in the "Academy" mean anything in the larger scheme of things? Or is it just a "day job" -a way to pay the bills while I write the next great American poem? A respectful way to make a living if not to live?

When I was a student (13 years of my life, not counting k-12) I imagined that becoming a professor would allow me entry into a wonderful intellectual community, a Beloved Community full of people with high ideals and brains to match them. Nobody told me the truth about the Academy.

Dr. King’s "Beloved Community"
was "a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood... international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict." (King Center literature)

Is there some way to create such a community? I would like to think so, even if the Academy might be unable to host such a place. Or maybe King's ideas are too old and we need to come up with new ones? After all, King was a very serious fellow. How do we inject joy into the equation? I think we need a community for people like me. Maybe we should call it the Blissful Community.

In the Blissful Community beauty, joy, wisdom, and love will be the goal of all activities. Dialogue and Creative Productions will be the vehicle and silliness and foolishness will be required. Hmmmm. Will have to work on this idea......

Monday, November 19, 2007

Poems To Write: A List

Poems To Write

1. a poem to end all wars
2. a poem to end all rape
3. a poem to make people realize how foolish white supremacy is
4. a poem that can be recycled
5. a poem that doubles as a fractal of all other poems
6. a poem that makes bitter and lonely old people laugh
7. a poem that turns love into hate, pain into joy, and grey into purple
8. a poem to bring the endangered animals back from the brink of extinction
9. a poem that tastes like chocolate, smells like roses, and feels like good sex
10. a poem that everyone thinks is about them

Friday, November 2, 2007

Mixed race Indian feminist on TV

Yesterday I got to tape a TV show down in Cocoa Beach, FL- my old stomping grounds. The host was this wonderfully impressive woman, Charna (Charna Davis Wiese) who was charming and asked all the right questions.

Interviews can be difficult, annoying sometimes. You never know what questions you will be asked. Sometimes the reporter seems hellbent on exposing your dirty laundry, digging up your darkest secrets, making you look foolish or arrogant or shallow. I have had my share of bad press and I admit I have developed a bit of cynicism with regard to the media.

But hey, it had been awhile since I had gotten any press at all so I figured what the heck. Sitting in the green room watching TV with the make-up artist, I got into a conversation with an interesting man of unknown position who wanted to know if I was an Indian. Yes, Seminole I said. He got to talking about his own Cherokee past and then asked me later if I was fullblood. No, I said. Oh, really? He seemed genuinely shocked. Well, nobody would know, he said. You look like a fullblood. I think he meant this as a compliment. It might have been taken as one if he wasn't talking to mixcentric mama herself. Yeah? I replied. And then my usual reply: well different people see me differently.

I think its odd that everyone thinks they know exactly what I am and feel so certain that I look exactly like that and nothing else. People are funny.

I was wearing my Tibetan jacket which looks a bit Seminole to me. But I would be lying to myself if I thought I could figure out what aspects of my appearance lead to particular racial ascriptions. I never know and my efforts to unravel the mystery is usually fruitless and if I am lucky, also humorous.

I read two poems on the show, "Names", and "We are the Women." I brought a whole binder of options but 30 minutes was over fast. We talked about my being a mixed race person, an Indian,a poet, a philosopher. I said a lot of things I wasn't expecting to: I called myself a troublemaker, talked about learning to love people who across differences (being careful not to mention that Florida had taught me how to love white racists. That might not have gone over well), compared African and Native American philosophies, reminisced about my graduate school days when I was outraged by the claims of a certain Native American professor that southeastern Indians had no culture, and told stories about one of the early women's writing groups I founded.

Then I pulled out the poem about sexual abuse. Just to spice things up or make people uncomfortable, I am not sure which. Never a dull moment. She asked me how I was able to read such an emotional piece over and over again. Good question. One best not dwelt on for too long!

We talked some about the feminist issue of silence and shame before the show was over. It was fast-paced and exciting. The host said she might invite me back. I don't know if that is just showbizease or if she meant it but it sure sounded nice.

Where can you see this show? WBBC. Also some PBS affiliates throughout the country, I was told. Not a network show. I will have to hunt down the airings so I can list them on the website. Will keep people posted. Once Charna's show sweeps the nation, I am sure I will be gettign some invites to be on some bigtime talk shows

Oprah, here I come!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Q-tip, Women runnin' things, being big-time

Yesterday my sister breezed into town like she usually does- with little warning, staying for only a few hours, landing somewhere that required a map and a long drive, and accompanied by a crowd. My sister, Jilchristina, is a production person. She tours the country and the world with famous musicians like Naughty by Nature, Missy Eliot, Queen Latifa working as a production manager in her spare time. Spare time because, yes, she he has a day job too- some big whig position in one of the largest mixed race organizations in the country, I-Pride. That's right, my sister is BIG-TIME.

Being an artsy, nerdy type who doesn't drink, smoke, or sleep with men (even famous ones), I have never craved the rock star, rap music limelight my sister lives in. So it was with some reluctance that I made my way to the House of Blues last night to hang with little sis. I wanted to see her but was not particularly interested in seeing her stars or the entourages that accompany them. Being only vaguely familiar with the headliner she was the tour manager for- QTIP- I knew who Tribe Called Quest was at any rate- and having become somewhat rap-cynical after witnessing the steady decline of defeat of rap and hiphop by commercialized misogynistic, internally racist, downputting (instead of uplifting) rap in recent years, my expectations were not high.

I am after all old-school. Or maybe I am just old. Whatever you call me, I remember when Run-DMC came out. I remember listening to KRS-1, NWA, and other positive voices and feeling hopeful. I remember discovering MCLyte, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Salt N' Pepa and thinking yeah! some women droppin knowlege.

In recent years, I have come to distance myself from rap despite my previous admiration for the art. I just have no time for men who objectify women, have videos full of half naked ladies thrusting their hips and butts into the camera. I have no time for lyrics about men's sex drives, sexual desires, and the fantasies they have about women who act like sex-slaves satisfying their every erotic whim. I am sick of hearing men call women hoes and bitches and talking about them exclusively in terms of their reproductive organs. Brotha, PLeeease!

There are so few women rap artists out there these days. There is so much rap that is degrading to women. Black people are the most musically inventive, original, inspired artists in the United States, if not the world. So why are men hogging the mike? And why are men dogging women? And why isn't there more music and rap about changing the world?

Don't get me started!

But Qtip and Common are old school and also conscious. Their music is not misogynistic. They don't define their manhood through the oppression of women. While standing off stage in the wings with my sister listening to his show last night, I heard him spout out some positive lines about women. Refreshing.

Though I am no performer in the way that musicians and spoken word artists of his fame are, I can recognize the flow when I see and feel it. I know what it is like to get into your audience and to get caught up in the energy exchange. I know what it is like to take strings of energy and use them to pull your audience toward you, with you, along for the ride. I miss that. I am reminded in going to hang out with my sister of my need to get back out there- perform more. Get more gigs! Here I go!

Monday, July 30, 2007

What dreams are made of

As my summer comes to what feels like a sudden and disheartening halt, I find myself assessing what exactly I have gotten done over the last 8 weeks. Have I come any closer to making my dreams real? What are my dreams? Has all the time I have devoted to trolling the local papers for open mics, driving around central Florida in search of dimly lit venues, and the ridiculous number of hours I have spent harassing my web-designer, fellow poets, friends, and internet forum buddies about "the national poetry scene," poetry tours, and poetry websites amounted to anything in the grand scheme of things? In my little scheme of things?

This poetry business is something I do because I think it matters. Its part of a grandiose dream I have of changing the world with my art. I try to change the world in other ways too- by teaching, by protesting, by signing petitions, writing irate letters-but it is my art which speaks with the most authentic voice about who I am and what I am about. It is my art, I have been told, which changes people.

Years ago, when I was founding a black arts collective in Washington, Dc, I asked all the women in the group to write a small blurb about why they wrote. We collected the blurbs together to make a flier for one of our early performances. I recall looking over it years later and thinking wow, we were a dramatic bunch, weren't we?

Erica, Janelle, Ellen, Pariss, Deniece, Rochelle, Carla, myself….Every single writer in the group claimed to have some extremely important reason for writing. We were all trying to touch someone, to change someone, to end racism, stop the violence, save women. We were passionate and ambitious and it would be easy for the older, more sedate me to look back in laughter at such dreamy proclamations. Who did we think we were, anyway?

But the truth is that we knew who we were. We had decided to call our collective Daughters of the Dream. We saw ourselves as King’s legacy and we intended to live that dream- as artists, in our writing, with our words. We weren’t confused or self-involved (well maybe a little- we were young after all). We were dreamers.

In a stanza of one of my poems I have written:

What will you make
Of my urban league father
Telling me I can be anything/do anything
Playing me the recording of
Martin Luther King’s
“I have a dream” speech
Over and over and over again
Telling me I AM that dream.

I suppose I still imagine that my generation has an obligation to at least try to walk in the footsteps of our more courageous predecessors.....

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Poetic Fakeries, Mixed-race internet hobo-ing

I heard about a happening poetry open-mic in Orlando on Thursdays run by a local spoken word artist I know and headed over there with a friend. The event was held in a vegan cafe full of fliers about world peace, global gardening, organic farming, conflict-free trade, and other important issues. Such a location is guaranteed to draw a progressive crowd. If you write poetry like I do, having a progressive crowd is always a good thing. I was psyched.

But even the best laid plans are easily dashed. Despite my calling ahead TWICE before traveling the 45 minutes to get to this venue, I was not notified that the event had been cancelled until arriving to sign up (promptly, I might add). The not so prompt 10 or 12 of poets who arrived after I did had also not been informed. The guy behind the counter apologized for telling me the gig was a go when it was not but passed the blame onto the event organizer, Willie Lowman (his stage name), who, according to the veganista (vegan barrista?), had called in last minute to cancel the event. I guess we artists don't have a reputation for being flaky for nothing....

I could not help wondering though, flaky poets aside, if I wasn't caught in the middle of a more sinister plot. I have heard of these cafes and bakeries that are just fronts for drug dealers. The sign says bakery, the furniture says bakery, the coffee smell says bakery , the IRS tax return says bakery but nobdy who knows better would go there to buy baked goods. Its called a fakery.

Had I somehow stumbled into a poetic fakery? Were the fancy fliers I had seen strewn about at events around town just props used in a much larger deception? Who was this man with a fake name and why was he trying to lure unsuspecting poets out to small cafes late at night? Had I been bamboozled ? I may never know. At least the vegan food was real... and tasty if overpriced.

When I am not busy taking trips to advertized open mics, I am devoted to my other life as a dedicated internet hobo in search of websites, forums, blogs, and other virtual meeting grounds for mixed people all over the world. What do I mean by mixed, you ask? Other terms sometimes used for people like me include:

mustee,mestiza,half-breed, quadroon, hapa, biracial, triracial,pardo,
moor, haafu, mixed-breed,half-caste, two-tone, Creole, mulatto,
multiracial, doogla, sambo, santantone, mongrel,
metisse, salt-n-pepa,mixed-caste, interracial, yellow, zebra,
multiethnic, castizo,newpeople,breed, Eurasian, moranos, Afroasian,
mutt, chinee, brown baby, mixedblood, light-skinned,rainbow,
highyella, metisse, chameleon, morena
mixedheritage, colored, chinee, wesorts,
lumbee, Afrodeutscher......

the list goes on

We are everywhere and apparently we are now internet savvy. Mixed people of the world unite!!!! You have nothing to lose but your race!

Friday, July 27, 2007

We Are the Women

A poem about survivors

You Look Like My People (3)

A poem about the existence of ties that bind people beyond biology

The Picnic

A poem about racial profiling

Wonder Woman

Purple People

A poem about being proud of who you are

Friday, July 13, 2007

Performance Tonight

I will be performing at Barnie's Coffee of Lake Mary.

120 International Pkwy Lake Mary, FL

Come out and see me :)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Luck and Danger of Being "on the List"

Ever go to an open mic and have the owner of the venue chase after someone with a machete? I couldn't make up better fiction if I tried. Tonight I tried to go check out a new open mic venue in a nearby town (location purposely undisclosed) but never saw the stage.

I got there early to "get on the list." The host told me I was lucky he was gonna let me perform even though I had not called him earlier in the day. He was gonna "squeeze me in". When I asked him how many poems I would be able to read, he said, "Probably only one. Too many people on the list now that you have been added!" That's right my tardy arrival will ruin things for everyone! Rule #1 about open mic-ing: DONT BE LATE.

The open mic host or MC is a unique beast: moody, powerful, by turns generous and cruel. One night the beast will bite your head off in front of a packed house, another night he or she will sing your praises and give you the primo spot. Arriving late to an open and asking too many questions are both moves that are guaranteed not to endear you to the MC. I had been put on notice. I knew I had to be on my best behavior.

So I tried. I sat quietly in a corner of the restaurant perusing the menu while calculating the effect my leaving and coming back right before stage time would have on my relationship with the MC when a heated argument broke out amongst the workers. A strike about unfair wages? A debate about the best way to make tonight's special? I had no way of knowing as their highly accented English was not entirely comprehensible to an outsider like me. The argument ended and a woman sat nearby with puffy eyes looking sad and angry. Another woman came and led the girl out onto thte street to wait for someone.

Not wanting to embarass her, I tried to appear disinterested. My facade however was quickly shattered when a man came running past me with a cutlass as long as a yardstick but much sharper. WTF?

The rest of the people, who apparently were privy to the true state of affairs, had already run out of the restaurant. This left me and one kitchen cook to fend for ourselves while the machete wielding man stood in the doorway of the eatery slashing his huge knife in the air at the people outside. About 6 feet separated me and the crazy man. The cook was safely esconced behind a tall counter. Lucky her.

I would like to say I went running screaming from that place, never to return. After all, nobody wants to risk losing an arm for a ten-minute spot in an open-mic, right? Or that I wrestled the man to the ground and retrieved the weapon thus saving everyone.

The true ending to this stranger than fiction account is much less spectacular. I merely edged my body towards the kitchen door to place some distance between the madman and me, scanned the joint for other exits and proceeded to discuss with the cook which of the items I had ordered were missing. Stuck around long enough to pay for my food and make sure the knife had been wrestled away from the man (by none other than the MC! All that attitude is good for soemthing it seems) and the exit was clear. Then I left.

Since I was the only non-employee who witnesed this display of faux masculinity, I suspect that the open mic went on. Upon the insistence of my lawyer, Ava, however, I did not return to the scene of the crime that night. While I thought the story might provide the perfect set-up for my Wonder Woman poem, she felt certain my work would be likely be labeled "femi-Nazi" by the likes of men who thought that brandishing rusty machetes was a good way to settle a disagreement.

What were they fighting about? I may never know but on my way out I asked the MC and he told me the woman who had crying had been punched in the face and her brother had come to protect her. Since the man with the machete was neither the wronged party (the woman), the assailant (escaped on foor I was told) nor the protective brother, it was never made clear to me who he was trying to kill. I have good reason to believe he was on the wrong side.

Some happy unsuspecting performers came sauntering in as I was leaving, oblivious of the drama that had transpired. I felt envious of their calm self-satisfaction. I may have to ammend rule number one regarding timeliness. A late arrival would have made all the difference last night....

Tampa, Difficult Subjects, Pride

Friday night I drove all the way to Tampa to read some poetry in an open mic at Jake's Java Joint. Performers included a mix of poets and musicians and they were very friendly. The venue looked like an office supplies store by day/ nightclub by night. They had couches, a black backdrop with shimmery lights, smoothies, snack food, espresso and many pieces of office equipment piled up in stacks along the back half of the space. I couldnt help feeling we were part of some underground arsty employee heist of an unsuspecting office supply chain. Kudos for making the most of your day job, you overworked xeroxing artiste!

Ava (my publicist) and I arrived very very late and thus missed most of the other performers but the audience was quite forgiving. I read two poems, "We Are the Women" and "Purple People". "We are the Women" is about survivors of child sexual abuse and as such is a risky choice. Are they gonna cry? Tune out? Walk away in horror? One never knows. I got lucky (if such a word can ever be appropriate given the subject matter) --nobody stood up and walked out.

I have had the simultaneously fortunate and unfortunate experience most of the times I have read that poem of having a large number of audience members respond to the piece by looking at me with looks of unexpected but frank recognition. They KNOW what I am talking about even if they wish they didnt. For most poems, such looks would be entirely gratifying but seeing these looks in response to a poem about survivors and incest is bittersweet. Looking into their eyes makes it difficult for me to finish the poem without crying even though I recognize with some satisfaction that such responses mean I am speaking FOR as well as to many people with this poem. It is my hope that when I read it I am speaking for those who cannot or will not speak of such things. Why should they? Living through it is enough.

The people loved Purple People but then they always do. What's not to love about a poem about loving yourself? Loving your mixed self when people want you not to?

I got to talk to a number of poets after the event and found out that Tampa is boiling over with poetry venues. I will be back!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hookahs and Poetry: Bad mix?

Decided to go to Natura, a small coffee house near the University of Central Florida in Orlando on Thursday night. This is a very cute place and quite possibly the only place in the South that serves my tea, Yerba Mate! Long before energy drinks were invented by westerners, the Indigenous folk in the Amazon had cultivated and perfected this tonic for energy, the prevention of disease, and general health...but I digress. Poets have to sign up early in the day for Natura because it is a popular place. Not knowing this, I got stuck with the only slot left for people who call up the night of the gig in search of a open mic slot: 8:15.

At 8:15 Natura is full of disgruntled 20 year old boys smoking hookahs filled with flavored tobacco. They are young, they are surly, they are without dates, and they are coming as close to getting high as they legally can given their age and various state and federal laws. Maybe not the best crowd for poetry?

Turns out Natura does not get hoppin til 9 or so. Who knew? Apparently all the Indie Musicians, poets, artists, alternative, progressive t-shirt wearing, and healthy types in Orlando. Standing room only. Some good music. Too bad my spot was over by then.

Earlier in the evening, since it was not clear that my audience was more than vaguely aware there was even a stage in there muchless a performance going on, I read a really long poem, Names, which talks explicitly about the crimes white Floridians committed against Native Americans (Seminoles) in Florida. I figured I had nothing to lose.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Back on the road

After far too long of a hiatus I am going back out on the road to perform this summer. First stop Cassadaga--a small Spiritualist community in Central Florida. Cassadagans are a friendly if unusual bunch: population: about 100; median age 60, median age of home 160, main occupation: talking to spirits. So, I will be performing for not just humans but also for their ghostly companions. I wonder if the dead are a hard audience to play to? Hmmmm.....