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Black(ness) in Bold: Black Professors, Black Experiences and Black Magic.

a dialectical display of revolution, research, ideas, theory and love.

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Musings

Reroute(d).

On a bright Sunday morning,
she murdered expectations without a weapon, but with a truce,
instead.

She made a truce with her heart
that Reality
could no longer fuck with her,
even if it meant that sometimes she had to buy books

instead of pretty flowers.

You see, people are made of flesh and bone. And blood.

And their actions hurt if you rely on them.

But if you can only hold on
And hold out for the “fuck you”
Buried deep in your consciousness,
Nobody can ever hurt you
Again.

© Crystal Belle 2016

Children’s Literacy Habits

literacy
(C) AMITY Publications

I have always been a lover of words and language for as long as I can remember. The magic of stories coming to life on the page is intriguing to me. My mother also has a love of language and words, although she never went to college. Her Trinidadian upbringing, in a postcolonial era during the 50s, frames many of the words she used at home such as “cantankerous,” a personal favorite of hers which later on helped me when I saw it on the SATs. Many times, we associate “proper” literacy practices with wealth, but there are a myriad of literacy practices familiar to working class homes that are equally as important. In our working class home growing up, we had weekly debates based on the news, politics, and various happenings in our community. I grew up with deep literacy-based values in the home that was not only tied to reading books but also speaking, debating and various English dialects (Trinidadian dialects and African American Vernacular English).

Now that I’m a mother, my love of reading and the power of literacy is something that I aim to pass down to my children. My 3-year-old daughter already has an intense love of books and my 7-month old son loves story time. In fact, his ability to listen to an entire story at this age is fascinating to me. Similar to his sister, he loves the rhymes of Dr. Seuss at this age. My daughter has advanced to more lengthy stores with morals/messages. Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, we read one of our favorites titled, Happy Valentine’s Day Mouse. Here is how the conversation went:

Z: Mommy this picture is so funny!
Me: Why is it funny Z?
Z: Because he shouldn’t be exercising like that.

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Engaging in a critical way while reading is an incredibly important aspect of critical literacy that I want to share with my kids. Question everything. Be observant of everything on the page. It is the same way I want them to approach life. That of course is my hope as a mother. Part of my identity as perpetual teacher and professor shapes these values, but I also know how important it is in this world, especially for Black children.

One of the things I love about our local supermarket is the wide array of things they have: floral arrangements, children’s books, toys, etc. As a result, going to the grocery store always turns into book shopping, too. My 3-year-old loves getting new books. Our latest Valentine’s Day book purchase is called Happy Valentine’s Day Little Critter. It’s a cute story with great illustrations. Essentially, the story is about creating valentines in school and hoping to receive some from your friends. Although my daughter doesn’t quite get the concept of making valentines yet, she did enjoy the pull out flaps in the book (think of pop-ups but in a sleeker way) and the images. I think it’s one of our new favorites.

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The cover of Happy Valentine’s Day Little Critter

I sincerely hope that my daughter’s love of literacy remains throughout the course of her life and I hope my son becomes more immersed in the power of literacy, as well. As a mother and as a professor of literacy studies in education, it is something that is critical for the development of my babies. I hope the teachers they eventually encounter embody this principle, as well. Only time will tell.

Beyoncé Does Slay, But Does “Formation?”

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Because this space is meant to be an unapologetic Black space, much like a Third space, operating to uplift, dissect and discover Blackness in all of its realms and (anti) respectability, I think it’s only right that I address Beyoncé’s “Formation.” Being Black in the Divided States is clearly a problem, much like W.E.B. Du Bois reminded us of in 1903 when he asked a simple yet relevant question: how does it feel to be a problem? It is clear that Beyoncé knows that being Black is currently a problem and historically has always been a problem, despite false claims of post-racialism. One could argue that her latest visual protest piece and song “Formation” are a testament to that as well. However, I disagree. *gasp* (how DARE you disagree with Queen Bey?) I saw the Bey hive emerge in all of its glory, ready to attack whomever had anything critical to say about “Formation.” But something else happened, too. I’m a Black woman professor. I have other Black woman professor friends, sista doctas, sista teachers, sista lovers, sista artists and sista community organizers. They too, were convinced that this was the greatest statement Bey had ever made, that this visual revolt was a fabulous SLAY on white supremacy…. I felt alone in my thoughts and my feelings. On one hand, I love the intoxicating beat, her professing her love for her man and child…. But. That was all. A Black anthem? How so? A very smart, extra talented, RICH Black woman, dropped a track the day before the Super Bowl. Obviously she wanted you to learn the words before the big day: 1) So you could sing along 2) So you can eventually purchase the track 3) So you can purchase her world tour tickets that she announced mere seconds after her performance. And I am not mad at this at all. She makes a living by entertaining. And she is allowed to make political statements, create music, and be boldly Black simultaneously. However, as a piece of art, I did not feel the Black anthem claim. As a consumer of media in a critical way, there was something that did not work for me personally after watching the video. As a consumer of popular culture and as a listener, I too have a right to offer my own critiques.

But what about her atop the New Orleans police car which she eventually drowns on? But what about the young Black boy dancing in front of police officers only to have them put their hands up? But what about her ode to feminism by taking her man to Red Lobster if he handles his business in the bedroom while sticking up her middle finger? I agree the images are powerful. I believe many of the images evoke elements of a collective Black consciousness and resistance. You could certainly teach lessons on the structure of the video. BUT. What is this really about? Is Beyoncé really enraged that Black folks are getting murdered by the police? Maybe. It is not my place to judge. I believe she is using her platform to address what is in the collective imagination of many marginalized Black folk, which I guess is cool… But I struggle with the intersections of capitalism and revolution. Can we struggle in theory? In a video? On wax? Who is allowed to capitalize from the struggle narrative? If I’m Beyoncé does that mean I can do it because I’m Black? If I’m Beyoncé, does that mean I have an obligation to do it because Harry Belafonte called me out on my lacktivism (re: lack of activism)? Can lacktivism suddenly become Blacktivism overnight in front of the biggest sporting event of the year in American culture due to its mere BUYING power? These questions are not meant to be rhetorical. I am genuinely grappling with these questions and her cultural and iconic Black woman power.

Then there are other aspects of the imagery in the video that troubled me:

1) Her daughter Blue Ivy looking into the camera’s eyes intensely, childlike with her Afro for the world to see. She is 3. Black girls can’t be carefree children. But as she professes “I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afros…” We know that Black girls’ and Black women’s hair continues to be a site of contention in AmeriKKKa. We know about all of the criticism Blue Ivy’s hair has received, unfortunately, considering that she is a child… But addressing it in this public way, does it empower Blue Ivy’s Black girl magic? Does the video become an historical testament for her to reflect upon? Genuine questions to consider.

2) Beyoncé shaking her ass for the zillionth time, performing moves we have seen time and time again. Her moves profess: I know I’m the shit. Catch me if you can because I’m rich and gorgeous and you know it. One could argue this is her brand of feminism, that she should be able to intersect her sexuality, her creativity and her political consciousness. I am all for women doing what they want, when they want, with their bodies, especially Black women. Yet still, this redundant imagery troubled me.

3) We already know Beyoncé exudes white beauty ideals, blonde hair and all. Her claim that she likes her “Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” while gyrating effortlessly in a Louisiana mansion is certainly textured. Yet still, it alludes to the idea that she can have whoever she wants, yet she chooses the man with the “Jackson Five nostrils.” Is it because deep down we don’t believe someone of her “caliber” (re: complexion) would choose someone like Jay-Z? We all know how Michael Jackson’s nose transformed over the years and yes, we can assume she is talking about the “original” nose but we must admit that the complexity of Jackson’s nose is centuries deep. Perhaps that is her point? It’s hard for me to believe when I keep hearing about her “twirling all over her haters.”

“Okay ladies now let’s get in formation. Show me that you got some coordination.” I have read all kinds of think pieces that this is a call to arms for Black women. That is hard for me to personally digest. We know in dance routines there has got to be coordination. We know when you idolize a pop icon, there has got to be coordination of how people literally fall in line to uphold her above the masses. Every time she says these lines, women are dancing effortlessly in lines, shaking, gyrating, being pretty, being sexy. On the Super Bowl field, the women behind her donned all Black Panther themed outfits. But the message was still the same: I slay. I’m Beyoncé. I’m idolized. I’m rich. And I can do whatever I want. Including a pseudo-consciousness video and folks will call me Angela Davis.

I like a poppin’ Bey song like the next carefree Black woman. I will jam to it. Wear freakum dresses because of it and effortlessly “slay” my so-called haters. But I will not pretend that this song has started any personal revolutions for me, other than grandiose vanity and extreme capitalism in the name of power, while adhering to white supremacist beauty ideals. Period.

President Obama as Teacher

Sometimes I remind myself that President Obama was a teacher before he was president. What if we had more teacher turned presidents? What would that look like? Feel like? Granted he was a law professor. Folks like to make clear distinctions between teachers and professors for obvious elitist and classist purposes. But to teach is to profess and to profess is to teach. Right?

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