poetry, opinion, pride

Guernica / Lucky Girl

Guernica / Lucky Girl

Great short story about a woman's experience with abortion in the 1960s. This is a very interesting read but the last bit left me with a bit to think about.
Here's an excerpt:

According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 1962—the year I made my trip to Puerto Rico—nearly sixteen hundred women were admitted to just one New York City hospital for incomplete abortions.
In the New York Times in June 2008, Waldo Fielding, a retired gynecologist, described his experience with incomplete abortion complications.
“The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous ‘coat hanger’—which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in—perhaps the patient herself—found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it… Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion—darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.”

For me the abortion question in some regards, is a lot like the sex education debate or the needle exchange debate: No matter what side a person falls on, we have to face the harsh truth that the world is not ideal.  This makes most people uncomfortable because it means that the rules we make sometimes involve choosing the lesser of two evils. Here are a few examples: Needle exchange programs offer drug addicts a a chance to exchange their used needles for new sterile ones. The immediate response for some people would be to claim that needle exchange programs promote and somehow validate drug use. In reality, this is not the case.  Even a slight understanding of the nature of addiction tells us that needle exchange program or not, an addict will get their fix come hell or high water. The only difference the exchange program has is the impact this needle drug use has on community health. Needle drug use is one of the major ways in which HIV is spread along with other blood born diseases. The needle exchange program, especially in places bursting at the seams with drug use greatly curb the spread of disease..no drug addict makes the decisions to get clean or begin use with a needle exchange program in mind.

Then there's the great state of Texas with it's staunch views on sexual education in high school class rooms. I won't say much but here's an interesting fact; sexual education was prohibited because Texans thought it would promote sexual behavior in teens (if you've ever been in a sex ed class then you probably know that there's nothing sex about it) they put this theory to test and are now just realizing that they have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country. There also seems to be a great deal of disease floating around the schools. I'm not saying kids are all going to have sex, but the ones that do are not making that decision based on a class they take in a cramped room. The difference between states that offer sex education and the ones that don't is whether or not the kids who DO choose to have sex know what to do in-order to both protect themselves from STDs as well as unwanted pregnancy.

Where does unwanted pregnancy lead? My senior year of high school a girl, after successfully hiding her pregnancy, delivered her baby in a car alone in a parking lot. According to the news, the child had been asphyxiated. I'm not saying everyone who has an unwanted pregnancy terminates it--this is obviously not true--but the above excerpt and this story proves that the desperation, fear and shame that often follows such events leaves people desperate enough to do unspeakable things. Even when abortion was illegal in the U.S. and in countries where it is still illegal, women have still found ways to terminate at great peril to themselves. Those that survive face the threat of not only disease but permanent damage to reproductive organs. On a global perspective unwed pregnancy is punishable by such practices as whipping, stoning and honor killing. This doesn't take into account the plight of the rape victim in different settings.

Recently, our neighborhood facebook removed the following post put up by a group geared towards women in countries where abortions are illegal. 

It's a complicated issue but stories are important. Not only do they put a human face on something that is often discussed in numerical terms, but it forces us to consider context when making a decision that is too often discussed as though the answer is written in black and white. 

Good reads I've found

Here are links to short stories I've liked

Most are by African authors but I'll toss in some western stuff here and there. These are in no specific order but I'll try to group the authors together that appear multiple times


                                                                 CELL ONE


Those Who Answered to Abraham

by Chinua Achebe, excerpted from Chike and the River


                                                        THE HEADSTRONG HISTORIAN



                                                                        REAL FOOD

                                                                 by http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/09/03/070903fa_fact_adichie

                                                                   SIERRA LEONE, 1997




                                         Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Quality Street

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, guest-edited by Claire Messud 


by E.C. Osondu 

Silver Water
By Amy Bloom


by Sefi Atta, guest-edited by Claire Messud 

There are soooo many more but I'll add later 




The default expression for most Nigerian adults is a mix of disgust and superiority. This downurned mouth and upturned nose has always been a cultural staple. They even dance like that. My mom guilted me into going to a retirement party with her for a man with a P.H.D. who decided to work at a highschool in his later years. “Retired but not tired” one close friend said during a toast that lasted too long. She didn’t want to get lost and since my dad’s in Nigeria now she didn’t want to have to go by herself either. I love my mom but I hate these parties. They begin late and end even later. This one was at 6:30 so naturally we left the house at 7:45. We were both wearing Naija clothes, my mom in a colorful ankara dress and I a maroon lace skirt and blouse with gold flowers. Conservative enough not to upset the old people. We walk into wallgreens to buy a card. Wiss-wissing the automatic double door loud enough to have people at the counters look up from their white plastic bags. A pale skinned African American man with fingerwaves and neat edges broke off from his conversation with another employee at a custemerless checkout and said “Etheopian queens” in a loud voice and begain to repeat a faux bow in which the flat of his palms swatted the air and his head bobbed up and down. My mom might have smiled, she always does. I gave him a deadpanned stare. He could have been a tree or a mail box. That shut him up. Later when we were checking out my mom walked towards his still customerless counter and asked if he was open. He pretended not to hear her. I repeated her question in a firmer voice and put the card on the table. He didn’t look at me. Did he feel bad? Then it occured to me that the uninterested stare he’d recieved bruised him. He was a funny guy, cracking jokes and I didn’t take the bait. Oh well. Maybe its a reflex; not paying any mind to people who think “Ethiopia” or “Sudan” the minute they see or hear something remotely African. It leaves me torn in two because half of me wants to pitty the ignorance and humor him like a child whilst answering his questions about countries and languages. He was lovely, it wouldn’t have been a chore. The other half of me wasn’t in the mood. In the car my mom said that I looked at him angrily but that he was always looking like he “wanted to carry me and run away” (in Igbo) .
isn’t that the story of our lives…Africans and African Americans. sometimes I don’t know the difference between ridecule and admiration .. I guess it works both ways.



I said yes to absolve you
because I was embarrassed on your behalf
your lips are the blunt end of a tongue
that never knew how to ease into things without piercing
you didn’t mean to put me in this position, you said
as if flirting is an accident that can only been seen in progress
it was a reflex,
opening up to you
flinching at the sound of your voice
The grocery list of things you miss about my body
was the longest conversation we’d had in months
I spoke in morsels
trying to eat away the awkwardness
I picture you as my husband sometimes
the way you picture your parents having sex when your mother tells you she’s pregnant
and you’re old enough to know how

It’s a thought I have to shake loose
until that part of the hour glass is empty again
until there’s nothing left but the generic man I used to think about before
I started dating boys
I think about too often
and when you came, it was bitter sweet
your voice in my ear
the complacency of my hips
your legs are trenches that threaten to swallow
the distance I have laid
so carefully between us

originally posted on my tumblr : http://iwakeupblack.tumblr.com/post/6705719127/untitled 


I never knew how to be Black. As a first generation Nigerian living on the south side of Chicago all I could gather, with my Standard English and book smarts, was that I did It wrong. "It" in the eyes of my six year old self was...everything: I walked wrong, talked wrong, was too quiet, too respectful, didn’t wear enough brand names, and never really got into the ‘jig-alo’ song and dance; I wasn’t ‘down’ or ‘bout-it’ or cool enough for ‘90’s grammar school counterparts. Needless to say I never had the luxury believing, as the na├»ve so often do, that Africans are enough like African Americans to mesh into one giant happy diasporic quilt. Over the years my fears of being antithetical to Black popular culture has dissipated. I have a better appreciation and understanding of what it means to be Black (African American) even though that particular story will never truly be mine. However, like most people, Africans and African Americans face an ever evolving struggle to preserve their culture and show appreciation for their origin.Although both groups have different issues to tackle when it comes to preservation of self, there is one front that has emerged as a major battle ground for both, hair and how what we do to it represents our state of mind.

The first time I heard someone bashed for not having ‘natural’[1] hair was among African American friends. When I say bashed I’m not referring to the school yard ‘bald-headed-skally-wag’[2] or ‘horse hair’ taunts thrown around on the blacktop but the very serious intellectual argument that chemically altering ones hair or the use of extensions is a continuation of Black self hate. Until recently, I didn’t hear the echoes of this mentality in the African community, on the contrary, I had a perm before I came to America and the use of hair extensions in braids were quite normal to me and quite African.

The release of Chris Rock’s Good Hair[3] brought a wave of pseudo intellectuals eager to throw a generalizing statement over all Black women; the ones who alter their hair have a fundamentally flawed perception of self. Although literature and cinematography such as this serve a good purpose, or intend to, the zeitgeist they fuel is dangerous. In a crude outline of racial hierarchies one would find black women near, if not completely, at the bottom. Not only do we have to deal with the downsides of being black in America but being women in a world dominated by men.

Although one might argue that the topic of hair applies to men, the reality is that it is one that 99% of the time, applies only to women. Putting parameters on how we can wear our hair is synonymous with the subjugation we have always faced. Even with all the progress left to make we are far enough from slavery to claim some form of mental stability. We should be able to decide for ourselves what is beautiful and dress accordingly without having our self perception scrutinized.

The black woman will never be a believable first class citizen if she is constantly smothered by the sentiments of those trying to liberate her from the after taste of oppression. Rather, in a cruel twist of fate, we will find ourselves trapped in a

cycle of internalized oppression where those who look just like us place the magnifying glass against our skin and judge our actions according to how the past should still be affecting us. It should also be noted that white women do just as much with their hair as black women, although this is not as readily noticeable. There are more ads for white hair alteration in America than for any other race; I am yet to come across an argument attacking their sense of self worth that applies to hair.

Black history is, no doubt, covered in proof that being more white makes advancement easier. The main stream is shaped by the majority. Light skinned slaves got to work indoors as opposed to the hot fields, and those who could pass for white were more likely to get their freedom and stay free. In Haiti, the Mulattos were put in power after the French left because they were seen as better-than their darker skinned counter parts. I am not going to deny the profound effects that Eurocentricism has had on the psyche of minorities. But in this day and age to make such a sweeping statement on that subject as if it applies to all Black women is irresponsible. And why should we be the scapegoat when male dominated Hip-Hop controls the majority of Black popular culture from which emulates the ever glorified “long-haired, thick, redbone”[4] criterion for beauty. The typical response to this would be that all black men don’t prefer lighter skin and longer hair and in that right all women who get extensions aren’t trying to fill a perpetual void.

Conversations such as this always beg us to define culture? Stemming from the Latin word cultura (to cultivate) it has evolved in this century to explain how

people living in different parts of the world represent their experiences through creativity. As experience is ever changing, I can’t help but think that a stagnant view of culture is wrong. It traps us in a sameness that cannot exist in a modern world. More importantly, it blinds us to the progress that we are making. A progressive culture adapts to changing times and technology while maintaining the essence of their traditions and hair is synonymous with art in the African culture, this I know is true. You don’t have to delve into the significance of braiding alone to understand that the play of fingers against scalp holds us together just as much as language and dance. To be frank, there are more important things to worry about when it comes to self preservation.


[1] Natural here means anything chemically altered or artificially lengthened
[2] A horribly mean schoolyard song that you were supposed to sing to people who didn’t have a lot of hair
[3] A documentary detailing the copious amounts of money Black women spend to keep up their elaborate hair styles.
[4] A little Wayne line in Drakes song “I wish I could F*** every girl in the world” is just one example of how hip hop culture glorifies lighter skin and longer hair.

Jos : first draft

At dusk lynching trees cast crucifix shadows
The clouds sop prayers, soaked with stolen breath,
as they rise from still warm bodies
moon is heavy with grief and question
There will be no silence in Jos this evening
500 women and children lye face down in the orange earth with still lips
Unable to turn towards Makkah in early night
Hollow be the names absent spirits leave in mouths of the mourning
Ankara cloths burst with color and sprout from odd corners in the clay
Some had their babies swaddled on their backs when the machetes landed
Some lean over like thatch-roof houses,
their braids concealing copper blood,
lumps of child
bodies are walls to protect the young
lips in salat don’t always keep sharp iron at bay
it lobs off praying hands
in Fajr, Dhuhr, ‘Asr, Maghrib, Isha’
no respecter of persons
The Muslim north and Christian south clash
until there are enough bones to build a tabernacle for both
I hear AK-47s peel back the oxygen leaving semi-permanent exit wound in the air
I’m not sure what holy war looks like
but I never imagined it’d be found in the shell casing of a Heckler and Koch automatic,
the bullet long since lodged in bare back of four year old in Du’ah
the bloody palms of girl-baby

to cleanse a garden you must pull weeds up by their roots
destroy mother and seed
smite the soil

The Look

Inspired by this post on

This is how you make a model:
Suck the iron out of Europe,
spit slaves into the Caribbean who bleed sugar and molasses to New England
Pray that the papaya seeds you stuff in defiled women
will bring forth mulatto children with skin close enough to cotton to save face

Sara Bartmen was forced to expose herself at Universities and Sideshows
Cassava breasts hung in the open air for all of France to see
She died at the ripe age of 26, a penniless prostitute
Hottentot Venus workhorse of racial stereotype
her remains barely saw South Africa in 2002

the chains broken but strings still attached

They say Her hips are just too wide for high fashion
are afraid that the crown of her children will cast a shadow
on empires built from their brokenness

the best black model is a white girl dipped in chocolate
with an acute angle nose you will only find
wading in the Atlantic
narrow enough to stay in her place

One token inkblot in a sea of papyrus
poor Naomi, with her needle point legs and thick lips,
couldn’t put the rest of us in the ball park of Western Europe’s beauty benchmark
if she field-slaved her way down a cat walk ‘till kingdom come

The look book for your average Gucci line:
6% Afro, 6% Asian, 1% Latina 87% stuck in 1955
This is the grey
where industry standard is set
by audience expectation and seamstress assumption
neither can tell the nooses from naps
but know Black girls can’t push product to white buyers
Explains why Prada pencil skirt was never cut for an ethnic waist line
Money is green and melanin hasn’t sold since it’s been sold
So we sit sideline
waiting for some gentle urban brand to breakthrough billboard and catalog conscience
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