Some Post-Mammy Questions For Today

Originally uploaded at

Dear Y’all:

I have really appreciated the many hits on my review of The Help, and the new readers who have found my blog. I thank y’all so much for the love.

And so, for those of y’all who don’t regularly read this blog, I’d thought I’d introduce you to the real me. And if you still like the real me, come on back and read again. And if you don’t, well, I’m not going to change, and it’s been a long time since I thought about doing so. I’m not going to lie to you.

Anyway, I want to complicate this issue of public representations of Black women and ask some very difficult questions that occurred to me this morning.

Do the images of the Black Mammy and the historical inaccuracies of the Civil Rights era–the past–depicted in The Help movie do any more damage to the public image or private self-esteem of Black women than, say, the following (below) rappers calling Black women (at least one of) the following (below) various demeaning, cruel epithets in public–on their Cds–in the present?

Demeaning And/Or Cruel Epithets







Hip Hop Artists Who’ve Used At Least One Of The Above Epithets Frequently

Too Short


Dr. Dre

Snoop Dog

Biggie Smalls


Lil Kim


Kanye West

Lil Wayne



Why will we Black people rally the academic and artistic troops and write all kinds of reviews and responses to The Help, when Watch the Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West came out two days before that movie, and I counted at least 20 uses of the word “b**ch” on that Cd, and in one song, Kanye raps about throwing his personal body fluids on a woman’s face? How come that doesn’t work Black academics and artists into a blog-writing fury?

If Jay-Z’s and Kanye’s hearts are still considered to be in the “right place” when they demean (presumably Black) women, why can’t we assume that the heart of White southerner Kathryn Stockett (the author of The Help) is in the same “right place” when she produces a demeaning representation of Sisters?

I’ve heard the following excuse for Black male/female Hip Hop artists calling Sisters out of their name: “Well, if you know you’re not a [fill-in-the-blank demeaning epithet], it shouldn’t bother you.” Taking the same simple line of logic: If you’re an African American woman and you know you’re not a Black Mammy—or if you love  an African America woman and you know she’s not a Mammy–then why should The Help  bother you so much?

Sidebar: You do know I was put on this planet to cause trouble, right? I can’t help it. My great-granny was a root worker.

By the way, my regular readers know that I am not someone who uses profanity in my blog, and I do not like to publish comments that contain profanity, either. (Yes, I am a Southern Lady.) I didn’t want to water down the impact of the epithets by using asterisks, but I did, since 99% of us who are grown will know the word.

Ok, that’s all for now.

I’m hoping to have something you can feel–to quote from Sparkle for all you old heads–on Monday. Until then,  have a wonderful weekend and whether or not you come back to the blog, I hope I’ve done something good for you, even if only for a little while.




Black and Wired, Here and Across the Water

A few days ago, I was talking to my mother about the internet. My mama is one of those older folks who haven’t really caught on to email, let alone looking online to research for information, or connecting with friends from high school, etc. Frankly, I think it’s because she is wary of strangers and despises undue familiarity from folks who haven’t earned the right to really know her.

And also, folks who come from the country don’t need the internet. They just have that one nosy person who gets in everybody’s business—that person you might call a “microcosm” of an online informational system. Usually, that person will start a conversation with the following phrase, “You know I don’t like to gossip, but…”

Anyway, I have to admit that sometimes I am a bit put off by the sense of instant intimacy that some folks try to claim with me online, but I’ve learned how to fend it off and still maintain my basic sense of friendliness.  I’ve only had to “bless out” (the ladylike version of “cuss out”) maybe five people since I started my blog—a personal best record for me. And I kept it classy.

But what Mama does admit is a good thing is that the internet has allowed me to connect with people that I never would be able to meet simply because of the distances between us: people from across the North American continent and Western and Eastern Europe.  But what we in the United States take for granted as a “global network” is not truly that for many of the people living in Africa.

In 1999, writer Anthony Walton wrote a piece for the Atlantic called, “Technology vs. African Americans.” (Click here to read the piece; it’s fascinating and Walton keeps it real and smart, as he always does.) Walton talks about the fact that he was concerned that Black folks might get left behind technologically. Well, some of us got that hint—I know I did—and now, Black folks have caught on to the “internet revolution.”

African Americans love us Twitter, we’re all on Facebook, we have started our own blogs, some of us have started our own magazines and literary journals online. And we can even shut folks down when we band together collectively, as when Black folks got Satoshi Nanazawa fired from Psychology Today for publishing a “scientific” piece on PT’s website that asserted that Black women were less attractive than women of other races. He even had his “empirical proof” together. Oh, you know the Sisters were mad, and rightly so. (The link to this article was taken down because of all that outrage.)

But there are other even bigger, ways to come together on the web and effect change.

Some of you might not know, but I’m planning a research trip to Senegal for a book of poetry I’m writing that imagines the life and times of the Eighteenth Century African American poet, Phillis Wheatley. And for me, the notion of “transatlantic” has become really important over the past three years that I’ve been working on this book. It’s opened my eyes to the connections that remain over her and over there. And it’s got me thinking about other kinds of connections.

For months now, I’ve been reading about an organization that seeks to connect folks living throughout the “Third World” with a creative and original use of the World Wide Web. The organization is called Envaya. Co-Founded by Americans Joshua Stern and Jesse Young, and African sister Radhina Kipozi, who is the Tanzania Program Manager, Envaya is unique because it focuses on real needs that the internet can help Africans meet.

Surely, social contacts are important. I can’t tell you how lonely I would be out here on the prairie if I didn’t have friends that I could talk to, many of whom live out of state. But Envaya is leveraging the internet for even bigger game: because many of Tanzania’s citizens live in what we Americans would call “the country,” they are cut off from urban areas (truthfully, the urban areas also suffer form problematic information technology resources) and when they have a basic problem like, for example, getting a water well dug in a certain type of terrain, it can be a problem of a magnitude we can’t imagine over here just to get information or even be aware that others are out there trying to solve those problems, and may, in fact, have solutions.

Envaya has established a software platform, so that local groups in rural and urban areas all over Tanzania can set up websites. The websites and the software designed to work with them, also provided by Envaya, provide a means of communication with each other and the wider world, Then, they can talk to each other about how to raise money to get things done in their small towns/villages or they can collaborate with information on solving larger issues—without being face to face.

For example, they can find resources about educating special needs children. Or they can get the information about how to fight deforestation—a real issue in the Third World—or how to provide clean water for everyone, which is something we Americans of all races take for granted over here. They can organize conferences with the country to meet and get to know others with the same concerns and interests, and, as is already happening, they can connect with supporters and people of similar beliefs who are already on the web for information exchange and monetary support.

Stern calls what they are doing “grassroots to grassroots,” and it is one of the brightest hopes of the organization. Click here to read a Forbes magazine feature on Joshua Stern’s global venture with Envaya.

Envaya is doing really good work, y’all, but they are a non-profit organization and they need donations, because Envaya provides this service and technology for free to Africans. And it’s open source, which means any engineer can use the code, for free, and can add to it and help build the system.

Another part of the plan is to train and mentor African programmers so that they can contribute directly to the Envaya platform. Already, Tanzanian programmers and web designers are working with the code, and the big dream is for African computer engineers to create civil society tools directly based on their own interpretations of what their local needs are without any need for intervention from others and to add them to the platform.

Now that the pilot program has proven wildly successful in Tanzania, they are expanding this month to Rwanda in a partnership with the Canadian Digital Opportunity Trust, and have plans over the rest of the year to roll out to Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Egypt, and perhaps Southern Sudan. This network is attempting to help Black folks across the water do something fantastic: help themselves. They are empowering Africans to find local solutions instead of depending upon outsiders to do the work for them.

Ultimately, the dream is to provide the concept and the technology to “civil society” groups throughout the underdeveloped world, allowing them to begin to participate in the benefits that the internet can provide, and to work on and share “bottom up” solutions rather than being dictated to by the powers that be. Recent events in Tunisia and Egypt provide a small hint of what could be possible as people gain the tools to communicate and organize themselves.

Isn’t this a great idea to bring the world-wide web to, like, the actual wide world?

Click here to donate to Envaya, y’all, and do our African Brethren and Sistren a solid. You know you want to, and every little bit helps. But if you don’t have any money, they are also looking for help, from volunteers of all kinds: software, engineers, folks interested in the nonprofit sector in general, people interested in international development, and partners who might help Envaya deploy in new regions and countries. You can go to their website and find out how to help at

Father’s Day And The Ghosts of Negroes Past

Daddy as a toddler

Last year, I wrote a post about my father and why I dread Father’s Day each year. This year is no different. I started working up a to a sad two weeks ago, particularly because this is the second year in a row that Father’s Day has been preceded by strange occurrences.

Early last year, a good friend of mine passed and that was horrible. And this year, I’ve had a parade of Ghosts of Broke-Down Negroes Past to contact me. (GBDNP for short.) It seemed that every man I had dated since college showed up. Yes, I did say, “What. The. Hell?”

Men from fifteen or more years ago, when I didn’t know how to dress, wore unfortunate hairdos, and didn’t have an emotional backbone to speak of.  In particular, one past GBDNP “friended” me on Facebook. He was the only man out of my past collection that would have been suitable as a mate, at least on the surface. He was smart, hard-working, seriously pretty—and dark brown-skinned, unlike my daddy (which used to be very, very important to me when I was younger. Not so much now.) Problem was, this GBDNP was completely lowdown, and in addition, he was one of them intellectual, double-talking Inscrutable Chocolate Sensei types that you’re never going to get any apology or emotional truth from.

Usually, past lovers showing up doesn’t bother me. Once we’ve had a real relationship, a GBDNP never gets another chance to make a fool out of me, not matter how fine and chocolate he is. After all, if he had acted right I would have never broken up with him in the first place; we’d be married right now with some Inscrutable Chocolate Juniors running around.

After my last conversation with this particular GBDNP, though, I started having strange dreams of my daddy. In past dreams, I’m terrified of my father; then, I end up fighting him in the dream. I’m hitting him or kicking him, and it doesn’t take a therapist to figure out that’s all my anger coming out.

But in dream of a few days ago, we were sitting in a car going somewhere and he was trying to talk to me, calmly; he put his hand on my arm for emphasis–gently, not in a pushy way–but I kept talking loudly right over him. “I’m not trying to hear that, Daddy,” I said. “So please just shut up right now. And don’t be sitting so close to me, neither. You stay over there on your side of the seat.”

Before this, I hadn’t had a dream of my father in a few months, and I haven’t had one to disturb me in about a year, not since I experienced what I think of as my “womanhood epiphany.” Yet here I was, letting my father bother me again, after he’d been dead for twenty-five years. I woke up from that dream completely sad and drained. My bones felt heavy. Then, I started coming down with a cold, even though I had been taking vitamins and taking good care of myself.

And so, finally, I decided it was time to do what I’d resisted for so long: forgive my father.

I’ve thought about forgiveness for years, but couldn’t get there. No matter how much I loved my daddy, he wasn’t a nice man, at least not inside our home.  There was no happiness in that home; the only happiness I remember is from visiting my mother’s family Down South in Eatonton, GA. I never wanted those summers to end.

The happiness I have in my life now is not the kind you might imagine, where you effortlessly float into  joy as a natural consequence of wisdom. I’ve met some of those naturally wise people and frankly, sometimes they get on my last damned nerve, all that  serenity and whatnot.

No, since my childhood, every bit of happiness I possess, I have clawed for. It was a bare-knuckled, back-alley fight, and I was determined to be happy to spite my father. I wanted to show him that he had not succeeded in destroying me. Every time something good in my life happened, I would talk to his spirit and say, “See, I told you so, Daddy. I won. You didn’t.”

Of course, I know that’s not healthy, so don’t be shaking your head at me right now. I didn’t say it was healthy. I said it was a fight.

And in the same way I fought for happiness for myself, I fought against forgiveness of my father. My resistance had a lot to do with the anguish I saw raining down on my family, so much of it because my father hadn’t dealt with his own pain, but expected us to put up with his meanness out of a sense of his own emotional entitlement. He denied his wife and children the knowledge of his insides and then blamed us because we didn’t understand him. He would be so nice, and then, a sudden rage would come out of nowhere. I learned to be constantly on edge as a child and not to trust anyone.

After my father died, several Brothers that I dated stood in for my father in different ways. I tried to understand them and carry their emotional loads, too, hoping that would make them treat me better.  But sometimes, I thought about my emotional load. Besides Jesus, what Black man had ever gone out of his way to know me? What about my pain? What about my feelings of not being a full woman in this racist society?

Certainly, the message I received from my father was that I wasn’t lovable, pretty enough, or a good girl. As an adult, I retreated into my rage against Black men.  I decided if Brothers wanted to do me wrong, and then, when I got an attitude, call me “an angry Black woman”, I would oblige them and then some. Just try me and see how angry I could get. I can’t tell you the number of Black men that I have verbally eviscerated using the defense of “don’t start none, won’t be none;” there used to be nothing that gave me greater pleasure than to take a Black man’s pride from him. I admit it, and I can’t say I’m sorry. But once I grew emotionally, going toe to toe with anyone took too much energy. Sure I go off still, but far more rarely these days.

A while back, I’d stopped trying to get present boyfriends carry the burden of my childhood pain, but I learned these past few weeks that no matter how much I have grown, and fought for happiness and peace, the past was going to keep coming back, if I didn’t finally deal with it.  As one of mentors likes to say, there are no accidents. Even if I couldn’t give the burden to anyone, it was still there.

I knew it was time to forgive. This was the final frontier.

When I rose yesterday morning, I had to remind myself that I’m forgiving Daddy not because I am making amends to him and/or saying he was a good person and a Positive, Strong Black Man. He was what he was, good, bad, and in between, and he hurt me terribly.  But a grown woman doesn’t find her joy to spite somebody, even a mean somebody; she finds joy to celebrate herself.

As Lucille Clifton (my favorite poet) wrote once, “Won’t you celebrate with me/what I have shaped/into a kind of life?”

Forgiving my daddy completely—which might take a long, long time—doesn’t mean what happened between him and me was okay. It means that I finally can lay this burden down, by the riverside, the roadside, or outside my house before I walk into the sanctuary of my home.  And that doesn’t mean that I won’t remember what happened in my childhood. It just means, what happened won’t have anymore power over me.

Soul Food: Embracing My Inner Old Black Lady (Part I)

Grandma Florence, circa 1990

My maternal grandmother was the worst singer of church songs, ever. I mean, Florence Paschal James could not sing a lick. Maybe that’s why it took so many years for me to love the Traditional Spirituals (or what used to be called the Negro Spirituals).

After a Sunday morning of Grandma Florence’s reedy, off-key singing, all of us in the house would head out to Flat Rock Primitive Baptist Church for Sunday services. Flat Rock was a church of mostly old folks who dragged their grandchildren along. The songs dragged as well, as the song leader led the congregation in what I now know is called “line singing.”

There was “shouting,” too, as one or more of the old ladies would catch the Holy Spirit, start screaming, and fall into the arms of one of the church members. Then, they would fan her with a church fan that had a blond Jesus on the front and the name and address of Rice’s Funeral Home on the back. Mr. Rice was the African American mortician in town; to this day, I don’t know where the White folks in Eatonton, Georgia go when they need to bury their dead.

Those summers represented my first and most lasting experience with spirituality, and for many southern Black folks, my early memories of church are extremely familiar, but I did not and still do not follow a traditional path to spirituality, at least how that path tends to look in most African American community(ies).

These days, I’m a radical Black Feminist Christian and sometimes I think there are maybe ten other people like me in the world (if I am lucky.)  And so, there’s no comfortable spiritual model for me.  This has been a problem for Sisters going all the way back to the African American spiritualist Jarena Lee, the first woman authorized to speak publicly by the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Within my own family, which is populated with fundamentalist Christians, I’m something of a pariah because I don’t go to church. Mama, who is a feminist but also a devout Catholic, finally gave up on my attendance, though on Christmas and Easter, she’ll gently remind me that I can always go back to church; it will be there when/if I need it. “Thank you, Mama,” I say, in that childhood, exasperated cadence of old.

And then, there are my “strange” theological interpretations of The Word.

For example, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with being gay, despite the “Sodom and Gomorrah” section of the Old Testament. One reason is that particular section of Genesis is full of extremely problematic contradictions: Lot first offers his daughters to a crowd of men to gang rape who circle the house, instead of the male guests the crowd wants to “know.” After Lot’s wife is turned into salt, Lot commits incest with those same daughters, though it is framed in scripture as the daughters plotting to ply him with alcohol so that they may “preserve the seed” of their father; once he’s drunk as Cooter Brown, they take—ahem—advantage of him. That’s just completely nasty, ok?

So some man offering up his female children to be gang raped and then having nasty incest with them are both perfectly fine—but being gay (even in a committed, loving, monogamous relationship) isn’t? What kind of sense does that make? Nonsense.

Also, although men wrote the biblical scriptures, there are many, many examples of faithful women in those scriptures.  In the New Testament, all of the Twelve Apostles abandon Jesus when he’s arrested by officers of the Roman Empire, but ironically, it is his female followers who remain faithful all the way through his execution. And despite some problematic sexist moments for Jesus in the New Testament, he performs (for me) the ultimate feminist act: he trusts a woman with his spiritual mission.

Mary Magdalene was the one Jesus revealed himself to on the third day when he rose from the dead; she was the one who went and spread the Good News. To me, that is clear evidence that Jesus was a Colored Male Feminist. He may have been celibate, but he clearly preferred the ladies’ company when it came to doing the real work of God.

In the Black church, it’s Ladies First, too. I think about those old Black women of my childhood who got happy at Flat Rock Primitive Baptist. Catching the spirit was how they experienced God, how He arrived in their souls.  And I think about those church fans; they had the picture of a White Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes, but when I was a young girl, my grandma Florence had a vision of Jesus. In the vision, he was a Black man with nappy cornrows down to his shoulders.

What you need to know about my grandma Florence is that she was nobody’s racial radical and nobody’s feminist, either. (Though in her youth,  she did once beat a grown man senseless, and at the time she weighed only about a hundred pounds and stood at five feet three inches. That’s another story, though.) In fact, just the opposite. Born in 1909, grandma did not believe in challenging the White power structure in the least. But when she had her vision of Jesus, she took it as a sign from God, and never questioned it as the truth, up until the day she died.  She also spoke publicly about it.

Like grandma, I can note my own signs from God. Years ago, before I came to live a whole-hearted spiritual life, I was living in Talladega, Alabama with my mother, and there was a Black male minister who worked at the historically African American college that was named for the town. He was a nice guy and he liked to talk to my mother all the time. If I was in my mother’s office, he would talk to me, too.  He always referred to God as both male and female.

One day, I asked him how a strong, feminist woman could ever be a happy Christian. I’d noticed that in the Black churches, women were discouraged from speaking, yet in our community churches, women represented the largest population. And he said to me, “Honorée, I don’t know that a truly strong, Black woman can ever be happy in this sexist world, period. But God made you this way on purpose. He/She never makes any mistakes. He/She makes mystics to question folks about faith, to keep them honest and true to His or Her word. And Honorée, you are a mystic.”

A mystic? I didn’t live in a cave, I didn’t wear loincloths, I liked to have sex outside of marriage, and if anything, I looked at religion as a figurative crack pipe for weak-minded people to suck on. I wanted to laugh in this brother’s face, but I was polite and didn’t say anything in response to him, because again, he was a nice guy, and besides, my mother was sitting right there.

When I look back, having that conversation with that minister in Talladega was one of the defining moments of my spiritual life. He saw me, so clearly, even when I didn’t see myself at the time. (A decade after that, I encountered into a young Native American sundancer, a Mvskogee student of mine who asked me, out of the blue, “You have visions, don’t you, Professor Jeffers?” That was another defining moment.)

It’s taken me all these years to look up what that minister called me, a “mystic.” It means “one who believes in mysticism.” And “mysticism” means “the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be obtained through subjective experience.” It doesn’t say anything about where you live or whether you like to get naughty every once in a while.

So those ladies from Flat Rock Primitive Baptist were mystics. When they got happy with the Holy Spirit, they had a “direct knowledge of God or spiritual truth.” My grandma was a mystic; when she had her vision of a Black Jesus that was her “subjective experience.”

I’d been defensive about how fundamentalist Christians criticized my feminist/womanist beliefs and made assumptions about my approach to spirituality, but at the same time, I’d been condescending toward my country grandma’s spirituality. I’d thought that she couldn’t be anyone’s mystic because she hadn’t been the best reader, she’d spoken in non-grammatical English—what we now call the “Black vernacular”—and she hadn’t been to anybody’s seminary and couldn’t tell you where one was located if you asked her.

Yet she was someone who believed God talked to her, even if what He said contradicted the teachings of her church, as her vision of Jesus had. (It was no mistake that Jesus was a White guy on the front of those church fans; they had been made special for the Black churches in that town.)

So if being a mystic was good enough for Grandma, the ultimate Old Black Church Lady, it should be good enough for me, too.

As a Christian, I’ve been told by other Christians—presumably better and more faithful Christians—that there is only one way to believe in God: by reading the Bible. The Word will give me everything I need, and what I needed was to stop being a feminist woman who didn’t believe that a man had more power than I did.  But for me, a strong-willed, questioning grown woman who’s paying all her own bills without a man to “head” my household, I’ve had to go back to those Old Black Ladies to find my way on my brand-new, modern holy path.  But I will admit that I had to learn to sing the Spirituals all by myself.

Decent People Action Alert: Troy Davis

I’m not someone who wholeheartedly agrees with the death penalty, but honestly, I’m not someone who rules it out either. When I do agree with the death penalty in those rare cases, it has to be because someone did something truly, truly horrific, and that horrific act must be proven beyond doubt.

Troy Davis (from The Color of Change website)

Lately, though, those rare cases are getting rarer for me, as I read the history of the death penalty in this country over the last nearly four hundred years, when people were put to death for social transgressions that did not involve taking a life at all, but rather for being the “wrong” race or daring to challenge the power of the state. Certainly some of those folks who have been executed were guilty of murder, but history shows us that the death penalty has been applied overwhelmingly in this country because of class and race bias and not in the service of justice.

Today, I saw a link on Facebook from The Color of Change about a man named Troy Davis, and I’m embarrassed to say, I almost scrolled past it. But when I stopped and read, I’m glad I did. Y’all know I’m from Georgia, and so, the case of Troy Davis hits literally close to home. Here is The Color of Change webpage for him.

If you want to read in depth about Troy Davis’s case, click this link for articles on him on Amnesty International’s website.

There have been several cases in the past few years of Black men who were convicted and sentenced to death based upon eyewitness testimony, only to have DNA evidence exonerate those men. Some of these Brothers have spent at least a decade on death row before getting out. That is indeed horrible, but they are the lucky ones, because we African Americans all know the history, the true stories of other Black men who were put to death for crimes they didn’t commit. In Georgia, as in all the Deep South states, these kinds of stories are all too frequent.

Given the current crisis facing the Black community in regards to the prison industrial complex and the rush to imprison Black men–and to make them work as free labor, in some cases–we definitely need to know absolutely that a murder has been committed before a state takes the drastic step of executing a human being.

I don’t sign a lot of things–I’m pretty skeptical–but I want y’all to know that I signed my name to the Color of Change petition to stay the execution of Troy Davis. I am asking everyone who reads this blog not only to sign the petition, but to spread the word about this situation immediately. Time is of the essence.

If we can get the news out about somebody’s latest rap video and get it a million hits on You Tube, surely we can move the news of this man through the internet grapevine to save his life–at least until all the facts of the case are in. Click on this link, please, to sign the Color of Change petition for Troy Davis.

Whether or not you believe in the death penalty—and I’m positive some of y’all do believe, and trust me, I’m not trying to judge if you do—ask yourself this: if this man Troy Davis was your brother or father—or you—wouldn’t you want there to be no doubt at all before an execution took place?

Thank y’all for reading.



The Entire Dream

On Wednesday, I talked about the speech that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave at the March on Washington. Most people haven’t seen that full speech, only the brief minutes about the dream. The man was an oratorical genius and a great human being, and I’m telling you that you really haven’t lived–or thought or philosophized–until you have seen the WHOLE speech Dr. King gave that day in Washington.

But you know I got y’all, so here it is below!:-) (After a brief intro, the speech begins at about 1:15 into the video)

Happy King Weekend, y’all!



Mary Turner: A Remix/Love/Prayer (for Kanye West)

Dear Y’all:

I wrote this (scroll below) today in sadness and outrage over the latest Kanye West video, “Monster,” which features lynched Black and White women. I saw the video last night.

If you would like to see the video, here’s the link. I warn you, it is graphic and disturbing.

[UPDATE: A friend of the blog just informed me that the link to the Kanye West video takes you to a blocked page. I’m so sorry. However, if you go DIRECTLY to the You Tube website (not from my blog), and put in the search “Kanye West Monster” it will take you to the official video with no blocking.–I just did that and it works:-)!]

This is not the first time I have written about the tragedy of Mary Turner.(I have a poem in Red Clay Suite about her.) If you would like to find out more about Miss Mary, who was lynched in Valdosta, Georgia in 1918—along with her husband Haynes Turner—you can click on this link. It is from the “Remembering Mary Turner website, which is the website of the “Mary Turner Project,” responsible for a commemoration of her death.

Also, if you click this link, it will take you to a podcast I conducted with Julie Bucker Armstrong, who has written a book on artistic representations of the lynching of Mary Turner. You can download the podcast for free.

There are people who have defended Kanye’s visual representation of female lynching–used as a metaphor to represent his Black male pain over his treatment by the music industry and the media–as “art.”– I hope you can understand why I don’t agree.

Have we come so far that our ancestral memories escape us?





Mary Turner, A Remix/Love/Prayer

……….for Kanye West


In a book I come upon her, a woman named Mary. A Black woman speaking out for her flesh of her flesh. A Black woman defending a man named Haynes, soon to be absent.


There are gone men in my own family, from death, from pain, taken to the wind, eaten by the voices singing to them.

I think of the absent father of my father–perhaps, the author of all that bled in my house. His was a name spoken with bitterness and longing. His is a name I reach for, a reason and a reconciliation.


Haynes is lynched along with other men. The frenzy of that day.  A rampage. A party. The perfume of dark murder in the air.

Mary cries out in outrage.

Mary lifts her hands and mouth to Jesus.

I’ma tell. I’ma tell. I’ma tell.


In the film, women hang dead with chains, dangling by their necks. Artfully carved faces covered with paint.

A young brown man holds a severed head by the hair. He speaks of pain. He speaks of betrayal. He does not speak of the women dangling in the background.

He does not speak of Mary. He does speak of Haynes.


Here is what happens next.

Mary is not the mother of Jesus. She doesn’t get to live. Neither does her child, eight months gone in the womb.

I’ma tell.

The mob turns on her. When she is dead and hanging, they cut the child from her womb. They take turns stomping it to death. They leave no mark for a grave.

I’ma tell.

If you pass by that spot, a baby’s cries will sound out Jesus.


The book has been closed. My dreams are ongoing.

In my dreams, I reach for Black men speaking softly to me, touching my skin. Healing an uncalled name.

In my dreams, I reach for one of Mary’s hands. Haynes and I walk with her between us. We pat the quickening of her womb.

In my dreams, the child is alive. The two of us laugh as we go walking on that red dirt path. We disappear through the road forced into wood.



Decent People Action Alert

I met Dean Young in August of 2003, when I was a fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. He was a high-spirited, sweet man who wrote quirky poems—and he laughed at his own jokes in those poems. But if someone had told me that Dean Young had a defective heart, I would have sworn it was a joke. His energy seemed boundless.

Just last night I found out that the poet Dean Young is in need of a heart transplant. First, I cried, because this seemed like some seriously unfair [insert many, many expletive nouns] for a nice man to have to face.

And then I decided to post about it, because I’ve noticed that many of the folks who follow my blog and who write comments or email me seem to have really sweet, generous spirits—even the ones who disagree with me. So I thought I would ask y’all to please help Dean to get him a new heart. The cost of the surgery is really high. Like, super high.

Now, I know it’s the end of the year, and I know Christmas is just around the corner, so everybody’s a little short on money, but if you can, please do Dean a solid and give something—if not now, then whenever you can. This is a real person—and you know if I didn’t think he was a nice guy, I sure enough wouldn’t be blogging about him. (Y’all know how I get down.).

Here’s the link to donate and read about Dean.

And even if you can’t donate money but you believe in prayer, mojo, or just good thoughts, then round those up, and send them Dean’s way, constantly. And please, please spread the word about Dean. That will help, too.

Get Well Soon, Our Queen

We all found out recently that Aretha Franklin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and that has us all pretty scared and upset, but let’s not lose hope for her recovery, ‘cause everybody in the (Black) world is praying for Miss Aretha. Y’all know I am. She’s like a member of my family, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. I just unabashedly love and adore me some Re-Re.

I was introduced by my mama to her music when I was five years old . I thought they were best friends, because my mama didn’t use a last name to refer to her. She was just “Aretha.” Enough said. The first song I remember hearing by her is “Chain of Fools.”



I could read by then, but I was confused by the concept of people making a chain. Did they turn themselves into metal?  My mama tried to explain, but I still didn’t get it.

I was twelve years old when I realized my mama had never even seen Aretha Franklin in concert, let alone been friends with her. But I was hooked by the time I was seventeen and suffered my first break-up.  I played “Don’t Play that Song”  over and over, even though I was violating Miss Aretha’s orders.



Then, I became a “real woman” and thought I was grown. I didn’t know it would take me fifteen more years to become a real real woman, because when I heard Dr. Feel Good–two decades after my mother had played it and laughed like she had a secret–and I realized it was a slightly naughty song, I felt I had arrived at an exotic locale.



Miss Aretha was really my first introduction to the blues. I heard “Drink Muddy Water” on my mother’s record player well before I knew about Bessie Smith or Lead Belly–or even B.B. King. I heard stories about musicians my mother and father had seen live, like Billy Holiday or Dinah Washington, but those weren’t the first records I heard. Aretha was first.

She has helped me to travel to that Black community place, and a bunch of other important destinations–like spirituality and defiance and razor-blade-heartache and do-right womanhood–though I’ll probably never meet her.

So let’s all pray for Miss Aretha, y’all. Get well soon, Our Queen.


Beauty and Justice

Herbert Lee

A few weeks ago, someone posted a link on Facebook about Herbert Lee, an African American civil rights activist in Mississippi who was shot and killed in 1961 by E.H. Hurst, a White man who never was charged with the crime, much less paid for it. (Here’s a link to information about Lee and the crime. )

Well, recently a marker was placed at the spot of Lee’s murder, to commemorate the crime. For me, this sort of event is filed underneath the “God Be A Witness” label. Surely, sending the person to prison who killed someone is important, but to me, most important is that this person who tried to help his little corner of the world–Herbert Lee–not be forgotten.

A friend of mine, the poet Jake Adam York has written two books of poetry commemorating slain Civil Rights heroes. He’s from Alabama, and is doing vital work on reconciliation and history memory.

I’ve been meaning to have a podcast with Jake, ever since April, and haven’t gotten around to it because I am so busy I think I am going crazy, but when Jake sent me his poem that he had written on Herbert Lee, I knew I had to share it with y’all and I asked his permission to post it. It is a beautiful poem, written by a do-right man who is trying to bring justice to the world through his art; I think that’s important, and I hope you do, too.

Jake’s poem is below.


At Liberty

……21 September 1961, Liberty, Mississippi


Everyone will say he drove to the gin
with a truck full of cotton, so he drives to the gin
and gets in line, and everyone will say
the congressman pulled in behind him, so he gets out
yelling Herbert Lee I’m not messing with you this time,
and his affidavit will say Lee had a tire iron
and there are no photographs so there is
a tire iron and since the congressman will say
Lee swung at him his hand will grasp the iron
under the tangle of his own dead weight
and the congressman will leave and will not
see him again so he just lies there bleeding
and no one will touch him so for a time
he is just a story or a huddle of starlings
or crows or a cloud of bottle flies that might
explode and disappear until the witnesses
can say he’s there and an undertaker can come
with a hearse from the next county over
and then he is dead and the congressman can
tell his story so Herbert Lee will rise
from his coffin and swing his iron
and the FBI can come to make him into evidence
but someone will have roped him into his grave
so there is no photograph and no one sees
the cotton boll wicking blood so there is no boll
only a clear, white negative in the dark
and a paper that slowly fills with flies.