Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris | Tempest Challenge BHM

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the spotlight on how often police and other government authority figures target, unduly punish, or kill Black boys and men is that the narrative tends to ignore the fact that this stuff happens to Black girls and women too, at rates that are just as alarming.

The #SayHerName Campaign seeks to document, highlight, and bring into the light the names and stories of the Black women who suffered violence at the hands of police in the U.S., a cycle that starts in grade school. That’s why books like Pushout are important to read.

The description below may be triggering due to an explanation of sexual trafficking and violence.

Fifteen-year-old Diamond stopped going to school the day she was expelled for lashing out at peers who constantly harassed and teased her for something everyone on the staff had missed: she was being trafficked for sex. After months on the run, she was arrested and sent to a detention center for violating a court order to attend school.

Just 16 percent of female students, Black girls make up more than one-third of all girls with a school-related arrest. The first trade book to tell these untold stories, Pushout exposes a world of confined potential and supports the growing movement to address the policies, practices, and cultural illiteracy that push countless students out of school and into unhealthy, unstable, and often unsafe futures.

For four years Monique W. Morris, author of Black Stats, chronicled the experiences of Black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged—by teachers, administrators, and the justice system—and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish. Morris shows how, despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair, black girls still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives in classrooms, juvenile facilities, and beyond.

I haven’t read this book yet, but Melissa Harris-Perry recommended it, and that’s good enough for me. If you have read it, or you do in the near future, please do share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter using the #TempestChallenge hashtag.

Linda Addison author of How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend

Linda Addison Will Scare You (In A Good Way) | Tempest Challenge BHM

If the new movie Get Out is the first time you’ve heard of some Black folks creating media in the horror genre, then you seriously need to take your butt to the nearest online bookstore and check out Linda Addison’s work. Linda is most well known for her horror poetry, which has earned her multiple Bram Stoker Awards given out by the Horror Writers of America. My favorite collection is How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend, but her contribution to Four Elements is a close second.

Linda produces the kind of writing that draws you in whether you’re particularly into poetry or not, and even if you’re not so big on mainstream horror. Just listen to her read “Precious” to get what I mean (scroll down a ways).

Eden Royce, who is way more eloquent than I can hope to be, said this about How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend:

…her poetry is moody and melodic; the meter weaves a dimly lit path and you feel compelled to follow. The verse itself is seductive, almost playful—the picture of elegant disturbia. The prose included in the book is a combination of sub-genres, and you get a taste of homespun magic along with science fiction-laced Gothic horror.

You should read this excellent interview with her in the HWA’s Women in Horror Month series, then pick up a copy of one or all of her poetry collections, then visit her website for a list of other places to find her stuff, and also check out Sycorax’s Daughters, a horror anthology of fiction & poetry by African-American women (some new, some known), edited by Addison, Kinitra Brooks PhD, and Susana Morris PhD.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler

Parable of the Sower / Parable of the Talents by Octavia E Butler | Tempest Challenge BHM

You all didn’t think you were going to get through this whole month without me recommending a Butler novel, did you? I think everyone should read all of Butler’s works. But this recommendation in particular comes to us from author Nnedi Okorafor:

Nigerian-American World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor said 1984 is not the dystopia that feels most relevant to her at this point in history. “After everything that happened, I’m not reading 1984, I’m not reading Fahrenheit 451, I’m not reading A Handmaid’s Tale. I’m reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I feel like if we’re looking for any answers or where we’re going, it’s definitely in Octavia’s work.”

Speaking to The Stream on Al Jazeera, Okorafor read from the African-American novelist’s 1998 sequel, the Nebula-winning Parable of the Talents, which features a presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, who rises to power by promising, like Trump, to “make America great again,” and whose supporters are known to form mobs to burn and feather and tar those who don’t “quite match Jarret’s version of Christianity.”

Okorafor added that “the definition of dystopia depends on the group of people.”

True dat. Read the whole article. Then snag copies of Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents and read them.

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King | Tempest Challenge BHM

At the beginning of this project I exhorted people to spend the month reading books that weren’t only about the Civil Rights struggle, and this pick is not a deviation from that. Coretta Scott King was more than just Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s wife, as has been brought to national attention lately. Hers is the letter Senator Elizabeth Warren was trying to read when Mitch McConnell called her out of order and silenced her. (Interesting to note that later some male senators read the letter and Mitch didn’t try to cock block them.) In said letter, Mrs. King did not mince words:

Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.

…he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.

…The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.

Welp.

You can read the whole letter here or listen to Elizabeth Warren read it below.

Coretta Scott King played an integral role in maintaining Dr. King’s legacy, but that’s not all of who she was. Her memoir, My Life, My Love, My Legacy, showcases that. Put together by journalist and scholar Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds from recorded conversations across 30 years, it focuses on Coretta, not just Mrs. King.

February Tempest Challenge Day 9

Sun Ra and Afrofuturism | Tempest Challenge BHM

At the beginning of the month Legacy.com posted a video celebrating Afrofuturist artists that have passed on. Check it.

For a more in-depth explanation of Afrofuturism, read this excellent primer by Ofeibea Loveless:

In the early ’90s, cultural critics began to talk about the reinterpretation of aspects of African-American life through the lens of speculative fiction. Thus, the term “Afrofuturism” was born. It’s become a surefire way to categorize the quirky, the deep and the cosmic visual, sonic and literary elements of all things black and speculative. It’s generally defined as the “literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past.”

As always, read the entire thing.

A wide range of artists fit under this umbrella, from Octavia E Butler and Samuel R Delany to Jean-Michel Basquiat to Parliment Funkadelic and Janelle Monae. One of the early Afrofuturists, who was doing his thing long before someone coined this term, was poet and performer Sun Ra. When I first encountered him it was in a used bookstore where I picked up a copy of This Planet Is Doomed: The Science Fiction Poetry of Sun Ra[1]. The poems in this slim little book blew me away and made me mad I had not heard of this man before that time. I’m not into Jazz, otherwise I might have.

VICE did a pretty good examination of the man and his work a few months ago while covering the release of a new book about him:

The quest for that “better day” came to define Sun Ra’s interstellar-themed music and philosophy of Afrofuturism, and that urge to write and speak more carefully would become a rule by which he lived his extraordinary life. Most of his poetry has gone largely unnoticed, while his music—which has influenced genres as diverse as dub, Detroit house, and post-rock—has seemingly become more celebrated with each passing year. But inseparable from his wide-ranging free jazz experiments was a distinct philosophy and set of sociological observations that were equally revolutionary and forward-thinking.

On the surface, the flamboyant and often-costumed Sun Ra may seem like a free jazz eccentric, but delving into his lifelong writings—which have appeared on record jackets, hand-folded pamphlets, or personal diaries—on subjects that ranged from anthropology to science fiction reveals a profoundly studious man with a focused and well-defined worldview. The cosmic language he favored (take song titles like “Tapestry from an Asteroid,” or the record Soul Vibrations of Man) can seem like a bunch of astrological, futuristic jargon and symbology selected at random to appear as extraterrestrial and “out there” as possible, but in every case there’s well-placed significance to the celestial forms chosen that bleeds throughout all the jazz maestro’s creativity.

You can listen to his music on YouTube; his books are a little harder to find for reasonable prices. However, I suggest picking up a copy of Sun Ra: Collected Works Vol. 1 alongside the poetry book mentioned above. With this you can delve into the mind of a man who, if not actually from Saturn, definitely thought more astronomically and universally than most people ever do. And if you’re an artist of any type, that’s more than worth examining.

Footnotes

  1. I had no idea that copies on Amazon are going for $50 – $100. I guess I should dig out mine? Don’t worry, the eBook price is $10.[]
February Tempest Challenge Day 8

Why Black Stories Matter – Adam H.C. Myrie | Tempest Challenge BHM

Poet Adam H.C. Myrie is as fed up with the limited scope of Black history learnings we get during this month as I am, and wrote a fantastic blog post exploring why Black Stories Matter:

A long time ago I remember watching American History X, a 1998 crime drama that followed the journey of a young man into, though, and out of the Neo Nazi movement. There was a particular scene in this film that stays with me even today. One of the main characters was a high school student sitting at the table with his father discussing his English homework. As he listed the books his class was covering, his father suddenly looked up from his plate and asked why great books are being exchanged for Black books. Let me say that again, he asked why GREAT books were being replaced by BLACK books. At the time, barely in high school myself, I simply brushed it off as an aspect of a character I was meant to dislike. The depth of what he said was completely lost on me.

Fast forward a few years later. Still in high school, I had left Canada behind and had made a new home in Jamaica. That year in English class, one of our required readings was a book called Things Fall Apart, by Nigerian Chinua Achebe. While I had a many years long relationship with stories from Africa in the form of folktales in children’s books and family histories from my late grandfather, this was different. This was the first time I had come into contact with a novel that not only told a story about Africa, but from Africa through the eyes of an African. My Jamaican English teacher, to whom I will always be grateful, shared with us a quotation from the late, great Mr. Achebe: ‘Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’ It was then that I properly understood the weight of what I had just read. After reading the novel, I thought about the line from that film and I understood why Black stories mattered.

Yes. This. All of it. Read the entire thing.

One line in particular from this post struck me so deeply that I want to stitch it on a T-shirt: “Slavery and the civil rights movement did not make us Black.”

Say that out loud.

Slavery and the civil rights movement did not make us Black.

Preach.

Myrie’s blog came to my attention because, for Black History Month, he’s highlighting Black poets in his regular Poem of the Week posts. The most recent is the poem Black Iraqi Woman by Faleeha Hassan. Here’s a short taste:

He affirmed: “During a pressing famine,

I devoted myself to watching over every breath you took.

I would thrust my hand through the film of hope

To caress your spirit with bread.

You would burp, and

I would delightedly endure my hunger and fall asleep.

I could only find the strength to fib to your face and say I was happy.

I would feel devastated when you fidgeted,

Because you would always head toward me,

And I felt helpless.”

Read the whole beautiful poem here. Find more of this poet’s work here. Check out Adam H.C. Myrie’s poems and other writings here.

February Tempest Challenge Day 7

Melissa Harris-Perry at ELLE | Tempest Challenge BHM

If you want to understand some of the stuff going on in America today through the lens of someone who deeply understands Black history (not just grade school Black history but the whole cloth), then you should be reading Melissa Harris-Perry’s content over at ELLE. Her pieces are like her: smart, insightful, and more concerned with understanding and action than clickbait.

If you don’t know much about Harris-Perry you probably know that she had a show on MSNBC that she very publicly left (or was fired from, depending on the source). She’s not the only Black or brown person to be shoved off/leave MSNBC or parent NBC due to white nonsense, the most recent being Tamron Hall[1]. All of these incidents just make me aware of how important it is to have woke Black people in journalism, both on TV and in magazines and newspapers. These perspectives on the news are so rare, and becoming rarer thanks to aforementioned white nonsense.

After you’ve read Harris-Perry’s stuff on ELLE, check out her book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.

Footnotes

  1. Who responded to NBC hiring the Friendly Face Of Racism, aka Megyn Kelly, by leaving altogether before they could try to use her as a shield when Megyn inevitably does something to prove she deserves the title Friendly Face Of Racism. Okay, I am only inferring that last bit.[]
February Tempest Challenge Day 6

Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters | Tempest Challenge BHM

In addition to Black History Month, February is also The Month of Letters/International Correspondence Writing Month. The challenge there is to write a letter and send it through the postal service every day (except Sundays) and to answer all the letters you get during the month. I am a fan of letter writing for the nostalgia of it, but I’m a bigger fan of letters continuing to exist because they are a specific kind of window into history. A couple of years ago on NPR Books I wrote:

The loss of letters impacts our culture to the core, because letters are a chronicle of history. Through them, people of every age, background, social standing, and culture add folded and stamped rectangles to a historical tapestry shared by official accounts, news stories, and later revisions. Without letters, we lose an integral way of seeing and understanding history.

That’s an important problem to consider during Black History Month. As a black woman, I’ve always experienced and filtered my understanding of black history through multiple layers: What I learned in school, what I learned from books and documentaries, and what I learned from listening to my family. This last, more intimate view of history has always been the most valuable to me. And so I look for it beyond my relatives and ancestors — in collections of letters.

Reading letters is a great way to understand the giants of Black history beyond the narrow narratives they’re usually confined to and also beyond the narrative those people crafted themselves. For example, this book: Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters.

In her public life, Hurston was an unreliable narrator: She fudged or lied about details of her life — out of necessity as well as out of vanity — to the point that her autobiography has been dubbed a work of fiction by some. A different woman emerges from the personal letters found in this biography. Is this the more authentic Zora Neale Hurston, just because the words were never intended for the public? Even Kaplan says that “every letter is a performance,” yet still acknowledges that they provide an insight beyond what can be gleaned from her published works. The letters here cover her life from 1917 to 1959, through the Harlem Renaissance, her time with the WPA, her anthropological work, and more.

You should, of course, read all her works. But read this, too. It’s another lens into history, one we don’t always get, especially the farther back you go.

February Tempest Challenge Day 4

Scott Woods: Just Read Everything He Writes | Tempest Challenge BHM

Just in case you didn’t think I was serious about how I want you to read all kinds of stuff by Black people this month, I bring you a recommendation that isn’t just about a book. I challenge you to read Scott Woods. Just all his stuff. Everything. Don’t hold back.

Scott is many things: a slam poet, a cultural critic, a dude who does not mince words, a true artist. He has two books of poetry out now and soon (hopefully very soon) he’ll have a novel out in the world. I’ve read a draft of that novel. It is fucking fantastic. I cannot wait for it to be out in the world so everyone gets a chance to read it.

Until then, you’re just going to have to satisfy yourself with his other writing. Like his blogs.

Those of you who joined me in the hate pile-on for the movie Gods of Egypt may remember me linking to Scott’s essay on the matter: Gods of Egypt is the most racist film ever.

Gods of Egypt is the most racist film in the last one hundred years. It is the most diabolically conceived, politically incorrect, and unapologetically racist film since The Birth of a Nation (the 1915 white one, not the 2016 black one, and how cool is it that we have to clarify that now?). It is more racist than Song of the South and Soul Man, which is no small feat. It is more racist than Mississippi Burning, The Revenant, The Help and Dragonball Evolution. It is more racist than the eye-rolling Bringing Down the House and The Last Samurai. It manages to somehow be more racist than Blended and Dances With Wolves. It is more racist than Dangerous Minds and its didn’t-bring-shit-to-the-party cousin, Freedom Writers. It is magically more racist than The Green Mile. It has unseated my standing favorite, The Lone Ranger, for most racist movie, and I thought Johnny Depp’s Tonto was going to get us to at least 2020.

His writing is funny and insightful and deep and engaging and you cannot read a bunch of it and come away not understanding that Scott is everything.

And then you read his poetry.

And then you listen to him perform his poetry.

So, here’s what to do next. Go to Scott Woods Makes Lists and subscribe. Then go to Scott Woods Writes and subscribe. Then go to his YouTube channel and subscribe. Then check out Urban Contemporary History Month and We Over Here Now, his poetry collections. Read. It. All.

You can thank me later.

February Tempest Challenge Day 3

The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker | Tempest Challenge BHM

Even people who don’t know much about Black authors know who Alice Walker is or just that the book The Color Purple exists. If you haven’t read that book or watched the movie, you should. Right now. Then, after you’re done, pick up The Temple of My Familiar.

Temple is not exactly a sequel to The Color Purple, though some characters from that book do appear in this one. It’s also not a book that’s easy to classify. It weaves in and out of the lives of several characters across many timelines and, in some cases, many lifetimes. I read the book when I was a teen and didn’t fully grok it, yet also never forgot it. When I read the book as an adult I still didn’t fully grok it, I just appreciated it more. Walker plays with character and structure in this book in ways that are not always successful but are always engaging. The best part is that each of the characters represents some different way of being Black, a rare thing in American novels.

After you finish this book, go read all Walker’s other books because she’s Alice freaking Walker, people.