on the lower frequencies

How we think and talk about things shapes the way we act in the world. This seems so obvious, but it isn’t a given at all. When I say, ‘I’m Black’, this is what I mean:

SOB, SOB, Kerry James Marshall, 2003, acrylic on fiberglass 108 x 72 inches
SOB, SOB, Kerry James Marshall, 2003, acrylic on fiberglass 108 x 72 inches

Marshall’s commitment to making euphemistic Black explicitly black is powerfully validating for me; when I claim a Black identity, I not only connect my self to the people, places, events, and ideas that made/make me, but I also interrogate literal and figurative constructions blackness and tie myself to them, too. And, so, in my daily interactions with others, I wonder, ‘what is your connection/commitment to Blackness?’ It’s probably not a fair question for me to ask them, but it wouldn’t be fair to me not to ask it.

The kids had standardized test prep on Friday. It is stultifying for them and for me, so in a few of my (seven) classes, I played music by 1980s’ girl groups. By the last class, I was taking requests and we listened to some Queen and Black Sabbath. One of my students said, “You should listen to Lemonade.” I got her meaning; short of a little Prince and Tina Turner, there weren’t a lot of Black bands on the playlist. ‘What is your connection/commitment to Blackness?’ I told her that, although my tastes are wide and deep, on that day, I wanted to listen to that music. It was an interesting exchange, one that it felt like I’d been prepping for my whole life. How do I reconcile the joy that Cruel Summer brings me with my commitment to actively being the person in Marshall’s painting?

There’s a nuance of being that I’ve accepted. People will perceive me as they will, and I can only be who I am and try to think and grow and live my self as healthily as my imagination and circumstances allow. Thus, now, nearly two weeks after the election, rather than thinking about this catastrophe in the broadest terms, I show up for work and teach standardized test taking strategies, yes, but I also take small, regular steps like guiding my classes through their research project and rejiggering my finances to prepare for my coming (1/20/17 – ?) financial fast that resist this racist nationalist regime and build an elsewhere.

(Shout out to John Yau at Hyperallergic for making explicit the connection between Marshall and Ellison.)

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