THOUGHTS FROM 3/15/11 ISSUES AFTER DARK PROGRAM: LADIES NIGHT
When I left the theater, after viewing “For Colored Girls,” I was emotionally overwhelmed, not by the situations portrayed in the movie, but by the back story of every character. I wondered “How did each woman get to that place where she was existing in/subsisting off her pain?”
I wanted to do a program on the movie and the play because of my visceral response to the movie that got me to thinking beyond what I saw on the wide screen. I had some trepidation about such a program. After all, there had not been much chatter on facebook about the movie. This fact surprised me as I continued to muse on the message of the movie for days. I created my own riff off Ms. Shange’s Poem, “Somebody almost waked off wid alla my stuff.”* But, that was me. Who else would care? I finally kicked trepidations to the curb and went on with the program because I wanted to generate some conversation beyond the minutia of “It was a good movie,” or “I liked it.”
I realized, years ago, that the responses in our present are too often based on the experiences of our pasts. We often define ourselves by our trauma and maybe we are refined by our pain. We either choose to live in spite of the scars, or we can continue to pick at the scabs.
Ntonzake Shange debuted her choreopoem, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enough,” in Berkeley California in the mid 1970s before it ultimately landed on Broadway to rave reviews. In a recent interview, Ms. Shange stated “Poems are urgent things.” She spoke of the urgent things in the interview, “employment, homeless women who cannot feed their children, women underemployed who cannot feed their children, women in dangerous situations who won’t leave because they do not believe they can support their children.” The other urgent things, brought out in her choreopoem, includes rape, abortion, infidelity, domestic violence, things that still plague us today. Ms. Shange’s goal was to bring the stories out of hiding, stories that tremble in the shadows and cringe in the darkness. Listen, it’s bad enough to be invisible in a crowd of the majority culture; I’ll be dang if I’m going to be invisible in my own culture.
My other concern about the program was men; I could almost hear the hue and cry, “Male bashing! Male bashing!”
I will say that the entertainment medium too often depicts men as buffoons, incompetent bumbling neanderthals, and I will be one of the first to say that this should not be so. I love men in general and African American men in particular, but I have to say this, “Men, you may have played a key role in the drama, but you are not the entire story. You are incidental to the lesson learned in a journey, a defining of self, a finding of one’s voice. You, my dear sir, were the vessel God used for the growth and maturity of that woman, but your are not the story. Really, let us think for a moment: Are the representations in the work stereotypes or true representations of someone’s reality?
Yes, some men did misunderstand the intent of the work, called it male bashing, so I had some questions for those “critics:”
Why is it that every time a woman or women share a view about life or the life challenges they have faced (or are facing) men cry male bashing? To tell one’s story (male or female) is empowering. It releases one from the bondage of the hitherto unspoken past, a past too often shrouded in shame and pain.
Is it male bashing to say my Father left the family (my mother, his wife and his four children), when I was thirteen and he never looked back to see how his oldest daughter was doing without his paternal input?
Is it male bashing to say that when I said, “I don’t want to have to get married,” that he took it to mean, “You don’t have to care about us for the next eighteen years?”
Is it male bashing to tell my story in order that my sisters may learn, or may hear, or may support one another on their journey to wholeness?
I think that the cry of “male bashing” is another way of saying “We are not interested in your journey from midnight to Hallelujah, a journey to spiritual and emotional maturity where you, woman, can look back in wonder and rejoice and celebrate ‘How I got over.'” Why do I have to mute my voice in order to make a man feel good about his own?
Yes, the intent of the work was often misunderstood by men, but I see in the work humor and pathos and pain and pieces of our history as well as the nitty-gritty reality of being an African American woman, a woman whose circumstances ultimately force her to stop seeing herself through the eyes of others, men/society, to begin to see herself as she should be seen, wants to be seen, not as others define her. W. E. B. Dubois, in his work “Souls of Black Folk,” called this phenomenon “double consciousness,” the dilemma of the Negro in America looking at himself/herself through the eyes of others. In order to discover who I am without being defined by the “others” in my life, I must tell my story in all of its raw and bitter reality.
The program may have been a little literary, but I think it was also revelatory and inspiring as well. Our guests, Erika Godfrey, Regina Evans and QueenNefetti Shabazz were outstanding, and young Queen blew us away with her wisdom and her 15 year old insight. I cannot remember what I was thinking at 15, but I am pretty sure I was more giggly than profound.
Queen, a spoken word artist, read an excerpt from the opening poem in Ms. Shange’s work. The line that grabbed all our attention was “Somebody sing a black girl’s song.” As we mulled over the message in that line, we reworked it into the idea that someone sing the song of her possibility, of her redemption. Someone affirm her in her worth and value her beauty and her creativity. This little girl doesn’t know the sound of her own voice, does not recognize her infinite beauty. I believe it was Queen who shared in one of her poems that “women in little girls bodies like to stay out past redemption.” We stay out past redemption because no one has encouraged us to love ourselves, so when redemption comes, we do not deem ourselves worthy of that redemption and stay out too long. Can we hear this little girl’s cries, “Somebody care about me; somebody care for me; somebody affirm me and value me.”
In one of the poems, the character says, “I couldn’t stand being sorry and colored at the same time.” How do we get to this place where sorry is no longer the path I travel, or the excuse I accept? By taking back the responsibility for and the authority over my life.
I love the attitude of the song that closed out the movie. I thought I had heard it before and I had, back in the day. The song is by Nina Simone and the verses point to people we know, even if the names are different, our collective history and experience. I especially loved the way Ledisi sang that last verse about the woman Peaches. I decided I am Peaches and though that is not my usual persona, there is a Peaches screaming to get out, to assert herself in her own conversation and get used to the sound of her own voice.
Here is how I see the Peaches that is me: I am in a long, sleek, sheathe of a dress with a deep V in the back; my blue black hair is slicked back into a tight chignon, my lips, painted blood red, match the five inch heels I wear. I stand in front of an open window, surrounded by a smokey gray haze, in my third floor apartment and I look out into a dark night rain drenched street dimly lit by a flickering street light. I begin to sing:
“My skin is brown, and my manner is tough; I’ll kill the first mother I see, Cos my life has been too rough; I’m awfully bitter these days, Because my parents were slaves, What do they call me, My name is PEACHES!”
It is time for every woman to name herself. Check out the lyrics of the song and see if you find yourself, see yourself, in one of those women.
What is the conclusion of the matter? That each woman must take responsibility for her own journey and begin to discover the depth of her own voice….and stop letting people get away with all her stuff!!!
The program was inspiring and revelatory. You should get the podcast as soon as it hits facebook.
ISSUES AFTER DARK: LADIES NIGHT WITH DONNA
Tuesday evenings, 8:00 pm PDT
KDIA 1640 AM or KDIA.com
*My Take on Ms. Shange’s poem:
Somebody almost got away with my stuff! Tried to con me into giving away my confidence. Tried to lure me away from my courage. Somebody almost got away with my stuff! Tried to make me believe in a lie; tried to convince me that pain equated love. Somebody almost got away with my stuff; tried to make me embrace less-than and require nothing more. Did their best to keep me nailed to the floor while they casually walked out the door. Somebody almost got away with all my stuff…ALMOST!
Somebody almost got away with all my stuff. Tried to make my faith faint and hold my hope hostage. Tried to turn my world up-side-down and pull the wool over my eyes. Somebody almost got away with all my stuff. Tried to sneak out with my praise and deflate my worship. Tried to make me believe in smoke and mirrors while selling me a bridge in Brooklyn. Somebody almost got away with all my stuff…ALMOST!