Sitting in the sun, waiting for winter to come, so that he will keep me warmer than these late summer days, that are colder than his selfish ways, when he insists I will be fine, and leaves me “this one time” to pick cherries in the park without him.
I’m not at all interested in (re)visiting the past or any of the people I left there when I fled its confines. The people I valued the most are those who were brave enough to embrace, and not erase me. Those who sought empowerment, craved enlightenment, and valued education. Those who recognised their subordination, and sought to undo that subordination like shoelaces, and risk falling over themselves as they strived to stand up for something meaningful… like little black boys whose sexuality was used to enslave and silence them, and little black girls who were picked on because their hair was too short, and too picky for ponytails. Those who were honest, and hopeful… they are here. With me. The rest, I am better of without.
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”
(L P Hartley, “The Go Between”)
Her honesty was terrifying.
It moved me to stillness.
There were elements of her eccentrism on display that remind me how it’s often the worst things about them, that bring out the best in people.
Anger. Apathy. Evading apology. Because I’m not sorry. Because I’m not safe in this skin. I’m a slave in this skin. Because I’m soul, and bones, and blood, and love, and I’ve been bleeding rivers of rage for centuries now. Because I’ve given far too much to people who think far too little of me. Because I’m broken, but the unending cycle of black shame remains unbroken.
People. My people. Think so little of themselves that they simply cannot acknowledge how much I have done for them.
Far from being the deification of a dead black woman, ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ is an honest account of the angst that typifies the black woman’s experience of modern America. It highlights her anger as an appropriate response to systemic oppression, and the importance of embracing rather than ignoring that oppression that you might work at destroying it, before it destroys you. It shows music as a site where subordinates can voice their disappointment at their subordination. A site from which rebellion can take place, but – like the black woman’s body – still not a safe site. It perfectly exemplifies how brilliance drives and devastates the artist in equal measure. It shows how, while the artist is tasked with saving lives, the artist often ends up taking from their own life in order to do so. It proves that art is a slow kind of suicide. It proves that though suffering can be vile, it can be valuable too. It depicts how widely White America has benefitted from black suffering. That’s why the black American lady sings the blues, because historically, black female pain has always become a vehicle for the white male to drive up his profit.
‘Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music.’
It eulogizes Nina Simone, and peeks behind the furs, the fury, the hairpieces, the hardships, the tantrums, and turmoil to celebrate Eunice Kathleen Waymon – a “coloured” girl born February 21st 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina, who loved Bach, but was too black to play his music.
‘The worst thing about that kind of prejudice… is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds you self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough.’
Like all great poetry (and all great humans), it’s equal parts beauty, and tragedy.
There are the “black christians” criticising the US Supreme Court’s ruling which legalised same-sex marriage across all 50 states in the USA; there is the “white majority” who claim Southern Culture is being “exterminated”, as the confederate flag, which is widely viewed as a euphemism for ‘systemic oppression and racial subjugation’, is denounced, and senators agree to remove said flag from state buildings across the Bible Belt; there are the people crucifying Yeezus, following a polarising headlining performance at Glastonbury on the evening of Saturday 27th June, in an effort to dismantle the man they once deified, and now the black churches that house the “black christians” who persistently persecute same-sex minorities, and demonise homosexuality as an hell-intended abomination, are being burnt down in the wake of the act of racial terror committed by Dylann Storm Roof at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th 2015 that, Kanye aside, sparked all of this unrest.
The routes of all of this rage clearly lead back to racial essentialism – “the view that racial groups possess underlying essences that represent deep-rooted, unalterable traits and abilities”. Perhaps rather than burning flags, “fools”, “f*ggots”, and houses of “faith” we – the divided universe – ought to unite to burn the racial essentialism responsible for all of this brutality, rather than burning the things that represent our racialism.
The only real way to burn those things?
Start a fire within.
Racial essentialism is housed in our hearts, our feelings, our heads, and our thinking.
At minutes after 10am on Saturday 20th June, I stood on the streets of Bermondsey while sleep sat in the corners of my eyes, and waited for the funeral cortege of a local man to pass me by. His name was Barry Albin and he was a undertaker.
“Old Bermondsey” as my mum called him. “One of a dying breed”
When my friend was stabbed to death in the street a few years back, his family could not afford to bury him. We – his friends – struggled to raise the funds to afford him the sendoff he deserved, to no avail. Barry Albin buried that boy for free. No charge. Not a single penny. Not a second thought.
It’s likely that you won’t hear Barry’s name unless you are from Bermondsey (although his influence was as wide as his smile), but in a week where people have been massacred, and an unborn baby has been stamped out of the stomach of a local girl, I felt compelled to honour Barry, his family, and his bravery (he fought cancer) today.
Because Barry was a local hero -yes, but more than this he was an exceptional human being. His humanity and his handling of grieving human beings inspired compassion in so many. The world needs more people like him. Kind people. Compassionate people. Colourblind beauties who see beyond race, religion, sex, and sexuality and into the stirring that stirs the troubled soul. People who have seen so much death that they understand the true value of life, and appreciate the living before they become the dead.
Rest In Paradise Barry Albin-Dyer.
I won’t forget you Mr Bermondsey.
When I was young the only place I ever felt completely safe was in church. I mean, literally, in God’s presence there was a peace that surpassed the pain, and occasional embarrassment of poverty, and allowed me to see beyond my worldly circumstance into what heavenly promise lay ahead.
My mother literally spends every spare second of her life doing God’s work at the church she attends. That includes anything and everything from praying without ceasing, cooking Curry Goat for the congregation, dressing the altar, cleaning and waxing the floors, and getting to the church 2 hours before every single funeral, wedding, and service for the past 35 years to ensure the sanctuary is suitably heated for all those who will be attending.
“A warm home is the sign of a warm heart”.
Such devotion – though remarkable – is not rare amongst blacks (especially black women) in (black) churches globally. In a world where the black woman is regularly, and systematically silenced, she has always had her voice heard there, by the God, the men, the women, the boys, and the girls who call her “headmistress”, because she is strict, but also fair.
What happened today in Charleston was not fair! At all.
People killed while praying. Hurtful. Horrible. Sad.
Is there no end to this terrible poetry?!
Amidst all the politics, I am reminded that what happened in Charleston, happened to people. Tonight I intend to take a leaf out of their book, and pray, and when I do I will speak every single one of their names:
Daniel L. Simmons Sr.
Ethel Lee Lance.
We speak your names
We speak your names.
I want to go to Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre for a swim. I want to pretend I’m drowning so Mr Warr will take pity on me, and let me wear arm floats. I want to pretend those gifted arm floats are my biceps, and fight the false tide as the alarm that warns of waves sounds, and with a sharp intake of breath I oppress the beating of my boyish heart, and become the lad my dad wanted and hope I don’t die. I want to slide down the frog slide into the waters of yesterday, and be pain free again and see young me and them St. Jude’s homeboys who have become men who take care of homes and boys, and though the things I need to make this happen have all gone – the leisure centre, boyhood, and the will to unlive – in the fight to stay afloat, I am still dying to keep my head above the pool of poverty. Instead of swimming, it’s off to work I go.