- It's Women's History Month, sis. And what better way to honor women of color than to proudly introduce you to a communal group that affirms and loves our cultural existence.
- I had the pleasure to speak with Beatriz on what inspired her to create Bed Stuy Cook Club, why it's important to lead discussions on activism, and what we can expect to see from her in 2019.
Check out our exclusive interview with Beatriz Kaye below.
21Ninety: Why is it important for today’s Black, female authors to educate our society with stories from the Black community?
Beatriz Kaye: While I certainly can’t speak from a Black experience, I can definitely say that books by Black Womxn have changed my life. For me, every piece of work that I’ve written by a Black Womxn contains a richness of layers that call upon ancestry while tapping into personal depths. I’d say Book Club does an amazing job of explaining how “Womxn of Color” and “Black Womxn” are not interchangeable phrases, but that all Hyphenated Identities (Asian-Americans, Latinx, and more) owe the foundation of our feminist theory to Black Womxn. We wouldn’t have the word intersectionality without Kimberle Crenshaw. We wouldn’t have escaped being “crunched into other people’s fantasies” without the incredible work of Audre Lorde. This word “solidarity” keeps popping up, but this is what it actually looks like: Womxn of Color, from all different cultures, sitting down and discussing each other’s stories so that we can learn how to be better allies to each other. We use books on the basis of these discussions, but we end up sharing connected stories and issues to the characters we read about.
Photo: Bed Stuy Book Club
21N: What inspired you to create Bed Stuy's Book Club?
BK: Simply put, I wanted to get to know my neighbors. The long story: I had been reflecting a lot on gentrification, specifically the role that I play as a young, light-skinned, non-black POC creative who recently moved to Brooklyn — How am I affecting the surrounding economy of Black-owned businesses? How am I affecting the changing aesthetics in the neighborhood? How am I affecting my neighbors that have been here for decades? How do I reconcile being constantly displaced as an immigrant with my presence as a gentrifier, displacing folks who have been rooted in this neighborhood?
I’d always been an avid reader, but specifically, at the start of 2018, I committed to reading books and news written by people of color only. Honestly, such a life-changing decision that made me very aware of the white-washed news I was consuming. I also watched a Ted Talk by Liz Ogbu on how community-building in the face of gentrification can heal neighborhoods. I’d been educating myself (something I recommend every non-Black person who moves to Brooklyn do) on the history of redlining, the massacre of Indigenous People over land — trying to empathize fully with American displacement. Even though I moved to the states at 13 and received a solid American education in my most formative years, I didn’t know about any of the real shit that went down in American history.
My grandmother was undocumented for 20 years. When she was finally able to get her papers in order and become a citizen, she emotionally supported countless Filipina women in her community who were living in abusive conditions due to their undocumented status. Leonila Mea Aquino passed away in 2015. After she passed, I heard so many intense, beautiful stories of how she supported the women in her community by offering job connections, emotional support, providing any education she had on the application process, even offering her own bed to women she barely knew. She’s definitely a major inspiration for the energy I bring into community work, and her story also led me to reflect on my familial lineage. How did colonialism affect the stories of the women in my family who came before me? Why are our stories rooted in sacrifice and pain, but not in celebration?
I’d been reflecting on all these things while seeking a community of like-minded Women and Femmes of Color. I decided to poster my neighborhood with little tear-off flyers that had my number on them, and the response was overwhelming. Books were the cornerstone, of course. The books really provided a touchpoint for all of us to start discussing and empathizing with the issues we face as Womxn and Femmes of Color.
The Instagram account was an auxiliary tool that helped us discuss meeting spots and times in one place rather than text message, but that, too, evolved into a larger community that celebrates local POC-owned businesses, shares information about local events, provides actionable ways to participate in activism, and posts critical content about the media we consume.
Photo: Beatriz Kaye
21N: What can fellow book lovers expect to receive when signing up? Do members have to live in Brooklyn to participate?
BK: Folks have come from Harlem, Queens, Long Island and all parts of Brooklyn to attend our meetings! When signing up to attend a meeting, definitely expect a lively book discussion with some of Brooklyn’s finest woke ladies. We hold space for all the stories, experiences and lessons that you want to share in any relation to the book we are discussing.
I’ve been to a few events that I’ve seen on Instagram before, and I’ve always found that some of the folx who organize it are very put-together *professional humans* and I admire that so much. But for me, when I’m leading this particular organization, it’s so important to be 100% transparent about who I am, what my faults are, and how I can do better, so that the people in my community will also feel vulnerable enough to share what they’re going through. I’m social-media-loud and IRL-loud about injustices against Black + Brown folx, but I’m also loud problematic celebrities, imposter syndrome, broke millennial problems, and so many other things. My writing voice/my internet voice is funny, crude and inquisitive, and that all translates in real life, too.
I’d hate for people to walk into a meeting and expect a super-serious discussion. This is also a fun gathering of like-minded potential friends! When I’m facilitating a discussion, I try to bring my crude sense of humor, celebrity conspiracy theories, and my real life experiences. And I think that energy is reflected in the pace and mood of our meetings. People really feel comfortable to be 100% themselves.
21N: If you could meet one Black, female author — dead or alive — who would it be, and why?
BK: Definitely Zora Neale Hurston. I’m in the middle of reading an 800-page book of all the letters she wrote in her lifetime, and she was just a badass from day one. She saw her work as an anthropologist and storyteller as essential to her being, and never wavered from the end goal of making beautiful, culturally rich work that celebrated her people. Even though she was thwarted by finances, Harlem Renaissance drama, and fuckboys, Zora kept her eyes on the prize. Re-reading her work and reading about her life this month has definitely kept my spirits and motivation up through a transitional time in my personal life.
21N: In addition to educating women of color through literature, Bed Stuy Book Club also leads discussions on activism. What sort of topics do you discuss?
BK: I try to connect people in the book club with activist actions that they can participate in if they feel called. I’m connected to a few local organizations that benefit QTPOC, Black Womxn and education, and I’m always happy to make a connection if someone is interested in attending/serving at rallies, protests, etc. If I can give any information about boycotts, or crowdfunding campaigns, I try to be vocal IRL and online about anything folks might be interested about.
Each month, books are picked by something that’s going on in the culture. So in April, we’re reading The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.
Last year, around the time that Crazy Rich Asians came out, I was upset about the lack of visibility of dark-skinned Asians and Southeast Asians onscreen, so I decided that the book options for the month should be books by Southeast Asians. We read “In The Country” by Mia Alvar, a collection of short stories set in the Philippines, and I’m so happy that so many folx brought so much to our discussions about this book. This was the first book I’d read in my life where I felt culturally represented as a Filipino-American, so I’m happy it still resonated cross-culturally.
Photo: Bed Stuy Book Club
21N: What has been the most rewarding aspect—as an entrepreneur—since starting Bed Stuy WOC Book Club?
BK: It’s so strange to frame this work as entrepreneurship. I was talking recently to Kalima DeSuze, owner of Café con Libros, about imposter syndrome, and she very wisely said to me, “I think we all struggle with imposter syndrome, especially those of us who are actually doing the work. It’s our life’s purpose, so being recognized for it feels a bit odd and nonsensical.” Sometimes I feel weird about being centered because holding space for these discussions feels very natural to me. I often feel unworthy of taking up space, and I’m trying to change that!
The community has been so affirming of the importance of this work, which is like, all the followers could disappear, but if I maintain friendships and connections with these amazing Womxn and Femmes, then the book club is an outstanding success.
When people talk about the support and affirmation they receive — that sort of, “Damn, I knew I wasn’t nuts for feeling this way! You feel this way too!” — that’s definitely the most rewarding part of hosting these meetings.
21N: Are there any projects you are currently working on? What can we expect to see from you in 2019?
BK: I’m a writer and poet, and I was asking folx if they would also be interested in meeting regularly to workshop/discuss writing, so I started Brooklyn Brown Gyal Writing Group. It’s going to be a monthly meeting for writers to bring in something they’re already working on to get edited. Our first one is hosted by Kalima DeSuze at Cafe con Libros, a feminist bookstore and cafe in Crown Heights.
I’m working with my friend, Danialie, who writes a blog called Girl Emboldened. We want to create a Fat-Centered Healing Space in the spring for Black + Brown QTPOC folx who are visibly plus-size. We want to discuss how the current vision of “body positivity” really does not work for marginalized folx.
I’m also working on securing some funding so that we can give away as many free copies of our books as possible. I never want finance to be an issue for folks to participate in meetings, so I’m hustling to try to make this happen. I also put together a directory on our new website that highlights Black + Brown local business owners in Brooklyn, so I’m working on expanding that as well.
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💻📲 www.bedstuybookclub.com is live (link in bio) 🎉 so proud of this local directory, highlighting businesses, non-profits and culture-shapers of Color in our community. The businesses included are cafes who have hosted our meetings, collaborators — all the best humans in Brooklyn. Please dm if you’d like to list your business in this directory. @milkandpull @tradroom @playgroundcoffeeshop @cafeconlibros_bk @brooklynpoets @macdonoughcafe @nostrandcafe @imanihouseinc @sade_naimadesigns @shaniya.designs @patriciamartinwrites @theglamfemme @danthelioness @girlemboldened
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21N: Do you have any final advice or words of encouragement for WOC seeking to add more books into their life?
BK: Keep an open mind. Be open to the new experiences that have been left on the page for your enjoyment.
*Beatriz Kaye and Bed Stuy Book Club members have generously compiled a list of book recommendations and excerpts for fellow 21Ninety books lovers to enjoy. Check out the full list below. Happy reading!
1. Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Recommended by Danialie (She/hers), blogger at Girl Emboldened and member of Bed Stuy Book Club:
“All the things I love about Chescaleigh — her honesty, her wit, her clapbacks, and most importantly, her growth — feel as though they are sprinkled throughout each chapter. If you’re looking for a fun read that details a woman’s passions for creating little learning moments for all while also giving you a crash course in basic social justice concepts, this book is for you.” - Danialie
"There are many reasons to be jealous of Beyonce. Her voice. Her career. The way she fills out a wide variety of leotards. But the biggest one, for me, is that there’s so much we don’t know about her life. And despite the illusions provided by gossip magazines and close textual analyses of her song lyrics, we’ll likely never know more than the Queen wants us to.
The internet has given me a lot — I would have a completely different career without it. Posting videos on YouTube allowed me to sidestep a lot of barriers and get where I am today. But even though we’ve never met, many of my fans feel like they have a personal connection to me, and that has come with some unforeseen consequences. Don’t get me wrong — I love my fans. They’re great, funny, generous, smart, and engaged people. (Waves at beautiful person holding this book.) But I wish I’d known how the internet would change how we understand fame and success when I started posting videos back in 2006. I would have done some things differently. Or at least mentally prepared myself for the effects of going public.
Some of my audience has been following me since I was living with three roommates in Miami. They watched along when I moved in with Pat, when I got engaged in Paris, when I moved to New York, when I changed jobs. I used to shoot a lot of YouTube videos in my bathroom, because the lighting was great, and apparently fans got attached to the floral shower curtain I had at the time. I have since moved on to a more subtle, less Target Back-to-College look, but I still occasionally get messages saying, “I miss that floral shower curtain!”
Think about your friends, family members, and coworkers. Would you recognize their shower curtains in a lineup? Would you recognize their former shower curtains in a lineup? I’m going to guess no. It’s a little weird.
But it’s also completely understandable. Social media has the opposite effect of that little warning on car side-view mirrors: Object are not as close as they appear.
Another illustrative example: I once made a video with my flat-screen TV in the background, and trolls descended on the supposed hypocrisy of my being “rich.” How dare I comment on social justice issues? How could I know what I was talking about if I had such a nice TV? What the video didn’t show was that Patrick had woken up at five a.m. on Black Friday to buy that TV on deep discount, and the reason it is visible in that shot was because I had no other place to film — we were dealing with a relentless bedbug infestation at the time, and the rest of the apartment was covered in plastic.
I have to remind myself that I engineered this: I wanted people to pay attention to me! I showed everyone my shower curtain! But I didn’t think about the implications of the shower curtain until strangers started emailing me about it at four a.m. Even accidentally sharing the tiniest details makes people feel like they know you — especially when “What’s in my bag?” and closet tours are rites of YouTube passage.
Meanwhile, I have no idea what Beyonce’s bathroom looks like, and no matter how many people leave pleading comments on her occasional Instagram posts, I don’t think she’ll ever tell us. On some level, it doesn’t matter. Lemonade would still be one of the most groundbreaking visual albums of all time if Beyonce posted selfies at a Kylie Jenner pace. But I’m sure our perception of her as an artist and person would be totally different."
2. The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin
Recommended by Jasmine (She/hers), writer and aspiring podcast host, member of Bed Stuy Book Club:
“It’s a memoir by one of Jamaica’s most well-known lesbian poets, who currently lives in New York city. It deals with neglect and trauma, and her ultimate escape from the homophobic Jamaica in the 90’s to New York. Throughout, you can tell she has such a strong spirit.” - Jasmine
"Grandma says that next to praising God, learning your book is the most important thing in the world. If you believe in the Lord and get a good education all of God’s blessings will come easy to you. I want to ask about Job, whom God used to make a bet with the Devil and caused him to lose everything, but Delano already told me that parables don’t really happen anymore. In modern times people have to work and go to school and make their own way in life.
Every evening after school we sit on the back steps and do homework while Grandma cooks dinner in the backyard. Her hands are quick as she pushes the wood and balances the shiny pot on top of three large stones. This evening she is making brown-stewed chicken. As she adds salt and pepper I read my new vocabulary words to her. If I stumble on a word, she makes me read it again. Delano works quietly beside me.
“Grandma, how come Delano don’t have to read him homework to you?”
“Delano is almost six years old. Him big enough to know when him own homework is right! You is not even four yet — now read, before I really have to answer you!”
Delano makes a funny face and dashes out into the yard to chase stray chickens and stone ripe mangoes off the tree. I work on copying the new words Miss Sis has written in my notebook. I love smelling the chicken cooking while I work. Grandma puts the tiny pieces of crispy, salty, garlicky chicken that flake off onto a plate. One by one, she gives them to me as I read. One word seems impossible to sound out. S-A-L-V-A-T-I-O-N. I struggle to make sense of the letters, but nothing comes to me. Grandma stands over me, one hand on my shoulder, the other patiently positioned on her hip.
“Nuh mind, man. You know the answer! Just try to sound it out again!”
I spell it aloud. “S-A-L-V-A-T-I-O-N. Savat… salava … Grandma, me just can’t get this one right, you can sound it out for me, please?”
She looks first at me, then at the page. “No, you have to do it yourself. That is the way fi learn! Now try again!”
“Savat… Grandma, me just don’t know it. Just please do this one for me, nuh! Please!”
Grandma nods and looks at the page again. She points at the word and rubs the page. Then she mumbles something I cannot hear. Her breasts go up and down. She touches the page again. Then she closes the book. “Stacey, is time for you to go bathe now. Ask Miss Sis tomorrow. Is fi her job to tell you what the word is. Just ask her when you reach school in the morning.”
I look up at her, confused. She smiles and rubs my head. “Stacey, go bathe before night come catch you dirty. And make sure you wash you coco-bread good.”
As I lather my legs I wonder why Grandma always tells me to wash my coco-bread good. I know what I should do when I bathe. I am annoyed that she wouldn’t just tell me the word. She saw that I was having trouble sounding it out by myself. Her refusal to help seemed spiteful. Then I remember the helpless look she had on her face and suddenly realize that she can’t read a lick. I feel like everything bad is happening to me. First my mother runs off and leaves me. And now my grandmother is a big dunce. By the time I am done bathing I am very angry. I don’t want Grandma to be my grandmother. I wish I belonged to Miss Sis. Then I would have someone to help me with my stupid homework.
When Grandma calls me to come for my tea, I turn away and mumble, “I don’t really want nutten from you!”
“Stacey, is what you say? You really forgetting yourself inside here?”
“I don’t have to listen to you. You can’t hear and you can’t even read.”
In one motion she grabs my braid and throws me flat on my back. The smell of floor polish makes me want to sneeze, but I am too afraid. She drags me up by my braid and brings her mouth right down to my eyes. Every wart on her face is magnified."
3. All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
Recommended by Kalima DeSuze (She/hers), owner of Cafe con Libros, a feminist bookstore and coffee shop. The cafe is currently raising money for programming and new book stock via iFundWomen:
“So many POC and specifically WOC walk into love with a somewhat one-dimensional definition and vision of love. I was one of them. This book transformed how I loved and my expectations of being loved — moving it from a performance through platitudes to consecrated values in action.” - Kalima DeSuze
"When we see love as the will to nurture one’s own or another’s spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same. There is no special love exclusively reserved for romantic partners. Genuine love is the foundation of our engagement with ourselves, with family, with friends, with partners, with everyone we choose to love. While we will necessarily behave differently depending on the nature of a relationship, or have varying degrees of commitment, the values that inform our behavior, when rooted in a love ethic, are always the same for any interaction. One of the longest romantic relationships of my life was one in which I behaved in the more traditional manner of placing it above all other interactions. When it became destructive, I found it difficult to leave. I found myself accepting behavior (verbal and physical abuse) that I would not have tolerated in a friendship.
I had been raised conventionally to believe this relationship was “special” and should be revered above all. Most women and men born in the fifties or earlier were socialized to believe that marriages and/or committed romantic bonds of any kind should take precedence over all other relationships. Had I been evaluating my relationship from a standpoint that emphasized growth rather than duty and obligation, I would have understood that abuse irreparably undermines bonds. All too often women believe it is a sign of commitment, an expression of love, to endure unkindness and cruelty, to forgive and forget. In actuality, when we love rightly we know that the healthy, loving response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm’s way. Even though I was a committed feminist as a young woman, all that I knew and believed in politically about equality was, for a time, overshadowed by a religious and familial upbringing that had socialized me to believe everything must be done to save “the relationship.”
In retrospect, I see how ignorance about the art of loving placed the relationship at risk from the start. In the more than fourteen years we were together we were too busy repeating old patterns learned in childhood, acting on misguided information about the nature of love, to appreciate the changes we needed to make in ourselves to be able to love someone else. Importantly, like many other women and men (irrespective of sexual preference) who are in relationships where they are the objects of intimate terrorism, I would have been able to leave this relationship sooner or recover myself within it had I brought to this bond the level of respect, care, knowledge and responsibility I brought to friendships. Women who would no more tolerate a friendship in which they were emotionally and physically abused stay in romantic relationships where these violations occur regularly. Had they brought to those bonds the same standards they bring to friendship they would not accept victimization."
4. Kindred by Octavia Butler
Published by: Beacon Press
Recommnded by Jenika M. (She/hers), contributing editor for Obvi We’re The Ladies and member of Bed Stuy Book Club:
“Kindred by Octavia Butler is a must-read for any sci-fi/horror enthusiast, but can also be a suspenseful page-turner for anyone. Kindred tells the story of Dana, a writer who is somehow able to travel back in time to antebellum Maryland whenever an ancestor is in danger. The book has phenomenal Black Women characters and highlights the strength Black Women — slaves and their descendants — must harness daily in order to survive past and present America.” - Jenika M.
"“You know what’s going to happen to both of us if we get caught?” I asked .
“You scared?” he asked.
“Yes. But that doesn’t matter. I’ll teach you. I just wanted to be sure you knew what you were getting into.”
He turned away from me, lifted his shirt in the back so that I could see his scars. Then he faced me again. “I know,” he said.
That same day, I stole a book and began to teach him.
And I began to realize why Kevin and I had fitted so easily into this time. We weren’t really in. We were observers watching a show. We were watching history happen around us. And we were actors. While we waited to go home, we humored the people around us by pretending to be like them. But we were poor actors. We never really got into our roles. We never forgot that we were acting.
This was something I tried to explain to Kevin on the day the children broke through my act. It suddenly became very important that he understand.
The day was miserably hot and muggy, full of flies, mosquitoes and the bad smells of soapmaking, the outhouses, fish someone had caught, unwashed bodies. Everybody smelled, black and white. Nobody washed enough or changed clothes often enough. The slaves worked up a sweat and the whites sweated without working. Kevin and I didn’t have enough clothes or any deodorant at all, so often, we smelled too. Surprisingly, we were beginning to get used to it.
Now we were walking together away from the house and the quarter. We weren’t heading for our oak tree because then, if Margaret Weylin saw us there, she sent someone with a job for me. Her husband may have stopped her from throwing me out of the house, but he hadn’t stopped her from becoming a worse nuisance than ever. Sometimes Kevin countermanded her orders, claiming that he had work for me. That was how I got a little rest and gave Nigel some extra tutoring. Now, though, we were headed for the woods to spend some time together.
But before we got away from the buildings, we saw a group of slave children gathered around a tree stump. These were the children of the field hands, children too young to be much use in the fields themselves. Two of them were standing on the wide flat sump while others stood around watching.
“What are they doing?” I asked.
“Playing some game, probably,” Kevin shrugged.
“It looks as though…”
“Let’s get closer. I want to hear what they’re saying.”
We approached them from one side so that neither the children on the tree stump, nor those on the ground were facing us. They went on with their play as we watched and listened.
“Now here a likely wench,” called the boy on the stump. He gestured toward the girl who stood slightly behind him. “She cook and wash and iron. Come here, gal. Let the folks see you.” He drew the girl up beside him. “She young and strong,” he continued. “She worth plenty money. Two hundred dollars. Who bid two hundred dollars?”
The little girl turned to frown at him. “I’m worth more that two hundred dollars, Sammy!” she protested. “You sold Martha for five hundred dollars!”
“You shut your mouth,” said the boy. “You ain’t supposed to say nothing. When Marse Tom bought Mama and me, we didn’t say nothing.”
I turned and walked away from the arguing children, feeling tired and disgusted. I wasn’t even aware that Kevin was following me until he spoke.
“That’s the game I thought they were playing,” he said. “I’ve seen them at it before. They play at field work too.”
I shook my head, “My God, why can’t we go home? This place is diseased.”"
5. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele
Recommended by Sade Lewis (She/hers), co-founder and fashion designer at Sade | Shaniya , a contemporary fashion brand based in NYC; member of Bed Stuy Book Club:
“I would recommend this book because it exemplifies the journey towards combating heartbreak, injustice, and systematic oppression through community, activism, and love. The stories and themes within this book are relatable to our past and our present. It is an inspiring call to action.” - Sade Lewis
"Middle school is the first time in my life when I feel unsure of myself. No one is calling me gifted anymore. No one, save for my dance teacher, encourages me or seems to have patience with me. It’s in middle school that my grades drop for the first time and that I come to believe that maybe all the love I’d gotten in elementary school had somehow dried up, my ration run dry. At the age of 12 I am on my own, no longer in the world as a child, as a small human, innocent and in need of support. I saw it happen to my brothers and now it was happening to me, this moment when we become the thing that’s no longer adorable or cherished. The year we become a thing to be discarded.
For my brothers, and especially for Monte, learning that they did not matter, that they were expendable, began in the streets, began while they were hanging out with friends, began while they were literally breathing while Black. The extraordinary presence of police in our communities, a result of a drug war aimed at us, despite our never using or selling drugs more than unpoliced white children, ensured that we all knew this. For us, law enforcement had nothing to do with protecting and serving, but controlling and containing the movement of children who had been labeled super-predators simply by virtue of who they were born to and where they were born, not because they were actually doing anything predatory.
I learned I didn’t matter from the very same place that lifted me up, the place I’d found my center and voice: school. And it will not be until I am an adult, determined to achieve a degree in religion, part of a long and dedicated process I undertook to become an ordained minister, that I will enjoy school again.
A few years after I complete my degree, Dr. Monique W. Morris published her groundbreaking book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, demonstrating how Black girls are rendered disposable in schools, unwanted, unloved. Twelve percent of us receive at least one suspension during our school careers while our white (girl) counterparts are suspended at a rate of 2 percent. In Wisconsin, the rate is actually 21 percent from Black girls but 2 percent for white girls.
But having attended schools with both Black and white girls, one thing I learned quickly is that while we can behave in the same or very similar ways, we are almost never punished similarly. In fact, in white schools, I witnessed an extraordinary amount of drug use compared to what my friends in my neighborhood schools experienced. And yet my friends were the ones policed. My neighborhood friends went to schools where no mass or even singular shootings occurred, but where police in full Kevlar patrolled the hallways, often with drug-sniffing dogs, the very same kind that they turned on children in the South who demanded an end to segregation.
By the time Black Lives Matter is born, we not only know that we have been rendered disposable because of our lived experience — which few listened to — but also from data and finally from those terrible, viral images of Black girls being thrown brutally out of their seats by people who are called School Safety Officers, for the crime of having their phones out in the classroom. Monique Morris’s reporting will tell us about the 12-year-old girl from Detroit who is threatened with both expulsion and criminal charges for writing the word “Hi” on her locker door; and the one in Orlando who is also threatened with expulsion from her private school if she doesn’t stop wearing her hair natural.
And for me, too, it started the year I turned twelve. That was the year that I learned that being Black and poor defined me more than being bright and hopeful and ready. I had been so ready to learn. So willing.
Twelve, the moment our grades and engagement as students seem to matter less than how we can be proven to be criminals, people to be arrested.
Twelve, and childhood already gone.
Twelve, and being who we are can cost us our lives.
It cost Tamir Rice his life.
He was a child of twelve. And the cop who shot him took under two seconds, literally, to determine that Tamir should die.
Tamir Rice. Twelve.
Twelve, and out of time."
6. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Recommended by Patricia Martin (She/hers), writer and founder of The Glam Femme blog; member of Bed Stuy Book Club:
“Here Comes the Sun beautifully encompasses the tapestry that is the Jamaican experience from the varied perspectives of native Jamaicans. It’s a story we can all relate to about fighting for your dreams, no matter what the cost, and being forced to examine your own beliefs about yourself and the world around you.” - Patricia Martin
"The long hours Margot works at the hotel are never documented. Her real work is not in answering the telephones that ring off the hook, or writing up delinquent housekeepers for sleeping on the beds and watching TV when they’re supposed to be cleaning. Her real work is after hours when everyone has bid their goodbyes and piled up in the white Corollas—robot taxis—at the massive gate of the resort, which will take them home to their shabby neighborhoods, away from the fantasy they help create about a country where they are as important as washed-up seaweed.
Margot has been employee of the month for several months in a row, because she was the first to arrive and the last to leave. And for good reason. Requests are called in, not in conversational tones but in code that only Margot knows in case anyone is listening on the line. “Ackee” means he wants to taste her down there. Foreign men love that. “Banana” means he wants her to suck him off. “Sun– dae” means he intends to be kinky—anything goes. Of course they know she’s in business, because she makes sure to slip them a wink on the first day of their arrival. Flattered, they initiate conversation. Margot flirts, reading their stray glances, which almost always land and linger between her exposed cleavage. That is Margot’s cue for a forward invitation. She goes to the employee restroom to freshen up, spray perfume between her breasts, and powder her face before sauntering to the client’s room. She undresses for the client, whose main goal is usually to satisfy a deep curiosity that he never had the balls to satiate with the women in his own country. Like a black woman’s breasts, for instance. Many of these men want to know the shape of them; the nipples, whether or not they are the same color as tar pressed on the heels of their leather shoes from the paved roads in Europe or America; or if black nipples have in them the richness of topsoil after a thorough rain shower. They want to touch. And she lets them. Their eyes widen like children ogling baby frogs for the first time, careful to hold them so they don’t spring from their grasp. She doesn’t see it as demeaning. She sees it as merely satisfying the curiosity of foreigners; foreigners who pay her good money to be their personal tour guide on the island of her body. Margot stashes the money in her purse when she’s done and hurries home. By then the robot taxis are scarce, so she walks into town and waves for one there. She has long ago rid herself of any feelings of disgust. She used to stay back and shower in the clients’ rooms, scrubbing every part of her until her skin was raw. These days she goes straight home and falls asleep with the smell of semen sunken in her pores. Replacing the disgust is a liquid hope that settles inside her chest and fills her with purpose. She rolls over in the bed she shares with her sister knowing that one day she won’t have to do this. That one day Thandi will make everything better.
But until then, she must work.
On this night she looks both ways to see if the coast is clear. The hotel maids have all left, and so have management and most hotel staff. The concierge, Paul, is the only one working. Since it’s almost midnight, the night front desk clerks, Abby and Joseph, take turns resting on the sofa in the office. Margot doesn’t pass their desk when she exits the hotel. She exits from the side by the pool, surprised to see Paul outside smoking a cigarette.
“Good night, Margot,” Paul says with a slight bow. He’s always polite, so polite that Margot wonders what he knows. She wonders if he hides his contempt behind that poise. Does he whisper to the other concierges that he sees her leave the hotel late at night? Does he tell them that he has caught her on more than one occasion adjusting her blouse and skirt after coming out of a guest’s room? Such occurrences would have helped the man to put two and two together, but then again, he’s not so bright. And for this, Margot is grateful.
Outside, the night is cool. The stars are sprinkled across the sky like grains of salt. The chirps of crickets in the bougainvillea bushes follow behind her like gossip, their hissing sounds deafening. She walks to the street, thankful for the anonymity the darkness provides. In town, the regular taxi drivers are there: Maxi, Dexter, Potty, Alistair. Maxi jingles his keys first. It’s a sign to the other drivers that he’ll be the one to take her. “Whappen, sweetness?” Margot blows him a kiss. They grew up together and attended the same basic school, primary school, and secondary school. Maxi dropped out of secondary school, embraced Rastafarianism, and started referring to himself as “I an’ I.” He smokes ganja all day and by night he’s a taxi driver and a dealer to the tourists who are adventurous enough to go looking for ganja in the town.
“Wha g’wan, Maxi?” She settles in the front seat of the taxi. The smell of peeled oranges and smoke greets her. She begins to wonder if the scent will stick. But then again, she has her own scent.
“Me deh yah.” Maxi starts the ignition. His dreadlocks are a thick, matted pile on his head. He tells her about his two children, whom she always inquires about for the sake of conversation that doesn’t involve flirtation. One of them just started primary school and the other one is just starting basic school. They’re from two different mothers, women Margot also grew up with. Women she no longer associates with because of their small minds and quickness to judge. “So she t’ink she isbig shot now, eh, working in di hotel. Look pon har, nuh. Thirty years old an’ no man, no children. Har pumpum mussi dry up. Can’t even come down from har trone fi fuck right. She t’ink she too nice.”
“When yuh g’wan get yuh own car, Margot?” Maxi asks. “Ah hear seh di hotel pay good, good money.”
Margot leans back on the leather seat and breathes in the pungent smells. “Soon.” She looks out the window. Although it’s pitch-black, she can tell she’s passing by the sea. For a moment she wants to give her thoughts freedom to roam in this dark, in this uncertainty."
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Recommended by Yeniliz (She/hers), college student and member of Bed Stuy Book Club:
“I enjoy Morrison’s unique poetic style. Even though it isn’t specifically a horror, what Sethe faces through slavery and the haunting of her daughter add a scary appeal.” - Yeniliz
"WAS SPITEFUL. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old—as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. Nor did they wait for one of the relief periods: the weeks, months even, when nothing was disturbed. No. Each one fled at once—the moment the house committed what was for him the one insult not to be borne or witnessed a second time. Within two months, in the dead of winter, leaving their grandmother, Baby Suggs; Sethe, their mother; and their little sister, Denver, all by themselves in the gray and white house on Bluestone Road. It didn’t have a number then, because Cincinnati didn’t stretch that far. In fact, Ohio had been calling itself a state only seventy years when first one brother and then the next stuffed quilt packing into his hat, snatched up his shoes, and crept away from the lively spite the house felt for them.
Baby Suggs didn’t even raise her head. From her sickbed she heard them go but that wasn’t the reason she lay still. It was a wonder to her that her grandsons had taken so long to realize that every house wasn’t like the one on Bluestone Road. Suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, she couldn’t get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys. Her past had been like her present—intolerable—and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color.
“Bring a little lavender in, if you got any. Pink, if you don’t.”
And Sethe would oblige her with anything from fabric to her own tongue. Winter in Ohio was especially rough if you had an appetite for color. Sky provided the only drama, and counting on a Cincinnati horizon for life’s principal joy was reckless indeed. So Sethe and the girl Denver did what they could, and what the house permitted, for her. Together they waged a perfunctory battle against the outrageous behavior of that place; against turned-over slop jars, smacks on the behind, and gusts of sour air. For they understood the source of the outrage as well as they knew the source of light.
Baby Suggs died shortly after the brothers left, with no interest whatsoever in their leave-taking or hers, and right afterward Sethe and Denver decided to end the persecution by calling forth the ghost that tried them so. Perhaps a conversation, they thought, an exchange of views or something would help. So they held hands and said, “Come on. Come on. You may as well just come on.”
The sideboard took a step forward but nothing else did.
“Grandma Baby must be stopping it,” said Denver. She was ten and still mad at Baby Suggs for dying.
Sethe opened her eyes. “I doubt that,” she said.
“Then why don’t it come?”
“You forgetting how little it is,” said her mother. “She wasn’t even two years old when she died. Too little to understand. Too little to talk much even.”
“Maybe she don’t want to understand,” said Denver.
“Maybe. But if she’d only come, I could make it clear to her.” Sethe released her daughter’s hand and together they pushed the sideboard back against the wall. Outside a driver whipped his horse into the gallop local people felt necessary when they passed 124.
“For a baby she throws a powerful spell,” said Denver.
“No more powerful than the way I loved her,” Sethe answered and there it was again. The welcoming cool of unchiseled headstones; the one she selected to lean against on tiptoe, her knees wide open as any grave. Pink as a fingernail it was, and sprinkled with glittering chips. Ten minutes, he said. You got ten minutes I’ll do it for free.
Ten minutes for seven letters. With another ten could she have gotten “Dearly” too? She had not thought to ask him and it bothered her still that it might have been possible—that for twenty minutes, a half hour, say, she could have had the whole thing, every word she heard the preacher say at the funeral (and all there was to say, surely) engraved on her baby’s headstone: Dearly Beloved. But what she got, settled for, was the one word that mattered. She thought it would be enough, rutting among the headstones with the engraver, his young son looking on, the anger in his face so old; the appetite in it quite new. That should certainly be enough. Enough to answer one more preacher, one more abolitionist and a town full of disgust."
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