Black Girl Magic is more than a concept, it's a lifestyle. To proudly wear the armor of Black and female in the face of adversity stimulates a power of resilience the likes of this world has never seen. One woman, in particular, leading the vanguard of unapologetic, tenacious Black women is Mahogany L. Browne.
As an impactful figure of the literary industry, Mahogany vigorously created a platform through poetry for women and girls to feel empowered worldwide. She has been featured in the PBS NewsHour segment, Brief But Spectacular, where she read her poem "Black Girl Magic" about the struggles facing African-American women and girls in modern society. Most recently, Mahogany teamed up with Spotify to curate the #ReimaginingArmor project — an eclectic installment highlighting Black History Is Now — featuring the collaborated work of Mahogany, Theresa Chromati and Sadé Clacken Joseph.
With the release of her new book, Woke Baby, coming in January 2019, I met up with the incomparable spoken poet, author and activist to discuss what it means to be at the forefront of Black female empowerment:
21Ninety: Who is Mahogany L. Browne? Where does the name stem from?
Mahogany Browne: Mahogany L Browne is a mother, a sister a friend and a rider. I love hard. I fight hard. And I write about it all tomorrow. When I started, I was going by my given name, and I started in Oakland, CA at this open mic. And then someone followed home like 3 months in — I started doing poetry when my daughter was 6 months old, and as a single parent I just thought it was not the mood to be so easily findable — so I asked my friend, "if there was a nickname I could have, what would it be?" She was like, "definitely Mahogany, because it's wood, it's poison." So, that's how Mahogany the name was born.
21N: How was the Spotify Black History Is Happening Now event?
MB: The event was truly magical. Working on the project, sometimes with Sadé, most times with producer Cynthia, I was really concerned about authenticity and working with a platform as large as Spotify. However, they were really beautiful and open about our ideas and allowed each artist to bring to the forefront exactly what they wanted. So to go to the event and watch black and brown Women well up with tears of joy, was a gift in itself. And that’s the fight, right? To fight every day to be heard and seen and then sit in a room where women like you say “I see you sis, and your beautiful” with no fight or malice or disregard — that is how we lie down the armor. Even if for a minute.
21N: You have a poem “‘Litany” which was inspired by Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Felt To Be Free’, who are some other authors/poets/musicians that inspire you to write?
MB: I’m inspired by the entire gamut! I love Remy, Beyonce, and Leikeli. I love Nina, Aretha, Erykah, Jill Scott and Shirley Murdock. I love Meshell, Anthony Hamilton, Sampha and Solange. I love us. We really rock. There are brothers I turn to as well. As a child of Cali, I love E-40 & the classics. I’m also moved by the ministry of Jay-Z, Kendrick, J-Cole, and Drake. I listen to a lot of Drake.
21N: Same! No shame.
MB: I feel bad liking Drake because people are so angry with him.
21N: I don't get the slander.
MB: I don't get it either! I feel wild, right? But he is being emotional like we ask the masculine to do. He is super complicated, right? And he's also showing you that he can be your brother, one that you know knows better but still does those messed up things when nobody's looking, and then you catch him and he'll say "ahh you're right, my bad, I do love my mom and my bed, I'm sorry." You may make poor decisions, but you have a good heart. I know those men. So the growth is miraculous to witness.
21N: You write poetry for women and girls to feel empowered and heard, in your book Black Girl Magic, you wrote a line “You ain’t supposed to have nothing to say unless it’s a joke”. Do you believe our Black voices should emulate the militant tone of Angela Davis, the #MeToo tone of Tarana Burke or a combination of the two?
MB: I think there is room to be our entire selves. There is room to be joyous and funny and still be taken seriously. That quote is speaking to the lack of complexity Black women are allowed to reveal. We should always be inspired and catapulted into the room with the same bravery and critical thinking as Angela Davis. We should always find our voice and legs and backbone when speaking up like Tarana Burke. One does not negate the other. It is unfair to ask a marginalized war-stricken body to be a loveless and joyous vessel.
21N: So last week we witnessed an avid Trump supporter deliver lethal pipe bombs to Democratic political figures and an ignorant talk show host fail to grasp that Blackface is a form of racism, as an activist yourself, beyond the scope of poetry, what are some actions that strong, unapologetic Black women can do to help contribute to the movement?
MB: I always say this: activism looks like many things. It looks like babysitting for those that are going to the protest rally. If you are undocumented or a single parent, there are ways in which these public spaces of political outcry are dangerous. So what does it look like to make free copies for the rally at your place of business — without fear of being forced, of course. What does it look like offering online social media outreach and building a campaign that surpasses the moment of outrage and engages the world with continuous conversations?
21N: I think the personal struggle Black folk has endured for 400+ years is indicative of our perseverance. Bearing in mind your own personal experience of once being told not to write poetry, do you have any advice for those who find themselves plagued with self-doubt and opposition?
MB: Write anyway. Speak anyway. Workshop still. Edit again. There is no way to face the fear with your own name and face attached. You got to walk through the fire of that fear. You got to eat that bitch for breakfast and keep it moving. There are greater things to be afraid of. Like being silent. Like being spoken for. Like never having a say about the legacy you leave behind.
21N: Speaking of writing, congratulations on your new upcoming book Woke Baby, can you tell us how the idea came into fruition?
MB: I was really interested in giving the parents of this generation a lullaby to gift their new humans. I was excited to be a part of the legacy of self-love and resemblance like Eloise Greenfield taught me. And Maya Angelou taught me. And Gwendolyn Brooks taught me. I wanted to leave some goodness for our babies because I am fully aware that joy is a weapon that withstands.
PHOTO: Mahogany Browne
21N: What sets “Woke Baby” apart from your other publications?
MB: I wrote it. It’s my voice. We all got a story to tell. This one is mine.
21N: And stylistically, you do have a very distinct and unique voice. I once saw you host and perform at a BRIC Poetry Slam and recall immediately becoming a fan of your work. Do you have any spoken word performances in the near future?
MB: Once a month I’m at the BRIC Arts Media with Jive Poetic celebrating poets in Brooklyn & it’s free for the community! I love that space. I love the fact we’re able to give back to a community of people and poets that are giving us so much in return.
21N: Any advice you would like to give to aspiring Black writers looking to incorporate political activism into their writing?
MB: Find out what your communities need. If they need a storybook reading for the babies and you give them a blueprint for an urban gardening idea, are you serving the people or your own ego? Find out what your art can do in the spaces that have welcome you. Workshops? Postcards? Community chalkboard wall of gratitude? Senior citizen readings? Coffee for mom and me with your poems as the sugar! All of our modes of art can be a garden. Feeding the people and our own spirits. We can create magic with our own hands.
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