When I first saw the DAMN. album cover, ironically my first reaction was damn! Ol’ boy wasn’t lookin too good! Disheveled beard, eyes vacant and dim, lookin nowhere, I was concerned for him! Then I heard the criticisms of his single “HUMBLE.”: misogynist, sexist, an attempt to police women’s bodies. What I saw in “HUMBLE.” was a man on the thin line between humility and cockiness not sure where he should stand as a Black man. I saw a man battling with many images, light and darkness, heaven and hell, white and black, poor and rich. I saw a man battling himself. HUMBLE. was Kendrick versus Kendrick. What stood out to me more was the fact that Kendrick’s preference for stretch marks and natural hair was more a controversy than lyrics that demanded our asses be fat, our weaves long, and our name bitch. Even so, my opinion was still met with confusion and distaste for this new Kendrick that burst on the scene. People were asking: What happened to him? He used to be so conscious, now he’s just like every other rapper. What happened to “To Pimp a Butterfly” Kendrick? Who is this Kendrick Lamar? After listening to DAMN. I have never seen Kendrick Lamar as more Kendrick Lamar. He is an artist. And his latest album DAMN. is a tribute to what we artists use our art for: a way to process and understand our world beyond the unspeakable.
DAMN. was a portal into the world of a Black man, his certainty, uncertainty, fear, reflections, and determination. His album brings a humanity to the celebrity. In a country that praises and worships the lives, the wallets, and the scandal of celebrities and stars, I forget that these people are people. Their art is a result of their humanity. These influencers do not exist solely for their audience. That is why Beyoncé’s Lemonade struck me to my core. She ceased to be a brand, a face, a single—she was a complete process. DAMN. is Kendrick Lamar’s human process. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is a labor of love for Kendrick Lamar. After listening to tracks like “FEEL.” and “GOD.” it sounded like he wrote these songs/poems because he needed to; and like many artists, the act of sharing is just as healing as creating it.
The shock value of my success put bolts in me
All this money, is God playin’ a joke on me?
Is it for the moment, and will he see me as Job?
Take it from me and leave me worse than I was before?
As a 24-year-old who wants to start her own business, write a book, and step into my own calling of using poetry and performance as an empowerment tool for voiceless communities, the song “FEAR.” moved me. I can’t be the only one who is afraid of success, and just as afraid of failure. Kendrick Lamar reminded me that no matter the checks, followers, or rewards we all have or will be at that crossroads. I have asked myself similar questions on my own journey. Any milestone that pushes me closer to reach my potential is met with resistance; a timid voice whispers and questions: Is this possible? Or is it all just another universal test only to start from the beginning again in a few years? The higher I go, the farther I have to fall. How Kendrick must feel! From his first mixtape in 2004, Youngest Head Nigga in Charge (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year) to being called the greatest rapper of all time. I could almost taste the anxiety, the questions, the fatigue in DAMN. I could only imagine, the money is coming in, the workload is increasing, advice is flooding in from everywhere, and the world is looking to him, fans leaning on him to continue to climb, to create! I too would go to my pen and paper like I always do, purging the secret questions, revelations, resentments, declaration, writing desperately toward that inner silence.
Lamar created a human experience in DAMN. He reminded me as a poet and activist that the foggy moments, the silences in between our revelations, success, and failures are just as beautiful, just as valid and telling and universal. After listening to the whole album, I wanted to give Kendrick a huge hug and say thank you, from one Los Angeles native to another. The job of an artist is to dig and dig deep within; to find the piece that pushes us even deeper and to share that work in order to connect to the depth in someone else. And we need that right about now. When I watched the news of the Manchester bombing, picture after picture being released of deceased young people, when I read about the impending threat to my healthcare rights as a woman, when I get a notification about another toxic tweet or another tragedy so far away I can barely fathom; when I consider the rise in violence against Black bodies, Muslim bodies, Trans Bodies, Our Bodies; when I walk down the street and have to maneuver my body so that I am not touched or followed or worst, I can’t help but think damn. It is a state of being, that damn. It’s that sigh when you’re a woman and you get home safe after a fun night, it’s that tension in the muscles when the police keep cruising past you. Kendrick’s DAMN. is not only a confirmation of what that damn can do to the spirit, it is a powerful reminder that we are not alone in feeling it and that is possible to use that damn and repurpose it, as much of the country and the world has done throughout history at the beginning of every revolution.
I use to pride myself on how much I didn’t know sbout pop culture. Someone would ask me about a show, new album, or latest twitter beef and I would turn my nose up and say, “NOPE! Sorry, I don’t have time to entertain such things!” Years of being called an “old soul,” I started to neglect the pop culture and social media phenomenon evolving right in front me, moving full speed ahead since I was born. Some witnessed the first man on the moon but only one generation can say they witnessed the birth and death of Myspace.com; the birth and empire of Facebook, and the takeover of Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. However, I still could not see the benefits of having platforms to share opinions, random photos, and thoughts among millions when you could’ve said it to the wind and it would have the same effect. Who can really commit to a cause when you see only a glimpse of it? There is an understood and acceptance of fear of committing too long in the social media world. Facebook filters change after every tragedy, hashtags of fallen Black people to the hands of police. It’s all passing, I thought, where’s the substance? Then came #BlackLivesMatter, #NoDAPL, #BringBackOurGirls, #Ferguson, #NotMyPresident… I had no choice but to pay attention, as an activist. As a Black woman in her early 20’s, I am existing in a world where the internet serves more purposes than just a procrastination aid. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are my newsrooms and those same platforms serve as my storefronts for my own business; there is no way for me not to engage. Social media ebbs and flows freely throughout all our lives with the trivial and the urgent. I can no longer justify social media as a waste of time. It has become as complex as the human condition and I, like everyone else in this world, have a seat at the table to listen, learn, and contribute. So, when Kendrick Lamar dropped his single “Humble” and the outrage from women of color poured into the twitter-sphere regarding his misogynist comments, and the infamous and an insensitive Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner surfaced, I had no choice but to tune in, because what is the point of having a seat at the table if you are not going to show up?
What Kendall and Kendrick have in common is a complex existence made plain. A world of action, resistance, intersectionality, and violence are too heartbreaking, inspiring, tiring, historical, and urgent to be solved by one White face and a Pepsi. My heart dropped watching the commercial portray a protest of many diverse faces joined together for “peace,” only to see the focus put on Kendall Jenner confidently walking through the crowd to give a police officer a Pepsi as the crowd celebrates. I was not sure what they are celebrating. Immediately I was reminded of the images of protesters in Ferguson with milk tears running down their faces and bandanas around their mouths. I was reminded of the gas masks and pepper spray, dogs and water hoses. My mind was brought back to the historic footage of my home city, Los Angeles, being burned alive in 1965 and the clip that I will never get to un-see: A Black protester passed out on a Los Angeles curb, beaten, with soiled pants, still being frisked by a police officer, surrounded. This attempt at a commercial hurt. The art of protesting was now a marketing tool, when for so many, including me, it is part of a necessary strategy to fight for our lives and our rights. The many times I put my safety on the line to speak up; the many times I was too afraid to. I do not get a check for showing up for my people and the people I support. My drive, my protest, is mandatory to thrive in this country and thanks to the infinite table with infinite seats in social media, Pepsi and Kendall Jenner got to take a seat. They both get the chance to learn about responsibility and we, The People, get the chance to hold them accountable. The conversation is not limited to anyone and neither is the critique. Social media can make very complicated matters easy to digest and Pepsi was fooled. Fighting injustice is nowhere near two minutes long. It’s more like a 400-year battle, give and take a few hundred years depending on how you identify. I am grateful for Black Twitter and social media for consistently offering the opportunity to keep companies, public figures, and Presidents in check.
Kendrick Lamar is no exception to critical commentary either, no matter how beloved. His single, “Humble” ignited a tidal wave of debate regarding his misogyny, internalized racism, and sexism embedded in his lyrics, specifically:
I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks
I was not sure what to expect when my friend pulled up the music video for me to see. The Kendrick Lamar in “Humble” was indeed a different Kendrick. He was still from L.A., a force of nature rhythmically and lyrically. But… there was something that changed; a switch was turned on. His face even looked different. What I saw in “Humble” was a battle between two different parts of one man. On the one hand, I saw a young Black man who definitely sounded similar to almost every other rapper, flaunting money, sex, and exclaiming “I’m the best!” Then I heard a chorus that called for humility, for a sit-down, a bowed head, and a shut mouth. I saw a question within the imagery: Who could Kendrick be? Would he be allowed to be a humble Black man? Would he be allowed as a Black man to celebrate and flaunt his success? Who can Kendrick Lamar be? I saw a juxtaposition of Black and White in what Kendrick Lamar was wearing in the video. I saw a Black man at the last supper with in a zip-up jacket with other Black men having a good time. Is that even allowed? I saw Kendrick Lamar in clergy attire. I saw an illustrated battle of images–of types of manhood. Did I like the line: “Get the fuck off my dick, that ain’t right” when I know how toxic hip-hop has been and is toward the LGBTQ community? No. Did I appreciate the amount of times bitch was said in the song? No. Did I like that he expressed wanting to see women without Photoshop and stretchmarks? Yes, as a person who has never tried contouring and has many, many, many stretch marks, I found it refreshing because the song seemed more like an inner battle than a commentary or press release for or against a cause. We all had a seat at the table of “Humble”, to see it, to offer a perspective, but we are mere observers of a narrative that seemed to me, quite personal, and I am more inclined to observe Kendrick Lamar’s evolution—as messy as it may be as he navigates his career—than I am to be called a “boujee” bitch with no hair and a fat ass with no value, as I am referred to and represented as throughout the Industry, which rarely leads to debates like the one “Humble” ignited.
I think it is easy and comfortable to offer critique to public figures and celebrities who are developing their consciousness for the world to see and through their artwork. Beyoncé is one of the prime examples when she co-opted the word “Feminist” for her Beyoncé Tour. Some were outraged and expressed that she was not a true feminist because of one reason or another. All I could think was: Am I even a true feminist when compared to the expectation of the “woke”? I did go to an all-women’s college and took gender studies and feminist theory. Was it enough? My evolution as a feminist, activist, and woman has been a process where I can control the audience. Celebrities and world-renown artist do not have that luxury. When Kendrick Lamar is expressing two sides of his identity and career or Beyoncé considers the women’s movement, I am less compelled to assess their artwork outside of what it is, art. My poems do not always speak to a movement cause; sometimes my poems are a prayer, a riverbed, a plea, or an apology to the unspoken and private. I am more interested in those voices hiding under rocks with their misogyny, their sexism, their racism, their homophobia, their transphobia, their -isms. They seem to get passes too often because we are comfortable. Those are the folks I want to especially invite to the table. Companies like Pepsi, and privileged folks Kendall Jenner do not have to think twice about the reality they are playing. Sexist and toxic figures like Bill O’Reilly and President Trump are also invited. Those are the people I’d like to open a chair for, ask them to take a seat because the world is watching….
The cyber community, like any other community, will not always agree, and I have learned with hashtag after hashtag, that is going to continue to be the case. There are going to be people who will never listen to Kendrick Lamar again and the #BoycottPepsi hashtag is already trending and taking on a life of its own. The conversations will continue to evolve like technology and humans have done. Social media represents the social consciousness in all its messiness, comedic genius, compassion, and power. In those spaces, easy definitions among the millions of perspectives are hard to find but it does not matter what time I sign off or sign in, I can always find love, justice, hope, and understanding in some corner of the cyber-sphere. We, as The People, still choose to show up to the table, not only to fight, resist, laugh, cry, feel, but also to connect. And we will continue to show up, I will show up, because it’s my responsibility and privilege to connect to a global community that is never silenced.
Before actually seeing the film, social media and my friend group were already abuzz with “Moonlight” praises. I was told this film brought to light a narrative rarely explored in mainstream cinema, the humanity and holistic development of Black men, as told by Black men, without interruption. It was because of the amazing reviews and the Oscar nomination and win that I planned to witness this coming-of-age story about men that had nothing to do with me. I planned to be an observer, appreciate the cinematography, the writing, the acting. I was sure my partner would have much more to say after the film, as a Black man, than I. However, what I did not plan on was “Moonlight” speaking to me personally. I did not prepare to observe moments I experienced, yet never uttered to anyone, smeared on the screen dripping until the credits rolled. It’s simple: “Moonlight” is poetry. It is poetry in the way a poem gives words to the unspoken moment. “Moonlight” crafts the unspoken moment of growth and self-discovery and sits it next to sound and image and starts to play, then mirrors it back to you in your ear.
Sound. The silence in this film defined the pivotal, not unlike how silence works in our own lives. It was uncomfortable. I wanted, craved, silently squirmed in my partner’s arms waiting for dialogue in certain moments–but nothing came. Silence. It immediately made me reflect on how silence and sound accentuated life lessons and relationships. In seventh grade, when being ran from because I had two mothers and my friends were going to catch the “gay”, I just watched them and said nothing. Their laughs faded, their footsteps became mute. That is when I realized that friendship and trust were things I still had to grow towards, and I didn’t know how. When I was called a nigger in the third grade after school by a White boy, I said nothing. I just looked at him and realized race was not something that could burn off like the Los Angeles fog. I was a Black girl, and according to this boy, a nigger. Having a secret on my tongue and letting it twirl around in my mouth while my mother waits. These moments defined curves, ebbs, and flow in my growth. Moonlight’s freedom with sound and the deliberate elimination of sound reminded me how important those lessons, epiphanies, trials were. I was not a Black man appreciating a Black man story. I was a Black woman witnessing a human story, as told through the journey of one Black man.
Although tears did flow, I was not sad at the conclusion of the film, in the same way a poem might remind one of heartbreak and beauty simultaneously. Chiron’s story is a window into a childhood reality all too common to families of color, and families surviving in poverty. However, what Barry Jenkins, director and screenwriter, was able to portray was the hope, the light, and the truth that guide us, as people, as we grow and navigate these trials. Chiron found his truth and his safety in the ocean, just like me. It’s at the shore, with my feet being kissed by the waves; the sound of them crashing; knowing they will always crash forever, whether I am at the shore’s edge or not, whether I am afraid or not; wherever I am the ocean has always been my truth. The main character always had the ocean to bring him back to his truth. What’s more, is that we never get an answer for what his truth is, be it his sexuality, his aspirations… Again, “Moonlight” was asking me to reflect on where my truth has revealed itself throughout my life. My truth has shown up at Prospect Park, Central Park, on the Portland Coast, Venice Beach, in the first tulip of the season in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; my truth has always shown up and brought me back, no matter how far I strayed. The tears appeared and fell down my cheeks on the way home out of gratitude because, much like Chiron’s experience in “Moonlight”, I get to grow in silence and in sound and in truth. Chiron was able to find his truth and it gave me hope that I can too, even when I forget it. As a young Black woman in her 20’s who’s watching the country lose its truth and suffers in silence, I needed a reminder that truth always wins, however it reveals itself, be it through the ocean turning over on itself to inspire a boy to become his own man, or a poet putting pen to paper, or “Moonlight” being recognized for the poem and epiphany that it is. Truth always wins and so did “Moonlight”.
Paralyzed. If I had to put it in one word. I feel paralyzed. I have not spoken or written about the election until now. Not even during the traumatic election campaign did I write a post to express my horror, my fear, or my disgust. I did not see the benefit of adding to the tsunami of opinions already taking over the Internet. What was my two cents going to do, besides entice more opinions on a platform that doesn’t lean itself to constructive action steps?
Yet, behind liking every funny meme mocking the election, the late-night show sketches, and tweets, I considered this a serious issue. I was scared that this toxic punchline would become the bottom line. I was not willing to stamp an LOL on his campaign just yet. It wasn’t his appearance, lack of experience, or disregard for women, disabled folks, queer folks, refugees, the original borders to Mexico, Black folks, Brown folks and immigrants that unsettled me. It was the fact that thousands upon thousands of others agreed with him. One rotten tree is a rotten tree, but a forest infested against humanity is an environmental issue.
I thought my scariest day was the day after the election. After watching SpongeBob Squarepants to keep my mind off of the results frenzy and tossing and turning all night, I still wasn’t prepared. When I asked my roommate that morning what the result was, she responded by silently pouring her tea and letting the tears fall down her face. I followed suit. I felt betrayed, yet not extremely caught by surprise. This is the America that I heard whispers about for as long as I identified as an activist. The true face of America revealed himself, I was told. It was a matter of time.
But this was supposed to be my home, my Black brothers’ home, both of my moms’ home too. Where are we going to go, while rich, straight White men retaliate against America’s true face? I couldn’t bring myself to call back home considering that one week ago I sat with both of my moms and little brother voting. My little brother called to ask me who I was voting for the night before the election. I told him. He responded in the softest and most angelic voice, “Okay. I was just asking. Some people are voting for Trump but he’s not nice.” It occurred to me that morning that I didn’t have a hiding spot big enough to keep the people I love safe. So, I cried. That is when the spiritual, mental, and sometimes physical paralysis started.
I thought that I would bounce back relatively quickly. The birds in Brooklyn still sang about something. The people on the subway didn’t look anymore spaced out than usual. Maybe Trump’s lack of experience will make him the loudest, orange-colored, clueless dog with no teeth to be let into the White House. He will fumble through policy after policy and by the end of his term be as confused as he looked when shadowing Barack Obama, a couple days after being inaugurated. I was quickly reminded of the cunning nature of White Supremacy. The House of Representatives. The Senate. Both supporting the rhetoric and proposed policies of Donald Trump. I was reminded about the Electoral College, which places the bulk of the future in the hands of the unknown.
I started to blame the media for distracting me for almost a year with presidential debates that became yelling matches and gossip passing for news. Then I remembered, when did I ever depend on mass media to educate me fully on my country, or any country for that matter? When I was in the United Kingdom, studying abroad, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine was escalating. I was in a pub with friends watching the news as footage of the border was playing and the soldiers stood nose-to-nose with automatic weapons. I was terrified listening to the updates, the tensions rising, the sanctions and embargoes flying across borders. I began to wonder how I would react to this situation if I was at home in the U.S. My guess is that I would not react at all. The severity of this situation could easily be buried under almost anything else that would be considered news. My education in America is a constant re-education. This was yet another example where I need to look backwards and sift through my “lessons” to find the truth. Electoral College. Popular Vote. Laws that negate both of these opportunities for Black and Brown folks. I knew it was time to act; to prepare; to heal. But I still was not ready.
On January 20, 2017, I still was stunted. Protests happened all over the country, pictures and comments with pink p****y hats. Women of all shades, children, and men joined together. I was at home thinking about the many times I lost my voice in protest, feet aching, nudged in the breast by White men, yelled at, and watched. I was tired. And I did not do half of what my sisters did. If I am tired now, I can’t imagine what they are. We have fought for our existence for as long as we have been Black women. We are activist from the womb; born from the generation of activists before us and before that.
Yes, I was tired. There were no hats made or CNN coverage celebrating the battles we fought so far as Black women. After all the fighting, studying, learning, planning, courageous conversations, Donald Trump was still inaugurated, and we were still unsafe. I did not know where to go to next. White Supremacy now has one more face to operate from and it was the President’s. I asked my friend, an activist out of Oakland, in town on business, what to do now. Do I need to invest in a bunker? A gun? A one-way ticket? I do not remember her exact answer, but I do remember her asking while holding her Black son on her hip that I sit next her and read through Trump’s plan for the first 100 days of his presidency. I was horrified and I think that was her point. Not to scare me but to wake me up. I can’t fight and resist with my eyes closed. I have to acknowledge unacceptable behavior and its existence before I can prepare to push back.
Yes, it took me a couple months. I cried, I talked, I resented people, places and things, I was still. I was forced to be present through this spiritually and physically for if I tried to force it, I would add nothing to the cause. Today, Trump is still keeping his promise to wage war on America’s citizens masking it as genius, machismo, and loyalty to his country, just like yesterday. It has not been a month, and he has declared war on my body, my family, and people that I love. But what he and his administration do not know is that in his eagerness to destroy and conquer, he ignited an urgency that will bring people together to do the work. What he is not prepared for are the meetings that are not happening on the streets; the messages that are not being written on posters and picket signs and Facebook, but whispered in living rooms and kitchens and basements all over the country. I am going to a part of the solution and resolution to fight and deconstruct an America that has disappointed me for 23 years. I am still tired but not tired enough. By any means necessary … I am ready.
crack hiss crick
relieving, isn’t it?
like the holy ghost
submission and surrender
snow and rain
stitch pillows with wind as you begin your decent
snip snap snip
you take the limbs of your sisters in your collapse
to remind yourself that the womb and coffin are made from one in the same
you give a subtle smile
a thank you
as you finally get to let go
crack hiss crick
for carving out your root chakra for their carriages and caravans
craving to see thmeselves through you–
a fascination with consumption masked as a worthwhile relationship
the midnight gives you all she has
so that you can rest a little longer
before sighing from beneath your bark creases
allowing the fog settle
- Tayllor Johnson
Giant Sequoia ‘Tunnel Tree’ in California Is Toppled by Storm via NY Times
My friend and I hesitantly slid to our seats, brushing shins and knocking knees with our work bags, two $15 cups of wine, and a $10 box of Sour Patch Kids to share. We shuffled into our place during the opening number. I didn’t mind that my bag was half spilling into my friend’s lap and her bag leaning to do the same on my side; I didn’t mind that my wine was dangerously close to tipping over from between my thighs; I didn’t mind the passive-aggressive looks from the White gentleman next to me, upset that he had witness me settling into myself to enjoy the show. I didn’t mind it at all because by then the essence of the South already took over the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The brown bodies took up space like so many grandmothers, aunties, and sisters under less glamorous Broadway circumstances had done… It was then that I felt it; as if I was sitting at the feet of my great-great grandmother’s rocking chair as she began to tell the tale; surrounded by other young sisters, leaning anxiously on our knees waiting for the lessons, the parable, the wisdom from the past to come out and inspire us as we go into our future. In the seemingly mundane activities happening on the stage: the washing of clothes in a basin, picking up the plank of wood to complete the porch, sewing and stitching of the children’s clothes, it seemed to emit a familiar rhythm and connection. Every dip of clothing into the wash bucket was a physical hymn, every placing of wood to build the foundation of home was accompanied percussion or a verse dedicated to the scattered pieces of another life on another land, a foggy dream and nightmare from what they had to call home now: The South. I’ve seen this type of historical memory on my Southern grandmother’s face in the way she threw down in the kitchen, designed my church dresses when I was 10 with nothing but an exacto knife, fabric, and a retired sewing machine; and when she started her own beautician business right on Route 64 in Little Rock, Arkansas less than five minutes from her own home. I can only imagine my grandmother’s South or her mother’s South was not unlike what was setting the tone for The Color Purple on Broadway that night. My South was a commercial interruption to the traffic, palm trees, and beach boardwalks I was accustomed to in Los Angeles California, where I grew up. Going to my great-aunt’s funeral reminded me how the urban life that many Black people fled to was a far cry away from the Southern life. I was thrown back into the harmony of plates gaining weight, gold teeth, “amen,” “yes lawd,” and a type of unspoken synthesis of Black culture that felt less like a gun to your temple and more like a blanket for patients in shock. I was immediately at ease amongst the wasps crawling all over the screened-in porch on my grandmother’s family land; my ears adjusted to the Southern drawl as words dripped into each other on their way out; my legs all of a sudden didn’t mind the weeds and peeled snake skin frying in the afternoon sun. I knew this place, this pace, this life, it was almost as if I inherited it from my late Aunt Bernie through the stories she used to tell me about taking care of crop and family, while being hunted by the White man—and even her own men—while straightening my hair in her kitchen and cooking chitlins. Strangely enough, the stage, the presence, the cadence, felt like a childhood home.
Dear Johnny Oleksinski,
“Entitlement, dependency, nonstop complaining, laziness, Kardashians?” Really? The Lousiest Generation? While I admit that I do not understand some things about the millennials, I would not demean them as you did in your article.
To be a millennial means you were born within a certain time frame. The generalizations and critiques that you ascribe to my generation relate to a limited population, which we expect from mainstream media. It does not surprise me that you cite the experiences of two White individuals as evidence of millennial entitlement.
The millennials who I know don’t build tree houses. They start businesses … while they do Snapchat. After reading your article I wondered what generation you wrote about. It seemed that you described a limited and diluted generational image that someone offered to you. Either millennials are lazy and entitled … or media and pop culture disseminate and profit off a stereotype.
Friends and family often describe me as an old soul, which saved me from being looped in with the rest of the millennials. I like black-and-white movies, music from the 80s and early 90s, and am infatuated with old jazz and the past. I want to be a scholar … not a Kardashian. My old-soul tendencies notwithstanding, I learn constantly.
At 23, I still strive to make sense of my life and own the right to be vocal about that process. At 26 years old, you don’t know everything. When did youth become a curse, worthy of punishment? Bashing a generation simply for being in their early 20s and maybe not getting it just yet doesn’t make sense and strikes me as counterproductive. Old souls don’t deserve a gold star for being ahead of the curve, but rather we carry a responsibility to pay it forward.
My generation confuses me. We obsess on other people’s lives as a form of escapism while indulging ourselves. I mentor and teach to break the stereotypes about millennials. Someone — a Generation Xer not a meme — once told me not to complain or to critique without a solution. My question for you is: What’s your solution? You don’t put forth any ideas to inspire change in millennials.
You make valid points about the portrayal of millennials in mainstream media, but something seems missing from your analysis of the Lousiest Generation. Do you know the recent grad from Haiti who wants to start her business and earns a fellowship? What about the young writer who works menial jobs while perfecting his craft? Johnny, maybe you need to do more research than simply reading Buzz Feed. You might find out how serious we are about changing the world for the better.
"I have a dream that one day women of color can pass by each other and not see Imaginary Enemies"- Byakko
Many people ask me: Where did your shirt idea come from? Who is the Imaginary Enemy? How did you come about creating this? My short answer: America. Being a Black woman in America inspired this movement. And it is the contagious nature of this movement that will make America question everything she ever assumed about the power of sisterhood amongst women of color.
But before I got to a place of declaration and appreciation of sisterhood and Black womanhood everywhere, I had to find it in myself. Not an easy task. I was a high school senior fed up with the idea of sisterhood, solidarity, and pride in Blackness. What had Blackness done for me? I spoke too “good” for the black girls to take me seriously and I was just enough Black for the white girls, as long as I kept up the hyperactive and over indulgent public minstrel show for them to marvel at. It seemed like I could not win no matter what I did. I was whitewashed. I was "bougie". I was red-bone. I was an Oreo: black on the outside, white on the inside. They never let me forget that one. Oreo. What was exploring my Blackness going to do but give people more opportunities to ostracize me?
It was the spaces and communities that I found myself in while in college that, over time, opened me up and deconstructed the oppressive armor I was wearing to protect myself from past hurt. By sophomore year, I found myself surrounded by an army of Sisterhood Excellence. My identity began to emerge with the support of my newfound friends of all backgrounds. It was like looking into the mirror through a kaleidoscope lens. My name was mine again and Oreo was a snack you had when you studied for finals. By my junior year, I began to see that I needed multiple spaces to feel safe in and that was my responsibility to make those spaces. I spent more time in communities and spaces of color. I couldn’t believe I felt safe in those spaces! I also began to learn about an insidious system called White Supremacy that is multifaceted in how it oppresses marginalized individuals, down to the historical trauma that plagues the way we Black people treat each other everyday. I finally had a community to call my own!
But the real world has a powerful way of reminding us that we are not in control. Outside of college, it was all too apparent that I changed, my circles changed, but the world hadn’t. Walking down the street, I saw Black women look at me as if I challenged them or cursed them. They eyed me up and down, as if searching for something. I found myself many afternoons engaging in the silent battle. What was the point of all this? Even if someone had a bad day and just looks nasty, I see more Black woman with that default face than anyone else. Why? I decided to explore that question in a Facebook post one day: I have a dream, that one day women of color can pass by each other and not see Imaginary Enemies”- Byakko (my pen name at the time). I was surprised how many likes the post got and how many people commented co-signing and agreeing with me. A poem is in there somewhere, I thought.
I remember exactly when the movement was born and beating inside me. I was under the Eiffel Tower with my mom in line waiting to go all the way to the top. I felt beyond blessed to be able to share this moment with her. That is when I caught the eye of a young lady of color in line, I gave her a smile, how could I not? We are both about to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower! What I received was a defiant stare at my outfit and an eye roll. My old Facebook post came back to mind. Maybe I’ll make one shirt, I said.
That summer I had shirts made for both of my moms and I to wear. The universe did the rest. Airports, grocery stores, buses, women of all backgrounds stopped me and asked, “Where did you get that shirt?”. They told me that this constant battle against other women was their experience too. That was the magic. A conversation ensued about what made women feel they had to break each other down instead of building each other up. Patriarchy and racism were being explored and deconstructed amongst strangers! More often than not they would finally ask, “Are those shirts for sale?” Then it hit me, and with the support of my family, I trademarked the quote and made more shirts.
With the help of this movement, I was able to write the most important poem of my life thus far, Letter to My Unborn Daughter, All Women of Color, and Lastly to Me. I met amazing creative director and photo editor, Amanda Luxe, who saw my shirts and felt compelled to direct a photo series inspired by them, Jumping Colors II: #ImNotYourEnemy. The photo series was submitted to Blavity and accepted! More conversations are happening; friendships are being born from nothing but words. But I want to make it bigger. So big, that pop culture will have to stop depicting women of color as hyper sexualized caricatures just long enough to listen; so big that women will have to stop carrying the world for two seconds to get the support they need. I want sisterhood and solidarity amongst women of color to become mainstream, and I am not going to stop doing the work until it does.
The cassette danced around my mother’s Camry
To the percussion of a road that we weren’t on
Rattling like a world unhinged,
bursting from his plastic barriers
Begging to be rewound, studied,
captured in the black hands of a black girl in the backseat.
What a world to be in, I thought!
If purple raindrops of royalty could never stop,
the lightning must fly like lavender pedals.
He stayed by my side the rest of the trip
Until my mother asked for him, reaching back
the lyrics catapulting from her heart
Listen to this part,
she would say.
He kills it!
Contorting her fingers all over the steering wheel like guitar strings
Her voice and his riffs would wrap around the open road
and choke that empty space–
the miles between us and home
cracking the chains off my mother’s memory
Stretching her face to the place that many artists go once they
truly find themselves
I never forgot this praise dance for the downpour
This pull towards freedom
that my mom and him translated for me so early
in my artistic journey
That response to the calling
To find one’s self is not just for the sake of being comfortable in this world
But for the purpose to unravel into something more
Creative and Administrative Assistant to
Kevin Powell and BK Nation
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...