Say It Loud…

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Denisio and Mwende / Our Closet / Patrick Melon / Uncategorized

Photos by Patrick Melon

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Post Soundtrack – Say It Loud (James Brown)

Lot by Dbl Blk CafeThis location is a place central to downtown New Orleans. It made sense to get some of the urban grit that makes any industrialized city recognizable as such. With the golden beams of the sun creating amazing highlight I was able to create a lot of contrast between my subjects and their environment.

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MWENDE KATWIWA

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SHIRT: says “Unapologetically Black”. It’s printed by Denisio’s clothing brand DopeCiety for the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100.org)

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JACKET: Add this to the “I have no idea where this thing came from” stack of clothes I’ve worn for Noirlinians shoots BUTTON: My friend Naima (who is the only friend I seem to write about but I swear I have other friends…) gave it to me. It is a ‘power fist’ with different nation’s flags from across the world

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EARRINGS: Got them under the bridge during Mardi Gras. I think the vendor was from Atlanta but I don’t remember. HEADBAND: Is actually a bootleg graduation stole. What had happened was the BSU at my school was supposed to order them but didn’t and I was a little mad because it was literally the only graduation thing I wanted. Then on graduation day this white boy who I was friends with shows up with TWO DIFFERENT STOLES like this! Needless to say I briefly side eyed him and requested one and here we are today lol 😀

Mwende:                                                      

 –My Father’s Lesson-

Black father
tells daughter
that she is now

Black

daughter is not convinced

she has grown up
in the same
brown skin
she sits in
as she listens
to Black father tell her
of her newfound Blackness

but Blackness

is something her child mind
is not yet
able to understand

It jumps to
more familiar things
like
cartoons

thinks to how
the most evil of villains

are the ones
who dress in black
who shroud themselves
in the perceived terror
of its darkness

it jumps next to
 crayons

thinks to what it would mean
to start coloring
her family
with the same shade
once reserved
for the nighttime
and the monsters
that come out of it

daughter decides
she does not want
to become

Black

she has yet to realize
that Black father
never gave her a choice

that Black father
was never given a choice

that he stumbled upon
this newfound Blackness
the hard way

that he heard it
in the hollow hallelujahs
that ricocheted
off the empty church pews
that were full
until he sat down

it took just one year
in this country
for him to learn

that America shrouds
brown bodies
in the perceived terror
of their darkness

that it typecasts them
as the most evil of villains
scary
as both the night
and the monsters
that come out of it

he does not want his daughter
to learn of her own Blackness
in this way
so he tries to tell her of it

she is so young
he knows
she cannot possibly
understand what he means

and for now
he can’t help but see
this unknowing

as a blessing

-FreeQuency | Becoming//Black (2015)

My first book of poems, Becoming//Black, was released in February 2015 and, as the title sort of suggests, it explores coming into Blackness/race as a primary identity in America (the piece above is the opening poem in the book which reimagines a conversation my father had with my siblings and I when we first came to the states a year after he did). Originally, I just wanted to put out a collection of random poems that people liked and that I performed often, but when I sat and actually started compiling the pieces I’d written in the last 3 years, I noticed that Blackness and the various ways it intersected with other parts of my identity had emerged as a dominating presence in my writing. While some poems were explicitly about Blackness and explored it from a socio-political perspective, even those pieces were rooted in some personal experiences or reflections on Blackness based on something I had gone through or was currently experiencing. The contexts I found myself in when many of the pieces were written were also forcing me to name and claim my Blackness in a way that made me retrospective, and it showed in my writing. At the time, I was finishing my time at a PWI and was increasingly vocal about my experiences as a Black woman on campus (you can read more about my joyous time at Tulane in the last Noirlinians post You Must Learn). The PWI itself was located in post-Katrina New Orleans which was experiencing a sort of active colonization, or as they like to call it here, gentrification. I was also just stepping into the writing community in New Orleans, specifically the slam scene which was founded by a group of 5 local Black poets with a mostly Black audience that had seen a shift in recent years so that my first year on the team, it was a majority white, transplant team with an increasingly white audience. The only other Black member of the team had been there since the beginning and we had a series of intense conversations around race, space and (anti)Blackness in the context of the team and the “new” New Orleans for a few months. It was the telling of experiences that came up during these brutally honest conversations that inspired the writing of new pieces for the rest of the book that resulted in the collection of poems in Becoming//Black.

I sometimes say that I wasn’t Black until I came to this country, even though I know that race is now a global concept. But still, as far as child-Mwende in non-urban Kenya knew, she was a brown skinned person in a world of other brown skinned people. It was like growing up an Oak tree in a forest of other Oaks, sure, people’s bark and leaves differed, but for the most part, you knew the forest. Coming to America felt like being uprooted and replanted in a forest full of birch trees when I only knew in the back on my mind that there were other kinds of trees in the world. My first vague memory of the states is of a white woman at the airport leaning over me and a feeling of intensity I felt, not because she did or was especially scary, but because of the shock of a white person up close. The older I got in the states, the more confusing Blackness became for me. See I knew that I was obviously different from people like the white woman in the airport and those who wore skin like hers, but I also realized soon that I was different from the Black people here who looked like me even though our skin was the same. Being made fun of growing up by Black kids for being different was something I dealt with until around the time I got to high school. As a young kid, I was made fun of for my accent to the point where I deliberately lost it. I became ashamed of African clothing and of my name because they immediately marked me as the ‘other’ Black and did everything to assimilate into what Black people around me were doing. My darker skin was also a target for Black kids to poke fun at, but I had to accept that it was something I would never be able to change, and that because of it, Blackness, no matter how much I felt or was told I was outside of it, was something I had been and would always be.

Before I hit puberty in middle school, I had an athletic frame to my body. When I hit puberty in middle school, I started to struggle with the intersections of my Blackness and budding womanhood and dealing with what I would later learn was called misogynoir. At that point, the Blackness that had so eluded me as a child was something I thought I had learned through some sort of osmosis like process by being around my Black friends, but as I started to explore femininity through a normalized Eurocentric lens, I started to go back to the same feelings of questioning my Blackness and love for it that I had when kids in elementary school would make fun of my dark skin. The more I learned about what was considered beautiful and womanly, the more I grew to hate my body, my shade of skin, my hair and really, by extension, my own Blackness. Luckily for me, I had a solid squad of Black and brown girls, some of whom were immigrants or first gen that I connected with in middle school who were all similarly struggling in their own ways with coming into their identities in a way that made us all hold space for each other to stop pretending and just be who we were not who we thought we had to be. I stayed friends with many of these women throughout high school (and even a few to this day) and together through our teenage growing pains, we grew into our own paths but stayed a group of people who loved and accepted our own and other people’s Blackness.

And then I went to college. I realized when I started school at Tulane how diverse the high school I went to was because Tulane was so overwhelmingly white. While at Amherst High School there was a white majority, I was often surrounded by Black and brown people from the U.S. and whose families came from all over the world. Tulane on the other hand was so homogenously and unbearably white in its student body that it was actually hard to find Black and brown people on campus. Often I was the only Black person in my class (Political Economy was a small major), or at my job and it was an isolating experience that made me feel like I was swallowing my own Blackness just to survive. Whenever I go back to campus for events, my body tenses up a little bit and I realize that I spent four years in that tense state. I often shake my head and marvel at how I made it out with myself intact. When I left college, I unintentionally and intentionally found myself immersed in all or mostly Black or POC spaces that have had a profound healing and grounding effect on my inner self. The more I think about it, the more I become sure that none of the things I stepped into post college were unintentional. Maybe it wasn’t my intention, but something, somewhere knew what I needed and I found myself in those places practicing being unapologetically my complete self in all my identities despite what people have said and continue to say.

The night I released my book, I hosted a book release party and did a reading where I basically just cried into a microphone for half an hour reading from my book and reliving and remembering my life and journey into and outside my own Blackness. The other night, I read it for the first time without crying. I actually smiled thinking about the experiences in there and remembering how they had been so impactful in the shaping of my understanding of my own Blackness and Blackness in general. If you had asked me at various points in my life the question, “are you Black?” the most common response you would receive would probably be a nervous laugh hoping it wasn’t a real question. It took a long time for me to unlearn what I thought Blackness was and to just accept that Blackness is, and that it is me. The day I did was the day I think I began the process of loving and living in the fullness of myself.

This shirt was designed and made by a homie named Fresco for the Black Youth Project 100* and is one of my favorite statement shirts. My dad once joked that some people are ‘bumper sticker activists’ but since I don’t have a car, I just wear political T-shirts, and I think he’s right in some ways. I may not wear my heart on my sleeve, but I definitely wear my politics on my t-shirts, and I wear alot of black when I’m not exploding in patterns. I’ve heard before that before the Black Power movement in this country, black wasn’t really a color that people wore regularly or wore for fashion, that it was reserved for somber occasions like funerals. According to this history, black clothing as a mainstream fashion became popularized by groups like the Black Panthers who made it part of their group’s visual aesthetic (I don’t know if this history is true, but I’ve heard it more than once and I like it so I’m sticking to it). I feel a certain kind of way when I wear all black. When I’m in an all black outfit, I feel like people know not to come by me in the same way that when I wear bright colors and patterns people see me as more inviting. I also love wearing black because its a neutral color that goes with pretty much anything and really, if you haven’t picked up on it from previous posts, I’m a lazy dresser on most days. Whenever I find myself doing organizing work as well, I can usually be caught in all black and in fact I have an entire drawer full of black shirts with social and political messages printed on them. Today I happen to be wearing a black shirt that has a giant fist on it and says “I Just Want A Revolution”.

Sometimes when people ask that I wear all black to events I ask if my birthday suit is OK or I joke that I’m always wearing all black.I don’t know why I’m ending with that, but it always makes me smile when I say that to folks so I thought it might make yall smile too 🙂

——-

*The Black Youth Project 100 or BYP100 – I am one of the cochairs and founding members of the local chapter in New Orleans. We are about to open up for membership so if you are interested, hit me up at FreeQuencySpeaks@gmail.com 😀 )

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DENISIO TRUITT

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TOP is from Marshalls. I’m very into plunging necklines right now. JACKET was thrifted. I removed the sleeves because I wasn’t too fond of them. PANTS are from a store I don’t wish to promote. But I was given a gift card to this place and they happen to be my favorite pants (because, Satan) even though their company’s ethics leave little to be desired. NECKLACE is H&M. SUNNIES are thrifted. I’ve been wanting to say sunnies for the past week, idk. SHOES were borrowed and I never gave them back. I’m not a good person 😦


DenisioI didn’t sleep well last night. I sat in the blackness of my room thinking about my own blackness and how to write about it, casting invisible nets into the dark hoping to catch the flurry of perfect eloquent words that would become this post. In truth, writing is something I’ve been struggling with recently. When I am stressed, my creativity suffers.

Blackness is not something I think I can competently capture on the screen before me and you, and yet something must go here. This post is will be different from other,  shorter, less linear, more abstract because the first thing that I can tell you is that blackness, or my blackness is abstract. So I’m going to post three excerpts from writers I’ve encountered in my life that have stayed with me.

“The first thing you do is to forget that I’m black.

Second, you must never forget that I’m black.”

– Pat Parker, “For the White Person That Wants to be my Friend”

My blackness is both immediately seen and not seen. It is always felt. It is something I am aware of on a daily basis, whether I name it or not because so many of my experiences, traumas, and joys have been framed by it, whether I liked it or not.  I was introduced to this poem my sophomore year of college in an African American Poetry class. I can vividly remember the feeling that came over me as the class took turns reading stanzas. It felt familiar like deja-vu. It felt old and vast. Warm and vibrational. I can remember looking at the other black students in the class (about 5 or so) and somehow knowing without anyone saying it that they had the same feeling as well. Even to think about that moment now stirs emotion because it was the first time I think I truly saw the thing we call blackness, saw how it connected us all in that class. How the truth spoken from a Queer Black Poet in the 60’s resonates so deeply with all of us despite how different we all were. It sort of felt like the end of the first Matrix, where Neo sees the Matrix for what it is. I saw backstage. And then I was brought back to reality by a white classmate who complained that this poem made no sense and also wasn’t sure what a “stud” was.  Sigh.

high/yellow/black/girl

walken like the sun u be.

move on even higher.

          those who

laugh at yo/color

          have not moved

to the blackness we be about

cuz as Curtis Mayfield be sayen

we people be darker than blue

          and quite a few

of us be yellow

          all soul/shades of

blackness.

          yeah. high/yellow/black/girl

        walk yo/black/song

              cuz some of us

                  be hearen yo/sweet/music.

– Sonia Sanchez, “To Anita”

My blackness cannot be diluted no matter what pigment my skin is. It is not something I can revoke or deny because it is something I have no control over. I cannot be more black or more “woke” than another black person and certainly not because I’m darker hued than someone else.  I’ve always felt a little like the odd person out on my mother’s side family, being the lightest person. Colorism was never something I felt particularly invested in but it was definitely something others felt comfortable commenting on. At the beginning of high school, I didn’t get a long with most of the black kids. Many of them took my shyness for arrogance.  I was told by a few friends that a lot of the black kids thought I believed myself to be better than them because I was light skinned and had long hair and talked “white”. My sophomore year I quit ballet to run track because I thought it would bring me closer to the black kids. I happened to be fairly good at running so it did.  A girlfriend gifted  me an album in high school entitled A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry on which Ms. Sanchez reads this poem. It was lost somewhere in the shuffle of college and it is one of the things I regret loosing the most.

“There’s always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself – whether it’s Black, woman, mother, dyke, teacher, etc. – because that’s the piece that they need to key in to. They want to dismiss everything else.”

– Audre Lorde

This last quote was a recent find while re-reading Conversations with Audre Lorde.  My blackness is one part of my identity.  I am black, queer, nerd, artist,  designer, woman, African, hopeless romantic, daydreamer, and a proud weirdo. My blackness is the net that hold the other parts of me together, it is not everything but it touches nearly all the parts of me.  Parts of me that have no name or can’t be labeled by tongue. 

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Noirlinians is a love story by two wandering Daughters of the African diaspora 

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The Author

Noirlinians is an AfroFashion blog exploring the complex relationship between culture, clothing & identity in the diaspora. Featuring Liberian artist and designer Denisio Truitt of DOPEciety and poet and organizer Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, the idea for the blog emerged after a fast friendship developed between the two based on their African heritage and artistic interests.

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