Black Kintsukuroi

“Ring the bells that can still ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That is how the light gets in.”– Leonard Cohen, Anthem

Kintsukuroi (“golden mend”) is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery using lacquer resin laced with gold or silver. The beauty of the piece is the flaws that are made into art.

Black people’s hearts are kintsukuroi.

…..

But first, we are all Black in america. None of our other designations matter in this world, as much as our race. Our race is identified on site… even if our ethnicity, ancestry, genealogy cannot be as easily ascertained. It is the source of GREAT pride. It is the source of GREAT pain. It is not real…

It is not real!

Race is indeed the child of racism. Our most valued level of existence is premised upon hatred, power, and greed… death and destruction. How can any of us, whether we have been isolated from racism or not, have unbroken hearts? Shit ain’t possible! But what makes it even more damaging, is that race has no meaning. Being Black is only juxtaposed against being White. Much in the same way being poor is juxtaposed against being rich. But those designations have meaning outside of that dichotomy. “Black” is a color. It is the color of these letters you are reading. There is not a human alive whose skin is this color, just as there is not a human alive with skin that is purely “white”. Yet, white means pure and untouched, and black is associated with being devoid of light, darkness, and the shit in the fish tank the algae eat… waste. It’s not real.

In this country, Black is synonymous with ancestral African, and as a result we are all lumped together. We are primarily children of the slave trade, but we might be American, Caribbean, Honduran, Mexican, Dominican, Brazilian, or other South American designation, African and Caribbean immigrants, and mixed-race people. However our values, traditions, and customs are as wide ranged as those between the English, Irish, Scottish, etc.

“Black” doesn’t care about culture, it only cares about difference. It’s not real. It is used as a tool of oppression. For us it is a talisman of pride. In the name of money and power, our Blackness is shot dead in the street, on our own sofas. Our Blackness is relegated to a term meaning ignorant. Our men are jailed like animals, piled up on top of each other in cages like we were once piled up in ships. Our women are raped physically and spiritually. Our children, America’s sons and daughters, labeled as thugs, undereducated, underserved, and misunderstood. Yet in our Blackness we find our differences and exalt them. In that difference is where you find our golden cracks.

Black peoples are…

rich, poor, smart, beautiful, talented, brilliant, hard-working, excellent and mediocre, doctors and dog catchers, investors, kind, unkind, light, dark, sweet as honey, bitter like lemons, honest, manipulative, men, woman, transgendered, envious, jealous, supportive, from the hood, of the bourgeoisie, woke, asleep, enlightened, ignorant, basketball players and tennis champs, golfers and gaffers, everything and yet to many, nothing. But be assured, we are as homogenous and heterogenous as any other grouping of people. However, we didn’t ask for this box. It was given to us. It is not real.

Yet we have torn this box up to escape it, and put it back together with kintsukuroi. In our newness we are damaged, but not destroyed. You see, we have taken your culture and colored it Black through music, art, literature, language, and activism. It’s not ours, but we are steadily reinventing it. It’s very difficult to pour into a country others seek to escape persecution and tyranny where we face tyrannical persecution every time we walk out of our front doors. Yet we are somehow determined to offer libations to this melting pot turned stew. We continuously offer this country our earnings… rights, education, freedom, accomplishments… our voices, and our lives. But those golden cracks are our spirit. Damaged but not destroyed.

Race is not real.

Racism is very real.

Our scars are very real.

But we… Black people… are the realest!

“There is a light that shines, special for you and me.” –Common

West Side Story

“Here you are free and you have pride.
Long as you stay on your own side.” -West Side Story

So I grew up on the Eastside of Detroit… Between Warren and Gratiot. Everyone used to say to me… you don’t look like an Eastside girl and you certainly don’t act like one.

Wtf does that mean? I AM an East side girl though!

Well it meant my Grandmother wasn’t 38 when I was ten; She had gray hair and already had her AARP card. I knew my father’s name and better yet my Mother knew it; My parents were married when they conceived me. We could read; Everyone in my family had a degree, most multiple ones. No one had purple hair and we wouldn’t be caught dead in Farmer Jacks in our house slippers. Nobody had a bullet wound in their upper arm and I didn’t have a cousin or brother nicknamed Ray-Ray. I was smart, spoke proper English, wore glasses, had my hair in a bun, and went to private school. I just didn’t meet the stereotype.

Trust, I lived in the hood. We had a neighborhood dope boy; neighbors who had card parties every weekend playing the O’Jays way too loud; Gunshots woke me up at night; and once there was a dead guy hanging from the jungle gym at the park around the corner. It took the police forever to show up and the trap house was just two doors down.

But our home, like most of the homes in the area, was a multi-unit family home my Grandparents bought with their good state incomes, and planned to pass down for generations. That home saw four generations of us. West Side families lived in primarily single family homes, in homes their parents bought. Many of them the firsts in their families to go to college, succeed, and get good jobs, so they moved to the side of town most recently developed. The east side was more community centered, the west side more affluence centered. Neighborhoods boasting large sprawling mansions became a sign of success. Two family flats, which dominated Eastside areas, looked at as nods to the past. Although multi-unit homes were a better and much bigger investment.

Most of my friends grew up on the West Side of Detroit. I went to elementary and high school on that side of town. No one ever told them they didn’t seem like West Side girls because for the most part, I was the assumed anomaly. Neat, well dressed, well-spoken, smart girls don’t live in the Eastside, right?!?

Wrong!

I got this impression that people believed if you lived across Woodward you were the worst of us, Detroit being over 90% Black at that time. Much similarly how white flight saw White people moving to suburbs across 8 Mile, drawing a line in the sand of what was and was not the desirable place to live. I believe Black Detroiters did the same with East and West.

Sadly, it’s a tradition steeped in intra-racial stereotypes and bias that reeks of Stockholm Syndrome. We do the same things to one another that are done to us. We come up with these fallacies about each other, where we live, what we do for a living, how much we make, what groups we belong to, what we wear, drive, and live in… to deem ourselves elite and others regular or less than. It’s indirect oppression begat from being the victims of direct oppression. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

To White people. Detroit is crime infested, don’t go past 8 Mile if you want to stay safe. You might die.

To West Side Black Folks: The East Side of Detroit is really ghetto and everything we have tried to escape. You might die.

Sound ridiculous… it is. We don’t have to try to separate ourselves into the same have and have not categories that have been forced upon us. We don’t have to pass judgement on one another and be apologists to white racism. We also don’t need to straighten up and fly right to gain White respect or adhere to American ideology of what makes someone “worthy” to gain success. We are a people of community… and America is a country based on individualism. When we abandon who we are to adhere to culturally absent rules… we lose that culture.

The truth is that originally as Detroit developed, it was modeled after other big cities with its concentrated population that started near East Grand Blvd, the former Woodward, and spread out. Post industrialization and as auto manufacturing in Detroit took off, the population increased. With its large land area, Detroit had so much land to spread out to, single family homes took over. It became a popular place for banks, as the housing boom meant a mortgage boom. The construction of highways meant even more spread could factor in.

That was then. This is now. What was once a sign of affluence has led to a lot of plight. As automation took over, those high paying lucrative jobs at Ford and Chrysler were down-sized. Folks could no longer afford those mortgages or to keep up those homes. Homes sat through harsh winters in foreclosure. Arson littered the city leaving vacant lots, many streets up and down Grand River having just a few homes per block. With population decline and the very large area of the city, there just aren’t enough people to live in and maintain those homes.

It’s one reason why areas such as East Village, West Village, the Eastern Market area, and surrounding downtown areas hit in the revitalization boom because they are easier to get around in the new walkable, bike friendly neighborhood model. Many areas of the West Side are simply too spread out. Those areas with larger homes do well for investment purposes, but overall those more dense areas are the most popular and see the most development surrounding them. Plus, it has opened the eyes if a lot of Black residents in the city who simply never traversed these areas of the East side. They heard of the gang infested Red Zone and the notorious Mack and Bewick and jumped on that as representative of the entire side of town.

The truth is, there is no real difference. That’s just ignorance.

For every chick in slippers at the party store on the East Side, I raise you a girl in her hair bonnet at Foodland on the West Side. For every hood girl with a struggle ponytail on the Eastside, I give you one really bad closure and visible lace front on the West Side. For every drawn on eyebrow, there is a separate but equal set of feather duster eyelashes. For every Uzi on Mack and Bewick, I raise you a Tec-9 in Brightmoor. For every jheri curl still in existence in the East Side, I give you a bad Luther, curl just don’t quite curl right Duke kit on the West Side. Sound ignorant as hell? Well it is.

We must know our history. Detroit has been made rich in culture because of the influence of our hustle. While all of our hustle hasn’t been good, it’s all been real. But crossing a street doesn’t make us better… and it sure as hell doesn’t make us worse.

I was raised on the East Side. I am not an anomaly. I just don’t fit your uneducated stereotype. Let me find a good multi-family home on the Eastside in good condition, I’ll take that over your one family Westside joint in a heartbeat. I got more hustle in me than you might think from looking at me.

“If I got to choose a coast I got to choose the East
I live out there, so don’t go there
But that don’t mean a nigga can’t rest in the West”-Notorious BIG

Absorb the Light

What is Black… a color, a race, a culture, a phenomenon, a way of life?

According to James Baldwin, To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

Is that the only experience, or is it bigger and broader or more limited? What is Black, to be Black, and the general experience of Blackness? Or is there even a such thing? Have we been defined by a word that doesn’t even begin to define who and what we are as a people?

Color Me Black

The very definition of Blackness is as broad as that of Whiteness, yet we’re seemingly always trying to find a specific, limited definition. –Issa Rae

We don’t have to seek to limit who we are to understand who we are. History tells us, without doing any serious research, that when America was colonized, Native Americans and African slaves were categorized as savage, as a justification for robbing them of their indigenous land, and forced labor and oppression. Their dark skin categorized them by color, and therefore distinct from White people. Science, religion, and intelligence were manipulated to further strengthen the position of White superiority, and hence the construct of race was born. Our dark skin put us on the lowest rung of the totem pole in America.

But America isn’t where this separation by skin color began. Plato and Socrates learned at the feet of African philosophers in Egypt, where concepts such as language and mathematics actually began… not Greece. However these truths were erased from these men’s history over time, and these modalities attributed only to White philosophers, because the admission that these men were educated by Black people would interfere with the global manipulation of race as a measure of intelligence and civility. Ultimately, race is a political construct to justify power, control, and wealth. Black is the term we were given to identify us… ultimately it means nothing.

We range from vanilla to deep dark chocolate, every hue of brown with oranges, peaches, and yellows, toned up or down with white or black pigment. Our color is very real. Our race is the pigment of the oppressor’s imagination.

I guess I’m darker than the shadows of the darkest alley, that they always scared to go in, Boo! -Brother J, X-Clan “Funkin Lessons”

Phenomenal Culture

My skin absorbs the suns rays and my hair defies gravity. You can’t tell me I’m not magical.Unknown

So we know what they told us Black is… but what is it really, who are we, and what have we made it?

Black culture is American culture. Bodies that curve, hair that salutes the sun, skin kissed by it, style influenced by global art and urban youth, hip hop, rhythm, swag, creativity. We are simultaneously a people and a phenomenon. A people and a phenomenon.

As a people, we are both perfect and imperfect. We are made in God’s perfect image with human imperfections… just people. Flesh and blood and veins and capillaries. We bleed when cut, we cry when we are in pain. We love and fear and hurt and holler… “the way they do my life.” But mainly, we live. We tend to live a bit louder as a result of years of silence. So we flex harder. We hustle harder. We dance more freely. We dress more creatively. Our speech more colorful. Our laugh more robust. Our hair bigger. Our swag doper.

It’s a result of the African drum beats in our souls. The taste of the custard apple on our tongues. The smell of lavender fields in CapeTown in our noses. The bright colors of wax print batiks dancing on our rods and cones. The feel of our fingers in our ancestors hair, coils and links, curls and cottony soft clouds.

It’s our call and response…

MC:”Somebody say oh yeah…”

The Crowd:”Oh yeah”

It’s our swag surf, our milly rock, Black Twitter, slang, cornrows, box braids, and #beardgang. It’s in our community and our sense of community. Buy Black; Black Lives Matter; Black mixed with Black; I’m Rooting for Everybody Black. It’s in our harsh judgement of each other, both despite and in response to our harsh judgements from the outside. Don’t watch Empire, build an Empire; Stop Jocking Jay-Z and Judge Jay-Z; Buy a Popeyes not a Popeyes Chicken Sandwich.

We are perfectly imperfect. We are human. But be clear, we are lit AF!

Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me. -Audre Lorde

The Light

Imitating us… and still, they’ll never be us, nigga. –Rapsody “Nina”

A whole entertainment family has profited off of our culture, so much so it’s entire set of progeny bears our blood. White pop stars show no shame copying our entire performances for their profit and popularity. And while art has no bounds, pop locking has taken over country line dancing as their dance of choice. They visit doctors to get our lips and asses. They feign our urban dialect to be down. Yeah, we are the shit… it’s true. It’s also irritating and disrespectful AF, but let’s stay on topic.

As much as we are painted as unAmerican, our very culture has been pilfered by this countries haves. The truth is, we are the chosen ones. Who else is this disrespected and this coveted all at the same time. To be Black is to be so amazing that we who we are is wanted and desired so badly, we are loathed.

Black excellence we gon let em see. Jay-Z, “Legacy

It has been exactly 400 years since we set foot in this country. In that span of time we have transformed ourselves from stolen Kings and Queen treated worse than dogs, to business owners, billionaires, artists, philanthropists, and everything our imaginations could conjure. Black people have positioned ourselves to be on par with the haves through hard work, intellect, and hustle that was kept from us by oppression, violence, and politics. We started from the bottom, and now we are definitely here. Barack. Oprah. Beyoncé. Wakanda. And while we are still very affected by the systematic use of race to threaten our rise and success, the very real truth of the matter is this…

Rainbows are one of God’s miracles, an arch of of every color on the spectrum reflected by the sun through droplets of water. The color black is the result of an object absorbing every ray of color produced by the light.

Black people carry inside of us, every color from red to violet. On the outside we are every hue of brown from the most muted beige to the most saturated umber. We are God’s human rainbow.

So, what is Black? Black is the way we walk, talk, live, and love. Black is our truth, our rhythm, our blues, our soul, our jazz, our hip, and our hop. We don’t stop. Black is the light. A people and a phenomenon.

(Thanks to Courtney Springer for the topic. He’s a comic, he’s Black, and he’s funny… {told you, we are all the things}. Check him out at Courtney2Funny )