Jun 30 2012

Here’s Why I Love Kola Boof

“I wish, so much, that I hadn’t stayed with the bodies over night. Because that is how I received my imagination…I could hear their blood going into the earth…And I know TOO MUCH.” -Kola Boof

Naima Bint Harith (a.k.a. Kola Boof)

Whenever I think of Kola Boof, I see an image of Naima Bint Harith, a little girl with gorgeous deep brown skin, a sweet smile and shining eyes, who, at age six, witnessed the murder of her parents.

Naima’s father, Harith Bin Farouk (a light-skinned Arab/Egyptian) and her mother, Jiddi (a blue-black Gisi-Waaq Oromo from Somalia) were both slaughtered in retaliation for Harith’s “crime” of speaking out against the enslavement of the charcoal-skinned Sudanese by the lighter-skinned Arab ruling class.

During the first night of her new life as an orphan, Naima’s innocence was dyed blood red as she spent the dark hours before dawn lying alone and traumatized with her parents’ lifeless bodies.

Within days of the murder, Naima’s Egyptian grandmother informed her orphaned grandchild—the only living child of Harith and Jiddi—that her skin was too dark for her to be welcomed into their light-skinned family. Little Naima was put up for adoption.

When I think of Kola Boof, I think of that little girl who should have been happily skipping along the banks of the Nile with her parents, but, who was instead violently and callously flung into a war against white supremacy that no human being should have to (but every human being should be willing to) fight.

It is not lost on me that had Naima’s father been unconcerned and complacent in the face of the injustice he saw, he would still be alive. Her abandonment and suffering are born of his sacrifice. Our complacency is a twisting knife.

If you don’t know who Kola Boof is, I’m going to have to let you Google her, because trying to sum up this writer/activist’s life and work in a few paragraphs is an impossible task.

Suffice it to say that the Sudan-born, D.C.-raised author of “Diary of a Lost Girl,” “Long Train to the Redeeming Sin,” and “The Sexy Part of the Bible,” writes edgy, thought-provoking, paradigm-shifting literary prose (and, at times, vicious, profane, irreverent twitter rants) that have led journalists, fans and haters to variously label her “genius,” “disturbed,” “talented,” “polarizing,” “brave,” “racist,” and, increasingly, among her hundreds of blocked haters on Twitter, “crazy black bitch.”
Though Boof can at times be found at the center of distracting social media hurricanes (like the recent drama in which she boasted about regularly sexing Djimon Honsou during his marriage to Kimora Lee Simmons), her impassioned and important message is that the earth’s dark-skinned black woman is systematically disrespected, hated, insulted and erased by those who, influenced by white supremacy, cannot or will not recognize her black beauty and her intrinsic perfection as a creation of God.

It astounds me that anyone disagrees with that message, as it is quite apparent that in every country or culture on this planet that is heavily influenced by European values, dark-skinned women with black-African hair and features are rarely held up (for its sons and daughters to look to) as models of what is beautiful, marriageable, or worthy of admiration.

Don’t even get me started on the American entertainment industry and its proliferation of images that relegate dark-skinned women to the roles of maid, mammy, slave or sex worker. But it’s not just the media that is guilty. Too many young dark-skinned girls are tormented by their family members and bullied from toddlerhood, with the terms “African,” “dark” and “nappy” being viciously hurled at them like profane weapons.

Insult is added to this injury when darker-skinned black women are uninvited or invisible in situations where light-skinned or biracial black women (whose physical features are closer to the “white ideal” of beauty) are welcomed to show off their “black” beauty. If you need an example of this blatant disregard for the plentifully pigmented sisters among us, click here, or here, or here, or here, or here.

It also astounds me that so many lighter-skinned people who profess to be about “erasing racism,” “honoring diversity” and “building unity” are so resistant to understanding Kola’s life experiences or at least listening with an open mind to her observations about the annihilation-by-rejection and psychic injury dark-skinned women are being subjected to around the world.

I get that folks are turned off by Boof’s caustic delivery and her irreverence-bordering-on-hatred for some of the world’s most revered institutions (such as Christianity and Islam). I get that people are offended by the sweeping negative generalizations she makes about the inhabitants of entire countries (especially since she so deeply and righteously resents the negative generalizations made about black women). I get that people are shocked and repulsed by Kola’s disregard for what she sees as repressive and oppressive Western moral codes.

What I don’t get is how there is this loooooong line of individuals ready to invest their energy in attacking Kola for her lifestyle, her opinions and her temper, yet there are so few champions who are willing to speak up about the HUMAN RIGHT so many black girls have been denied—the right to be seen, to be admired, to be protected and to be cherished.

I admit I am frequently appalled at the words Kola Boof uses to voice her rage against her detractors—especially the vitriol she reserves for black American men (whose psychic injury she acknowledges, but cannot forgive); but even when she is at her angriest, my gut feeling about this sister is that she created “Kola Boof” to be the warrior she needed but didn’t have on the day her parents died–a ferocious defender who should have been there to protect little Naima—the generous, intelligent, soft-hearted, world-embracing spirit that lives inside Kola.

Given the mountainous struggles that little girl faced (severe trauma, several abandonments by parental figures, adapting to American culture, learning English, rejecting colorism…) it makes perfect sense to me that her alter-ego Kola would (on the surface, at least) be so FIERCE.

Anyone who knows even a little bit about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder a severe childhood trauma creates, knows that one of its key components is an easily triggered and exaggerated fight or flight response. It is an extremely difficult to control SURVIVAL response that has nothing to with intelligence or morals or wisdom.

Among the many symptoms PTSD sufferers deal with are:

Physical ailments with no apparent physical cause
Sleeplessness
Fear for their safety; always feeling on guard
Feelings of shame, despair, or hopelessness.
Difficulty controlling emotions.
Impulsive or self-destructive behavior.
Changed beliefs or changed personality traits.

I don’t know Kola personally and I don’t know the degree to which any or all of these symptoms affect her life, but her writings, her online presence and her tweets seem to indicate that there is much residual injury that she lives with daily. If she is suffering from PTSD, I see no reason why her life’s work to restore THE ORIGINAL AFRICAN WOMAN to her rightful pedestal of dignity and respect should be diminished by it.

“I am a very SAD, broken, damaged human being…And I live, literally, by the grace of GOD. The pain in my vagina I have spoken of…but rarely the pain in my brain and my heart.

My teeth and my bones hurt me like headaches, because I am so broken and damaged EMOTIONALLY.

People read my books and ask, “How can you write like that?” It’s because I live in constant emotional “psychotic” pain.

Don’t they understand that I saw my parents killed in front of me? Do they think a child can EVER grow up and get over that?

And now I wish, so much, that I hadn’t stayed with the bodies over night. Because that is how I received my imagination. From that night, when I could hear their blood going into the earth. I suddenly had an “imagination”. And it’s very…

And I know TOO MUCH.

Much of the vicious attacking you see me do…is mainly to make people AWARE of the rage and bitterness that they create in the world…simply by accepting the world the way it is.

That’s why I tell people…don’t accept it…REBEL.

Because although it’s too late for Naima…it’s not too late for the daughters of the future.

When YOU SEE me hurt someone, strike at someone…I’m just trying to set a new example for the MULES of the world….that we mustn’t go down without loud screaming and fighting.

…I don’t see myself living that long, and I just want to give…as an artist….what the people NEED.

And I pray for my sons to be OK. I know I’ve taught them how to make generations and where inside themselves to find answers and to find me.” -Kola

Although I have never met Ms. Boof, I interacted with her online many years ago and did speak to her once on the telephone after she wrote an amazing poem for me entitled “Angels and Insects” which she posted at the African American Literary Book Club (AALBC) discussion board where she and I crossed paths.

An inter racially married white woman on that discussion board who called herself, “Moon,” had become the target of Kola’s rage when (among other things) she refused to acknowledge that white and light-skinned privilege exists at the expense of black women. Kola was trying to get Moon to realize that privilege and injustice are inseparable and that her white privilege had a cost that she simply chose not to acknowledge (which is another privilege).

Moon was the source of much conflict on that board because she was a white visitor to a black online forum who was always in “teach” mode, and she did not seem to respect the opinions of the black women whose life experiences differed so greatly from hers. Moon was convinced that simply by mothering her mixed children and teaching them that love sees no color she was actively promoting the unity of the human family. “I don’t walk in brown skin,” she wrote, “I can sure teach children about love.”

Being the product of an interracial union myself, I joined the debate. (Forgive the use of CAPS; it was an intense conversation):

“Your children deserve more than your LOVE. They deserve to LEARN what it means to live in a society that will try to convince them they are BETTER because they came from YOU. Who is going to WORK DAILY and DILIGENTLY to undermine that lie in your household?

I am not a hater, Moon. I KNOW in my SOUL that all human beings are ONE CREATION, and these designations of racial categories are not REAL. But that does not mean human beings are not behaving as though they [the labels] are real. WE are all affected by our socializations regarding race, skin color, hair texture, innate intelligence, morality, etc. etc. etc.

You cannot toss me indescriminately onto the heap of black women who you consider jealous of you and your husband, or simply hate your whiteness. My mother is white and my father is black and I can speak on the subject of white privelege personally, because having white skin and blue eyes I am treated with UNEARNED deference just about everywhere I go.

One of the few places my physical appearance is not automatically “respected” is in the company of black women I don’t know. That is when I humbly SHUT MY MOUTH AND LISTEN so that I can LEARN more about what it means to be a black woman in America — and thereby understand more clearly what it means to be a member of the human family.

I don’t agree with everything Kola says, but I don’t take what she says personally either. I know she is “FIGHTING for her life…” Her fight to lift up black women does not diminish me….WHAT are YOU fighting for MOON? The rights of all humans, regardless of skin color, to love and intermarry? That right already EXISTS. As you said earlier, your life is proof of that.

Show me proof that Kola’s BLACK SONS are held in HIGH REGARD by this supremacist society. She is fighting for THEM, MOON. And for EVERY BLACK BABY who will be shown and told (maybe by YOUR children) that they are NOT PERFECT EXACTLY AS THEY WERE CREATED. They will be told that if their father had lain with a Scandinavian or an Asian or a Mexican or ANYTHING but their AFRICAN MOTHER they would be more beautiful or smarter or healthier or… (you know the list you’ve heard it many times).”

Kola’s response to my post was immediate, and, I believe, sincere.

…I have never denied that I have many prejudices against Bi-racial people and white people—despite that fact that I am, technically, Bi-racial and that my White Arab birth father was a great, great man who dedicated his life to the dismantling of “White Supremacy”. He called it “the world’s only true religion”.

But my “prejudice” against Bi-racials and Whites is not what I…..REALLY…..feel when I’m alone, topless in the mountain streams praying. I feel LOVE for those people—only I keep it a secret, because I fear they are against me and my sons.

It seems there are two realities co-existing within this daughter of a slain freedom fighter. There is Kola Boof, the consummate REBEL whose words and actions are symbols of her RESISTANCE to being controlled, ignored or annihilated by the spirit of white supremacy that destroyed her family and threatens her progeny.

And then, there is Naima Bint Harith whose broken heart did not lose its capacity to love us all.

I wrote and posted this short poem on the AALBC discussion boards eight years ago. It still reflects why I love her:

Naima peels back her own skin
with life-sharpened nails
and we peer inside

inside her

and exclaim,

see, a huge heart
oh, and innards
soft, open, vulnerable

and in her exposure
we are exposed
safe, selfish, cowardly

and still
she names us
sister

Click here to read “Angels & Insects” by Kola Boof.


Jun 25 2012

Did Michael Jackson’s Escape to Whiteness Add to His Success?

♥♥♥ Michael Jackson died on June 25th, 2009, but not before gifting the world with his amazing talent–and not before he faded before our eyes into a white-skinned man.

Today, as Katherine Jackson is mourning the absence of her incredibly gifted son, I find myself thinking of Trayvon Martin’s mother, who will never know what contribution her young son might have made to the world because a paranoid neighborhood watchman judged Trayvon guilty of simply “walking while black.”
Though their lives may seem to have little in common, both of these American sons were born with brown skin–and both suffered the undeserved consequences of living in a society in which brownness is so often misjudged, disrespected and devalued.

“Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now
I’m tired of bein’ the victim of shame
They’re throwing me in a class with a bad name
I can’t believe this is the land from which I came”
-Michael Jackson, They Don’t Care About Us

Though we have made many strides in race relations over the decades, this deeply-ingrained fear/loathing of brown skin in America leads many to wonder if the King of Pop would have risen to such heights if he had remained brown. Sadly, it seemed as though the whiter Michael’s skin became, the more the world loved him. Some even forgot he was ever a black man.

Whether due to a medical condition or by his own intention, Michael escaped his God-given brownness, while Trayvon was made a target by it through the eyes of an overzealous gunman who saw that brown skin and interpreted it as a threat.

Michael once sang,

“Before you judge me, try hard to love me. Look within your heart then ask, Have you seen my childhood?…the painful youth I’ve had…”

Painful youth, indeed.

Rest in peace, Michael.

Rest in peace, Trayvon.


May 31 2012

Michelle Rodriguez: “You Have to Be Trashy and Black to Get Nominated” for an Oscar

Director Lee Daniels (Precious) is receiving strong criticism for his latest film, “The Paperboy,” which was mostly panned at the Cannes Film Festival this year and called “outrageous,” “unintentionally funny” and “campy.”

However, at least one fan of the film thought its leading lady, Nicole Kidman, kicked some thespian a-double-s in her raw portrayal of a “white trash slut.”

Michelle Rodriguez told Vulture.com that she believes Kidman should be nominated for an Oscar for her work in The Paperboy, but likely won’t because she’s white. Speaking about a specific scene in the film where Kidman urinates on Zac Efron and orgasms, the “Lost” actress said:

“I f—g loved it. One of my friends said, ‘She’s going to get nominated for an Oscar for that.’ I was like, ‘Nah, man. She’s not black!’ I laugh, but it’s also very sad. It makes me want to cry. But I really believe. You have to be trashy and black to get nominated. You can’t just be trashy.”

You have to be trashy and black to get an Oscar nomination?

This is bothering me on so many levels. Not because a non-black actor doesn’t have the right to her view on how Oscar decisions are made or her opinions about how black actors get noticed by the Academy…

I’m bothered because despite the certainty with which she proclaimed her belief,” she’s wrong…

Off the top of my head I can think of several “white trash” roles that have garnered Academy nominations, among them, Charlize Theron for “Monster” (2003), Melissa Leo for “Frozen River” (2008), Jennifer Lawrence for “Winter’s Bone” (2010), and Rooney Mara for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011). With a little research I found Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Shue, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Kathy Bates, Anjelica Huston… the list goes on and on of white Oscar nominees who’ve played whores, alcoholics, stalkers, abused girlfriends, etc.. And, that list doesn’t even include the best supporting nominees or the countless white men who’ve acted lowdown, dirty, and/or freaky on the big screen.

Given the reality that the Academy actually has no problem including white people in “trashy” roles on their list to receive what is widely recognized as the highest thespian award on earth, I’m wondering if what Michelle was alluding to is the widely-held perception that black actors are more likely to be honored for work in which they play a “trashy” character.

Also not correct.

I’ll admit that back in 2001 I was among those who hated the fact that Denzel and Halle both won Oscars playing characters who scraped the bottom of the morality barrel. But, as much as I have little confidence in the Academy’s ability to recognize the “best” onscreen performances (of any ethnicity), regarding this particular issue of “required trashiness” for black actors, it should be noted that historically, the ratio of black nominees in “trashy” roles to those playing heroes (or just regular folks) is actually quite low.

Prior to the year 2000, of the 16 Academy nominations for lead actor and actress, only Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of abusive husband Ike Turner in the film “What’s Love Got To Do With It” could be categorized as “trashy.”

Here is a list of the best (black) actor/actress in a leading role nominations for the last ten years:

2011 Viola Davis The Help Maid
2009 Morgan Freeman Invictus President of South Africa
2009 Gabourey Sidibe Precious Abused Teen
2006 Forest Whitaker The Last King of Scotland Brutal Dictator *WON OSCAR*
2006 Will Smith The Pursuit of Happyness Self-Made Millionaire
2005 Terrence Howard Hustle & Flow Pimp / Rapper
2004 Don Cheadle Hotel Rwanda Hero
2004 Jamie Foxx Ray Music Legend *WON OSCAR*
2001 Halle Berry Monster’s Ball Executed Prisoner’s Widow *WON OSCAR*
2001 Will Smith Ali Boxing Legend
2001 Denzel Washington Training Day Corrupt Cop *WON OSCAR*

Here are the supporting actor/actress nominees:

2011 Octavia Spencer The Help Maid *WON OSCAR*
2009 Mo’Nique Precious Abusive Parent  *WON OSCAR*
2007 Ruby Dee American Gangster Gangster’s Mother
2006 Jennifer Hudson Dreamgirls Singer *WON OSCAR*
2006 Eddie Murphy Dreamgirls Singer
2004 Jamie Foxx Collateral Hostage Cab Driver
2004 Morgan Freeman Million Dollar Baby Former Boxer  *WON OSCAR*
2004 Sophie Okonedo Hotel Rwanda Hero’s Wife
2003 Djimon Honsou In America Neighbor w/ AIDS
2002 Queen Latifah Chicago Corrupt Jail Matron

I’m DEFINITELY not suggesting that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has been generous, fair or impartial to black actors over the years, but numerically speaking, Oscar nominations for “anti-hero” roles do not outnumber morally neutral or heroic roles.

Michelle Rodriguez really needs to check her stereotypes and her facts before she stands on the backs of black actors to defend a white actress’s “right” to be nominated by the Academy for a “trashy” role.

On “The Island,” physics and facts may have been easily contorted and controlled, but this ain’t “Lost,” Michelle, and in the real world “really believing” something that has no basis in fact doesn’t make it true