“All my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk” ~ Zora Neale Hurston
Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver-Velez
As I watch certain folks, who may share melanated skin with me, and a family history of enslavement, persist in sucking up to the very people who would gladly sell us all back into shackles in hopes of gaining favor with the orange massa in the White House and his lackeys, I hear the words of Sistah Zora Neale Hurston in my head.
“All my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk”
At a time when an all-white slate of Democratic Presidential candidates are fightin’ like yard dogs over a bone, to win over the black vote with new promises and plans, and blue check mark black Twitterati are pontificatin’ and vying to deliver that which they actually cannot do (but will get brownie points for trying) I hear Zora’s voice again, which smart politicians should heed (though I doubt many or any of them have read her)
“But for the national welfare, it is urgent to realize that the minorities do think, and think about something other than the race problem.”
She coulda been talking about Donald Trump when she quipped:
“Anytime you catch folks lying, they scared of something.”
On the anniversary of her death, I seek the wisdom she offered during her life.
There is so much of it.
Zora Neale Hurston, Harlem Renaissance writer, playwright, poet, and anthropologist was born January 7, 1891 and died January 28, 1960. When I decided to become an anthropologist — I wanted to be like Zora Neale Hurston, who captured the essence of those she met, studied and lived with.
She was shaped by her childhood
Born on Jan. 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was still a toddler. Her writings reveal no recollection of her Alabama beginnings. For Hurston, Eatonville was always home.
Established in 1887, the rural community near Orlando was the nation’s first incorporated black township. It was, as Hurston described it, “a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse.”
In Eatonville, Zora was never indoctrinated in inferiority, and she could see the evidence of black achievement all around her. She could look to town hall and see black men, including her father, John Hurston, formulating the laws that governed Eatonville. She could look to the Sunday Schools of the town’s two churches and see black women, including her mother, Lucy Potts Hurston, directing the Christian curricula. She could look to the porch of the village store and see black men and women passing worlds through their mouths in the form of colorful, engaging stories.
Life after Eatonville
In 1917, Hurston enrolled at Morgan College, where she completed her high school studies. She then attended Howard University and earned an associate’s degree. Hurston was an active student and participated in student government. She also co-founded the school’s renowned newspaper, The Hilltop. In 1925, Hurston received a scholarship to Barnard College and graduated three years later with a BA in anthropology. During her time as a student in New York City, Hurston befriended other writers such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Together, the group of writers joined the black cultural renaissance which was taking place in Harlem.
Throughout her life, Hurston, dedicated herself to promoting and studying black culture. She traveled to both Haiti and Jamaica to study the religions of the African diaspora. Her findings were also included in several newspapers throughout the United States. Hurston often incorporated her research into her fictional writing. As an author Hurston, started publishing short stories as early as 1920. Unfortunately, her work was ignored by the mainstream literary audience for years. However, she gained a following among African Americans. In 1935, she published Mules and Men. She later, collaborated with Langston Hughes to create the play, Mule Bone. She published three books between 1934 and 1939. One of her most popular works was Their Eyes were Watching God. The fictional story chronicled the tumultuous life of Janie Crawford. Hurston broke literary norms by focusing her work on the experience of a black woman.
Hurston was not only a writer, she also dedicated her life to educating others about the arts. In 1934, she established a school of dramatic arts at Bethune-Cookman College. Five years later she worked as a drama teacher at the North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham. Although Hurston eventually received praise for her works, she was often underpaid. Therefore, she remained in debt and poverty. After years of writing, Hurston had to enter the St. Lucie County Welfare Home as she was unable to take care of herself. Hurston died of heart disease on January 28, 1960. At first, her remains were placed in an unmarked grave. In 1972, author Alice Walker located her grave and created a marker. Although, Hurston’s work was not widely known during her life, in death she ranks among the best writers of the 20th century. Her work continues to influences writers throughout the world.
It is good to see her finally getting her due, and though she was an avowed atheist I like to think that her spirit knows, and she is pleased.
One last quote:
“I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.”
News round up by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
Says Tyler Mitchell, who photographed Beyoncé for Vogue and will now show at the International Center of Photography: “I feel an urgency to visualize Black people as free, expressive, effortless and sensitive.” Color Lines: New Photography Exhibit Highlights Joy and Pride of Black Bodies
On January 25, the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York City will launch Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good, an exhibit from 24-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell. It’s one of four inaugural exhibitions in ICP’s new home.
Beyoncé fans may recognize the name from September 2018, when Mitchell photographed the superstar and made history as the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of American Vogue. Now, in his first U.S. solo show, Mitchell “aims to revitalize and elevate the Black body in his work by representing people in his own community as joyful and proud. Characterized by a use of natural light and candy-color palettes, his work visualizes a Black utopia contrasting with representations and experiences of reality, while offering a powerful and hopeful counternarrative,” says ICP in an announcement.
“I think bringing this show to the ICP is important just because of the ways Black folks have been depicted in images prior to this moment,” Mitchell told the The Wall Street Journal.
Mitchell seeks to depict photographic slices of Black reality, alongside Black joy. “I also occasionally weave symbols into my portraits, such as water guns and plastic chains—symbols of repression as a subtle reminder of the ways in which the Black body is still politicized, and sometimes unable to move through the real world as freely as I would like,” Mitchell says in the announcement.
A task force organized by the American Institute of Physics, a not-for-profit organization made up of other American physics societies, has released the results of a study into why African American students are persistently underrepresented in receiving undergraduate degrees in physics and astronomy.
The National Task Force to Elevate African American representation in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy, or TEAM-UP, surveyed students and department chairs, interviewed African American students, visited five competitive college physics departments, and reviewed existing literature in order to determine what factors were contributing or detracting from the students’ success in physics. They identified five main influences: a sense of belonging in the community, self-perception as a physicist, academic support, personal support, and the priorities of existing physics leadership.
The task force made a series of “far-reaching and challenging” recommendations “requiring philosophical and practical changes in the way the community educates and supports students.” Their overall goal “is to at least double the number of bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy awarded to African Americans by 2030.”
“[S]tubborn challenges of under participation by African Americans within physics remain,” Shirley Malcolm, senior adviser at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and director of STEM Equity Achievement Change initiative, wrote in the report’s foreword. “For bachelor’s degrees in physics for African Americans, the needle has hardly moved since 2006.”
Malcolm’s 2006 article described the sorry state of diversity in physics back then: Black Americans received 3.5 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in physics in 2003, and this percentage has barely changed since then, despite the overall number of physics bachelor’s degrees doubling in the past 20 years.
The worst desert-locust plague in Kenya in 70 years is threatening to spread further into East Africa, jeopardizing food security.
Swarms of the insects are already devouring crops and pasture in Ethiopia and Somalia, and they’re breeding in Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan -- all areas that are prone to drought and food shortages. There’s a high risk they may soon enter northeast Uganda and southeast South Sudan, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said Friday.
“We must act immediately and at scale to combat and contain this invasion,” David Phiri, the FAO‘s sub-regional coordinator for eastern Africa, said Friday. “As the rains start in March there will be a new wave of locust breeding. Now is therefore the best time to control the swarms and safeguard people’s livelihoods and food security.”
The East Africa region already has high levels of food insecurity, with more than 19 million people facing hunger because of drought and flooding, according to the FAO. The agency warned on Jan. 20 that, left unchecked, the number of desert locusts could grow 500 times by June, with recent weather in East Africa favoring rapid locust reproduction.
In Kenya, the locusts have mainly ravaged pasture, putting livestock production at risk, Hugo de Groote, an agricultural economist with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, said by phone. There is a need to monitor and control the insects to ensure swarms don’t reach the more southerly counties that grow corn, tea and coffee, he said.
Kenya is the world’s biggest producer of black tea.
Emblazoned across the midsection of UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is a tattoo of the African continent. Nigeria, the country where he was born, is outlined in black ink. The champ, now 30 years old, has spent the last two decades of his life in New Zealand, but this tattoo is an indicator of his inexorable ties to his homeland.
“I stamped my chest with my bloodline,” he says proudly. “When you look at my chest, you see where I come from: the great continent of Africa and the great country of Nigeria.”
Adesanya, along with defending welterweight titleholder Kamaru Usman, is one of two Nigerian-born champions in the UFC, the world’s largest mixed martial arts brand. He has drawn comparisons to Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, and Ronda Rousey and might already be the biggest star in MMA at present. Yet Adesanya could be much more than that. He could be the harbinger of an era of African dominance in MMA.
The signs of the takeover are already apparent.
All over the African continent, smaller MMA promotions are thriving. In South Africa, Extreme Fighting Championship (EFC) is enjoying huge success—to the tune of 15.4 million unique viewers on television in 2019 alone. In Senegal, ARES Fighting Championship recently promoted a successful debut event. In Nigeria, African Warriors Fighting Championship (AWFC), is taking a unique approach to fight promotion by showcasing MMA alongside traditional Nigerian combat sports like kokowa (Nigerian wrestling), and dambe (Nigerian boxing), and has already caught the attention of local media and a BBC co-produced program, Gist Nigeria.
Trees are an important tool to counter climate change: They capture carbon dioxide, improve biodiversity and increase groundwater. Adding a trillion trees could scrub out two-thirds of all emissions, according to scientists, and that’s why everyone from the World Economic Forum to YouTube influencers have launched large planting programs. There’s just one problem: The success rate of typical programs is often dismal. Many end up with no trees surviving to maturity.
After years of experiments, John Leary believes he has found the magic ingredient to boost results: local people.
Leary is the executive director of Trees for the Future (TFF), a nonprofit group founded in 1989 and based in Silver Springs, Maryland. The first few million trees Leary and his team planted were aimed at reforestation, providing carbon offsets or wildlife conservation zones. But less than 5% of the trees survived without local supervision.
That led them to the Forest Garden Approach, which trains farmers to use trees as a means of improving the productivity of degraded lands. Now TFF can plant each tree for as little as 10 cents while quadrupling the earnings of locals and boosting tree survival rates. Instead of releasing carbon through using techniques like slash and burn, the farmers growing the forest gardens are capturing more than 230 tons of carbon dioxide per acre over a 20-year period.
Away from home, I walk into unfamiliar spaces with my shoulders hunched and tight. Instinctively, I scan my surroundings, stretching every sense around the corners of the room until it feels safe. What the eye see? What the ears hear? What the nose smell?
It’s Sunday afternoon and Toups South, a restaurant serving “regional southern cuisine” in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans, is mostly empty. A handful of patrons sit at the bar and at a smattering of tables. Everyone’s white: the patrons, the hostess, the bartenders. In the open kitchen I see the only other Black person there, a brother working over the stove. But I’m hot and hungry and the restaurant smells like what I’ve selfishly been looking for; I’m down South and I want to eat Southern food.
My shoulders relax as I skim the menu; then I hear Q-Tip’s familiar voice over the speakers, rapping “but you stuck here nigga.” And just like that my shoulders rise right back up again, bound by a familiar string of tension. I order a drink and try to relax again, try those familiar incantations that get you to release that energy, but it’s too late—I’m taken out.
The song is “The Space Program,” from A Tribe Called Quest’s 2016 album, We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service, which spans Trump, gentrification, immigration, and the loss of Phife Dawg. As I drink my fancy Old-Fashioned and order a fried chicken sandwich, Tribe drips right into more songs I know by Outkast, Jay-Z, and Frank Ocean. A track from Beyonce’s Lemonade is followed by Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” songs born out of mainstream Black artists’ return to conscious conversations about the Black American experience. But here it still feels unconscious, disconnected, and I too feel disconnected, a part of me seeing everyone in here experiencing the music: patrons occasionally singing along with little snatches of lyrics, the bartenders’ heads bopping as they mix drinks, the chefs in the center island chopping to the beat. And here I am, Black and alone in the restaurant, watching it all with a mix of horror and fascination.
The world of cowboys and cowgirls in the pop culture imagination seem to largely belong to White people, but that is a false narrative, according to the The Cowgirls of Color. “Once we started getting more visible, we recognized our role in the community to challenge and inspire women and little girls by doing what we love to do,” Kisha “KB” Bowles, one of four women who make up the group, told The Washington Post.
The Cowgirls of Color was formed in 2016 by four Black women from the Maryland and Virginia area—Bowles, Selina “Pennie” Brown, Sandra “Pinky” Dorsey and Brittaney “Britt Brat” Logan. They are trying to change the perspective of who gets to compete in rodeos and equestrian sports. “When most people think or hear the term ‘rodeo’ they may picture a male or cowboy dominated sport typically held in the southwestern region of the United States,” reads the group’s website. “They may picture females or cowgirls as well but all within the Caucasian community. Few people think of African American females from Maryland and Virginia.”
While Dorsey confirmed with The Post that they are not the first Black cowgirls or relay team, their site says that they are the “first all-Black, all-female rodeo team to participate in the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo,” with a goal “to promote a sisterhood among all women of color, young adults and children.”
Voices and Soul
by Black Kos Poetry Editor
Some say that Life is a mystery. Some say if we can just cut into it, dissect it and see what makes it breathe and speak; we then will have our questions answered, the mystery will be solved. Will it though? Won't our fears and prejudices interpret or misinterpret what we see? Alexander Pope said, "T'is with our lives as our watches. None go just alike, but each believes his own."
The Song which is America is harmonized by many diverse voices. Some of those voices sing America from an unbridled joy deep within them, while others sing America from the constant anguish brought by generation after generation suffering under the manacle and the lash, a sad refrain sung from that inner pain brought from the loss of ancestry and Home. The melodies of both interweave and play a coda on the landscape and the Soul of America. It is on that landscape that the first faint strains of the Song that is America became the forceful tacet on an American Exceptionalism, a certainty of purpose and an almost religious devotion to save those not touched by our benevolence.
But what if our benevolence is a lash and our Exceptionalism is murder, and the Landscape tells a more intimate story of how blood and bone and black flesh composted a Garden of Eden while the cold steel boot of arbitrary authority dug deep to make a living Hell.
The children of fugitives perhaps lust for nothing
so much as a country where we are faster
than everything else. Here I graceless bouquet
of dark whipping hard through a need
for electric. No one wants to be the negro swan,
the song like all songs the surrogate
of a man. Above estate upon estate
of storm clouds, to the sides pine
and green and implication. Road
of isolated light, always a storm is possible, always
what I need to know the property of another
dark. No one wants to be the swan who cracks
the quiet, I have been waiting though, I think
all my life to siren like this tonight
I sound to strike down the tether.
Crowned by elegy, crowned by escape; I am
so tired of ruling my sorrow this way. But
I am practiced, I father the bass
until each branch knows its sovereign
is less of a country than of a sound.
I am coming, toward something
I cannot name but still own. O, Mississippi;
bloodsong again has me singing you
past the curfew of the once-owned. Trust me,
not even the heat can save you now.
When I move like this I am certain nothing
for miles can touch me I have never let a man
touch me. Yet I live in the fact of touch.
I’m swerving in the anthem I play
when I am willing my lone exit into a palace
of doors. I mean to stain everything
when the war comes. I intend to die
with a blade through every hunger. What violences
me here, names the tether after love. What wants me
dead can’t decide which me to kill first. I learned
from the soft of the kudzu how to swallow the enemy
and call the color landscape. Let the lyric fool you,
dearest enemy I kill best to the slow songs.
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