What You Gon' Do Create or Protest?

Writing for me, especially poetry has always been this safe place where I can go to freely explore ideas, emotions, and express myself. I’d taken a self-imposed break of twelve years and decided to return to poetry right in the midst of one of the most traumatic times for people of color in America. While staring out my apartment window trying to cultivate a selection of words that rhythmically mimicked the beating of my heart there was a twinge of guilt scraping my guts and distracting me. Inside of me I could hear the words of Dr. Maulana (formerly known as Ron) Karenga, a contributor to the Black Arts Movement and Black Power Movement. In an article he’d written “On Black Art” he said, "Our creative motif must be revolution; all art that does not discuss or contribute to revolutionary change is invalid." (On Black Art).

There I was focused on word play in the era of Twitter Fingers Trump. During a time when heroes and creative geniuses we have celebrated are being dethroned because they were using their privileges to operate as sexual predators, black men are being gunned down by the police, children across America are dying in schools, and children are being separated from their families and held in detention centers.

For a moment what I was doing didn’t make sense to me, almost every group of people that I identify with or have an affinity for were under attack and there was no break from these attacks because the social media platforms that can often serve as a mind numbing escape were now filled with the images of crying children, protests, Trump, and brothers gone too soon. Before I could continue working on my poem I reread the article that was crippling my creative process and making me feel like an idiot for wanting to write about love and the way I feel when he says my name.

The article filled me with more questions and doubt. Am I wasting my time? Did my work mean anything if it didn’t encourage revolution or could possibly serve as the catalyst for revolution? Did the work I’d been exchanging with other female poets of color over the last four months mean anything if we weren’t vocalizing our displeasure for the current state of our union?

Yes, it does. Of course it does. The worked created by marginalized people always means something. The fact that black Americans have lost their direct connection to their ancestral home, and their original modes of creation and oration yet we take this compilation of consonants and vowels called English and produce poems, short stories, novels, and so much more is a revolution of its own regardless of what the topic of the work is. Using the same language that stripped of our identity to structure a narrative around our experience is a protest. As we explore how to twist and bend these syllables we are stomping on the graves of the colonizers that kidnapped our ancestors.

Art for art’s sake is also a revolutionary act. The exploration of foreign worlds that only the writer can see in their head or the broad strokes laid out by an artist experimenting is a revolution. The black writer has managed to create in a space that was and is designed to decimate him. Writers who take their time to shred the canopy that covers the many issues that make up the human experience, especially those black writers who dare to discuss love are activists.

Slave owners sought to destroy the intimate connection that families are built on, yet we found a way to love. Thus, the idea of a romantic love between enslaved people becomes radical. Although we are no longer held captive physically we are still a group of people that is subjugated. As if slavery wasn’t rough enough, add to that the trauma of Jim Crow Era, Civil Rights Movement, and then the Crack Era, there has never been a time in America in which love and establishing healthy relationships was easy for us, but love is so necessary in order for revolution to take place.

The revolution will continue, I mean here we are now still loving and documenting that love. That is the grandest act of revolution and quite possibly true freedom for the black writer who wishes to transcend color or at least break out of that tiny corner of “African-American Literature” in mainstream book stores. Raymond Saunders suggested in his pamphlet Black is a Color only focusing on resistance and revolution pigeonholes the artist and makes them a slave to the resistance:

Racial hang-ups are extraneous to art, no artist can afford to let them obscure what runs through all art--the living root and the ever-growing aesthetic record of human spiritual and intellectual experience. Can't we get clear of these degrading limitations, and recognize the wider reality of art, where color is the means and not the end? ‘

Whatever the focus of the work is color is only slice of our human experience. Race and resistance will find its way into your writing. However, it cannot be denied that love, community, and fellowships are integral parts of the “human spiritual and intellectual experience” and we writers that concern ourselves with creating works that speak about those experiences are defying the master. Every writer on some level whether they choose to do so explicitly or not will in some shape of form find that needs of his people are expressed through their work. So, we are all activist because giving voice to a need that might go unrecognized and unfilled is the beginning of resisting and shifting the status quo even if you’re like me, just writing a bunch of love poems. Now, turn to page to see what became of that love poem I was writing.

Written by: Nia Mora

Photo by Eneida Hoti on Unsplash