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MC Elis – 6 year old Brazilian musical artist

This young girl is over here singing about:

  1. Loving her natural hair: it’s NOT dry/hard, it’s her crown as a queen
  2. Being sick of racism
  3. Pride in her Blackness: referring to herself explicitly as Black (preta) rather than one of the endless other terms that refer to color (mulata, moreninha) but try to maintain distance from being of African descent.

Also, peep the black panther on her shirt! Go dance with Elis!

LYRICS

Vem dançar com a elis
Vem dançar com a elis
Aqui não tem caô
Só chegar e ser feliz

Eu já estou cansada
Dessa ideia de racismo
Eu não tô de mimimi
Fale o que quiser nem ligo

O meu cabelo não é duro
Ele é crespo e muito lindo
Vou passar logo a visão
Tá incomodado comigo?

Vem dançar com a elis
Vem dançar com a elis
Aqui não tem caô
Só chegar e ser feliz

E não venha com esse papo de mulata e moreninha
Sou preta com muito orgulho
Minha coroa é de rainha

(Note: some of they lyrics may be off, but there weren’t many websites that had a transcript available. If you can hear Portuguese better than me, i.e. native speaker, and know something is off, let me know so I can fix it!)

30 Restaurants: Munch Factory & Coco Hut

January was eating at black-owned restaurants.

Munch Factory

The Munch Factory recently moved from Gentilly to the Lower Garden District, which made my visit that much more likely. I decided to take myself on a date and dine alone while reading the Audre Lorde I reported on in a past post. This place is (sadly) one of fewer and

fewer restaurants run and owned by New Orleans natives; particularly by young Black locals. It’s been called ‘contemporary Creole’ food, but I just call it damn delicious! I didn’t get to try much during this visit, because I was alone and couldn’t take bites from my husband’s plate if he had come, but everything I ate was lick-the-plate good. The gumbo is hands down my favorite in the city. I’ve gone back again, had the gumbo again, and my feelings are the same. Then I had blackened redfish served on grit cakes, topped with jumbo lump crab meat. Perfection. My mouth is watering thinking about it. On that second visit with a group of people, in addition to re-tasting the gumbo, I tried the buffalo oysters and had a bowl of shrimp and grits. Same deal, everything I put in my mouth was amazing.

The only area I would say I was less than impressed with was dessert. We ordered all the desserts–tres leches cake, bread pudding, and key lime pie–and we tasted all, but mostly ate our own. Nothing really stood out too much for me; the key lime was probably my favorite, although I ordered the tres leches cake. No matter though. I will definitely be back to try as many items on the menu as I can!

Coco Hut

Jamaican food in the 7th ward! It’s a small place situated near the community bookstore, a bakery, and an incense/soap place that also sometimes holds events. There are only a few tables and there’s really no sit-down service, so don’t expect that. You order at the counter and they bring you your food in a to-go container, which is great, because it’s usually too much food to eat in one sitting anyway. They have your standard jerk chicken–which is grilled right behind the counter and may have your eyes burning from the spices aerosolized in the smoke–and then a BUNCH of other everyday items and specials. It was pretty cold outside when we went so we had to keep the door to the outside closed, making for a pretty smokey lunch. The upside was enjoying some hot coconut, turmeric, black bean soup, which didn’t look like much but was something I could have eaten two or three more bowls of. I seriously wish I had that recipe, and had the skills to make black beans from dried beans that aren’t either undercooked or exploded.

For my entree I went with the jerk chicken, which came with beans and rice, cabbage, salad, and plantain patties. I also had a big cup of sugar cane juice. Everything was delicious, and I’d particularly go back for the sugar cane juice as a nice switch up from ice coffee; although I’m sure that sugar crash might not be as productive. I’ve also revisited this place since then, and had curry shrimp the second time. That wasn’t as appetizing for me. A lot of spice with less flavor. But I will be back to try something else, and maybe remember to take pictures the next time!

bell hooks–on love of death

In our culture the worship of death is so intense it stands in the way of love…

We will witness the death of others or we will witness our own dying, even if it’s just in that brief instance when life is fading away. Living with lovelessness is not a problem we openly and readily complain about. Yet the reality that we will all die generates tremendous concern, fear, and worry. It may very well be that the worship of death, indicated by the constant spectacles of dying we watch on television screens daily, is one way our culture tries to still that fear, to conquer it, to make us comfortable…

Ironically, the worship of death as a strategy for coping with our underlying fear of death’s power does not truly give us solace. It is deeply anxiety producing. The more we watch spectacles of meaningless death, of random violence and cruelty, the more afraid we become in our daily lives. We cannot embrace the stranger with love for we fear the stranger. We believe the stranger is a messenger of death who wants our life. This irrational fear is an expression of madness if we think of madness as meaning we are out of touch with reality. Even though we are more likely to be hurt by someone we know than a stranger, our fear is directed toward the unknown and the unfamiliar. That fear brings with it intense paranoia and a constant obsession with safety…

Culturally we bear witness to this madness every day. We can all tell endless stories of how it makes itself known in everyday life. For example, an adult white male answers the door when a young Asian male rings the bell. We live in a culture where without responding to any gesture of aggression or hostility on the part of the stranger, who is simply lost and trying to find the correct address, the white male shoots him, believing he is protecting his life and his property. This is an everyday example of madness. The person who is really the threat here is the home owner who has been so well socialized by the thinking of white supremacy, of capitalism, of patriarchy that he can no long respond rationally.

White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor. Viewers are encouraged to feel sympathy for the white male home owner who made a mistake. The fact that his mistake led to the violent death of an innocent young man does not register; the narrative is worded in a manner that encourages viewers to identify with the one who made the mistake by doing what we are led to feel we might all do to “protect our property at all costs from any sense of perceived threat.” This is what the worship of death looks like.

-bell hooks, pp. 191 – 195, All About Love: New Visions

Book 11: All About Love: New Visions–bell hooks

Another admission: this is the first bell hooks work I’ve read cover to cover (I’m a terrible Oberlin grad, lol!) Anyway…I chose this book out of intrigue with the first sentence of the back cover description: “The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet…we would all love better if we used it as a verb.”

This work explores the meaning of love; how we typically define it, what that definition lacks, and the importance of creating an operational definition of what love is (and isn’t) in order to have a common place of understanding to be able to work towards healthy and functional relationships. It was heavy in content but had an easy flow about it, mixing research, narrative, and opinion.

In the introduction she writes,

Awesomely, our nation, like no other in the world, is a culture driven by the quest to love (it’s the theme of our movies, music, literature) even as it offers so little opportunity for us to understand love’s meaning or to know how to realize love in word and deed.

This couldn’t be more true. We have an obsession of seeking what we perceive as love, even as that definition of love varies wildly and often involves unloving actions. Furthermore, we premise the idea of love as something that just happens, as something being out of our control, that either is or isn’t, but at the same time deeming love as the panacea for all things evil in our world, i.e., ‘we could get rid of racism if we just loved each other more.’ But how can we have such a lackadaisical, passive notion of love and claim that it is a solution for all of our societal ills. How can something we characterize as being so effortless and easy to come by and have it decidedly be the answer to puzzles that are expressly the most difficult to solve?

For awhile now I’ve been scoffing at the typical rhetoric of ‘love cures all,’ as the salve to racism–rhetoric almost exclusively employed by white folx–as being too shallow and uncritical. I saw it as just another way to avoid taking active responsibility for a problem of their creation, another manifestation of indifference, a way to sound well meaning and human while not having to actually DO anything (compromise any privilege or power) to make meaningful change.

And while I don’t think my analyses of their intentions were wrong, my cynicism about the impact of love was. When we actually define what love is, it can provide a resolution to conflict and hatred. But the way we’ve been operationalizing love is what’s wrong.

When the very meaning of the word is cloaked in mystery, it should not come as a surprise that most people find it hard to define what they mean when they use the word “love.”

Imagine how much it easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition…Echoing the work of Erich Fromm, he defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Explaining further, he continues: “Love is as love does. Love is an act of will–namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” (pp. 4 – 5)

hooks goes further to say that what we typically consider as love–caring for someone, having affection for them, feeling deeply drawn to someone–are only single ingredients that are needed in combination to complete the recipe for love. More importantly, that love is the absence of abuse and neglect. You can be attracted to someone and abuse them but you cannot LOVE them and abuse them because by definition the existence of one precludes the coexistence of the other. You may experience care and pleasure and affection and still not experience love, but we too often conflate the terms.

When we are loving we openly and honestly express care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, and trust.

That also sounds rather simplistic, but once you define not only the composition of love, but each of the elements that love is composed of, then not only does the mystery disappear, but there’s a functional place to work from and a goal to work towards. Chapter 1 gives the premise for what love is: each subsequent chapter tackles defining every element of that premise (justice, commitment, honesty, mutuality, community), different types of love (sweet love, redemptive love, divine love), and what love must NOT be  (materialistic, imperialistic, patriarchal).

You can spend decades in school, and learn everything under the sun, including what it supposedly means to be a good citizen of your immediate and your global community, and still not learn how to be a loving person. Even religion, whose underlying principle is that of divine love and that speaks about all the elements of love, doesn’t provide clarity or consistent modeling for how to actually practice love that’s inclusive of justice, mutuality, and community, and that exists in the absence of abuse or neglect (among other things).

This is a book for everybody–for every age, for every life station, for every culture; that we begin to understand what is, and how to, “love.”

Book 10: Silver Sparrow–Tayari Jones

This is another book that I came across through one of those lists that circulate of “books all black girls should read” or “the essential books black women should read in their 20s” or “the definitive list of black woman authors every black woman PERSON should know” or something of that sort. I thought it would be nice to add some more contemporary fiction to a list of books that are otherwise focused on heavy subject matter or are the autobiographies of women with tremendous lives.

This was a fantastic story! And it was great to read a book that allowed me to get out of my head; I didn’t pick up a pencil to underline or write notes in the margin one time. It was another strangely timed read, with all the sudden surges in reality shows about polygamy on TLC, mostly centered around white families (it used to just be Sister Wives, but now there’s Seeking Sister Wife, and some other show). This was the story of a Black man with two families–a bigamist–told first from the perspective of the family who knew they were the “other” family, and then from the perspective of the family who thought they were the ONLY family.

There were so many opportunities for the novel to get corny or just ridiculous, but the author navigated the details of each character’s story line, and integrated them with each other, flawlessly. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a good story that is intriguing, entertaining, and at times incredibly poignant, but doesn’t leave you mentally exhausted.