I'll be honest with you
I hate war in all its forms
Physical, psychological, spiritual
I hate war
And I hate having to struggle, I honestly do
Because I wish I had been born into a world where it's unnecessary
This context of struggle and being a warrior and being a struggler
Has been forced on me by oppression
Otherwise I would be a, a sculptor, or a gardener, carpenter
You know, I would be free to be so much more
I guess part of me or a part of who I am, a part of what I do
Is being a warrior, a reluctant warrior, a reluctant struggler
But, I do it because I'm committed to life
We can't avoid it,
we can't run away from it
Because to do that is to be cowardice
To do that is to be subservient to devils, subservient to evil
And so that the only way to live on this planet
With any human dignity at the moment is to struggle
I can imagine the pain and the strength of my great great grandmothers who were slaves and my great great grandmothers who were Cherokee Indians trapped on reservations. I remembered my great grandmother who walked everywhere rather than sit in the back of the bus. I think about North Carolina and my home town and i remember the women of my grandmother’s generation: strong, fierce women who could stop you with a look out the corners of their eyes. Women who walked with majesty; who could wring a chicken’s neck and scale a fish. Who could pick cotton, plant a garden and sew without a pattern. Women who boiled clothes white in big black cauldrons and who hummed work songs and lullabys. Women who visited the elderly, made soup for the sick and shortnin bread for the babies.
Women who delivered babies, searched for healing roots and brewed medicines. Women who darned sox and chopped wood and layed bricks. Women who could swim rivers and shoot the head off a snake. Women who took passionate responsibility for their children and for their neighbors’ children too.
The women in my grandmother’s generation made giving an art form. “Here, gal, take this pot of collards to Sister Sue”; “Take this bag of pecans to school for the teacher”; “Stay here while I go tend Mister Johnson’s leg.” Every child in the neighborhood ate in their kitchens. They called each other sister because of feeling rather than as the result of a movement. They supported each other through the lean times, sharing the little they had.
The women of my grandmother’s generation in my home town trained their daughters for womanhood. They taught them to give respect and to demand respect. They taught their daughters how to churn butter; how to use elbow grease. They taught their daughters to respect the strength of their bodies, to lift boulders and how to kill a hog; what to do for colic, how to break a fever and how to make a poultice, patchwork quilts, plait hair and how to hum and sing. They taught their daughters to take care, to take charge and to take responsibility. They would not tolerate a “lazy heifer” or a “gal with her head in the clouds.” Their daughters had to learn how to get their lessons, how to survive, how to be strong. The women of my grandmother’s generation were the glue that held family and the community together. They were the backbone of the church. And of the school. They regarded outside institutions with dislike and distrust. They were determined that their children should survive and they were committed to a better future.
I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And I believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And I have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if I know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And I believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
No movement can survive unless it is constantly growing and changing with the times. If it isn’t growing, it’s stagnant, and without the support of the people, no movement for liberation can exist, no matter how correct its analysis of the situation is.
There was one girl in our school whose mother made her wear a clothespin on her nose to make it thin. There were quite a few girls who tried to bleach their skin white with bleaching cream and who got pimples instead. And, of course, we went to the beauty parlor and got our hair straightened. I couldn’t wait to go to the beauty parlor and get my hair all fried up. I wanted Shirley Temple curls just like Shirley Temple. I hated the smell of fried hair and having my ears burned, but we were taught that women had to make great sacrifices to be beautiful. And everybody knew you had to be crazy to walk the streets with nappy hair sticking out. And of course long hair was better than short hair. We all knew that.
We had been completely brainwashed and we didn’t even know it. We accepted white value systems and white standards of beauty and, at times, we accepted the white man’s view of ourselves. We had never been exposed to any other point of view or any other standard of beauty. From when I was a tot, I can remember black people saying, “Niggas aint shit.” “You know how lazy niggas are.” “Give a nigga an inch and he’ll take a mile.” Everybody knew what “niggas” like to do after they eat: sleep. Everybody knew that “niggas” couldn’t be on time; that’s why there was c.p.t. (colored people’s time). “Niggas don’t take care of nothing.” “Niggas don’t stick together.” The list could go on.
To varying degrees we accepted these statements as true. And, to varying degrees, we each made them true within ourselves because we believed them.
But after awhile I began to understand that oppressed people —just by being oppressed — suffer serious wounds. You might go into a store, and somebody might follow you around the store, and you would have a choice of how to react: you could confront them and say "Why are you following me around the store?" or you could say to yourself: "Well, I came here to buy some socks, so let me just concentrate on buying the socks." But you still feel the pain. The obvious racism before had affected me, the prisons, torture... my whole life had created wounds, scars in me that in Cuba I was able to find a space to begin to heal. To begin to think, "Yeah, this happened", and I can look at it and see it for what it was but not be there, not be destroyed by it, not be turned into something bitter and evil by it. And not be like my enemies. Because I think that the greatest betrayal that a revolutionary can participate in is to become like the people you are struggling against. To become like your persecutors. I think that is a betrayal and a sin.
What really hurts me sometimes is that there’s not a lot of consciousness in their music. There could be a whole lot more. Rapping is communicating-it should be an instrument for our liberation. We don’t have time to talk about being players and hustlers and gangsters. We didn’t come off of the slave ships that way. We need to become proud Africans again and stop running around in Shirley Temple curls talkin’ ‘bout how we’re pimps and players. A lot of the symbols that are in rap records and videos are indications of decadent consumerism and in a very real sense, those gold chains, hundred-dollar sneakers and T-shirts with a designer’s name on it underline how much they’ve become enslaved by the consumer mentality in the United States-consumer slaves.
Eventually, I realized that I had two choices. I could struggle for stupid stuff - for some trinkets and creature comforts - or I could make a choice to struggle for something that would make a better life for myself, my children and their children. You either work for yourself and your people or you work for the oppressor. Those are the two things that all young people in the United States have to decide, basically, and that they’re not going to participate in their own self-destruction.
Hip Hop can be a very powerful weapon to help expand young people’s political and social consciousness. But just as with any weapon, if you don’t know how to use it, if you don’t know where to point it, or what you’re using it for, you can end up shooting yourself in the foot or killing your sisters or brothers.
who nobody wants
and everybody used.
They say you’re crazy
cause you not crazy enough
to kneel when told to kneel.
Hey, big woman -
with scars on the head
and scars on the heart
that never seem to heal -
I saw your light
and it was shining.
You gave them love.
They gave you shit.
You gave them you.
they gave you hollywood.
They purr at you
cause you know how to roar
and back it up with realness.
big momma in a little world.
You closed your eyes
and neon spun inside your head
cause it was dark outside.
You read your bible
but god never came.
Your daddy woulda loved you
but what would the neighbors say.
They hate you momma
cause you expose their madness.
And their cruelty.
They can see in your eyes
a thousand nightmares
that they have made come true.
Black woman. Baad woman.
Wear your bigness on your chest like a badge
cause you done earned it.
Strong woman. Amazon.
Wear your scars like jewelry
cause they were bought with blood.
They call you mad.
And almost had you
believing that shit.
They called you ugly.
And you hid yourself
and wallowed in their shame.
Rhinocerous woman -
this world is blind
and slight of mind
and cannot see
how beautiful you are.
I saw your light.
And it was shining.
No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.
People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is a normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.