ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The Negros human drama of loss and becoming, of course,
began on the eastern shores of the Atlantic with
the kidnapping and sale of our male and female ancestors
Books by Kalamu ya Salaam
My Story My Song (CD)
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Feminism, Black Erotica, & Revolutionary Love
‘Womanness’ in the Writings of Kalamu ya Salaam (1968-2002)
By Rudolph Lewis
To be sensual, I think is to respect and rejoice in the force of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.
James Baldwin “From a Region of my Mind” The Fire Next Time, 1963)
[W]hoever wishes to become a truly moral human being . . . must divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of him. James Baldwin “From a Region of my Mind” (The Fire Next Time, 1963)
(. . . this propaganda of /words will sound strange to all who/do not know or realize the worth of/ our beautiful black women) perhaps,/ this poem can open the eyes of some / young Afro American to the beauty / of the black girl living in his / community; we have only to look with / our eyes & quit using a foreign / myopic blue eyed aesthetic and we will / see ourselves, and love our selves Kalamu ya Salaam, “And Black Women” (1968)
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Though I begin with quotes from James Baldwins The Fire Next Time, Kalamu reveals in his poetic autobiography, Art for Life: My Story, My Song, that not only James Baldwin but also Langston Hughes, Leroy Jones/Amiri Baraka were his literary models. He had admired and studied them long before his first poems were published in 1968 during his involvement with the Free Southern Theater. The common element is the “blues based” aspect of their work.
For Kalamu the blues is the orienting aesthetic of the masses of black people. Baldwin and Barakas modernistic and critical moral approaches were also influential and important. But Hughes holistic love of black people and their folk culture was the predominant influence in Kalamu’s development as a writer.
Thus for the last thirty years or so (1968-2002), the love for black people and their culture and the critical engagement of an oppressive Eurocentric culture define the body of Kalamus writings. The works I will consider, however, have a more narrow focus. These writings deal with themes Baldwin mentioned in the above quotes: 1) respecting and rejoicing in “the force of life itself,” which Baldwin, calls “being sensual”; and 2) divorcing oneself “from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church” for, Baldwin contends, if God cannot “make us larger, freer, and more loving . . . it is time we got rid of him.”
For what Baldwin calls the “sensual,” Kalamu also uses the term “erotic” or “eroticism,” especially in his essay “Do Right Women: Black Women, Eroticism, and Classic Blues” (1999). Baldwins term “divorce” suggests that we need to be in a conscious cultural struggle to recover or maintain our humanity. For Kalamu that means a reexamination of our religiosity.
So, in haiku #58, Kalamu wrote, “black people believe / in god, & I believe in / black people. amen.”
In his poem “Bush Mama,” written from the perspective and in the voice of a black woman, Kalamu composed these words: “fighting is what frees us / frees us not just from external enemies / but frees us also from our own / weaknesses.”
These “weaknesses,” I must alert you, is what Kalamu keys in on in much of his writing. Much of our weakness is derived from how we view ourselves in the world, for according to Kalamu in his poem “And Black Women,” African-American men must “quit using a foreign / myopic blue eyed aesthetic” in order to “see ourselves, and love ourselves.”
Of such short duration, this essay cannot encompass the great corpus of that which is Kalamu ya Salaam. I am thus forced to limit my discussion to a few poems, essays, and stories. From these it is yet possible, I believe, to make some generalizations applicable to the whole. In my reading the elements of loss and becoming, which I believe are central to the blues, stand out markedly in Kalamu’s work.
And often these elements of loss and becoming are applied to the reality and existence of the black woman in American society. Many of his essays, poems, stories are written if not in the voice of the African-American woman, they are written from her perspective or in her defense emphasizing the uniqueness of her essential self and the importance of her liberation and humanity for the health and liberation of the larger African-American community from an oppressive, domineering white authority and culture.
The Negros human drama of loss and becoming, of course, began on the eastern shores of the Atlantic with the kidnapping and sale of our male and female ancestors to Europeans whose culture and consciousness were dominated by a patriarchal, Christian, and often puritanical orientation. For Kalamu, these African ancestors did not enter a cultural stream that made them more civilized, more human. Human beingsmen, women, and childrenwere reduced to objects, things that were bought and sold like any pieces of merchandise, yet treated far worse.
This situation was not only imperial and racist, but our ancestors also entered into a sexist context that was foreign to the culture they left behind on the other side of the Atlantic. Read the booklet of essays entitled Our Women Keep Our Skies from Falling (1980). The international slave trade that brought our people to America was at heart a “clash” of continental cultures, namely, patriarchy and matriarchy.
According to Kalamu, “the roots of modern day sexism are found in prehistoric Europe,” for “the trunk of sexism is a patriarchy watered by capitalism and imperialism” (“Womens Rights Are Human Rights,” p. 10). “Our African history,” Kalamu has asserted, was a “matriarchal form of social organization” which traced bloodlines through the female and insured “the economic and political rights of women” (“Revolutionary Struggle/Revolutionary Love,” p. 15).
Violence brought us here to America, we all agree. And beyond three centuries of slavery and Jim Crow segregation and terror, violence has kept us here as the most oppressed and exploited sector of American society. The civil rights movement ameliorated the social, political, and economic conditions for both black men and women. But the situation has yet to be fully set aright.
African American women remain “more economically exploited than our [black] men, white women and/or white men” (“Revolutionary Struggle/Revolutionary Love,” p. 14). Black women, percentage wise, also remain “the prime victim of rape” in America (“Rape: A Radical Analysis from an African-American Perspective,” p. 29). Since the 1970s, black women have mounted a struggle, and often a lone struggle, against being “a slave of a slave” (“Revolutionary Struggle/Revolutionary Love,” p. 15).
Since the winning of the civil rights battle, the issues of black manhood and black womanhood have come to the foreground of the liberation struggle. And Kalamu in his writings has been center stage in that struggle. From Kalamus point of view most black men have played less than a laudatory role in the struggle for womens rights. In his 1979 “Rape” essay, Kalamu wrote, “One of the most shameful aspects of the aftermaths of slavery is that we Black men have, for the most part, in practice if not in theory, internalized American sexism” (p. 29).
And in his anthology of essays and poems What Is Life? (1994) defending anti-sexist women writers such as Audre Lorde, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, Kalamu wrote that frequently we black men repeat “drawing-room conversations of plantation owners whom we serve and . . . too often imitate” (“If the Hat Dont Fit . . .” (p.23).
In his poetic autobiography Art for Life , Kalamu wrote about his 1975 poems “Hiway Blues” and “Ntozake Shange.” Both poems support the resistance of black women and black women writers against the domineering tactics of men, including black men. The first poem written in the feminine voice supported Dessie Woods who killed a white man who attempted to rape her and ends on the defiant words, “Yeah, I shot the / motherfucker.”
In the second poem Kalamu strongly encourages Shange to keep writing about the oppression of feminine reality: “talk abt yrself / yr blkwomanself/neo-african / in the midst of a land caught up in / worshipping twentieth century minstrels / talk about womanness and exaltations / and never uttering the lie about being / sorry not to be born a boy, talk / like you think, like you feel, / like you move through decaying urban america / pass fashions, kitchen recipes, modern romances / and mythical holy vaginal orgasms / talk like our moses spake / in the middle of headin north night / pressing a slack-jawed man who / couldnt keep his pants dry” [italics mine].
Supporting Colored Girls during the black male “backlash,” the Shange poem, Kalamu explains, put him “at odds with some of [his] fellow male writers.” But, he continues, “I enjoyed the confrontation.”
For in many of his poems and fiction pieces Kalamu had been dealing with the whole question of black male prerogative, black male dominance, and black male violence. What is at stake in this scenario of black mens desire for the submissive black woman is what Kalamu calls “womanness,” a term found in the Shange and “Bush Mama” poems, or “womanself,” a related term found in the Shange poem and the essay “Revolutionary Struggle/Revolutionary Love.”
This notion of “womanness” is related to what Kalamu calls the “black blues self,” which he describes at length in his essay “the blues aesthetic” (What Is Life? pp. 7-20) and the essay “Do Right Women: Black Women, Eroticism, and Classic Blues.”
This “womanness” or “black blues self” can be best viewed in the lives and artistry of the “Classic Blues divas” of the 1920ssuch as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Ida Cox. These women were independent, aggressive, and sensual. Their music was “a conscious articulation of the social self and validation of the feminine sexual self,” for “the Classic Blues was also a total philosophical alternative to the dominant white society.”
Their art was aimed “at the Black community in general and Black women specifically; their “musical eroticism” encouraged coupling, group identification, and self valuation of shared erotic values, sexual self worth and pleasure.” The “blues aesthetic upsets the respectability apple cart.” According to Kalamu, “frank eroticism of nearly all African-heritage cultures,” however, have been “twisted by outside domination (e.g. Christianity and Islam).”
These black men who have “become sick, infected with the misogynic sexism of Europe . . . should be struggled with”; these men “choose to beat our women into a quasi-submission rather than meet (and defeat) the man” (“Revolutionary Struggle/Revolutionary Love,” p. 15). The only “concept of manhood” that such men know is that which has been defined by the western sense of the word.”
In truth, Kalamu explains, our “problem was and remains being captured in a social context within which we have relatively insignificant political and economic power” (“Impotence Need Not Be Permanent,” in What Is Life? pp. 136, 138). The central problem is not the assertive, critical independence of women, but rather our own impotence.
Owning/controlling women is simply a substitute for owning money in the American scheme of social relationships. If we didnt have women to beat on, to pimp off, to massage our egos, to treat us like kings we desire to be but arent, to stand behind us when no one else in the world would even think about us, if we didnt have submissive women, what would we do, what would we have to do? The African-american males preoccupation with sex is simply a substitute for a frustrated preoccupation with power or actually the lack of power (“Debunking Myths,” in Our Women Keep Our Skies from Falling, p 21).
In our impotence, dominated by white males, too many black males have “stopped struggling for freedom” and have opted for silence, “collaboration and accommodation” (“Impotence Need Not be Permanent,” in What Is Life? p. 148).
At the polar end of eroticism is pornography, defined by Kalamu, as “the commodifying of sex and the reifying of a person or gender into a sexual object.” For him, “objectifying sexual relations” is a completely different kind of reality from “the frank articulation of eroticism.” Too many black men have opted for a pornographic sexuality with black women rather than vital erotic relationships.
In his essay “Rape: A Radical Analysis from an African-American Perspective,” Kalamu has sketched out this reductionist pornographic perspective into four broad categories of rape: 1) brutal rape, 2) bogart rape, 3) business rape, and 4) bed rape.
Brutal rape involves a rapist and victim who do not know each other. Both rapist and victim recognize this act as rape. In the other three, rapist and victim know each other if only superficially. These other forms are not so plain and it is these forms of rape that so often go unreported or unrecognized.
Bogart rape involves demands, reprisals, appeals, requiring the woman to submit to male sexual advances. Business rape involves an employer (or slaveowner), professor (teacher), supervisor (or overseer); rape accomplished by threat or a promise of a better situation (promotion, grade, raise, etc.) for the woman. Bed rape usually involves a married couple, legal or common-law, but certainly it feeds on female dependence and submission.
Kalamu has fleshed out these potential erotic situations in a number of short stories or narratives. They have been published in a number of journals and anthologies within the last thirty years. These stories, which I have labeled “feminist erotica” because of their critical element, include “Thats the Way Love Is” (late 1960s), “Where Do Dreams Come From” (1969), “Sister Bibi” (1973), “I Sing Because . . .” (1999), “Forty-five Is Not So Old,” (1999), “Could You Wear My Eyes?” (2001), “The Roses Are Beautiful, But the Thorns Are So Sharp” (2002).
In concluding this essay, I will briefly sketch out a few of these stories. “Thats the Way Love Is” is a combination of both bogart and bed rape. The male lover has come to bed with Eldridge Cleavers Soul on Ice. He views his female lover Sonia as an object: “I was looking at Sonias vagina with only a casual interest in it as a pussy. I was looking at the way her hair grew on it and the way the soft fatty folds of flesh stood away from her body.”
This kind of objectification continues with their sexual acts throughout. Sonia, his lover, initiates the sexual action to his displeasure. He does not like her “to be on top.” He flips her and cocks her legs up with the crook of his arm. After taking hold of his balls and releasing them on his insistence, Sonia is submissive and refuses to move, to his chagrin. With his sexual skills, he attempts to overcome her: “I would make her come. Make her scream. . . I came and she still hadnt move.” The story ends and he concludes: he had to get himself a new girl.
“Where Do Dreams Come From” is, in its second part, a nightmarish combination of business rape and bogart rape. The action mostly takes place in Joyces dream; her lover Rabbit is filled with hatred of the white man. In the dream, Rabbit pimps her, puts her on naked display for gawking white men.
“Sister Bibi” contains sexual action initiated by Bert that borders on bogart rape; but Bibi manages to get control of the situation. Bibi and her college roommate Sylvia, whose mothers puritanical sexual attitudes have poisoned her view of sexuality, discuss extensively their attitudes toward men. Sylvia believes “all men are bastards” and that what they want from women is simply “pussy.” But Bibi, with her afro-romantic philosophy, refuses to believe either argument. And she finds a different kind of man in Asante, an aware brother who appreciates the beauty of women apart from their “thighs, or legs, pretty faces and soft breasts, or beautiful juicy pussies,” for he could see them “beautifully wholly as women.”
A dead wife killed in a car accident narrates the nightmarish “Could You Wear My Eyes,” By pre-arrangement her husband Reginald undergoes an operation in which he “wears” his wifes eyes. He quickly discovers he did not know his wife, especially her sexual imagination. What he discovers is a woman who was not as submissive as he had believed; so terrifying and threatening was this discovered feminine reality Reginald throws acid into his “unblinking eyes.”
“The Roses Are Beautiful,” published in the new anthology After Hours (2002), is another example of near bogart rape. After a few heated sexual sessions, Ann Turner, a TV anchorperson, rejects her lover Theodore, a prosperous businessman, for she suspects he is latently violent and repressive, which later proves true when he attempts to take her by force. Ann concludes at the end of the story she wants neither marriage nor children. Men, she concludes, are necessary only for “sexual maintenance.” She decides to fulfill her dream of becoming a writer.
These samples of “feminist erotica” written by Kalamu, I believe, do not titillate or give pleasure. They seem to be a frank, insightful ethical exposé in African-American sexuality. This erotica demonstrates how we take our politics into the bedroom and shows us how those politics manifest themselves in our sexual acts in the oddest and strangest ways, and worst in violence and perversion that deny the humanity of the other.
Women are usually the victims of sexist politics which have their origins in patriarchy and the impotent desire of men to dominate women in their search for power. If we as men seek liberation righteously, Kalamu believes, that liberation cannot occur without black men recognizing the full humanity and the rights of their women and joining them wholeheartedly in their struggle against racism as well as sexism. In this kind of struggle, black men will gain a truer sense of manhood and a more vital sense of the erotic. This liberation approach assures that black men too will reclaim “the black blues self.”
Fleming, Robert, ed. After Hours: A Collection of Erotic Writing by Black Men. New York:
Salaam, Kalamu ya. Our Women Keep Our Skies From Falling. New Orleans: Nkombo, 1980.
This work includes “Womens Rights Are Human Rights,” “Revolutionary Struggle/ Revolutionary Love,” “Debunking Myths,” and “Rape: A Radical Analysis from an African-American Perspective.”
Salaam, Kalamu ya. What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self. Chicago, Illinois: Third World
This work includes “Impotence Need Not be Permanent” and “If the Hat Dont Fit . . .”
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music website > http://www.kalamu.com/bol/ writing website > http://wordup.posterous.com/ daily blog > http://kalamu.posterous.com twitter > http://twitter.com/neogriot facebook > http://www.facebook.com/kalamu.salaam
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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There are more African Americans under correctional control today–in prison or jail, on probation or parolethan were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas, like Chicago, have been labeled felons for life. These men are part of a growing undercaste, not class, castea group of people who are permanently relegated, by law, to an inferior second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefitsmuch as their grandparents and great-grandparents once were during the Jim Crow era.Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
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By Colin Grant
The definitive group biography of the WailersBob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingstonchronicling their rise to fame and power. Over one dramatic decade, a trio of Trenchtown R&B crooners swapped their 1960s Brylcreem hairdos and two-tone suits for 1970s battle fatigues and dreadlocks to become the Wailersone of the most influential groups in popular music. Colin Grant presents a lively history of this remarkable band from their upbringing in the brutal slums of Kingston to their first recordings and then international superstardom. With energetic prose and stunning, original research, Grant argues that these reggae stars offered three models for black men in the second half of the twentieth century: accommodate and succeed (Marley), fight and die (Tosh), or retreat and live (Livingston). Grant meets with Rastafarian elders, Obeah men (witch doctors), and other folk authorities as he attempts to unravel the mysteries of Jamaica’s famously impenetrable culture. Much more than a top-flight music biography, The Natural Mystics offers a sophisticated understanding of Jamaican politics, heritage, race, and religiona portrait of a seminal group during a period of exuberant cultural evolution. 8 pages of four-color and 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations. Colin Grant Interview, The Natural Mystics
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 9 April 2008