"Sparkle, are you ready?" Another pet name I had. This was a name I acquired as she and I watched my favorite movie-Sparkle. I loved that story. It was one of the first times I witnessed society portray a Black man as a hero and not a thug, a murderer, a gangsta, or a drug dealer, and allow him obtain his dream while fighting for his rights-his justice, for him, for others, and for his future bride in this story. In fact, as I now think about this movie, it was a modern-day depiction of how record company executives (a system) operate as colonizers and thieves as they use Black bodies as their property; their space of amusement and enjoyment. Property.
As I think more about this time, I think about my grandmother laughing and cheering me on as I would sing every song as I knew the vocals, the cadence, the timing... We would sit and discuss the overall movie. We spoke of the protective single mother of three beautiful Black girls, we spoke of each lead actress and who they were in relation to the story, we knew the familiarity of the neighborhood, the men and their types in the movie-we analyzed the whole movie. I clearly recall her words "that white dog," she would say as she would call the record executive all kinds of names as he sought to pimp and steal the recordings of the lead actor. "Ool, I can't stand him. Who does he think he is? This is how many white people treat(ed) us at one time. We could not own a thing. I'm so glad to know that not all white people are still like this." I knew she was not being prejudice as she would call the Black pimps and abusers the same thing in the same way. "Yes-that's right! You gotta be willing to stand up or die for what you believe in," she would shout as we looked at the lead actor literally refuse to sign over the rights to his music, even with a gun up to his head. He refused to be for sale or to "play the game" in any way. I was surprised the producer let him live. In fact, we were both happy that he was not killed. I know if that happened I would have never watched the movie again.
OMG! As I now recall conversations with my grandmother, I learned some horrendous things. She spoke to me about the pain and the abuse of many during her time period. We spoke about molestation. We spoke about incest, sexual assault, and domestic violence. She shared some of her own horror stories. Stories that haunted her to the day she transitioned. Stories that helped me understand this woman who came from nothing yet later became an icon of her community. This woman who did not finish high school but had a Ph. D. in love despite life and her story. I believe I now fully understand why my grandmother gifted all of her children and grands with laughter as that is one trait we all still have today-an innate ability to laugh, make each other L-A-U-G-H, especially at and with ourselves. I now understand why family, community, and the lives of people meant so much to her. My grandmother, a lover of people. My grandmother, a community organizer. My grandmother, a woman who received countless awards and who was recognized by the State of NJ at her homegoing for having over 200 children from various foster homes come through her door and that was not including the neighborhood kids who would come at all hours of the day and night. It was their safe watchtower as my grand mom would give advice, food, money-when she felt it was necessary. The front door was never locked at Grandmom's house!
Etched in my memory is the one time that a call came at about 3 am. The State asked if a baby could stay at her home until they found a permanent space. Someone had left this child in the back of a taxicab. "Isn't she beautiful," my grandmother asked? Oh was she! Absolutely gorgeous. "Grandmom, I cannot imagine someone leaving a child in a cab," I said. "Better a cab then dead somewhere leaped from her lips. We never know the story of that mom, she answered. It was moments like these that basically she gently reminded me that everyone has a story; is this why I love oral histories and people? Well sometimes people. Wow-so many stories to tell as my "family" often resembled a true cover of the latest diversity magazine. Some she even adopted-like that of a modern-day Josephine Baker. I say family because they all would on their own call her mom immediately and we treated no one different as that was the unspoken rule. My icon. A woman I loved more than I knew, more than I could contain as I sought to be up under her any chance I could get. I SO miss her daily. I literally could pick up the phone at any time. If I left her home late at night, she would stay on that phone until I reached the inside of my living room; I lived over an hour away.
Her last instructions to me were, "Angie, whatever you do, don't let them hurt the children." She loved and gave just as much as she carried her inward hurt and pain. In many ways, unbeknownst to me (and her too I am sure), she was teaching me about so many things-life, root issues, enslavement and its afterlife, and yes, the legal definition of property and identity in terms of white people; one I would learn so many years later. I am paralyzed and in awe as I sit here and see the words I am writing, process the construction of the many sentences in my head, and hear the tick, tick, bang of the computer as I hurry to try to get everything down on paper.
This is all making sense now in a whole new way, the movie, the time with my grandmother, other things I read, other conversations, and the time I now find myself in, along with the infamous statement such as "what goes on in the house stays in the house," or that Black mamma "look" which required no words. It makes all the more sense to me why the mother in this film and countless Black mothers I know are so overprotective of their children and why many are not allowed at too many houses for sleepovers. Or to run freely in stores as other children. Or the times some may appear to put their children down as white families lift theirs up. It is not that Black parents are not proud, it's the mentality that stems from the plantation like that of the record producer. Our bodies are their leisure, their amusement, their property.
My ancestors had to constantly remember that the enslaver could snatch their children at any time so mothers had to play down "compliments" as a means of keeping their babies safe. As the children could be sold at any moment-Property, raped at any moment-Property, and if anyone bucked up against the white colonizer, their child could be fed to the animals-Property, or given to a colonizers child as a birthday gift-Property. Malcolm X said, the most disrespected person on the planet is the Black woman. We often hear about the Black woman being raped yet we do not hear of their bodies being used as a breeders service. Property. We do not hear how this breeding could take place from the white enslaver forcing intercourse between a Black man and a Black woman-with no regard of how they could have been related (incest) or the forced intercourse of a white enslaver-Property. However, we rarely hear about the sodomy of Black men by enslavers as a means to break them, subjugate them, objectify them, and instill fear. Property. Made to sit together in each other's feces-Property. Thrown overboard-Property. Lynched for sport at the Sunday white community picnic-Property.
In my spare time, I recently watched a 1971program called 'Soul' with two well-known Black icons-Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin. During their conversation, James Baldwin, in his 'here it is style', just so matter of factly commented, "Nikki, you must remember honey that "white men invented Black men in order to give white men identity." Initially I thought-WHAT? and rewound the program. As I noticed that I did hear him correctly, I thought, wow I heard Baldwin say some things before...yet this statement stuck with me like glue piecing together a child's project. I had no idea that literally no more than two months later I would reread an article entitled 'Whiteness as Property.' Oh how much I missed in this groundbreaking article. Here, I would learn that being white legally, yes as a law, equated, solidified, and attached value, culture, and identity to white beings as now their bodies became actual. legal. property. It's no wonder that this president does not want critical race theory taught and seeks to end bias training. Being Black never equated bodies as humans unless their bodies were needed to be counted, yes even if only as ⅗ of a person at election time as this was the beginning of today's plantation based electoral process. Our bodies could become somewhat human now because without them many of this country's former presidents, those who some, never me, refer to as the "founding fathers" would have never been elected, yet this too is never taught as history, as it would never neatly fit in his-story. Legal Property with a capital "P" could now legally own property with a lowercase one. Therefore, the lower-case property could be purchased, traded, used to pay a debt, used for incestral and privileged breeding purposes of economic gain, or simply enslaved by the capital "P" people-whites only. I do not use the term slave but an enslaved person as a means of rendering my ancestors as humans. Nor do I use the term master-never that for a myriad of reasons. I do not allow certain terms to be used as I teach my classes and happily share why. Black bodies were a different type of property; one definitely with no privileges in the US. Yet, as I think of property, I cannot help but now think of this movie from a whole new perspective and my time with my GRANDmother.
I am now all the more honored that I was chosen by the majority of my family and confirmed by my grandfather to stand as one of the officiators who would perform her homegoing. I think about how I stood in a beautiful white robe, adorned with gold-like that of 24 carats. A robe with a gold embroidered eagle on the back that said-I believe I can fly, saying until we meet again to the woman who believed I could, my best friend, my comforter. I remember how I was reminded that we are all here on loan to one another as gifts, not property, and one day...we fly...Yet we often say "my this" or "my that"-we speak in terms of property. Whew a lot of places I could go with this thought.
So now as I view one of the beautiful lead Black actresses, who was so affectionately called, Sister- a name culturally, I now understand in a whole new way as she was not called her real name once throughout the entire movie. And although she did find herself being abused, wanting love, and dying of a drug overdose, I now attest that my grandmother used this movie to not only instruct me about life but also how to analyze it. I never knew how beneficial this gift, this mantle would become. Yet, at times, it has come with a cost. Because of her teaching, I know many would have seen (to include me at one time) another Black woman on drugs or as a whore but I now view a Black woman in pain dealing with the realities of her life and balancing the tensions, the trauma, the generational trauma, and the various intersections and interconnections of her pain. How many of us look at the symptoms of others versus the root causes of why people are the way they are or why others reproduce or employ pain? As I do not seek to condone or judge any of one's actions, I now see the communities I find myself working in a whole new light. I "understand" and view the effects of racism, hate, prejudice, discrimination, sin, and yes Anti-Blackness in an entirely different vein. As I am still growing, I am so grateful for the time I had on loan with my "Mary Girl" discussing more than just a movie but prophetically my future. She was not my P/property with an upper or a lowercase p. She was so much more than that. She was and will always be my personal platinum Prize! My gift...
To read more about Angeline and her dreams for her work with Herstory, click here.
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