by La Vonda R. Staples
When Duke Ellington was asked how it felt to enter hotels from the back and play in the front, to hear the cheers of White crowds while knowing there were precious few of his color being allowed to see him, he said, “I took all of the anger necessary to pout and wrote me some blues.?? When Bill Berry of the Urban League was asked about how it felt to do a thankless job under such scrutiny (I’m paraphrasing) he said, “Don’t waste time in wondering why, I just do the hell out of my job.”? Before I had a high school diploma and I was over thirty years old I would wonder why my way was so hard. I had somewhere I wanted to be. My friend, Fred Lewis told me, “Time spent in recovery is still lost time.” And he also said, “Plan your work and work your plan.”
When Dr. Jean-Germain Gros (Haiti) would get mad at me because I would get my feelings hurt teaching Black folks and start to spew some pretty nasty nouns and verbs of self-hatred and it seemed to me that the people I doggone near idolized, the people of Black history, hated me for my efforts. I wanted to stop trying, forever, but he said, “It is the duty of all those who have been fortunate to receive an education to help those who seek the same.”
In 2008 I interviewed Dr. Toyin Falola. A Nigerian brother who is not yet sixty (at the time) and who had authored over 100 books on HIS people (Yoruba/Nigeria/West Africa). I asked him how he did his work. How is he able to produce and where did he go from here? He said, “I am already where I want to be. This is what I have wanted to do all my life.”
You see, back before he was Dr. Toyin Falola he was Toyin, a little Yoruba boy and this boy had been taught to honour teachers, scholars, writing, and working hard. No one called him a nerd or pushed him to the side because he couldn’t jump high, dance, or spit a verse.? Falola was able to plan his work and work his plan because he didn’t lose time in recovery from the external scourge of British Colonialism of Nigeria.
Later on, I met Dr. Abdul Karim Bangura, a Temne man of Sierra Leone. Dr. Bangura is less than five years older than me. But he has authored hundreds of articles and he has written at least sixty books. He holds doctoral degrees in Linguistics, Computer Science, Political Science, Mathematics and I think Economics (I can never remember that last thing).? Once upon a Bison time Dr. Bangura has been my teacher. He’s been my grouchy A surrogate father who doesn’t listen to my excuses (and I got a lot of them) and he has also fed me when no one cared if I was cold or hungry. He’s a good man.
In his father role he says to me, “be a good girl” and I answer, “yes sir, I’ll try” and he says, “you ain’t got no other choice.” And I realize that I don’t. I don’t have any other choice because it seems I’m programmed, that I came to this life pre-programmed for study and writing. Now to channel those gifts into something useful.? Wasting time? My biggest sin in wasting time is running after folks who mean themselves no good. My granma said (and I want you all, us all, to learn this and learn it well), “Chile, there’s some folks you can do all you can for and they’ll still turn around and kick you in the butt. It IS some folks you cain’t be good to.”? (Granma, up in Heaven with Jesus and my grandfather, please believe me when I say that I?m trying not to be one of the butt-kickers.)? This from a VERY religious woman who was strong in her faith and not the supermagical Black thinking type of plantation house, slave master Christianity. My grandmother studied. My grandfather studied. And through them I became passively involved in the Socratic method before I ever knew what they had done to me.
We talked about those pages in Genesis where God uses the personal singular pronoun and then all of a sudden, for two verses, He switches to the plural pronoun, “Let us make man in our image.” Who was He talking about?
And we debated Mary Magdalene and before I ever stepped into Dr. Rowan’s graduate classes on Rome and the history of the church, I had been taught, and told, and knew, that this woman was not a prostitute or a harlot. Nowhere in the Bible will you find her labeled as such. This is the doings of man and men
And my grandmother told me most emphatically to go and find, in the Bible, where God had told Eve anything. She was supposed to be under the leadership of her husband Adam. Adam failed to teach Eve what God had told him to do. My grandmother was tired of all the sins of the world being placed solely on the shoulders of Eve as if she held a gun to Adam’s head and forced that man to eat whatever fruit it was. And I found, after study, that my grandmother was right.
This week, I wanted a cigarette really bad. I didn’t want to buy a pack as it takes me about a week to smoke them and I rarely have enough money to fill my tank these days. I took a walk down to the bus stop by my apartment complex. I asked a couple of folks to sell me two cigarettes. I had a dollar in the pocket of my blue jeans. Stupid thing. I was sick. I had a chicken in the oven. Sarah was in the house alone. But I NEEDED a cigarette.
I was successful in getting those smokes and I was so intent on getting my nicotine fix that I didn’t wait until I got back to the apartment. I stood, or rather leaned, at the bus stop with all of my brothers and sisters who are not as fortunate as I am. I have a very nice mommy van and I really should have been using it to take me and Sarah to the gym. We both had a lot of energy that day.
I got something more than a smoke. I overheard an older Black woman tell her (I would keep eavesdropping and hear the girl say ‘granma’ – just like I called my baby who left me in April of this year). I heard the granma say something so sinful, terrible, and disgusting that I couldn’t believe that the words had been said again.? You see, the same statement had been made to my daughter about me. The granma said, “Yo mama might have book sense and get along with them White folks on her job. But she ain’t got no kinda common sense. You better than her, you know how to get ‘long in these streets. She cain’t talk about nobody no way.”? I wanted to scream at that woman!!! She was setting granddaughter against daughter!!! She was starting the same cycle which has been one more hill to climb between my daughter and I. She was fulfilling the Book of Revelations by setting mother against daughter!!! How many times does this happen in Black American life? How many times will we have to endure this thing?
This “Black Baby Beatdown?” That’s what I’m calling today’s essay. Black Baby Beatdown is what we do in our homes. And we cause our BEST to spend lost time in recovery. We make our way so much harder by having our BEST plan their work and work their plan under the most horrible circumstances. And they are to take that negative energy and still write them some blues? And do the hell out of their job?
I was once a substitute teacher in the Normandy School District. Trust and believe that what I’m telling you is the absolute truth. I had a mother come to me and tell me that I was killing her son’s NBA dream. All I told him to do was have a back up plan. The young man, in the 12th grade was barely five foot six. Where was he going? The midget NBA?
And? You need more? Earlier this year I had a young lady in my class who declared that she, at the community college basketball playing level, was going to the NBA. Scholars, friends, and fellow Amazons (you see, I’m a little taller than the average man and I’m more muscular than most women), do you know that girl was a half head shorter than my Sarah???????
I have a 9th grade daughter who is five foot eight. I have a son who is six foot four. I know a little something about when and if a growth spurt is going to hit you. I am from a family of Amazons and War Kings. And let me tell you, for my Staples family (the Irvings are smaller folks), I’m only average if NOT a little smaller than my girl cousins and my boy cousins DWARF ME!!! All four of my children are bigger than me or taller than me.
This girl, in addition to being small, had ZERO muscular structure as in Venus or Serena or even La Vonda. I wear a size 16 which is the norm for women three to five inches shorter than me. But I weigh 230 pounds. I have a lot of fat but I have a helluva lot of muscle. I took the girl to the side and talked to her about frame.
I have a big frame. And I was desperately trying to show her that she was in no way prepared to even gain the muscle necessary, let alone the height, for what she THOUGHT she was going to do. I even went to the web to SHOW her the height and weight and low body fat (and that skinny does not equal low body fat) of other WNBA players. On each and every one of those women you can clearly see knee cap, collarbone, wrist bone, they have large frames capable of withstanding all of that running, jumping, and they are also capable of holding a lot of muscle and therefore their body weights are much higher. They also have very large femurs and more gluteus muscle – these two areas make insurance charts useless for measuring the health of athletic Black women.
I was so intent on teaching that girl that she was wasting her time that I showed her the difference in her bone structure and mine. Even though she was slim her flesh covered her wristbones, knee bones, and collarbones. She did not have a big frame, she was not big boned, she is delicate. I showed her my collarbones – you can see them. Even though my fat percentage is about 30 percent, it doesn’t keep my knee cap, some ribs, and wrist bones, and collarbones from showing.? I wasted my time trying to pull Baby Dee back from a waste of time.
I have a quote to give you as well. “If you do not control your life someone else will control it for you.” La Vonda R. Staples.? I also know that everyone must serve someone.? Isn?t it a great thing to choose your servant and your master?
That doesn’t ALWAYS mean law enforcement or the courts. It means the dialysis center, the doctor who decides to cut off your leg or foot due to sugar, and the eyes which become blinded from cataracts and therefore you can no longer read.
So much in this life is beyond planning. Everyone it seems wants to have a “that’s why” moment. Children, Big Mama is now speaking to you, and to my four heirs of the Kingdom of Boolabu, I’m also talking to you, THERE IS CHAOS IN THIS WORLD AND CHAOS DON’T KNOW THING ONE ABOUT YOUR PLAN.
Our culture, African American culture, is so quick to pull down those who don’t know how, have been designated by God, to rise. Crabs in a barrel, endlessly and effortlessly, without thinking, performing the Black Baby Beatdown of our great minds and thinkers and inventors.
And I sit here and wonder where will the next Dr. Carver, Dr. Keith Black, and Dr. Ben Carson come from? When the mammies is calling their Black sons “nerds” when they try to sit and study. Where will the next Miles Davis come from? Or for that matter Ella Fitzgerald when all the singers are doing STUPID A RUNS and got 75 percent of they titties and 90 percent of they booty tooted up to the camera? Where will the Black pool of genius, when will the Black pool of genius be regenerated? From what source?
I am going to tell you the truth right now: I’m tired of pushing my Sarah to make friends with other Black American girls (she has no problem making friends with Black African girls). Her friends are those who are in the gifted program and who are in her physics and advanced geometry classes. Her friends are the girls who participate in the classical voice competition. Her friends are the ones who cannot go outside until the homework is done and if the sun goes down before the work is done? Oh well.
I tell Sarah that her job is being a student and the pay off is the career she will have once the Harvard degrees are done. She can buy a ticket and enjoy the sunshine on some island AT THAT TIME but not now.
I bring to Sarah the knowledge that her A’s are only A’s in her school district. I let her know that without additional study she would only be a C student in a better district. You think I’m putting her down? I am not. I don’t blow smoke up peoples rear ends and if you ask me if you look fat in that dress I’m going to tell you “no, you don’t look fat, you are fat.” It’s the same thing I tell myself. Forewarned is fore armed.? I don’t have time to lie to you. You don’t have any more time to waste in lies. “I still look good.” “My man like it.” “At least he tryin'” “Ain’t no one person wrong.” On and on ad nauseum and infinitum. What we do in the name of not standing will help us all to fall.
Black Baby Beatdown is not about one group. It is about the extinction of Black American excellence and the extinction of a group of people who survived slavery and Jim Crow. It’s about intra-racial racism and how we do each other. You see, the external is racism, and racism has no science so therefore it is chaos. Plain and simple. You can’t stop it in the external.
It?s also about tearing up the lambs and protecting the wolves.? Not giving a damn about the scholar but keeping the murderers? names off the lips of the police.
If we won’t stop valuing light skin, good hair, and light eyes, how can we expect the external to stop de-valuing Black skin? That’s an example of the end point of Socratic reasoning so learn it and learn it well.? The superficial is just a start.? Re-purposing the seven billion dollars spent on fake hair and fake straightness into something real, something which will last for all time.? That would be a very good start indeed.
I’m comin’ to a close and ’bout to make it plain. After all, I don’t know how to be a professor. I know how to be a preacher and a teacher, a hybrid of the two, since that is what my parents were all of their lives. I know how to mother you, give you a cookie or bake you a cake when you do good. And I expect the same from my teachers. I shout out to all of those men, who I have met, who I know, and whom I’ve only studied, I am always YOUR child (even Dr. Abdul Karim Bangura who is driving me crazy with his Obama-madness right now),
I say to these men and my grandfather is included, “Did I do good daddy?” I want to know if my teachings, writings, beliefs have shown any sign. When will I receive my sugar cookie, my cake, my five dollars or a gold star? And they all answer without saying a word, “Don’t expect it. Don’t seek it. It may never come. You do these things out of compassion which means you CANNOT expect a reward.”
I could sit and spout big words and theories at you but what good would that do? Especially when I just got to the educated party myself. Truth be told I STILL have to look up Latin phrases and I don’t really have a handle on things such as gameinashtalt or geshtalt or Durkheim or even Hegel. It runs me to the books with great regularity. And I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know anything. This is why I ask questions and try like hell to NOT make statements. I tell you what I have seen and hopefully you will prove me wrong. I don’t WANT to believe my lying eyes.
If you want to turn the vision into a lie please take the hand of baby Miles and Ella. Take your other hand and cover the mouth of one who calls a child a nerd. Grow two more hands and cover the ears of two children who say they want to be doctors and block out the roar of the crabs. Take your feet and topple, knock it down, strike the foundation of intra-racial intellectual destruction of Black American life.
Only then, when the battlefields is taken to the homes, actively, instead of the passive punkish present way of begging power to cure us of our ordinary pain, will we see the pool of Black genius regenerated for and by self. Internally. Then we will halt the extinction of the Black man as husband first and father second. And, we can each one be the unrewarded victor of our communities and stop the beat down of our Black babies.
And so I end this day’s impromptu writing to you and to myself. This writing is the way my brain sweats. This is how I expend all of the negative energy, it is my coping mechanism and I think I’ve learned how to direct it, even in some small way. I direct it at me and since I’m no better than you it’s also able to be transformed into many horizons.
“Is you de one? Is you de Black Moses.” That’s what Jane Pittman asked of all those children as she held them and looked deeply in their eyes. And she undoubtedly gave that feeling to them, that they COULD BE THE ONE. An illiterate slave woman, fictitious, had more belief in the days of cain’t see ’til caint see than we have on this day. Last words come from first my grandfather and then my grandmother, “Daughter, the Lawd don’t come ’cause he made you. You ‘sposed to be the one.”? “Ev’ry tub gots ta stan’ on it’s own bottom.”? If you don?t know please sit down, take some quiet time, and figure out what my grandparents were saying to me and what I am saying to you.