ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

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My experience of tribe is all sharp acid on the tongue, / Clanging metallic noises,

A rising tide of ill will, / A watchful expectation of ugly tribe rearing its head,

Reaching out to grab a cake, for itself . . .

 

 

 

Tribe

By Sitawa Namwalie

I

I am well versed in the idiom of tribe,

Having acquired the script long ago, from my family, friends, schools,

From my whole existence as a Kenyan really.

And I speak it with fluent authority.

There maybe times when I look different,

Special even, as if the language of tribe were beyond my understanding.

After all, I can cite my marriage, my children, my friends,

But that is a false impression,

I am like everyone else.

 

 

II

This uncomfortable truth led me on a journey.

I wanted to know,

What is this thing called tribe, really?

That has us all by the neck?

What does it look like?

How does it feel?

How do people live with it?

Laughing one moment with their tribal protagonist,

And the next, looking at each other across a wide abyss,

A yawning space, unbridgeable by the smiles of former friends,

Now bereft of all good intentions?

 

 

III

I wonder,

If tribe were a taste,

A sound,

A feeling,

A thing alive,

How would it be?

My experience of tribe is all sharp acid on the tongue,

Clanging metallic noises,

A rising tide of ill will,

A watchful expectation of ugly tribe rearing its head,

Reaching out to grab a cake, for itself,

To eat, quickly, greedily!

Tribe is grating loudly in my ears,

It must be heard! 

It has me believing it is natural, inevitable like the heavens.

 

 

IV

Tribe makes me act secretly,

I hide myself in full public view.

I read the newspapers,

Watch behind the news,

Scan the streets,

Count the members of the church council,

On and on.

I tally the number of times my tribe emerges.

When the appearance is favourable,

I smile.

 

 

V

In my mind,

I add up all mounting disadvantage,

To store in my prized bag of tribal grievance,

I am so expert at computation,

I am no longer conscious of what I do.

You see, I am victim,

Innocent,

But for the tribal designs of others.

 

 

VI

The truth is revealed in broiling ethnic conclave,

Here, secrets of the heart are safe,

I bring my hush-hush bliss to the fore,

To bemoan with relish my miserly pickings,

Condemn with glee the crumbs I feed on,

While others hog the national cake.

 posted 22 January 2008

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Betty Wamalwa Muragori is especially interested in how Africans are constructing new identities as they redefine their place in the world.  She believes in the power of words.  She has a BSc degree from the University of Nairobi and MA in Environment from Clark University in Worcester Mass. USA.  Currently Betty works for an international conservation organization in Nairobi, Kenya. 

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. Jamie Byng, Guardian 

Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin

By John D'Emilio

Bayard Rustin is one of the most important figures in the history of the American civil rights movement. Before Martin Luther King, before Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin was working to bring the cause to the forefront of America's consciousness. A teacher to King, an international apostle of peace, and the organizer of the famous 1963 March on Washington, he brought Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence to America and helped launch the civil rights movement. Nonetheless, Rustin has been largely erased by history, in part because he was an African American homosexual. Acclaimed historian John D'Emilio tells the full and remarkable story of Rustin's intertwined lives: his pioneering and public person and his oblique and stigmatized private self.

It was in the tumultuous 1930s that Bayard Rustin came of age, getting his first lessons in politics through the Communist Party and the unrest of the Great Depression.

A Quaker and a radical pacifist, he went to prison for refusing to serve in World War II, only to suffer a sexual scandal. His mentor, the great pacifist A. J. Muste, wrote to him, "You were capable of making the 'mistake' of thinking that you could be the leader in a revolution...at the same time that you were a weakling in an extreme degree and engaged in practices for which there was no justification."

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Laying Down the Sword

Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses

By Philip Jenkins

Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions—all are in the Bible, and all occur with a far greater frequency than in the Qur’an. But fanaticism is no more hard-wired in Christianity than it is in Islam. In Laying Down the Sword, “one of America’s best scholars of religion” (The Economist) explores how religions grow past their bloody origins, and delivers a fearless examination of the most violent verses of the Bible and an urgent call to read them anew in pursuit of a richer, more genuine faith. Christians cannot engage with neighbors and critics of other traditions—nor enjoy the deepest, most mature embodiment of their own faith—until they confront the texts of terror in their heritage. Philip Jenkins identifies the “holy amnesia” that, while allowing scriptural religions to grow and adapt, has demanded a nearly wholesale suppression of the Bible’s most aggressive passages, leaving them dangerously dormant for extremists to revive in times of conflict.

Jenkins lays bare the whole Bible, without compromise or apology, and equips us with tools for reading even the most unsettling texts, from the slaughter of the Canaanites to the alarming rhetoric of the book of Revelation. Teaching Genocide

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 18 June 2012

 

 

 

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