Soul Is to Let Truth Speak
I let my soul speak. I’m unedited in my hatred and anger. There’s nothing about this poem that asks for acceptance. It is here that a non-binary, working-class, Black, queer states what troubles me about a nation so married to the exploitation and dehumanization of all but a small population of billionaires.
I saw the symptoms of oppression manifest on my grandfather’s left hand. He was a dark-skinned, beautiful Black man. By the time I was born, his hair had become gray. On that hand was his crooked finger. That crooked finger was a battle wound from so many years working the mills without adequate medical insurance. He lived a long life. His routine of waking up at 6 a.m. every morning and making breakfast seemed like a way of sustaining. He took life as it came. With a learned deliberation, he tended to the garden, drove around in his truck, played with our Black labrador retriever named Chyna, and checked on the chickens. He was a solid, southern Black man who learned to do without government aid. I cared for him as he passed away two months before my nephews were born. He was seventy-two years of age.
My grandma is a southern Black lady who grounds herself so thoroughly in her Christian beliefs. She’s a woman with the capacity to care for others and offer stern messages; she’s pensive and stands as the matriarch of my family; her name is Ruby Lee, and she was born a singer and a cooking artist. At seventy-five years of age, her artistic labor of pies—specifically Blackberry—sweetened the sunny Alabama summers of my youth. I came out to my grandmother as queer, and her language echoed the queerphobia so indicative of the broader system that debases queerness.
I wonder about a nation that has structured transphobia. If we are aware, we’ll feel it every time we allow the murder of a Black trans woman. We’ll be struck with pain every time we hear that some Black trans person is barred from receiving the medical services needed to affirm their humanity.
We care, or at least, we purport to care about Black folk. We claim a politics that centers the working class. Aren’t trans people Black? Isn’t it so that those same trans people are primarily located in the working class? “Nation w/o Soul” tracks those intersections of oppression.
I write this to not separate the individual instances of Black trans women who are killed by their lovers from a for-profit system that gives the right for medical help to secure employment. I write this not to separate the cultural ignorance and dismall trans livelihood from the history books that erase that portion of humanity from our discourse. I write this thinking hard about the burgeoning number of genderfluid and gender-liberated people across the world who are questioning the man/woman binary—who even seek to liberate ourselves from the colonial norms of gender that narrows the channels in which an individual, a community, a world of people can express and explore our humanity.
I write this as a Black, non-binary person who, to the world, can be viewed as a man. I fear what might happen to me as I endeavor to live my truth. I write this with the notion to show up as I am, knowing that so many like me understand that freedom is directly linked to our collective solidarity against the racist capitalist system.
I cringe with a deep love of art and pop-culture. I grew up on one of the greatest artists ever, Ye, but I refuse to excuse his harmful and destructive behavior. I sometimes question how someone whose art is so rooted in history, so defining for the present culture, and so influential to an evolving future of Black art can be so exemplary of the worst of the Black tradition that gives us the Hoteps, misogynists, narcissists, and cultural betrayers.
I question the limited ways Black celebrity is expressed to us. What is subtly pernicious about celebrity is the notion that people should live vicariously through our favorite pop stars while the majority of the population suffer to get a crumb, or so called “minimum wage.” I’m disgusted by the ideology that centers individual wealth over the collective wealth and safety of the global Black population. You can’t separate a Black billionaire from the capitalist system we live under. That financial wealth is invariably tied to the surplus value produced by laborers who receive fucking crumbs compared to their bosses. I can’t disconnect the historical extraction of goods and the genocide of people from the impending catastrophe of an unliveable environment.
I think the best of the Black tradition has marveled in various expressions of beauty; the luscious, kinky Black hair movement of the ’60s and ’70s, the pop-superstardom of Prince and Janet Jackson, the outfits and looks of both the Ballroom scene and the Drag scene. Hell, I grew up in the Black church where women wore cloche hats that signal a high feminine oeuvre.
James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni make the crafting and articulation of words an artform. We should celebrate the limitless vocal range of Tina Turner and the sweet notes of a troubled Marvin Gaye. I love jewelry and fabrics (crushed velvet, OMFG!) I hold all these things true without shaming myself for being a citizen of a capitalist society. However, I ask that we question what we’re sold about celebrities. The idea that we have to live vicariously through someone else in a Maybach belies two truths undiscussed:
- It is downright limited and, to me, offensive to assert that Black folks’ worth is only tied to our material possessions.
- Black people are a part of a movement for freedom that will not be attained without the holistic freedom of all Black folk.
Black people are worth so much more that fucking gold, crushed velevet, an expensive car, a large house. The vast capacity of Black humanity will never be captured by a profit-centered system which asserts materialism and presents only a limited way for everyone to capaciously engage with the range of our humanity. In this way, I believe we should take our cue from the Nap Ministry. They understand that the constant need to produce is so antithetical to our need to just be, and to just rest.
I celebrate feeling sexy for myself. Sometimes, I like to dip my toe into the pool of vanity. I’m a hot Black person who lives a polyamourous life. Sometimes, I experience dysphoria, primarily for my hair. Even as I say this, I love the texture, the coily-ness, the thickness of it. My dysphoria comes from the fact that there’s not many images of gender-nonconforming folks. There isn’t easy access to a history of my ancestors who existed outside the limited parameters of binary gender norms.
I’m encouraged by the historical Native conceptions of gender and the legacy of two-spirit folks. I’m encouraged by people I know and love who expand gender themselves and who question the parameters of colonial gender. I wonder how we can expand what beauty looks like? We can explore the queerness of seeing beautiful people and being attracted to them. I believe we can go past these reductive “beauty standards” and realize the aesthetic beauty of so many faces, so many shapes, so many sizes, so many genders.
To me, liberation presents the endless possibility of love. But it is attained as we create structures that care, protect, and support everyone. This makes capitalism, racism, patriarchy, queer/transphobia, prisons, police, borders, obsolete. I write this in anger and frustration with the desire to heal, as I work to center joy in my life. Historically, the American system has produced countless examples and structures of violence, surveillance, and genocide. In that crucible, there have also been many examples of sustained love, beauty, and resilience. In particular, I call attention to the Combahee River Collective, the child education programs of the Black Panther Party, and the smokey, expressive voice of Ms. Billie Holiday.
Fire of the Soul:
Unvarnished Speech of America’s Homeless Black Child
and hatred toward
the capitalist system that produces
my current circumstance
soul of pain—pain
taints soul, soul
can’t buy soul
if sold for
billions in Bezos wallet”
ment are debts
paid by Pop’s
as he boasts “50 years
at the mill”
grow greens, have
stock for winter
gov won’t help
Brother man said, “Whitey
go to the moon, can’t
fix my county roads”
Southern are They
Brian is Black,
“We,” says she with confidence
that gave a Nikki Giovanni
poem, “made our own food.
Didn’t need no government!”
has that kept
“You lost without it.”
Pain, I have. Pain, my ancestors had. Black, kinky, curly hair, big brained beauty, with beautiful smile. Pain’s still there.
Descendant of the poor working class. I say with all pride, all resilience, all shame one person, one body, one soul produces. I hear nothing more about America—“country of ideals.” Blood in the land—soil, soiled with corpses beaten, hanged, whipped, killed with the gun for peanuts, for oil, for fabric. “Our nation is number 1.”
I die in love from
my lover’s hand?”
Country still trips over bathrooms.
Country is number 1. “Boomb”
a bomb. “Boomb,” another bomb.
Blow smaller nations. Kill
poor brown folks. For what?
Scourge felt on my back. Scars on my flesh. Feet are calloused, bleeding. I feel it. My Black, non-binary, queer ass feels that. Even as I choose to pursue healing. Nation built for profit of few, leave the many to fate.
Can I tell you a fact? 1 percent owns half the wealth. 1 percent of Black population owns 70 percent of Black wealth.
Merely a capitalist
How is more exploita-
My mouth hurts. Throat can’t swallow. Golf ball-sized lump disables me to say, “I hate America!” But I’m ashamed ‘cause there’s something I love: the Americans. Fred Hampton, “the people!” But America has never loved on me.
Black non-binary queer
Culture is Black,
“Give a damn”
Do you give
lution from below.
But how does one
Black, non-binary, queer descendant
of poor, working ppl heal
along the way?