Black America

Fall 2015 – Reflections and Preparations

There are like a hundred other things that I could/need to be doing right now (sleeping, doing work, sleeping, reading one of the 20 books that are currently on my reading list, sleeping…), but the semester is nearing a close and some reflection and looking toward the future is long over due.

This has been one whirlwind of a semester.  I was crowned Ohio State’s African American Homecoming Queen/Miss Black and Gold (an experience in marginalization that opened my eyes to the reality surrounding students of color on this campus in a new way), and won first runner up in the district Miss Black and Gold pageant as well.  I have delved deeper into my minor in creative writing and discovered just how connected choreography and writing are and found so much confirmation that I am pursuing the right path.  In many ways, I’m excited and can’t believe that I only have three more semesters until my undergraduate career is over, but in other ways I’m so overwhelmed by my looming future.  I’m really excited about the year and a half left because I have decided upon a topic for my senior project and am beginning to embark on that journey.

I took a History, Theory, and Literature of Dance class last spring with the amazing Dr. Hannah Kosstrin (who is serving as the advisor for my senior project, yay!) which focused a great deal about the African/Africanist influence in modern dance (and ballet!) here in America.  My final research paper explored an interest I had in this topic and sought to help me better understand and accept my own self in this history.  The title was “Black Female Bodies in American Culture and Performance.”  This class really ignited a spark in me; I finished the paper, but found myself looking at race, identity, culture and community in almost everything around me.  As I was taking this class and doing this research, I was simultaneously choreographing Bloodlines.  All of these thoughts and ideas are closely bound to my own journey of self-love.  I seek to understand the Black dancing body as a whole in hopes to better know myself and where/how my own body can continue in the steps of my predecessors.

So this is my senior project — continuing to research Blackness in American dance and culture and to develop choreography (group and potentially some solo work) as a response to my research.  I am planning to do a distinction project, which will require me to do defend my thesis before a jury and then do some rewriting.  Overall, I am super excited to begin this journey, and I am incredibly thankful to the women who have inspired and helped me thus far — Dr. Hannah Kosstrin and Bebe Miller.  I am so looking forward to working with the both of them on this endeavor.

Hopefully, I will do a better job in the coming months of documenting my work and you all will be able to join me.

On a side note: I am writing this post on a laptop that I fear will quit on my at any moment… I am in desperate need of a new one that will allow me to record all of my notes and work without worry and unwarranted technological frustration.  If you would like to help me fill this need, please feel free to visit this link and make a donation.  I am so appreciative of every little bit! Thank you 🙂

 

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Bloodlines

This weekend my first choreographed work, a solo entitled Bloodlines, premiered in the OSU Department of Dance’s Spring concert, “Absolute Existence.”  This piece was inspired by the lineage of my ancestors as African Americans in the Deep South.  All my life, I have grown up hearing stories about how my family lived and worked in Abbeville, South Carolina.  I have been brought up with a strong sense of pride in the people from whom I come, and their experiences of lynching and discrimination have fueled my desire to be all that I can be and to take advantage of the opportunities that they risked their lives to provide me with.

My distant uncle, Anthony Crawford was lynched in Abbeville in 1916 because he refused to settle for the poor price that a buyer offered him for his cotton crop.  His legacy has traveled from generation to generation to me, and I have been rocked with the understanding that one of my blood relatives was murdered in cold, hateful, and evil blood.  It fills me with a sort of righteous indignation akin to what I feel when the media splashes the death and mistreatment of youth like Martese Johnson, Mike Brown, and Trayvon Martin across my news screen.

Wess McBride, my paternal great-grandfather, my Great-Granddaddy, was the first black police officer in Abbeville County, where his grandfather was lynched.  He was also the first black sheriff’s deputy in the county as well.  This was a man that I knew; a man of whom I have faded memories.  I remember going to his house and sitting on his scratchy couch.  I remember his wrinkly face.  I know the stories that my father still tells of the kind of man he was today.  He was an upstanding man of integrity — much like the kind of woman I am striving to be today,

Mary Alice Smith, my paternal grandmother, my Nana, truly lived the role of the Help.  She started in domestic work at a young age, working in the homes of many affluent families in Abbeville as well.  She raised some families’ children from infancy, and they still hold her in high regard for this today.  She went on to work in the sewing and textiles fields, and carried herself with the dignity our ancestors has passed down.  For this reason, she was favored, and placed in positions of prominence in these fields as well.

Lastly, Walter Smith, my paternal grandfather, my Papa, was a man who has further instilled in me the value of hard work.  He worked on CSX Railroad, formerly Seaboard Coastlines, from the age of 14 until he retired.  He laid rail all the way up and down the Eastern seaboard.  The hot southern sun turned his skin a deep ebony, earning him the nickname Blue Steel because his skin had a faint blue tint. My Papa passed away when I was 11, but the color of his skin is something that has always resonated with me.  I look so much like him; in my baby pictures, he holds me to his face and our skin mingles together, almost the same shade.  Thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes; I miss him so much.

These are the things that were in my spirit as I began the process of making this piece.  I wanted to honor my family, and all that they have done for me to be able to live the life that I currently enjoy.  Sharing this part of myself with the world has been an incredible experience.  I have been totally humbled by the responses that I have received, and I believe that it truly was a success.

I will close with the spoken word segment that I conclude my performance with:

These Bloodlines run strong in me. 

Coursing through my veins, driving me. 

See,

the blood on the root never dried. 

The fruit on the tree never died. 

No

A seed was planted. 

You — Uncle Anthony, Great-Granddaddy, Papa, Nana — live on in Me.

Below are pictures taken by my lovely classmate, Hana Newfeld, of Bloodlines.  

Enjoy.

Black Princess in Costa Rican Rainforest

As I and my classmates prepared for this trip to Costa Rica, I found myself wondering what it would be like to be a Black person/woman/American in a Latin American culture. I was interested to see what, if anything, passerby would call me as I had been told that comments such as “Gringo/a” & “blondie” were common. One of the speakers we had come in one of our pre-trip orientation sessions told me that it would not be surprising to hear “negra” as a reference to my skin color (negra = black in Spanish).

There are many cultural things that are unique to Black and African American culture. Often our hair is a topic of many conversations with people of other ethnicities. Currently, my natural hair is cut pretty short, and because I tend to sweat in my hair a lot, it doesn’t keep a style for very much when I’m dancing heavily. That being said, I decided to get flat braids done before I left for San Josè so that it would be easy to deal with & require less maintenance. I wasn’t surprised that one of my first experiences with my host family was about my hair style. My host dad, Carlos touched my hair and told me that it was “muy bonito.” He then asked me how long it took; my response of “about 2 hrs” astonished him. Internally I laughed, because I’ve had braids styles that have taken 8+ hours to do.

During my 1st year here at OSU, I have fallen in love with wearing head scarves. I have a couple that used to be my mom’s; they are over twenty years old which makes them near & dear to me. I brought them with me on this trip because I knew that I wanted to have some versatility and not always wear my hair out. I wore one for the majority of our weekend trip to the beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park.

There, everyone seemed to have this incredibly positive and intrigued response to my scarves. I’ve worn them before, but never to such critical acclaim. One of the highlights of the trip was when our sweet bus driver, Marvin, called me his “Jamaican niña.” In Costa Rica, my scarf seemed to connect me with a culture that I’ve always appreciated, but with which I have never personally identified. I will agree, combined with the lovely dark brown the Costa Rican sun turned my skin, I acquired a rather Caribbean look.

At Playa Manuel Antonio, I had a really Pura Vida experience with a cool Tico that struck up a conversation with me because my scarf reminded him of his mother. He was of mixed ethnicities: his mother was a black woman from the Caribbean side of the country, and his father was from the Pacific side. We ended up taking a photo together & becoming Facebook friends.

On Friday, several of my cohorts and I were dining at Cafe Kalu, a phenomenal cafe that I would recommend as a stop for anyone visiting San Jose. I was wearing my favorite purple scarf that day because I had actually taken my braids out because they had gotten wet at the beach. My table had just placed our order when the server came back to my table with a dessert. I was protesting that it wasn’t mine when she told me that “someone among us likes the way you wear your scarf and wanted to buy you dessert.” I was shocked. Later, the man came to my table and explained himself. He told me that he was happy to see me displaying such a bright and colorful symbol of my heritage and that he hoped that I carried it with pride and continue to do so. The encounter brought one of my Asian American friends to tears and quite literally made my day.

For me, the experience was the best moment of the trip. It gave me an increased awareness of how my personal appearance allows people to perceive me. It was ironic to me that my scarves brought me so much when the real reason that I wear them has very little to do with my heritage. Most of the time, I don’t like the way my hair looks and don’t want to share the mess with the world. Being in Costa Rica has brought an entirely new meaning to my head adornment. Previously, I felt more of a connection to African culture than Caribbean culture when I wore a scarf, but now I have an appreciation for the whole of black women everywhere that have been crowning themselves with beautiful cloths for centuries, from African queens and princesses to regular, everyday women like me today.