About MichelleMichelle Brown is an author, activist & public speaker who believes in common ground for all people.
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- Living in the Shadow of COVID 3: Getting Back to Work, Because There’s SO Much Work to Do
- Living in the Shadow of COVID 2: Caring for Our Communities
- Living in the Shadow of COVID: Sowing Seeds for My New Normal
- LGBTQ POC Townhall at 110th NAACP Annual Convention July 20-24, 2019
- Reflections on Stonewall 50th Commemoration
Category Archives: Black women
Printed 2/5/2015 in issue 2306 of Between The Lines Newspaper
History by definition is the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. Dig a little deeper and many dictionaries expand the definition to include the “continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc. usually written as a chronological account.”
Really, history is just us telling our stories, but like most stories, the narrative and the outcome often depend on the teller. The bigger, the bolder, the more powerful the storyteller, the more likely it is that that person’s narrative will become the history — right or wrong, no matter how distorted. It will be what people remember.
I have always been a lover of history. I’m the one who will have a list of all the historic sites and go on all the historic tours on vacation. I’ve even been told that sometimes I know more about the area than the “natives.” But, I am also the one who slips away from the group to find the residents of the area to spend time hearing their stories, their remembrances of history.
You see, as much as I love history, at an early age I learned that the “official history” is often told from the view of the beholder and is often not accurate or inclusive. Fortunately history is not solely limited to “historical” records. Depictions of life, love, labor are also passed down through art, music and spoken word.
I would scour the pages of my early history lessons looking for faces like mine because too often it seemed all “important” historical roads went through Greece, Rome and then Europe with just a brief mention of other cultures.
Although the words told one story, images — art, maps, museum pieces — showed that the great pyramids were in Africa. Hannibal of Carthage, despite theatrical portrayals, was a person of color. Brown, if not black, in hue.
For years, the African-American story was shaped by distorted narratives. The memories erased and squashed by the brutality of slavery, but stories of our resilience and strength, even when not included in traditional historical accounts, have survived.
During a visit to Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African-American History, the curator drew our attention to different pictures, asking what we saw. In our childish naivete, we said, “Those are pictures of slavery.”
He encouraged us to look deeper, to see beyond slavery and recognize the artisans, craftsmen and builders responsible for building the infrastructure of this country. Enslaved, yes; denied rights and freedoms, yes; but undeniably there in history for all to see if your eyes were open.
Even when African-Americans were forbidden and, often under threat of brutality, denied access to education, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) served the black community. In fact, until the 1960s, HBCUs, were practically the only institutions of higher learning open to blacks in the U.S.
HBCU graduates from the past to today include Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. DuBois, Patricia Harris, Thurgood Marshall, Alice Walker, Samuel L. Jackson, Wanda Sykes, Oprah Winfrey and Common.
While living under segregated conditions, denied access to basic civil rights and, for the most part, being ignored in the historical narrative of the United States, African-Americans like Charles Drew, Elijah McCoy, Garrett Morgan, George Washington Carver and Percy Julian developed and contributed inventions that benefitted not only America but also the entire world.
Denied equality merely because of the color of our skin, African-Americans fought tirelessly for the equality of others. These warriors included Sojourner Truth, Margaretta Forten and Harriet Forten Purvis in the women’s suffrage movement; labor activists A. Philip Randolph and Norman Hill; and human rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin.
From arts to literature, entertainment to politics, the legacy of African-Americans including Shirley Chisholm, Alvin Ailey, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, James Baldwin, Barbara Jordan, Ralph Bunche, Mae Jemison, Cory Booker and Barack Obama will ensure that not only American history but all history will come closer to a true “continuous, systematic narrative of past events” in the development of the human condition. Progress, yes, but the picture remain incomplete.
Just as in our childish naivete we looked at the pictures and saw only slavery, many want to look at black history and fail (or refuse) to see the members of the African-American LGBTQ community living, working and contributing not only today but also historically.
We were there on the plantation, in the classrooms, graduating from HBCUs. We were leaders during the Harlem Renaissance, breaking barriers on stage and screen, inventing and innovating. And as we marched for voting rights, to end segregation, we demonstrated, organized and participated as protestors in front of and behind the scenes.
We live today as parents, teachers, athletes, clergy and community members facing the same challenges, struggles and opportunities as other African-Americans, but because of whom we love, we are often forced to choose between being gay and black when talking about civil rights.
Being black and gay is nothing new. It is as old as yesterday and will continue tomorrow. It’s a part of history and stands at the intersection of all our struggles of equality.
In an address to the nation, President Ford, following the recognition of Black History Month, urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That work continues.
One of the most memorable portions of President Obama’s second inaugural address was his “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” remarks. He said “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
As we celebrate this Black History Month, let us remember the contributions of those African-Americans who led in the background, who built the infrastructure without recognition, who marched for freedom and by their courage helped this country come closer to achieving its destiny.
And as we lift up these members of our amazing African-American community, let’s look deeper at the picture and see the faces of our LGBTQ African-American community who were standing on the front lines like “wild fruit hidden in open spaces.”
During this Black History month, as decisions on marriage equality await decisions in courts across the country, as thousands pack the cinema to see “Selma,” we have an opportunity to reflect upon the evils of discrimination and hatred and commit ourselves to doing better.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)
Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her latest book of poetry “Three Layers and A Brassiere” is available at bookstore.authorhouse.com
My new book of poetry “Three Layers & A Brassiere” is available for purchase online! Book signing is in planning stage but get your’s today and receive a special gift at the book signing.
Book Over view:
On a frigid November weekend in 2012, I took a trip to Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My plan had been to catch a train, hit the city and just wander about taking in the sights. I wanted a lost weekend, to wander around to find something—just what I really didn’t know. But these uncertain plans took an unexpected turn when, instead, I hitched a ride with a friend.
I met an amazing woman named Gwen who was in her eighties, and over the course of the weekend, she shared stories of her remarkable life. One afternoon, we were heading out, and her family, being protective as families can be, gathered sweaters, scarves, and jackets and proceeded to try to convince Gwen to put them all on. Her response: “I’ve got three layers and a brassiere, that’s enough to keep me warm.”
On the ride back to Detroit, I thought about Gwen her life and the three stages of life—childhood, adulthood, and those final days. Maybe all we need are those three layers, not all those mountains of things, just to see us through to warm our hearts, our spirits, and a brassiere to hold the memories.
I Vote Because
By Michelle E. Brown
Because they had no voice
When brought over in those chains.
Sold, beaten, traded
Eyes cast down shuffling by
As they silently swallowed pride.
Because they rode the back of the bus
Having services denied.
Colored toilets, colored fountains
Suffering indignities just to get by.
Because they marched for freedom
While being beaten and knocked down
Water cannons, dog bites, night sticks
To deny their civil rights.
Because their voices were silenced
Before they could make their mark
Four little girls in Birmingham
Trayvon, Ayanna, Renisha, Michael
Our stand in Ferguson
For babies yet to come
I vote to make a difference
I vote to make a change
I vote for this imperfect union
I vote in all their names.
Because of them it matters
For me to be a part of the game
Not sitting on the sidelines
To cast aspersions and merely complain
I might not see the difference
Or live to see the change
But because of them I do it
I vote so their lives were not in vain.
By Michelle E. Brown (For Transgender Day of Visibility 3/26/14)
Daddy wanted a son
A man child, legacy bearer
A son to toss a ball, cast a rod
Share manly things around the campfire
While cleaning guns
Daddy wanted a son
Momma wanted a daughter
A woman child, baby girl
Pretty curls, frills and dolls
She’d teach her to cook, to sew
To preen and be coy
Share womanly things
While getting mani-pedis
Momma wanted a daughter
I sat amongst the stars
Hearing their longings
Seeing their dream
Looking down, pondering
I want to be me
Unfettered by sexual identity
Not playing roles in their boxes
Safe from lines drawn by intellect and reason
If I must choose
I choose to stay here
But daddy wants a son
Momma wants a daughter
Earth wants my presence
So I must leave my heavenly sanctuary
Pushing me, pulling me
Traveling towards the light
Where daddy wants a boy
Momma wants a girl
Doctor opens his mouth to pass judgment
Pronounce life’s sentence upon me
What is it
Is it boy
Is it girl
I open my mouth and shout
Shout for those who came before
For those who will come after
Before the verdict is given
Do not bind me with your biases
Your preconceived notions of
Who I am
How I should be
I am not it
Not boy, nor girl
I am a baby
Let me, be me
“I was born a baby, not a boy” Janet Mock 02/06/2014
This is the initial list that Tony and I exchanged back in 2007 and the crazy short story that resulted.
My arrival on earth had been delayed by an unexpected brush with a meteor storm soon after passing Venus. My destination Alaska where I would meet up with other members of the Interspecies Liberation Movement to get the revolution started on another planet – Earth.
I was dressed for the frigid landscape of the land of the midnight sun in midnight blue leather, of course. A leather jumpsuit with matching parka trimmed in silver fox and my signature six inch stiletto boots. Ok, not your traditional Klondike attire but stylish, totally hot and totally me.
I was all ready to step from my glitter capsule into the crisp Alaskan air but when the hatch opened I found myself, instead, smack dab in the middle of Amsterdam’s red light district at dawn. As the sun rose in the sky its rays reflected off the garish windows of the brothels and sex shops. The glare left me blind.
This was crazy!! I was in Amsterdam. There was no radical queer community waiting to pay homage to an intergalactic vixen preaching interspecies rights. Instead of throngs of worshipers chanting my name in sweet operatic tones I was surrounded by dirty old men in trench coats and drunken tourists stumbling in and out of the shops and brothels – so inane, so infantile.
No revolution here. Just crazed Dutch boys that didn’t want to vibe on my message, they only yearned to cop a feel on my muscular, chocolate, 6 foot 8 inch frame. I lifted the flap on my pouch and pulled out a pair of silver framed sunglasses.
“Look Hans” one of the Dutch boys shouted “I don’t think she’s just a Negro. I believe she’s one of those interspecies hybrids.” A crowd started to gather. All of them watching, pointing, and getting a little giddy.
I cleared my throat and spoke. “Listen up folks I am not a neee-gro. I am a Black Lesbian Marsupial with a message for you. It’s a message about Utopia. If you care to listen?”
They kept mumbling and staring. Finally a short red-haired stud stepped forward, grabbed me by the arm and said “I feel you sister but these are lost causes. Let’s get out of here.”
We slipped into the coffeehouse at the Van Gogh Museum. “What happened? I’m here in Amsterdam and nothing. Where’s the love?”
Maxie, the red-haired dyke, told me that every since Tom Cruise had moved to the Netherlands and started throwing around Scientology doctrine and more importantly money there was a fracture in the community.
“So that’s why they’re so jaded – Scientology. Well I’ll be damned” I said
We left the café and headed toward my glitter capsule. I pulled out my astral map to chart a course for the nearest commune.
A trench coated xenophobe whipped open his coat and flashed me. “Want to play girlie” he slurred and reached out to touch me.
Just then a location lit up on the astral map – Palestine. As I charted my course I felt the jerk’s hand on my shoulder. I spun around and kicked the little weirdo, knocking him flat on his ass. “My back! You broke my back! I’m paralyzed” he screamed.
I scanned his body with my x-ray/CAT scan watch. “Quit whining you zygote. It’s not even fractured.”
I started for the Glitter capsule again. Ï heard footsteps running behind me. It was a band of queers “Wait! Wait! We yearn for Utopia. Take us with you” they called.
I could have turned around and given them a lecture but I needed to get to Palestine. There was no time to edify the masses now so I did the next best thing. I said, “Get on board. I’ll tell you on the way to Palestine.” We all climbed into the capsule, battened down the hatches and took off for the Promised Land.
We landed in Palestine an hour later. I had changed in to a hot pink leather mini dress with matching stilettos. I fluffed up my afro and opened the hatch. My motley crew and I were welcomed by the sweet refrains of the liberation anthem. The weather was hot, crazy hot and the sun reflected of the desert sand was blinding.
A sister from my home planet stepped out of the crowd and gave me a big hug. She was dressed in an identical leather mini-dress and stilettos only in lime green. “What kept you sister Yar? The Klondike team froze their butts off waiting for you” she said.
“Well I could tell you the whole sordid story but our “peeps” are waiting. Do you mind if I truncate?” I asked.
“Truncate! I like the sound of that. Truncate, my sister, truncate.” Xena said with a whimsical smile.
I gave her the reader’s digest version of my trip including the meteor storm and my stop in Amsterdam. “Scientology! Wow!” she said at the end of my story. “I knew it was out there but it’s becoming a frigging cult.” “With Tom Cruise as its leader, the revolution can’t start soon enough” I said.
“Who are they,” she asked pointing to the wide-eyed, scraggly group standing close to the capsule. “They’re cool. Met them in Amsterdam and they came along for the ride,” I said. I let Maxie do the introductions. Pretty soon everyone was talking and smiling.
I cleared my throat to get their attention. “That’s right, all eyes here,” I said. “Now that we all know one another let’s get this party started.”
“The sun’s pretty bright out there” Xena said as she put on her sunglasses with lime green frames completing her outfit. “I hope you brought some shades.”
“Am I not a Black, lesbian marsupial” I asked unsnapping the flap over my pouch and pulling out a pair of sunglasses to match my hot pink ensemble. We looked at each other, smiled then hopped towards the city to preach interspecies liberation to the believers waiting at the commune in Palestine.