Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua

Of the 130 million books published (estimated by Google) 204 are Slave Narratives; autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs written about Africans enslaved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Only one Narrative about an African enslaved in Brazil has been published, that of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua.

Dictated to Irish abolitionist Samuel Moore in Canada in 1854, Baquaqua’s Narrative is the only known Narrative of the approximately 5.5 million Africans brought to Brazil as slaves (4.8 million of whom survived the travel). (blackwomenofbrazil.co) Of the 10.7 million Africans who survived the Trans-Atlantic Trade (12.5 million were traded), approximately 6,000 Slave Narratives, including broadsheets and about 2,500 oral histories have been recorded, according to Marion Wilson’s 1964 dissertation, “The Slave Narrative: Its Place in American Literary History.” Baquauqua’s account is thus incredibly unique and valuable, and tragically brief, at just 20 typed pages, and with much commentary by Moore.

Brazil has been as reluctant as the United States in facing it’s dark history; Baquaqua’s Narrative was published in Portuguese (Brazil’s official language) for the first time at the end of 2015. The country has only mandated the teaching of Black History in schools since 2003.

There is no national mandate for teaching Black History in the United States. Only seven of 50 states have mandated Black History education in public schools. (King, LJ “The Status of Black History in U.S. Schools and Society” Social Education, 2017, National Council for the Social Studies). More embarrassingly, in 2014, the Teaching Tolerance project by the Southern Poverty Law Center graded 20 states as “failing” in their education standards for the civil rights era, and in five states civil rights education was completely absent. Of the 388,000 Africans traded to the US approximately 150 Narratives have been published.

Baquaqua’s Narrative depicts an Africa in which slavery is fairly common place between peoples of varying origin- slavery was used as a punishment for those who broke the rules of the kings of the lands they were living in. Prisoners of war also became slaves, and were often ransomed to their families, if they were of sufficient means. The treatment/status of those enslaved within Africa as described by Baquaqua was comparatively highly preferable to what he experienced in Brazil. The enslaved in Africa could one day be the master, and the master become enslaved, depending on which side won that day. This was not true in Brazil, where the enslaved had no chance of gaining their freedom.

After having been betrayed by his own people and sold into slavery to a rival army (a not uncommon practice), Baquaqua was sold to an African trader whose business it was to sell enslaved persons far from the individual’s home. Baquaqua was bought and sold several times as he was marched through Africa, finally to be placed in the hold of a slave ship. Before he was shipped by river to be sold to a slave ship bound for Brazil, Baquaqua fell into despair, “When we arrived here I began to give up all hopes of ever getting back to my home again…at last, hope gave way; the last ray seemed fading away and my heart felt sad and weary within me, as I thought of my home, my mother.”

In his narrative, Baquaqua seeks to educate those whom he sees as ignorant to the obvious fact of the humanity of the enslaved African. He is at times imploring, “Some persons suppose that the African has none of the finer feelings of humanity within his breast, and that the milk of human kindness runs not through his composition; this is an error, an error of the grossest kind; …the same impulses drive them to action, the same feelings of love move within their bosom the same maternal and paternal affections are there, the same hopes and fears, griefs and joys, indeed all is there as in the rest of mankind; the only difference is their color, and that has been arranged by him who made the world and all that therein is… therefore why should any despise the works of his hands which has been made and fashioned according to his Almighty power, in the plentitude of his goodness and mercy.” At other times his incredulity and sarcasm comes through, “Oh! friends of humanity, pity the poor African, who has been trepanned and sold away from friends and home, and consigned to the hold of a slave ship, to await even more horrors and miseries in a distant land, amongst the religious and benevolent.”

Baquaqua converted to Christianity in Haiti, after gaining freedom in New York where abolitionists forced the courts to interview the enslaved on trade ships harbored. He traveled to Canada when Haiti began drafting for militia. He dictated his memoirs, and looked to the future of humanity through the lens of his new, cherished faith, “Oh! Christianity thou soother of man’s sufferings, thou guide to the blind, and strength to the weak, go thou on thy mission, speak the peaceful tidings of salvation all around and make glad the heart of man, ‘then shall the wilderness be glad and blossom as the rose.’ Then will slavery with all its horrors ultimately come to an end, for none possessing thy power and under thy influence can perpetuate a calling so utterly at variance with, and repugnant to all thy doctrines.”

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Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory was the first black performer to sit down and be interviewed, as a white performer would be, after his set on The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar in 1961. On August 19, 2017, upon hearing of Gregory’s death, Dave Chapelle told his audience in Radio City Music Hall he would not be standing on that stage had it not been for Dick Gregory. For the second time, a black person changed US history simply by demanding their right to take a seat. Dick Gregory paved the way for comedic geniuses like Chappelle, Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor; all who used comedy to shine a light on the absurdity of racism.

Dick Gregory, born in St. Louis, October 12, 1932, is certainly best known for his biting and witty comedy, a talent he found after he was drafted in 1954 from Southern Illinois University. He returned to the University after his service, then soon continued to pursue a career in comedy, working for the Postal Service during the day. His big break came when Hugh Hefner saw him perform at the Roberts Show Bar, and hired him for the Playboy Club. It was during this time Gregory caught the attention of Paar at The Tonight Show who eventually personally called Gregory to ask why he had so far refused the invitation to appear on the show. Gregory told Paar he would appear only if he were treated the same way as the white entertainers, and invited to sit down with Paar after his routine. Gregory and Paar made history.

Gregory’s career turned to one of activism and service in the 60’s. He was moved by the myriad social injustices he observed in the world, beginning with racism in the states and expanding out to include the Iran hostage crisis, Northern Ireland IRA prisoners, and poverty in Ethiopia. In the United States, Gregory joined with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma in 1963 to speak before Freedom Day. He was arrested after speaking, but was released and joined the march the next day. In 1965, Gregory was shot in the knee helping police restore order after the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. He was not afraid to put his body and life on the line to promote social change. In 1978, a self-proclaimed and outspoken feminist, Gregory joined with the heavy hitters of his day, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Margaret Heckler, and Barbara Mikulski and 100,000 people to lead the National ERA March for Ratification and Extension down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gregory employed public fasting as a tactic in his fight for social justice. His first fast in 1967 was in protest of the Vietnam War, and lasted for 40 days. At the end of the fast he was 97 pounds. In 1968 he fasted for 45 days in support of Native Americans. In 1969 he fasted for 45 days protesting the defacto segregation of Chicago public schools. In 1970 he fasted for 81 days to bring attention to the narcotics epidemic sweeping inner cities. And, in 1971 Gregory began a 3 year stint without consuming solid food  During this time, he also ran 900 miles from Chicago to DC to again protest Vietnam.

In 1968 Gregory, every thinking outside the box, ran for President against Nixon and to bring attention to the problems with the two party system. He garnered 47,000 write-in votes. He also narrowly escaped being jailed by the Treasury for printing money with his face on it to promote his campaign. In his book, Write Me In, Gregory writes sarcastically about the absurdity of the Treasury’s threat of arrest, “Everyone knows the black man will never be on a US bill.” Dick Gregory was intent on using all tactics at his disposal to force social justice issues. He was tireless in his pursuit of a peaceful existence.

In a 2001 Interview with Democracy Now! Gregory explained the title to his then latest book, Callus on My Soul, came from the experience of poor black people, who could not afford good shoes and thus developed calluses- “a callus will wear out a shoe before the shoe wears out the foot that was made by God.” Gregory wrote about the strength created by growing up black in the United States. Callus was the second autobiographical book Gregory wrote, after the wildly popular nigger, published in 1964. He has written or contributed to 25 books. His last book, Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies, was published posthumously, September 5, 2017.

After a lifetime of growing up in and fighting the most egregious, bombastic- for its unapologetic openness- conspiracy known; institutionalized American racism, Gregory’s later years were fraught with the specter of conspiracies from every corner. Starting with his first protest in high school, fighting for the replacement of aging black high schools in his district of St. Louis, Richard Claxton Gregory’s life’s work was standing between the people and the governments that held them hostage- in chains or in poverty- he lived in and left this world as a warrior.

 

 

i’m… sort of… maybe… back?

along with workingwohl.com; growing my design and development business, i hope to also revive this perpetually neglected blog. at least you will have a Black History piece to read monthly. i will be reposting the article i write for the JHU Black Faculty and Staff Association monthly newsletter. i hope to add to that op eds and personal musings.

“It’s not you”

There’s a double meaning to this beloved break-up go to that I don’t think is given enough attention.

We all know the generally accepted meaning, especially as it’s almost always accompanied by “I can’t get over this ex,” or “I’m damaged,” or “I’m not in the right place…” The “it’s not you” part is meant to focus on what you have no control over- the other person. You can’t solve this problem. Over. Done. No chance. But, you know, don’t feel badly about it, you can’t do anything about it, so you should be cool, right?

But, it’s also “not you” in another way. It’s not YOU- you’re not the one they’re willing to work for, to try to be with. You’re not the one worth their time and effort to get over their shit. And, let’s be real. We all have shit, baggage, something. “It’s not you” is a lie concealing the truth out in the open: It’s not you – it will be someone else.

Some of you are shaking your heads right now. “No, no, no, It’s TRUE sometimes! It happens. Someone could REALLY like the other person, but it’s bad timing.” But, those of us who know better, who are intimately familiar with “it’s not you-” we know it’s bullshit, trite, and in just a short while, there will be someone else whom “it is.” Could be a week or a month later- how’s that for timing? you were just a week away- but, now it’s someone else. It’s wasn’t you, no, it was them. You see? We’re just not buying this, “it’s not you” line.

Because, if it WAS you- if you were the person they wanted to be with, they considered worth it- you’d be having a completely different conversation, wouldn’t you?

Have the balls, the consideration, to just be real. Say something with actual tones of respect. “Sorry, I just don’t see this long-term,”You’re not the one for me,” “You don’t even watch Breaking Bad.” Whatever, just something less trite and insincere than “it’s not you.”

Taylor Swift, or why women are our own worst enemies

I sat down to write a completely different blog tonight. But when I logged onto WordPress there was a comment waiting for me. Not from one of my amazing loyal readers, but from a troll. Not just any troll, but the woman who stalked me and threatened me after my then boyfriend broke up with me to be with her, whom he was cheating on me with. She stalked and threatened to have me raped after she successfully broke us up. Why?

And why would she, after a year has passed, still be trolling me? Still be reading my blog, following my Instagram and Facebook- and taking the time to write nasty things to me- why?

Which brings us to Taylor Swift, and the completely ridiculous backlash she has received because she has accumulated a posse of some seriously badass women. Women, who like herself, have risen to the top of their game. We should be celebrating this awesome group of friends. Women everywhere should be high-fiving each other, acknowledging what a fucking cool example Swift is, welcoming women into this circle of friends with truly endless potential. Doing what we all can do, what we all should do. Women are the greatest resource of untapped potential in the world. Instead she is met with ridicule and trolls doing what they do best, tearing others down so they don’t feel as diminished as they have made themselves.

I was at a Christmas Eve dinner tonight with one of my best friends. A woman who has been so much to me over the years: a mentor, a boss, a confidant, an older sister, an example, a kindred spirit. And I met yet another of her amazing posse of badass Baltimore women. I left that dinner buoyed by the love of my best friend and her family and friends; men and women who, while they do not agree on all things, respect and acknowledge each others’ worth. The way most Baltimore women behave towards each other is amazing. It is noteworthy. It is a page out of Taylor Swift’s book.

You can’t film a “Housewives of Baltimore” because not one of the women in Baltimore would sell out their friends. For one, we all have too much dirt on each other, but more importantly, we are a breed of woman who believes in climbing together rather than climbing over each other. We know that we reach higher heights when we build each other up instead of wasting time and energy tearing each other down. If you don’t know this about Baltimore women, you’re not one of us. But you can be.

The greatest women in Baltimore are people like Gina Geppi, Sloane Brown, and Jeanine Turner. Women who are never intimidated by other powerful women, but who are encouraged by the power they see in others. They don’t keep the next generation of powerful women out of their circles for fear they will be replaced, they mentor their replacements proudly, ensuring their mark on their city through the next generation of women.

If none of this sounds familiar to you, if you scoff at Taylor Swift and her growing universe of Amazons, if you’re thinking of snarky things to say about this sentence; you’re as hopeless as the woman who, a full year after she broke up my relationship is still so unhappy with herself that she continues to troll me (which just increases my views, of course) and wastes her time and exhausts herself coming up with mean shit to say. Why do that to yourself? Why waste yourself creating misery when you could be so much more, to yourself, to those around you, to the world?

Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be badass Taylor Swift.

Little musings: The slash-professional culture

The first time I heard the term “slash-professional” I was working with my sister on the design of a personal logo and business card. I was debating with a friend on whether I should use a couple different card designs or one, and list the various roles I had. Growing up in a culture where having multiple jobs was looked down upon as proof you were not successful enough in your main occupation to afford the luxury of not needing additional work, copping to my various roles so blatantly seemed perhaps a mistake. Not so, my fiend argued, because the Millennials are making the slash-professional a popular personae.

Given this permission to embrace the slash-professional I didn’t even know I was, I took ownership of this newly-recognized culture and my sister created a logo design illustrating my penchant for multiple creative and productive outlets.  My logo is three commingling shapes of three different colors combining into one shape, with new blended colors. The representation, without initially intending to, seems to embody the slash-professional culture, but also the X Generation.

XGens really created the slash-professional, even while the Millennials make the trend fashionable. The first generation since the depression who will not succeed farther than their parents generation, at least via common modalities, XGens are challenged with chasing a new American Dream. Because A does not lead to B which no longer leads to C- A college education no longer guarantees a successful career path, and the family no longer automatically follows; there is a new American Dream. A dream focused on the individual’s journey to reach the fulfillment of a chosen personal identity. A job is no longer just a job, it is now very much an extension of who you are, how you see yourself, and how others see you. Because a secure career path with one organization is no longer a reality for most people, our values and ideas of a successful work life have changed.

Where once you could be assured a college degree would land you a job with a decent salary and assured growth, XGens (and now Millennials as well) are constantly plagued by the fear of the next layoff, restructuring, or even salary or bonus cut. Promotions, if you can get one without the help of cronyism, do not always come with the salary bumps once assumed. Often, XGens learn they have to leave a company to advance their careers. Hiring managers are fond of blaming young professionals for the lack of company loyalty today, but increasingly, it is the company to blame. The company has a habit now of relying on the moronic excuse of “the economy” to explain why even a cost of living increase is out of the question, let alone significant raises for exemplary performance. “You’re over-qualified” is the popular translation for “We think we can find someone younger who will do the job for less, even if they will not perform as well.” Companies are blatantly capitalizing on maintaining the shrunken salaries of the recession in gross. “We can’t afford to offer more” is bullshit for “Our executives and investors are used to, and happy with increasing their own salaries and bottom lines on the backs of employees.” We are witnessing American Capitalism on steroids, Ayn Rand’s wet dream.

The revolution is the slash-professional. A refusal to struggle against a sucking whirl-pool of corporate bullshit. The slash-professional pools resources from their various ventures to fulfill their needs and wants. A secure job making enough for essentials is combined with passion projects and experimental ventures to create a life worth working for. Passions are exquisitely leveraged into productive forms. Advances in personal business tools create avenues of invention. The options for the slash-professionals are limited only by their drive.

The modern unicorn (or, let’s get narcissistic for a moment)

I often refer to myself as a unicorn. I often refer to certain friends of mine as unicorns. My spirit animal is totally the unicorn. But we are not talking about a My Little Pony version of the unicorn. We are talking about the badass warrior unicorn. A majestic, awesome animal, proud because it stands out.

Unicorns are not easy to come by. They are those people in your life who identify themselves as being different, and are completely comfortable in being apart from everyone else, and when needed, in their loneliness. Being a unicorn is not easy. Our magic comes from knowing ourselves and often being outspoken in being true to our convictions. This is not always popular. We will not demur to societal niceties, we just don’t have time for that. We are interested in moving forward, growth and making change in our worlds.

We have some awesome allies, if not fellow unicorns, in our lives. Our herds are small. We don’t need an audience, though sometimes we sure do appreciate one. We know that if we just reach the right people, we are good. Sometimes our friends just tolerate us. We are not always easy. When you know early on, as unicorns do, that you are different from others, you tend to go about life a little differently. And by “different” that is not to say necessarily better; in fact for a long time you probably feel like a complete freak- which, let’s face it, horn growing out of your forehead, you totally are. But you know you are who you are, and who you are is not like the others. And as a unicorn, you don’t have time to apologize for that. (You would spend your lifetime apologizing for being different if you did.)

So, it is not always easy being a unicorn’s friend. Which is why we are fiercely loyal to our friends. It also takes a long time for a unicorn to know they have found a friend, because so many people will grow tired of us, or envious or decide we are just too weird. We absolutely appreciate those of you who stick it out with us for the long haul. We know we owe you one. A big one.

Each unicorn is spectacular in their own ways. (And they know it.) They might be called arrogant or prideful. But it’s not that, it’s just the refusal to concede modesty gets us anywhere. Don’t be modest about your accomplishments and abilities. If you are modest, no one will know your strength, and it will go to waste. Unicorns want to share what they are with the world. They want to give what they can to make things better. We won’t pretend to be less than we are, because that means we are less effective at reaching our goals.

I’m going to assume some people read this and thought, Wow, she thinks a lot of herself. And others maybe, Hey, I think I’m a unicorn, too, or at least, I want to be one! And perhaps, Damn, I know a unicorn! (That Bob, he’s quite the sleeper unicorn.) Whatever it is you got out of this short musing, I hope there is one thing you will take away with you: Unicorns exist.