these are what prayers look like


what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like:
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered


♦ ♦ ♦

Warsan Shire’s “what they did yesterday afternoon” was first published as a part of ‘Riot Pieces,’ a collaborative project by writers and other artists in response to the devastating and deadly social unrest that occurred in England from August 6 to 8, 2011.

Did you know that August 2011 was a time of devastating and deadly social unrest in England?

Because I didn’t.

Or if I once did, I have since forgotten.

November 12, 2015: Terrorists attack in Beirut. Many are killed, many are wounded, and countless more are devastated. A nation is in mourning.

November 13, 2015: Terrorists attack in Paris. Many are killed, many are wounded, and countless more are devastated. A nation is in mourning.

November 14, 2015: I read the last two stanza’s of Warsan Shire’s poem “what they did yesterday afternoon” circulating on social media. I don’t know what poem they are from or why they were written, yet still they bring me comfort.

It is good to find words that can speak for us, when we are in mourning.  Continue reading “these are what prayers look like”

Dear Fellow White People: Please start seeing color.

First, let’s all take a moment to appreciate the genius that was Viola Davis Sunday night, accepting her Emmy as the the first black woman to win an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, for her work in How to Get Away with Murder.

Davis’ speech, brief as it was, brims with power — from the imagery taken from Harriet Tubman to the naming of her black actress peers. Yet, as Caroline Framke points out,

“the lines that stand out are her indictments of systemic disenfranchisement: ‘The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.'”


Now, some of you may wish to stop reading right here. Watch Ms. Davis a few more times, maybe head over to Feministing to relish some of the evening’s other #blackgirlmagic moments.


The week’s barely half-over, after all. I want y’all to be good to yourselves.

And I’m about to venture into the muck of the Twitterverse on on awards night when a person of color gets recognized — and, well…that stuff can get rather not-so-pretty.

You're SURE I can't scare you off?
You’re SURE I can’t scare you off?

The brouhaha wreckage I stumbled upon while scrolling through Twitter on my phone early Monday morning (while lying in bed, cuz what’m I gonna do? get up before the alarm goes off? MADNESS) stemmed from an actress tweeting comments about Davis’ speech that — in addition to being dismissive, ignorant, and rude — were, in the grand scheme of White Entitlement, unfortunately nothing new. I mean, “middle-aged white woman and self-declared ‘I don’t see color’-type says something racially offensive, then reacts with defensive meltdown when called on it” is not generally Stop the presses!-level news.

[And if it were? I suspect my buddy Gutenburg would still be waiting around for his invention to catch on. Have you tried a Kickstarter yet, Johannes? I bet some of those movable types would make for a popular reward!] 
Continue reading “Dear Fellow White People: Please start seeing color.”

Students Die-In at the School District of Philadelphia

diein_school districtOn Thursday, I attended a protest organized by Philadelphia Student Union, Boat People SOS, and Asian Americans United.

When I arrived at the school district’s central office at 4:30, a small group of young people and adults already stood gathered on the steps under a large banner, “IT’S OUR DUTY TO FIGHT FOR FREEDOM.” Other people trickled in, and slowly a crowd built. Periodically an organizer would ask the new arrivals to come up onto the steps and plaza, making clear alignments between the youth and their supporters massing on the steps, and the press and police still lining the Broad Street curb.

A young woman standing near me carried multiple hand-lettered placards. As the late-afternoon wind gusted, several other students approached to help her hold the signs:

Black Lives Matter
Fund Schools, Not Prisons

I was strongly reminded of how all activism, like all politics, is local.
Continue reading “Students Die-In at the School District of Philadelphia”

But All of the Survivors Are Brave [UPDATED]

[UPDATE, 12/6/14: I have added links with updates to the Marissa Alexander and Janay Rice stories at the end of the post.]

[TW for discussion and stock photos of domestic violence]

Lemme start with the obvious: one of the more persistent — and corrosive — tropes in the American imaginary positions white men as neutral Human, the default, the ideal from which the rest of us depart in our own varied, marked ways. The more one deviates from this Default Human — the more “deviant” one is — the less one gets recognized, or has their needs and issues attended to. Black feminist authors Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith pointed to this problem in the title of their 1982 book: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men but Some of Us are Brave.

I work very hard to keep this awareness at the forefront of my thinking: that the sexism and misogyny that I experience — and thus rail about most loudly — function not simply as an attack upon my gender but upon my raced gender. As a white woman (who also generally passes as straight), I am keenly aware of being at the top of the heap, when it comes to most sexual and gender-based violence.

To be clear, I’m not claiming #SurvivorPrivilege as some great shakes, or saying “if I had to be abused by my husband, at least I got to be beaten-while-white!” More like:

Continue reading “But All of the Survivors Are Brave [UPDATED]”

The Action of Apathy and “The Whiteness Project”

Saturday, panelists on the Melissa Harris Perry Show discussed race in the context of the “Ferguson October” demonstrations that began this weekend, including a recent article detailing the shock many white residents in Ferguson felt at the racial fault lines exposed in this summer’s events. Cora Daniels, author of Impolite Conversations: On Race, Politics, Sex, Money, and Religion, made this point about such “surprise”:

It’s different to just say you’re surprised, which is a passive act, [than] to move to the action of apathy. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in that [Washington Post] story. It’s not just that people are surprised, that they’re like: “Well, I don’t get it.” That’s a very deliberate action, that you’re not valuing the experience or trusting–you’re surprised you don’t see it. But we’re telling you this is what’s happening.

“The action of apathy.”

Apathy as an active and on-going choice to not-see, to not-listen.

*     *    *     *     *

This idea was still dancing around my head this morning, when I began to see mentions in my social media sites about the new PBS series “The Whiteness Project: Inside the White/Caucasasian Box.”

image via
image via

Continue reading “The Action of Apathy and “The Whiteness Project””