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I Put a Spell on You

By Kathy Y. Wilson · January 26th, 2005 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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I.
You are getting sleepy.

Ding-dong, the bitch is dead.

I've lived a decade as a columnist. This is tour No. 201 and the final YNTG.

Roll call. To the white man whose anonymous voicemail message I deleted the second he called me "the dumbest black bitch (I've) ever read or heard;" to the black folks who said I was a puppet of my white boss; and to Dwight Patton, Ike Turner's double whose plan backfired when he outed me on WCIN -- I'm chucking all y'all the deuce.

Please, peace. Be still. No hatred formed against me shall prosper, but I shall proceed and continue.

"Can't worry 'bout what another nigga think," says OutKast. "That's liberation, and baby I want it."

I'm willingly killing this column because I'm free to, because as much as it's elevated me it's burdened me.

Unlike my counterparts, I don't thrive on the strife my identity wreaks on others. Columnists are difficulty blessed.

Knowing when to kill the beast who made us is key. Halting the relentless brevity of such a power tool as this was a decision I made long ago; I was waiting for my courage to get in lockstep with my drive.

Columns are coveted newsroom perches. We're thrust to the front of the paper from the ghettoes of regular bylines. Each of my two columns -- the first in my hometown daily and now this -- was a gift from editors who rightly recognized in me a strong, abrasive and bullshitless voice.

Once the new-column smell wears off, discipline must be mastered. The discipline of seeing, hearing and writing in column time, of replenishing fearlessness and honesty and of diverging from the if-you-say-so-ness of American journalism.

It took some time for me to trust that it's OK not to be a crusading columnist. I'm more a beach-combing columnist, sifting through human behavior to reveal the treasured nuances. At the Hamilton Journal-News, I started strong and faltered terribly midway through a five-year run, writing columns far longer than I should have.

Here, I sputtered early, kept at it, hit a nut -- and now I'm finishing at the top of my game.

What self-respecting writer wants to die on the life support of recycled ideas, stolen language and lazy sentences, numb from the neck up to that original thrill of checking the oversized baggage of a complex thought into the carry-on of a flawless, head-spinning sentence?* Not I.

(* "In its weaker moments, her prose crowds together too many metaphors and head-spinning sentences. But her writing works best when it's crackling and clipped, cutting out any verbal window-dressing to trumpet her convictions loud and clear." -- From a Publisher's Weekly review of Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths In Black & White)

II.
I've reclined too long as an 800-word word-counter. It's time to stretch again as a writer and flip the switch on my gift's panoramic viewfinder.

Readers flock to columns when they're not sure how to feel or when they hunger to be enraged by or ensnared in the web of the 24-hour life cycle of timely topics like war or elections. These fade once the media serves the next day's entree.

Columnists fall column first into the rut of propagating buzzwords and day-old revelations without ever once telling the truth on our own biases.

In this way we've gotten away with intellectual murder.

Expectations of columnists are skewed. We're fair-haired babies with the seniority to sidestep the grind of assignments inundating unheralded writers charged with the seemingly mundane information readers take for granted.

It breeds professional jealousy in the ranks. You-know-who-you-are is nodding knowingly right now.

Columnists are reviled and debated in the third person. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that I'd been discussed on talk radio, I'd pay my rent on time.

But if this column's left me a gift that keeps giving, it's the freedom and authenticity to do whatever I feel. I am a gut trustee. It's telling me that this space will soon morph into a wailing wall if I don't blast it down.

Cincinnati continues regressing toward the little earthquakes that erupted into riots and lawsuits. The hits keep coming: answering anemic public safety with the gluttony of more cops rather than better training; smothering the Owensby family in the muck of legal delay after legal stall rather than settle the egregious death of Roger Owensby Jr.; firehouse brown-outs; sculpting urban neighborhoods for Yuppies by displacing the poor into encampments of poverty where crime festers; shoddy public service; and little city administrative accountability.

I've sprayed myself in Evil-Off. The malaise or apathy cannot scorch me again.

III.
I don't expect empathy for what it's like to be colored me, an American woman artist. Don't mean I can't tell it.

My self-questioning is in what poet Pamela Sneed wrote: Imagine being more afraid of freedom than slavery. My reply is in Jill Scott's refrain: I am not afraid. I am not afraid.

And it's this mental slavery of compartmentalizing, categorizing, red-and-blue-stating, this isyouisorisyouainting that's worked my last good nerve.

You've confused and dismissed me. Men (white and otherwise) aren't painted with coats of small-mindedness like women (black and otherwise) are. But I am not buried in self-pity.

You should simply know that, besides the good fight of the good columnist, I've fought the extra, tired battles black women always fight whether we want to or not. Playing dumb and acting like the battles aren't raging means we've taken emotional payola to play Top 40 when we ache to hear Nina Simone.

That's called an identity crisis. It slaughters women like Hutus in a Tutsi village.

Through the ages of literature, art, politics and religion, women and women of color are judged harshly, labeled Sapphires, mammies and bitches for daring to control our whole images and voices.

Langston Hughes publicly and gleefully demeaned Zora Neale Hurston for being a darkie repping/rapping to Godmother, the same white patron he took money from for his own tales of darkness. Black Chicago Tribune columnist Leanita McClain killed herself at 32, crushed to death by depression and beleaguered by self doubt when critics -- black and white -- attacked her identity after they couldn't penetrate her intelligence or stature.

Internalized self-destruction as escapism from external destruction is a despicable non-option. Yet suicide (real or corporate) or self-medication (real or retail addiction) are the Negro's modern-day getaway weekend.

But not for me.

I'm escaping this 800-word prison/prism while day is nigh and the water's low. I've not been dismissed or lured away. I am not angry, confused or ill. I will still write weekly in CityBeat, just in various sections so as to spread the wealth.

I'm a writer with as much responsibility to pursue authenticity and skill as a preacher, doctor or painter. I knew this column was a hindrance to that when the frequency increased of folks convulsing thinly veiled "How dare you's?" for fill in the blank.

People unaccustomed to the truth get uncomfortable when others tell it.

I return to you now the mantle of spokeswoman (not), local celebrity (whatever) and black bitch (yep). I've never been one of those local blacks addicted to the false power of temporary notoriety running rampant in Cincinnati.

I now understand why it does.

IV.
You won't remember any of this when you wake up. It was all a test pattern, a dream that never really happened but that sounded a warning.

If you recall reading here the column that compelled Vice Mayor Alicia Reece to threaten my boss with unleashing black firefighters on me for exposing the spiral of her political weave, then forget it. It didn't happen.

If you remember reading here first that Gregory Beauchamp's murder was a fag-hating hate crime while the cops were slow to pursue it as such, then get over it. You musta been high.

If this was where you headed to read me call George Bush amoral, Mike Allen a ho' or Stephen Roach and Robert Jorg rogue cops, then shake it off. Throw some water on your face.

I never once lamented the genocide among young black men, chastised white T-shirted drug dealers and the apathetic look-the-other-way blacks defending them or wagged a finger at homophobic black churches and pussy-crazed black entertainers.

I've never in my life written an open letter to Angela Leisure or called out Asian nail shop owners for gluing and brushing on cultural stereotypes.

The death of this print minstrelsy was guaranteed, preordained from the very moment of Immaculate Conception between Mammy and Uncle Ben.

Some one-minute advice: We're not absolutes.

White supremacists don't only burn crosses or wear white sheets from Wal-Mart. They trade on Wall Street, own professional sports teams, sign our paychecks, live next door and teach our children. Their counterparts are divisive, fear-filled blacks plagued by self-hatred who possess insufficient self-knowledge.

White supremacy, like niggas who forget they're black, is an abscess and not an asset. Neither can halt progress, nor can they be stopped. Both must be fucked with 'til they bleed and grow scabrous enough to trample.

This was a hypnotized experiment to see how close we'd get. It sometimes felt like a game.

I just wanted to see if y'all could come out and play, but you need to finish your chores.

I return you now to your captors. Don't dream. It's over.



Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered
 
 
 
 

 

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