You Are the Land

“It is the end of a family – when they begin to sell the land… Out of the land we came and into it we must go – and if you will hold your land you can live … if you sell the land, it is the end.”  - The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
By Aaron Burden, Unsplash

February’s coming to a close. I’m starting to look at the plant containers in the tiny garden on my deck, their soil still covered in snow and ice, and my mind is calculating. As it forms a lists of seeds and a schedule for the staggered planting of romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, collards, kale, and arugula, it also paints a picture of seedlings happily plucked from the shelves at Lowes. 

I can feel the shift. There were times in the past when I was so bogged down, so mentally disoriented that I could not align with and enjoy this change. But now that I’ve dedicated myself to that alignment, the change is delightful, and I flow with it even when I’m not trying. I’ve learned to stop and observe, to meditate in the open air and remember from whence I came.

I’m thawing. I may be groggy from the still long stretches of night, drained by recent storms and all that comes with them, and dazed by the happenings in yet another year of seemingly nonstop work, but my mental hibernation is waning. I’m becoming more social again. My mental freeze – the deep need for silence and the strong desire to be alone, to rest – is giving way to planning, and I am hopeful again of the prospect of living a sane life at a sane pace on my terms. I’m getting closer.

“Take what you need, and leave our land the way you found it.” - African Proverb

Putting feet to ground and hands to soil is a critical habit for me in maintaining that kind of life – a life of freedom. I shudder to think that many of my Black peers will not enter cruise ships because our ancestors were carried into a legacy of bondage and torture on ships;  will not even consider living abroad because they feel shackled to this land where rivers of the blood of our direct ancestors flow; will not think of bending under the blazing sun to tend a row of plants because our forebears had no choice but to do so. 

Their minds are still in chains. They don’t realize that our ancestors endured so that we could have the liberty to move throughout the world at our leisure, as we see fit, enjoying the sights and sounds, meeting the people, dancing a dance with air, sea and land that keeps us nourished, joy-strong, and free. 

“If two brothers fight over their father's land, it is a stranger who will enjoy their sweat and labour.” - African Proverb

They don’t value the land. Maybe they don’t know what it’s worth. They don’t understand that the deep dark soil – like the darkness of our skin, like the darkness of the seemingly endless universe – is Infinite Potential itself. It is a womb of vitamins, minerals and possibilities.

Land is the vault, the original storehouse. It brings life itself into being and offers us a final embrace in death. It forms and stores our diamonds, gold, gems, precious metals, food, and secrets. The land doesn’t just hold our treasure, it is our treasure. It is truly “where the money resides”.

When lack of knowledge, poor planning, lack of unity, lack of initiative, and small thinking all result in the dilapidation of our homes and neighborhoods, and someone else swoops in to “improve” what we refused to maintain, we call it a crying shame. I say shame on us, because we don’t know the value of that blood-bought land, and we of all people should know it by now. 

In the Information Age, gentrification and heirs property issues are old news. We should be our own gentrifiers. Like the late Francis Cress Welsing said, there’s a reason they call it RACE. It is a game that we should be fully aware of by now.

We should understand the land, and we should never forget that we are the land.

Happy Black History Month.

“Take your spear and shield and I will take my hatchets and axe and protect our land from the intruder…” - Excerpt from an Eritrean proverb

For a deeper look at the issues around land ownership and the ways in which some are working to preserve land and profit from land investment, check out this (not at all comprehensive) list of resources:

I. LEGAL EDUCATION AND SERVICES FOR LAND PRESERVATION

A. Center for Heirs Property Preservation

“We help families protect and keep their family land…build generational wealth and…grow “working” landscapes….  We offer legal education and direct legal services to help families reach agreement, clear title to family land and probate estates… We offer forestry education and services to help landowners understand the value of managing their forestland for greater income.”

http://www.heirsproperty.org

B. What is heirs property, and why is it a problem?

C. The Benefits of Land Trusts

“A land trust is a legal entity that takes ownership of, or authority over, a piece of property at the behest of the property owner. Like other types of trust, each land trust’s terms are unique… Title-holding land trusts, also known as Illinois land trusts, protect landowner anonymity and keep property out of probate. Conservation land trusts are tasked with the management of undeveloped land to maintain natural resources, historical sites, and public recreational areas for future generations.”

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/land-trust.asp

Community land trusts are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of land. Community land trusts can be used for many types of development (including commercial and retail), but are primarily used to ensure long-term housing affordability. To do so, the trust acquires land and maintains ownership of it permanently. With prospective homeowners, it enters into a long-term, renewable lease instead of a traditional sale. When the homeowner sells, the family earns only a portion of the increased property value. The remainder is kept by the trust, preserving the affordability for future low- to moderate-income families.

https://community-wealth.org/strategies/panel/clts/index.html

II. FARMING AND FOOD SOVEREIGNTY

A. Ancestral Case Study: FANNIE LOU HAMER founds Freedom Farm Cooperative

“In 1969, Mrs. Hamer founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative with a $10,000 donation from Measure for Measure, a charitable organization based in Wisconsin. The former sharecropper purchased 40 acres of prime Delta land. It was her attempt to empower poor Black farmers and sharecroppers, who, for generations, had been at the mercy of the local white landowners...

However, the Freedom Farm was unable to sustain itself. It never received the institutional backing that was necessary to make it a viable organization. And it was not a commercial venture, thus without continuing resources at the federal level, it made it almost impossible to survive.

"If you give a hungry man food, he will eat it. [But] if you give him land, he will grow his own food.” - Fannie Lou Hamer

B. Soul Fire Farm, Founded, Co-Directed and Managed by Leah Penniman

“Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system. We raise and distribute life-giving food as a means to end food apartheid. With deep reverence for the land and wisdom of our ancestors, we work to reclaim our collective right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system.”

http://www.soulfirefarm.org

“UJIMA: Food Sovereignty, Fannie Lou Hamer, & How to make Kraut!”

C. Freight Farms

“…at Freight Farms, we believe that healthy food is a right, not a luxury. For this reason, we are dedicated to making fresh food accessible to anyone, anywhere, any time with a complete platform of products and services.”

https://www.freightfarms.com/company

III. SUSTAINABILITY, GLOBAL URBAN AND LAND PLANNING

A. United Nations Global Land Outlook

“The premise of the Global Land Outlook (GLO) is that land, and its associated resources such as soil, water, and biodiversity, comprise a relatively fixed stock of natural capital… The GLO publications focus on a positive narrative and provide a clear set of responses to optimize land use, management, and planning, and thereby create synergies among different sectors in the provision of land-based goods and services.”

https://knowledge.unccd.int/glo/global-land-outlook-glo

B. Urban Green-Blue Grids for sustainable and resilient cities

“The quality of our future, the quality of urban life and the functioning of the city thus depends on the quality with which we shape our cities, restructuring and transforming toward a sustainable city… Green-blue urban planning can offer more room for the development of biodiversity and a healthier, more attractive living environment.”

IV. LAND AS AN INVESTMENT AND A HERITAGE

When it comes to investing, y’all can miss me with the get rich quick schemes, investing “secrets”, and big ticket classes run by fast-talking bro coaches. It may not sound sexy, but for the levelheaded investor who’s interested in stability and long-term growth, land is an option that shouldn’t be overlooked. 

“10 Reasons Why LAND is the BEST Future Proof Investment”

“How Property Law is Used to Appropriate Black Land” (and how to flip the script)

V. MEDIA BONUS

They share some very compelling stories about gentrification in Philadelphia on WURD radio, but there’s also much more.

WURD Radio

“WURD is the only African-American owned and operated talk radio station in Pennsylvania, and one of few in the country. WURD serves as the heartbeat and pulse of Philadelphia’s African-American community by providing information and solutions that educate, uplift and inspire.”

https://wurdradio.com/ Click play to listen live.


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As always, any link that I share is for your learning pleasure. It is not an endorsement of any particular source or organization and does not mean that I agree with every idea that they espouse. Explore. Study to show thyself approved, and find the answers that are right for you.

Should we finally ban the N-word?

Image courtesy of Steemit.com

How simultaneously harrowing and splendid it is to live in a world so full of possibilities, so overrun with apparent contradictions and complexity! Always a hurdle to cross, a new, heavier mental weight to bear. Then just when you reach the cliff of your wits, a Royal Super Negro in a Vibranium microweave suit swoops down and carries you over the chasm… and to the next valley.

It keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it? Yet, despite any of the clouds that may sometimes hover over the parade for our Blackness, we have many things to enjoy, reasons to celebrate, and so much to look forward to. #WakandaForever!

Image courtesy of polygon.com

 

 

Now, to more pressing matters…

Words are my stock and trade. And since it’s Black History Month, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t take some time to examine one word that has been analyzed and scrutinized within and outside of the Black community ad nauseam. The hot, ongoing debate around this word remains relevant for a number of reasons, especially because it evokes such visceral reactions within so many who hear it. That word is, of course, “nigga”.

As a writer, I am a firm believer that words hold the power of life and death, that each one has its purpose (or myriad purposes), especially the purpose to teach. I am uncomfortable with the idea of attempting to prevent anyone from using any word. Of course, many would agree that there are circumstances under which certain words are inappropriate—professional settings, in houses of worship, in the presence of elders or highly respected persons who would be offended, etc. However, proposing a wholesale moratorium on any word, in my not-so-humble opinion, is unnecessary and possibly even a waste of precious time. So, for the purpose of this article (for the purpose of my own personal expression on and off the page), and to avoid patronizing the very audience with which I’d like to engage, I will not be referring to it as the “N-word”.

I was compelled to do some soul-searching regarding the use of ”nigga” after watching a Ta-Nehisi Coates interview over the holidays. A white audience member asked Coates for his insight, because she did not believe in saying it, but wasn’t sure how to help her white friends understand that they also “should not” say it.

At the heart of Coates’s response was this: It’s about context and relationship. As an outsider of a community, with no meaningful relationship with that community, there is no way for an individual to understand the nuances of words used in an ironic fashion. They’d get the context wrong every time and expose themselves as ignorant and insensitive at best.

He gave the example of his wife and her best friend playfully referring to each other as “bitch”, along with an explanation of why it would be wholly inappropriate for him to join in their jesting. He also talked about a white friend of his who regularly jokes about escaping to his “white trash cabin” for vacation, and that he wouldn’t think to follow suit with something like, “I’m coming to your white trash cabin.” He mentioned the fact that some people in the gay community have used the term “fag” with each other for years, but that it is not something he would take the liberty to do with them. These are all circumstances in which he’d have neither the community relationship nor the contextual understanding to use these words in the way these people did.

He broke it down even further by explaining why he thinks so many whites take issue with being told that they cannot say “nigga”, regardless of the fact that some black folks throw it around with abandon. Whites invented the word, he explained, and what’s more? Whites navigate a world where they are told from birth that they own the world, that they can do what they want when they want. To be told that they can’t use a word that they invented, in a world that belongs to them, may very well feel like the ultimate affront to some whites. The question Coates was ultimately led to ask was, why would individuals who have no significant relationship with a community insist on having access to terms that they do not fully appreciate the context of?

This was a very intriguing explanation to me and one that I had never seen anyone articulate in quite this way. (You can view a portion of the talk here if you like.)

Now, I believe in letting people say whatever they want so we can see who they really are. And yet, while I don’t agree that anyone should use valuable time explaining to whites why their use of “nigga” will be seen as a threat by many, I think Coates’s commentary made a lot of sense. So, I decided to dig deeper and see what some other celebrated black thinkers have to say about it.

I started with a cursory search for related videos and came up with some material from Reverend James David Manning. Now, if you know anything about him, you understand that he’s hardly a celebrated black thinker in the sense that I mean it. But even a broke clock is right twice a day. When he defended his prodigious use of “nigga” for the following reason, I couldn’t deny the resonance of his comments:

“Why rob society of one of the best descriptions of behavior I’ve ever seen?… We need not kill the word, we need to kill the spirit.”

In a talk with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West,

Michael Eric Dyson had this to say about his own use of “nigga”:

“Nigga is a global phenomenon. That’s why I use the word with promiscuity.”

Explaining that it can be used to illustrate the ways in which the oppression of people all over the world is similar, he says he prefers to “Put it on front street… I know you’re calling me “nigga”. I won’t allow you to have the ultimate terminological privilege of naming me and fixing me with your narrow category…”

Killer Mike once described how he came to a deeper understanding of the history of the word “nigger”.  “The root word simply means ‘black’…negro, nigro, negre”, He commented. So, for him, the word is not the problem. The problem is that those who use it as a derogatory term hate all that is black. They’ve made black loathsome and therefore turned the word into something loathsome. (You can view his explanation here.)

Cornel West had this to say:

“If someone actually loves the people—Martin King, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, Fannie Lou Hamer—if they wanna use the n-word for me that’s fine, ‘cause I know they love me. The problem is that there’s not enough people who use the word who love the very people who have been terrorized, traumatized, and stigmatized by the powers that be. I think we have to be very, very careful and cautious in terms of whether the love is at the center of that word.” ( “The N Word” on The Stream, Aljazerra 2013)

West has advocated for a moratorium on the word. He’s concerned about an internalization of self-hatred which he believes will result when a person is not learned enough to understand the nuances of the word. However, is it true that using “nigga” disconnects people—particularly young black people—from their history? I’m more convinced that usage can possibly reveal that disconnection if a person already lacks understanding of history and context. In that case, you could take away the word and still have an individual who is aimlessly navigating the world with low self-esteem, little self-awareness and a grossly insufficient understanding of the world and life itself.

Image Courtesy of mymindfulmoment.com

Really, I can understand the sentiments of those who think the word “nigga” should go the way of chitlins and greens seasoned with fatback. Much like the artery-clogging variety of soul food that some still choose to partake in without restraint, the modern-day use of “nigga” is very much a choice, the responsibility for which lies squarely at our feet.

Still, unlike hog maws, “nigga” is a living, non-concrete thing. It has that transcendental quality that all words have, and it cannot be linked to our symptoms in a neat and tidy diagnosis like fried chicken and butter beans to diabetes.

We and our words have the ability to be many different things, to hold many different meanings and perspectives, without true contradiction. Actually (in looking ahead to Women’s History Month) I’m reminded of a famous song by Meredith Brooks where she declares, “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint—I do not feel ashamed.” This couldn’t be a better illustration of the complexity of life, humanity, and words.

She goes on to say, “Just when you think you got me figured out, the season’s already changin’ “. And change is, I think, what makes so many uncomfortable. Intricacy in ideas, in character, in words and communication, is something that many people simply wish to avoid navigating.

Yet words are not static. They are living things in and of themselves which change and expand and conform with time.

Many of us cannot accept that the word “nigga” holds valid meaning today, because the hateful acts around its root word, “nigger”, have simply been too heinous to accept. The idea that such a word can be reclaimed seems nonsensical to some, since it is still used as a weapon in the society at large. However, the fact that one person crafted and subsequently used a hammer as a weapon does not mean that I cannot use it as a tool or an instrument to simply make a noise that is pleasant to my own ears. Whether others understand my use of it is neither here nor there. It’s helping me build the kind of house, the kind of music, that I choose to enjoy.

I’m sure this debate will rage on for at least as long as the poison of white supremacy infects us. Still, no appearance of propriety conveyed in our speech, no moratorium on a word will stop emphatic bigots from seeing us as subhuman. And I’m pretty sure that the kinds of people who would use “nigga”, or “bitch”, or “fag”, or “cunt”, or any other word as a weapon wouldn’t care less about respecting the abstract notion of a word ban.

In the beautifully succinct words of a commenter from The Stream show noted above,

“People will speak. THAT must be accepted. Relinquish.”