7.09.2011

Showing, Telling and Utilizing Oral Traditions

WARNING - This post is heavy on images and text!

For those still interested, I'm sorry to have kept you hanging with the Show, Will Tell Later post. Before I elaborate some background information is needed about the origin of this discussion. Much of this will be disjointed, so please bear with me.

A few years ago, I tried to be a member of several Blasian communities with varying degrees of success. As expected, race played a huge role in almost all the discussions and whenever the issue of my particular "race" (hell, I'm human) came up, I was always met with this one phrase that made me want to scream -- "It's easy for you to get an Asian man because you're part Native American."

Okay, let's be realistic here. There's no way in this world anyone who is both Black African AND Native American will ever be considered a great catch. Native American people are ignored and marginalized. Not only are they/we not in the consciousness of Euro-Americans, they/we also aren't in the consciousness of African-Americans either. In short, my particular DNA doesn't give me any advantage. Or does it?


One day someone I liked very much made the same statement in an email and it really hurt my feelings. While I understood that she was deeply distressed because she was not able to find an Asian man of her own, her comment was insensitive because she, too, was implying that "race" and not my personality or my intelligence drew men (in this case, Asian ones) to me.

Okay, so my solidly Black girl ass must have play a factor, but we need not go there. I've never met a single person, regardless of ethnicity, who have ever noticed my "vanished native" heritage. Anyway, this attitude bothered me so much, I steered clear of all Blasian groups until I met the women who would eventually became narrators here at BN.

After I came to Asia, I made lots of friends in whatever country I happened to be in at the time. Low and behold, things got weird here, too. Asians (those who grew up in the West and other places) claimed I was only making friends because I was a Westerner. WTF?! Right?! As if some Asian person would think they'd be elevated in the company of a clearly BLACK woman.

For years, I dismissed these sentiments and it's only been in recent days that I've started to wonder exactly WHY I've been successful. Obviously, my mind is as free as it is flexible, but perhaps that isn't sufficient. Then one day after watching a movie countdown show, it hit me out of the blue because I saw something I'd never seen on Japanese television (Showbiz Countdown). I saw two movies written for (some) Black people by Black people in the top ten.

The first was Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy, Family, which had been in the countdown for five weeks and had made roughly $50 million.


The second one was Jumping the Broom, which had earned $30 million over three weeks.


By the fourth week it had earned $34 million before it slipped out of the top ten.


Not surprisingly, when these movies first appeared in the countdown, they barely merited a mention. It was sort of "And at number six is blah blah blah" and nothing more, but by the third week both movies received the same attention as the typical Euro-American fare, complete with subtitles. Sadly, neither movie will be released in Japan, but there is interest and perhaps someone other than Will Smith and Denzel Washington will finally break into this market.

By now you must be wondering if there is a relationship between this and the earlier post. Yes, because I've figured out my natural advantage (ass aside).

What Asian people and by extension Asian men want from me are MY STORIES!!!

Let's face it. Even if Blacks and Asians are on the same sinking ship, a majority of Asians don't believe we have a natural affinity because they either know nothing about us or they've bought into this notion that we have no culture, not traditions, no history (i.e. we're worthless). In the same vein, some erroneously believe we've made no contribution to this world.

As such, they don't believe we have STORIES!!! We either whine or get angry. On the side, we win sports events. Rather than empathize with our situation, many choose to distance themselves from us.

When people meet me, they don't get any of this because I understand that they can't relate to our specific experiences. In place of lectures and sermons, I present them with our stories, whether they stem from my personal collection or from those I've purchased. The Japanese, from what I can tell after 16 years, are crazy about what they term "human stories." Everyone I've met is very interested in those universal traits we share as human beings.

In many cases, it's counterproductive to try to win people over either by proving to be an Asianophile (not this girl) or by trying to overtly promote a Black agenda. Since I'm Black and proud 24/7/52/365/ whether I'm in the comfort of my own home or surrounded by Euro-Americans, which is the case with my work, I'm always COVERTLY promoting my Black agenda. I live in the comfort and the security of Blackness and people LIKE me for this.

And it goes a little something like this - I inundate them with POSITIVE images and uplifting stories about us. I don't bother bitching about Euro-Americans. They aren't in my consciousness. There's no point focusing on them. It's easy because I don't watch their movies or their dramas. I am too busy supporting the works of my own people. I don't socialize with them at work either.

The books listed below are only the tip of the iceberg. I only chose these because they have illustrations and most are short and easily to understand (i.e. easy to translate). 100% of the time this approach has led to fascinating discussions/conversations between me and a variety of Asian people, both from the East and the West. Perhaps it is here that I have an advantage. I stem from TWO ethnic groups of people who have traditionally transmitted stories orally. Admittedly, I suck at writing, but I can weave the hell out of a story orally. This ability is written in my DNA!!!

Thanks to these experiences, I've learned that I can't change an entire society's perception of Africans or Blacks of African descent, but I can reach individual people. It doesn't take long at all to prove that I'm not a Hollywhite caricature. Everyone walks away from me knowing that Hateya is not only a strong Black woman, but she's also a member of a strong Black heritage that has a culture, traditions and stories.

In conclusion, we need MORE of this: We must SHOW, not just tell our stories. In this way, it will be clear that we know who we are, where we came from and where we're going. We're not merely the sum of our ancestral pain or victims of colonialists, slavers and racists.


If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Anna Rich
If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Larry Johnson
If You Lived When There was Slavery in America by Anna Kamma, illustrated by Pamela Johnson
Keelboat Annie: An African American Tale retold by Janet P. Johnson, illustrated by Charles Reasoner


Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford
Cassie's Word Quilt by Faith Ringgold
White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman, illustrated by Tyrone Geter


Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
Why the Sky is Far Away: A Nigerian Folktale retold by Mary-Joan Gerson, illustrated by Carla Golembe
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams


Something Beautiful by Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet
Who's in Rabbit's House? by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillion
Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings, illustrated by Tom Feelings
The Chocolate Tree written and illustrated by Deborah Sandlain-Buchanan


If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold
The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia C. McKissack
The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Giselle Potter


Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
My Dream of Martin Luther King by Faith Ringgold
Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud, illustrated by Erin Susanne Bennett


Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales told by Virgina Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane DillonItalicThe People Could Fly: American Black Folktales told by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillion


Aya by Marguerite Aboulet, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie
Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Aboulet, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie
Aya the Secrets Come Out by Marguerite Aboulet, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie
(This series is set in the Ivory Coast in the late 70s and early 80s)


Martin Luther King by Troll Associates
Cornerstone of Freedom: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by R. Conrad Stein
Rosa Parks: The Movement Organizes by Kai Friese
Classic African Children's Stories: A Collection of Ancient Tales edited and compiled by Phillis A. Savory




















Black Comix: African American Independent Art and Culture by Damian Duffy and John Jennings -- (This Book Rules the World, ya'll)
Marwe, Into the Land of the Dead: An East African Legend compiled and retold by Marie P. Croall, pencils by Ray Lago, inks by Craig Hamilton and Ray Snyder

16 comments:

  1. If not one else beats me to the punch, I have every intention of translating all of these stories and more into Japanese and other languages (with the help of friends). The internet also gives us the power to define ourselves on a global scale.

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  2. And another great post Hateya!!! I bought Black Comix about a few months ago and the art work is just, Wow. This is one of reasons I've aspired to do my own mangas and to "tell our own stories" as you say. Thank you for keeping my hopes up. ^_^

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  3. @Kyo,

    You absolutely rock! It warms my heart to know you're out there spinning your tales and preparing to show the world a part of who we are and what we're made of. When you feel comfortable, please share something with us. Gambarou (頑張ろう)!

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    1. I know I'm late to this, but this post is amazing and the books are gorgeous! I remember reading some of these as a little girl growing up in Harlem!

      "Since I'm Black and proud 24/7/52/365/ whether I'm in the comfort of my own home or surrounded by Euro-Americans, which is the case with my work, I'm always COVERTLY promoting my Black agenda. I live in the comfort and the security of Blackness and people LIKE me for this."

      I really LOVE this quote! lmao! I'm the same way and I've caught flack for it. I have a four year old daughter and she would love some of these. Again Hateya thank you. I know your on internet "leave" so I'm going through the archives catching up on your articles here at the narrative <3

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    2. @Nicole,

      I'm back! There are so many wonderful books out there Nicole. With your daughter only being four, she's at the right age to learn that not everything related to her is bad. With you as her mom, I'm sure she already knows that, but it never hurts to give more and more positive reinforcement.

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  4. If not one else beats me to the punch, I have every intention of translating all of these stories and more into Japanese and other languages (with the help of friends).

    Absotively!!! Talk about editing out whiteness! That would be an excellent endeavor.

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  5. *happy dances, because no words are necessary*

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  6. @ Hateya,

    Ganbatteimasu, Arigatou Gozaimasu (ありがとうございます。) I will be putting them up soon for show. ^_^

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  7. Wonderful Hateya! Great post from you and very inspirational. "Daughters of the Dust" is a film that everyone should see. I saw it when it came out in '91. Since we are showing our stories, the Gullah people of South Carolina have an amazing history.

    Daughters of The Dust

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  8. "In conclusion we need MORE of this:We must SHOW,not just tell our stories"

    Agreed! I love the idea that you're going to the Japanese people illustrating, educating and telling them about true Black/African American culture. They shouldn't have to settle for less and we shouldn't have to do the same. For decades..centuries the world has been duped into believing the worst about us. It's about time somebody tell them about us..the right way and I commend you for that.

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  9. I love children's books. I haven't of heard some of these and I plan on checking them out now. :)

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  10. Hateya, thanks for this! Excellent!

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  11. @Ankhesen
    Absotively!!! Talk about editing out whiteness! That would be an excellent endeavor.

    It will probably go over better if I gather a group of Japanese teens together to translate the the first drafts. That way I can teach and guide them directly.

    @Kyo
    I will be putting them up soon for show. ^_^

    I can't wait! I also hope we can collaborate on something in the coming years.

    @Lenoxave
    Since we are showing our stories, the Gullah people of South Carolina have an amazing history.

    I believe I own a copy of "Daughters of the Dust" although I may not have seen it due to the regional code (no longer a problem). I intend to watch it on the first day of my holiday.

    As a native Alabamian, I know quite a bit about the Gullah people although I'm more familiar with people from Georgia islands like Sapelo than I am the people from South Carolina.

    @M
    For decades..centuries the world has been duped into believing the worst about us. It's about time somebody tell them about us..the right way and I commend you for that.

    Thankfully, my work affords me the opportunity to interact with at least 500 Japanese in Japan every year on various levels. Plus, I can also "chase conferences" several times a year. Mostly, I just sightsee and in doing so I often meet locals. Even if we only have exchanges at the cash register, they learn two things: 1) Black people can learn to speak Japanese and 2) Black people won't kill you on sight.

    @The Girl In Question
    I love children's books.

    So do I and I buy them all the time, much to my husband's dismay. Before the books come, he always makes faces at me. After they arrive, he rips open the packages, indulges in the text and illustrations and then says, "We should translate these into Japanese."

    @Amaya
    Excellent!

    The writers are excellent and this is how I keep my world COLORED!!! Using these books truly has brokered a great deal of understanding between me and almost everyone I meet. My bookshelves scream, Black Girl in Residence! Mr. Hateya is in despair. ;)

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  12. Hateya, if you're lightskinned with long hair then that's probably why your friend said you being half native american helps you date interracially especially with asian men.

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    1. No to being light-skinned. It isn't DNA possible. BTW, back in the day when I initially began dating Asian guys, my hair was roughly two inches as my mother and aunt had neglected to teach me how to care for my own wooly mane, so I cut it all off. Now, it's always braided, but never swinging and the men are still coming. When they see me, they see an Black girl of sub-Saharan African decent. That's ALL they see and that's all right with this mighty happy Black woman.

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