Carpe Omnia

a multi-color of painted tapestry with black tassels

(Take Everything, For Lucinda, Ida Mae and the Rest of Us)

By: Jade Ariana Fair 

Old hands and old lands;

They have known my name.

Women in skirts wide and clanking like church bells,

Braced over tin basins, shucking corn and cleaning yams in the sun.

Old tasks spoken in old words

On African shores

On plantations

In the backyard of the house that I was raised in.

Old hands and old lands;

They have called my name

Sweat rolls steadily down her knit brows in sun so hot that it feels like the inside of someone’s mouth.

Her face in photographs was as stern as a mountain.

She told my grandmother that Kentucky comes from the Iroquois “Ken-tah-ten”

Bare foot Ida Mae taps me on shoulders in my dreams.

I wake up with words wet on my lips, spitting out salmon fat with eggs.

“Ken-tah-ten”

Land of tomorrow.

She calls to me, leaving trails for me to follow in red Kentucky dirt.

Land of tomorrow

I am the unfinished pages of my mother’s journal.

I am the high school diploma that was denied my great-grandmother.

I am her unacknowledged good grades, and the tests she had to take over and over again to prove she wasn’t cheating.

I am the rightful place she was denied in the Latin Club.

I am the stolen quills for the sixty-five million and more whose names have been lost, abandoned, or taken.

I am the ink well that illiterate hands dipped found Cardinal feathers into, knowing without having to be told that words are freedom and wordlessness makes you chattel for white men.

I am yellowed and wrinkled pages of torn bible passages, slipped from calloused hand after calloused hand at midnight in reeds.

I am the good teeth, strong back, clear eyes and naked childbearing hips that fetched a good prize at the state fair.

I am the screaming baby stolen moments after birth, dream-suckling for his mother.

Land of tomorrow.

My blood is hot sweat and pork grease and work songs.

My bones are a mortar and pestle to grind corn meal for frying.

My tongue moves quick like freshly unrecognizable feet covered in leeches from days of running in marshes.

My voice was made in dirt floor cabins, by hands dirty with pollen and pricked with thorns from cotton plants, rubbing balms and salves on the backs of children with scars caked thick and misshapen as mud pies on a playground.

My ribs are shoebox guitars played on matchstick porches, holding a heart that is not just my heart, my many hearts beating throaty voices of gospel choirs.

There is always the faintest taste of iron in the back of my throat. Blood and rust tickle my sinuses; I wake in the night smelling smoke. At first, I do not know whether the house has burned down. Then the stench of charred bodies, the burned strange fruit like Abel’s rejected offering.

Land of tomorrow. Land of tomorrow. Land of tomorrow. “Louder” she commands like an approaching siren.

“Scream. Scream like a train whistle, baby girl. Land of tomorrow. Land of tomorrow.”

“Shout it like hallelujahs at dawn” she says. “Shout it from can-see to can’t-see.”

Land of tomorrow. Land of tomorrow. Land of tomorrow. Land of tomorrow.

Mixing mud and water from dirty rivers,

I mould new mouths.

Mouths with teeth bared

Maybe grinning, maybe growling, maybe both at once, but always open.

When you deny me, it is with this mouth I speak.

Mouths red with lipstick, swollen and pursed lips

Having been beaten, or having been kissed.

Mouths full of rage sizzling like hot oil in cast iron pans, bruised and missing teeth.

When they bash me and the ones I love, I spit burning blood into the sky, raining acid stars upon their up turned, confused faces.

By the time you have seen this, it will be too late. I will eat you alive, I am not afraid to be a monster.

I dare you to forget what I have done in their names.


JADE ARIANA FAIR
Jade Ariana Fair is a self-taught multi-disciplinary artist, community healer and a conjurer of dense, celebratory worlds tinged with melancholy. Working across painting, performance, sound, and installation in Oakland, CA, Jade’s art sits at the intersection of the material and immaterial. Her performances have been featured in SOMArts 2015 “The News” series in San Francisco and Oakland’s LoBot Gallery in 2016. Her visual work was included in the “SPIRIT” group show at Oakland’s Qulture Collective.  In June 2016, she debuted a solo show “Them Are Weavers” of mixed media paintings at Black Spring Coffee Company in Oakland, CA. Her collaborative performance and sound project Earthbound was profiled in the East Bay Express in September 2016. As a healing arts practitioner and arts educator, she has been invited to share her practice with youth at Bay Area Video Coalition, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, The Allied Media Conference, and Peñasco Theater Collective Youth Arts Camp in Peñasco, New Mexico. She has read her written work in the 2016 “The Hundy” Series at E.M. Wolfman General Bookstore in Oakland. She dreams of rivers and they pool at her feet. Her work can be found at www.jadearianafair.com

Speaking the Ancestors’ Names: An Interview with Obeah Opera

By Savannah Clarke 

Obeah Opera is a hand clapping, foot stomping, spirit lifting, magical musical sensation. Steeped in Black music, sung entirely a cappella by a powerful all-female cast, Obeah Opera is a retelling of the legendary Salem witch trials from the fascinating perspective of Caribbean slave women. It is a ground-breaking dramatic work that redefines the traditional opera form by moving away from its European classical standard and using an array of different musical genres mainly found in what is termed ‘Black’ music such as spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, traditional African, Caribbean Folk, Calypso, ska, R&B and reggae (taken from www.obeahopera.com).

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hearing some excerpts of Obeah Opera. After feeling connected to the stories I watched on stage, I caught up with Nicole to hear more about the Salem Witch Trials, what inspired her to do Obeah Opera and the spiritual aspects they entail.

Nicole: A few factors were happening, it was around 2008 where I was investigating my spirituality. Since I work in film and television, I was on the road with a crew and a crewmember came to my room to ask something and he saw that I was burning a candle and that I had incense and water. So when he saw all of that, he went back and rumors spread that he called me a witch. Instead of freaking out I said to myself: that’s really interesting. In this day and age, people are asking me “are you a practicing witch?” So, that was one of the stems where I thought it was really interesting. Also, at that time I was investigating African spirituality and looking more within my cultural roots and/or the Caribbean and/or African spirituality. Just learning and discovering.

I would say that was the catalyst for me, outside of a few people encouraging me to write for stage. I am really committed to telling Black women’s stories. I’ve always said it’s really important we have writers. Creators of content, [who are] creating work. So it was a combination of things and with all of those things happening it was very serendipitous for me to stumble upon researching witches more and of course eventually the Salem Witch Trials came up, which was the most famous witch trials in the America’s. As well, the name Tituba came up. Tituba was made famous through the play The Crucibles by Arthur Miller. She was the first Black slave accused at the Salem Witch Trials. She was from Barbados. I thought that was huge! How did we just bypass that? It’s written in history. It’s referenced a lot but then she’s forgotten. So I started to do more research and what I discovered was, yes indeed Tituba was a slave from Barbados who was brought to Salem and that there were more Black women in the Puritan town. This is real historical facts… Although, there weren’t that much written about them, TItuba had the most information and her testimonial was also transcribed. The testimonials of a couple of Black women were also there such as Mary Black and Candy. I thought it was fascinating because people never thought this town had slaves in the late 1600s/early 1700s. It’s amazing to not only “stumble” onto Tituba and realize that there were other black women from the Caribbean who were brought as slaves but were going beyond 100 years plus from where slavery is usually popularized in the 1800s in America. So, it’s really interesting to see the different factors that brought me to this story but also realizing the different facets of what I’m dealing with in regards to Black women’s history and Caribbean history. Now the question in writing this story is not about the first crossing of slaves coming from Africa, it’s the second crossing of slaves coming from the Caribbean to America. What’s that story? We don’t talk about that. What was the stop from Africa to the Caribbean and then from the Caribbean to the America’s?

The other thing that really excited me was the word Obeah, which I found in some of my research. I asked myself how are these white men referencing Obeah? Which was another indication to me that certain practices from the Caribbean really stayed in this Puritan town. For me, I didn’t realize at the time how controversial it was to use the word Obeah in our communities because of the negative connotations it holds and because of slavery, how we were told if we practiced anything or used our drum, anything that represented us, we would be lynched and killed. So, we have literally inherited all the way up to present day that Obeah in itself is evil. Without investigating what it is and I’m not saying that people don’t use Obeah for bad but I’m saying similar to any practice or religion, we have both sides. In Obeah Opera, I definitely look at the positive, which included having grandmas who knew how to use herbs to heal and midwifery. We were women who knew of these things and that true power threatens men, especially white men.

This is all to say that a whole bunch of factors contribute to how Obeah came to be. I can say the base of it is based on claiming back my story. Which includes the Black woman’s story, stories of the Caribbean and Africa. My people, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m very committed to the vantage point of the women’s story and retelling/rewriting history from my people’s lens after being excluded from history for so long.

When I saw you do your performance in Guelph you also mentioned that a lot of the knowledge and stories you gathered came from a very spiritual place of trying to evoke the energy of your ancestors. Can you touch on what that was like for you?

Nicole: Yeah, it’s not a secret that it’s based on the Orisha spirituality practice. When looking at the play you will see that each of the main female characters represents an Orisha and have those characteristics. I also show in the play that slaves, which is known, would go at night into the forest to practice Orisha or celebrate who they were. In there, I wanted to really show the strength of the slaves to not only survive the middle passage but also have the innovations and intuitiveness to preserve themselves. Such as hiding their practice in Catholicism because a lot of the Orisha practice is blended in with the Catholic religion. Also, what’s written in the script is paying homage to our Caribbean methodology, which is based in carnival. In the script, each character represents a carnival character and holds those respective characteristics. As I develop as a storyteller, I am beginning to realize that my components of storytelling are evolving to be based on history and telling Caribbean folklore and spirituality.

When I saw you perform, it was really powerful for me especially being from a Trinidadian background. It was beautiful for me to see those stories be brought back to voices of Black women and it was incredibly healing for me. What does it mean for you to be able to reclaim and explore these stories?

Nicole: I think it’s taken me a long time but I think that I am fulfilled in my practice. I realized that I am extremely privileged to have been afforded the opportunities that have been given to me. For example, it’s not easy to mount a play and the fact that I’ve had the opportunity on more than one account to mount this work is more than incredible. And that means a lot to me. I’m really happy that earlier on in my life I knew exactly what I was put on this earth to do. Now, it just continues to manifest and evolve as I evolve. I am a storyteller. That is what I do. Outside of this privilege, I also see my responsibility in being able to create stories for my children and my children’s children…Right now I am fighting the good fight of not moving away from the stereotype and heralding who we are and our history. Not being ashamed. Embracing our culture and our music in all of it’s glory.

I would love for Obeah Opera to debut in Salem so I can honor the women and the ground they were on because the women were real, these aren’t characters they are real people in history that were ignored. When you speak the ancestors name that’s what keeps them alive. If I were to sum it up, that’s what I do. I speak their name. To hold that mantle up, it’s an honor. We have the responsibilities to keep and tell our stories.

The more I work with other Black folks to help in the liberation of our people the more I realize this work needs to go hand in hand with spiritual healing and connecting with our storytellers. How do you feel social justice movements can incorporate this type of work and bring about the healing necessary so we can feel grounded in moving forward?

Nicole: Wow, that’s a deep question. I think that inherently the work (storytelling) in a social movement in itself. Obeah Opera is that. The reason I say that is that I’ve been told on more than one occasion, not only from Black women but from women period, the fact you’ve put us on stage in this positive light infuses, induces and demands change because you’re shifting perspective. The work that is on stage has ritual, so in fact, you are healing. So that’s Obeah Opera and through this we are liberating ancestors because they’re being showcased and they’re able to tell their story. The whole thing about not being silenced anymore; Obeah Opera or anything through the arts becomes a vehicle for voice, so that in itself is a vehicle for social justice, because social justice deals with voice and demands justice. Obeah Opera, as I see, demands justice. That’s why I’m saying before Broadway, I’d love to go to Salem and just honour the women and what they lived through and what they survived through and let them know that they are not forgotten. The biggest thing, what has happened to our people, to Black people, they erase the history and if you have no history, you are nothing. That is part of the genocide. that is why people burn documents, because they don’t want you to exist anymore. So when you realize that when you claim back history, claim back things that have happened, claim back your religion or your heritage, that in itself is a social justice act. When you remember your ancestors and your history and bring it to the forefront, that is a social justice act. When you remember and step into who you are, that inherently is healing. So my message is that even just being is part of social justice, in the sense that acceptance is part of social justice, in the sense that speaking the ancestors names, claiming the history and demanding you are not forgotten is social justice.

Obeah Opera loves #blacklivesmatter because the women in Salem’s lives matter and they will not go down in vain and neither will we because we’re standing up and taking responsibility. Even the hashtag #oscarssowhite and the hashtag #broadwaynotsowhite is interesting because this year is an interesting year. The Color Purple was back on Broadway, Fela! was there for a very long time, we have Hamilton, we have Eclipsed, which is the first ever Black woman written, Black woman directed and all female Black women cast on Broadway. I look at that as a paved way because I’m like “I’m coming!”. You know what I mean?

Media and the arts play a huge role in social justice. It brings awareness, it propels the message. I even say that television is the greatest propaganda tool of all time. So being able to see the messages and hear the stories is social justice too. Nina Simone once said that “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times” and that quote changed my life. Or even Billie Holiday when she wrote “Strange Fruit.” Look at what art has done to propel the movement. Even beyond Malcom X, the people involved with Black Lives Matter and other people standing up; the music, the tools of media, all of those things play a huge impact and it also deals with healing.

Spiritual healing comes in ancestral acknowledgement. Spiritual healing come from acknowledging and understanding your history and claiming it. I think in particular with Obeah Opera we have to have a town hall meeting in a version of the play because people people were ripping down the posters saying thing was a devil ting and we called in the community to talk about it and I realized how it transcends what we were taught. We were taught that we had, what we believed in, what we practiced, our cultural practices, our religious practices we wrong and we were told Christianity is the only way. I’m going to be very careful because some people might get offended and say “Christianity is very important to me”. What I’m saying is that the healing comes into saying that who we were was not evil, we were not evil. We were told we were evil.

I want to end with a quote from the play. A quote from a song called “My Mother’s Name” and the words go “So I stand in my mother’s name and those before her who took on the blame, for all the daughters who inherited the shame, for all the women who will never be the same, I’m gonna stand”. That’s healing.


Nicole Brookes
Nicole Brooks is a Toronto-based filmmaker, director, performer, singer, playwright, composer, curator, teacher and ‘art-ivist’. She has developed the concept of “harmonized storytelling”; blending media and performing arts, Brooks has spent over 15 years envisioning narratives that illuminate the peoples of the African Diaspora. Through her company Asah Productions Inc., founded in 2005, Brooks has generated an impressive body of work for both stage and screen.  To learn and follow Brooks’ latest work, please visit www.obeahopera.com; Twitter: @obeahopera; YouTube: obeahopera.

Divine Liberation

illustration of a moon with floral inside

by Sharrae Lyon

The night was cold and Tamara Wilson walked through the rough terrain of the forest with fear and relief. It had been three days since she left the Wilson Estate. She had not yet heard any dogs barking after her, no dogs had yet been trained to track her scent, or so that is what she chose to think. Leading up to Tamara’s escape, she feared greatly the consequences of being captured. It had taken Tamara two years to muster up the courage to leave the plantation of Massa Wilson. No one from her memory had escaped or even attempted, though there were stories of other folk finding liberation in the mountains from neighbouring plantations.

Jamaica was a small island, but moving from the center towards the mountains was

no simple feat.

Tamara had to pass by many plantations before reaching the river that separated the

mainland from the mountains. If it weren’t for this circumstance and needing to travel by night,

she probably could have made it to her destination in a day’s time. But alas, she was searching for refuge. And it wasn’t her first time doing so. Tamara Wilson was a new name that this woman of slender-build, brown skin, and piercing eyes was given. She had become somewhat of an expert of escape. Her first attempt was when she was enslaved in New Orleans, but she was found and sold to a slaver from the Caribbean who had connections with Massa Wilson in Jamaica. Tamara could not tolerate being owned by another person, no matter how well they

treated her, or how scary it was to walk into the dark abyss of uncertainty, Tamara had a core sense of true liberation, that she experientially was not of aware of, but sat in the structures of her DNA. She could not muster the ability to conform to the brutality that she and her people have had to endure for the past 300 years. But it had also been so long since she heard her original name, the name that her mother gave her, that she succumbed to the name Tamara Wilson. She hated herself for it, but after being whipped numerous times when she demanded

that she be called her true name, the humiliation created a blockage in her memory.

In fact, Tamara Wilson forgot so much of who she used to be. She forgot who she loved, who her family was, what their names were, what their faces looked like. All brown she was certain, but that was the only thing she held. It felt like nothing. She felt empty, but despite this, she still felt like she had a purpose much stronger than being a slave girl, who laid for her master each night. Tamara felt nauseous each morning, she knew that she was now carrying the child of her Master, her abuser’s seed. It was then that she decided that she would not bring any child into a world of enslavement. Before she left, she had tried to convince her closest friend Winnie to join her. Despite Winnie’s terrible temper, she was the closest thing to family for Tamara and she could understand after witnessing some of the trauma that she had to endure, why she was the way she was.

Although fear had dissipated from Tamara’s consciousness and submerged into the depths of the oceans of her being, Tamara felt utterly alone. She looked up at the star-lit sky. She wondered to herself how it could be so beautiful up in night sky, but be so wretched on the ground that her feet didn’t allow her to lift up towards the sky and join the stars. She had the tendency to speak to one star in particular. It wasn’t necessarily the brightest star in the sky, but it had often called on her in times of loneliness. It was as if the star had wished to join her and keep her company, but because there were other laws and forces preventing the night sky and the Earth below to merge, it wasn’t physically possible to comfort her.

She often imagined what it would be like to be enwrapped in the embrace of her favourite star. Hot perhaps, but she often dreamed herself in the middle core of the star and what seemed like angel dust encircling her. Colours of red and gold surrounding her, dropping lightly on her golden brown skin. She deeply took in the fresh air and let out a moan. She had forgotten what it was also like to have her skin gently touched, caressed. Tamara was lost in her vision traveling in the star-filled sky, until she realized she heard footsteps in the bushes only meters away. Tamara’s heart started to panic and race as she quickly jumped off on the side of the road and hid behind a bush until the person appeared.

Look through the lush leaves, she could make out a figure that was round, and a bit taller than her. The figure was a woman, she almost screamed at the girl, but then the thought came to mind that it would be kinder to approach Winnie without scaring her. As she began to emerge from the bush the dreadful thought that Winnie could have been instructed by Massa Wilson to find her came to mind. ‘No,’ she thought, ‘I will not allow him to make me fear my friend.’ Tamara then slowly emerged from outside the bushes and walked gently behind Winnie and playfully pounce.

“Don’t you dare!”

“Huh?” Winnie turned around and playfully winked at Tamara.

“How did you know?” Tamara said playfully

“It’s only been three days, did you think we’d already forget to read each other’s mind?”

It was true, ever since Tamara arrived on Massa Wilson’s plantation, Winnie and Tamara seemed to have this uncanny and unspoken ability to understand each other on this deep psychic level. It was as if they could read each other’s minds. Tamara could not believe it was only three days since she left the plantation, it had seemed like three years.

“Thought I wouldn’t come, didn’t you?”

“Well yeah, you seemed to not budge.”

“I wanted to keep you surprised.” Tamara knew Winnie was hiding behind the humour, Winnie knew it too, but neither felt it was necessary.

“I needed to leave. You were right.” Tamara walked to Winnie and hugged her tightly.

“We have to keep moving. Was there anyone tracking us?”

“Not that I could see…”

“Wait what was that?” The bush nearby began to shake and Tamara’s heart began to rattle, but then a young boy, no older than the age of five poked out.

“Child! What are you doing here!?”

“That’s Bullah’s kid. Bullah was killed by Massa Wilson the night after you left. Blamed him for

not keeping proper watch” Winnie explained.

“Bullah…he…he’s dead?”

Tamara dropped to the ground in front of the young boy. Tears began to form in her eyes as she placed her hands on the little boy’s shoulders. He looked much like his father: round face, light skin, and light brown eyes. The young child wore a white cotton shirt and shorts with his father’s brown hat. The hat was too big for the child, but it was the only memory he had of his father. If she had known that her escape was going to cost Bullah his life, she would not have asked him to help her escape.

“Bullah would have been held responsible either way, don’t worry your head with such foolish thoughts.” Winnie mindfully comforted Tamara.

“My child you are with me and Winnie now. You are safe. We will protect you.” The young boy sombrely walked into Tamara’s arms and began to softly cry.

“Yes child, shed the tears for your father. Tears are the pathways to healing and remembering.”

“We better keep moving. Three of Massa Wilson’s slaves are missing, there is no count he’ll have a team after us by morning come.”

“Let’s go. We ain’t no slaves. The stars will guide us.”

Without notice Tamara, Winnie and the young boy were surrounded by three black dogs. Dogs who were trained to individually track each of their scents, dogs who too were broken and enslaved. It was clear that Massa Wilson’s men were not too far away. Tamara had experienced a similar situation back in Louisiana, but she was more fearful of what would happen to Winnie and the young child. With the boy still clutched around her, Tamara had the impulse to crouch down to the ground. As she did, she emptied her mind and began to chant what was an old language that she had not spoken it what seemed like lifetimes.

“Sha ro lay, ma et

tomah shengo,

shengo, shengo

tuet lohm meh.

Mahsa shemeoneh,

Shango

Shang”

As her voice raised from a whisper into a strong bellowing call, the wind began to pick up, a fierce wind that circled around them, leaving the three of them unaffected, as the wind that was being conjured began to push the dogs against their will. A heavy set of clouds began to cross the sky, making the stars that were just visible moments ago, disappear. A heavy grumbling bellowed in the depths of the Earth. The ground beneath them began to shake.

“Gaiath mahyo,

shango, destsa.”

Tamara’s eyes had gone blank, and when she awoke from her trance she had found that all three dogs had been struck dead. Winnie grabbed Tamara, and they began to run, but Tamara had become too weak. Winnie quietly hauled her over her shoulders, with the young child running quickly by her side.

“Guide me, which way do we go?”

Tamara had lost most of her strength, and all she could muster was raising her hand to the sky and she pointed towards the moon.

“Wait, this must be it.” As Winnie looked up towards the moon, she realized she was in standing at the bottom of a large mountain. Without any hesitation, she began to climb up the path that was created.

She then began to see other people who looked like them; seekers of freedom. Dark, brown, and red skin; people that had features she had never seen. They did not try to stop them, they were on watch for any others who had escaped the brutal plantations.

They finally reached what looked like the opening of a cave. A man stood strong and tall at it’s opening. He looked to be about seven feet tall, muscular, his chest showed his status, he was a leader of the people. He skin was a mixture of reddish and chocolate brown, and the fire torches held by those around them, shone a yellow glow. His face was serious, yet calmly he had his gaze on Tamara. His eyes were dark brown, almost black and it appeared like two pearls were sitting in the middle of his eyes; the reflection of the moon. He motioned to his companions sitting around Tamara, Winnie and the young boy. One of the companions approached Winnie who was wearing a brown cotton dress, and he extended his arms to carry Tamara.

“Where will you take her?”

The companion looked at her with an understanding look and gently took Tamara from her grip. He then carried her, over to the chief of the community.

Tamara now lay at the feet of the tall man. He then began to extend his arms in front of him, his eyes were now closed and his breathing became very heavy. Tamara, although still alive, appeared lifeless. His hands were extended over her body and he began to speak a language that sounded very similar to the language that Tamara spoke while she had conjured up the storm. His eyes then opened and the two pearls began to float from the centres of his eyes, they drifted over Tamara’s body, leaving his eyes now completely black. Winnie lifted the young child, and felt the urge to run away, but a young woman approached her and calumny eased her fears by simply holding her hand. The two orbs began to cross and dance over Tamara’s body, as the man continued to mutter words from his lips. Tamara’s breathing began to become deeper and more full and she finally got up, walked towards the man and placed her hands on his, her eyes became white once again, and the caves now became lit by the torches along the walls of the cave.

The two began to levitate and the companions began to sing, drum and dance as they whirled upwards in the cave. Tamara’s face began to brighten with a smile.

“Welcome home, my love, my Tamraha we have been separated for too long. I left you a star to remember my love, our love. You had been so alone. You’ve endured so much. I can never forgive myself for not protecting you how I should have, so long ago.”

“No Onek, my love, there was nothing that you could have done to change the circumstances that led me to this point. We are now here together, reunited. I have taken care of myself, the ancient ones shared with me our teachings. I did not forget. Your star had become my companion. Now it is time that we change what has been done to our people.”

“Our time is returning. We shall free our people from the bondages that have been placed around them.” Time seemed to slow, the wind that had been roaring transformed into a light breeze, and Tamraha and Onek began to descend to the ground. Winnie was stunned at what she just witnessed, but there was a memory that lived deep in her bones; a memory that alluded to the normalcy of what she witnessed.

Tamraha, her true name, as reminded by her long lost love Onek walked towards Winnie, grabbed her hand. This time Winnie could not read Tamraha’s mind, she was blocking her out. She had become more powerful.

“My sister, We suffer no longer. We are free. We must now free this island.” Tamraha placed her two thumbs in between Winnie’s brow, and Winnie began to see visions of her people being placed on ships, of vast oceans, she began to smell the decaying scent of flesh and feces, and was transferred back to the lush forests, the red soil of her ancestor’s village. She began to remember her true nature, a free woman.

“Whatever it takes, Tamraha. I am with you.”


Sharrae Lyon
Sharrae Lyon is a transdisciplinary artist, writer and facilitator. She believes in the powerful role of science fiction and futurism to answer the spiritual and internal questions around “Otherness,” with the curiosity to redefine what it means to be human. Through the engagement in ancestral healing, Sharrae is driven by unleashing personal and collective power in order to create futures that are sustaining, life-giving and affirming.

The Digital Mirror: Why Gamers of Colour Demand Representation in Gaming

Two people holding hands with their back turned. One is an adily with a raised fist on his back and an afro the other is a young boy with a gaming controller in his other hand his shirt reads "black gamer excellence"
by Andray Domise

A few years ago, a friend and I founded a program called TXDL to teach youth of diverse backgrounds how to make video games. As part of our pilot program, we asked students to send us character reference sheets, visual and written summaries of the characters the students wanted to create.

While combing through the student e-mails, one of the submissions caught me off-guard. The character, Samuel, should be typical as far as action game heroes go. Tall, muscular, arched eyebrows, clever grin. But this character description was far from typical. Sporting an afro and thick sideburns, armed with a sword strapped to his back, Samuel was far from a trope or a sidekick.

According to his creator, Samuel was to be:

  • African American, a martial arts expert, and a weapons specialist
  • The leader of a resistance movement seeking to liberate the world from the evil organization’s clutches
  • Strong-willed, fierce, and courageous. Willing to risk some things to achieve victory in battles
  • Compassionate towards his people

It might not seem like much, but for a gamer like myself, raised to expect either no Black characters or bizarre caricatures of blackness in the games I play, it was a lot. When I talked to the creator about his character, and what he hoped to accomplish with his adventure game, his answer was “I want to play the hero and feel like this is someone I could actually be. Not a thug, or an athlete or something.” Hearing his answer gave me one of the proudest moments I’d had in years. As someone who grew up unused to seeing people like me represented in video games, I’d finally helped a budding gamer become self-actualized in the medium.

I was a minority gamer growing up. By “minority,” I don’t just mean a gamer of colour, although I was (and am) that too. What I mean is, I was in the minority of console owners. Just about every kid in my elementary school with a video game console was an NES gamer, but I owned a Sega Master System. Which meant there was exactly two other kids in my entire school to trade cartridges with. And this was okay by us; in a way, we were our own little fan club and trading hub. We’d read Electronic Gaming Monthly religiously, making note of release dates so we could coordinate our game purchases. If one of them put Phantasy Star on his birthday wish list, I scribbled Ys on mine. If one of us asked Santa for Wonder Boy, someone else was guaranteed to find Zillion under the Christmas tree.

It was a pretty good system we had going. In the dozens of games we played and traded while I owned that ugly red and black Sega box, I felt connected to a small and exclusive group. In the fourth grade, I smuggled the plastic cartridge cases for my Master System games along with my school books when I went to school. During lunch time in the cafeteria, I’d leave the cases out next to my lunch tray. Sure enough, other Master System owners would show up to ask if I’d beaten the games, and if I’d maybe like to trade games with them for a week. My love for Sega and its brand helped me build a social circle.

But it wasn’t until I owned a Sega Genesis, just before middle school, that I truly understood what representation meant. Up to that point, I’d never played a single Sega game that featured a Black character who wasn’t a celebrity or an athlete. By that time, the absence of Black people not only in games, but in nerd culture and mass media at large, was background noise. Always present, but only an irritant if one stopped and paid attention. In 1991, the Genesis game Streets of Rage arrived, and one of the three playable lead characters was Adam, a Black former boxer and police officer helping to rid his city of a ruthless crime syndicate. It was the first time I’d ever picked up a controller and played as an imaginary Black protagonist.

Up to that point, the paltry amount of Black representation in gaming was stereotypical and derivative to the point where creators should have been embarrassed. In every fighting game franchise up to that point, just about every Black character was a boxer. In every other genre, Black characters were either savages or gang members. There was no role for us, outside of the narrow categories that western media, steeped as it was in white supremacy, had allowed us to occupy. Playing Axel for the first time felt like a minor breakthrough. Even though his backstory, of course, had to mention his past as a boxer, for the first time in my life I could see myself in a game’s protagonist.

Unfortunately, the gaming industry still had a long way to go.

In 2007, Capcom released the first trailer for Resident Evil 5 (RE5), the hotly anticipated latest entry in the survival horror series. The trailer was immediately lambasted .1. for its use of racial tropes, and mired the game in controversy over the two years leading up to its release. In that trailer, the camera follows burly white protagonist Chris Redfield as he kicks, punches, and shoots his way through wave after wave of Africans infected with a zombie virus. The backlash to the imagery of the trailer – nondescript poverty-stricken African country, western colonizers plundering the land and people, a white saviour venturing into the darkest heart of Africa to inflict violence – was met with a secondary backlash from gamers who believed those disturbed by it were the real racists. 

Well-known game critic Jim Sterling, writing for Destructoid.com 2 at the time in response to a blogger post about RE5, said “It does, however, take a really self-centered, perhaps even racist individual, to see it as “the white man killing MY people.” Wesley Yin-Poole at videogamer.com contacted “leading racism expert” Glenn Bowman, at the time a senior Anthropology lecturer at the University of Kent, to ask whether the game was, in fact, racist. 

 


1.John, Tracey (17 August 2009). “Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal on the Resident Evil 5 Trailer: This Imagery Has a History” www.mtv.com/news/2456617/newsweeks-ngai-croal-on-the-resident-evil-5-trailer-this-imagery-has-a-history/

2. Sterling, Jim (1 August 2007). “Resident Evil 5 is SO RACIST: The idiocy begins.” https://www.destructoid.com/resident-evil-5-is-so-racist-the-idiocy-begins-37196.phtml 


Bowman answered that the imagery of “black faces and…motifs of African masks and the like,” were not racist; the game had to be set somewhere, and since its setting was in Africa, African imagery was part and parcel. It later turned out that Bowman, whose areas of expertise were in Palestinian and Yugoslavian political anthropology, was not, in fact a “leading racism expert;” he asked to not be identified as such. 

Perhaps most surprisingly, motion actors Karen Dyer and T.J. Storm, both of whom identify as Black, explained in an AP interview that there was nothing racist about the “It’s in Africa! It’s been in Africa, it’s been in Spain, it’s been in the midwest (United States),” said Storm, in one segment. “It wasn’t racist then, why should it be racist now? It’s in Africa. Have fun with the game! Play the game!”

 What Dyer, Storm, and game critics back then missed (and have plenty of company in gaming industry types who miss the point now), was that, regardless of whether any harm was intended, video game narratives are not exempt from history and political context. While many were caught up in the images of, for example, infected African men dragging a white woman into a house to infect her with the virus, it doesn’t seem that many bothered to examine what it meant to take the zombie trope to Africa.

The zombie legend itself originated from Haitian folklore, in the blood-soaked sugar cane fields of St. Domingue – the name of the French colony prior to the Haitian slave rebellion. The vodun beliefs of West Africa – transported to St. Domingue in the minds and bodies of a kidnapped people – held that the spirits of slaves who died in bondage were returned to Guinée (or Guinea). By being converted into a zombie, the spirit was held captive for eternity. What then to make of the idea that a nondescript and monolithic Africa could be overrun by horrific creatures that people casually call “zombies?”

What began as a dream of release from the horrors of slavery became twisted the 20th century as the zombie trope that undergirds the Resident Evil franchise. Worse, subverted in such a way that West African spirituality was denatured and reflected back to Western audiences as the ultimate degeneration into colonial stereotypes of Africa itself: savagery, disease, and cannibalism.

In the ten years since the release of Resident Evil 5’s trailer, progress in the industry has been rather rocky. Tropes which should have died a long time ago, including the crude and sassy Black woman, and the hypermasculine Black male, still persist. Fictional worlds heavily influenced by Western European folklore dominate the RPG landscape, yet the rich, bizarre, and at times psychedelic folklore of sub-Saharan and eastern Africa have yet to be explored.

On the other hand, there has been much progress. Multiple studies show that young Black people not only spend more time on video games than their peers, but that Black millennials exert an outsized influence on social media. Game companies seem to be tuned into this fact. Over the last few years, Black characters are not only being explored more fully as human beings with diverse interests and personalities, they’re being placed front and centre. Mafia III, for example, set in the Vietnam-era South, follows a Black protagonist on a revenge journey against the mob and the KKK alike. Watch Dogs 2 is led by Marcus Halloway, a Black hacker, and the game’s sense of humour is heavily steeped in the code-switching reality of Black people who exist in tech spaces.

There’s obviously much more work to be done, which is why TXDL exists to help nudge forward the goal of inclusive tech spaces. But reading that character reference sheet, and speaking with the student who produced it, I was struck by the difference in the landscape for Black people in gaming now, versus the environment in which I cut my teeth. At least we now have the platform to demand visibility, and to cause disruption when game companies get it wrong. I look forward to one day picking up a controller and playing as Samuel, as well as mailing the pre-written thank-you note to the student who created him.

I plan on putting it in the mail, the day when people of colour have achieved true representation in the video game industry, and organizations like TXDL will no longer be necessary.


 

Andray Domise
Andray Domise is a Toronto-based writer and the co-founder of TXDL, a tech skills development program for youth. 

Darkness – The Void of Possibility

Excerpt from the upcoming e-book “Quantum Healing: Changing the Stories We Tell Ourselves.

by Sharrae Lyon

Illustration by Eli

When I think of darkness, two things comes to mind. That of the Hindu goddess Aditi and the many nights I spent as a child afraid of the bumps, the eerie shadows. One representation of darkness is expansive, the other an experience of fear, replicated in other life experiences portrayed as real dangers.

I’ll start with my nighttime childhood experiences.

Actually, I wasn’t entirely afraid of the dark. I never wanted to go to sleep and spent my nights watching television with my mother. When I would retire into my room, I would lie in bed, staring up at the ceiling where glow-in-the dark stars would reflect back at me. I liked nothing more than standing under a starry sky and feeling so tiny and insignificant, but in total awe that I could possibly exist.Night was in some senses, enjoyable. But it also unearthed many fears of being kidnapped and alien abductions. This probably didn’t help that I watched The Learning Network’s (TLC)’s primetime programming that always talked about serial killers and aliens! I remember lying in bed, unable to sleep, recounting the possibilities that something bad could happen. I’d look over to my wall, and I would see a shadow bouncing on it’s surface, my ears told me that there was something rustling out my window. I would lie there, frozen, petrified. But I decided that I needed to see for myself what was dancing on my wall. I slowly took off the covers and sat on my knees and gently peered through my window. To my total relief there was nothing but a tree outside my window, and of course it was its branches that were playing on my bedroom wall. I would sigh in relief and my ever-pattering heart would slow down and I would drift softly to sleep.

I think as children we all had these monsters in the closet type scenarios. We live in a society that conditions us to fear the dark. In fact, our obsession with escaping the dark can be seen in our need to always have artificial light to make us feel safe and comfortable. It almost seems that we as little children have actually not grown up. This is the case for those who live in urban. For those of us who live in the country, the darkness covers like a blanket. A moment to retire, to slow down and regenerate towards the next day.

Indigenous cultures all throughout the world have remarkable understandings of the rhythms and purposes of the sun and moon. All of which align with their own community connection to the cosmos. In no way is fear and darkness synonymous entities, but the darkness, much like fear are lessons, messages for us to look deeper at who we are, and what drives us forward.

Aditi, The Hindu Mother of the Sky, the Mother of all the planets, galaxies, she is the Mother of all Life. It is through her dark womb that all is dreamed and born. She is the embodiment of Time and Space. The Mother of what we know to be the zodiac. She is the Darkness, the Void and within her endless black darkness of space, lies all possibilities. She is the Mother of the Past and the Future and it is through connecting to the dark reaches of our soul, that we can birth the Light.

I have lived with anxiety and depression, having many bouts and episodes. As I’ve aged and deepened my spiritual practice, some truths have come to light. Three of which will be the premise for this e-book.

  1. Our fears are actually clues to our deepest desires 
  2.  We do have the capacity to control our mind, and thus impact our feelings and lastly change our behaviours.
  3. Love transforms all.

When we are moving in and out of our days experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, we are in essence living unhappily. We feel that we don’t have control over our lives. We look at our defeats and lose all confidence that we are able to deal with the complexities of life. We may look also at our triumphs and accomplishments and they may make us feel better for some time, but something just doesn’t seem to stick.

Many spiritual traditions talk about the importance of learning how to transcend our circumstances, to ascend to a transcendent consciousness, one that builds our mental, emotional and spiritual resilience.

But how the hell does one do that?

Starting With Self — So within, So without

Indigenous traditions understood that we as humans have the power to self-heal. We once lived intimately with nature, understanding that we were one with nature. We didn’t see ourselves as separate or above plants, animals or other creatures. Instead, we had a great respect to the many beings that existed, and found ways to co-exist. When we needed the meat for survival, or to pick plants and herbs we always expressed gratitude in the form of prayer, not only to whatever name of the Creator we had, but also to the animal or plant that sacrificed themselves to us.

Of course there has always been periods of history where this was not the case. It is so important not to essentialize indigenous cultures or to blame solely European colonization for the ills that we have today. However, the events of European colonization and enslavement of indigenous, African, Asian peoples plays a more vivid role in our contemporary means of existing. But even with this being said, there are others who may not function from this lens. In order for us to move forward towards a harmonious future, we need to develop the capacity whereby we do not force perspectives on each other. Though, because there does exist pockets in our society that desire to spread fear and division, it is important to name it when doing the work of undoing unhealthy patterns to come back to our communities more strong and capable of standing to the values of truth, love and harmony.

However, to change our circumstances, we must do the difficult work of traveling within. In indigenous understandings of the intricate relationship between the individual and the external, they all say that what is experienced in the Self, is experienced without.

But what exactly is the Self?

If we are to accept that we are Human, which is by no means a low status of being, we will need to start to recognize the powerful role that we play in this natural world. We have to begin to challenge the notions that we have been fed of limitation and constraint. To be human, is in fact to be a representation of divinity. However, because we live in a high consumer culture that would rather have us dumbed down and distracted with junk that doesn’t feed or nurturer us, whether that be in food or culture of consumption, we have to struggle to remember who exactly we are. You are not your possessions, you are not what you do, you are not an identity, you are a Being that is consistent of the ingredients of the five elements: water — your blood, semen, saliva, fire— , earth—-, wind—your mind, thoughts, and metal. You consist of a body, a mind and a Soul/Spirit. When we are fed things that do not feed our minds, or bodies and spirits, we become sick. When we are surrounded in environments that do not nurture us, we become sick. When we are sick, we descend into a darkness, we land in perhaps the most fertile soil. The soil of change and transformation.

The first step to healing our lives is by taking responsibility and acknowledging the fact that all the things that seem to consistently be misshaping comes down to us. We cannot blame anyone for where we are, because we are where we are due to the ways that we have respond to all that happens to us. In fact, we cannot even blame ourselves. We have to just accept where it is that we are and give ourselves the permission to move forward. There will be days that will feel like you are going backward, but just keep on moving.

Stillness in motion. Motion in stillness.

I speak from experience. I have felt beaten down after losing jobs, being betrayed, surviving toxic and abusive relationships. It wasn’t until after one particular relationship that literally threw me in the ring when it came to psychological and emotional trauma that I had to say — “wait one minute, how did I get here? To this place where I would allow someone to literally come into my own home and dump upon me all their own warped traumas?” I had integrated their false claims of who I was and identified with it. I had lost a sense of who it is that I truly was. It was tough and it influenced many areas of my life. However, what I didn’t know in the moment that I was experiencing it, is that it actually was preparing me for an entirely new chapter of my life. A chapter that I am only beginning to surrender to and unfold. If it were not for that relationship, I perhaps would still be living my life, an artist not practicing her art, living in a city that didn’t inspire her. Since that relationship I have gone up and down in establishing balance within myself. I still have bouts of depression and anxiety, but with each episode I learn more skills of not only how to cope, but also how to gain balance and solidity. In my dive into my mind and emotions, in addition to establishing a spiritual practice, I learn the teachings of the powers of love, the interwoven co-existence of light and dark, and the ability to greatly transform.

All we gotta do, is let go.

When I realized that it is the pillars of beliefs that I hold and the attached thoughts that are used to uphold those beliefs that were dictating my life, I took it upon me to dive deep and challenge these beliefs. I’ve recognized that many of the beliefs that I have been operating under actually were never mine to begin with, but were adopted by family conditioning, a current friend group, or absorbing other elements of society. I consistently have to challenge my notions around purpose, love and relationships, what is possible, by asking myself the question: what is it that I want to believe? What is that I want to create?

It is there that we begin the journey of healing our lives. It is then, that we realize that we are our own medicine.


Sharrae Lyon
Sharrae Lyon is a facilitator, writer, filmmaker and public speaker. Her work is grounded in  reframing mental health as transformation. To inquire about current workshops, contact her at sharraelyon@gmail.com.

Eli
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: @piscesprincx , or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names