with a video by
Black folks do what white folks won’t.
[Historically] even in moments of the mundane.
It wields coercion & deceives
with fork-tongued ambiguities, is racism,
depending on where we stand within the margins.
Is the inevitability of our mental entrapment, arisen
from the psychic churn of epigenetics,
the changes in gene expression
brought on by the violence of inherited trauma,
can be terrifying to confront, but if ignored,
one runs the risk of becoming entangled in the past
[shackled & chained] like blackness,
generationally bitch-slapped by Katrina’s detonation.
In how many moments have we suspended our instincts
to insist that They mean no harm (even when They harm)?
We hold our tongues. Is a suspension
of disbelief. Is an ongoing act of pushing past
frustration & disappointment & imminent death
to get to laughter, empathy & the spiritual worth of our souls.
Our invisible labor made visible. Amerikkka is the result
of that labor. Is the last word. [Period.]
THE LAST WORD
Sleep, the same as it ever was, again and again and again, can be a subconscious respite from the slings and arrows of waking human interaction, or a fitful tossing of insomnia brought on by societal stresses and water-cooler biases fueled by frustration, desperation, and the seemingly addictive repetition of a caste-based history. It seems to me that [Black people] today are mighty quiet. I don’t know if they are tired, or so frustrated that they are often in a state of semi-paralysis.1
Lazy and “no count” are slurs traditionally used in this country, the USA, as descriptors of Blackness, despite the fact that we have always manually labored and sweated our kaleidoscope of color onto everything that amounts to Progress in this country. Scrub & haul & fetch & tote. / Black folks do what white folks won’t. Our labor is unseen, denied, underappreciated, and unattributed; is generationally censored through barnacle-bruising acts of racism that literally makes us invisible creators of all that a white-oriented nation wants, demands, desires. We are only acknowledged, it seems, when They need, want, desire something They won’t, or can’t, do themselves. The ninety-nine shades of Black ‘til we Blues, metaphorically like God, all powerful in a distanced absentia. We scrub and haul and fetch and tote. We build and disassemble, burdened toil and sweat and persevere. We improvise, care for those who consider us the least amongst them, and crab barrel-crowd the margins of the second caste to make their lives resemble a free and equal, organized and civilized society.
We are so very tired of being the villain in a recurring historical transgression.
Does any form of marginalization [The faceless and genderless figures. The missing limbs.] truly exist, if everyone, the entirety of the body politic, has not experienced it personally? Every person’s five senses are the signifiers that translate perception to reality. Think: only what white people have been, historically, taught to believe, based on their reimagined, whited-out reality vs. what Black folk epigenetically know to be historically true, based on the riptide commotion we swim in. Are we all, every one of us, truly awake on the same plane of existence, or are some of us asleep, dreaming dreams of dreamers dreaming dreams?
The true scope of Black contributions to the global society reveal us to be historical protagonists who not only replicated life, but anticipated it. The poem, “The Last Word,” is meant to create an aural tension, that hopefully provides food for thought, gives people an opportunity to reflect on learned biases, moral questions, changes in social norms, differing points of view, and the impact of historical events on the present. When we avoid, censor, and/or discourage an open discussion of racism, stereotypes become accepted truths instead of our building a capacity to think for ourselves.
— henry 7. reneau jr.
1 Shirley Chisholm.
THE LAST WORD
The video was directly inspired by the henry 7. reneau, jr. poem “The Last Word.” This montage of found footage presents the different forms of labor black people performed throughout history—from picking cotton to fighting war to major scientific discoveries which still impact contemporary society—in order to undermine negative stereotypes. Much of the video focuses on the cultural labor and influence that seems to be recognized and validated more than any other contribution. What does this say about our society and where we place value?
Specific lines have been directly lifted and repeated from the poem to highlight the labor performed by black people in America that is under-appreciated, but which provided the foundations on which the country’s wealth was built.
Through numerous Zoom calls across different time zones, it became even clearer that the experience of racism and discrimination remains consistent across waters and generations, with some exact repetitions. So, how do we remain active and motivated in the face of ignorance? When is it time to rest? Is there time? These are questions it seems we are all collectively grappling with in one way or another as tension continues to rise and visibility of racial discrimination increases. This is why the notion of sleep may seem appealing to some who are overwhelmed and paralyzed by this, which is what the video attempts to examine. Sleep as resistance and as a result of resistance.
– Anika Roach
HENRY 7. RENEAU JR. writer
henry 7. reneau, jr. writes words of conflagration to awaken the world ablaze, an inferno of free verse illuminated by his affinity for disobedience—is the spontaneous combustion that blazes from his heart, phoenix-fluxed red & gold, like a discharged bullet that commits a felony every day, exploding through change is gonna come to implement the fire next time. He is the author of the poetry collection, freedomland blues (Transcendent Zero Press) and the e-chapbook, physiography of the fittest (Kind of a Hurricane Press), now available from their respective publishers. Additionally, his collection, A Non-Violent Suicide Poem [or, The Saga of The Exit Wound], was a finalist for the 2022 Digging Press Chapbook Series. His work is published in Superstition Review, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Zone 3, Poets Reading the News and Rigorous. His work has also been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.
ANIKA ROACH artist
Anika Roach, born and raised in London, United Kingdom, is an artist whose current practice is centered around painting and moving images. Her work seeks to broaden existing narratives surrounding the painting of black people, offering alternative narratives in order to challenge the social and political weight which often negates the uniqueness of the black experience. The work is informed by sport history, politics, and a diverse range of media from classical art and popular culture. It endeavors to undermine and confuse established, pre-configured social norms.
Anika Roach was shortlisted for the 2019 Woon Foundation Prize hosted by BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and was included in the Bloomberg New Contemporaries show at South London Gallery in 2020. She holds a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design from the Camberwell College of Arts and studied Fine Art and the History of Art at Goldsmiths University in London, where she continues to work and live.
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