Kola Boof: The Message & The Messenger
Perhaps I am too Utopian *wink* but I do believe that when we gain insight & understanding, we can put our hearts & ethics into action. I respect the hell out of Kola Boof. Admire her greatly. Even when her words sting. For behind them, truth rings. I'd like to think there are others out there who can be taught daily, and not just from some 'word a day' calendar.
Gracie talks with Kola about the messages in her book of poems, Nile River Woman.
What is your definition of an author?
An author is either a historian, for preservation sake, or a storyteller--entertaining the family and passing on family values and beliefs through those stories. Of course, they use the written word to encapsulate their message.
Much of your body of work has activist tones, do you think of yourself
as 'an activist' more than a writer? How do you define Kola?
I'm really a filmmaker who can't get financing to make the kind of womanist-centered films that I would like to make, so it forces me to use the written word as the vehicle for my art. I'm an artist and a mother much more than I'm an activist--because I hate activism and it drains me--but then, because I'm so acutely aware of the special absurdity of black women's lives in this culture and of the rising realities of colorism, it's impossible for someone with my personality not to become an activist.
Please tell me more about the movies you'd like to make.
I would like to make very serious, lush, romantic, highly stylized films about deep dark beautiful chocolate women with jungle nappy hair and brains like kaleidescopes. In other words, real black women. I can count on one hand the films about black women that really mean anything to me, and since most films about black women are not made by us, but are made by white men, white women or black men...it would just mean so much to me, to put on film, the things we talk about in private. Our ethos as it were.
Why movies, why not just stick with books?
Films have really replaced books as the medium through which the mores and styles of the society are set--and most of the audience that I write for will die and leave this earth without ever knowing that I even existed or was telling their story. This is why Alice Walker said the film "Color Purple" was so important to her career--because suddenly, for the first time, she saw young black inner city girls reading her novels on the subway. Because of the movie, they were made aware that Alice was out there and that someone was writing their experience, and it's the same for me. There are millions of frustrated, angry, isolated young black women, many who simply don't read books, because they don't think there's anything in a book that speaks directly or represents them directly. Through film, I cannot only reach them, but I make strident arguments against those in the society who are more powerful than us and who oppress us or take part in our marginalization, which of course, is everybody. The visual is always stronger than the written word.
At the end of the book, you talk quite a bit about rape. It seems that the woman who wrote that interview was unable to understand rape because she considered it an act unto itself, as if it were a static
moment in time, and in parallel with the circumstance with Osama, she
seemed unable to accept that your survival was based on pleasing him
(at least on some level). What I thought most profound about this is how
it seems, in my mind, to compare to how you are received in general...
People seem unable to comprehend the truth, or at least not a truth so
terrible. It is so far removed from common western experience, that
people want to shut it out, make it go away ~ so they make you want to
go away. It's a form of killing the messenger. Do you agree?
My God! I couldn't have said it better myself. And because I'm the messenger of so many lurid truths, there's scarcely anyone that's glad to see me.
Along these lines, you seem to believe that a woman who has not lived
as you have is unable to understand you. When you mentioned my being
white and yet reviewing the poetry, you were most challenging! *wink* While
I cannot claim to know what it is like to be a black woman, I can
understand injustice, sorrow, pain, loss, rage, confusion, lies, survival. Perhaps not all on the same scale. But it's not a competition for those feelings, is it? It's about beginning to understand the depth, the cause ~ to find the humanity in myself & call myself to task for what I can do about it. Or at the very least to be able to resonate with the feelings to the depth I am able... The above is not a clear question, I realize this. But I welcome your reply, as if we were sitting on the sofa together over a delicious slice of pie or chocolate confection...
What you sense is my bitterness against white women in this society. And although I used to suppress it--I now make it a point to express it, so that the pain is not inside me, but outside me, and I make it point to be honest, and I do that because I realize that I am not obligated to pretend that White women are my sisters or that they give a damn about me because we're both women. As an African woman in a white supremacist culture that often doesn't even consider me a woman--because I'm authentically black, and in the face of white women's denial about the difference in treatment...I just don't feel too much sisterhood towards white women, and quite frankly, although I'm extremely close to my white publicist and the white woman who designs all my books covers--in general, white women make me sick, and it's not for the reasons they would think, which usually have to do with black men--but then again, it's because of that, too. I mean I live in a society that encourages my own son to be prejudiced against me--to covet whiteness to bring him comfort. How does a white woman think that makes me feel? I'll tell you what she thinks. She thinks it's just the natural order of things and she doesn't give a damn.
That's a rather large, bold statement. I know you are wise enough to
realize that not 'all white women' believe this is the natural order of
things. Many of us do give a damn. While I cannot & will not dismiss
your experiences, nor the situation as it is for many if not most black
women, what do you say to those of us who do give a damn?
Well...God bless you and here's a cookie (Smile).
What is the single first step we as white women can do in order to make
steps towards being able to call you, all women, 'sister?' I don't
mean ass kissing, I mean what can we do, as individuals, to make changes
that are inclusive?
White women need to acknowledge that this a White Supremacist culture, world wide, that was created by their forefathers, and therefore, no matter how nice and sweet and non-racist they are--they benefit from White Supremacy.
That would be the first step. Next, they could spend more time learning the history of Black women and understanding the nature of colorism, which is the root activator in racism. While we've done a lot to get rid of racism, we are still burdened with colorism and the belief that all things that are completely black are devoid of light, of worth and are inferior. White women are the main symbol of White Supremacy, because without them, the white race cannot get born
--therefore, the white man rules the world through the white woman--and white women remain on a pedestal because of the colorism that has been institutionally taught to the black masses.
If White women understood Black women's history and their experiences, then they would see that we are not jealous of them and we are not evil shrews with bad attitudes. Black women are human beings, fully created in the image of GOD, just like any other human beings. We want to love and be loved, to have and nurture children, to have families and to feel that we have a place in the world. We can't be sisters with white women--mainly because--there is no sister in these white women. They're too busy benefitting from White supremacy and denying it--and many times, it's our own self-destructive black men who assist them in their denial.
Then they wonder why Black women, who are not only made invisible in this culture, but are betrayed by the very Black men they've protected and stood up for all these centuries--are so angry. Black women are angry because they have every right to be angry. And what goes around...will come around.
What is 'success' for Kola the writer? And for 'the women?'
For me--if my writing could save my people and bring me financial security (so that I could afford to write more), that would be success. And for women, if we could make the world see women as human beings, beyond the intellectual, that would be success--but I think that Black women have a much worse journey and task than white women, and I didn't use to think that, but now I see that in many ways...black women are not even considered women. So our situation is a completely separate struggle.
What other projects are you working on?
I'm working for hard on my new novel "The Sexy Part of the Bible", which is a very intricate novel dealing with Cloning in Africa.
And we'll talk to you before then, I hope! Thank you, Kola.
tima usrah (through fire comes the family)