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Mulatto: A performance in Blackface

November 16, 2017

By:Shonda Buchanan

 

Too obvious-The word.

 

Cut to: Andrew Jackson

Shaving, glasses off

A nick, then slit of blood.

 

Mixed Bloods, Colored, Zambo

How Many Different kinds of them?

 

Let’s reach outside Our borders.

 

Cut to:

 Germany

Hitler’s Bunker

 

A letter is being written, folded and there are screams

 in the chambers.

 

Cut to:

Walter Plecker leaving his pristinely organized bureau of vital statistics desk.

Workers are allowing black and white,

Black and Indian couples to…

Claim “White” or “Indian” or “Black”  That is a problem.

   They are all--- a problem.

Has. Got. To. Stop.

 

Hitler’s letter makes Plecker’s day.

He turns into Indian summer sun with a dagger eye.

All Colored.

  There are termites in his tombs. We only want purebloods.

 

In.  A nick. Then slit of blood. Isn’t this how it always begins?

Auschwitz. Auschwitz.  In Virginia. Sweet Virginia.

 

When I read this poem my first time, I got chills.  Chills from the knowledge Ms. Buchanan dropped and the power in her words.  Stan and I hosted 40+ Loyola Marymount University (LMU) students at our home (April 2017) for an event I themed “Are you Woke?” and the winning table analyzed the above poem.  I am going to share with you the LMU students’ analysis of Mulatto: A performance in Blackface:

 

The LMU students start off with, “Good afternoon, our table decided to share with you what we learned from a poem in Shonda Buchanan’s book Who’s Afraid of Black Indians?  The author, Shonda Buchanan is an LMU alum who draws parallels between slavery, Auschwitz, post slavery and oppressive tactics.  For example, it can be hard to imagine a world retrograding back to tragic times like the Holocaust and slavery but it’s time to stay woke. Andrew Jackson, Hitler, Walter Plecker. Andrew Jackson who was mixed, Hitler’s Bunker in Germany, Walter Plecker who designed the vital statistics desk which began to label people white or black.  Our group decided that the highlight of Ms. Buchanan’s poem was to inform readers of history.”

 

How Mulatto: A performance in Blackface relates to AAA

Andrew Jackson was the 7th President of the United States (1828),founder of the democratic party, slave owner, responsible for the Indian Removal Act of 1830  and the internet lists him as one of the seven former Black presidents’.  Whenever Hitler’s name comes up for me I think Holocaust, however, he was also known for being a mentally disturbed dictator and leader of the Nazi Party in Germany.  Walter Plecker. (April 2, 1861 – August 2, 1947) was an American physician who employed Virginia's Act to Preserve Racial Integrity (1924), Plecker separated Virginia citizens into two simplified racial categories: white and colored.  Just like Ms. Buchanan woke us up with history, AAA will wake you up with history that uses this knowledge as power.  The most important thing about knowing your history is that you do not want things like the Holocaust or Slavery to repeat themselves and Black Mulatto states this in the final line,

“Isn’t this how it Always begins? Auschwitz. Auschwitz.  In Virginia, Sweet Virginia.” 

Therefore AAA starts with knowledge to empower, uplift, and let the historical truth be told. 

 

I am beyond proud of the LMU students analysis of Black Mulatto, they  nailed it!!!  Stan and I cannot wait to host them again in 2018 at our home.  When I asked Ms. Buchanan what inspired her to write Mulatto: A performance in Blackface, she replied , “I wrote this poem because I wanted to show the insidious relationship between the three men, and the damage that their letter exchanges brought to American Indians, Jews, and Black people.” Shonda is a kind and knowledgeable spirit.  She is my “Sistah friend” and a force to be reckoned with. 

 

About the Author:

Fall 2017 Writer-in-Residence at William & Mary College, Education Specialist for the U.S. Department of State, and former Assistant Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of English & Foreign Languages at Hampton University, Shonda is an award-winning poet whose poetry and essays have been featured in numerous anthologies.

As a journalist and professor, Shonda engages issues of selfhood and human agency, race and ethnicity, class and gender, as well as technology and environment. For the last twenty years, Shonda's work has focused on art, culture, women, bi-raciality, spirituality, identity, African American, American Indian and tri-racial narratives. Her work has been featured in The Seventh Wave, Urban Voices: 51 Poems from 51 American Poets, Silver Birch Press, Art Meets Literature: An Undying Love Affair, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature, Geography of Rage: Remember the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, and Catch the Fire!!! A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African-American Poetry, Rivendale, LongStoryShort, and Voices from Leimert Park, two poetry anthologies which she edited.

Interviewed by CNN and NPR commentator Angela Rye for the Harriet Tubman Press launch in Los Angeles, Shonda is an Eloise Klein-Healy Scholarship recipient, a Sundance Institute fellow, Jentel Residency fellow and a PEN Center Emerging Voices fellow.

Her memoir, Black Indian, is forthcoming from Wayne State University Press in Winter 2018. Working on a third collection of poetry about Nina Simone, a book of poetry about Phillis Wheatley and Jupiter Hammon, two screenplays, and a collection of essays about the first migration of Free People of Color from the Southeast to the Midwest, Shonda’s book, Equipoise: Poems from Goddess Country was published by San Francisco Bay Press in July 2017. Shonda’s collection of poetry, Who's Afraid of Black Indians?, was nominated for the Library of Virginia Literary Awards and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Awards.

 

 

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