“I don’t have time for uppity black folks who are embarrassed by our stories, or by white people who are just ‘interested’ in them.”
The above quote is one of the realest things I’ve ever heard. The way dominant society distorts black narratives is almost mythic in nature. When the police gun us down we become ‘demons’ who deserved to die. Sometimes, our entire identity is appropriated for the sake of those who would commodify our culture, making “hood” fashionable but giving nothing valuable to our communities in return. Black identity is more likely to be used as a Halloween costume, a parlor trick, or a fun caricature than to be realized as it truly is: the foundation of an entire people.
This is why it’s important for black people to use our art as a medium to reclaim our power. The ability to tell our stories is what roots us in our humanity. It becomes the counter narrative against a world all too willing to distort our culture for personal gain. This art can come in many forms. You can write, rap, paint, or dance, but you must not stop telling the world who you are. It’s only through wrestling with the your story that you can heal yourself and positivity impact the world around you.
Siaara Freeman is a poet, political activist and lifetime learner, who refuses to let her voice be silenced. Instead, she uses poetry to rebuild herself and teach others do the same. Siaara, 25, has toured the United States, performed at poetry slams, and taught inner city kids how to use their art to heal themselves, monetize their craft and take control of their narratives. Her art dives fearlessly into the heart of the trials that have affected her and our communities as a whole.
Siaara has experienced a number of obstacles throughout her life. At a very young age, she witnessed her father lose his life and later found herself trapped in a relationship marked by domestic violence. She also struggles with her identities and story being constantly misinterpreted. To better illustrate this, in one of her most critically acclaimed pieces, “Ten Things They Never Tell You About the Drug Dealers Daughter,” she explores the struggle of trying to reconcile oneself with both the death of her father and the ingrained racist tropes that sprung up around his story. In the video for this piece (shown below) Siaara says, “The Drug Dealer, the Father doesn’t miss a pageant, a slam, and they ain’t rich, but they ain’t in them projects anymore either…”
As much as society would love to focus on that aspect of his story, her father wasn’t just a drug dealer. He was a man who influenced her in a number of profound ways, both encouraging her pursuit of writing and teaching her how to brand herself through her art. There are many other stories just like his, and only we can take control of our narratives by showing all aspects of ourselves: even the parts we would rather hide.
Siaara, and other artists who want to make an impact, are only able to do so by making themselves vulnerable. This is an expression of power that most black people — especially black women — find weak. Siaara states, “Black women have a hard time compartmentalizing. We take the ‘strong black woman role’ because that’s the only role we’re allowed to have in our communities. It’s the only role we feel comfortable with.”
According to Siaara, because of this, the only choices we tend to make involve either running away from our vulnerabilities or using them as a coping mechanism to help us deal with the world around us. She says, “Some people run off the need for vengeance, anger, and bitterness. You learn to exist based on something that occurs to you. You start to use it as a coping mechanism, and it can be hard to let go.”
However, in order to break the cycle of shame we have to use our art to heal ourselves. Siaara shared the troubles she had after her father passed away and how her writing brought her back from the edge. Siaara shares,
“I started writing when I was 14. I eventually I got a chance to go to Brave New Voices (a poetry competition where young people perform from each region of the United States) which was huge. My father died [when I was] 16, but it was crazy because my teammates really wanted me to still go up there and perform. My first thought was no, but when I got up there and told my story, it was one of the most healing moment of my life.”
Given how difficult it can be for black people to face our pain and heal ourselves, we often don’t know how to begin. According to Siaara, it starts with pulling from those places that hurt the most. She says,
“First you have to get to that place where you want to heal. Write something that makes you feel weak when you say it. Dig into that fear, shame and guilt. Our culture is a very public/private place. No one wants to air their dirty laundry. Because of this, we often feel like we’re the only one’s that deal with something. When you write your story and speak on it, you realize that you aren’t alone. When you realize that, the shame disappears.”Ultimately, art is healing. No one is asking you to be James Baldwin or Maya Angelou, but you do have to be willing to put yourself and your personal narrative on display. Be fearless in apprehending your story. You are not alone. Siaara is a perfect example of an artist who has the courage to put her vulnerabilities on the stage in an effort to both heal herself and influence others to do the same. We can only make a positive influence on the world around us by accepting ourselves in the fullness of our experiences and not letting anyone distort our vision of who we are as a people.
To view more of Siaara’s work, go here. Watch everything. If you are interested in checking out other amazing spoken word artists, Siaara mentioned a few artists in particular including Airea Dee Matthews, Rachel McKibbens, and Natasha T. Miller.
Anna Gibson is a student at Wayne State University and a freelance journalist who seeks to tell the stories of the marginalized. She’s dope. You can reach her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa or on Facebook where she’s totally not hiding under the name Anna Gibson.