Black Girl Picks Cotton

(On an ordinary Saturday afternoon, Liver Chick and Boy Toy are walking the neighborhood, enjoying the wonderful weather in the valley. They suddenly walk by a cotton field close to their home.)

Liver Chick: I should pick some cotton.

Boy Toy: What did you just say?

Liver Chick: I said I should pick some cotton. I want to spin some into yarn. The harvest is over, so what’s left is free for the taking.

(Boy Toy takes Liver Chick by the arm and holds her hand up to her face.)

Boy Toy: Honey, do you see what color you are?

Liver Chick: Yes. I’m black. So?

Boy Toy: Right. Which means you can’t pick cotton.

Liver Chick: Well that’s not fair. It shouldn’t matter what color I am. I’m allowed to pick cotton.

Boy Toy: Yes dear. And I’m sure your ancestors who went through 500 years of slavery being forced to pick cotton would be so proud to see you picking cotton now.

Liver Chick: Just because I’m black doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be allowed to pick cotton.

Boy Toy: I bet there is some confederate slave owner rolling in his grave right now hearing you say that.

Liver Chick: Why should I have to order my cotton from some online company when there is some perfectly good and free cotton right around the corner from my house?

(Boy Toy stops and puts his hands on Liver Chick’s shoulders)

Boy Toy: Honey, you can’t pick cotton. Remember, then whole slavery thing? The civil rights movement? We shall overcome? Free at last, free at last, thank God almight we are free at last? Blacks don’t pick cotton anymore.

Liver Chick: So, if I was any other color but black, I could pick cotton?

Boy Toy: Yes.

Liver Chick: Well that’s just racist.

Boy Toy: I seriously doubt the NAACP would support you in fighting that case. Sorry honey, but you just can’t pick cotton.

Liver Chick: But I want to pick it!  You can just stand here and watch while I pick some.

Boy Toy: Are you crazy!?! Yes honey, let’s have me, the Hitler-baby-looking-white-boy stand here and watch a black girl pick cotton. Every civil rights group will be at our door tomorrow ready to kick my ass. I can see the front page of now- White man makes his black wife pick cotton, Slavery alive and well in Arizona.

Liver Chick: Just be my look-out. No one will find out. I’ll just take a little. Please honey. Please!

(Boy Toy looks around and checks to make sure no one is looking)

Boy Toy: Okay, pick some quick.

(Liver Chick snatches a few pieces of cotton off the broken cotton plants and admires the pieces in her hands)

Boy Toy: Don’t stop to look at it, hurry up and hide it before someone sees you. I swear woman, if I get lynched for this I’m coming back as a ghost and haunting you.

(Liver Chick gives Boy Toy a hug and a kiss on the lips)

Liver Chick: Thank you honey. I love you.

Boy Toy: Great, when the guys ask me at work what I did this weekend I can tell them I took my wife out cotton picking.

Liver Chick: Just tell then we were roll-playing.

Boy Toy: Oh yes, we like to play slave and master all the time. It really turns my wife on.

Liver Chick: Yeah, we’re kinky like that.

(Liver Chick and Boy Toy continue there walk. Liver Chick makes a mental note to start taking night walks in order to pick more cotton.)

Finding My History Through Spinning

It is interesting the way God works things out in a person’s life. A simple prayer said out of frustration can transform you in ways you could have never foreseen.

For some time now I have been struggling with a love/hate relationship that I have with my black heritage. Despite being born black, being raised by black parents, growing up in a black neighborhood and going to an almost all black school, I still feel very disconnected to my black heritage.

I think a lot of it has to do with my refusal to carry on my back what I call the ‘black cross’. All through my life all I ever heard about was slavery and how ‘the man’ is keeping us down and how ‘they’ will always see us as slaves and that we will never get any true chance at life. It always seemed to me that my race has gotten stuck in this slavery rut. As if that is all we ever were and the only history we have. I started to feel that being black meant to be sorrowful and depressed. There was no joy in being black. Just a continued mental pounding of that short period in time of hate that is suppose to always be the thread that binds us.

Although my parents encouraged all their kids to pursue the arts, socially I was pressured to become a doctor or a lawyer, to show ‘the man’ that blacks were capable of more then just skilled labor. Being crafty wasn’t cute. “You knit?“ “Didn’t you know black house slaves were forced to knit socks and other garments for their slave owners?” “You spin yarn?” “You know how many slave women were ordered to spin yarn and even forced to do sexual favors for the men that owned them.” I could do nothing without it being coated with a thick layer of slavery shame. Nothing could be done without slavery being connected to it.

Well, I was tired of being bound by just that one dark moment in history. But at the same time I hated not feeling connected to my heritage. Not having something about being black that I could be proud of, (besides my cute ass).

It was no surprise that I began to envy other cultures and races. Their foods and festivals, stories, arts, clothes and traditions. That is what I wanted, what I longed for. In a frustrated breath I asked God for help. And he heard me loud and clear.

Out of nowhere, I was reminded of a spindle that I have. It was given to me while I was taking a textile class at Phoenix College. The woman who sat next to me in class was from Ethiopia. She had a hard time taking notes from the overhead the teacher used, so I would kindly let her copy my notes. At one point during the semester I offered to show the class how I spin yarn. I brought in my home made spindle and showed the class my modified way of spinning that I would do while riding public transportation. Near the end of the semester, the lady from Ethiopia brought in a Ziploc bag that contained a spindle, some cotton bolls and a small stick for holding the finished yarn. She told me that it the spindle was made in Ethiopia and it is the style of spindle that she and her village use. It was a drop spindle made from a cut out dry piece of gourd and a sort of bamboo-like stem. I was honored to receive such a gift. I tried my hand at spinning the cotton, but failed because of the messages I had gotten from reading so many spinning books and articles that said cotton was the hardest thing to spin and years of experience was needed before a spinner should attempt such difficult yarn. So I put the cotton and spindle away and there it remained until now.

Well, I had that spindle in my mind and could not let it loose. I searched the house until I found it and looked at what was in front of me. Without any real thought, I pulled the seeds away from the cotton, fluffed it with my hands and started spinning. It was as if I’d been spinning this cotton all my life. I knew how it felt, how to draft it and make it into smooth yarn. I then had to urge to find out more about this spindle. In my research I learned that Ethiopia has been producers of fine handspun cotton for almost a thousand years. I learned that Africa in general was the home of great spinners and weavers who had been experts at their craft long before the rest of the world knew the Earth was round. It was Africa who made and traded exquisite textiles with the Arab nations and the Europeans across the great desert trade routes. Africa was once the largest producer of cotton fabric as cotton was so easy to grow in the region.

This was it! This was something I could feel proud about. My connection to my heritage. We were not kings and queens taken from our land and forced into slavery. We were a proud and productive society full of wonderful arts and culture that still continues today. We should be proud of the arts and skills of our hands. This is what has made use such a great people and this should be our history- the one we pass on to our children. It should not be slavery, but our arts that binds us.