As many of you know, I am being nominated to be the next Poet Laureate of Kentucky. In the history of Kentucky Poet Laureates, a position that was established in 1926, there has only been one Kentucky Poet Laureate that was African-American, my friend, Frank X Walker. While it may be astounding to those reading this blog that in almost 100 years the poets that have been elevated to represent the poetic voice of Kentucky have primarily been White and male, I am not surprised. That is often the case in America. We live in a country where it was once illegal for Black people to learn how to read, let alone write poetry. We live in a country where White America has written and carefully constricted, constructed and controlled the narrative of Black people for almost 400 years, so it comes to no surprise to me that should I be selected, I would be the first Black woman to hold the position.
With the current turmoil in our country, I believe that I was selected for such a time as this. I would never ask to be chosen for anything in which I felt that I was not qualified. But this is a position that I have been preparing for my entire life. I know that I am the right person at the right time and I believe that what God has for me, is for me and it will be what it will be. Having said that, there is one person that appoints the Kentucky Poet Laureate- Governor Matt Bevin. My criticism of Matt Bevin and his governing of Kentucky has been intense and warranted. I refuse to hold any position and not speak truth to power. I believe that when you have the opportunity to stand up and speak the truth, you stand even if your knees are knocking. I will not change, water down, or sugarcoat my message today, tomorrow or ever just to hold a position. While I am honored to be nominated and would be pleased to be selected, what means more to me, is that I tell the truth. Unapologetically.
And Kentucky’s truth is tragic, horrendous, and unimaginable in regards to Black Americans.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit The National Memorial for Peace and Justice also known as The Lynching Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, that memorializes racial terror lynchings. To be classified as a state that participated in racial terror lynchings, (defined as lynchings that were intended to terrorize Black Americans and enforce racial hierarchy) the state had to lynch 100 or more Black people. Kentucky lynched 162 Black people. In Rockfield, Kentucky, Robert Morton was lynched for writing a note to a White woman. In Bowling Green, Kentucky, Caleb Gadly was lynched for walking behind the wife of his White employer.
As I walked through the museum, I was determined to take pictures of each of the hanging pillars that bore Kentucky’s name. As my arms started to grow tired from taking so many pictures, I bent over, and I wept. I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer knowing that I lived in a state that had a history of lynching Black people that looked like just like me. I cried because I was fighting so hard for justice in a state that was saturated in the blood of Black men, women, and children. I wept because just underneath the bluegrass was the bones of Black bodies that never found a proper burial. I cried because I lived in a state where I had to go online last year (even to type this brings tears to my eyes) and complete a form about my thoughts on Confederate statues in Louisville. I was appalled and heartbroken that I had to fill out a form online to debate the humanity of Black people. I was broken that a Confederate statue had been moved to a town where a pregnant Black woman named Lucy Hamilton was sentenced to death for killing her White slave master and rapist. Lucy gave birth to her child and handed the baby over to the sheriff’s wife before being hung, and this is the very place Kentucky decided to relocate a Confederate statue. How can I not weep? My God.
Kentucky may want to pretend it was neutral when it comes to slavery and the Civil War but make no mistake, slavery, White supremacy and racism are as connected to Kentucky as bourbon and bluegrass. Stories of forced movement of enslaved Black men and women in treacherous conditions walking nearly 200 miles, is part of the legacy of Kentucky.
My people were sold down the Ohio River into places of horror. (Please read The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist to gather an understanding Kentucky’s role in slavery.) My Old Kentucky Home is not a ballad about the love of Kentucky. It is a song about a slave anticipating being sold down the river where slaves have heard the life in the Deep South is even worse than being a slave in Kentucky, as if there are degrees to being in bondage and this is our state song.
And now here we are, in this state, with its history and Matt Bevin says he will run for reelection to be the Governor of Kentucky.
Please listen to me, Kentucky. Especially White people in Kentucky. If you have never listened to me before, please hear me now. Let me be as plain and as clear as I can be, YOUR WHITENESS WILL NOT SAVE YOU! You have been tricked to believe that you are somehow better than other People of Color and me, a Black woman because you are White. YOU AREN’T! PLEASE RECOGNIZE THE GAME! This has been the game since time was time. NOTHING HAS CHANGED! People in high positions of power PROFIT from this way of thinking and they will manipulate you to believe that EVEN in your worst state it is better than being a Negro. And you fail to see that WE ARE IN THE SAME BOAT!
The things that you want, we want. You want healthcare? So do we. You want your kids to go to a good school? So do we. You want a decent job that keeps a roof over your head, food on the table, lets you keep the lights on and save a little bit for rainy days? So do we. You want to work and have a pension and be able to retire? So do we. You want a government that looks out for the least of those, the forgotten? So do we! You want to be able to go to the doctor and have health insurance even though you might have high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma? So do we. You want to work a job with a decent wage to be able to save and send your kids to college? So do we. You want to stop robbing Peter to pay Paul? So do we. You want the powers that be to stop coming into your community, stealing the resources and giving you the scraps? So do we.
WE ARE NOT THAT DIFFERENT! In fact, I would argue we are MORE alike than you could EVER IMAGINE! I don’t care WHO you are, the BASIC HUMAN NEEDS of LIFE generally are the SAME! I don’t want to take ANYTHING from you. What I want for my people is JUSTICE. And you have been led to believe that justice for the marginalized means losing something for you. WRONG! What I need you to understand is that justice for us means JUSTICE FOR YOU TOO! GET ON BOARD!! Chickens ALWAYS come home to roost, and you act as if you cannot hear the clucking at your doorstep! Your Whiteness will not save you! Trust me! You are NOT in a league with men like Bevin or Trump. Bevin is a MULTI-MILLIONAIRE with NO REGARD for your day to day problems. Do you think that he cares about your pension? His family is FINE! Trump is worth 2.8 BILLION dollars. YOU WILL NEVER BE INVITED TO THE TABLE AT MAR-A-LAGO! You would be bussing the table along with immigrants they cannot stand unless they are providing them a service! They would place their Ferragamo shoes on your back and walk all over you with no regard. Their wealth coupled with a lack of compassion for fellow human beings and a gross longing for power means you are no better than me. Contrary to popular belief, YOU ARE IN THE SAME BOAT AS ME and they want us fighting over life jackets that they have limited.
Bevin has made his choice to seek reelection, a man that has SHOWN you what he feels about the least of those in Kentucky. Do not be fooled by your Whiteness. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security because of your Whiteness. Your Whiteness will not save you! Please know, if you are 2-5 paychecks away from being in a financial crisis, you may as well come on over here with us. If you have a pre-existing condition and need healthcare, come on over here with us. If you are tired of fighting just to exist, come on over here with us. If you are sick of working just to be broke, come on over here with us. If you work in a restaurant you can’t even afford to eat in, come on over here with us! If you work the night shift at a hospital you can’t even afford to be sick in, come on over here with us. If you work at a department store you can’t afford to shop in, come on over here with us. If you are poor, low-income and White, come on over here with us. If you live in an area of Kentucky where people have robbed your town of its resources, come on over here with us. If your father or grandfather worked the coal mines and now suffers from black lung and they want to take away their healthcare, come on over here with us. If you want to stand on the right side of history and humanity, come on over here with us. YOUR WHITENESS WILL NOT SAVE YOU!!
Trust me! Listen to me! For once, Kentucky, bet on humanity and not on hatred. Look around you! We are not your enemy. Black people have NEVER been your enemy. You have always fought the wrong people. Your enemy was never us. Go look in a mirror. The people that have their foot on your neck, that are taking your healthcare and pensions, look just like you.
If we are going to survive, we must start working together. There are MORE OF US THAN THEM! All we have to do is STAND TOGETHER and RISE, RISE, RISE!