I was in the second grade the first time someone called me the “n” word. As my classmates laughed with their blonde pigtails bobbing up and down, it began to stir a little rage inside of me. Today I work at a salon where silver-haired, white men would never use that word to describe me, but they ask boldly for the’ colored gal’ to cut their hair. One afternoon I was searching YouTube to find some solace for my little rage, and I stumbled upon a poet who spoke to my little brown inner child and the woman I’ve become. Her name is Staceyann Chin, and her words aren’t just nasty; they are deliciously rebellious.
Born into a home of dysfunction amid the poverty-stricken people of Montego Bay, Jamaica, she came into this world with a purpose. Her poetry lives at the intersection of black queer writer down on feminist and activist lane. Every time I hear her speak the words that I’m often not brave enough to utter, I experience liberation. Many years have passed since I’d read everything I could about this small woman with a bold Jamaican accent and an afro of colorful curls reaching out as if they too had their brown fist in the air.
I’ve read her book twice, and I keep it in a special place in my library. It must be close enough that I can reach it and read a chapter or more when I feel that rage stirring inside of me. The Other Side of Paradise is her memoir. It begins with the tales of her childhood abandonment. Then takes readers on a journey of how she became a brave soldier for all women; especially those striving to be heard.
“The audience applauds every time I speak. I want to stop my lines and start shouting that I am a lesbian. To tell them they are clapping their heterosexual hands in appreciation of a lesbian performance. I want to run out into the crowd and tell them what I am. But the scripted words keep forcing themselves out of me with an anger I do not recognize” (OSP 268).
Her every cadence speaks of hard truths that would cause many people to turn their heads. I witnessed her power while listening to her talk at a college in my city. Because I had to leave work to attend, I arrived late. I slid into a seat at the back of the audience and tried to pay close attention to everything she said. When she talked about her ‘cocoa bread’ trickles of people got up to leave. Mostly they were men, cowards I call them, who decided that her language was too powerful for their sensitive ears. Only the strongest of us stayed to hear her warrior cry about very topic covering the lovers that she openly admits were confused, the politicians who try to shut women up and the everyday challenges of existing in brown skin.
Recently Miss Chin completed a movie project called “Motherstruck” based on a play she wrote, directed by Cynthia Nixon and produced by Rosie O’Donnell, exploring another taboo subject, a single black lesbian’s quest to have a child. Miss Chin lends her brilliant light to expose hard challenges that so many people in the LGBTQIA community face.
In a poem entitled, “If Only out of Vanity,” featured on Def Jam poetry series, she speaks of what her life will be like as an aging activist.
“I want to write the poem that the New York Times will not print because it might start some kind of black or lesbian or even a white revolution.“
She represents a decadence of a dessert that you’re not supposed to want but crave, never the less. Her artistry is featured in the book entitled, Making the Trees Shiver: An Anthology of the First Six Years of the Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival. She has been interviewed on Oprah, interviewed on 60 Minutes, won numerous awards for her activism and co-wrote and performed on Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam. On her Facebook page, she often allows the public to enter her, ‘living room protest’ where she shares her beautiful daughter’s insights as well as her own on topics that challenge the status quo. Her hundreds of performances are easy to find on YouTube and other social media sites.
It’s necessary that every woman knows her name so that she can stir the little rage inside of you so that you too can be your best ‘nasty’ woman.
Staceyann Chin is a #Nasty Woman Writer and Activist.
©Starla Carr 2019
Chin, Staceyann. Making the Trees Shiver. NY: Writers Coalition Press, 2011.
Chin, Staceyann. Motherstruck. Tribeca Film Festival, www.motherstrucktheseries.com, 2019.
Chin, Staceyann. The Other Side of Paradise. Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2009.
Def Poetry Jam, YouTube, 2010.