Rootleaf Stew for the Rebel Soul

Stacie: Greetings Dames Nation! Despite the fact that we’re being introduced to you on such an inauspicious date (the fall of the Republic Trump’s inauguration), we’re hoping that perhaps we can bring a little light to your corner of the galaxy.

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It’s probably no accident that I’ve taken quite a bit of solace in all things Star Warslately—if my heightened terror concerns about this incoming administration tell you anything, I’m currently typing this on my laptop with an R2-D2 Band-Aid covering the camera. A couple of years ago, Star Wars was simply one of my favorite movies of all time in which I could live out my innermost fantasies of navigating through asteroid belts with scoundrels. Who knew a movie about a scrappy band of rebels fighting against a fascist regime would become an American reality? Carrie Fisher’s death the day after Christmas gave me additional pause. She was the first princess I ever saw on screen who wasn’t waiting to be saved and she murked a gangster with the chains of her own enslavement so, yeah, iconic. I was also a fan of her non-Star Wars work—Postcards from the Edge and Soapdish to name a couple. Her life was messy and complicated but she was also extremely intelligent and riotously funny and to me, her openness about her struggles with mental health and addiction made her more of a rebel leader than Star Wars ever did.

In lieu of all this, I’ve been obsessively watching the canon and pondering resistance, data formats, and rebel women who are inspiring to me. Shout out to Ahsoka Tano, Steela Gerrera, Octavia Butler, and Gina Torres. (Sidebar to express my displeasure that she didn’t have a bigger role in “Westworld.” Send off, much?)

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My love for you burns eternal, Gina. Also, you should’ve been Wonder Woman. But I’ll give Gal Gadot a chance. I guess.

Evelyn: Hello Dames and archivists of Scarif. It’s a good time to remember that rebellions are built on hope and the power of hope can carry you through dark times or presidential terms.

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Any excuse to use this Drake gif.

Escaping into the realm of books, movies, and music has stilled some of the anxiety I’ve had since waking up on November 9, 2016. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. In Star Wars, good always overcomes evil eventually, but that morning it was like the Galactic Empire won.

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Nailed it.

I was only a month old when the original Star Wars debuted. My mother said she watched it several times that year with me in tow and I would sleep the entire time. Her fondness for the franchise reached me, but I wasn’t aware of it until Return of the Jedi.

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Don’t blink or you’ll miss the sole Black woman in this episode.

The optimism that allowed the Rebel Alliance to succeed in stealing the Death Star blueprint (um, spoiler alert?), paralleled the energy that most of the United States had for Hillary Clinton, except that Clinton appeared to have easier odds – I mean, did you notice all of the digitization issues at the Imperial Archives? And since I saw Rogue One on opening day, there was still a small chance that the Electoral College could Obi-Wan us out of this mess, but alas…

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It’s amazing that such a high grossing collection of films with themes of rising up against a corrupt government can be wholeheartedly supported by people as a science fiction movie, but that those very same people can also elect Emperor Palpatine? Wait a minute, I’m attempting to offer some levity to this day. Well, at least Donald Glover is playing Lando Calrissian in the next Star Wars film.

Stacie: I’m fully on board here with Glover as Calrissian, though, I’m a bit bummed that it comes at the expense of a speedily delivered second season of "Atlanta", which IMHO was one of the best shows on TV last year and what I hope the future of television can be—one that allows black people to explore their humanity in a unique and intimate way. I kept thinking that the show couldn’t top itself and then there was the episode with the invisible car. "Atlanta" is one of my escape-pod-from-reality shows—it is absurdist enough that it feels like an actual escape, unlike Issa Rae’s "Insecure" on HBO, which is brilliant but also very grounded in reality—and I had never seen anything before on TV that was simultaneously a celebration of Southern black culture but also a sharply aimed critique at certain aspects of it. The ways in which Glover played with race and identity were also next level, from the black Justin Bieber episode to the “trans-racial” Antoine Smalls/Harrison Booth.

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Jedi mind trick game level 100

We also have in common that our parents watched episodes of the Star Warsfranchise while we were babies. Like you, my actual viewing of the first trilogy didn’t occur until later; I wasn’t born when A New Hope debuted and I was pretty young when The Empire Strikes Back came out, though I remember watching it and loving it. As family lore has it, my dad took my mom to see Alien when she was many months pregnant with me, and she totes didn’t appreciate when the alien makes its first appearance over dinner.

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They didn’t talk about this in Lamaze class.

With that anecdote as part of my origin story, it could be that a love of or identification with science fiction is hard-coded into my DNA. Usually I love thinking about the future and imagining outcomes, but I’ve read way too many dystopian novels to have any chill whatsoever the outcomes of cutting healthcare for millions of people, or for what happens when you appoint a climate change denier to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Given the potential outcomes of these and more horrifying decisions, most people I know are reacting to today’s events somewhere along these lines:

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The enormity of it overwhelmed me and post-November 8, my response has been to try and be a bit gentle with myself. I’m not in denial about what is coming, but I also needed to carve out some time to quiet my mind and spirit so I could think clearly about the work ahead. I started wondering what the Star Wars rebels did in their spare time to self-care. It couldn’t have been relentless fighting all the time. In real life, you’d have nothing left if you spend all your time fighting the dark side of the force. I’m curious to know things you’re doing to take care of yourself, to recharge your mind and possibly even body in preparation to resist the assault on our civil liberties?

For me, I’ve been wanting to start hiking. My mind has been racing so much lately—I know my over-exposure to social media hasn’t helped—and I missed the soft noises outdoors that help me find a little stillness: trees rustling when the wind hits them just right or the distant sounds of water. Some wonderful archivist-cum-hiker friends helped me start my research by pointing me to local trails and communities. But I also found this really inspiring New York Times T Magazine piece on Simone de Beauvoir—another member of the Rebel Alliance—who took up hiking as an expression of her feminism, which spurned cis-heteronormative relationship constructs such as marriage and kids. As I Googled shoes and water bottles, I was heartened to read the article and discover that de Beauvoir basically went hiking in old dresses and espadrilles, sometimes walking all day and in any weather. I understand that lately, self care has been commoditized like most other things in our capitalist economy. Self-care advocates will talk about vacations, meditation retreats, natural or organic food cleanses, and even on the low end, manicures or movie tickets—all things that you have to open your wallet for. And no judgement on those types of activities, because I love them too, but I was also looking for something simpler. Reading about de Beauvoir’s travels through the Alps, which she detailed in her memoir The Prime of Life, let me know that I do not have to do the most in order to turn off my devices, get outdoors and get my mind right. Evelyn, what about you? What types of self-care activities are you looking to in 2017.

Evelyn: Indoor cycling is the newest activity I’ve started to sustain mental and physical health in this new year. Exercise and I haven’t been friends as of late. I had a gym membership and gave up on it and resolved that carbs make me happier than exercise, but then my clothes got too tight and that made me feel worse. I’ve tried many different things that I eventually quit: kickboxing, swimming, workout DVDs, yoga, zumba, whatever. I do it consistently for at least six months or more and then stop when my body refuses to mimic Rihanna’s.

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Doesn’t look like she’s ever consumed a pastry.

Perhaps this will be the workout regimen that sticks and becomes the catalyst for altering my relationship with food. At this point, I’ve taken twelve classes and have significantly increased my daily step count. My consistency with exercise may falter, but my appetite for reading is a regular source of comfort. Difficult Womenand the graphic novel adaption of Kindred were published this month and I’m excited to read them both. And, and, and *drumroll please* the next installment of Binti is coming out January 31.

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Poetry forces me to present and self-assess, similar to meditation. I set a specific poetry reading goal for this year, in an effort to check in with my emotional well being once a month. Forest Primeval was my selection for January, a particularly good choice for someone interested in scenic landscapes and nature - I’m looking at you Stacie. Next month, I’ll read There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker.

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I need to know what those more beautiful things are because...reasons.

Stacie: Ma’am, you are in my head like Bor Gullet. I can’t wait for Parker’s book. I bookmarked her New York Times piece “How to Stay Sane While Black” so I can refer to it everyday when the world gets to be a bit too much. On the topic of black poets and self-care, I loved writer Morgan Jerkins’ interview with poet Claudia Rankine, in which she talks about black glamour and her favorite makeup. Rankine rails against the notion that to be a SERIOUS WRITER you have to eschew beauty or the idea that you care about how you look, and I connected that to my own desire to change my look after having my second baby in July. I’d spent weeks walking around in these raggedy, sour milk-covered clothes, and only doing my hair occasionally, mostly since I’m not working full-time again yet, and it was starting to affect my self-esteem and state of mind. Self care is absolutely connected to how we feel about ourselves and I felt gross. Around the time that I read that piece, I’d been trying to make myself feel better and found that putting on a decent pair of jeans and rocking a red lip (NARS Red Lizard, if you must know), even if all I did was was sit on the couch and burp a cluster-feeding baby, made me feel so much better—like I was a part of the world and I mattered. I mattered enough to myself that I wanted to look nice. Rankine was being interviewed in connection with her work on The Art of Change, an art project discussing the idea of beauty as a “basic need and right.” Her embrace of black glamour is a rebuke to the construct of whiteness that is so pervasive in our understandings and interpretations of beauty.

I also cut my hair for the first time in ages. I know you wear your natural hair, as do I, and hair has always been an integral part of the way that we’ve expressed our identities and concepts of beauty.

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A moment of silent praise and gratitude-filled pose for Solange Piaget Knowles.

Black women’s hair has inspired so many trends, despite attempts to make us ashamed of it, penalize us for it, or limit our employment over it. Rewatching Star Wars again made me realize that the saga’s creators were also clearly influenced by black hairstyles and that led me down rabbit holes on traditional hairstyles for different tribes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Nigeria. Peep game. And yes, the appropriation is more than ironic considering how few main female characters of color populate the Star Wars universe.

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Padme in Attack of the Clones, Geonosis look; Afro-Colombian braids by Ziomara Asprilla Garcia (New York Post).

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Queen Amidala in her throne room, Ep. I: Phantom Menace; Fan-shaped wig hairstyle of the Zande tribe in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (American Museum of Natural History).

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Senator Amidala out of chambers; Two Zulu women doing hair, South Africa (University of Southern California).

I mentioned Steela Gerrera from Clone Wars earlier, and I’m thinking it’s not an accident that she’s shown sporting locs: 

The origins of the style are linked to various cultures, but its contemporary representation can be linked to political and spiritual identity that advocates for liberation. Additionally, it’s a practical style. I admit to having a somewhat morbid fascination with how black women sci-fi characters deal with their hair in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic world. I’m assuming that at that point, YouTube channels for naturals are done, and if your basic needs are food and potable water, you’re probably not raiding the leftover Targets for Shea Moisture or satin caps. Rue wore hers naturally curly. Angela Bassett’s character Mace in Strange Days rocked box braids. Michonne in "The Walking Dead" also has dreads, though Danai Gurira’s real life TWA is probably better for evading zombies (As badass as Michonne is, I just feel like a walker would’ve grabbed her hair already). Steela (and brother Saw) were the Original rebels. Who would’ve had time to straighten hair when fighting for the soul of Onderan against the Separatists? Steela perhaps twisted her hair, allowed it to loc and then she put a scarf over the new growth and went on her way. Also, I’m clearly thinking about this way too hard. Point being that our hair is always a thing, in times of rest or rebellion. That’s not likely to change, ever. 
 


Next Steps for the Rebel Alliance

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NGC 299 open star cluster 200,000 light years away in the Small Magellanic Cloud. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope/NASA.

Stacie: “Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone – a momentary blip –
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see”

— Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars

I thought this excerpt from poet Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars was a good example of the energy I saw post-election, with a lot of people who seemed to be moved toward some sort of direct action, like volunteering for nonprofits that advocate for civil or reproductive rights, lawyers who wanted to help trans-identified individuals finalize their paperwork or help undocumented immigrants with questions about naturalization steps. Even I wanted to tie on a cape and hit the streets. This articlein the appropriately named DAME magazine reminded me and many others to put that energy toward the organizations that have *been* doing this work. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The piece additionally, and accurately, points out that it has largely been people color and other marginalized groups who have been organizing around social justice issues for years, and that those who are wanting to get involved with an issue should start with these established groups and ask them what they need and then LISTEN to the answer:

“Real change requires the engagement, not only on behalf of, but of those people who are in imminent danger of having their rights stripped from them, the folks who have never had any rights in the first place.”

I started reflecting on the people who have been doing the work. Not the names we know, but the names we don’t. The church women who cooked food for civil rights leaders in the 1960s, who kept them fed and rested so they had energy to keep fighting and marching. Activists who create the banners and posters that get your attention at a rally. The lawyers and legal assistants who file the courthouse paperwork—not necessarily the ones who argue the big cases—in front of the Supreme Court. Even in the Star Wars canon, I think about the rebels at various bases who are busy moving around in the background. They’re obviously handling tasks that are critical to the rebellion, even if they’re taking out the trash and keeping the underground frozen base on Hoth clean.

Who was doing records management on Dantooine before they abandoned it? Who takes care of babies born on the rebel bases? I’ve never seen any kids on rebel bases in any of the SW movies, but given that my father helped deliver babies on base while serving in the Air Force in the 1960s, I’m going to assume that even rebels get pregnant and have babies in between bombing runs. If droids are minding the kids, someone has to service or program the droids, right? When we talk of rebels and resistance, it’s the invisible labor that keeps a movement going. Sometimes that labor is allied, but not direct, like Nichelle Nichols’ labor and visibility on “Star Trek” in the 1960s. And speaking of hidden labor and outer space, I’m still sort of choked up about “Hidden Figures.” What’s not to love about bad-ass black women teaching themselves Fortran and rocking analytic geometry by hand to put a human in orbit? My parents were big on teaching me about Important Figures in Black History, but I never heard a whisper about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, or Mary Jackson, ever. No doubt the intersections of race and gender played a huge role in this erasure, but I think it’s an important example of the idea that everything, every little thing, takes work. Even if we don’t see it.

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Evelyn: Do you remember all those scenes in Star Wars where a hand is lightsabered? That’s your life if you haven’t seen Hidden Figures yet. Seriously, go see it if you haven’t. I had the pleasure of listening to the author of Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly, at a library program prior to the movie’s release and it was amazing to hear first hand about the research she completed to write the book and how growing up with a father who was a scientist at NASA created an environment where Black people working in STEM was the norm. The audience was fascinated as she shared the part of her book where Nichelle Nichols discovered Martin Luther King Jr. was a Trekkie and convinced her not to quit the show because representation matters. The best part though was during the Q&A session, when a young Black woman, an engineering major, thanked Shetterly for writing the book and how encouraging it was to know she wasn’t alone.

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Squad goals

The Fortran part in Hidden Figures held a special place in my librarian heart, but Janelle Monáe being a human computer sent me to many moons. I’ve been a fan of her music and robot alter-ego Cindi Mayweather since her Metropolis album dropped in 2008, so it’s a thrill to see her in any android-like situations. In her role as Mary Jackson, I was reminded how difficult it is to be first in a position, especially when people assume you aren’t intelligent enough to handle it (e.g., President Obama).  On another note, if Monáe doesn’t get a role as a replicant in the new Blade Runner, I’m going to jump into a Sarlacc pit.

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Okay Janelle, I won’t jump.


Rootleaf Stew for the Rebel Soul
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Stacie: If you just need a break to make it through today, may I recommend Nancy Wilson’s Hollywood, My Way album. If raw honey had a voice, it would sound like Nancy Wilson. And she’s so classy and elegant and her renditions of “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses” will transport you to someplace sophisticated where no one would ever use the word “bigly.” I would also recommend making this dish. It’s simple, but it feels almost decadent, it’s hearty and it’s ideal if you’re on a January detox of some kind. (Why no, I’m not tripping about swearing off Italian sodas, not at all. What would make you think that?) There’s also the 2017Indoguration, because sometimes we just need cute animals. And call someone you love. Connect. We’re not going to make it through the next four years if we’re not connected. If you’re too angry to unplug and want to direct that energy, here is a Resistance Manual created by Brittney Packnett, co-founder of the police reform Campaign Zero project. The wiki is populated with links on the various policies and topics that the GOP or Trump’s administration are trying to change and readings for background and context.

Evelyn: Threading. Get your eyebrows threaded today or tomorrow. It doesn’t feel good, like at all, at all, but something about perfectly shaped eyebrows makes you feel euphoric. Add a Twilight bath bomb to your next tub session. Listen to We Are King while you luxuriate in the tub and let their voices transport you back to 2008. Treat your hair to a mud wash and, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, get it trimmed for the new year. Be kind. Be kind to someone else. Buy yourself a new journal and write down one thing you’re grateful for each day. And then treat yourself to blueberry lemonade. Be ready for the revolutionary tulips.