• The Vindicator

Black women of all backgrounds: We are here

Written by Kimberly Steele


Celebrating Bisexual Ladies of Color for Black History Month.

History has not been kind to Black American women. The erasure of our accomplishments and gifts to the world are often glanced over. Contributions of Black Women to the world are often limited to a few key historical figures like Harriet Tubman, Coretta Scott King, and Rosa Parks plus celebrities such as Beyonce and Oprah -- then left at that. For me, Black History Month should pay tribute to all Black people who have used their talents and/or beliefs to change the world. So with that in mind, as a Black bisexual woman, I would like to use Black History Month to pay tribute to three women of color who left their marks on the bisexual movement.


'Tain't nobody's bizness if I do

by Bessie Smith


🎵There ain't nothing I can do, or nothing I can say

That folks don't criticize me

But I'm goin' to do just as I want to anyway

And don't care if they all despise me


If I should take a notion

To jump into the ocean

'Tain't nobody's bizness if I do, do, do do


If I go to church on Sunday

Then just shimmy down on Monday

Ain't nobody's bizness if I do, if I do


If my friend ain't got no money

And I say "Take all mine, honey"

'Tain't nobody's bizness if I do, do, do do


If I give him my last nickel

And it leaves me in a pickle

'Tain't nobody's bizness if I do, if I do


Well I'd rather my man would hit me

Than to jump right up and quit me

'Tain't nobody's bizness if I do, do, do do


I swear I won't call no copper

If I'm beat up by my papa

'Tain't nobody's bizness if I do, if I do🎶



Bessie Smith was a Black bisexual woman with an incredibly powerful and unique singing voice. She rose to fame in the 1920s recording blues and jazz with the likes of other legends like her mentors Ma Rainey and Louis Armstrong. She is known as the "Empress of the Blues." Before the Great Depression, Smith was the highest-paid Black entertainer in the world, collecting as much as $2000 dollars a week. Her most noted hits, “Nobody Knows you When You’re Down and Out,” “Empty Bed Blues,” and “Backwater Blues.” In 1996, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center was established as part of The Chattanooga African American Museum which was founded in 1983.


I first learned about Smith in a Jazz Survey course I took my first semester at Cleveland State in 2003. I admit, even though I found her voice interesting, I was drawn to her because she was Black and open about her romps with other women - even though she was on a man's arm in public. I thought that was pretty bold for a woman of the time; whether they were famous or not. Most stories of LGBT individuals in that time were speculation, most not officially confirming their sexuality till years later when times changed. Yet, Smith left no doubt in the publics' mind about her sexual preferences as she often sang about them.


"Bi, Poly, Switch—I’m not greedy, I know what I want.” - Brenda Howard

Brenda Howard was a bisexual LGBT activist. She was born to a Jewish family in the Bronx, New York. She has been coined as the "Mother of Pride" for helping with organizing the very first LGBT Pride March. One month after the 1969 Stonewall Riots, she participated in a march commemorating the event. In 1970, she organized the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March to mark Stonewall’s anniversary. The march was the first Pride parade in the world. Howard also originated the week long series of events surrounding the Pride March that became the basis of how we currently celebrate Pride all of June.


I have been an active member in the LGBT community since 1999 when I officially came out of the closet to friends and family. I stepped into LGBT organizing a year later in 2000 and specifically bisexual community organizing around 2004. This was when I learned about bi-community pioneers like Howard. The continued tensions between gays and lesbians and the bisexual community is ridiculous, considering the fact that an openly bisexual, poly, BDSM practitioning woman of color started Pride. When it comes to bi-community organizing, Howard is who I aspire to be like in order to be a role model for other bisexual people who need support or want to organize to provide that support.


These poems

BY JUNE JORDAN


These poems

they are things that I do

in the dark

reaching for you

whoever you are

and

are you ready?


These words

they are stones in the water

running away


These skeletal lines

they are desperate arms for my longing and love.


I am a stranger

learning to worship the strangers

around me


whoever you are

whoever I may become.



June Jordan was a brilliant and influential Black bisexual woman, poet and writer. In 1967, after running poetry workshops for children in Harlem, Jordan began her teaching career at the City College of New York (CUNY). She taught at Yale University and Sarah Lawrence College, and she became a professor of English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she directed The Poetry Center. In 1988, she was appointed professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she founded the influential poetry program, Poetry For the People. Jordan was the author of more than 25 major works of poetry, fiction and essays, as well as numerous children's books.


Since writing my first story in fourth grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I've spent the better part of 30 something years still trying to achieve this dream. I discovered Jordan a few years ago by recommendation. It sounds cliche, but reading her work is recharging. I feel like I could have written everything she has written. As with the other two women, she was open about her bisexual orientation in her works. She wrote about sexual trauma and women's empowerment. It makes me feel like I could be a legitimate successful writer as well since I write like someone famous like her. I not only admire her work, but also the additional fruits of her writing labors are inspiring. The respect she's collected, her awards received, her teaching opportunities, her poetry center management -- she is everything I wish I could achieve.


These are just three women of color that have influenced my personal world - as well as music, literature, and the social justice movement. There are millions of other Black Americans with great stories to be told. They don't have to be the first Black person to do something or invent something or say something to make an impact on Black History Month. There are teachers, doctors, local news personalities, coaches, volunteers, organizers, judges, priests, soldiers - countless local as well as national heroes to honor this month. We all make history by inspiring others in the present. I hope that others use this Black History Month to not only pay tribute to those we usually pay tribute to, but also honor other Black Americans that have made their personal world an inspiring place to be.

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