Chart of uses of verb to be.

Who I Be When You Look At Me: SOLHOT Part 2


In the colonizer’s English, “be” is an intransitive verb, meaning it does not describe an action, but a fixed equivalency. Note the passive “fixed” and ask yourself fixed by whom? And if you ask yourself “fixed by whom,” then you join the daughters of Bambara, Jordan, Malcolm, and now Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown in critically thinking about how you came to be who you it is you think you are. Perhaps you will get to a point where you begin to wonder about who you are being and if you still all wrapped up in the colonizer’s game of fixed subjectivity- being one stable thing at any one stable time- then the shit might make you loopy. Which is to say the kind of woman who would walk around town in a dress so ill-fitting that it won’t zip up in the back. And then people might start wondering out loud about your dress and, if you don’t have a sense of humor because you have to breathe to laugh and you can’t hardly breathe in your too-little dress, well then you might just get defensive. Saying stuff like this is the proper dress and this is the right thing to wear and it wasn’t designed for just one kind of somebody and this is what everyone is wearing and if you (who look at me) can’t see that, then you must be the fools and I worked hard to get into this dress and I’ll be damned if I let one of you (spit that word with mad disdain) make me feel bad about it. Well, then you will be thoroughly Americanized.

Which isn’t to say that “be” in AAVE is inherently freeing. It’s used to describe habitual actions. Things that you do again and again. As in, we be compulsorily educated and still don’t know what we about. The habitual “be” can become an identity marker only inasmuch as it helps with familiarity– root word family. As in, She’s the one (of us) who be singing. Or she’s the one (of us) who be joking all the time. She’s the one who be snapping pictures. She’s the one who be hiding over there in the corner. She’s the one who be dancing. Stability isn’t a necessity. Especially when your folks have many talents and they don’t always be doing the same thing. Like, the one who be snapping pictures also be dancing.

Habitual “be” is freeing only when you embrace instability. As in, the one who be crying on all the skits might one day be the one who be laughing and dancing with us.

Tonight, I am the one who be crying on all the skits because SOLHOT is showing me who/ how/ what it is possible to be when they look at me.

  • It is possible to be poet and scholar. I make the mistake of calling Dr. Brown “Ruth Nicole” to one of the other homegirls because a mutual friend told me to tell Ruth Nicole she said hello. The homegirl snapped, “You mean Dr. Brown ?” and I corrected myself and mentally used the colonizer “be” to permanently fuse this person, my homegirl’s homegirl, with this title that frightens the shit out of me because I am being shown by my professors on a weekly basis that it’s a title I must cut my limbs off (and grow somebody else’s in their place) to fit (as in, “we expect more rigorous work in a graduate-level course). But here Dr. Brown is on stage doing spoken word about the “dirty work” of making a safe space for Black girlhood to be (as in exist) and I know that this is rigor. This can unapologetically (and without permission) be my work. 
  • It is possible to be a thick dancer. And I’m not thick. But I am other things that do not fit the images of dancing bodies that I have been consistently fed. Fed– another passive verb begging me to ask “by whom?” Which is to say that you can and should bite the hand that feeds you– often– to see if it is real. Because when possibilities are being fed to you, you can confuse “should” for “can only.” As in, “Hip hop video dancers should have small waists, big titties and huge butts” can transform (if you are not careful and if you stop keeping company with girls who be dancing) into “dancers (this loss of specificity is an end goal of product merchandizing) can only have small waists, big titties, and huge butts.” And when some yoke as heavy as this gets broken in a routine involving teenage girls and adults (I should also say this showed me that it is possible to be an adult dancer), well all you can do (all I can do) is cry.
  • It is possible to hold tension between theory and praxis. Chamara, Chamara, Chamara. That girl is something else and I trust that you know what I mean. Chamara is unpacking nonviolence as theory and praxis and, in doing so, breaking all the rules somebody else made up about being with Black girls: Be a mentor, as in be more knowledgeable than they are about everything. Show them “the way” to where you find yourself, especially if you have multiple degrees. Teach them not to cuss, not to roll their eyes, not to talk back, not to fight, not to do any of the things they need to do to handle their problems with the tools they already have. Gift them with the tools of middle class “civility.” Tonight, Chamara wrecks all of this with love. When you love the person who is making herself vulnerable to you (as in, If I don’t fuck this girl up, then she’s going to keep bothering me), you don’t judge the choices she thinks she needs to make. Part of loving Black girls (as intentional practice) is letting them be. 
  • It is possibly to be many things or anything. It may or may not be true that every time the song bird returned to the stage, I cried. I was overwhelmed by her freedom to do it all. To sing, dance, and act. To poet. To open herself up to the scrutiny of strangers. I began to ask myself the questions that have shaped the last few years of my life. What are the conditions necessary for this kind of freedom? What are the conditions necessary for this kind of confidence? What are the conditions necessary for this kind of joy?

To Be Continued…