A Discussion of Kalamu Ya Salaam’s “Ntozake Shange”

A call to action, by a Black man, for Black men to support the critical work of Black women.

Naima Nur, of Sun Song, joined the SBG Book Club to read and discuss the poem by the activist and social critic Kalamu Ya Salaam. Many of us know of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf, as it went on to become a popular Broadway play and TV movie starring notable Black women actresses. Oh and yes, the most unfortunate rendition of it turned into a movie by Tyler Perry. But it’s initial debut as a play in 1976 was met with much criticism by the white critics and Black men. Salaam penned this poem in support of Ntozake and also calling Black men to task for forsaking the support of Black women by not reciprocating said support. A very timely poem, for what has been a already hectic and heavy month for Black women.

The poem is a defense of Ntozake Shange which was published in an issue of Al
Young and Ishmael Reed’s Quilt magazine. This poem was written and published
during the backlash against Ntozake Shange that many males were whipping up
over “Colored Girls.” This was the kind of piece that put me at odds with some of
my fellow male writers. That was O.K. with me, in fact I enjoyed the confrontation.

(to those who wish
she would shut up)

if yr life had
happened to a man, the
whole world would know abt it,
but you a big legged woman
breaking the monopoly of male writers
talking bold about what has kept
you from walking off the ledge of life
and what drove you out the window
in the first place, about to
silently hit the sky falling
like a dropped drum stick
during the middle of the big number

talk abt yrself
yr blkwomanself/neo-african
in the midst of a land caught up in
worshipping twentieth century minstrels
talk about womanness and exaltations
and never uttering the lie about being
sorry not to be born a boy, talk
like you think, like you feel,
like you move through decaying urban america
pass fashions, kitchen recipes, modern romances
and mythical holy vaginal orgasms
talk like our moses spake
in the middle of headin’ north night
pressing a slack-jawed man who
couldn’t keep his pants dry:
“once we get started, ain’t no turning
talk like that lil sister, can’t
remember her name, who shot hot
breath all up in a white boy’s face
and double dared him to fuck with her
in the hallway, in class, after school, on
the bus or any other goddamn time, back in
1958, in one of their schools when,
at the time, you did good just
to stay proudly black and defiantly sane
talk like you an oracle
bearing witness to changing times
or the sphinx sitting on the secret
in the desert, not only was you blk
but, yes, possibly you were woman
when napoleon saw that he barked
the order for his battery
of cannons to commence
and left pat of your nose,
and a piece of lip
pulverized and floating
a dusty cloud toward the nile
talk that talk
when the truth is revealed to the
light, the shysters will all scream
‘taint fair, they’ll cry
foul, say yo strikes smokin
clean down themiddle are misses,
say you high, or low, or wide,
or you got spit on the ball,
you see you just ain’t allowed
on the mound and there you
are talking like you ain’t
never heard of being
quiet and pretty in the bleachers
talk Shange, talk
like a lioness putting
her jaw around a jackass’ throat

to some men
the sound of blkwomansong
is noise
but no matter,
many of us are dancing anyway
and in time most all of us will be waving
red bandannas and shouting: “amen,
amen, sister, amen”


Empowering #SmartBrownGirls to find the power in their voice and define their own success stories. 

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