I love this![Read more…] about What About Love
Birth of a Dark Nation is the story of how African vampires came to America during the transatlantic slave trade.
That’s my elevator pitch for my first piece of speculative fiction. It is the first in a series and I’m working on the follow-up here in Conway, North Carolina.
Those of you who have read Birth of a Dark Nation know that it’s about a whole lot more than just how vampires hitched a ride to North America on a slave ship. My purpose was to ask a question:
How would the collective trauma of the middle passage, human bondage, reconstruction, and Jim Crow laws impact black people who lived through it all? We know the collective toll these atrocities take on contemporary black folks, but what if it was possible to witness it all?
I hope that Birth of a Dark Nation at least begins to address those answers. It’s speculative, of course, and not in any way definitive, but it’s interesting to think about how this collection of youthful black men would see America over time, only to continually be the target of state sanctioned violence against their bodies.
My follow-up, as yet untitled, also deals with trauma, but not so much the inter-generational kind.
One of my favorite novels is Push by Sapphire. I also happened to immensely enjoy its follow-up, The Kid, even though it was a challenge to read due to its subject matter. Having read both of those novels and then become a teacher of opportunity youth, I am here to tell you that the violence inflicted upon Precious in her life, and Abdul in his, is not an exaggeration.
Trauma is very real in our neediest students. Dead and absent parents, disease, incarceration, mental illness–all these are things students have experienced, either first-hand or second-hand, and work in tandem to prevent their success at diploma attainment and/or job attainment.
What happens, then, when we speak of the supernatural, to students with all this trauma who then experience magic or vampires or ghosts?
What would have happened to Justin Kena in Birth of a Dark Nation had he been poor or homeless instead of a middle class college graduate?
Rather than focusing solely on a particular supernatural plot, I want to investigate, through this new book, what happens when an unconventional person or group of people experiences horror and the supernatural.
It has been really fun to write so far, but I’m also writing myself into some secondary (or even tertiary) trauma.
For example, what if I decide to create a character named Mary Jane who is a survivor of familial sexual abuse. It’s already a “deep” topic to write about, but then I think of students who this has happened to, and I am impacted even further. I pressure myself to get the story right, and to ensure that it is told with authenticity as well as sophistication and respect.
Writing about people who may have been sexually assaulted also reminds me of the time a man tried to assault me. I think of how I dealt with it, how I didn’t deal with it, and how my character should deal with it. I struggle with making them the “perfect” survivor, as a way to inform readers how they can deal with the same trauma, or making them an imperfect survivor, because it makes for a more interesting story.
I always err on the side of the best possible story, but I also make sure to tell that story responsibly. And I take care of myself while writing–stopping for mental health breaks if I need it.
As of this moment, I have written over 71,000 words, which translates to over 275 pages, if the current formatting holds. I’d like to be done with a first draft in October and then begin edits and rewrites.
I’m learning to be proud of my writing and to trust in the story itself. And I’m grateful that I have reached a level of experience and maturity where I can tell another story of trauma without patronizing my readers.
I think this is going to be a good one, folks. A really good one. Keep me in your prayers!
Quakers (or Friends) are members of a historically Christian group of religious movements formally known as the Religious Society of Friends… Members of the various Quaker movements are all generally united in a belief in the ability of each human being to experientially access “the light within”, or “that of God in every one”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers
For about a decade, I have identified as a Quaker. Somehow, I fell down a Google rabbit hole, found Quaker websites, and said “Yep, that’s who I am.” Then I read the books. Then I subscribed to the magazine. Then I started attending meetings. In late 2017, I joined Friends Meeting of Washington and I’ve been a member ever since.
Today, it became official official. They had a welcome activity for the nine of us who joined in the past few years. To be honest, I wasn’t really into the idea of celebrating what, to me, was a personal and spiritual decision to join this religious path. I’m already active on a committee (Peace and Social Concerns) and I’m slowly, but surely making friends.
Even though I’ve been part of the meeting for over a year, as a member, and a year or so before that as an attender, it was still important for me to step back and be acknowledged. What’s so wrong with making a concrete decision about your soul and then celebrating it with others in the community?
Nothing at all.
So I surrendered. I handed over my desire to be modest. I stopped being shy about good things that happen to me and I let my faith community to take time to welcome me and the others. Even if it was delayed–it was the thought that counted.
We had cake. We got roses. We got our “official” name tags and we even got our photos taken for the board in the hallway. And most importantly, we got introduced by members of the membership committee, who had recommended each of us.
I joked with other new member that we were part of the same pledge class now.
I talk about being a Quaker openly, but in many ways, I am starting out from scratch in my faith walk. I was raised Baptist, almost became Muslim, and then found my way to the Quakers. It’s a totally different, largely unstructured faith that still has lots of traditions that I am learning.
Perhaps most importantly is that, after years of distance from more formal religion, I am learning that community is always the most important part of the journey.
So thank you, Friends Meeting of Washington, for being the dope ass “church” that I always needed.
Note: The photo is of Paul Cuffe, a famous black Quaker that I just learned about five minutes ago.
December 6, 2018: Breaths shallow, teeth clenched, mouth curled into a sneer: I am livid.
My school is slowly adopting restorative practices to improve our connection to one another and to our students. My organization, The Apollonians, has also adopted restorative practices as a cornerstone principle. We wanted to be part of a group that recognized good ways to deal with inevitable conflict.
So when I discovered there was a new independent film out about restorative practices and the life of one of its practitioners–a black man–I felt I needed to see and support this film. A screening was hosted at my alma mater and I went immediately after work. I wanted to go home, but my colleague said “Darden, one day you will legitimately be too old to feel like doing anything after work. You know you want to see it, so just go.”
It was okay.
Here’s what made me livid:
After the screening, we were invited to stay for a question and answer session with the main subject of the film and the filmmaker, a white man. After a promising start, in which the subject explained how he came to grant the white filmmaker access to these black lives, I decided to ask my question. I explained that I was a teacher at a local alternative school who has accepted the challenge of bringing restorative practices to our community. I said that, presuming his school was like mine, then there would be a significant number of students with IEPs. How does he, or how does one have a restorative circle when the student has needs that fall outside of the typical realm?
Almost immediately, I knew I had not been heard. Maybe I misspoke. Maybe I wasn’t clear in what I was conveying.
This fellow practitioner–my black brother–begins a screed about relationships, and how when we label students we separate them from us. And he starts bringing up all these examples that simply didn’t apply to my school. Meanwhile, the audience is grunting these affirmations as though what he’s saying is the gospel and it’s Sunday morning.
I remember being very confused, and he’s speaking directly to me as though I am supposed to affirm what he’s saying about relationships. I turned to the audience and said “I don’t know where you people work, but my school isn’t like this.”
And it truly isn’t. I can safely say that the Washington area is full of great so-called “alternative” schools where the faculties are guided by a strong sense of justice and radical love. I really do believe that–even at the schools which may have closed. I would confidently send my opportunity youth to most of the opportunity schools here.
The ‘brother’ continues going on about labeling students. He then–I bullshit you not–uses a white woman as a prop to make a point about assumptions.
By now I am totally aggravated. I was not in any way saying to this man “HEY BOB WE GOT INTELLECTUALLY DELAYED SUPERTHUGS THAT CANT BE IN A CIRCLE” I felt, by this point, I was saying “I need strategies for differentiation.”
But as I looked at him while he reveled in the chorus of Amens and Yaaaaases, I realized a simple truth:
He ain’t one of us.
My friend Joseph just this week shared with his communities that he was tired of this idea of “wokeness” and that it just comes across as performative anyway. In this moment where the subject of this documentary looked past me, literally and figuratively, in order to make a point to a largely white audience, I realized that this was his shtick. This was his zhoozh. This was his routine.
I wasn’t sold. Moreover, I was offended.
As an educator, I asked a direct question that he either failed to understand or chose to ignore. And rather than make the connection, he made assumptions and then spoke to a whole different audience.
The woman sitting behind me was particularly Ameny. As the subject wound down his entry-level commentary to his well-meaning crowd, I had already decided that I would leave. I stay in no space that isn’t my people.
I hissed at the amen corner “I was only asking about differentiation.” She tried to respond to me, but I was already picking up my pea coat and book bag and went for the exit.
I headed down the ramp outside of the auditorium and was almost at the exit turnstiles of the lobby when a white woman came out of the auditorium to speak to me.
Here we go, I thought.
I presumed she was some sort of producer, agent, or manager, judging by the way she spoke.
“I just want to check in,” she said. I wanted to tell her “That restorative shit don’t work on me, lady,” but I didn’t.
I said that the subject had made an example of me, didn’t respond to my question, and didn’t see me.
She explained that the subject uses various questions as launch pads for various talking points he likes to make while on his tour. And since my question was so specific, he just took the opportunity to make it relatable to everyone in the audience. And if I decided to stay until the end of the Q&A, she’s sure the subject would address my question more directly.
I told her that if she was so moved to relay any messages to the subject, to let him know that I am a black man just like him, not a well-meaning white person. That I saw my life in his documentary, and that connection ought to have been enough.
I don’t know if she will tell him anything of the sort. I don’t care a whole lot because the damage has been done: a fellow black man treated me as though I didn’t know what I was talking about in a room full of people who agreed with him, yet they didn’t know me or my story.
But I knew his, and I know he wasn’t one of us.
Who is us?
The people who do it because it’s right, because it’s us, and because we’re here.
I’m talking about whatever it is: justice work, equity work, community service, philanthropy.
I’m talking about my friend who donated a baby stroller to one of my students last year, just because I was asked, and just because I asked her. My same friend who is the mother of #WhitePrivilegeWednesday.
I’m talking about my friend, the preacher, who travels into the worst of the worst communities and serves these youth to help them turn their lives around. Yes, he is a Christian, but he is one of the few who has told me himself that he will serve all youth, gay or straight, cis or trans.
I’m talking about my coworkers, past or present, who could easily be making six figure salaries elsewhere, but choose this work because it’s right, it’s us, and we’re here.
Not because service makes them feel good.
Not because they feel guilty about their privilege.
There will always be those for whom wokeness is a performance. Sometimes, that wokeness performs as a white Kappa with an average shimmy, publishing papers in black spaces. And sometimes that wokeness performs as not seeing your brother as your brother, but instead using him as a point to make in front of a white gaze.
And then for a white woman to come “check in.” T’uh!
I was livid. Now I’m good. My people are still my people and the work is still the work.
The beat goes on.
Friday, November 30, 2018
I am looking out of the window at three o’clock in the afternoon after five straight days of teaching. It’s been a long week–not exceptionally taxing, but long nonetheless. My door is propped open, to air out the faint, but constantly lingering aroma of marijuana, now trapped in my student’s coats in the cold weather. There is no cloak room in my class, nor is there one on the corners and in the alleys where they smoke, so the stale stench follows them like a stray cat.
I hear my colleague say from the hallway, in her thick Cuban accent that reminds me of Pedro Zamora, “No, don’t thank me. Mr. Darden facilitated this.” [Read more…] about Giving
Well, hello there!
My name is Rashid Darden. You might know me from this video from Channel 4:
If this is your first time visiting my page, or your first time in a while, welcome! This site has had several incarnations over the years. It is primarily an introduction to my life as a novelist. I love writing. Although I was a creative person at a young age, it was the encouragement of the late, great poet Elaine Magarrell through the Scholars in the Schools program in DC, that really made me believe I could be a writer as a profession. Through guest presenters like her, teachers like Sarah Clark, and a loving, supportive mother, I knew that I had within me all that I needed to change this world.
I am unapologetically black, unapologetically gay, and active in my community through several organizations.
I am quite particular about how I wish to be contacted. If you’re a reader or a fan of my commentary, please reach out through your favorite social media outlets, which are listed on my contact page. That page also lists how to book me for a speaking engagement.
If you have my email address, that’s a poor way to reach me. If you have my number, that’s a poor way to reach me. Social media is truly the best way.
If you have a very strong opinion about something I’ve written, something I’ve said, the way I shake my head when speaking, or the way I don’t pick out my afro, please leave those comments on social media or post them on your own pages. I can assure you that your private contact won’t change me unless it comes accompanied by a life-altering cashier’s check.
At the end of the day, we all out here just trying to make it. I appreciate your support and I welcome you read my past blog entries and to even purchase some of my books. And if you do, please leave a review!