Ep12 – Staceyann Chin (Part 2)

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Hi, welcome back to part two of my conversation with Staceyann Chin about life, love, sex slave play politics. We went everywhere.

Staceyann Chin: I want to jump into that a little bit and talk about like these women who were, is my mother...

Tonya Pinkins: Mentally ill.

Staceyann Chin: Yeah. I mean where was your mother from?

Tonya Pinkins: My mother's from Chicago. She had me at age 14 and a realization I had just in the last year and this last few weeks was, I know my mother used to beat me so terribly in my oldest sort of feeling that I’ve carried my whole life, my most underlying feelings, I just didn't want to exist. Just didn't want exist. Not wanting to kill myself, just didn't want to exist. There was nothing about life, whether it was money or fame or success that was worth it. It's like, Oh, okay, I have that one. Yeah, I really wouldn't exist. And I think that it fueled my acting, because it was like, I would always act like, and let me just give so much that I might die at the end of this performance, because that would be great. And I started doing some plant and animal and fungi medicine and that went away and then I was in Peru and it all came up really strongly. Like just this overwhelming sense of, you’re 57. There's no point in you being here anymore. If you die, your children will get a lot of money. Just go. You have nothing left to do in the planet. And James, who was the help was integrating, he said, well, when you do your next journey, why don't you try to find that little child self and see what that's about? And the next ceremony, what came up for me was remembering, my mother used to wear these long polyester night gowns and she would, I would be naked, and she would be squeezing my head between her knees. And I would be suffocating in this polyester night gown. And then she would be beating my bare body as I'm bent over, squeezing her knees with an extension cord and remembering the pain of these beatings that were so much that I felt like I was going to die. So I would have to leave my body in order to survive them. And what came to me was that she was beating me because I existed. Cause my existence ruined her life. My existence ruined her life. So she was beating me for existing and it was like, Oh, so that's why I didn't want to exist.

Staceyann Chin: And I mean, that whole, like, she has your head between her knees, that's remarkably intimate, and it's localized in her erotic zone as well. And your head, I mean, it's all, so tied up with all of what we've been saying. I mean, my mother is the opposite as in she left me when I was born. And so, and then the abuse happened at the hands of other people. But she came back when I was one week, when I was a nine years old for one week and she like abused both me and my brother for the week that she came. And then she left, but in my head as a kid growing up, I always thought that, like all the terrible things, all the things that I am that are falling short of being perfect would have been not so if my mother had stayed. So in my head, it's like my mother going was the worst thing that happened to me, even as the other things themselves were like, sexual abuse and sexual assault and being abandoned and be mistreated by the people and beaten and all of the things that happened to girls who don't have mothers to protect them, who are actively protecting them. And so I have this in my brain and then I went to Germany when I was 25 and found her and I found her with a seven-year-old daughter. My sister is no 13 years old. And one of the struggles that my sister has was like, my mother's mental illness affected her so badly that, she herself struggles with like how she sees the world and how she moves through the world. And that is her story to tell, but watching her, it kind of dawned on me that it was my mother's absence that saved me. Like my mother left me and saved me. Like my mother is so crazy and she creates all these stories. My mother is such a crazy like person, if you can imagine the guy from catch me if you can, just make her black and Jamaican and just make that character black woman Jamaican. And that's kind of who she is going across the borders, living in different places like taking money and time and like deceiving people from place to place. And she actually, I went to visit her once to kind of take her and my sister back to the US to visit. And, it happened about four or five times. And there's always a story about why she couldn't or how she couldn't. So I would buy the tickets. I would go, we would go through all of these things, like for two or three days getting ready to go. And then next she would just not get on the plane. Or she would like disappear last minute or just a whole bunch of crazy stuff. And then one time she actually didn't come on the plane, but she came to the airport and then she came with a guy, she jumped off the subway when we were heading to the train. And then she's like, I have my little sister, we've got suitcases. I'm like, this is fucking crazy. And then we get to the airport and I'm waiting, waiting, waiting to get on my flight. And then she comes hurrying in with this guy. And then she says to this guy, okay, thank you very much for everything. And he goes, and then she takes my sister and she's like, Oh, I'm so sorry. Like, and she tells some big, crazy story about why it is that you can't go because somebody took the passports and blah, blah, blah. Anyways, I get on the plane and who am I seated next to? The man that she came in with. So I know my mother is prone to telling not so truthful truths. And she said to, I said to him, like, who is that woman in the multicolored skirt that you came in with? And he's like, Oh, she's this nice woman. She lives in New York, she's a writer and a performer. She just came here to visit her family members. She came to pick them up and things didn't go well. So she's going back now by herself, but she's a writer. And she travels all over the world and she's written a book. My mother just stepped into my life and pretended to be me.

Tonya Pinkins: Oh my God.

Staceyann Chin: And that's like, I went to Canada the other day and I just, I just discovered somebody came to my last one person show and handed me a box of things that my mother was married to a man. And then she got divorced from him in Canada. She was living with him for 11 years. And he didn't know anything about where she was from or who she was. And she was lying about a whole bunch of shit. So she divorced him. I mean, they got divorced, after like 11 years. So then, and then they sold the house and then she got half the money for the house. And then the next thing you know, she was living with the man who bought the house. And then she was about to marry the man with who bought the house from her. And then his family came and be like, no, no, no, no, no. What you mean you going to marry him, you are going to own the house two times? So, I mean, that says woman, she found a box in the basement of that man's house, her father who was now had like, Alzheimer's and she found this box and she Googled all the names of like letters and stuff. And they found letters that I'd written to her when I was like nine, like, asking her to come home or whatever.

Tonya Pinkins: And so they gave you this box.

Staceyann Chin: They gave me pictures and that's when I found out, because up until now, my mother has lived in Montreal and Toronto, in Germany, maybe more than one place, she lived in London. And there was a rumor that she had lived in Rio for a while. But there was no, and the only reason people knew was because she had got sick in Rio and somebody in Rio had to call her sister in Jamaica or something. And then I found these pictures of my mother. My mother had been like an onstage performer in Rio, all these like Flamingo outfits and you know, like glittery, sequin, like bathing suits. And I have, I know nothing about that world. I don't know where she's from or who she's met or what she did there, but she had this whole other life in Rio that no one knows anything about. So now I'm writing this book trying to figure out who the hell my mother was.

Tonya Pinkins: This interesting thing about mental illness. Like my mother was very much in many ways, the most competent and brilliant of all of her siblings. But she was crazy and violent. And you could be having a conversation with her and it's going really, really straight. And then it would just turn, and you just don't.

Staceyann Chin: And did your family admit that she was mentally ill?

Tonya Pinkins No

Staceyann Chin They just thought she was... She just liked that. Oh, she knows better. She can do better.

Tonya Pinkins: Exactly. Nobody. I did not know my mother was mentally ill until I was an adult. And I found out because I was in an acting class and they'd given me a “Spoon River Anthology” monologue. I don't know if you know, this is like this monologues that I forget who even wrote them. But I had the one about the woman who the walls were talking to her and the cows were talking to her and they told her to burn the house down. And, I went in and I did that monologue. And at the end of me doing it the teacher was like; you know the character's mentally ill. And I'm like, what do you mean? No, no, no. My mother has that up in all the time. And it wasn't until he said that, that I then, he was like, no, this has mental illness, walls don't talk. The walls talked to my mother all the time. And literally my mother could tell you things that happen that she wasn't there. I mean, she could look at a Rubik's cube and make it work. And she told you, she was just on another level. Yeah. There's these powers and things that they have in many cultures, those are the shaman. These people who are literally traveling to other places and can embody other spirits and stuff, they would be the person who the community would rally around and encourage them to go deeper into that so that they could become the healers of the community.
We, of course don't have that in America.

Staceyann Chin: I’ve never been a believer in spirits or, I'm like a real, like two plus two equals four. This is the science of it. I did my first degree in biochemistry, physics and math. Even like my philosophy and literature, it's about like how these arguments go together to make this thing that I believe in work. And so I never believed in the spirits. And for a long time I resisted, I didn't have anything to do with the church. I thought this was all bullshit. Like, even people, close friends of mine who are spiritual. Like, I'm the one who rolls my eyes when they're like, listen, you just have to about your chakra. They want to talk to me about like my chi and my aura. And I'm the one who rolling my eyes, get the fuck out of here with this fucking chi and shit. You just need to earn the money and like go find a job and pay your rent. That's how life works. I don't sit around chanting money into my fucking account. So I have this like resistance to anything. But when I was on Broadway, in 2001.

Tonya Pinkins: Def Comedy Jam, Tony nominated. The poetry jam.

Staceyann Chin: I have family in New York. And I would say to them, I'm on the show. I think you guys would really kind of dig it. You should tell me when you could come and be on get some tickets or whatever. And then they would never, ever respond to anything. And then, like, I also was traveling before that. So they would be like, call me up and say, Latoya's having her baby shower. Do you want to come? And I'm like, no, I’ve got to go to Denmark for the weekend. I've got to go to London for a week. I'm going to Swaziland or South Africa. And they're like, okay. And then one day my aunt, we had these advertisements for the show that were on the side of buses and she called me up and she goes, what the hell I see your face on a bus here. I say what do you mean. I tell you, I'm in a Broadway show is just advertisement for the show. And she says, so you're really doing this thing? I'm like, yes, I'm on a Broadway show. I am on TV sometimes talking about this thing. This is what I do. What do you mean if I really do it? They said to, Oh, we think you have the same thing that your mother have that make you just tell lies. And nobody believed me for the longest while. But there's a part of my mother. I keep saying to people that my mother's dream for her life came true, but not for her, for me. So I'm walking through the world as an artist, as a performer, as a thinker, here I am being invited by Tonya Pinkins to have conversation about sex and class and race and all of that. That's what my mother wanted for herself. She wanted so much more. So when you said that your mother was like, she had all this power and all of this way of like seeing the world. And like for 11 years, she was with this man in Canada. And this man didn't know that she really wasn't born in Britain. Like she said, and the next-door neighbors that she was really, really close to for 11 years. And one of them was like her best friend, the husband and wife, one thought she was from one country, the other one. And they still together, they've been together 40 years now. And when I went back to Montreal to speak to them, it was in the conversation between all three of us that they were like, no, she's British. No, she's Canadian. I mean, she's Jamaican, no she's British. And these people have shared a pillow for 40 years. And how my mother has navigated with them has made it so that each of them believe two different opposing narratives about her. That's smart. That's smart.

Tonya Pinkins: It is smart.

Staceyann Chin: And she's like, been with like the most amazing people. And people have like this trail of shame that they've been with her. Because when it is that it becomes obvious or apparent that she is this kind of crazy, nut loose kind of person. They don't know what to do with the fact that they were so entrenched with her.

Tonya Pinkins: Because the feelings you had were real, I mean, the feelings that they had were real, and now they want to deny that. I mean, I have had this thing where I have psycho door. Like if I'm attracted to someone there's something wrong with them, they're a sociopath or something like that is what is my attraction. No, it's really true. And that's how I know. And so for a while, I just would date people that I didn't feel anything too, because if I feel that I know that feeling, that feeling means you are crazy. You are mentally ill or your con person.

Staceyann Chin: But I would challenge you further to ask aren't we all slightly, a little bit ill.

Tonya Pinkins: No.

Staceyann Chin: I disagree with you. I think that mental illness and mental wellness is on a spectrum and we're all somewhere on it. And maybe you're talking about people who are far left in the process.

Tonya Pinkins: I put them on the right.

Staceyann Chin: That they were far rights. I'll go with you. I'll go with you. I'll go with you. These people who are closer to the side of the continuum that is mentally ill. And then you have people who are closer to the side of the continuum that is mentally well.

Tonya Pinkins: Well, I'm going to agree with you because to me, our whole society is mentally ill. Like this bread and circuses in impeachment shit is like, that is the height of mental illness.
Like that people want to be diluted and watch these crisis. Like, is this a show? Did the whole of our reality is it, the whole of our reality is a TV show and that people are walking around and they're tuning into it and spending the time. It's no different than watching a streaming show.

Staceyann Chin: It's a part of the social media world we have where our entire existence is about presentation and curation.

Tonya Pinkins: Yeah. But our whole world is curated. So when do people go to reality? Like, do they even do it at home with their family? I mean, one of my friends was married to a man and 27 years later, he comes in and he tells her, I may have given you a sexually transmitted disease. And she's like, okay, well, I’ll go to the doctor. And he's like, you're not going to divorce me? She's like, no. I mean, I'd like you to stop, but no. And, but it turned out that he had been keeping journals of all of his sexcapades for the 27 years of their marriage in their house. And he left them out. He just assumed she would read them. She had not because she valued privacy. So they were living together, living this completely different world. And then it turned out he wanted a divorce, but he was trying to force her into the divorce. And so he ultimately ended up divorcing her. But the story he told the world was that she did it.

Staceyann Chin: But it's also this weird thing where people, I find that people are unable to be in situations where they're uncomfortable now. So no one wants to have any conversation that might rub you the wrong way or that your opinion might be different from mine. I already see that you and I could disagree quite heavily on an issue. And we would argue it out on cost, on cost. And then next week you'll be like, you come in for coffee.

Tonya Pinkins: I love that.

Staceyann Chin: People can't do that nowadays. It's like, even this notion of like, Oh, that's awkward and you hear it on the news all the time. Like, Oh, that's very awkward that like that president didn't shake Pelosi's hand. Of course it should be more than awkward, awkward is like, okay, if you're open the door and I'm like wiping myself while I'm mid period, like that's awkward. But this man trying to fuck over the country and what they're trying to hold them accountable. And the entire Republican Senator, like gang is like pushing back and making sure that he can do anything he want and making him into a King. That's not an awkward fucking situation. That's like beyond awkward. And this notion of like, I hear it with my kid, no, she's eight. And she's like, Oh, that was awkward. And I'm like, in your life, if you are living it with any kind of honesty and push forward with truth, your whole life is slightly awkward.

Tonya Pinkins: If you're engaging with people genuinely, it's always awkward. And that's, to me, I try to tell, like, my students are always as, Oh, I don't want to do that. That's triggering. Oh, I'm like, first of all, if you're a performer, people pay to see you triggered, that's the job description. If you don't want to be triggered, then they don't get in this business. Cause that's what people pay for. And if you are interested in having a relationship with somebody, it's not about avoiding the awkward, it's about going into the awkward, going deeper, to have a relationship and understand and struggle with somebody so that you actually can know them know them and have an awkwardness with them.

Staceyann Chin: The closer you are to someone. And I’ve even seen this within the context of partnership, whenever people like, because the closer you get to someone, the more they rub up against your stuff, the more conflict, the more friction you will have between you, but nobody wants to have that. Everybody wants it to be like smooth. And like on Instagram, where every picture is like the right exposure, the right filter. It's got like the right tone. I mean, people do this shit. Like they, like, they start laughing and do a selfie. Come on what on what is That?

Tonya Pinkins: The presentation of life.

Staceyann Chin: The curation of life, it’s an art show. My whole being is an art show, which is problematic. We have to be able to embrace the awkward. We have to be able to like teach this next generation coming up because God knows they can't anybody who is like uncomfortable, which is why like I run from the teaching as much as I can, if I need the money and I need the health insurance. But my God man, I can't tell you that the sentence you're right, its shit, because...

Tonya Pinkins: You won't get hired again. Cause they will write a bad review about you.

Staceyann Chin: But how is it that you're going to know if the shit is bad. In fact somebody don't tell you it's bad. If you don't know nothing about whether it's bad or not. Your acting, your hairstyle, your breath. God damn it. If my breath stinks, somebody, please tell me that's caring for me. So I could brush my teeth. These people, they don't want to hear anything uncomfortable. And I mean, people love to talk about young people, but it's not young people. It's the whole fucking generation, all these old people everybody's like, and to me, that's also a not Jamaican culture shock. When I came here from Jamaica and people do this like slightly pressed purse lip, that kind of looks like a smile, but not really a smile. I'm like, what the fuck does that mean? You want to look like, you're like Ernie and Bert. What are you doing? Are you smiling at me? Are you inviting me to conversation? Are you like, pretending that you acknowledge me so that I won't say that you're racist? Like what is going on with that smile? Can't you just say good morning or just not say anything, like turn your back on. I know you don't want to talk to nobody black, but God damn it, man. Like be that person. Like nobody wants the flesh.

Tonya Pinkins: That thing you said that's for me a piece of gentrification. Like they move into neighborhoods that have been occupied by other people. And then they walked down the street, like you don't exist. They walk down the street, like you're invisible. They just like riding by and they can just blur out their eyes to the fact that there's singing and dancing and people walking, and they just are walking by like, you don't exist. Soon You won't because we're going to buy you all out. And I like push against that when I'm walking through Harlem, like, Hey, how you doing? And then, then there's a jump like, no, you moved into our neighborhoods. I often feel like gentrification is a form of chemotherapy.

Staceyann Chin: Talk to me about that please.

Tonya Pinkins: Well, in neighborhoods of immigrants of gray people, beige people, people of color there's life, you smell the cooking, you hear the accents, you see the colors, everybody's on the streets.
You go out on the street cause you can't afford air conditioners. So when it's cold out, you out on the porch.

Staceyann Chin: Arguments happen in the street.

Tonya Pinkins: There is a life. All the life is coursing through. Then we get some other people move in and it's like, all of the life is killed, the sounds, the smells, the taste.

Staceyann Chin: But it's interesting. Don't they move in for the life.

Tonya Pinkins: Of course the life is what brings them. Well also they move in because a lot of times there's a political strategy. Like in Chicago, after the 68 riots, my daughter's father was working in the County assessor's office. And so he was privy to meetings and hearing things that black people get to hear. Cause white people treat us like we're invisible. Like if we told the truth, we knew no one would leave us or listen to us anyway. So we know all their truth. And so he was privy to the conversations where they said, let's give these niggers that stretch of the lakefront. And that's where they put the Robert Taylor homes and all the projects on the lakefront in Chicago. They said, let's give that to them. And in 30 years we'll blight it and take it back. So there's a political, urban planning strategy.

Staceyann Chin: To what end?

Tonya Pinkins: What to what end it is that they give you an area that they can't afford to buy. Like that real estate wise it's too expensive. So they do some get government money to put underprivileged people there. And then they say, you all are not developing the area sufficiently for economic eminent domain. And so now we can drop the prices to rock bottom and sell it really cheap. And then we make a whole lot of money because you all destroyed the area. So we blight it, and then we take it back and we make a lot of money. And that, there's books about in Texas, in Illinois, that is economic strategy.

Staceyann Chin: I have nothing to say. Like I'm kind of shocked by that, being so like purposeful.

Tonya Pinkins: Very purposeful, very intentional.

Staceyann Chin: Yeah. That's crazy when you think about it in terms of purpose, I always like envisioned gentrification as just people kind of looking at the life of that neighborhood, wanting to walk in and snuff it out and take it for themselves. And then 7, 12 years ago I had a dog or maybe I had a dog in Crown Heights. And then I used to be like, just one in like a bunch of like, black people who had a dog and we would walk, and we would talk. And now 12 years later I have a kid and I have a dog and the neighborhood has been gentrified out and my building is mostly white, and I go to the park and I feel like I am in their space. I feel like I’m, they all meet each other. Hey Joe, Hey, there you were there. What time did you leave last night? And I'm like, nobody invited me to the party

Tonya Pinkins: It's in your building. You weren't invited.

Staceyann Chin: Oh my God. And they all know each other. They all know each other's dogs and walk each other's dogs. And I feel so kind of excluded from whatever community is happening in these blocks that I’ve lived in for 20 years. And then I'm looking at a place to buy and like trying to figure out. And the loan people are telling me, well, maybe you can get a loan in a different city. Yeah. That's what I'm saying. Like you just like coming out the side of your mouth telling me, me black woman immigrant, who came to New York city and helped to build it for 20 years. You telling me that I should just get up and leave. And then what is affordable again, they keep putting up these affordable "apartments," $1,700 for a studio apartment. What the hell does that? Who is that affordable for? Donald Trump and his funny looking children? That got me. It's like, and I don't know, and then these down payments they're asking you for, and you can't get a whole, I don't know what we're going to do. I don't know what we're going to do. What's the answer Tonya.?

Tonya Pinkins: You're going to keep living. I mean we are going to keep being that is not, I don't even worry about that.

Staceyann Chin: I'm about to beg, borrow and steal. Perhaps you can set me up with your Dom/Sub community. Maybe I can make some money that way.

Tonya Pinkins: We are kind of very spiritual, airy fairy. We are very much...

Staceyann Chin: Nobody in there have a $100,000 they want to put on a down payment.

Tonya Pinkins: It is all about, these are some powerful women.

Staceyann Chin: But that's what I'm saying. Like, this is what I want, some of these white women who are weeping all over the place and saying, what can I do? What can I do to help? Fucking help me with a down payment so I can buy a house in my neighborhood. How about you help me do that.

Tonya Pinkins: I have no doubt Staceyann that you could magnetize that for yourself.

Staceyann Chin: Yes. And we'll sub Dom for money for down payment.

Tonya Pinkins: I don't even think you need to do that. I think that the kind of power and energy you have, now, I have asked you before you came, if you would do a poem, would you do the one that you did at the 50/50 by 2020?

Staceyann Chin: Which one is that? The one about black women?

Tonya Pinkins: Was that at 50/50 by 20?

Staceyann Chin: I can't remember.

Tonya Pinkins: I think so.

Staceyann Chin: Let me get my book.

Tonya Pinkins: Cause I mean, like you're so powerful.

Staceyann Chin: Tell them a joke while I run and get this.

Tonya Pinkins: All the jokes I like are kind of off color, but it's you can't say that. So here's my favorite joke. There's this plane and it's flying across the ocean and please I’m, this is no offense to Kobe or anybody else who's died or had lost people in plane crash, but there's a plane trying across the Atlantic and all of a sudden, the passengers hear, and it was like, Whoa, what's going on? And the captain comes on and he goes, I know you heard that sound. We are having some difficulties, but we've decided that if we could just lighten the load of the plane, we'll be able to get to some land. So we're asking permission from everybody. If we could drop all of the luggage and the cargo in the plane so that we can get to safety and people like, of course, of course drop the plane. So you hear that all the luggage is going. And so then the plane is going smoothly along and then all of a sudden more turbulent. Okay we thought that...

Staceyann Chin: You all are missing the physicality of this joke. You're missing the visual. You are completely not getting the whole situation.

Tonya Pinkins: So we lost, we've got, we lightened the weight, but we need to lighten the load a little bit more. And so we're going to have to ask for volunteers to jump off the plane. And there's silence. And it's like, look, we're all going to die. Or a few of us can sacrifice our lives so that the majority of us can live. And it's just silence. There's no one who is volunteering their life. So they're going along. It's turbulent. The captain says, look, we don't have much time left. So I'm going to just have to do this democratically. We are going in alphabetical order. So I want all the African Americans to step forward and nobody moves. So he says, okay, then we'll take all the blacks. And nobody moves. And so next he says, okay, then the next group will be all the colored and this little girl tugs at her mom. And she says, mommy, aren't we all three of those. And our mama says no. And today wees niggers

Staceyann Chin: I liked the fact that there was like room to self-identify. Young folks would like the fact that there was room to self-identify. So I’ll read this one. And if this is not the right one...

Tonya Pinkins: Everything you read and it's powerful. So tell us the name. Which book is this from?

Staceyann Chin: This is from my latest book called “Crossfire, a litany for survival. “It's a nod to Audre Lorde]. Tsunami rising. It's called me too, too. In the balance of human biology all bodies are created equal. Everybody is about 70% water, regardless of race, religion, gender sex, or sexual orientation, we all die after about seven days without drink. But the idiots obsessed with category have decided that a double X chromosome designates me subordinate to those with an X and a Y. Intersect those two X's with a fact of my blackness and my existence is now coded as dangerous, hostile, a direct threat to the endurance of the white patriarchy. And everybody knows that white men have spent eons, centuries appropriating what they wanted. The gold they found in Africa wasn't enough. So they submerged human bodies head to toe in a swamp of our own urine and feces. They dragged us across violent waters. Many of us drowned our young rather than let them live at the mercy of white men and their sons and their grandsons and their grandsons sons, just to keep breathing. Some of us became one dimensional in the public imagination, in real life, in books. We had to become one thing or the other, spinster or mother, victim or Virgin, damsel or whore. Some of us went under ground. Some of us let go into that sunken place. Others revolted took up arms, crawled through sewage, defied geography to build new lives in new cities. And that's how the fuck I find myself in Brooklyn spending my nights, reading tales of Nubians bathing naked in the Nile Kushite Queens equal to Kings all of them praying to a black woman named ISIS, the most powerful goddess among gods. And I imagine if I were her, if I were ISIS, I would use my might to smite every motherfucker, whoever looked at a little girl with lust in his flesh. I would exact vengeance on behalf of every black woman who has disproportionately borne the weight of racial and sexual violence. While everybody in the suffragette movement and the black civil rights movement and the LGBT movement turned a blind eye to her swollen lips mouthing Me Too, too, someone please help me to get him off Me too. Me too. Me too. For centuries, black women have endured the culture of rape and racism combined. For centuries the world has stood silent while black women and girls were bullied by black men and white men and white women alike for centuries. Anyone who wanted to hit something or own someone, they could decide we were it. Without consequence, anyone could tag a black woman, a dark girl, the universal punching bad for centuries. Rape was a word black mothers never spoke aloud, but every black daughter knew what it meant. It meant lie still. It will pass. Keep quiet. It meant, ignore that girl who screams too loudly. Don't you dare shame this good black family. And then one day, one day something brilliant happened. A black woman named Tarana Burke inspired, wealthy white women to say Me Too too. And here in wriggles the strange rubric of America's particular strain of racism. Ironically, the viral mobility of the me-too hashtag was only possible because a white woman with power, a white woman with power retweeted a black woman's words, two words, which unleashed a wildfire of public testimony, pulling the shroud of sexual violation from the shadows, shoving it onto prime-time TV. Yet 12 years after that first Tarana Burke Me Too movement, black women are still largely missing from the public dialogue about sexual assault. And we, the black women are so tired of being disregarded. If you give black feminists any room to speak honestly, if you gave us any room to speak honestly, this is the letter we meant pen to you white feminists, you who's crying consistently drowns out the sound of black suffering. Dear weeping white woman, even as we cannot find safe space to show you where or when or how we were torn open. We are only holding the sorrow in to keep our hearts from exploding. We are unable to process any of our pain with you because we are exhausted from the centuries of holding you and your children. We have a hard time trusting you even as you stand here, weeping. We have a hard time trusting you, because you have never been able to stand up for us or stand by us. And we are tired. We are exhausted from explaining ourselves. And if you wish to know any more about the Genesis of this rage, this iron white rage, please go and Google us or read bell hooks or Brittany Cooper, or the blogs of the bevy of white women write as your white publishers are too afraid to publish for centuries. We have been carrying the weight of your white fragility, year after year marching for everyone else's freedom, protesting everyone else's sorrow, but ours. Well, this crazy mad gaggle of global witches and hags are done. Braiding beads of silent acceptance. Simply put in this century, black women intend to take up a whole lot more motherfucking space. Black women are crafting a collective response to centuries of being on the everybody's water. We have become a rising tsunami of fury come back to take backward was carried away without consent. And while we're still here being candid, I might as well confess to you that I don't give a fuck. If you don't like me, or I'm a big mouth black, like my lover's ass, it has never endeared me to the gatekeepers of white civility. My proclivity to speak the unspeakable is essentially the only defense I have against this indefensible violence of your manmade history inside my house, inside my Brooklyn house there is no shadow talk of birds or bees. We trade indecipherable metaphors for concrete words that do not confuse my daughter. I tell her your mouth, your elbow, your hair, or your arms, your legs, your vagina, your whole God damn body belongs to no one, but you. And if you ever feel even a tiny bit unsafe, you open your mouth. You scream for help. If anybody, anybody at all does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, you tell me and I, I will always believe you my daughter in a world that's regularly demonstrates how much it hates us. This is what it means to be assigned the label of black and girl. And yet we continue to survive, to thrive, to arrive into adulthood, with the ability to laugh and love and wear hoop earrings and tight skirts, and found the social movements, deliberate other motherfuckers from bondage. If any of this sounds like I'm speaking your story, this poem be for you my love. If you have ever had to argue that you are no less deserving than your white counterpart. I am speaking to you and for you. My love, if you have ever been inspired by the magic of black women with thighs and asses that move mountains in their stride, if you've ever been told you speak too fiercely from the thick lip of your own truth. If you have been called a girl, like it was a fucking insult. If you've ever been called bitch, you step forward now, if you are itching to light a fucking fire, a bonfire in the house of the white patriarchy, come stand with black women now. If you want to be free, like Harriet Tubman weapon in hand, wading through the friendly waters, her power compelling the freedom of even those who did not want to be free. If you desire to be confrontational like Sojourner, if you wish to be audacious like Audrey, antagonistic like Angela, gangster like Winnie Mandela, angry like Assata Shakur, you come roar with us at our rallies. Sit beside us in schools, sing with us in church, stand with us where it matters. Vote with us and vote for us at these motherfucking polls, travel with us in the virtual, in the flesh over these waters they have used against us as weapons. Across these lands of this rock we all call home. Let us use the fire to crack the ground wide open with an uprising that will never again die down. Let us say to them no more water for them. We go use fire next time. What we say? No more water Fire, next time. No more water. We use motherfucking fire next time.

Tonya Pinkins: I'm in tears.

Staceyann Chin: Thank you for letting me do that.

Tonya Pinkins: Thank you, you are a force.

Staceyann Chin: I mean, how do you remain as radical as provocative as, take no prisoners? One of the ways in which I kind of hold onto my voice is that, I'm not attached to an institution so I can fucking say what I want and not have to cow tow to or explain it or if I get in trouble, then I don't have to explain how is it that you have for a whole life been attached to so many institutions that seem so powerful and still keep this attitude of take no prisoners, shoot now, talk later.

Tonya Pinkins: I think a lot of it has to do with, having been abused so terribly that there's just nothing that anybody else can threaten me with that I haven't gone through. Do you know what I mean? So it's like, Oh, we're not going to hire you. Oh, you're difficult. OK So it is from that space of like, what you going to do to me that hasn't already been done to me that was far worse. And growing up in a crazy household, where trying to hold onto what is reality. And my sanity in that has meant that, when I find something that feels so clear and right for me, I have to hold it and I have to hold it in the face of any story that you're going to tell me. cause you can’t pay me enough money

Staceyann Chin: But how you get hired is the question.

Tonya Pinkins: I got hired a lot because a lot because George C. Wolfe believed in my talent and six of the Broadway shows that did were George C. Wolfe.

Staceyann Chin: George C. Wolfe, if you're listening, produce mother struck.

Tonya Pinkins: Yeah. George C. Wolfe has a lot to do with it. Hal Prince gave me my first gig. And the fact that they were comfortable having me in their rooms until they weren't. And when I get in the room, I kick ass. And so you know I'm difficult and if you want to have me in the room, you have to expect that, that's what's going to come with me. So I actually have been turning down a lot more jobs cause I'm less patient, less tolerant with the ignorance. And I'm like, you know what? I don't want to make you all uncomfortable, by doing me. So I'm not going to even come in your room, even though you think I might bring something, I'm not, cause I'm really radical now. I'm at the end of my life. And it's like, yeah, it's just really radical. I just made my first feature film. And it is about this election and the people that put them there. And it's a sociopolitical horror because that's what we're living in. So yeah.

Staceyann Chin: Well, I mean, it's remarkably inspiring because I’ve just like avoided institutions. I don't want to apply for grants. I don't mess with big institutions because I know that what comes with that space is, but not having the institutions means, I have to pay for my own health insurance. I don't have a job letter to take to anyone that can say, Hey, give me a loan for a house.

Tonya Pinkins: The golden handcuffs do bring a lot of things. But for me, if the price of that is my soul, I couldn't live with it. I just couldn't live with it.

Staceyann Chin: Yeah. But it's good to see someone who is still doing work and have done work for so long. It's nice to see it. It means that, okay, even though it gets difficult that, I should press on and keep on my voice, hold on to my voice. Don't consider this selling out business just because you need something.

Tonya Pinkins: And we're in the pivot. We are the women of the pivot. It's pivoting. It is shifting.

Staceyann Chin: I like that. I'm going to get a tee shirt that says we are in the pivot because that moment being in the pivot is what makes us hold on when it is the hardest. Because once you know it's coming, no matter how rough it gets, no matter how orange it gets, then you can still hold on. So thank you for that. Thank you for the inspiration. I mean, I liked being here and talking to you. Thank you.

Tonya Pinkins: Thank you. I can't say anymore but thank you Staceyann Chin and you are welcome back anytime and I hope you will invite me to your home. I love these conversations. You can come to my home too.

Staceyann Chin: Absolutely. I will be there if you ask me big, big, big, big love, and thank you for finally, thank you for having me in like for having a space that we can have these like ridiculously crazy conversations that are mostly unwelcome elsewhere.

Tonya Pinkins: Let's do it again. You are listening to Tonya Pinkins You Can't Say That. And my guess Staceyann Chin. Oh yeah. Thank you.

Thanks for listening to You Can’t Say That, the show where you can. I am Tonya Pinkins. This is part of the Broadway podcast network produced by Dori Bernstein and Alan Seales edited by Derek Gunther, music by Anthony Norman available wherever you get your podcast and visit me on twitter and Facebook and Instagram. And let me know what you'd like to hear we talk about. For more information, visit www.bpn.fm/ycst.


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Part 2: I was invited to a salon at Staceyann’s house for Black women to share their disdain over Jeremy O’Harris’s SLAVE PLAY. I was afraid I might not get out alive so I invited her to talk about it on the show. She is a force of nature as a poet, Drama Desk Award Winner and star of Tony Nominated DEF JAM Poetry.

Produced by Dori Berinstein, edited by Alan Seales, music by Anthony Norman.

A proud member of the Broadway Podcast Network.


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