Leave by Night: an Into the Ashe and Fire short

by Steven Underwood

Support the full novel, Into the Ashe and Fire

“Damn these Jungle Witches and the whores that breed them,” the Blue Blood barely broke past the threshold into the café before he started at it. His jacket dripped a train of water across the linoleum floors.

Arrica Tre, the serving witch, flinched at the word as if he’d walked in and slapped her. She waited for someone to correct the man, but only heard the welcome ticking of the clock on the wall. Instead, she spent better time worrying about the cost to magick the water out of the floorbed.

There were dozens of other cafes in Antebellum, but only the Chalice on Heaven’s panel catered to government secretaries. They tipped well, but they were a nuisance, especially during the witching hours — when Adversary crept out of their hiding holes and Marshalls began their rounds.

The Blue Blood gestured for a coffee and claimed a seat at a long oak table occupied by a communal group. Their implements were on the table — racking up a hefty tab.

A cool financemage with a pointed nose and crescent spectacles arched his eyebrows. “That’s very strong language there, sir.”

To Arrica’s repulsion, he winked at her for the second time that night. It was off-putting, but by the Ancestors, he at least kept his hands to himself.

“What happened?”

“Some jungle w — slumrat employed whatever dark unsavory magicks travel their streets teach and almost bewitched my youngest niece into his bed.” The Blue snorted hideously as Arrica assembled her tray, her eyes fading toward the clock. Twelve minutes till shift rotation. Perfect, almost home for the night.

“Certainly, I’ve made sure that bastard won’t be doing it again. My employer has the number to a Marshall — a friendly lad, good breeding with fair prices. Dialed them upright, paid my worth and I haven’t seen the rat since!”

Arrica stifled a snort. As if a Blue Blood needed to be charmed to cross the Wall. She’d been to a lot of functions back home where their precious darlings were willfully engaged in the “dirtiness” of the Browns. Besides, who would waste the Presence or Power on enfeebling some Blue’s baby when there were bills to pay? Mouths to feed?

“Saviors! When was this? Imagine if it was my little girl getting mixed up in dark magick,” a curly-haired mage said. “I heard it causes, you know, Taint.”

The Blue Blood nodded sharply. “I’ve word from several high-ranking healers that there is a correlation. I mean, have you heard? Taint is practically in the air over there. It’s also the one place they practice the low magick.”

“See? That’s why I told my Lyanna that if I ever caught her dabbling over there with one of those, I’d throw her off the side of the Wall myself!”

A scowling sorcerer whom Arrica assumed he worked somewhere in construction, stirred the ice in his wine. “That sounds a little harsh, Vincent. Maybe she went over there looking for her dear dad! She wouldn’t be over there long if she knew to dip her head into a pleasure house.”

They laughed and the scowling warlock knocked over his glass, sending wine spilling across the table. Arrica quickly attended to the mess. It would’ve been faster with magick, but her employers didn’t cover her expenses while working. Any Power she had was gathered to get her home. She could offer her Presence instead, but the penance she had wouldn’t even get her half-way home to the Browns.

That’d all change soon though. Arrica pressed her hand to her belly absently and thought sweetly of the future she worked hard for. She aced the written exam — nearly a higher scorer than the DuBeau boy himself: he always scored high in class. She did perfectly on the personal interviews, and for extra measure, her background check was spotless. They didn’t even detect her pregnancy; and they definitely had no clue she could use the very dark magick they were bashing now: Ancestry.

Even now, they didn’t see the spectral orangutan sitting squat in the middle of the tabletop, weaving a juju of hospitality throughout the room. That was why her coffee was the best — how a neophyte was hired as a serving witch above qualified culinary mages.

It hadn’t been many years since the Fires. These days, people were just as afraid of dark magick and street shamans who worshipped it as they were of the Adversary creeping about the corners, tormenting Blue Bloods and Brownie alike. That was why she’d turn her life away from it all: the Browns, the Ancestry, all of it.

Just as soon as that Letter arrived. Papa could help take care of the baby for a bit. He already was excited to be a grandfather — he never said it out loud, but he always wanted a boy, and Graham says it was one: she saw it in her mind’s third eye, brown skin just like his mama.

Three minutes, Arrica counted. Her eyes upon the clock. She didn’t know if the letter would arrive before she got home. Some people said the faster you got it, the more they liked you. Ancestors, wouldn’t that be something?

The feathery feeling rose in her spirits again. A chill ran up and down her arms and, against Arrica’s pessimism, she shivered with joy.

Quinto used to come to their school and talk about this feeling: the sweet succulent of a dream. “Not a lot of Brownies can afford one,” he’d say, surrounded by his lieutenants and advisors of varying magical pedigree. “But when you find one, hold it close and love it. Love it like your child.”

Arrica came to hers earlier than most — maybe that was why it was so humble. To own a small place where she could cook and serve and smile. It was a delight close to that first time her son, Sango, smiled gummy and wide.

A tall, lithe mage whose dark hand fell down behind his back into a braid had been studying a glowing screen of light as letters danced across its display. He wore his Power, his wealth, better than any cloak. “Not all Brownies are problematic. Hell, most of their dark magick is downright necessary. I once knew a Hispanic to cure my wife’s mother’s sickness: saved me months of expenses. Didn’t even charge me much more than a few poultry charms I had in my pocket for it.”

“And we can’t afford to get rid of a lot of it. Takes less training and therefore costs less to ask a friendly neighborhood Slumborn to uncork their old ways on a worksite than it does to pay a whole accredited mage to do it.”

Arrica nodded in approval. It was a weird mechanic of magick that Ancestry could ensorcell things easier than anything else. Especially in strong families. Particularly, the Tres were known to work great with weather and Arrica’s Papa used to make most of his Power on the side by stirring storms for the Agriculture companies in the Blues.

That was until his employer was caught and flipped on him. He spent three years in the Wall, and when he came back out, Arrica never saw his ashe again.

At the time, she hoped her own Ancestry could compensate for the loss of income. However, Ghanda Aje, the orangutan ashe on the table, could only work mojo of Prosperity. Her Papa called it a peace-time mojo, way different than his own workings. When Papa saw it, he shrugged and said the Ancestors have different roles for every one of their children in the community. Mine was for fortune when his, in its time, sowed destruction.

The wet Blue blood shook his head. “It’s still unfair. How can it be fair that we’re expected by the Senate to give them a fair chance at our world we worked so hard to make safe, civil and peaceful when they are so…unruly!”

“They can’t even secure their own home from crime violence and destruction.”

Another mage held a hand up to the wet Blue Blood. “Now now. It wasn’t the senate who decided this. I’m a deputy secretary, I should know. It’s a clause of the Covenant! Everyone gets a fair shot.”

“But does everyone deserve a shot? How’re we to know if these Brownies walking across our property aren’t what’s attracting Adversary? Making the work of our Coven Marshalls all the more difficult,” the blue blood sniffed loudly. “I have to say. I truthfully think the old Senate had it right a decade ago with the Purification, except they weren’t thinking big enough. Burn the lot of them next time!”

The clock chimed loudly on the wall: three loud gongs back to back.

“Finally,” Arrica grunted, snatching off her apron and tossing it to the table.

The pointed nose mage spotted her and waved her down. “Excuse me, are you going? Because I’d love to close my tab as well — ”

“I’m so sorry sir,” Arrica said, desperately swapping her Brown accent for a Blue appropriate dialect. “I’m off-duty now. My replacement server will be happy to help.”

Confused, he looked about. “But, there’s no one — ”

“She’s running a bit late. Patience is key.” Arrica hurried out of the shop, grabbing her purse as she went. It jangled as she plucked it up from a keyring anointed with several magickal charms of stored spells and a turquoise gemstone that glistened in both the darkness and the light.

Arrica checked the gemstone, her implement, for Power as she darted out of the shop. It wasn’t much — she probably would have to walk a bit, but she could hitch a ride on the Rails. She tried not to think about how she’d get by when the baby was born if she was barely scraping by now.

Maybe I should reach out to his father, Arrica thought. But, then she thought against it. He wouldn’t be great for this. She didn’t want him to be great for this — it never should’ve happened. She knew he was too old for her at the time, and now… Why ruin his circumstances?

The Blues — all eight districts on the other side of the Wall belonging to the Blue Bloods — were beautiful at any time of the day when compared to the Browns, but she preferred it under the cold silver of night.

Lanterns of witchfire shone in the darkness, fending off the perils of the witching hours. In the distance, Arrica could hear six thunderous booms in rapid succession: the Coven Marshalls, likely responding to the sighting of an Adversary or some magickal crisis. On this street, chariots pulled by majestic simulacra of hoofed beasts and mighty jungle cats long-extinct since the Awakening swept the world — and humanity in its infinite power tossed an incomplete world into utter destruction.

Despite the activity of the night, Arrica kept her eyes upon the heavens. Waiting for that moment, even if it wouldn’t come now.

For a moment, she closed her brown eyes and breathed in the sweet smell of cinnamon and honey and imagined herself here. Despite the darkness, she felt a bright flash from behind closed lids.

When she parted them, a small square wafted through the air, falling angelically from the heavens. Arrica gestured at it, intent on waiting for it to fall. When her impatience got the better of her, she whispered a word, sending a jolt through her fingers and the paper zipped into her hand.

She cursed herself for wasting Power she’d need to get home, but caressing her belly, she forgave herself, this time.

Lavender binder wrapped in some kind of enchantment that beckoned her to open it. Her legs felt soft and flimsy beneath her. Like they’d melt if she weren’t too careful — and as an Abstract domain, she’d need to be careful about what she’d think could happen.

Hurriedly, Arrica looked around the area for a place to sit. Somewhere, she recalled coming across a park. The image was so clear in her head where to find it that her legs, by some miracle, dragged her away.

It was an inconvenient distance away, but she made it despite how her feet screamed. It was resting on green grass with a sandbox and a swing set. Arrica took a seat on the swings and pushed herself just a little.

The letter lay on her lap, the wind trickling it a bit, threatening to spirit the Letter away, along with her future.

Now or never, Arrica thought to herself. She grabbed the letter between thumbs and fingers before breaking the seal on the back. Four sheets fell open in front of her in gold, silver, nickel and brown. The topmost sheet of gold glew with burning letters:

Congratulations, Arrica Tre! We welcome you to the fold! The Covenant proudly presents you pledge sponsorship amongst these of the Seven Leagues, 1.) the Orthodoxy of Magic, Academy for the civics, servitude and the vanquisher’s arts and 2) the Coterie, Academy for Grace and Demeanor. Thank you for your diligence to the Savior’s wisdom and the Covenant which binds and unites us deeper than skin and blood.

The Senate 66

Arrica had no interest in being a Coven Marshall. Papa called Brown Bloods who went for such a role worse than traitors. He made it clear if she even so much as brought one home: she didn’t want to imagine the disappointment if she became one. However, thee Coterie? That was different.

Arrica’s smiled spread immediately. Her eyes welled with tears.

There might have been a word for her delight if she could think of finding one. If she could afford to float, she might’ve. If she could muster the might to leap up and dance, she would’ve. All she had the energy for at this moment now, was to get home and tell her Papa.

Krk!

Arrica leaped up off the swing and twirled around. “Hello?”

The air was stale and old around her. Shadows loomed off into the distance. Arrica lifted her hand. “Flicker!”

A bell of light blossomed in her hand, burning out another lump of her Power. Worse, she could feel what she had remaining dwarfing by the moment: light burned out a lot.

“I know I heard you out there,” Arrica shouted out loud. Her left leg began to tremble involuntarily. She listened carefully to a soft song of a thousand crickets, but even that might be a falsehood. Adversary was predators of the magickal and sophisticated: banes of humanity. Of course, they could obscure their being behind hallucination and other weirdness.

Focusing, Arrica reached out with her mind and Awareness. It was likely finally opening her eyes after years of living in shadow. There dozens of scents flowing beneath her eyes; pungencies of spellwork: both inactive and active. She wasn’t too good at this, but she was enough to know there were no Adversary in the area.

She was also talented enough to feel that shadow lurking but ten feet in front of her.

“I-I know you’re there,” Arrica said boldly. “Come out. Now.”

The air rippled for a moment, like a puddle under rainfall. A figure stepped out, tall and confident with a silver badge with a six-pointed star at his hip: a Coven Marshall. His eyes did not watch her, but saw her: like she was a granite wall, an obstacle in his way.

“Are you… Arrica Tre?” he asked, his voice like rusty stone.

She hugged the Letters to her chest and followed the protocol drilled into her since she was three: watching his feet and not his eyes, silencing her magicks until it was little more than a weak pathetic trickle.

“Y-yes? Am I in trouble? I just found this park and I-I didn’t know I couldn’t be here.”

The man shook his head. “No, no. It’s not that, you’re supposed to be here. I wanted you here.”

Arrica frowned. “I…don’t know what you mean by that?”

“A lure. I brought you here,” he said. “Congratulations on your scores. I’m sure you’re proud.”

“I am …I’m sorry, but –”

“Can you use Ancestry, Arrica?” the man asked brazenly.

No, Arrica tried to say, as was expected of her, but her lips did not comply. She tried again, but her lips were locked together, again. The man kept staring at her. No, not at: in.

His piercing black eyes were staying at her belly with a forlorn knowledge.

Arrica gasped audibly. “Y-yes…”

“I see,” the man folded his hands and glanced around the area mathematically. Something about the gesture made Arrica want to vomit, but even that function seemed to be failing. It was like her body was made of stone.

“I hope you’re all watching. I won’t be showing this twice.”

“W-who — ”

The man regarded Arrica with an eye. “Not you. The other students.” As if they were summoned, four figures flickered into view, each with six-pointed badges of varying metals.

“However, in regards to you. I’d like to apologize. Not because you have to go — that was brought unto you by your choice to practice dark magick. Sorry that your unborn beloved will have to suffer the consequences of your choices. For that, I’ll make it quick.”

Arrica’s rage burned inside her. Desperately, she flailed not for her Power, but her Presence and sharpened it to a lethal point set upon the man before her. “True str — ”

Her lips slammed shut against her volition. Wet tears and snot slid down her face. The man regarded her with an eye. Slowly, it dawned on Arrica what was happening.

Empyrean warlock, she thought.

“Correct. I don’t need incantations to harm you when I can just chant them telepathically.” The man tapped the third-eye chakra between his eyes as he spoke and then at the exposed air.

“And no,” he said, sliding his finger down the empty space as it slit open and unfurled like a rose bud. “No one can hear you. No one will help. I bewitched it all ahead of time to maximize stealth and secrecy, and I am quite good at those things. I am a Coven Marshall after all.”

Arrica could do nothing but watch. In the distance, she could hear a cruel laughter. Someone mocking her.

“We do not know if the person we actually want is you. We were just told to watch for someone with a specific set of skills and qualifiers that you happen to fit. We pray to the Saviors’ grace that it is you, but most likely, it isn’t.”

There was a long arm that stretched out of the pocket world. Covered in scars, dripping in darkness and everything about it — the frequency, the stench, the color — said that it was wrong. That it was wrong because it was everything she, and her unborn child, were not. It was an enemy of her humanity, an Adversary.

“More will likely have to die, but that is what you and yours do best: die. I don’t mean to say that to sound unsympathetic. I am, but I do this to keep the peace and to enforce the Covenant, which is nothing without the will of very specific persons. Those persons have decided the answer to your specific crimes will be death, rather than the condemnation of the Wall like the rest of the monsters of the Browns.”

One of the figures sniffed loudly. “Why did we have to waste this much Power to summon this for a Jungle Witch, sir?”

The man folded his hands “Because, my little bird. As bloody as the work we will have to do, we should do well to keep our work bloodless on paper.” the man said. “That’s our prerogative when in service to the Law.”

The arm firmly grasped hold of Arrica. Her body squirmed internally as a thousand electrical pulses demanded she move, scream, fight — all to be quelled by whatever psychic order was established by this man in black. Instead, she feebly prayed to the Ancestors.

But, in the end, this man was right. If they were so powerful, they wouldn’t be Ancestors. Now, would they?

***

Adidas Off-White

by Steven Underwood

Nothing worthwhile is found in the streets. Before this September, if I were to walk home from school, I’d assume to find the usual swaying my head low, scanning the ground to dodge the broken glass and eye contact: a used needle (Retail: $20 per pack of 100): tiny green ziplock baggies barely big enough to hold a raisin (Retail: $5.05 per pack of 100): black gum stains pressed into cement after years of tramples (Retail: brand varying, $0.75): shoestrings (Retail: $1.00).

Now, those were shockingly the most common, mostly browned with age, but always bound together with a shoe not too far off (Retail: $0.05). When I tilted my head just slightly, I could see clouds of cloth-stuffed sneakers of all colors. Some were cheap and others were expensive. I even recognized a few of them, mostly Brice’s Concords (Retail: $125), identified by a dried penny-sized stain on the black plastic toe that hydrogen peroxide couldn’t clean (New Retail: $70).

Mama used to say they belonged to boys like me, and when I asked what they were doing walking around barefoot, she simply looked at me with her soulful brown eyes. “They ain’t, baby.” she’d say and then I’d stop asking questions, before her fondness of my curiosity turned into frustration-and-anger.

There ain’t need to be explanations, neither. If they were found on the streets, they’d be picked up: whether by God or by the Devil. What use did they have for some shoes except to dangle them?

Today, I didn’t just find shoe strings. It was a whole damn shoe, brand-new, with the strings perfectly in tact if not a little strained from dangle-stress. The logo was a three-pronged weed leaf like it was plucked off one of those tacky Marijuana brand shirts — the kind Grove City kids wore over cargo pants when they came around the block to buy (Retail: $9.00) . They were hightops, with a velcro tongue dangling from the sides across from a plastic white buckle.

Retail Price: $450.

Last person to have a pair of off-white Adidas on the block was Yvone. Her mama was just as poor as the rest of us, but her step-dad had a trucker job on route from Columbus to all places south, one of the few fortunes of living in a warehouse plant like the 614. He didn’t spend his money on much that couldn’t be carried in-and-out of truck-stops, so she found it pertinent to guilt him into an early present. She wore them to the first day of Sophomore year into Mrs. Martin’s Remedial Englsh with an outfit she snatched after a raid at Eastland.

In fairness, Yvone looked cute. She bought a rainbow of ribbons from Target to tie into her ponytail (Retail Price: $2.00) and a pair of golden hoop earrings (Retail Price: $1.50 a pack). It didn’t entirely come together, but Yvone, like the rest, made due with what she had — a single luxury in a body of cheapness, made whole with personality alone.

Alex Little sucked her teeth at Yvone from across the crowded classroom as she snuck another selfie — one arm fully extended, both lips puckered, an unfamiliar joy in her eyes. It was an Obama phone (Retail Price: $50), flat and silver with a pink protective cover (Retail Price: $12.00).

“She swear she part Indian, but her Grandma blacker than a skillet bottom.” Alex said. My friend snickered, as did I, to my shame. It was just funny; she didn’t even get her shoes in her pic — just half a fit. It hadn’t occurred till after what happened that Yvone didn’t have any, not any real ones. Being friendless meant no full-body pics. Just lonely, close-up selfies down a long three-year digital archive.

They got Yvone across the street, in the alley behind the Walgreens. Alex and my friends made a game out of how many times they could knock her down or bloody her nose. Yvone’d been cursing first, then fighting her mightiest, before finally crying and then, silence. And by the time of the Silence, Alex and her friends already made the effort to snatch her her ribbons, her phone, her cover, both of her earrings and, obviously, both shoes.

She walked back home barefoot in a pair of cerulean-and-white ankle socks (Retail Price: $4.50). The last time anyone saw her, she’d turned down Brighton Rd., her tears dried into two shallow grey trains down her chin.

A month later, when the cops stopped caring to find her, Her mother dangled her shoes from the phone lines. They twisted there, with her name scribbled on the bottoms. I saw her daily in the Walgreens, a blurred picture of a colorful girl I recognized in a house I didn’t, beside an aged rendering that I never would’ve recognized even if she walked up on me on the streets. I wondered how long those strings would spin there before they’d snap.

These Adidas had no name on the bottoms. Just a blurred stain.

The clam shell color was hardened, but striking all the same.

I stuff the shoes into my all black satchel and make my way home with a dedication to my stride. The morning felt defeated with silver in the skyline of the City itself.

Black Boys and Bird-Chests: The Racialized Legacy of Body Dysmorphia

Black Boys and Bird-Chests, or the Racialized Legacy of Body Dysmorphia in African-American Men

Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

The burn in my chest the first and last time a friend’s mom punched me was the final time I allowed myself to be okay with having a “bird-chest” and lanky arms. I remember the thought crossing my mind followed solely by the immediate regret of showing up over this house at all, and I should’ve demanded such a thing the day white friend told me he was blacker than me because he could dunk on a full-sized rim and I couldn’t.
However, the catalyst for this sudden change today came somewhere between the push-ups and sit-ups, and everything she thought was a favor to build me into a more suitable image of what she deemed acceptable for a young Black man to be when I realized that anyone speaking of my body or forcing themselves upon my body’s right to exist was not okay. Perhaps if I made such a stance for myself sooner, I would have a prouder self-image that doesn’t equate my body’s lack of athletic hardiness to a failure to live up to my cultural pride.

The world is obsessed with the Black male body image, in a way that often crosses into the gross. Not only in how these bodies can perform as a tool or commodity, as we often find in sports but in how one should conduct itself within parameters of Blackness. In the last year alone, we’ve seen Terry Crews having to defend his body against other high-profile Black men about what he did or didn’t do to protect himself during a sexual assault. The power isn’t with Terry Crews, however, and while it is also with these other celebrities, it speaks to a culture surrounding Black bodies; it’s rooted in a traumatizing experience that many Black men go through in their youth that not only pressures Black boys that dictate Black identity only as an extension of our bodies’ physical worth — and more specifically, only when we abuse it.
To be frail in a Black space is to be seen as less than Black. This was the case for me even before that day at my friend’s house in Ohio; it was like this before I was old enough to know, everything I did at a young age was dedicated to hardening my body to the same icy stone that one might expect of Black men.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

At six years old, I was expected to know how to play basketball, I was expected to race and run laps, and fight and be struck square in my chest without crying, caving on flinching because I had a ‘bird-chest” and that, in the world of West Philadelphia was not okay. The fantasy of my future involved a sport, and only a sport — and somewhere down the line basketball, and the revulsion of anything feminine, but the over-consumption of anything female. There were even dreams of what my first tattoo might be.

Imagine my mother’s disappointments when despite all of this, I still lacked all repulsion with anything athletic. And honestly, to this day I’ve never had little more than an ear piercing.

It was not my mother’s disappointments that concerned me or continues to do so, but the point of view of my family — both young and old — that somehow I tarnished my sense of Blackness by not dedicating myself to physical achievements. No matter the academic or emotional milestones I hurdle, we can always come back to the failure on my part to end up Strong in this one real way which counts to them — even if I no longer have a “bird-chest”. It always ends with an expectation to hit a gym sooner or later.

Infamous image of Gordon, or “Whipped Pete” (1863) depicting his scarred back

And, it wasn’t until that eventful night where a punch took it steps too far that I realized this was not regionally specific behavior — this was behavior canonized across Blackness and where I rebelled against it, it became the basis of my peer’s masculinity to the point it ostracized me from my Blackness and, in truth, there’s no reason for that to have been.

Yet, to this day, when I look upon my own Black form and how it fails to conform to this image I have now grown to expect of myself, I feel an involuntary revulsion. I feel beautiful, but at the same time, I am forced to feel incomplete, because the brownness of my skin is supposedly meant to be accompanied by a hardiness, and not a softness. I’m incapable of seeing even the curves I’ve developed as anything as my own way of escaping the whiteness and weakness my bird-chest once implied.

The history of Black bodies as commodity isn’t unknown to our understanding of what America is and it is ahistorical to discuss Black male bodies and not mention this. Slavery was all about reducing a whole culture’s human spectrum — their emotions, memories, their habits, and happiness — into a disgusting price tag to be tossed out on a wooden chopping block.

Ken Norton as Mede posing for slaver inspection, formulating one of the earliest forms of the fetishization of Black male physique.

The mind held little worth, though it could be marketed as a profitable gift with purchase, and the idea of a greased up mass of muscle who could only react, and never act (and therefore exist) became the model of Black men. Thus, we can note the beginning of the fetishization of Black male bodies.

This legacy continues throughout American fiction. In 1975, the graphic adaptation of Kyle Onstot novel of the same name, Mandingo was released by Paramount Pictures. The film, starring boxer-turned-actor Ken Norton, depicted the sexual victimization of male and female Black slaves and the gross physical exploitation of the Black male form. In the film, Mede (Ken Norton) is a prizefighter forced to physical extremities such as bathing in cauldrons of hot salt water to toughen his skin. His worth is placed solely in the fact that as a Mandingo (of the Mandinka ethnic group) he is of superior physical virtue, and thus more suitable for breeding. The film ends with the murder of Mede after the Woman of the House extorts sex from Mede, culminating in his execution due solely to attracting the unrequited sexual desire due to his biology.

The stakes Black boys face today are nowhere as comparable as these moments of extreme brutality in reality, or fiction, but the line of succession passes itself forward. Today, only the conduct is different; Terry Crews has to defend his choices to not assault his sexual aggressors to other high-profile Black men who in some sense of a world are challenging his sense of Blackness for his decisions to not use his body — which is apparently his physically imposing — to fight.

Some might suggest that this is a case of Machismo, and while it is similar, as both concepts can be attributed to hypermasculinity, the extreme racial fetishization by both Black and White cultures makes the concept feel as unique as the other systematic structures imposed upon Black existence.
In any case, Black men are expected to resolve conflict violently or not at all, and this narrative has become a dangerous entity — a caustic cancer that has ended in the routine and systematic execution of Black youths. The narrative of the Black male form as monstrous have followed us further back than the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown or the prolific exposure of social media.

Public Domain Clip Art of Trayvon Martin, black minor executed in 2012

Yet, there is always the expectation to perform our strength and to fit into this idea of our bodies as a vehicle of aggression. It’s not an uncommon part of my day for a stranger to waste sixty whole seconds of my time guessing which sport I play — and it’s never soccer, tennis or track: football, or basketball, only.

And if I were to investigate the effects of this trauma inward onto myself, I find the ways that this trauma manifests itself routinely in my behavior: the sudden pauses and obsession with my image in the mirror, or the peculiar ways my self-image prioritizes the same arms, chest, and torso that alienated me culturally from a sense of Blackness that has no origin within Blackness.

In 2018, Javaugn “Javie’ Young-White (@jyoungwhite) penned a thread which poignantly explored the body dysmorphia suffered by African-American men due to this phenomena. “A lot of Black men struggle with body dysmorphia [because] of the emphasis that is placed on our athleticism [and] physical stature throughout childhood [and] adolescence,” he says. “It’s especially confusing because the body types we’re told to aim for also serve as justification for profiling and unarmed murders”

When our bodies are used to clock the mileage for our race and culture, it becomes the weapon by which others oppress us. How else could in the case of those less than athletic do our forms become synonymous to whiteness, or in cases of racial brutality, our physical intimidation become juxtaposes to the barbaric imagery?

The middle ground between these two ideas speaks only to the extreme ways race factors into our bodies, and the demands expected of these bodies in our youth. It speaks to the false realities we shove onto children to appeal to a standard that is as toxic as it is hypermasculine, and the traumas which haunt these youths — and have for generations

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Steven Underwood is an award-winning writer and essayist from Columbus, Ohio. Multifaceted, He has expanded his range deep into the recesses of Black speculative fiction and poetry. In the past, Steven has published essays with MTV News, Essence, Le Reine Noire, Comicsverse and Banango Street on identity and culture. He cites his writing style as the intersection between Toni Morrison and Fredrick Douglass. Follow him on social media @Blaqueword.

#THECRAFT: 6 Things Artists Need to Know About Social Media

By: Steven Underwood

What’s Güd?

A lot of you guys have been asking me for advice on this pro-art thing so I decided why not turn this into a series?

Today, we will be covering social media in this steadily rising landscape. All artists know that exposure is important, but how to use it is kind of a hit-or-miss. What’s SEO? Are metrics important? Should I have a high follower count?

Read sweet babies. Let me guide you.

  1. Twitter vs. Instagram: social media platforms are as diverse as they are specific in execution. The main question artists ask is what they should be on? Maybe you know you should be on social media, but you’ve heard conflicting success stories about both. Essentially, it’s important to look at these mediums for what they prioritize. Writers have gained a lot of success on Twitter due to its idea and written based format; careers are literally defined based on how successful your thoughts are and that’s why it’s so important to apply this to your work. Instagram is far more visual. Just think about it, we’ve all heard the term IG model before, not Twitter Model. Brands and clients pay more attention to what they can see on a platform designed to make what you see better! Graphic designers should pay special heed to this, but not too much. Twitter has a need for Design as a form of meme generation and gif processing. I hear the older folk asking “What about Facebook?” Eh… Facebook as a brand is good for getting news out, or posting updates, but you can get better reach with these other two. It has a use, but as a support to these other two formats.
  2. Network Groups: Networking is 80% of the job. If you don’t know anyone, you won’t get far– no matter your talent. In writing, this means you should be hunting for the DM group chat on Twitter and doing whatever you can to stand out and participate. This includes online Forums and FB groups. Keep your name in their mouthes and betaread! Giving criticism and doing reviews for other writers will not only get your name out, but that translates into more Social Media advocacy. Followers are closely watched by publications. They matter! What matters more is if your posts are being shared by others who might have a larger network than you, or if you’re interacting with someone who has a better standing socially. This doesn’t mean be fake, or lie about what you review, but authentically these people share the same passion you do. The rest is simple to iron out. Visual Artists on IG should go to Meet-Ups, and frequent groupchats as well. Also, don’t be afraid to spam!
  3. Metrics/Avoid Purchasing Followers: This is a big one, and it isn’t top priority because now most people know its bad. Essentially, your follower count is only as good as a Thesis statement in an essay: it’s vital, but not as good as your body paragraph. Metrics are fat superior. For Example, my twitter account @Blaqueword, boasts a pretty 1k in followers, pretty average. However, my impressions range into the 40,000s. How? My followers are frequent and avid users and my tweets “go in”. Basically, more of my followers interact and share my content AND they have a larger follower count than me (boasting 100 active followers with a blue check mark works out soooo well). As long as I use this, my posts and shares will always guarantee me an upward trajectory! However, purchasing followers works out worse for you. If your followers are all not interacting, clients/brands will notice and hold it against you. It makes you a creative catfish. Sure, they should be interested in you because they like your work, but that’s not a good bottomline. They want someone who can guarantee sells or interest. You just don’t. Organically generating followers always works out.
  4. Scheduled Posts: This is probably the most difficult feat. Staying on top of your social media is important and draining. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough hours in a day. Well, not postinf frequently enough in one day can drastically harm your impressions and therefore your metrics. If every 10,000 impressions gets you 2 followers and they afford you 300 bonus impressions with whether they like/share your posts, you miss out on a lot of potential reach. But, being online limits how much art you actually get to do. Ergo, scheduling. For @Blaqueword, I use Hootsuite. It allows me to not only schedule posts, but knowing my analytics, I can better understand what I should be posting about via knowing my audience. CMS (Content Management Systems) is an important factor in all of this. Know your tools of your craft (or pay someone else to).
  5. Analytics: SMM or Social Media Marketing is all about knowing what your numbers are. This is categorized in so much. For instance, my IG: @Blaqueword holds a humble amount of followers. However, I can increase my range of likes and follows by applying posts at the time specific audience members interact. Most of my followers are from Columbus, OH and like Culturally mindful content on Fridays at 9 PM. So, I post those things at the exact time AND include hashtags to appeal to those groups! Starting off, this is difficult and requires a lot of base-setting. You’ll end up using random hashtags just to see which stick and which do not, but it is a necessary step, so if you’re self-concious about a step, feel free to delete and try again. After all, if you failed that means no one saw, right? (Wrong, god and Beyoncé saw, but they forgive you)
  6. Hire a Writer: Not a self-plug, though I do run several Social Media accounts for brands at a retainer fee. You need to know your medium well enough to pull this off and most of it involves proper writing technique. Writers thrive on social media because we can coordinate our thoughts for the platforms. If you can’t, it’s going to take a lot of footwork to get Followers to fall in. And, honestly, that means you’re depending solely on luck. Don’t do that. If you are incapable of reading trends and knowing what to say at the moment, you probably won’t get a tweet that sticks like grits. Take it from me, a man with 7 viral tweets under his belt, knowing when to say the right combination of words is key!

If this all sounds very business-like, welcome to Art: it’s 60% business. You just got to know how to play it to your advantage. If

Any more questions? Comment! I’m happy to answer.

Steven Underwood (@Blaqueword) is a writer from Columbus, Ohio, where he reigns supreme as the original Urban Bohemian. He received his Bachelor’s in English: Creative Writing and now wanders fiction shelves employing his academic powers to investigate where it says exactly that Black kids can’t be wizards.

We the People in a Less Perfect Union

Sometimes, it’s better to look at the world through poetry until it starts to make a lick of sense.

***

On Monday, he wasn’t our president, and we celebrated the legacy of a man with as many faults as he had virtues. The skies held their breath, and a world of bright blue became bleak and cried. We remembered how we love the rain, but this was different.

Together, We investigated the landscape of the world. We judged the people of the time: for treating people like cattle, for their shameful attitudes, for their racism. We couldn’t see how these people, relatives, and friends to many of us, couldn’t see what was going on in front of them. That same day, we ignored many obvious clues that history was licking its fingertips and turning a few pages backward in its book just for emphasis.

On Tuesday, We pressed our thumbs to small digital boxes and opened Twitter. We discussed “Dr. King’s Dream,” and judged the black community according to it. Are we honoring him when we kneel during a pledge of allegiance? Is calling a white person racist acting in his image? Dr. King’s progeny got into the tabloids and said Dr. King would’ve liked Donald Trump. Our world cracked at the seams.

On Wednesday, We steeled ourselves for the worse, and found that our best metals were but rust: we would lose Barrack Obama. The skies remained gray, but the winds whipped with a sheering coldness. Tempers were high, and we fought each other. We lashed out, without really knowing what we were lashing out f. Anger for anger’s sake, a test of those chains we swore would remain. Both to unite us, and to shackle our ambitions.

On Thursday, We maintained the song of Monday. Dr. King’s progeny’s comments sang again. I stare blankly at the screen for a moment. This is someone who knew him best, isn’t it? I re-read a line by Fredrick Douglas, and I make us remember.
“Power concedes nothing without a Demand…It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows or with both. “
I take to this new world of zeroes and ones, and I make a declarative. “If we are to believe MLK would’ve supported Trump, then maybe MLK isn’t the person we should look up to?”
Few comment. Many have a feeling. The words hang in the air.
On Friday, the sky wept upon his head. Orange flushes down his face and drips onto the American soil beneath his feet. The brown in the soil becomes stained in chemical lies. We shake our hands and test these chains. We meditate on what others have decided for us. We ask ourselves how people could be so ignorant. We judge the people for many things: for their racism, for their bigotry, for their sexism, for their phobias.
History hasn’t turned her page.
The page becomes wet and the ink runs down the page. Our name runs with it. These symbols hold no more meaning.
On Saturday, we ask ourselves if we can be united when these important things have no more meaning.