rhianna and jay z

 

If Frank X Walker Is The Jay Z Of Appalachia Can I Please Be The Rihanna?

Former Kentucky Poet Laureate, NAACP Image Winner, University of Kentucky professor,  Frank X Walker is: The “Jay Z of Appalachia”. I discovered this at the 2016 Appalachian Studies Conference in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I arrived at the conference fresh from speaking at the “Strategic Cannabis Conference” at WVU Law School.  I was late – I paid my conference fees, opened up the conference catalog, picked the first session that looked interesting:

Black Appalachian Studies: Three Pioneers Gather.” Convener: William H. Turner. “Affrilachia:  A Sociology of Knowledge and Literary Analysis of a New Appalachian Voice,” William H. Turner, Prairie View A&M University. “Critical Race Theory & Personal Reflections on the Continuing Problems of Racism in Appalachia,” Wilburn Hayden, Jr., York University. “What I Have Seen, Heard, Read and Said about Diversity and Unity in the Misty Mountains,” Edward J. Cabbell, Scholar/Musician/Poet.

I headed to the “Black Appalachian Studies” session room. It was packed – standing room only. I got a space outside the door moulding, just enough to lean in. Bill Turner was speaking.  I missed Mr. Hayburn and Mr. Cabell was not present due to illness. I was wearing my AFFRILACHIAN t-shirt because the Affrilachian Poets (AP’s) were hosting a panel and were the subject of others; Frank X Walker was keynoting the conference;  and because WWRD (what would Rihanna do) but rock an AFFRILACHIA t-shirt. 

Of course, I didn’t know I wanted to be Rihanna before the conference. I’m more the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens type, then I heard Bill Turner say “Frank X Walker  is the Jay Z Of Appalachia!” At that moment, I knew that this was no longer the Appalachian Studies Conference but a rap battle, and “MC Bill Turner”  had forgotten to invite any opponents. He  dropped the mic as the winner while the crowd roared in awkwardly laughter at his hip hop analogy. That’s when my inner Rhiannon turned into,  good girl gone bad, Rihanna.  

Bill Turner wrapped his, drop the mic, lyric “Frank X Walker is the Jay Z of Appalachia” in a presentation that was perceived by many, including me, as a personal critique of Frank  and the Affrilachian Poets. Bill Turner said Frank and the Affrilachian Poets were/are using Black Appalachia as a prop, a backdrop and stereotype of  the Appalachian existence – essentially we were in Appalachian blackface. I smiled and thought, “Bill Turner, please.  Have you read my poem Appalachian Blackface?” The real people in Appalachian blackface are not Affrilachian Poets  – but the politicians who smear coal on their faces pretending to be for miners while taking their pensions and supporting lenient safety rules.

Turner recognized me in his session; he pointed and said, “You. You are from West Virginia.”  “West by God!” I said and stepped into the classroom, opening up my jacket like Superman to show my shirt that read in bold black letters: AFFRILACHIA. The room laughed and gasps. Turner gave me my props in this moment, he said I was authentic “Black Appalachian” and that my work should be more widely known. I have “MC Turner” street cred, I guess.

  • I’m six generations West Virginia.
  • I live in the defined Appalachian region according to the Appalachian Regional Commission geographical limitations.
  • I write, research and create story lines about Black folks in West Virginia.
  • I engage in advocacy for Blacks in Appalachia.

These are Bill Turner’s criteria for Affrilachian Poets. These are not the criteria for Affrilachian Poets.

The Affrilachian Poets are a multiracial family of poets, each with our own voice, linked together around ideas of unmuting silent voices of place, family and social justice through poetry.

I’ll repeat the hook.

The Affrilachian Poets are a multiracial family of poets, each with our own voice, linked together around ideas of unmuting silent voices of place, family and social justice through poetry.

I was careful not to become engaged in Turner’s conversation because it was so bizarre and strange to me and I’m not an academic. I’m just a Red Neck Valley Girl (new work coming with poet Tuesday Taylor) who likes to write and has a fierce connection to my home land. I don’t play academic dozens. I do play Tonk.

I can understand how Bill Turner, and others with an Appalachian insider mentality, questions how the Affrilachian poets can be “Affrilachian” without being born in the region or by not solely dedicating themselves to regional issues and stories.  I find this to be a limiting, and narrow, objectification – one that holds the region to stereotypes and history alone. To me, Affriachia is about creating! 

I’ve heard Frank say something like this many times,  Affrilachia is an idea, Appalachia is a space. The idea leaves room for out migrants and their descendants and allies to stand in solidarity with all the marginalizing stereotypes of the region and explode them. Erase Jesse Owens, August Wilson, Nina Simone, Carter G. Woodson and others from the conversation and you get the caricature that some folks seem bound to protect and promote.

My Appalachia, my Affrilachia, is vast and full of rappers, artists and people telling stories in print and by living their lives in ways that go beyond what has been the definition of the region, while holding to a sense of family, tradition and place. Needless to say, I was “off center” and said so, standing in Bill Turner’s session wearing my AFFRILACHIAN shirt in the middle of his critic of the word, Affrilachia, and many poets I adore. It reminded me of the time I went to church on Easter Sunday dressed head to toe in pink and frills, matching gloves, hat and purse – and the preacher’s sermon was on how dressing up for Easter was a blasphemy to the resurrection of Jesus. Pastor pointed at me. I was 8.

Bill Turner reached out to me after the session, in a email he said,  “…the word Affrilachia is a masterful example of branding and re-purposing and re-framing and it has made Mr. Walker a celebrity, a virtual rock star.”  He said, “Affrilachia” is alluring bait that leads one to expect to hear and learn something about the African American experience in Appalachia.  I patiently await that.”

Patiently he waits for Frank, for the Affrilachian Poets,  to step to the mic 1-2-1-2… And, should this day ever come –  I can supply the beat. My son is mylestbeats.com

 

Myles

 

My son claims a regional identity, yet his sound is all American hip hop. There is no mention of black lung in his beats, however, I will suggest “Black Lung” for the beat title should the “MC Turner” vs. X rap battle ever take stage. Bill Turner in his session, in his own description admitted that his children were raised suburban and when his son pursued hip hop he had no authenticity in the hip hop community – no street cred because he was rapping about things he didn’t understand, things with which he had no experience. Turner said he encouraged him to stay true to who he is and rap about gated communities, reminding him that his mother works for the Ford Foundation and that his father is a university professor – and that he drives expensive cars.

I invited Bill Turner to be my first crystalgood.net interview for my upcoming interview series exploring Appalachian thought leaders and to celebrate the 25 year anniversary of the Affrilachian Poets. He declined saying that he has decided not to spend any more of his time on the broad subject of “Affrilachia.” He directed me to an article (that coincidentally I helped with) by writer Reniqua Allen.  He said the voices in this article were “not thought up, cache-laden label or brand.  They have relatives with Black Lung!”  I wondered if Bill Turner knows the majority of Black Appalachians do not have relatives with black lung; they do have relatives addicted to heroin.

talk that talk

As for Affrilachia being a brand.  Cattle are branded. Slaves were branded.  We live in a brand culture, that essentially marks us. Affrilachia has no logo or corporate board – we do not have a non-profit status.  

I’ll repeat the hook

The Affrilachian Poets are a multiracial family of poets, each with our own voice, linked together around ideas of unmuting silent voices of place, family and social justice through poetry.

We are a collective of poets seeking to hold community by creating a space that connects, reimagines and changes the narrative of Appalachia. Because, we have to. The region is in dire need of radical activism, creativity and ideas to survive.

Affrilachia has 99 problems – perhaps Bill Turner’s critique ain’t one

So, if Frank X Walker is the Jay Z of Appalachia then I can tell you he didn’t get there by rapping about shit he ain’t know. Frank is authentic. He’s challenging the Affrilachian Poets to create community and I know this first hand because I have benefited from this commuity. If  I didn’t have the APs there would be

No CG the OG from West Vee
No Valley Girl or Boom Boom  (fun fact: Rihanna has a Boom Boom song)
No Black Diamonds poem (fun fact: Rihanna has a Diamond’s song)
No West Virginia and Quantum Physics TedX
No whatever I got next – and whatever I got next may have nothing to do with Blacks in Appalachia or Affrilachia. 

Maybe Bill Turner just means Frank is a  biznassman not a businessman? After all Frank has put money in my pocket by sharing his reading fees, he’s done this for all the AP’s.  This money has fed my kids and fed my art. I am grateful. 

Maybe Bill Turner thinks Frank is Illuminati?  I bet the Beyonce of Kentucky, Bianca Spriggs would say..

Yall haters corny

Maybe Bill Turner wants to be the Kanye of Appalachia –  Niggas in Paris, Kentucky?

I don’t know what Bill Turner means by “Frank X Walker is the Jay Z Of Appalachia.”

I do know that for over 30 years Bill Turner is a sociologist whose specialties include the experience of African Americans in Appalachia, diversity in higher education and the sociology of historical black colleges. He’s served as interim president of Kentucky State University, chair and associate professor of sociology at Winston-Salem State University, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky, adjunct faculty member with UK’s Appalachian Center.  He also has taught, performed research and held administrative posts at Fisk University and Howard University, he was the Visiting Research Professor at Brandeis University.  He was a research associate to Alex Haley, author of “Roots,” a freelance journalist/writer contributing on issues affecting blacks in Appalachia through “Appalachian Voices” in the Lexington Herald-Leader.  His essays have appeared in ten black newspapers in North Carolina, syndicated by the North Carolina Black Media Group. He is also a member of the Trotter Group, a Harvard University-based network of black journalists. His books include “Blacks in Appalachia,” co-edited with Edward Cabbell and author of,  “Black Colleges: Essays on Cultural Legitimacy and Economic Efficiency,” “Appalachian Heritage,” and “The Path of My Pilgrimage: The Autobiography of Marshall B. Bass.” He assisted in the production and wrote the afterword to the 2004 book, “African-American Miners and Migrants: The Eastern Kentucky Social Club,” published by the University of Illinois Press. And, Bill Turner is a native of Lynch, Kentucky.  

I give Bill Turner his props. I am grateful to Bill Turner for his research and dedication to the history of Blacks in Appalachia.  I also appreciate Bill Turner sharing This Side Of The Mountain and Affrilachia As  Brand to help me understand his critique of Affrilachia.

But, perhaps we need to call Tony Brown the celebrated journalist from Appalachia (West Virginia) and discuss Affrilachia.  Recently Tony Brown posted, “…whoever criticizes others should remember that when you point one finger at someone else, four fingers on that same hand are pointing back at you. Moreover, all Blacks need to help our own communities because they are dying.”

Communities in Appalachia are being erased. Black cemeteries are being decimated by coal companies.  West Virginia’s HBCUs are no longer predominately Black.  Juvenile incarceration rates for Black youth are disproportionate, and recently West Virginia tried to pass 80’s “War On Drug-style” mandatory minimum laws that were believed by many to target Blacks, etc…

I’m not sure that Bill Turner’s critique of Frank and Affrilachia will bring attention to the serious issues facing Blacks in Appalachia, something I think Bill Turner is seeking.  Rather, they take time and energy away from bringing awareness to Appalachia and the issues that affect Blacks in Appalachia.  Awareness is something the word Affrilachia does because the word Affrilachia is potent enough to penetrate a modern culture that thrives on sound bites and buzz words to challenge people across the world to look and ask – Affrilachia?

Dis tracks sell records  – or books. This has been the case since Biggie and Pac. 

Affrilachia you can stand under my umbrella

If Frank X Walker is the Jay Z of Appalachia he runs this town. Because for 25 years Frank and the Affrilachian Poets put in that work work work. I don’t throw a ROC sign but I have no problem showing you where I’m from.

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The Appalachian in me loves the Affrilachian you.

    Sent crossing Negro Mountain

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