Alysia Nicole Harris
poet, spoken word artist and linguist
Alysia Harris – Pushcart nominee, Alysia Harris, is a poet, spoken word artist and linguist, born in Fremont , California but grew up in Alexandra, Virginia, Alysia considers herself on all accounts a member of the ranks of great southern women, and as a child, fascinated by language, Alysia Harris has become the spoken word phenomenon she has, At a time America has become embroiled with racial controversies, played out on a global scale, Whisprmaze caught up with her to discuss her work, and how it impacted upon the current state of the union.
Alysia Nicole Harris
These are your words, and I quote: “people are like words, each has its own purpose, each has inner and our life of thought, interpretation, composition and a life of action,” words which describe your mission to resonate with these elements. Question is, what got you started, in essence, what set you off?
What set me off has always been there. If you look at the race situation in America, It’s what it’s always been, now we have more technology than ever and now we can identify it a lot more quickly, and put it into context, whereas before it was kind of soloed, it wouldn’t make national news, but with Twitter and Facebook it’s impossible not be everywhere at the same time, which means you’re not really anywhere, and you don’t really connect with anything around you, so there’s a lot of sensationalism and panic but not really doing anything about the last incident before we as a country moves onto the next. One thing about my country, though I love it very much, and I will say that publicly anytime anywhere and to anyone, one thing we’re not good at is admitting our mistakes, and I think we’re at a point now when if we don’t start doing that we’re going to see real consequences, we’re getting to a point of no return in some regards, and I think for us to make a conservative effort to shift our country from the direction its heading, to where it could be, we’re at that point right now.
The issues of spiritually and sexuality, and women’s empowerment, what are the clinical issues for you? And how dos your work impact on the betterment of these two particular issues?
I was socialised to be that way, I was socialised to recognise that men eat at the table first, if a man was upset, then it was my job to forget whatever I maybe be upset about and help him process whatever it is that he’s going through, that’s the way I’ve been socialised, and it’s fine to do that for your partner, who you love, it’s not fine to that for every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the street, so part of it is socialisation, but also I think the biggest obstacle to us, figuring out who we are and living our best lives doesn’t come from the outside, it comes from the shit that’s fucked up with us on the inside, and I’m just trying to figure that shit out, I’m just trying to be really intentional not with placing blame, such as my Mother should’ve taught me this, and my Father should’ve taught me that, but actually what are the things that I’ve passively agreed with at some point in my life and then constructed my life around, and how do I undo that cycle is what I’m trying to figure out.
By all accounts you consider yourself as a member of the ranks of great Southern women, who are these women, and what makes a Southern woman great?
A Southern woman is my Mother, my Grandmother, my Great Grandmother, they are women with great sass, and vitality and wisdom, and no bullshit about them, they are women that protect their family with everything they have, they are women that feed neighbours, that care for strangers, that love their community deeply, and I think that’s what I aspire to be when I say I’m a Southern woman. I care about tradition, I’m not trying to be this icon who broke the wheel, and tradition has values, it has sustained people’s lives for hundreds of years, and for my people very difficult lives, for me I’m trying to understand their wisdom and incorporate it into my current context, and that for me that’s what discernment is; the application of wisdom, in a variety of contexts. Now, the context of which my Grandmother lived were very limited, she didn’t have a lot of opportunities to enact discretion, and because of that her wisdom becomes hardened, and judgemental, and stale, in a way where I don’t think wisdom was ever meant to be, for me it’s about value, it just means she hasn’t experienced the whole variety of context in which this situation applies or doesn’t apply, so my job, somebody with a little bit more freedom, a little bit more mobility, a little bit more education, a little bit more disposable income can operate, or experience those variety of situations and see how my Grandmother’s understanding of things, my Mother’s understanding of things, my understanding of things apply now.
Hands Up Don’t Shoot – What was the objective behind that?
People think that chant started with Michael Brown, however its part of a larger cultural context and history, of people knowing that justice was not available to them in a way that it should be available to all citizens, and I think that cry was particularly bringing attention to the innocence of a variety of individuals who were targeted by the police. So, it’s not just Michael Brown, it’s also talking about Trayvon Martin, which for me was personally difficult, and I remember hearing the news of Trayvon Martin, and I remember I just wept at first, then I organised an online campaign which was asking people to create art around understanding of race for thirty days, and I posted it all online, because I felt what we really need is an interrogation on the ways we conceptualise ourselves, ways that are not inherently linked to our vilification or idealisation of others, and so ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ was bringing attention to the fact that these boys had no weapons, and they were boys.
You consider America to be home, it’s that place that has defined you, shaped you and given you the inspiration and determination to do what it is you do, considering America’s deep rooted problems with race, is America still home?
Of course, I mean, if you look at it in this context, just because you have an abusive mother it doesn’t mean she’s not your Mother, and in certain ways it’s kinda’ fucked-up but you’ll do anything for her, and I think at the end of the day I believe in the capacity of words to shift the whole alignment, and when I read documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution I see capacity, a capacity, and a dream and a vision that has not yet been realised…..
….And why is that, why has the American dream not been realised?
I think it’s a particular problem for America, given our commitment to freedom, liberty and justice, but I don’t think it’s not particularly unique problem around the world, racism is a wide world export, for America it’s a particularly unique problem when you say “all men are created equal”, and then at then at the same time you have the paradox of chattel slavery, to the point where a nation cannot sustain itself because it is at odds with itself, and I think that’s why you see the most virulent, forms of racism coming from my home.
“So what hope do you have for America?”
Can I be honest”?
I don’t have any hope outside of Christ, I remember driving down from Virginia to Atlanta Georgia, 2014, for my Cousin’s wedding, I was in the back-seat right after Michael Brown died and I was sobbing, we were listening to gospel music, my Mother my Stepfather and I, and I was just sobbing and saying Lord; I don’t think you love me the same way you love white people, and I was asking, in a really intentional way, like Lord; do you really love them differently from how you love me, and if so what am I supposed to do with that, and how am I supposed to live, and wouldn’t segregation be better, because then at least we would be safe, when God said of course you’d be safe, but you don’t need me for that, the whole world is equipped with instances of segregation, only with me is it possible to live an integrated life, not assimilation but integration where all the differences that I created are valued and treated as value, together, you can’t do that without the spiritual reference that comes from the creator.
So what next for Alysia Harris?
I’m trying to hear new music, I wrote a book about a year ago, and now I’m listening for the next book, I’m trying to cultivate a practice, that goes beyond what my capacity was in my first book, so a little bit more discipline, a little bit more diligence, a little bit more listening and a little bit more quiet in order to be able to process what’s next.
Well, in the meantime stay safe, stay creative, and thank you for your time in talking to Whisprmaze.
Thank you for the taking the time to hear what I have to say, and being a fan of my work, I have no doubt London will see me soon.