Portland Alliance Newspaper
July 2008 issue
Sistas in Struggle Fight Against Oppression
By Marlena Gangi
Turiya Autry and Walidah Imarisha are professors in the Black Studies Department at Portland State University. They are also nationally known as the word slinging spoken word duo Good Sista/Bad Sista. Between them they ad film making, creative writing, acting, activism and journalism to their mix.
Even with Walidah’s move to Philadelphia of a few years, the women maintained a bond unbroken. Having known one another going on twelve years, the two women compliment the other with grace. Gentle and hard, tough and tender, good and bad, these sistas know what’s up. I joined them recently for a discussion about education, different forms of media and the many and myriad ways that oppression intersects itself in the lives of people of color.
MG: How did you two meet?
Turiya: It’s interesting that we both teach at PSU because that’s where we met. Talk about your full circle. We came together with a different dynamic as undergraduates and now we’re both faculty. It’s pretty exciting. We’ve both come a long way.
Walidah: We met twelve years ago and clicked as Black women at a mostly white university as students, poets, activists and organizers.
MG: How did Good Sista/Bad Sista come into being?
Turiya: Someone asked us to take part in a Black History Month tribute to Black women. They asked me to fill 15 minutes with poetry. For me at that time fifteen minutes was just daunting. I said to Walidah, “You have to do this with me.” We took two pieces that we had and meshed them into a new larger piece.
Walidah: The piece that we came up with was “No, You Don’t Know Me.”And it came together from us just sitting talking smack. We never set out to form a duo, it was just something that happened organically. Most of what we produce together happens organically, including teaching. Turiya was teaching a Black feminism class and said, “Hey, you should teach this class with me.”
Turiya: Right, I thought, “How can I know that Walidah is back in Portland and not have her teach this with me?”
Walidah: It was the first college level class that we jointly taught; we had already taught elementary, middle-school and high school writing classes together. The next class that we created was Science Fiction, Race and Gender. Again, it was organic; we didn’t have anything to work, it had never been taught at PSU, it came from us talking smack about movies. We considered the implications and dynamics of films and agreed that we should teach this. In the Science Fiction class we’re talking about what other visions for the future we could see. What would a vision based on the identity of a queer, working class, Black revolutionary woman look like? Let’s put that forward.
Turiya: We are always taking various aspects of film and popular culture through the ringer regarding things that we see are lacking. We wondered about what it would be like to talk about the way that race and gender is dealt with in science fiction. We started watching films and taking notes about what sci-fi would look like if it came from a different race/different gender point of view. When we began discussing this idea with others, we got really enthusiastic responses about what should be included.
Walidah: In framing it conceptually and logically; the reason that we like science fiction is because it is the one source of literature where you get to envision a different future, a different past or a different present. You are given the freedom to create whatever you want. This is not true in other forms of literature. Revolutionaries need to be looking at science fiction more deeply because this is the space where we can say, “Okay, we’re against all of these things; but what do we want? What can we build? When we’re finished, what kind of society are we going to have?”
I think science fiction has been controlled. The white supremacist patriarchy has a choke hold on it. The visions of the future that we are fed are the visions that merely replicate the present. We see the same people in charge, the same kinds of oppression happening, the same people getting shit on over and over again and we think, Okay, well; then this is all there is. There is nothing else. In being able to deconstruct this ideology and the messages that we are given and to see that they are clear conscious choices that people are making, white supremacist patriarchal culture that has really given them an insight and intuition that often times white students don’t have.
MG: I meant to ask how you came up with the name “Good Sista/Bad Sista?”
Walidah: We were performing in a show called Black Anger’s Last Stand. Black Anger is a revolutionary hip-hop group in Seattle. At that point we didn’t have a name. We were backstage and there was this brother who was like somebody’s second-cousin-best-friend-baby-momma next door neighbor who like got backstage. He’s totally mackin’ hardcore on Turiya, like (assumes mackin’ pose), “Waddup giiiiirrrl, how ya dooooin’, you sho look goooood...” And she’s like (slips into sweet, high pitched voice, “Um, while I really appreciate your energy and the support that you are giving me, I think I’m going to need a little space from you and find some breathing room to kind of be myself, if you would please allow me...”
Then he looked at me, and I’m like, “DON’T EVEN TRY IT. Brotha, you need to back the fuck up.” And he said, “Daaayum! It’s like being Good Sista, Bad Sista!”
Just then, someone came up to us and asked how we’d like to be introduced on stage and we said, “Well, how about Good Sista/Bad Sista.” And that’s how we got that name.
MG: Is there anything else that either of you feel is important to include in this piece?
Turiya: Just that Portland better watch out because we have reunited.
Walidah: Yeah! Check yo’ back Portland, check yo’ back! (More laughter.)
For more information on the duo, go to poetryoffthepage.com or visit them at myspace.com/goodsistabadsista.
Marlena Gangi is a Portland-based photo journalist, activist and Portland Alliance editor.