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The Historic ‘Shut Up’: Jada Pinkett Smith’s Memoir is a Revolutionary Act

By Verde Arzu

Poem by Tupac Shakur

On Being Worthy

Jada Pinkett Smith is the current example of American culture telling Black women to shut up. Our stories don’t matter, our voices are too loud, too aggressive, too something. This reverberated message is historical in nature and entrenched in the fabric of America, dating back to slavery and the stolen voices of Black women subjugated into silence.  Jada Pinkett Smith’s memoir is more than the juicy, sensationalized click-bait the internet has tried to make it out to be. It is the story of a Black woman’s journey through life, her experiences, lessons learned, and wisdom to be passed down, and it is worthy of being told. In the words of Tupac Shakur, Jada Pinkett Smith is a literal example of the proverbial ‘rose that grew from concrete.

On Humble Beginnings

Jada Pinkett Smith, a multi-talented actress who the universe seemingly pulled out of the jaws of the dark, grimy streets of Baltimore as a young teenage drug dealer. A life no doubt headed for prison or worse–the grave. Pinkett Smith was reared by a single mother, a working nurse, who struggled with drug addiction for a great deal of her childhood. At the tender age of seven, as she walked casually down the street with her father by her side, he confessed, “I’m a drug addict and a criminal. So, I can’t be your father.” And with that, he relinquished his rights as her parent. In a sit-down interview at The Guild Theater in Sacramento, Pinkett stated her response was “thank you” because she recognized he was not in her life the way other fathers were and she appreciated his honesty. However, it was her stepfather who promised he would always be in her life, that his disappearance after he and her mother divorced, caused her to have “a very difficult relationship with how I should interact with men in an intimate space—that lack of trust it’s something I am still unpacking.” Some of that unpacking and healing, Pinkett Smith reveals happened along her journey of writing of her memoir, and no doubt must continue to happen during each interview conversation. Healing happens when we speak and reveal the trauma of our past experiences. Worthy teaches its readers lessons on self-reflection and healing.

On Curating Self

Jada Pinkett Smith’s, Worthy, heeds the advice of countless trailblazing women, whose shoulders she undoubtedly stands upon. Pinkett Smith courageously and audaciously tells the story of a life filled with trials, tribulations, young wild, frivolous choices, a grandmother’s love and garden, and the seeds from whence her talents were cultivated and grew. Her story pulls the reader into the human experience of overcoming by going through. The story of a Black woman growing up in America under the spotlight of the media since she won over the hearts of TV watchers at the tender age of eighteen, playing the role of freshman Lena James on the hit TV show, A Different World. A role personally curated for her by award-winning director Debbie Allen.

Today, Pinkett Smith is the curator of her own story, “my belief is that every woman is worthy, a walking treasure, and deserves to live her life as the heroine of her own story. When we as women have the courage to find the keys to the treasure chest of ourselves, we find Divine freedom (a freedom not whimsical), and with this, our lives are deliberately and unapologetically crafted by our own hands.” Black women must continue to be the curators of our own stories, they hold too much spiritual power to let others tell them for us.

On Tupac

It was through their similar upbringings that drew Jada Pinkett Smith and legendary hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur close to each other as teenagers. Both their mothers struggled with addiction. Their bond was unbreakable, Pinkett Smith recalls they developed “an unspoken pact. Imma watch your back and your gonna watch my back. We didn’t have our mothers.” They found safety and security in their loyalty to one another. Although the tabloids, fans, and social media posts continue to question Pinkett Smith’s relationship to Tupac, it is clear from her book and interviews that their friendship was a kinship that provided a steady calm in a world filled with so much instability. Theirs was an “everlasting friendship” that was tragically cut far too soon by gun violence.  Instead of being told to shut up about speaking his name, she should be encouraged to continue to speak about him. We are blessed when we make soul and spiritual connections in our youth that last into our adulthood.

On Just ‘Shut Up!’

From just one interview of Pinkett Smith doing a promotional tour of her memoir posted to social media outlet, Instagram, the comments poured in:

“Can I mute all posts related to her?”

“This lady does not shut up.”

“Shut up! Geezus!!!”

“Will clearly smacked the wrong person.”

“Shut up, already. Damn it.”

“Someone cut her mic.”


Then, there was the picture posted of the then WWE wrestler, The Rock, holding a mic with the caption, “SHUT UP, BITCH!” imprinted on it.

From social media posts to magazine articles, the comments mirrored a call for Pinkett Smith to shut up.

Instead of acquiescing to the demand to ‘just SHUT UP’ while others create the narrative of her life, Pinkett Smith snatched her words and her voice back. And though it be 2023, a revolutionary act for any Black woman. 

Telling Black women to sit down, shut up, and endure cruelty, injustice, lies, and so much more is entrenched and woven into the fabric of America’s quilt. It is a tale as old as time and American as apple pie.

During the era of the enslaved African on stolen Native land, Black women were viewed and treated as chattel, non-human, property, and as such had no rights to their own bodies–their own words. Black women have lived through centuries of incomprehensible trauma, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse while bearing the children of their predators. Enduring it all in silence.

The suffrage movement is yet another example of Black women being forced into the margins of the soundless void and omitted from the historical pages of history–from being acknowledged among those women who worked tirelessly to fight for women’s right to vote. Yet, Black women were suppressed for another forty-five years before they were allowed the right to vote themselves.

 During the 1960s and early ‘70s of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, Black women, though heavy lifters towards the march for freedom and equality, were largely marginalized and silenced behind the voices of their male counterparts.

In Patricia Broussard’s journal publication, Black Women ‘s Post-Slavery Silence Syndrome: A Twenty-First Century Remnant of Slavery, Jim Crow, and Systemic Racism–Who Will Tell Her Stories? Broussard asserts that, “Black women have been promised that their stories will be told, but the telling of their stories has always taken a back seat to more pressing problems surrounding the African-American race.”

It is author and social critic bell hooks (2021) who reminds Black women in her book, Sisters of the Yam, that “we must be about the business of saving ourselves.” Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston warns Black women that, “if you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Pinkett Smith takes heed to the words of her ancestors in the writing of her memoir Worthy.

“and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

so it is better to speak


we were never meant to survive”

-Audre Lorde

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Carlisha Hood

by Verde Arzu

“And since we all came from a woman/got our name from a woman and our game from a woman/I wonder why we take from our women/why we rape our women, do we hate our women?” -2 Pac

Keep Ya Head Up

Take from Our Womxn

On a warm summer’s evening, Carlisha Hood, a thirty-five year old Black mother walked into a restaurant on the Southside of Chicago. Separately, thirty-two year old Jeremy Brown did the same. While in line, the two engaged in a verbal disagreement. Meanwhile, Carlisha’s fourteen-year-old son waited in the care for his mom to return with food. Instead, Mr. Brown was inside brutally and viciously attacking Ms. Hood.

In the video released by several news outlets, Jeremy Brown can be seen standing next to Ms. Hood at the ordering window of the restaurant, balling up his first, yelling at Ms. Hood, demanding she stop talking. Also seen in the video are other people standing around watching the situation unfold. One additional person is responsible for recording the incident. Ms. Hood is seen responding to Mr. Brown. He then yells out, “say one more word and I’m going to knock you out.” Ms. Hood continues to talk. Mr. Brown then begins to punch Ms. Hood in the head several times. A middle-aged Black man can be seen in the video turning around and fleeing the restaurant once Ms. Hood is physically attacked by Mr. Brown.

Ms. Hood’s teenage son walks into the restaurant and witnesses his mother being viciously beaten by Mr. Brown like a lion who has found his prey in the wild. Frantic, the fourteen-year-old boy pulls his mother’s gun from his sweatshirt pocket, pulls the trigger, and saves his mother’s life.

I Wonder Why

Ms. Brown and her son were both immediately arrested and charged with first degree murder. Immediately. It did not take days, weeks, or months for this arrest to take place. The response to arrest and charge this brutally beaten womxn and her heroic son by Chicago police officers was immediate.

However, Ajike Owens was shot and killed through the door by her neighbor. It took four days before the white womxn who murdered her was arrested.

Ralph Yarl was shot in the head by a white man because he accidentally knocked on the wrong door. It took a national outcry before the 84-year-old white man was arrested.

We certainly can’t forget about Ahmaud Aubrey who was taking a jog in his neighborhood and was hunted down and murdered in cold blood. The three murderers weren’t arrested for two months! Even still, it took a national outcry, worldwide outrage, and protests to bring those murderers to justice.

There are countless others.

Meanwhile, Carlisha Hood, after being savagely attacked, being saved only by her teenage son, who had no other choice but to defend her, was arrested and charged within hours.

This. Is. America.

Do We Hate Our Womxn?

I first learned about this incident from Tamika D. Mallory, a social justice activist, who spoke out about this senseless violence against Ms. Hood on her Instagram page. Mallory expressed frustration and heartbreak over what transpired on the evening of June 18th in Chicago. She questioned the actions of those who stood around and watched Mr. Brown first verbally threatened, then viciously beat Hood–punching her in the face several times with his closed fist. No one stepped in to say a word! No one stepped in to try to escort Mr. Brown out of the restaurant to calm him down. No one said, “hey, brother, why don’t you step outside for a second?” No one said, “hey, sister, come on and go with me. I’ll bring your food to you.” Everyone just stood around and watched. Someone stood there and recorded it. Another Black man turned around and ran out.

I understand that we, as a society, live in a time where we have to be very careful of when and how we step into situations that have nothing to do with us, right? I ask, however, when did we become the Black community whose Black men stand and watch another Black man beat a Black womxn down? Do we no longer have unwritten agreements and standards on how we protect each other? Are our communities so fractured and shattered that we have no moral compass or standards? Further, I ask, what is happening to the code in the Black community? Codes like, “respect your elders. Get up and let your elders sit down when you’re on public transportation, hold the door for someone behind you, especially if their hands are full. Be kind.” Is being kind not a thing anymore? Do unwritten codes not exist in Black communities anymore? Are we in the year of two thousand and twenty-three where we stand aside silently and watch a Black womxn get brutally beaten by a Black man, record it, or worse, turn and run away? Only to argue that she should be arrested and charged with child endangerment because the only person willing to save her life was her 14-year-old son. God help us all. The impact of slavery and White supremacy knows no end.

Since We All Came From a Womxn

What is our responsibility in moments like these? Are we not each other’s keepers? Are we all individuals and the concept of community and village dead? Are the Christian beliefs of this nation, that many of us hold dear, not actionable? Beliefs like, “love your neighbor.” Far too often Black womxn’s sense of love and protection are taken without regard, without protest, without outrage, without consequences. What we cannot do is continue to accept the disrespect and hate of Black womxn as normal. I’m not asking for a friend. I am asking as a Black womxn: where do we go from here?


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All Hail the Queen

By Verde Arzu

“I had to tune out what the hell everybody else had to say about who I was. When I was able to do that, I felt free.” -Queen Latifah

Happy Pride!

Queen Latifah: hip-hop MC, actress, Academy Award winner, Grammy Award winner, role model, philanthropist, and phenomenal womxn. A true living legend received her roses on June 27, 2021 as she stood on stage to receive the BET Liftetime Achievement Award. Queen Latifah’s body of work spans three decades, appearing on the scene with her first solo record, “Wrath of My Madness,” released in 1988. The Queen is a walking example of longevity. She stood and delivered her speech in true Queen fashion, with powerful remarks. Among them, thanking God, her parents, friends, family, and “sisters in rap,” Rapsody, Monie Love, MC Lyte, and Lil Kim, all of whom stood beside her after performing some of her most beloved classic hits. Additionally, she thanked BET for providing a space for “beautiful blackness to thrive, to shine.” However, no remarks were more poignant than her last nine words: “Eboni, my love. Rebel, my love. Peace. Happy pride!” It was with those words that the queer community, especially the Black queer community, and all of social media was set ablaze.

Nine Words

Many have speculated and even concluded that the Queen is “family.” However, even with all the rumors and murmurs surrounding her romantic interests, Queen Latifah herself has been mums the word about her private life. Over the years, though, many, including myself, have longed for The Queen to stand in pride with her fellow LGBTQIA+ folk. Mostly because, well, representation truly does matter! It is a saying that can never become cliche for the same reason that Black Entertainment Television began in the first place. We need to see ourselves. We still have such a long way to go before equality and equity exists within entertainment industry. Queen’s voice, like it did during the month of Pride 2021, resonated with a group of often silenced and marginalized people, evoking hope, pride, and power. “In just nine words,” you might ask. Yes, in just nine words! Queen Latifah’s voice said that Black queer people, specifically Black womxn who are queer, can be our true and authentic selves, that we do exist, that we are out here, and that we matter. 

Look to the Throne

Although Queen Latifah has been relatively quiet about her private life, her actions have been quite powerful. Among her most powerful actions, she revealed to us–although an important process to many on their journeys–there doesn’t have to be a coming-out affair. No interviews have to be had, letters written, or kumbaya session had. We can live our lives however the hell we want to! We do not have to feel compelled to share about our love interests because we are LGBTQIA+ or because of stardom or any other reason. People are going to love and support you because of who you are and the work you produce. Heterosexual people do not have to step up to a podium and make an announcement about their sexual orientation. They simply walk around in love. In a recent interview Queen Latifah said, “I had to tune out what the hell everybody else had to say about who I was. When I was able to do that, I felt free.” That sentiment of freedom in being ourselves is something we all want and need. And so, the Queen continues to blaze the trail and show us how it’s done. “All Hail the Queen!”

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Black Lives Have Always Mattered and So Has Your Silence

“People have got to get together and work together. I’m tired of the kind of oppression that White people have inflicted on us and are still trying to inflict.” -Fannie Lou Hamer

Black Lives Matter is a trending topic right now but this isn’t a trend for us. We can’t just move on to the next trend once the momentum has shifted. We have to live in these Black bodies without reprieve. And don’t get me wrong, we love being in these Black bodies! We know who we are; regardless of what the world tries to tell us, all while stealing, looting, & appropriating everything that embodies blackness…from our lips to our colloquialisms. 

But you—you’ve been silent about our fight to exist. You’ve had the luxury to just stand there and watch…and perhaps feel bad about it. You’ve found justification in questions like, “but why did he run?” You have feigned ignorance long enough. 

We are still going to need you (hell, we’ve always needed you). Who doesn’t need an ally—a co-conspirator in times of war? Yes, this is war for us…a constant battle, make no mistake about it. Every day is a fight to exist when you’re Black in America. Can you imagine waking up everyday and along with everything else you have to do, you also have to validate and affirm your very existence? In the boardroom, behind the desk, on the bus stop, at the corner store where we spend money daily, walking down the street, in the classroom, getting some air with your family at the park, jogging, hustling, sitting, standing, driving, talking, breathing… 

We never get a break from this reality. We don’t get to change the hashtags. So, when the next news topic comes roaring in, now, like us, you can’t just move on.

You will never be able to be silent about White privilege and/or racism ever again. That is one of the social shifts that is so pivotal in this moment. You are finally being held accountable for your silent compliance. You can’t run from the call—you can’t ignore what you have always known to be a violation of our basic human rights and then say you are not a racist—not anymore. We will not allow it. We’ve had enough of your silence while you invite us over to have dinner at your table. You are either doing anti-racist work or you are a racist.

Our lives matter whether we are marching or trending. So, find the book recommendation lists, get to reading. Listen to your Black friends, colleagues, associates, and those who are impacted by systemic racism everyday. Learn about anti-racist work and how to be an anti-racist warrior everyday,  because the fight for justice didn’t just begin in 2020, and it is far from over. And your silence is no longer acceptable.

-Verde Arzu