“white privilege”

white privilege

whites assume me to be one of their own,
though i am a woman born and raised in Turkey
the melanin in my skin is quite light, you see . . .

my birthplace – geographically speaking,
a Eurasian country, gave me a bubble of safety
life was all about parental and sibling love for me there
my extended family contributed to the gentle joys
of many an unforgettable daily affair

not even once did i have the need to tell anyone that i want to live
i just lived, and was let be

Black Turks / Turkish Blacks?
i had not heard about them much,
other than those who were celebrated on stage;
theater actors / actresses and ballet dancers, that is
a true fan of Black musicians i was in my teenage-years

nothing substantial was to be found
in those school books of Turkey’s yesteryear
i discovered the centuries-long plight
the Black population endured in the U.S. of A
from a multitude of outside sources in print
and thus, knew way back then
that awareness needed to be raised
for discrimination in any form and shape and to any extent;
not staying silent in the face of injustice and inequality was a must
that none of us should ever allow anyone to willfully pretend
how ‘everything is just fine and dandy’ while racism is blatantly praised

so, a few pieces of information were gathered
as acquired by this “white” person, privileged at birth
who was objectifying the subject right from the start,
incapable of grasping the brutal reality
which routinely hit Blacks people hardest globally

but hey,
i was ready for an intellectual discussion . . .

what a hypocrisy!

following my formal early education,
i perused several volumes on the Ottoman Empire
the horror of what the Black Eunuchs had to survive
turned for me into a recurring nightmare,
haunting me for many a year
most of them were castrated
when they were assigned to provide
private services in the Harem of the Sultans 

i had lived inside a safe bubble, as i said initially
hence, that uncovered segment of the pre-Republic Turkish history
left me in an overpowering shock
such historical accounts had been, after all,
dismissed predominantly all along
it must have been vital to help us, the modern-day Turks,
to continue to proudly gild our precious fame
as a nation of humility,
grace and hospitality . . .

decades later, a name crossed my path:
activist and poet Mustafa Olpak
he was talking about “Dana Bayramı”,
“a traditional Afro-Turkish Spring Festival”
at my advanced age, i had come to hear first-hand finally
how Black people struggled to preserve at least a part of their past
in my otherwise beloved birth-country
some were held as slaves between the 14th and 20th century,
suffering under the Ottoman regime’s fire;
others, as Mr. Olpak said, “ascended into rank” within that empire

as we all are aware,
power structures come and go
that is the call
one day, each of them will fall
the oppressed survive them despite it all,
and cultural accounts in the likes of Mr. Olpak’s,
thankfully, take hold

still . . .

as a “white” woman of Turkey, i am in despair
because for this horrifying shame, there is no repair
going through all kinds of emotions,
i am desperate to spread the word,
for whatever it might be worth

in my concluding thoughts,
i am reminded of a profound Tolstoy-quote:
“I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself.”

looking back, way back, as well as viewing my here and now
one dominating fact surrounds my entire life, and it remains intact:
no one ‘caused me any evil but myself’

not even once did i have the need to tell anyone that i want to live
i just lived, and was let be

because i am being seen as “a white”, you see . . .

~ ~ ~
This poem was included in I Want to Live, an international anthology published on March 1st, 2021 by Inner Child Press, AKA Inner Child Press International.

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Remembering . . .

Remembering the unforgettable ride to Sinop at the Turkish Black Sea where my dear late uncle took us way back when . . . (I have not been to Uzungöl, the location depicted by this photo but witnessed similarly breathtaking sceneries. That breakfast spread looks so good right there!) / Artık hayatta olmayan can dayımın bizi Sinop’a götürürken gördüğüm unutulmaz Karadeniz manzaralarını hatırlıyorum. (Bu fotoğrafın odağı olan Uzungöl’ü hiç görmedim ama nefes kesen benzeri güzellikleri gördüm o yolculukta. Şu kahvaltı sofrasında bulunmak ne güzel olurdu!)

Photo Credit: Free Online (Uzungöl, Turkey)

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An Online International Literary Journal (Taking Immense Pleasure in the Work of Others)

The Facebook Page: INNSAEI JOURNAL
infoinnsaeijournal@gmail.com

My introduction here is an utterly modest one. I want to hope that you, dear reader, will find and take the time to inform yourself about the accomplishments of the incredible INNSAEI team, Orbindu Ganga and Tejaswini Patil Dange, with which they have marked their literary journey in a short amount of time.

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Poems, continued . . .

Come Closer!

I am known as “The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum”.
I have embraced my fame.
If you are the same, we all have everything to gain.

Come closer! Much closer! Do not fear!
I am here for you to see.

Can you not hear the beatings of my heart?

Listen to that which is inside me,
and you will know right away
we are, in fact, not that far apart.

*This poem was one of my three with which I had contributed to the January 2021 issue of The Year of the Poet VIII, published by Inner Child Press International.

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“Emory Douglas”

Emory Douglas

1968
Summer Olympics
The medalists’ podium for the 200-meter race

America’s own two Black athletes,
Tommie Smith and John Carlos –
One, the recipient of the gold medal;
The other, a silver-medalist

Visual history depicts these winners’ fists
Inside black gloves as they raise them into air

To bring to the attention of the world
The centuries-long oppression of Blacks,
AKA the good ole American way

As Smith and Carlos make their unspoken voices heard,
Their medals are being taken away

Standing against the brutally discriminatory
and fear-, hatred- and violence-filled white-domination
is enough reason to strip them both
of their justly earned honors,
you say?

Nay!

A white Australian runner, Peter Norman –
A silver-medalist, chooses to stay with his fellow athletes,
Though sans fist, to show solidarity
He thus lends hope to humanity
And reminds us all of the foundation of our existence:
Unity within diversity. Unconditionally. All-inclusively.
Watching unjust actions unfold for even one of us silently
Is, after all, complicity. Put simply.

Still . . .
The Black athletes
Get their Olympic medals stripped off
They had, however, earned them justly

Promising careers, ruined . . .
In the hands of the white powers that be

How about the rights to practice Civil Rights advocacy?

Huh, what a laugh!

Such freedom for Blacks does not come for free!

In the year of 2014,
A visual art project, “We Can Be Heroes”,
Makes waves across the borders of many a country
The piece is crafted collaboratively
Between the Australian artist Richard Bell
And the American graphic designer Emory Douglas

Bell and Douglas not only eternalize
For the 1968 Olympic medalists
Their moments of protest on an Olympic-athlete stage,  
The stance they took against discrimination and inequality;
But also demonstrate injustices to be witnessed globally

As it is evident throughout the volume in your possession,
Our collective efforts geared toward poeticizing
Some segments of the once diligently-recorded reality
Jointly, we are anon sharing the marvel of a phenomenon;
Namely, how Bell’s concept of ‘Liberation Art’,
Coupled with Douglas’ talent in design and illustration,
Grew larger than life and entered the annals of history
In the form of a silent yet utterly vocal iconography

*This poem is one of the three I have submitted to the February issue of The Year of the Poet VIII published by Inner Child Press International.

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“A Simple and Silent Gesture” – New Poem

A Simple and Silent Gesture

It is August 26 in the year of 2016
in the good ole US of A.
Colin Rand Kaepernick sits in the bench
during the anthem in San Francisco
to raise awareness . . .
because “the country oppresses black people
and people of color.”
He was known not to have stood for the anthem before.

That date passes by.

Writers of headlines get busy,
when Kaepernick sits down again a day later.

Reactions are two-fold: some condemn him,
and others applaud.

The NFL speaks up,
citing the lack of any requirement on their behalf
for their athletes to stand up for the anthem.

After three days, former NFL player
and ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer has a suggestion
for this young man of higher consciousness:
“kneel rather than sit.”

Kaepernick kneels before a game on September 1st, 2016
and goes on record with his plan for a donation
of $1 million to organizations that support his intent,
as I have noted earlier, “to raise awareness”
for the centuries-long systemic racism in the country.

September 11, 2016 marks the first full day
of the regular season.
Several players kneel during the anthem.

On Sept. 27, 2016, Kaepernick becomes the subject
of harsh criticism from the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The young man responds: “He always says make America great again.
Well, America has never been great for people of color.
That’s something that needs to be addressed.
Let’s make America great for the first time.”

Kaepernick plays his final NFL game on January 1st, 2017.
The 49ers plan to cut him.
He opts out of his contract instead.

The month of September of the same year
witnesses players’ kneeling before
and / or during the anthem
without the civil rights activist in the league.

In the following month,
Kaepernick files a grievance against NFL team owners.
He cites collusion to keep him out of the league.

The powers that be, unfortunately, have a final say.
NFL season ends on December 31, 2017,
having made certain that this epic role model
for equal justice remains unemployed.
Less than a year afterward, NFL owners construct a rule
banning kneeling during the anthem.
It is ‘president’ Trump now . . . as he has made it
into the People’s House. He applauds the divisive initiative.
NFL owners soon retract the rushed rule
because of its divisiveness.

As the second straight season begins –
sans the name “Kaepernick” on a roster,
some players still kneel . . .

The third NFL season enters the world’s calendar,
and ends eventually.

No Kaepernick.

Following the murder of George Floyd, a black man,
on May 25, 2020, nationwide protests begin.
Numerous other sports organizations
join the cause of awareness,
to include the NBA, Baseball, and many more.
Kaepernick offers support.

A few months later, the NFL apologizes, denounces racism
and delivers a promise to further promote social justice.

Thank you for your simple and silent gesture,
dear Mr. Kaepernick.
Your gentle voice was and continues to be
loud enough to stay at the core
of many an equality-for all-seeking soul.
Hopefully, for us all, generations to come
will embrace your contribution to humanity,
understanding and knowing that social injustice
is our common enemy.
Thank you for showing this ‘white’ woman
that which we all-inclusively must fear.
So, in humble solidarity,
I, too, kneel.
Ever so respectfully.       

*This poem is one of my three submitted for the February issue of The Year of the Poet VIII to be published by Inner Child Press International.

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A Favorite Poem

Sinopem

the homeland enters the main vein
her scent floods to each body cell
one stunning aroma after another
i thirst in hunger pangs

etched to memory in blood and flesh
the magic of my early life
often asleep – head should feel sore
however when awake cold or ache no more
blanket soaking in her perfume
pillow, one of softest feathers
“snow falls upon who sleeps” she whispers . . .

one corner – a distinctive delight
a town in unison with its sea
unlocks the long suppressed

there!
it stretches to the harbor in cheer
main street down tea gardens of yesteryear
Divan café – loyal as ever before
hugs the aged salt factory to affectionately mend
guards before the old prison the compliant inner bay
not at all anxious by its fast descending bend
sates with secrets-devouring treats
my childhood eyes and arousing sighs
on loads and loads of mouth-watering plates
a huge piece of Revani* – apt for my sweet-tooth-fame
topped with natural ice cream of vanilla beans
delights generation after generation after generation
eight in total the loved ones of mine

farther away lies the town’s aorta
the legendary passage to famed Ada
coveting April 23rd parades of ribbon bouquets
on Çocuk Bayramı – Festival of Children . . .
flows in sync with streets wide open alleys unseen
carries along a dear one of mine
to the heart’s mind scene by scene

my eyes lock on the trail to the highest peak
one modest look to the left or the right
the sea struts its azure wealth and might

and there a breath away
dons mysteries that spectacular house
bricks worn out shutters ashen hue
still erect in humility though
vies few more breaths to accrue
ornate transoms eye the vastness of the sky
their weathered glances down upon the sea
the soil tender as a new mother’s caress
depleted tree roots soon to finally rest
as have those who were put there abreast

my heart wanders off to the faded print:
wide steps to a wooden tall entry door
a stately man – fedora briefcase handsome face
my uncle by his leg – a mere toddler
a Shirley Temple though Turkish – my mother
her tiny gleaming face ever so bright
glued to the colossal front window

my grandmother’s beauty in the dark
on her lap my other uncle – her youngest
his cruel damaged pre-natal heart 
cut off too soon his contagious delight

next to me
the unique scent of my mother
the warmest warmth of her soul

*Sinop/e of the Turkish Black Sea – my adoptive birthplace, –is the country’s only peninsula. “Sinopem” is a self-coined wordplay for which I resorted to reflect the Turkish possessive suffix. This small picturesque town is where eight generations on my mother side lived and died; “Revani”: A traditional Turkish dessert made of semolina and heavy syrup.

~ ~ ~ ~
This favorite poem of mine has first appeared in my poetry book, Aflame: Memoirs in Verse (published by Inner Child Press International on May 9, 2018)

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Short Stories, continued

“Don’t You See What You Mean to Me?”

My first love was my first boyfriend, who became my first fiancé.

Y[. . .] and I had met during our first semester in college. Having many interests in common on academic, social and intellectual levels but also through our special fondness for world literature and classical Western music, we soon became inseparable friends. There was hardly any cultural event that we would be willingly miss. Films, yes, we saw several. When it came to classical music concerts or theatre plays, however, we would make a list of our joint preferences and make sure to experience them all. In our own homes, then, we would write a review of those events and read them to one another, discussing them in great detail in-between classes.

Our friendship took a different direction pretty quickly. It happened on the night of my first folkloric dance performance. He had asked me if he could take me to the place of the event, wait until I was done and bring me back home. With my acceptance of his offer, that night marked our first togetherness outside the university grounds.

The group of which I was a member had been formed by the university administration. So, the director and the event organizers were reliable, trustable people, with common sense, I had assumed. When we auditioned at the semester-beginning, we were told specifically that we would appear in front of college-related organizations and communities. That first time, however, we were not nearly close to dancing for a scholarly audience.

Y[. . .] picked me up from home, carrying my bag filled with my costume, headwear, accessories and shoes. We left for our destination. Where on earth did we arrive? In a night club! I had never been to one, and had no intentions whatsoever to go to such establishments; not only at the age of 18 but as in never in my life. Well, there was no turning back, as I had a responsibility to fulfill. Y[. . .] accompanied me through narrow steps into a hallway. Upstairs, we had been told that the dressing rooms were down there. I still have no idea what the men’s dressing room had in store for the unsuspecting eye, but the women’s version confronted me with half-nakedness all around. And stares galore!

Our group completed several dances. A Caucasian routine had three lead performers, one male and two females. I was one of them. It is practically a mini-theater about a love story, jealousy and the male’s final decision for a bride. Each time we had rehearsed at the university, I was the bride. Here I was again the chosen female. I must have played my part very realistically, as the audience applauded me enthusiastically. After our performance, we tried to walk out of the stage, back to the dressing rooms to change. The women of the late night entertainment were waiting behind the curtains, shoulder to shoulder. We had to literally break our way in. Again, under stares. Not at all friendly.

I practically dived into my regular clothes and met with Y[. . .] as planned, in what seemed to be a sorry excuse for a lobby. He was thrilled with my roles throughout, but uneasy about where we had ended up.

There were no public transportation stops in that area. With our student budgets, we were most certainly not going to take a cab. We started walking toward our bus station. It was a chilly night, but I felt cozy having him by my side. I thanked him multiple times for all his kind attention to me and for accompanying me to and from the event. After my last words of thanks, he stopped, held my hand and looked me in the eye with so much affection that I knew ours wasn’t a standard friendship for him. “Hülya, don’t you see what you mean to me? You are not just my best friend. I love you. I am in love with you!”

My feelings for Y[. . .] had also been running deeper than in a mere friendship for a while. When he asked me where my heart stood, I admitted to him that his love was not unrequited.    

*From my upcoming book of short stories, Once upon a Time in Turkey (For some reason, I have not been able to maintain in this post the original format of my intent.)

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Thank You!

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January 3, 2021 · 7:00 am

A Proem

Proem

Bir varmış, bir yokmuş . . .

The phrase above echoes the opening lines of a fairy tale in Turkish. How often have I heard them as a child! Little did I know that, one hot summer day in 2016 while sitting on my small patio, I would conceive in those four words the title of this book, my first fictional prose – or better yet, my first autobiographical fiction. I cannot count the nights when my mother would read to me my most favorite children stories from classical Turkish literary traditions, each time starting with “Once upon a Time”. I do not remember at what age I began to talk legibly, but I suspect my first utterances were, “bir varmış, bir yokmuş” . . .

In our human existence, there is one core three-way reality: We are born, we live, and we die. Throughout that in-between-phase, we hope that our lives have mattered to our beloveds. It is the hope for permanence; that we live on beyond our death. This collection is my attempt to seek such a permanent memory for my loved ones. At the same time, it is my tribute to those beloveds of mine who are no longer here in the realm of what we perceive to be our reality. It is my way of proving to myself that their lives mattered and continue to matter.

Once upon a Time in Turkey is anything but a fairy tale. Hence, my reference above to the hybrid genre, fictional autobiography. In my stories, I indulge myself in taking the liberty to work hand-in-hand with those elements of literature that are inherent in and integral to creative fiction: the stories I share with you inside are true indeed. They are, however, dressed in imaginary attires – masks and costumes, if you will. While flashbacks comprise their stronghold, they do not come to surface in any particular chronological order. As a stream of consciousness, I have taken poetic license randomly in helping them step out of their cold-blooded and often sad realities. My intent was to construct a short-prose assembly in order to put in writing how I remembered my interactions with my loved ones over the many magical years throughout which they had gifted me with immense love, joy, happiness, and unconditional support.

Laughter, tears, surprises, enchantments, anticipations, fears, suspicions, regrets, resentments and loves . . . decided on that hot summer day in 2016 to wake up my spirit which had been asleep for too long. All the emotions, thoughts and experiences no longer wanted to be pushed back to the most remote corners of my consciousness. Nor did any of them choose to stay numbed inside my heart anymore. They demanded to be listened to. So, my unforgotten memories began to voice themselves in me.

It is my hope that you will join me around this gathering of tales; tales that traveled from my country of birth, Turkey to reach your  hearts. May you receive them in their intended spirit and feel joy, however small, alongside mine with which I have been privileged to live throughout my life as a Turkish girl, teenager and young woman. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The preface to my pending book of autobiographical short stories, Once upon a Time in Turkey

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