Kanye West, police brutality, colonization, queerness, gentrification, and awkward taxi cab conversations were just some of the poetic themes shared during this year’s third annual Sister Spit, hosted by Barnard Student Life as part of its MLK Legacy Week. Sister Spit is an event featuring spoken word artists with nondominant identities celebrating activism, equity, and racial justice.
The event took place Thursday, Jan. 24 in the Sulzberger Parlor, located on the third floor of Barnard Hall. This intimate setting, walled with large golden-framed portraits of Barnard presidents and founders, period furniture, patterned wallpaper, and a fireplace, set the tone for a cozy and welcoming, but heavy evening. Sister Spit was organized by community assistants for Barnard student life Nadira Amaris Danticat, BC ’21, and Emily He, BC ’21. With the help of the Barnumbia Slam Team and an open call for student poets, well-accomplished performers Jasmine Mans, Golden, Hajar Khalid, and Gentle Ramirez were chosen for the event. Gentle Ramirez, a first-year student at New York University, was also the host for the evening.
The event started with introductions and an encouragement for audience members to react to the spoken word poetry with Ramirez’s instructions, “if you feel it let the poet know” and “anything acceptable in a black church is acceptable here.” The audience did feel it, and the charged poems were all met with instinctual sounds of appreciation and resonance.
Jasmine Mans, an author, performer, poet, teacher, and artist who uses her voice to speak out on behalf of others and the community around her, was the first performer. She was chosen by Glamour magazine in 2012 as one of its Top 10 College Women. Her three poems were about Kanye West, love between two women, and the black experience in both the oppression and celebration of blackness.
Following Jasmine was the performer Golden, a black gender-nonconforming trans-femme visual artist and poet. According to their website, Golden's work involves mediums of photography, poetry, and zine-making to dissolve binaries that exist around gender, race, and sexuality. Golden’s first poem was very intense, powerful, and socially charged, as it centered around the societal oversight in the protection of trans women which consequently leads to violence and death. Golden’s other poems were equally charged and tackled issues such as love, growth, colonization, acceptance from their mother, and problematic white gay men in the queer community.
After Golden’s striking poems, student performer Hajar Khalid, CC ’21, from Saudi Arabia performed a poem she finished writing moments before the event started. It was about an infuriating conversation she had with a cab driver that centered around the notion of being “mixed.” Khalid also read two poems by the Persian poets Rumi and Hafez.
In regard to the original poem she performed at Sister Spit, Khalid said in an interview with Spectator, “For this one I got into the back of someone’s car, and he was super creepy and started talking to me about race mixing and how it makes great babies. And I was creeped out, so I wrote a poem and never told anyone.”
Khalid noted that her writing process mostly stemmed from her identity and that “the only reason I’m able to write most of the time is because something happens to me. ... Everything I write is reactionary.”
Khalid also noted that spoken word is often used as a platform for social justice, because “if you’re born into a specific body you don’t get to choose politics, politics chooses you.” The performers, who all held nondominant identities, embodied this notion in their poems throughout the evening.
The last performance was given by Gentle Ramirez, who recently published their first book—a collection of essays outlining the effects of attending a primarily white institution while being black, latinx, queer, and assigned female at birth. Gentle read multiple poems that were centered around things such as the gentrification of the Bronx, where they grew up, and their mental health, as well as a portion of an essay from their book.
The emotional night concluded with Gentle thanking both the performers and the audience for their time and energy.
Sister Spit brought experiences rooted in identity to the forefront of the unspoken conversation that took place between the artists and audience members.
“It’s really different when you choose to share something traumatic or awful that happened to you because of your identity, or where you were, versus having other people demand it from you. So, spoken word just really feels like you choosing what you want to share with people, and that’s why I feel like it’s so inherently personal,” Khalid said.