When I started this space back in 2008, it wasn’t my intent to have it grow into a resource of learning for the public; it was actually just my reflections and musings on living in Maine as a Black woman and raising kids here, during a time when blogging was all the rage.
But sometimes, despite our intentions, we end up on a very different path. For me, that has meant this space is less personal due to the visibility of my work. However, today I am honoring my truth and going back to the origins of this space. I’m getting personal. And while what I am about to say is my personal truth, I suspect it is a truth that will resonate with many other Black women.
I am tired.
Let me repeat, I am tired.
Sure, we are all tired. We are living through a pandemic and dealing with all kinds of social and legal chaos Yet we don’t all have the same kind of tired. No, my tiredness is born of the bone-weary reality of what it means to be a Black woman in a world where almost all the value we have seems typically tied to our production and to our usefulness to others.
We are valued when we perform. Like the eponymous character in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, people come to us casually seeking and expecting what we can give, and returning for more over and over until there is almost nothing left of us. Whether we are tending to the love and care of others, saving democracy, or carrying emotional and psychic weights that would crush most others, the cycle continues and people feel entitled to more.
It’s not that no other groups or individuals can get this treatment. But what I see as an individual and in the case of too many of my sisters is that too often, our value is only seen when we give of ourselves—and rarely do we receive love and care beyond performative, ephemeral actions.
Unfortunately, that means for many Black women, we hide our pain and we keep our masks on, and sometimes we do it so well that we even start to believe the myths of our own supposed strength—never even seeing that our “strength” is slowly eating us up. In some cases, we can’t even find the words to really touch the depths of what we are really dealing with. As a writer, I can use words to great effect, including the ones in my own head, and so I have perfected the art of deflection and not touching the pain. Or truly even wanting to name it.
To finally name my own pain and trauma honestly has taken me three consecutive years of working with a trained therapist, a Black woman, who is skilled in knowing how we don’t touch that pain and the trauma—because, in many ways, it is a survival skill passed down from our ancestors.
This past week has nearly broken me, as I confronted the painful reality that the man I was falling in love with was not who I thought he was. And just when I was sitting in that pain and shame, there was the killing of Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, at the hands of police in Columbus, Ohio. Not only was she killed, but there are many in the Black community as well as white allies and accomplices who have tried to justify her killing. She had a knife; she was lunging at another person. In their minds, there was no other choice. To them, she was just another “Black female” to throw away. She had to be put down, like a rabid animal—end of the story for them.
To me, and many Black women, we saw a child in pain: a cherub-faced young girl in pain. A child whose last moments in this realm were spent in foster care, a child who called the police for help but instead met her death at the hands of the same people who should have had the skill and compassion to de-escalate the situation rather than shoot. Even the action of picking up a knife to plunge into someone who has been a cause of hurt is relatable to me, because sometimes for Black women and girls our constantly unseen and unheard pain becomes a rage. It’s a pent-up rage that can overtake you when you are fighting—whether literally or metaphorically, mentally or physically, socially or emotionally—to stay alive.
Our pain is rarely seen or acknowledged and for us to even speak out loud that we feel hurt or used is labeled as anger or disrespect no matter how calmly we do it. So when our calm words are repeatedly called anger and we are labeled “scary Black women” for just saying we’ve been hurt, are you surprised that years of that might catalyze into something explosive? We are eventually left with only rage to protect us when we are deemed not worthy of care and love anymore—as if we had ever been seen worthy of it by most of the people around us. But that’s the lie we are sold, that we are valued, and many of us trick ourselves into believing it for too long.
As I was getting ready to write this post, I came across this brilliant piece, which poses the question that needs to be asked: What does loving Black women look like? I wish I knew because too many times, I have been deeply hurt by those who claim to care, and rarely do I feel supported. Honestly, I find my most sincere love and care comes from other Black women. Women who, despite the burdens they carry and how tired they are, will make space for a fellow sista when she is reaching her breaking point. Women who understand that we are all only one bad exchange away from taking a knife, whether it is a physical knife or a verbal one, and plunging it into the hearts of those who actively attempt to hurt us or who silence us or who continue to take and take and take from us.
In this moment, I ask you: What does it look like for you to truly love and care for Black women? How do you hold us? Can you extend grace when we are raw and vulnerable, or is your care contingent on us not making you uncomfortable? Don’t keep saying you are protecting Black women if you can’t even see us in our true humanity, sometimes truly broken and fractured and often raggedy inside over something we never deserved. Don’t make us dance to your standards to be deemed worthy of compassion and grace.
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