I am tired and ready to lay my burdens down, yet I know that rest is a luxury not afforded to women like me. Black women. Women like me as a collective are asked to do more, be more, to give our all and extra…knowing that rarely are we rewarded in ways that are common to our white peers. We mostly keep our struggles hidden because we know that tangible support is rare and that showing our own humanity and vulnerability is a liability that we cannot afford. Just writing these words feels like a subversive act.
Black womanhood is not simply womanhood; it is a womanhood that is devalued and never appreciated except by others who walk our path and know the journey firsthand. That “strength” that so many admire is what happens when choices are not an option: You keep on keeping on until the shell called the body gives up. You take your joys where you can and when you find that sweet moment, you savor it, knowing that the moment can be fleeting but when you have that magical moment, those fleeting seconds are the fuel that keep you going when you really would rather stop. Have you ever heard a Black girl or woman laugh a joyous laugh? When it happens, it is truly magical.
My daughter turned 11 several days ago and we marked the event by spending time with my son and his bride. For almost a week, I found myself immersed in Black girlhood and young womanhood. Days and evenings filled with pure, unabashed laughs. It was the balm that my soul needed. Yet as I settle into my role as matriarch of the family, I also couldn’t help being aware of the low-grade fears lurking just beneath the surface as I see my daughter moving beyond girlhood. As she is coming to embrace the physical changes underway, I know that it won’t be terribly long before she encounters the dark side of inhabiting a body called Black and female. The catcalls and the innuendo that for far too many Black girls starts before they even enter their teens years.
The dehumanization of the Black female body, the society that attempts to tear at the spirit, the list goes on. I try my best to keep my daughter insulated from those realities. Despite the things that I write and the work that I do, rarely is any of that discussed in our home. It was a conscious choice to keep her blissfully unaware of the larger world for as long as possible. She will have a lifetime to process this world yet that window is closing and with her entry to middle school in a few short weeks, I know that the time has come to expand her world and start making her aware of our realities as beings in bodies called Black and female.
Just as we were wrapping up our time together as a family, I heard the news about two young Black women who were killed. Korryn Gaines was shot and killed after a standoff with the Baltimore police. Korryn was not a perfect victim; reports are that she had a revolutionary streak in the tradition of Assata Shakur. She didn’t “know her place,” She was an “uppity” Black woman who appears to have challenged the system. She may have also struggled with developmental issues as a result of lead poisoning. The official story is that the police went to her house with a warrant for traffic violations and while the details are still unfolding, we do know that she was shot and killed and that her five-year old son was also shot in that encounter, Thankfully he survived. Joyce Quaweay was a 24-year-old mother of four whose partner, a former police officer and a friend, beat her to death in front of her children. Apparently she did not submit to his whims.
Brutality against Black women rarely receives the level of attention that brutality against Black men receives. Thus, far too many are unaware that brutality against all Black bodies is a problem. To compound matters, intra-racial tensions that exist mean that while Black women have been at the forefront of the current movement for justice and historically have played integral roles in the fight for justice, that level of support is not always a two-way street…leaving Black women to labor and exist in a world where we are floating without support or life preservers.
This is the legacy that I bequeath to the younger women in my family, a knowing that as they grow older, they will see a world where they have to fight to claim their worth and their joy. I am beyond the age of fairy tales, things don’t magically change. Change is a collective effort and, until the collective agrees that we all matter and are valued, some of us will always have to fight harder than others. In the meantime, I will lay down to rest to regain my strength to find the magical laugh and to keep the fight going just a little longer.
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