While My Sisters Gently Weep
I stood in the dark solace of my kitchen with my hands clenched tightly against the sink. My teeth dig into my lower lip as the silent tears began to burn my cheeks. The only interruption of this quiet moment were the sounds of my sniffles as I did everything I could to hold onto the last bit of composure I had within me.
Then, I couldn't. I just couldn't hold it back any more and the tears flowed, my nose dripped, my lips quivered, my shoulders shook, and my soul cried out for relief as I released everything I'd been holding in. I kicked the cabinets and pounded the sink, as I cried and cried and cried.
I was alone. I was safe. I would not be judged. I could be free. I could be ME.
ME is a 30-something divorced Black woman, mother to a precocious 6-year-old son, social work administrator in the mental health and homelessness/housing sector, second-time graduate student, freelance writer and editor, podcaster, sister to a brother I didn't know about until a few months ago, daughter to a woman who died at 51 from cancer, sex-positive feminist often offered money for sexual favors, 6'0 tall woman often called a man, recovering victim of the traumas of molestation, rape, intimate partner violence...
..and a partridge in a pear tree that does NOT grow in the "hood" where I work or any "hood" I've ever lived in.
I'm tired. I'm drained. I'm depressed. I'm excited. I'm stretched too thinly, and I'm incredibly happy. I've everywhere and nowhere and I'm not alone. There are so many sistas (I use this term to refer to Black women here) out there who could fit my shoes, even if they haven't walked the same path. They have been through so much that their stories could fill endless volumes. They know every pain, every trauma, every struggle, every hurt and yet they still manage to wake up every single day to make it through again.
Recently, there has been what seems to be an onslaught of attacks related to Black women across the media. Maybe not all attacks, but definitely incidents and commentary (and yes, a few attacks) that have dampened the spirits of the Black women who bore witness or were indirectly exposed to them.
There were two popular hashtags on Twitter this past week where one could find Black women venting their frustration, sharing their pain, and trying to educate people about our experiences.
#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen was started by Mikki Kendall and #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen was started by Jamilah Lemeiux. I contributed a few of my own tweets, but I was particularly interested in how these hashtags served as a therapeutic outlet for the women participating in the trending topics.
One of my goals is to study the mental health statuses of Black female heads of household, examining their coping mechanisms, how/if they seek professional mental health care, the presence and their awareness of possible psychiatric disorders, and other things related to their well-being. It is SO hard, sometimes, to be a Black woman in a world that seems to think you're the least valuable person.
I asked my Black women followers how they were feeling because I was interested in gathering their thoughts and putting them into one space. (Warning: These tweets are honest and hard to read).
@FeministaJones I'm solid. A tad discouraged, but my feelings nor my passion are unwavering.
— #QUEENshit (@FirstLady914) August 15, 2013
@FeministaJones I've had to stay out of certain conversations to maintain my mental/emotional health
— la libélula (@JChiron18) August 15, 2013
@FeministaJones feeling like I'm in a pressure cooker that's been set too high.
— erica huxtable (@egemini618) August 15, 2013
But there were many, many more.
Black women perpetually stand at the intersection of race and gender and are subjected to oppression based on both our race and our sex/gender. In discussions of intersectionality, I often think of actual intersections where two or more paths cross, and the people traveling on those path do little more than pause in their journeys to allow someone else to pass. How often do those of us who claim to embrace intersectionality actually stop at the intersection and stay around, asking questions, listening, and learning?
I want you to consider every negative statistic constantly published about Black women (single motherhood, obesity, HIV rates, Domestic/Intimate Partner Violence rates, poverty, etc.) and imagine just how many of us actually live the types of lives where most of them are true. Imagine how often we're blamed for the destruction of our families, for the spread of HIV, and for being physically and emotionally abused because we choose to be with Black men. Think about how our names are ridiculed, our bodies are mocked, our buttons are pushed and how we are then chastised for being "angry". Think about how often we're told by our own men that our natural beauty is ugly and we should work harder to look more European. Imagine the looks of shock when we dare show up for job interviews wearing unexpected brown skin or when we share last names with our children and their fathers.
I want you to then consider the immense pressure put on Black women to be the backbones of their communities, the strength of their families, and the rocks at the foundations of almost all of their interpersonal relationships, and to do so with a smile. Consider the lack of space for us to be anything but appreciative that we're even allowed to wake up and exist.
Then imagine us, standing in the envelopment of the sacred space within our kitchens, to which we're often ordered to return when we speak out of turn, grasping the sink tightly enough to catch us before our knees buckle and we fall to the floor. We know that we're simply not allowed to fall because if we fall, we fail. Let it not be guilt that moves your hand towards offering us tissues to wipe our tears. Let the offering come with a promise to do better to be supportive of the sista you see every day with the brightest smile on her face, because that might just be the day when her smile finally cracks and you're there to hold her up when she finally lets it all go.