“Liberation is a dialectical movement- the Black man cannot free himself as a Black man unless the Black woman can liberate herself from all this muck– and it works the other way around. And this is only the beginning.” – Angela Y. Davis, ‘Angela Davis: An Autobiography’
In the recent past, I’ve often mentioned to people around me that I always knew I was Black but I literally just realized I was a woman, a female, a girl, a person with xx chromosomes. I remember the overwhelming “ta da!” moment I experienced during the first African American studies course I took, Intro to African American Studies, where I discovered the idea of a double consciousness, of an intersectional identity and of the most magnificent thing I’d ever heard of, Black feminism. I learned about this new conceptualization of people in relation to themselves and in relation to society.
I found words, the perfect diction, to describe the many, often conflicting, identities that I held. I always knew I wasn’t just a girl and I wasn’t just Black and I wasn’t just poor. I always knew and more importantly, literally felt the existence of multiple identities formulating all together to, at least in my case (or so I felt), create a real f’ed up circumstance called life.
Anyway, when this amazing epiphany came and I suddenly had the vocabulary and consciousness to understand and articulate what it was I was feeling and knowing all of these years, I had silently, deeply subconsciously decided that I now knew all there was to know about being Black and being a woman. I thought I knew who a Black woman was because I thought I understood that that was who I was, a Black woman.
As it turns out, I only critically understood what it meant to be a Black person, was only discovering what it meant to be a Black woman and who I was as a Black woman. What I mean is I had no concrete understanding and knowledge of the history and pathology embedded in the souls and seams of every Black woman.
I didn’t understand that the things I always knew to be the norm were legitimate concerns, like Black was lower than in this world but a black woman was even lower than that, were legitimate. I still isolated such feelings and understandings of myself to be a purely personal, individual cancer within me and not a pervasive political and social epidemic of the Black woman’s soul.
So, what I have come to learn is that before I, and likely even you, can fully comprehend and embrace the historical, political, and societal implications of being a Brown woman in an anti- Brown and anti- woman society, I have to first embrace the physical, emotional, and mental subsequent by products of being a Brown woman in an anti- Brown and anti- woman society.
A lot of that knowledge came in the last two years, as I continued to experience encounter after encounter of virtual war with men that felt me being me made them feel less of them; I only suppose, as I never did ask. A large part of it came from starting back up as a reproductive health educator and trainer, which helped in reframing my now substantially more conscious, enlightened, and educated brain to conceptualizing and internalizing the true plight of women in our society.
“SISTERS. BLACK PEOPLE WILL NEVER BE FREE UNLESS BLACK WOMEN PARTICIPATE IN EVERY ASPECT OF OUR STRUGGLE, ON EVERY LEVEL OF OUR STRUGGLE.” -Assata Shakur, ‘Women in Prison’
And I suppose returning to work at a reproductive health nonprofit helped me translate the uncomfortable reality that the true most sincere voice of the women society attempts to marginalize, silence and disempower the most, like Black and Brown women, trans women, especially Black and Brown trans women, developmentally different and abled women, poor women, uneducated or ignorant women, abused and battered women, and so many more woman, are not in the conversation about reproductive health, sex or even, what it means to be a woman.
Don’t get me wrong, the conversations were always there, as were the theories, inferences, and assumptions of what “these” type of women need and want. But their, OUR, voices were never really there and still aren’t. And that’s why our needs are still not met.
In such, all of these reasons and perhaps many more led me to understanding the encounters that I was having with the commonly referred to, male beings throughout my entire life pretty much, were more than just me. Those experiences and struggles were more than just then, there, and that. It was about more than just being Black and being a woman. It was about being a Black woman. In particular for me, a poor but intelligent and articulate Black woman. A fatherless, yet educated and more skilled Black woman. It was and is about us!
As this consciousness continues to blossom inside of me, I often feel like I am going to burst from the true sincere sadness of reality. In this consciousness, on this side of the world, when you see a Black brother or sister, they are not just another person they are YOUR brother and sister. Every single one. And when they hurt, whether you know or have met them, you hurt too.
So, now, every time I see a Black woman fighting her man in the streets, hating on her own sisters on the train, struggling to feed her children or selling her body for love, money, attention or nothing at all, I cry. While riding the train, walking down the side walk, buying food at the corner store or just watching TV, looking at Facebook or thinking about my own and my woman kin’s experiences, I tear up, and often times shed tears for all of us Black woman.
Today I was on the train and I overheard a conversation a sistah sitting down in front of me was having with two sistahs on either side of her. She was talking clearly and relatively loud, so I heard what she said pretty clearly. Not verbatim, of course, but she said…
“Now he wanna talk about he want his daughter. I’m like, since when? You ain’t want ya daughter before. When I told him I was pregnant, he was dumb tite. He was like I was trying to trap him just like all these other b******. What I can’t understand is how he was always saying I was tryna trap him when he nutted in me!”
“The women at Riker’s Island come there from places like Harlem, Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, South Bronx and South Jamaica. They come from places where dreams have been abandoned like the buildings. Where there is no more sense of community. Where neighborhoods are transient. Where isolated people run from one fire trap to another. The cities have removed us from our strengths, from our roots, from our traditions. They have taken away our gardens and our sweet potato pies and given us McDonald’s. They have become our prisons, locking us into the futility and decay of pissy hallways that lead nowhere. They have alienated us from each other and made us fear each other. They have given us dope and television as a culture.” -Assata Shakur, ‘Women in Prison’
The sistahs next to her chimed in and agreed with her confusion on the issue, adding that that’s what guys do all the time and giving similar examples they knew of. The sistah continues,
“He ain’t expect to get me pregnant. Oh well that’s his problem! I’m not getting rid of my baby cause you don’t want it. No one told you to cum in me. We got together in 2006 and broke up in 2009 but we kept messing around and I got pregnant while we were still messing around. And I always told him, from the beginning, if I ever got pregnant,
“I was keeping it. I couldn’t get an abortion, I’m not doing that. I told him. And besides, what if I can’t have any more after this one and I get rid of it. And there are women out there that can’t even have kids and wish they could. Nah, I wasn’t getting rid of my baby. He used to tell me he was gonna get me f’ed up.
“He used to say he was gonna get his sisters, cousins or homegirls to jump me. That they were gonna get that baby out of me one way or another. They would kick or stomp it out of me. I told him, do you. He used to be like, iight, you better watch out around stairs and elevators and I would be like, do you. He was like I ain’t gon have them touch ya pretty face but they’ll hit you in the stomach and I was like, do you.
“I lie to you not his whole family and my whole family love my daughter. And imagine if I ain’t have her… But my sister went through the same thing. Her baby father didn’t want her to have the baby when she was pregnant. He was tite. But when she had it, he was mad hype. Now he love her baby. Guys just be having to wait till you have the baby so they can see it to appreciate it and love it.”
The other sistahs agree and then the train gets too crowded for me to hear anymore.
Sometime around her comments about the threats her daughter’s father made to her during her pregnancy, tears started fast approaching. I wouldn’t, couldn’t let them fall. Not today. Not right now. So I held them back as best I could but everyone around me looked at me with tears in my eyes, confused. I had to put my book down and just pray. I couldn’t stop listening. I had to listen, though I don’t know why. Maybe because I feel like no one else ever really did.
Idk, but I knew right now no one else appeared to want to listen or care. I felt like everyone was ignoring her on purpose. Probably judging her. For what she’s saying. How she was saying it. Where she was saying it. But is anyone else feeling the burning pain in their chest from the wound up hatred, agony, and silence embedded in the personal, yet political, and individual yet, global struggle this sistah is testifying?
Does anyone else feel like there’s no air or room to breathe on this train anymore? Is anyone else’s world crashing with every word that comes out of her mouth? Or am I, as it always seems, alone on this one? And if I am, am I wrong for feeling even more devastated by the suffocating air thickened by the lack of empathy and the putrid, stomach turning aroma of disdain, indignation and judgment?
I won’t try to dissect why I feel like this. At least not right now. There’s time for consumption. There’s time to digest. And there’s time to excrete. I’m just consuming right now. Everything else will follow in due time. I walked off the train without ever saying a word to my sistah. That left me with the biggest lump in my throat.
God quickly made reminded me why it was not my time to intervene just yet, and that helped subdue my lump, if at least temporarily. I have a heart full of sadness but I will continue to pray until God helps me unshackle the last of my chains so I can finally, through His will and grace, help unshackle the chains choking my sistahs’ minds, bodies and souls.
“And sisters, We have a long and glorious history of struggle on this land/planet. Afrikan women were strong and courageous warriors long before We came to this country in chains. And here in Amerikkka, our sisters have been on the front lines. Sister Harriet Tubman led the underground railroad. And sisters like Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hammer, Sandra Pratt and our Queen Mother Moore have carried it on. Sisters, We have been the backbone of our communities, and We have got to be the backbone of our nation. We have got to build strong family units, based on love and struggle. We don’t have no time to play around. A REVOLUTIONARY WOMAN CAN’T HAVE NO REACTIONARY MAN. If he’s not about liberation, if he’s not about struggle, if he ain’t about building a strong Black nation then he ain’t about nothing. We know how to struggle. We know how to struggle and finagle to survive. We know what it means, sisters, to struggle tooth and nail. We know what it means to struggle with love. We know what unity is. We know what sisterhood is. We have always been kind to each other, brought each other hot soup and biscuits. We have always helped each other through the hard times. Sisters, We must celebrate Afrikan womanhood. We don’t want to be like Miss Ann. She can keep her false eyelashes and her false, despoiled image of womanhood. She can keep her mink stole and her French provincial furniture. We will define for ourselves what womanhood is.” – Assata Shakur, ‘A Message to My Sistas’
Discovery #2: I am a Black woman.
**Reference Point** For me, the term “Black women” refers to all descendants of the Africa diaspora that identify as women. And the term “Brown women” refers to all of the so called “people of color”, most particularly “Black people of color” that identify as women.