black girls.

those loud black girls
those loud
black
girls.
aggressive, confrontational
loud, black girls.
depicted by
white-washed
sensationalized narratives
that project anger
onto those loud
black girls
who, we’re told,
need to be tamed.

a perceived threat
even when
our mouths
are closed
and our hands
are at ease.
no neck rolling,
no lips moving and
we’re still those loud
threatening
confrontational, black girls.
so no one flinches,
when we’re assaulted.
not a blink of an eye.
masculine bodies stand
gazing in silence
“brotha, help me.”
but no hands are outstretched.
and we are to believe
those loud
black girls
must have done something.
to deserve
to be snatched
and handled
oppressively.
because those loud
black girls
must be taught
to respect
authority
when it’s
white and male
and uniformed
and suited
and tied
by identical skin
“brotha, help me.”

and no one cares for
those loud
black girls
but
those loud black girls.

“are you okay, sis?”

for
we are not
those loud black girls.
we are daughters
and sisters.
we are
human.

Untitled…

Dylann Storm Roof

 

Say his name

With responsible acceptance.

Claim him

As a soldier of white supremacy.

With no attempts

To demystify

Blatant anger,

Inherent disdain

For black folks.

Dehumanize him as if he were

Walking his neighborhood streets

Asking for help

Making eye contact with an officer

Or daring to swim.

Dehumanize him.

With damning media coverage of his past.

No matter how unrelated,

How unnecessary.

Paint those pictures of a white male

THUG.

Whose propensity for violence

Is characteristic of his people.

 

They don’t wanna be saved.

 

Say his name.

Take ownership of his actions.

With no arguments for

Anomalistic brutality.

No explorations of his giftedness

And potential to be great,

Had he been supported by

The system.

No attribution to the

Naïveté of his youth.

No images of him smiling

Deeply steeped in

Childhood innocence.

For thugs are never children.

 

Say his name.

Call him a murderer,

Without exception.

No false diagnoses of mental illness

Hatred is no synonym

For psychosis.

No interviews with neighbors

Who knew him when

“He was such a good kid.”

No theorizing.

No cloaks of protection.

No Hollywood depictions of

A good guy, gone bad.

 

Dylann Storm Roof

 

Say his name.

Contemptuously.

And discuss his heinous

Crime with realness.

In the absence of white privilege.

And in the presence of respect

For the nine black lives

That mattered.

 

 

until we free

cries for peace and calm

abound

when black and brown faces rage.

reactions to a fruitful harvest of seeds

painful indignation

planted by privilege and supremacy

watered by death’s grasp and

nurtured,

agitated with

televised taunting of

not giving a fuck whether we breathe.

and among the masses of bodies strewn

together, relentlessly planted in our minds

and memorialized by hashtags

videos, pictures, and headlines of

Not charged. Not guilty. Not at fault.

in the midst of this pain

psychological torturing

physical death. EXECUTION.

There’s a call.

for peace.

 

Peace?

A call for peace.

 

Like picking the scalb from a sore

And asking it not to bleed?

Like enslaving our spirits

And asking us not to get free?

 

That. Ain’t. Peace.

 

Peace?

 

a synonym for compliance.

or domicile negroes

that know our place

 

is nowhere.

in a bountiful land made possible

by blistered, bruised limbs

and broken-backed posture

barren wombs

of children stripped from a mother’s love

when there was no consent.

 

And there is a call.

for peace.

an end to violence.

an end to the destruction of property.

 

because shattered windows

flipped cars

and burning buildings

are replaceable consequences of pain

but black lives matter

only wheNever.

 

There’s a call for peace.

when

still, there has been no liberty.

only death.

 

Peace.

is all that’s been requested.

for centuries.

 

a piece of property to call our own.

a piece of that sugary-sweet

American pie.

a piece of the Dream.

without deferral.

a piece of access

to education, absent of schooling.

to thriving communities.

side-walked streets

paved landscapes.

a piece of peace.

 

is all that’s been requested.

asked. pleaded. begged.

and not received.

 

But now.

cries for peace and calm

abound

when black and brown faces rage

standing obstinate

wavering not to exhaustion.

[not] appealing to reason.

[not] seeking humbly

nor supplicating entreaties.

because

black and brown folks been calm.

and peaceful.

before anger raged.

before suffering incited.

we were peaceful.

 

we, too, want.

and Demand.

Peace.

as a reflection of freedom.

 

 

 

I am not my(full potential)self when I am afraid…

As 2015 approached, I silently contemplated all the things I wanted to accomplish. I kept thinking: I’m going to write more. I’m going to lose a little weight and get fit. I’m going to connect with family and friends more. I’m going to read more. I’m going to put myself out there. But that’s just it. I kept thinking it. I didn’t want to say it, and I definitely didn’t want to write it down on paper. If I said it to someone, that someone could hold me accountable: Qiana, remember you said…??? If I wrote it down, I would have to hold myself accountable. Urgh. Damn accountability. Why is it such a struggle to be accountable…to me? Okay, moment of honesty: I am afraid. I am terribly afraid of failure, attention, expectations, etc. Whew, I said it. But this fear has to go. It’s keeping me from being my(full potential)self.

Carolyn Gregoire listed six ways to address fear in her 2013 blog The Science of Conquering Your Fears — And Living a More Courageous Life. Those ways include: Be vulnerable. Acknowledge your fears. Expose yourself to what you fear. Think positive. Manage stress. Practice courageous acts. The list seems simple enough to follow and implement, but I was stumped with the first: Be vulnerable. Dictionary.com provides the following definition of vulnerable:

vulnerable – [vuhl-ner-uh-buh l] /ˈvʌl nər ə bəl/ adjective

1. capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon.
2. open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.

Being vulnerable means being open to hurt, attack, and criticism. Who wants to do that? Who wants purposely to be open to hurt, attack and criticism? I don’t know how to be vulnerable. I never learned how to be vulnerable (if that’s a thing that one has to learn). I only know strength. I was taught (albeit subliminally) how to be strong. I get it from my Mama. I get it from the elder women I grew up knowing to be the pillars of the community. They were loving. They were disciplined. They were, at times, stoic. They were strong. They were not vulnerable. If they were, I didn’t see or don’t remember their vulnerability.

At some point in my life, I concluded that vulnerability is the Black woman’s kryptonite. If I am vulnerable, I am weak. Therefore, vulnerability and weakness became synonymic aspects of self that combatted my strength in every way possible. They were on a mission to break me, and I refused to be broken.

But I am broken…

If I am (allegedly) too strong to embrace vulnerability, I am broken.

If I diminish the power of growth that comes from vulnerability, I am broken.

If I let my fear of vulnerability stifle my(full potential)self, I am broken.

In 2015, I will be vulnerable, publicly vulnerable (via this blog). That’s my only resolution, goal, etc. I will be vulnerable and hope that my vulnerability will lead me to conquering fear and living a more courageous life.

I’m ready to be my(full potential) self.

 

On My Block [A street requiem]

This past weekend, I visited Ferguson, MO along with the #BlackLivesMatter group and returned to Atlanta with a lump in my throat but empowerment in my heart. I was speechless…but I could write. And I’m sure this is unfinished, but after seeing the exact location where Mike Brown was gunned down on a neighborhood street in the middle of the day, I had to write something. Hoping to give it life at a spoken word event soon…

On my block
Were syrupy bee-bops
Up the street
The Candy Lady’s sweet shop.
The intersection of Rosa Parks
And Martin Luther King
My block was the corner
Of street lights and
Olympic dreams…
Foot races
Tightened shoe laces.
To the STOP sign and back
A quick 100 meters
Winning to talk trash
Taking rocks to pavement
Chalk for Tic-Tac
Toe in the street.
On my block
Deuces and quarters
With Subwoofers
1980s hip hop beats

On my block
Was where time stopped.
I could be cool forever
Daydreaming about
Being a poet…
Letting the rhymes drop.
Just young, wild
And free.
Taking over the streets.
Cars passed by with
Permission.
Honk the horn one time
And our kick ball games
Took intermission.
With an adult yelling

“Get ya’ll asses out the street!”

But on my block
That yell was sincere
and Sweet.
And we moved.
For a time.
Watched the cars go by
Us, standing on either side.
Soul Train line.
Then kick ball resumed.
No one assumed

That on our block
We could be stopped.
For walking in OUR spaces
Sidewalks or not
Neighborhood streets
Were sacred places.
No yellow lines
No jay-walking street signs.

Because it’s

OUR

Block.

On OUR block
We don’t need
Crooked cops.
Trigger happy
Trained assassins
Carrying glocks
Interrupting
games of hop scotch.
Facades of protecting
And serving.
With authentic
Purposes
of unnerving
Our neighborhood.
Cruising through at a
Steady 5 miles
Looking for targets
Eye contact.
Fake smiles.

Word.

On Mike’s block
A ripple of shots.
A ripple of shots.
He surrendered.
Hands up
Six times popped.
To the pavement
He dropped.
Dead in the street.
On his block.

He was dead in the street
On his block.

Where
Blood stains
Remain
Reminders to some
Challenges to the
Sane.
Headaches and tears
As children play
And mothers love
With enhanced fears
That our streets
Are not our own
That on our blocks
The innocence
Of bee-bops
Candy Ladies and sweet shops
Places where
Time never stopped.
Where cyphers lived
And beats and flows
Dropped.
As we danced to hop-scotch.

Those sacred places
Those neighborhood blocks
Now
Invaded by
Uncaring
Trained Assassin
Racist
Cops.

But we won’t
Surrender
Hands up
To the pavement
We won’t drop.
Not one more
Dead in the street.
Hit by six shots.
On HIS block.
On HER block.
On OUR block.

Because it’s

OUR

Block.

Don’t come ‘round here
To our streets
Our urban retreats
Our sanctuary and
Release.
We’ve drawn lines
In the sand.
On the side of [real]  justice
We stand.

Because it’s

OUR

Block.

No place
For crooked cops
Trigger happy
Trained assassins
Armed with glocks.

Marching won’t stop
Protecting our homes
Our blocks.
Not one more
Shot
Pavement dropped
For walking in OUR spaces
Sidewalks or not
Neighborhood streets
Are sacred places.
Fuck them yellow lines
Fuck them
Non-existent
jay-walking street signs.

We strolling down
the blvd
the lane
the ave
the drive
From one end to the other
Still alive

Keep driving through
Don’t stop.

We just walking.
We living.
We just loving.

Because it’s

OUR

Block.

 

 

 

Asphyxiation (Our Lives Matter)

I can’t breathe.

In an open space with air all around

Yet, I can’t breathe.

Can’t inhale or exhale –

Unless they give permission.

To kill me.

Choke holds and

Cold-blooded murder.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

Because I was suspect.

For my Black, my Brown skin.

For seeking help.

For minding my own business.

In this world where my biggest sin

Is being.

That’s all. Just being.

Being Black.

Being Brown.

Being Brave.

Being Bold.

Enough to say

“You don’t own me!”

Bold enough to ask

“Can you help me?”

Bold enough to plead.

“I can’t breathe.”

“I can’t breathe.”

“I CAN’T BREATHE.”

And they’re killing me.

With my hands raised

Open palms

I’m not greeted with open arms.

I’m suspect.

Slayed in the streets,

And on porches.

And in neighborhoods.

In parks.

In public spaces.

Making a mockery of me.

Bodies uncovered for all to see.

For they aim to let us know

That I won’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

Unless permission is given to me.

But I’m villainized for reacting

To the repeated cries.

They say I should march.

And I should be peaceful.

And I should make a difference.

In a calm way.

But I can’t breathe.

I can’t fucking breathe.

And they want me…

To trust that I’ll be free.

Trust that this system will protect me.

Trust that they’ll let me breathe.

And I don’t.

I don’t trust that I’ll ever be able to breathe.

So I’m fighting.

For air.

And I apologize if my methods

Don’t suit.

But they match the madness.

For when you can’t breathe

And you’re unsure that they won’t shoot

Fight is a natural response.

When my words, my cries, my pleas

Have fallen on deaf ears

How am I expected to breathe?

How am I expected to bring peace?

When peace is not afforded to me…

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I want peace.

I want to breathe…

F R E E L Y.

 

 

 

Karlesha Thurman’s Breastfeeding Is Natural and Normal. Our Reactions Are Not.

I became pregnant with my now 16-year-old son during the summer of 1997. I completed the requirements for my undergraduate degree in English in November of that same year. My son was born in March 5, 1998, and I participated in commencement ceremonies in May 1998. And I was a breastfeeding mother. Prior to the ceremony, I pumped but the longer that I sat in the University of West Alabama’s Tiger Stadium listening to speech after speech, the more uncomfortable I became. Nature had plans all its own. Regardless of the pumping that had taken place prior to the ceremony, my breasts filled with milk and I had no recourse other than to sit there and wait. As soon as the ceremony was over, I quickly grabbed my son to relieve my breasts of the milky tension. I unzipped my gown, pulled the shoulder strap from my dress, threw a blanket over his head and fed him. And I did this all while I smiled with my friends and family. This was not the first or last time that I had to rush to relieve my breasts from the stinging discomfort that results when the milk is ready to nourish a hungry baby. I recall that once I sped home from work hoping my son’s godmother hadn’t fed him because I was seriously in pain. Of course, she had fed him and I had to squeeze my breasts and release the milk into the bathroom sink for some relief.

What I learned from being a young, breastfeeding mother was that no matter how much planning you think you’ve done, the milk and your baby will alter those plans without notice. So yes, I totally understand why Long Beach State University GRADUATE Karlesha Thurman fed her baby at her commencement ceremony. And no, I don’t see thing wrong with it. According to an ABC News blog, Thurman felt the picture was a thoughtful display of mothering [And I agree.] and posted it to the Facebook group Black Women do Breastfeed. The picture quickly went viral. Since then, there has been much written, Tweeted, Facebook’d, and Instagram’d about Thurman’s intentions when the picture was taken and posted. Some claim that she did it for attention, and others suggest she was only doing what mothers do. I contend the latter is more accurate. However, even if she did make a purposeful attempt to feed her baby at the ceremony, breastfeeding a baby is a natural occurrence that we need to stop stigmatizing. Not only was she able to provide food for her baby, but she also helped to get the #NormalizeBreastfeeding message across through her photo.

Breastfeeding

A mother breastfeeding her baby at a commencement ceremony, in the mall, at her home, in the post office is completely normal. Our reactions are not natural and contribute to further alienating mothers who want to breastfeed their children. Thurman noted that when she became pregnant, she thought about leaving school temporarily or permanently. However, she decided to stay in school with hopes of securing a better future for her and her daughter. That’s what her picture represents. Thurman stands in her cap and gown, breastfeeding her daughter with an infectious smile on her face. She accomplished what many of us who’ve juggled motherhood, education, employment – life – have accomplished. Undoubtedly, she knows the anxiety of wondering whether she could do it all. The picture is proof that she did. Her joy and success illuminate from the picture, but the public is only worried about the appropriateness of a breast being visible in public. We’re worried about a breast being used to feed a baby and foster a bond between the mother and daughter. If the appropriateness of the timing of feeding a baby is our most significant concern when we view Thurman’s photo, we don’t have shit else to do with our lives. Let’s stop worrying about this young mother doing what she’s supposed to do for her daughter – be a mother. Period.

What would should do is educate ourselves on the disparities and benefits related to breastfeeding. A report by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) indicated that the percentage of Black women that breastfed their children increased from 47% to 60% from 2000 to 2008. However, “Black infants consistently had the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration across all study years” (CDC, 2013). We should also be concerned with how breastfeeding benefits infants and mothers. For example, the CDC (2009) noted that breastfeeding lowers an infant’s risk for respiratory and ear infections, Type 2 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome. Benefits for mothers include lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Mothers also benefit from a tightened uterus, diminished post-birth bleeding, and suppressed ovulation. We also should celebrate the fact that Thurman is a young mother who’s breastfeeding her daughter as the rates of mothers under the age of 30 that breastfeed their children are significantly low.

Motherhood can be a challenging, daunting, isolating, rewarding, satisfying, loving experience. Continuing to shame mothers for their breastfeeding choices is a practice that we must discontinue. Karlesha Thurman breastfeeding her daughter was natural and normal. It’s our reactions that are not.

#NormalizeBreastfeeding

 

Dissertation Archives – Vignette 3: Hair Story

No matter how else you dress or decorate yourself, you cannot escape the true meaning of dreads. As beautiful as locks may be, they still stand for something: ethnic pride. When you carry dreads you demand a second look. People are intrigued, they wonder, “What’s behind all that hair.” I’m happy to be nappy

~Adrian “Summit” Delaney

 

I fell in love with locks when I saw Whoopi Goldberg’s hair. I had seen African women on television, but never had I seen one with locks until Whoopi was cast as the main character in the movie Sister Act (1991). I had seen The Color Purple (1985), but her hair and her role in Sister Act appealed to me more because of the strength and confidence of the character. I wanted that strength; I wanted that hair. Unfortunately, my mother was not having any of that. “You don’t want your hair like that,” she said. But I did. I really did. Nevertheless, that was one battle I was not willing to wage because I knew that I would not win. So I let go of the dream of locking my hair until the summer of 2002. I had cut my hair from a shoulder length style to a short brush cut in March of 2002, and in late May my stylist started my locks. At the time I was a teacher, so the summer seemed like a good time to lock my hair since I had read that the hair goes through many transformations during those initial stages.

About a week before school started in the fall, I went to my classroom to begin getting it organized. I was there only a short while before my principal called me to the front office. He started the conversation by asking about my summer, but it was not long before he maneuvered his way to his real interests. He asked, “So why are you doing me like this?” Confused, I asked what he meant; and he proceeded to tell me that my hair was not what he expected. He considered it unacceptable. Why was I locking my hair? Noticing the sour look on my face, he tried to appease my by saying that the girls at the school looked up to me and he just wanted to make sure that I was communicating the right message. “I hope I’m communicating that you don’t have to have a certain type of hair – that you don’t have to have weave all down your back – to be beautiful,” I snapped. At that point, most people might have left the idea alone, but he continued with one final insult. “I mean, if you need some money to get your hair done, I’ll pay for it.” I was floored by his suggestion that I was only locking my hair because I could not afford to go to the salon. Further, I was more insulted because the principal was Black as were 97% of my students. So I thought that I was sending the right message: Black hair is beautiful hair – whether locked, natural, or relaxed; short or long. I was sincerely disappointed at his lack of acceptance of my hair and left his office more focused than ever to let my locks be one of my defining African characteristics[1].

I locked my hair in order to identify with my African culture. I’ve had my locks for almost five years. I discovered that you don’t have to have straight hair to be beautiful. Locks are about a deeper love, a self-respect.

~Cheryl Browne

While I considered my locks to be one of my defining African characteristics, I was forced to evaluate why I felt that having natural hair was so African. For most of my elementary school years, my hair was styled with a hot comb or straightening comb. I hated those days. It was always a battle between my mother and me as I sat in a chair in the kitchen watching that comb get hot over the open flame from the gas stove. I would watch my mother remove the comb and blow it as smoke filled the room. Eyes closed, the comb was brought closer to my hair; I squinted tighter as I felt the heat from the comb. My mother was usually very careful, but there were the occasional burns. The “kitchen” and around the ears were the worst. This process continued until I was in seventh grade and I started to do my own hair, to “perm” my hair with a chemical relaxer. Once every six weeks, I stood in the bathroom in front of the mirror to go through the process of straightening my hair with chemicals. Somewhere during the next 10 or so years, I started to equate that straightening process with confirmation that I too had succumbed to the perceptions of beauty ascribed by mainstream Americans. I am not sure what triggered this response. Maybe it was the hair conflict between the “wannabes” and the “jigaboos” in Spike Lee’s (1988) School Daze; or maybe it was Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X (1992) when he shoved his head in the toilet to stop the relaxer from burning his scalp. For some reason, I thought that,

The notion that straightening one’s hair is a mark of aspiring towards whiteness and that we should thus abandon all straightening along with any other form of work on black hair denies the complexity of cultural practice. (Erasmus, 1997, pp. 14-15)

I believed locking my hair contested the notion that I identified with the “wannabes” – light skin, long, straight hair, striving to achieve the Eurocentric notion of beauty. For me, locks were my resistance. That day in my principal’s office, my baby locks were my political and cultural statement. I thought that my natural hair made more of a statement than my relaxed or straightened hair. According to Erasmus (1997), Mercer (1987) “challenges the idea that Afros and dreadlocks are ‘natural’” (p. 15). Instead, these styles are created in the same spaces as styles that many would suggest are non-Afrocentric. For example, it is often the expectation of people that wear natural hairstyles consider themselves African-centered. However, for some, their natural styles do not reflect their commitment to the African family. One of my friends, for instance, had dreadlocks and will state honestly that the only reason she locked her hair was because it was so course. Now, she wears a natural afro and does so simply because it is convenient and manageable. I still believe that my locks are a political and cultural statement; however, I now have arrived at a level of African identity where I understand that my former belief that any Black person that straightened his or her hair is trying to achieve some sort of whiteness identity aligns with essentialist notions of Blackness. I had to eliminate my essentialist view of being African where a hair style was a signifier of African identity (Erasmus, 1997).

[1] After my hair had grown out some, the principal did apologize for his initial reaction and told me that he liked the new look.


An excerpt from my dissertation: To be African or Not to Be: An Autoethnographic Content Analysis of the Works of Dr. Asa Grant Hilliard, III (Nana Baffour Amankwatia II), 2009, Georgia State University.

Messages from the Universe: Be Open, Raw, Authentic – Write.Me.Free

Writing is like breathing is like loving is like mothering is like exhaling is like speaking (out) is like dancing is like exploring is like living. It’s like freedom. That I must have. ‪#‎WriteMeFree

The Universe moves in such mysteriously correct ways. Over the past few weeks, She has sent me several messages that require that I listen.

I received the first message during a vacation to the Dominican Republic. My partner and I rented a condo at the beautiful Alsol Resort in Punta Cana. We spent time relaxing by the pool, partying with the local citizens at Carnaval, and attempting to navigate the country with our limited Spanish. Because much of Punta Cana caters to tourists, many of the restaurants lacked the authentic food that we craved. So we rented a car and drove to Santo Domingo where we enjoyed asopao de camarones, arroz con pollo, mofongo, and asopao de pollo. We also spent time on the beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, and it was during the trip to Juanillo Beach that I felt renewed. I am not a swimmer – partially because I nearly drowned as a teen when a cousin tried to teach me to swim at a family reunion (in 10 feet of water) and partially because salt water, chlorine water, etc. burns my contacts when I have tried to swim – but after relaxing for a while with my face to the sun, I ventured into the water. With splashes of miniature waves hitting my breasts, an energy consumed me that I can only describe as the feeling I had when I was first dipped in a baptismal pool as a teenager. I started to cry and speak – reciting random poetry, narrating lines to the beginning of the book I’ve been writing in my head for quite some time. There was a spirit of newness surrounding me.

My eyes were watching God...

My eyes were watching God…

The second message came as I was researching information on substance abuse, and the phrase ‘self-silencing’ caught my attention. Self-silencing is a term used to describe people who suppress their feelings, thoughts, and needs…especially when doing so is an effort to protect others. For example, Flett, Besser, Hewitt, and Davis (2007) contended:

People high in self-silencing are self-sacrificing individuals who keep their distress to themselves in an attempt to maintain or improve interpersonal relationships. Their distress often takes the form of unexpressed anger (see Jack, 1999b, 2001). People high in self-silencing conceal their true feelings out of desires to maintain relationships and obtain the approval of significant others. (p. 1212)

Anger is not an emotion I experience often, but occasionally self-silencing leaves me disconnected and emotionally flat. Anger gives way to numbing indifference.

The third message came through Facebook. Scrolling through my timeline, I was stopped by a reposted blog on For Harriet’s page by Zakiya Brown. In the blog, Dancing to My Own Drum: How Embracing My Authentic Self Set Me Free, Brown wrote that the deaths of her mother and grandmother along with a move to a new state encouraged her desire to let her soul dance to music she selected. I identified with this post in so many ways. Although I have not encountered the losses that Brown has, I know the implications of faking good and dancing to music that doesn’t move my spirit.

For Black women, the intersection of self-silencing, self-sacrificing, and inauthentic living is a place of exhaustion where we become more susceptible to mental health issues. Yet, we view our strength as our defining characteristic, our badge of honor that masks any perceived weaknesses. We are Superwomen. This rationalization of the silent, sacrificial Superwoman makes being strong synonymous with quietly coping with hurdles that challenges our physical, emotional, and mental well-beings. [We are forever jumping hurdles.] Then as much as our resilience is our savior, it can also be our batterer. Finding the space to be resilient and vocal and authentic without being wholly sacrificial of ourselves can be a challenge. Lifelong internalization of using quiet strength while we mask our hurt takes great energy and support to unearth. But we have to engage in the process…

Bag lady you goin’ hurt your back/Draggin’ all ’em bags like that/I guess nobody ever told you/All you must hold on to/Is you, is you, is you… Each day has to be a process of putting down our bags and holding on to ourselves.

It is not that Black women have not been and are not strong; it is simply that this is only a part of our story, a dimension, just as the suffering is another dimension— one that has been most unnoticed and unattended to.   —bell hooks, Talking Back

We must talk back, write back. So I receive the messages that the Universe sent me and will address them the only way that I know how – to write. For too long, I’ve been a writer…that doesn’t write. I narrate the stories in my head but refrain from putting them on paper, on screen because that makes them real. That makes me visible. And to borrow Brown’s contention, I would be Open. Raw. Authentic. And that’s a scary feeling. I always have been an introvert, satisfied fading into the background. But like I was told during a conversation on tenure and the academy, “You have to put yourself out there. Your name should come up in these conversations.” That, too, is a scary feeling. Yet, no matter how frightening being open, raw, and authentic can be, the only other option is to remain in this space of numbing indifference. To remain in this space where I literally canNOT breathe, move, grow. A place where I canNOT live or be free. I must Write.Me.Free.

Confessions of an Empowerment Fraud…

Of all the questions that I’ve been asked in my 4.5 years as a professor, the one asked of me by a former student coping with what I perceived as signs of depression still floats around in my head. We spoke briefly about her dissertation progress, and I noticed that she seemed anxious and in need of a discussion that was not limited to revisions of Chapters Four and Five. She accepted my critique of her dissertation with a smile, but tears filled the corners of her eyes. Because my feedback focused more on celebrating her commitment to her work, I assumed the tears were expressions of joy. However, I prayed, “Dear Lord, please don’t let those tears fall. I’m not much of a hugger and I wouldn’t know what else to do.” Using the tips of her pinky finder, she pressed hard against those corners as if to tell the tears: You will not fall in this office today. Then she looked at me and asked, “How do you do it? How do you stay empowered?” Initially, I was silenced by her question, but she reminded me that I signed one of my emails to her with that response – Stay empowered! Her curiosity about my alleged empowerment process forced me to consider exactly what I meant by the statement. I mean, really, how do I stay empowered? After a few minutes of dumbfounded reflection, I gave her a response that was (to me) minimally satisfactory.

Oh…I always engage in self-care.

I dance a lot.

I exercise.

I love myself.

I get plenty of rest.

I write.

I love myself.

I live life to the fullest.

I don’t let anyone make me feel less than…

because I love myself.

The more I spoke, the more I was convinced that my generic responses to maintaining my empowerment were just that – generic, bound so tightly in saving face and preventing those tears from being defiant and falling all over my office floor. I kept speaking, trying to gauge her facial expressions and body language to determine whether I was putting her at ease. Yet, as I listened to my words, I questioned my authenticity. I questioned my empowerment.

A few days later, I observed an assessment class in the Counseling Department. I participated in a class activity where all students completed the Beck Depression Inventory®–II (BDI®–II). As I read each statement, I kept thinking, What in the world? Of course I don’t feel like this. We scored the final assessment and the professor informed the class that clients with extremely low scores (below 10) could be faking good. In other words, those clients could have responded positively to the items on the BDI®–II in an effort to be viewed in a positive light. Instead of being authentic in their experiences, those clients were faking good. My score was a 3.

The professor’s words remained with me to the extent that I had to discuss this with my partner. I asked her if she thought I was ever faking good. Her response: “Well, Qiana, you do act like nothing ever bothers you.” And then it hit me. Was I being dismissive of my experiences? Was my Keep It Moving mantra really a demonstration of being empowered or was I just faking good in order to be viewed in a positive light? Oh. Shxt. The student’s question and the professor’s proclamation had me all [insert explicative here] up. I had to figure out why these statements were sitting on my mind like protestors, refusing to move until I gave in to their exploration. So I did what I always do when I’m bamboozled about a topic – research it, read about it, and wrote about it.

First, I sought to define empowerment and found it seemed more difficult to contextualize empowerment because of the diverse ways in which the term is used. Instead, I chose to define resilience since it seems to be used synonymously, at times, with empowerment. Luthar, Cicchett, and Becker (2000) defined resilience in the following way: “Resilience refers to a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (p. 543, emphasis in the original). With this definition in mind, I reviewed the works of authors that encouraged me to be empowered or resilient.

Several authors (bell hooks, Jill Scott, Nikki Giovanni, Patricia Hill Collins, Baba Asa, Audre Lorde, Anna Julia Cooper [A Voice from the South by a Black Woman from the South is on my “to-read ASAP” list], etc.) came to mind as I continued this exploration. I pulled lines and sections of text from their work as I reflected. However, the works of one author spoke to me to the extent that I could no longer write because my tears were more aggressive than my students. They fell and would not stop falling. Dr. D (the name she has so graciously allowed me to use to refer to her) or Dr. Cynthia B. Dillard has written extensively on wisdom, spirituality and an endarkened feminist epistemology. Her words spoke to me. No, ya’ll don’t get it…her words SPOKE to me. They reminded me that my empowerment, my resilience was only as strong as my healing. For example, she noted (2011):

Speak words in ways that have love at the center, especially love of yourself. And speak them because (and Maya Angelou comes to mind here) we have the responsibility, once we have learned something or have healed something, to go and teach, to heal someone else. We “fight the fight” by showing up healthy, strong, whole, with a great sense of what OUR part of the work is, our purpose for being here at this moment on this Earth in these bodies. (p. 69, emphasis in the original)

That was it! Dr. D reminded me that in order to be empowered, in order to be resilient…I had to be healed. In order to teach and heal someone else, I had to first be healed. I did not have the words of authenticity my student deserved because I have not yet healed. I merely was faking good. My empowerment, my resilience is, indeed, a fraud. Admission is the first step.

The next step, for me, was and is to continue to explore empowerment and resilience. In doing so, I immediately thought back to my dissertation research and the resulting product. Writing my dissertation was an emotional, empowering experience. When I was at a place of “[insert explicative here] that dissertation!” I stumbled across an article by Dalia Rodriguez (2006) that reminded me that healing was indeed an important process. In “Un/masking Identity: Healing Our Wounded Souls”, she maintained that “Oftentimes, masking ourselves allows us to survive” (p. 1069). Paul Laurence Dunbar (1869) also communicated this sense of survival in his poem, “We Wear the Masks”. He wrote:  

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

I have survived many experiences in my life (yet, I sometimes feel selfish in describing my survival because so many others have had experiences that are – in my perspective – more pressing), but masking them or faking good instead of engaging in genuine healing has stifled my empowerment. I can no longer just survive. I have to live, and in order to live I have to heal. Only after that healing will I be able to answer the question, “How do you do it? How do you stay empowered?” with a sense of affirmation and clarity.

I’m not there yet…but I’m on my way.

Qiana

Eclectic GRITS

nilah monet

References

Luthar, S. S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development, 71(3), 543-562.

Okpalaoka, C. L., & Dillard, C. B. (2011). Our healing is next to the wound: Endarkened     feminisms, spirituality, and wisdom for teaching, learning, and research. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 131, 65-74. Doi: 10.1002/ace.422

Rodriguez, D. (2006). Un/masking identity: Healing our wounded souls. Qualitative Inquiry, 23(6), 1067-1090.