Black Women and the world they carry; The world that hates them
eventually I'll turn this into something longer and more official and complete with all the bells and whistles like some of the other stuff on my website, but for now it's my latest journal entry.
Black Women carry the world; the world that hates them. Black Women carry the world on their backs and often only rewarded with criticism, invisibility, and erasure.
So, get this: the other day I’m sitting in class, right? And the professor asks us to get into these small groups and discuss our writing with our peers. We had written a few pieces each on a range of topics related to research and the movement for Black lives and She (dope Black Woman professor) just wanted us to have the space to get some feedback from our peers. Pretty dope class activity. The class was always dope AND I was paired up with two Black Women, so I knew this group feedback session was about to be fire. So, we read each other’s work and it was time for “the discussion”. I must have really been feeling myself that day cuz I put myself out there and asked a question I’ve always wanted to ask Black Women. Let me give you some background before I reveal what that question was.
6 months before this class session (October 2018) I was at a kickback with a few friends, a kickback hosted by a dope ass Black Woman (Kisha), and I get this phone call. It’s my mama. I’m like, it’s super late and I’m chilling with my friends, so what’s really going on? I answer with her on speakerphone.
Mama: what are you doing, sweetheart? Me: I’m over at Kisha’s. What’s going on with you? Mama: Well, I’m about to mess up your night. Me: (take her off speakerphone) huh? Mama: your sister had a heart attack.
In 2014, I lost my baby sister, so this news ends my world…again. I’m thinking: Damn! This ain’t real. Am I really about to lose two sisters? Fuck this.
Me: What are you talking about???!!! Mama: Mila had a heart attack. Me: WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??!!What are you saying to me? (I think I repeated this a total of 17 times, but I lost count after the 167th tear drop fell). Mama: She’s in Houston. They got her stabilized, She’s on machines.
So, that conversation is a complete mess, but fast forward, I fly my mama to Houston to be with my sister. She’s recovering. I decide to fly to Houston, She’s all the way recovered. In fact, I walk into the hospital and she’s like “I told you not to come”. Yup, She’s back! Fast forward 6 months and I’m sitting in this study group with these two Black Women and I’m ready to ask “the question”. I had been thinking about this question my entire adult life, but after learning of my sister’s heart attack and how it may have been related to stress and exhaustion, I just had to ask. Like, my sister was too young to be having heart attacks. My mother has nerve damage which affects the mobility of Her arm, yet She’s still trying to work. Make it make sense. I’ve watched them and countless other Black Women put the world first. They literally kill themselves holding up the world and I just needed to know….so I asked:
Me: Do y’all love anything/anyone more than yourselves? Black Women in study group: YES! Don’t you?! Me: Ummmm. No. I’m first in my life. Them: That’s privilege. We can’t do that.
Their answer broke my heart. It was shattered. And on each fractured piece of my heart was a word. A kind of puzzle that if you put together would read: Nobody puts Black Women first, not even them. I understood that even as a BlackGay man, I had privilege. The privilege of saying fuck that, I’m first in my life. The privilege of saying nah, I don’t feel like it right now. The privilege of saying no. Of stopping. Yet, Black Women can’t. They can’t stop….because then, the world would. They’ve been conditioned to put everybody and everything else before themselves. They will work themselves to and through heart attacks for their children and little brother. They will hold down two jobs with damaged nerves to provide food for their grandchildren. They will teach a room full of students with tears running down their face because…they’re Black Women. They can’t stop. Because then, the world will. They are not afforded the privilege of saying -fuck it, I quit. I’m tired. Let me just sit this one out. I’m good, catch me next time. No. The privilege of stopping, because then…..the world would. If Black women stop, the world stops. And hearing those two Black Women express to me that they put the world before them depressed me. They do not put themselves first. They will kill themselves for us. For me. I’ve watched many of them do it. And the thing is none of them will ever get a hashtag. They will never get credit for keeping this country afloat, only criticism. They will be rewarded with invisibility. Erasure.
What am I supposed to do? Am I just to sit back and watch idly as they end themselves so that we can continue?
That evening, after class, I was walking home from the train and I said to myself: Shamari, you will put Black Women first. Because they never will. I promised myself that. But it was a lie. Because privilege.
The very next day I put myself first. I felt terrible, but that BS guilt comes nowhere close to what I asked a Black Queen to endure for me. What I’ve asked Black Queens to endure for me. One of the Black Queens from my study group offered to help me build a website. I was like " cool, I need the help". However, She lives in Jersey, AND She was moving homes, AND She worked, AND She was married, AND She was enrolled in like 5 doctoral-level courses that semester, AND Her hands (cuz She’s a Black Woman who carries the world on Her shoulders) were giving Her problems, AND there was mad traffic. BUT I was selfish.
I didn't offer to help Her move, instead I told Her to meet me in Harlem (where I live)--WTF was I thinking? I could have easily made my way over to Her. I mean, She was doing me the favor, but She didn't complain; She just spent half Her day in traffic to make Her way over to Harlem to help me. Like every Black Woman, She said: " fuck it, I'll do it"... I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out how I make this right. What do I say to Her? Why wasn’t it possible to travel back in time and offer to go to Jersey? Why didn’t I put Her first? I never did make a decision about how to right this situation, so I dedicate all that follows to Her; And I must say Her name: Cathryn Devereaux
Black Women and the world they carry; The world that hates them.
We don’t deserve Black Women. We do not deserve Black Women. On March, 23, 2018 I used my personal twitter account to share the following:
“A lot of folks often state that the most hated person in America is the Black man. I’m a Black man, it’s true.”
I was reacting to the numerous hashtags floating around twitter all succeeded by the names of unarmed Black men and boys. Through this tweet, I attempted to express my frustration, anger, fear, languish, and a thousand other feelings all easily findable by searching synonyms for “mad” or “they got me fucked up”. It was genuine. I felt hated. I felt that my skin had been weaponized. Demonized. Vilified. Would I be the next #? Then, I said to myself: Black Lives Matter. I said it again. And I uttered this mantra until the only sentiment I could feel was….Solange: A Seat At The Table.
Black Lives Matter. Here I was listening to myself proclaim that our lives mattered, while simultaneously erasing Black Women. With each “Black Lives Matter” and cisgender male name preceded by a hashtag, I drifted further and further away from Black Women. Not once did I #sayhername. No mention of: #RekiaBoyd, #AiyanaStanleyJones,#TarikaWilson, #MiriamCarey, #NatashaMcKenna, #TyishaMiller, #MeshaCaldwell, #KekeCollier, #ChynaGibson, #ChayReed; I had selectively forgotten that this whole #BLM movement, which now gave me hope, was started by three dope ass Black Women. And here I was mourning the lives of the Black men of the past, present, and the beautiful ones still to come. Black Women erased. We, Black Men, were the most hated. We deserved the attention. If only our lives mattered, life would be good. If only we could interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline for Black boys, life would be sweet. If only we saw more Black cisgender men enrolled in college, Black cisgender fathers, Black cisgender male teachers, fewer Black cisgender men incarcerated, we would finally see the justice and equity that has proven to be so elusive for so long. If only Black cisgender male football players could kneel…
Wow! How blind/negligent/sexist I had been? I, like most, invisibilized Black Women. I, like most, forgot that their skin had been weaponized, too. I, like most, elected to disregard the verity that it was Black Women, in fact, who were the architects of the Black Lives Matter movement. I was unable, in that moment, to recall that Black Women had also been enslaved. Lynched. Beaten. Raped. Why could I not see the dangerously flawed belief that only Black boys deserved to graduate and that Black families would prosper if and only if they were headed by a cisgender male Black father? Black Women had also been misread, mislabeled, ostracized, vilified, demonized, educationally abused, abused, commodified, erroneously depicted as sassy, sexual, angry beings, and invisibilized yet hypervisible. Black men may feel hated (and we are), but Black Women are hated too AND expected to carry the world on their shoulders while being attacked and criticized for how successfully they balance the world and themselves. And with this piece I am not throwing my name in the hat to participate in the oppression Olympics, I am just simply making the point that All Black lives matter. I am writing this to remind myself that though it’s easy for me to recognize that this country has required Black men to navigate a society mired in racism and white supremacy, I would be remiss to not extend that narrative of oppression to speak to how Black Women have been right there with us, navigating the very same waters. In fact, they are the boat, the oars, and the wind and the oarswomen. Holding us (and the world) down. Black women are hated and expected to carry the world that hates them.
And yet, though they may recognize that the world hates them, they are not allowed to react. #AngryBlackWoman. They are not allowed to stop holding us down. #SelfishBlackWoman. They are not allowed to stop carrying the world, lest they feel up to being publically and repeatedly shamed as bad mothers, bad wives, bad sisters, bad lovers, bad employees, bad bosses, bad daughters, bad friends, bad aunts, bad cousins, bad people. Fuck alone time. Fuck self-care. They are not allowed to enjoy those. They are not allowed to stop. Because then…the world will. We do not deserve Black Women. We don’t deserve Black Women. They are a gift more precious than life itself, they are life itself. It is because of Black Women that we breathe. Black Women are, as I shared with my sister about what she meant to me, “music, food, sunlight, water, baskets of kisses and an endless embrace.” Black Women put us first. But my question for us is: who puts them first? When do we stop giving Black Women all our baggage to hoist upon their shoulders to only critique how well they carry this baggage (Brittney Cooper-Eloquent Rage)? When do we help Black Women with said baggage? When do we stop locating the problems Black Women face within them and eschewing criticizing our racist/sexist society? When do we stop hating Black Women? When do we stop asserting that they’re too masculine or feminine? Asking them to smile more? Trying to control what they wear? When do we stop expecting Black Women to be everything to everyone and getting upset when they decide not to or are unable? When do we stop policing Black Women’s bodies? Trying to get them perform our definition of woman? Dictating how they wear their hair? When do we start caring about Black girls in schools? Black Women teachers? Black mothers? When do we stop blaming Black Women for everything that’s wrong in this country? And recognizing that they are behind everything that is right? And that if we started listening to them, we could probably “make this all make sense”? When do we make time to #sayhername? When do we tell Black Women we love them? We respect them? We value them? When do we say these things and mean them? When do we realize that Black Women are and have always been more than enough..that it’s just that they and their unique powers have been rendered invisible?
When do we put Black Women above ourselves?
It is because of the Black Women in my life that I have learned to love myself, as a BlackGay man, publicly and without shame. They were among the first to love me. Black Women, You are everything to me. I put you first. And now, I commit myself to loving you publicly and without shame. Y'all are the real MVP's
Lastly, I’m not saying anything Black Women haven’t been saying since forever. I’m just highlighting how we still haven’t even begun to listen to them. Listen to Black Women today and every day. Love Black Women. Love them now. Love them always.