Shamari Reid| March 14, 2018
to go back follow the Queen
I woke up thinking about my Black Queens today.
Dear Black women,
Thank you for holding us (Black men and everybody else) down even though you often do not get the respect or love you deserve. The most disrespected person in this country is you, the Black woman. Yet, you continue to stand by us (Black men and everybody else). I see you. I love you.
::Jan-the first and most important text I ever read on Black thought and Black love::
Mama, I love you, but I will admit that I do not tell you this enough. Everything I learned about hard work, diligence, and passion I learned from you. Growing up you would repeatedly request that I be better than you. “Shamari, I don’t want you to be like me, I want you to be better than me”. I tried my best to do that until I realized that you were wrong. You did not make many mistakes when it came to raising me, but that request was ridiculous; it was flawed and came from a place where you did not see yourself. However, I saw you and I still see you now. I do not need to be better than you, it would suffice and the world would not complain if I were just like you. You see I, too, want to be able to produce lemonade from all the chaos and darkness that surrounds me. I, too, want to be a magician. You are love. I want to be love, too. It is because of you that I grew up knowing that my life had value. You never made me feel inferior or strange because of my sexual identity.Instead, you loved me publicly and without shame, which invited me to do the same. You worked hard but always played even harder. You took care of us, but never forgot about yourself; That is a gift. You are love even though people do not always love you back; even though those who do love you never share their love for you with you but enclose it in letters that will never reach you.
Sister! Yo, I did not even know how dope you were and important you were to my development until recently. The other day I was filming my life history (for an oral history project on Black doctoral students at Columbia) and I connected the dots of my life. You were every dot. Like, I knew you were my first best friend, but I had no idea that I am because of you. I learned how to love for real from you. You were the first person to know me, and accept me. I spoke endlessly during the life history project about how you never requested that I change. That is real love. I never told you that. Because honestly, I did not know. I was unfair. Selfish. I let you live for me. And now that you are no longer here with me, I promise that I will live each day for you. And because you are who you are and you love me for real, I know it is not too late.
“I don’t like to gamble because I work too hard for my money, but if there’s one thing I will bet on…it’s myself”. Those are your words and I have many more quotes of yours that I live by. At the core of all of them is this love for what you to do, this drive to be the best, and this appreciation and respect for women. You love yourself: A Black woman. Thus, you love all Black women. And you have expressed your regard and admiration for them in many of your projects but especially in Lemonade. Because of you I think about how I can center my people in my work, as well. You are an inspiration.
I don't remember what day of the week it was, which month, or even if it was night or day, but I do remember that you were wearing a white pant suit. Your legs were crossed. And your smile was big. I had been looking on YouTube for Teachers College lectures and stumbled upon a video featuring you. You were speaking to newly admitted students on a range of topics and you returned many times in your remarks to love, passion, and inspiration. As someone who was exploring the idea of teaching and fostering love among preservice teachers who go on to work with Black and Brown youth, your remarks resonated with me. If anybody knew how to teach love, if it could in fact be taught, it would be you.
I embarked on a literary journey of your research about the need for preservice teachers to do the internal work necessary to interrogate where certain biases about Black and Brown youth live within them. How could teacher education abandon cosmetic approaches to social justice teacher education and re-invite preservice teachers to love all students, especially those from marginalized communities? Fortunately, maybe a few weeks after my discovery of your YouTube video, I somehow found myself in an auditorium filled with people all captivated by your words and persona. Like my sister Latisha, you were love; passion like my mother, Jan; and you were that special kind of Beyoncé-ish inspiration. That same evening, I e-mailed you those same 3 sentences (without the references, as those just came to me) and unlike professors at other universities, you replied. We had made eye contact as you exited the auditorium, an instance you referenced in your reply to my e-mail- An e-mail that ended with, "Shamari, let me know when you get to TC".
Mila! I don't even know what to call you. What do you call someone who is everything? What do you call someone who is your mother when needed, friend when requested, confidant when sought out, motivator when it feels right, and sister always? This was the hardest for me to write because I knew no matter what I said, I wouldn't get it right. You are to me what Gayle is to Oprah. You were Jan to me when Jan couldn't be. You embodied the spirit of Latisha when she transitioned (physically), you were Yolanda before I met Yolanda; and before Beyoncé slayed the world, you were already in Formation. Our relationship has no definition...because it has no limits. At some point in my life, you've played every role that mattered. I just hope that I have been able to give you even half of what you've given me, and I dream of a world in which every child has a Kamilia. You are water. You're music, food, sunlight, baskets of kisses and an endless embrace. You're Love but with the big "L". What do you call someone who is everything? What do you call someone who carries the world on her shoulders and doesn't complain? A Black Woman! You call her a Black woman. Thank you for being a sister/friend/mother/therapist/motivator/aunt/father/brother/teacher to me and a Black woman to the world.
::Black feminist thought (BFT)::
BFT as a methodology, to my understanding, moves us beyond just including Black women in research. Like if BFT were a pedagogy, it would not just be about placing a few books about Harriet Tubman around the classroom. Perhaps, that might be step one, but that is not enough. If you are genuine in your love for Black women and their intellectuality, then you must rely on them for sight. Because your eyes will deceive you. If you are genuine in your love for Black women, when they say something, you must listen; you must believe them. Black women are powerful and have a heightened sense of sight-they can see through all the bullshit. So, for me adopting BFT as a methodology requires that I sit down or move out of the way. That moving out of the way can take many different forms but oftentimes it is me intentionally silencing or decentering myself, so that the interpretations of the world from Black women positionalities can take center stage. Interpretations that “resist by disallowing dominant, mainstream interpretations of who they are to overshadow, minimize, or discredit their truths” (Patterson, Kinloch, Burkhard, Randall, & Howard, 2016, p.58). And though I do not identify as a Black woman, I am a product of Black Feminist Thought. This ideology and intellectuality raised me. And though I may not have been afforded much privilege or power, I willingly yield what I do have to Black women, and encourage them to stand and “collaborate with other Black women to name, share, and validate their multiple truths by embracing the influence of black feminist epistemologies in their lives to embody a methodology that privileges black women’s embodied ways of knowing” (Patterson, Kinloch, Burkhard, Randall, & Howard, 2016, p.70).
I mean, imagine the possibilities that would arise if Jan, Latisha, Beyoncé, Yolanda, and Kamilia and their mothers participated in a project together or created something in tandem with other Black queens-one beautiful Black sister with another; with many.
What I have tried to do above with the letters to some of the important Black women in my life, letters I unfortunately never sent, is to express my love for them publicly. At the same time, it is an explanation of my feeling of connectedness to Black women. Again, though I am not a Black woman, I have succeeded in forming a connection with them not based on sameness, but based on my belief that when I am with them I will be understood- which is selfish. They humanize me. And I hope that in my research, I can do the same with, through, and dare I say it, for, them.