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August 15, 2013 in personal commentary, social commentary | Tags: Attack on Black Women, Black Love, Black women and Black Men, For Colored Girls, Harriet Tubman Sex Tape, Ntozake Shange, Russell Simmons, Sing a Black Girl's Song | 4 comments
“bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma/I haven’t conquered yet” -Ntozake Shange
This says it all.
This quote says everything about how I feel in this body, in this skin, with this face, in this world some days. Waking up woman and brown, for me has increasingly becoming an exercise that has to be undergirded by a mental, spiritual and at times, physical armor. When I get up and face the world, I never know what new attack on the body, mind, and spirit of black women or women of color or poor women has happened in the illusive still of the night. If we are not being publicly humiliated by national radio hosts, then we are warding off mainstream media’s
attacks concerns about why we aren’t married or “marriageable” or worse we have to be faced with 40 foot tall, full color, attacks on our wombs, using one of our babies.
Our murders go unnoticed. Our children are unprotected. And our existence and humanity becomes couched in the sexualized, unforgiving lens of white men, the incessant needs of black men or the whiney, intrusive, pseudo omniscient agency of white women.
It’s humiliating. It’s infuriating. It’s unconscionable. But mostly, its exhausting.
I have started and stopped this blog post three times. It was meant to be the very first blog I posted back in 2010. At the time I just wanted to introduce the world to the space I created for and about Black women’s lives – I wanted us to be able to sing our songs loud and proud and unapologetically. I didn’t publish what I wrote because I thought there were enough spaces like that on the internet. I was wrong, there are never enough. I attempted to write it again, from a different perspective in February of 2011 when the Anti-Abortion ads went up around the country attacking Black babies in the womb and Black women at the core and again in March 2011 when the 11 year old girl was gang raped in Texas, but I couldn’t quite express my outrage in the way I wanted to at the time. I wanted to cry for Black women all over the page but I didn’t think either narrative needed more pain, so I digressed. Every time a major news story hit the web about Black women or girls, I tried. When Too Short released the video instructing jr. high school boys on how to sexually assault little girls, when the Black maid was raped by Strauss-Kahn, when Zoe Saldana was cast as Nina Simone, any number of the GOP attacks on reproductive health and poor women and children – over and over again – I wanted to write something, but something stopped me.
Tonight, like what has become all too commonplace, I returned home, sat on my bed, opened my laptop and was gutted. Russell Simmons, co-founder of iconic hip-hop label, Def Jam, and often called the “godfather of Hip-Hop” launched a new digital media venture called AllDefMedia. One of the first projects released from this new Youtube based project was called… “Harriet Tubman Sextapes.” Yes, you read that right. By now you might have seen it and definitely should have heard about it. It’s vile and disrespectful and unscrupulous to put it mildly. The immediate response around all parts of the social media spectrum was a resounding “No!” It was shared over and over on Facebook and Twitter with messages of anger and appall at the unbelievable images being acted out in the name of our patron saint of ‘get free or die trying’ – Harriet Tubman. H A R R I E T — T U B M A N!!!!! Who does that? However, The uprising from the virtual black community worked. The video was removed and Russell Simmons issued a (lame) apology.
Ok, so now what?
Today all of the people who missed it last night will wake up to the story. There will be fresh outrage. There will be long, diatribes and open letters. There will be virtual commiseration happening all across the interwebs. And while that’s good – great even. It still doesn’t help me sleep at night or ease into my mornings any better.
I went to a private, catholic school from first grade through eighth grade with the exception of one year – fourth. In the fourth grade my mother put me in The Parkchester School – P.S. 106. I got along fine in the school for the most part. I made a friend or two and our little group played together at lunchtime and did group projects and generally held each other down. The thing we didn’t do was walk home together. I didn’t live in Parkchester, the privately owned apartment complex where the school was housed. I lived in Bronxdale projects about 20 minutes away and used my grandmother’s address to attend the school. That fact was little known to most of my peers, but when a particular group found out, the resident “mean girls” of the class, they decided to torment me about it. Everyday they would say something to me, write notes about me, or do things like tell other kids I was dirty and bummy (and y’all know that’s not even possible – I was born fresh to def). I tried to be friends with them. I tried to tell the teacher on them. I even tried to clap back at them – but nothing worked. They hated me.
This went on for a while until finally, one day they caught me walking alone and said something slick about my moms. I decided to do what my mother had alway taught me to do when surrounded by a group that might attack me. I grabbed the biggest one and began wailing on her first. I was actually getting her good because she was tall but gangly and awkward. Of course the other two jumped in and they eventually overpowered me. They dumped my book bag out and stomped on my glasses. They tore up my bus pass. They even threw dirt on me. I got home and told my mother who of course came up to the school the next day. These girls had committed the ultimate offense by putting their hands on me and she was going to put her foot down. Well, the school said it happened off of school grounds and they had no evidence of the fight, but they brought all of the girls to the office and we had “the big meeting.” The girls apologized half-heartedly – not for jumping me – they didn’t admit to that, but for “making me feel bad if they had done that in any way.” When it was all over and my mom went home and I returned to class, the principal called me over and said “are you okay Tarana, do you feel better?” And because I hadn’t yet been taught to put the comfort of others before my own, I said – “No! They still hate me.” I tried to explain to the principal that this wasn’t over and that wasn’t a real apology. What I said specifically, and I still remember, was “I’m okay today, but what about tomorrow?”
What about tomorrow? What about when this happens again?
Those three girls were just bullies, yes. But I also remember that incident so well because it was the beginning of a shift for me. I knew then that I would *never* let another person beat me and if I ever did get jumped again I wasn’t going to rest until I paid each person back. There was a seed of anger and bitterness that was planted during that situation and eventually rooted itself in other growing feelings of unworthiness which I fed and nurtured. I met girl after girl over the years that I felt like represented what those girls in the fourth grade represented and I figured that they hated me too because of things they said and did, but they were just hurt black girls surviving off of a pittance of bravado, healthy portions of other black girl’s pain and giant gulps of internalized oppression. I figured out how to conquer black girl hurt with unconditional black girl love. I took time to dig into my hurt and anger and bitterness and in the course of doing so I discovered a roadmap to loving Black girls and women in spite of and because of what they had been taught about loving themselves and loving me back. But this ain’t about us loving us. It’s about everybody else hating us. When those girls were tormenting me, before I got jumped, I would go home and spend hours at night trying to understand why or what I could do differently to get them to like me or at least leave me alone. The more things failed, the more determined I was to try something new. Not because I wanted to be down with them but because I didn’t want to hurt anymore.
And its a complex pain. Sometimes it’s sharp and jabbing, but most of the time it’s an unrelenting and indescribable kind of dull, lingering pain. Feeling like you have to carefully navigate your existence around the whims of any number of others is continuously painful. Will they attack my skin color or hair, will they call me an unfit mother, will they say I’m not marryable, will they attack my child, will they harass me at work, will they rape me, will they kill me – and if they do who will care? Carefree feels like a luxury when our reality is a practice in vigilance and resilience. It may sound outrageous, but that’s why I kinda-sorta envy the reality show chics and those who aspire to be like them. There is a disconnection from ‘giving a fuck’ that they wield with supreme precision and expertise and sometimes I just want – that. I want that so that during the times when I can’t find an ally who doesn’t bamboozle me into expending what energy I have left on heaping praises on them for ‘allying’ for me in the first place or the times when I feel like I’m screaming into a deep, dark well that sounds like a groundswell of support but in reality is just my own voice screaming back at me – I can say fuck it, I’m twerking by the cakes and get on with my life. But I don’t have that luxury and I’m not throwing a pity party about it because it’s a clear choice, but damn, it’s a choice that’s isolating as hell. I love that I have the support of my online community in the midst of these whirlwind storms, but then I shut down the computer and lay in the dark of my room thinking, “damn, even Russell Simmons hates me? Do they all hate me?” And I don’t know him, or particularly care what he thinks or doesn’t think normally and I know he by no means represents all Black men, but today, that thought makes me cry a little bit. Nah, alot. It makes me cry because, I have to go to sleep and then wake up tomorrow (God willing) and I have to crawl through my daily download of information and try desperately to avoid the land mines and hand grenades that can be waiting to rip me up from the inside out. And then when I don’t avoid them, because I never do, and they continue to tear away at my spirit…then what?
“Somebody, anybody, sing a black girl’s song…sing a song of her possibilities…”
I guess I want my song. We sisters have been singing to each other for a long time. We have a small chorus of brothers who join in from time to time. But really, we have been force-fed songs for everybody else. We know all of the words to our songs by heart and our songs are pretty, but they don’t soothe our souls like when…you sing. I don’t expect * them * to sing, but I want you to sing. my. song. Love me. Sing to me. Protect me. Make this pain go away. Don’t create this pain. Is it too much to ask to go to sleep and wake up to the melody of you singing my song? I want to go through the day with your song for me playing over and over again in my head. I want to have random memories of your lyrics cross my mind and make me smile. That’s how I want to survive, with you and I singing each other through unjust verdicts and heinous videos and anything the world throws at us. I know how to sing your song. I sing it with a hoodie on, I sing it in front of prisons and courthouses, I sing it every chance I get, I promise you I do.
sing. my. song.
Don’t hate me because I love you. We could sing together but my voice is tired. I just want you to sing for a little while.