A Black Woman’s Battle Cry

priscilla-du-preez-172598-unsplashJust like I promised last week, here is my piece that was performed in the Original Women’s Narratives Saturday night. Fair warning, there is explicit content in this and it’s a bit longer/stronger than what I usually write.

For good reason.

Growing up, I feel like the conscious stares whenever my classed talked about MLK in elementary school or the mumbled apologies when I walked past someone saying the n word in high school always showed up in my peripherals. Not because I wasn’t ready to notice them– I was– but because I was tired of having to notice them.

Did I ignore the stares? Yes.

Did I accept those apologies with a nod before moving on? Yes.

Should I have? I don’t know. That’s the thing, I don’t quite know where I stand on what it means to stand up for myself without seeming like the angry black woman in my own head.

That doesn’t mean I never said anything.

Sometimes I might stay quiet, but that doesn’t mean I plan to. I let my writing say what I usually won’t. So this is me, my definition and what I know I need to fight for in my own life. What we all need to fight for– not only equality, but equity.


Here is my spoken word poem, A Black Woman’s Battle Cry.

A Black Woman’s Battle Cry

eye-for-ebony-399310-unsplash.jpgWhen I was thirteen, I realized my hair was not like the other girls.

It didn’t swish and sway, shining as I walked.

It didn’t grow past my ass in less than a year.

No, it was different, it was curly, messy, kinky as they say.

All I knew was what it felt like, that I was different.

Then my mother called it one word: nappy.

That is the lifestyle of a black girl living around so many others who look nothing like her;

Standards get confused, unspoken boundaries get crossed

and people might ask me if I get “tanner in the summer”

or “did your hair grow 10 inches overnight?”

All I could ever reply was “sure.”

I let it go.

Because it’s not their fault they were ignorant, that they didn’t know…

Except maybe it was.

In youth, those words are a mistake.

In adulthood, this becomes ignorance.

etty-fidele-407371-unsplash.jpgBecause when the ignorant boys believe in that mistake,

they grown into ignorant men; they belittle me.

Whispers here and there, as I see a nudge and hear the words

“I ain’t never tasted chocolate before.”

As if I am some commodity to be consumed and disposed of.

That is not what I am.

Yet it makes me question exactly what defines that; what defines me beyond my skin color or my hair texture?

My athletic ability or my home life?

My academic record or my grammar usage?

What about my skin color makes it seem like it’s okay to overstep the bounds of being treated like a human being?

No, you may not touch my hair.

No, I do not play basketball.

No, I do not come from a one parent household.

And no, I am not someone you can throw the word “nigga” around with because you think the color of my skin is some invitation to violate the simple rules of morality.

Just because you know someone who looks like me, just because you’re friends with people “like me”

does not mean you know anything about who I am.brannon-naito-414362-unsplash

You do not know me unless I allow you to.

You do not touch me until you hear the word “yes.”

Am I a black girl, born and raised in a nice town, who acts a little more white than black?

Am I an achieving, dedicated student, with brains overlooked for color and assumed to be less than I am?

And am I a minority at one of the most prestigious CSU’S, representing women of my color while holding onto my own identity?

Because I am a scholar, I am an African American, I am a second generation college student, I am a minority,

and I am a woman.

Not a single one of these things alone can define who I am, yet we live in a world where people act like any one of them does.

Where pay is determined by chromosomes.

Where equality is determined by color.

And where opportunity is determined by causation.

So my question is, does society determine my purpose too?

Is it my nappy hair that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the girls;

camila-damasio-2720-unsplash.jpgNo easy “5 minute hairstyles” or “elegant updos done easy” that applies to me in doctors office magazines.

Or maybe the way they see me as a commodity, an opportunity, before tossing me around and treating me like a toy;

Not because my skirt was too short, because I was “asking for it.”

No, because they wanted to try out a darker shade for once.

Or maybe it’s the difference between a man and a women when I do everything I can and yet, my “womanhood” takes away from my proficiency.

Just enough to get paid twenty percent less, take out another dollar for the unprofessionality of my “nappy” hair.

How do we define purpose, define being, without looking past what we see?

How do we make change when so many people do not seem to want to see it at all?

I want to walk into a room and not be judged by my skin or by my body, no. Judge me by my mind.

By my intelligence.

By my character.

For it is believed that being born into different circumstance automatically puts you three steps back from the rest.

As we live in a world where it is assumed that the color of our skin and identified gender are constraints of our being.aman-bhargava-282998-unsplash

But they are not, if anything at all, they are simply boundaries to push,

lines to cross,

and glass ceilings to keep breaking down again and again

until they can exist no longer.

Because I am an African American, nappy haired, powerful woman who wants the equality I deserve.

And I’m ready to break this shit down.

The Art of L o s t Expectation

vyacheslav-beda-68241-unsplash.jpgIt’s finally a rainy day here in SLO where I get to spend (most of) my time indoors, hiding from the horizontal rain and inconsolable winds. As much as I want to say it’s been a productive day that included a nap, it has been quite the opposite. But that’s okay, nap or no nap, I still accomplished some things.

Maybe it’s the idea of turning 20 soon or the lack of control any of us really has, but I’m starting to understand something: It’s not about being immaculate, about getting things right the first time, the second time, or even the 100th time you tell yourself, “okay, last try before I’m giving up.”

No, it’s about painting over the mess, making something beautiful and something worth it, out of the chaos that is this life.

Because I’m sure we all know by now, it comes with a whole lot of mistakes, failed attempts, half done work, and frustrated sighs before trying again. Where would any of us be if we got everything right on the first try– other than immensely talented and most likely too proud, we would all be hopelessly bored.

Success can get you a lot of places, don’t get me wrong; but I think failure can get you bud-helisson-465328farther. Let me tell you why.

Do you remember that one blog post back in October, maybe September, when I told you that I was trying my hand at painting for the second time in my life? The first time was in my junior year of high school for a transformation project in art class and I thought I was doing great… That is until I tried to paint faces on my figures and it all just crashed and burned from there. Trust me, Nick still laughs at my finished product every time I bring it up.

It was terrible.

So that second try? Well that didn’t go too well either. I was so focused on the right lines, the details, and not messing up– after all, I was out of my element and paint doesn’t exactly have erasers– I quit fifteen minutes in. And the un-finished, finished, product? I can attest to this: it also looked pretty terrible.

Hence why when I pulled it out this afternoon, it was hidden behind the ever multiplying books on my bookshelf. Clearly, I was not fond of attempt number 2. Even with my past failures, in my restless need to avoid feeling stuck despite how often I do, I took out that canvas today, grabbed my paints, and  sat down with it all laid out in front of me.

Enter attempt number 3.

I sat there for a while staring at my mistake of a painting and laid my hands on the tubes in gianni-pisanu-416304-unsplashfront of me, running my fingers over the names of each and every color trying to decide what the right direction was to go in. I had to wonder, was there even a right direction anymore once I had tried out all the others?

Now pause right here; I was sitting on the floor looking at something that I made a mess of, all because I kept trying to make it good enough. Sure, its a commonplace idea of being okay with imperfection, but that’s not all I need you to see here.

I want you to see the fear behind the uncertainty, the need to get it right. The desperate reach for validation each of us holds in knowing we could be good enough at something.

Personally, I wanted to stop feeling that pull toward what I thought things should turn out to look like, toward expectation. I did the only thing I could think of to get that little voice in the back of my head– the one telling my that I needed to do this or I should probably do that if I had any hope of it looking good– to stop.

I painted over it.

I put on my headphones, turned the music up to drown out both the immensity of the silence and my own thoughts, and I went to work. My fingers reached for two colors, put them on my plate, and mixed. Swirl, dab, swirl, brush brush brush. Look for a second. Shrug. Pick another one, add it in, swirl, dab, shrug, brush brush brush. Take another peek.

I did this for a while, lost track of time, and it was… Different.

With the music too loud to concentrate on what I was thinking and no real expectation to hold on to, I sat there and watched as the original mistake was altered, changed, revised, and rearranged.

I watched as I let the fear slip away,amaury-salas-324504-unsplash the expectation and the need to succeed. The less I thought about it, the more I enjoyed what my hands wanted to pick.

I let go of being afraid of what might happen in allowing myself to paint outside the lines. Sometimes you have to let the chaos in and ignore the gravity we believe success or perfection has. Nothing truly needs to be perfect the first time, the second time…

You just have to be willing to build each and every try into something that you can appreciate.

 

For Maddie Elliott

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on the fragility of our human lives, the time limits on all of us that we simply cannot see. I know that I wrote it yesterday, yet I had no idea I was actually writing about one of the most beautiful souls kristina-m-m-158842I have ever known. I was yet to realize a wonderful friend and kind heart had just been lost.

This is for Madeline Elliott.

Though I knew her through classes and crossed paths throughout the years, even I could tell that Maddie was truly one of a kind. She was the kind of girl who could bring a smile to anyone’s face with one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard. Every time I talked to her, whether it was about something important or simply trivial, we always ended up talking for so much longer than we had planned because she was just that kind of personshe could connect with anyone.

From the moment I met her I knew one thing: this girl is going to touch so many lives. And she has. Because it isn’t about how long you live, but truly how you live. She did it beautifully. From someone who keeps their phone password as her birthday and the best friends whose lives were changed with her in it, to the strangers she passed on the street with a simple smile to lighten their day and the people who knew her, adored her, and she didn’t even know… This girl was incredible. Her presence was a light in so many peoples lives, including mine, and when I said in my post yesterday to tell people you love them, I meant it. Because things like this happen, we lose people, and loved ones are gone before they had a chance to make this life their own. But I know that Maddie did, she lived a beautiful life of faith, impacting so many people with who she was. Her loss is a great one, her love was infectious, and her memory will last forever in each one of us.


I wrote this for you Maddie.

I live for the strangers who smile at me as they pass by and those who always remind me that they care.

I live for the “have a good night”‘s from the elderly because they’ve seen enough of bad ones, they know life can be unfair.

I live for the people who know how to laugh, straight from the belly with their heads tipped back in abandon.sabine-van-straaten-280388

And I live for the people who have changed my life, and they never even knew how many pieces of me came from them.

There’s something about free spirits, the ones who’s hearts beat and it feels like the world is beating along;

Every breath they take, the wind blows a little longer. Every connection they make, their life grows a little stronger.

There is warmth in their smile, their hope, their being— that irreplaceable kind of energy that makes the world keep moving

and time keep changing, as the world around us moves, these are the kind of people who help us to get up and move along too.

But sometimes we have to slow down, we lose something big, someone important, and we forget about the moving,

the loving, the changing, the hoping… We might forget about the living to mourn those who can no longer do so.

So what do you do when the one who embodied the idea of life with their own, with their living and loving and hoping;

aaron-burden-195608The idea of making every breath one of beauty, of light, of changing the world by just being part of it.

What do you do when they’re gone?

You stop, take a moment, maybe two— take as many as you need— and you hold on to the blessing it is to know someone like that.

Take a breath, take a few, and remember what it means to tell someone those three little words, “I love you.”

Remember their heart that beat for the world to beat with them, remember the smiles they offered, the hope that they held.

Remember the moments they changed your life, the laughs they abandoned themselves to, the memories they made.

You hold on to the love they left behind for you.

And you spread that love, that hope, that faith; you spread it until there is no place in this world left untouched.

Make the laughter they held the healing you feel as time jerry-kiesewetter-189034goes on and the wounds of loss begin to close.

Say what you mean, those three little words, as many times as it takes for someone else to hear your voice.

And be there, in this world, be present in the lives of those you love. Because we never know how much time any of us have

to leave something good behind while we can.


My prayers go out to her family and her friends, to all those who knew Maddie, for my heart is with you. If anyone would like to support them in this time, here is the link to the gofundme page for Madeline.

In the words of Helen Keller,

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.”