am a black woman
tall as a cypress
beyond all definition still
assailed, impervious, indestructible
Look On me and be
The following poem both inspires and troubles me for so many reasons because the unspoken consequences of strength and resilience, can also include forgetting who you are, what you need, how to care of yourself, and how to demand from the world what you need to not only survive, but thrive. Surely, this challenge is hard for many of us who carry the pressure, weight, insecurity and resistance of being “the leaders and best”
While this mantra is deeply embedded in our campus culture, one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had as a college student is not fully understanding the value of my self worth, labor, talents, skills and contributions while pouring all of myself into endless social justice commitments on campus.
In the words of Marianne Williamson “one of our deepest fears is that we are powerful beyond measure” As a queer black feminist woman, there were many occasions where the realities of my environment, societal issues broadly, and dominant narratives of antiblackness, homophobia and sexism challenged my self love, acceptance, and belief in my ability to feel powerful, or great. Not to mention, it’s really hard to think about #blackexcllence when there are so many issues facing black queer and trans youth and adults widely like,
the K-12 school to prison pipeline in urban and innercity areas, Homelessness, Police brutality and violence, restricted access to health care, and racial microaggressions at school, at work, at home, and in our communities.
Quite Frankly, I often felt like there’s too much work to accomplish to slow down, or reflect, or dream, let alone tend to my emotional and spiritual capacity….even though they necessitate my ability to engage social justice work.
Then I realized, that many black feminist have been managing the balancing act of self care, arduous work, and social justice activism for centuries, and the lessons they’ve learned and shared continue to affect the lives of many. To me, this is the power of black feminism – it is as much spiritual as it is intellectual and it touches everyone.
In fact, one of my first encounters with black feminism was right here on our campus in a Black Feminist Thought and Practice course taught by Dr. Sherie Randolph. In this class, I learned about the Combahee River Collective – a group of black lesbian women who embarked on a pilgrimage in honor of Harriet Tubman (the first woman to be U.S spy) who lead her own U.S military operation by conducting the Combahee river raid in South Carolina freeing over 800 slaves in one night in 1863. Fast-forward to 1974 and Barbara and Beverly Smith including Demita Frazer established the Combahee River Collective that honored the experiences of lesbian black feminist who were both committed to black liberation and the women’s empowerment movement. As a part of their work, the collective developed a manifesto to frame the tenants of black feminism. One of the most powerful tenants of the manifesto that changed my life forever includes the following
“we began to recognize the commonality of our experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a politics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression. Above all else, we have the shared belief that black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else’s…and that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation is us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters, and our community, which allows us to continue our struggle and work.
To me, this is the embodiment of living in the fullness of greatness and excellence. Merging both a politic of self love and care, a willingness to be accountable and committed to a community that you value, and the ability to leverage the privilege, resources, and people that surround you for social change.
So as I process my own journey and graduation from Higher Education, I want to ask that we all consider…” who do we dare to be? What dreams can we actualize for our future? What new possibilities will we seek, and what communities can we build to deconstruct the narratives that tell us that we are not possible, that our dreams for a better world are not real, and that we can’t do this work in a way that allows us to also love and care ourselves in the process of wielding transformative change?
I can’t answer those questions for you, but I hope that as we depart from our roles as students, and go out into the world to do work that we care about, that we all find ways to keep dreaming, pursue our goals, and make a difference in our own lives, and the lives of others. And I will leave you with the words of Assata Shakur, who says that “the revolution is about change, and the first place change begins is with yourself” You are possible, you can make a difference, and you can love yourself fiercely while you strive for a better world.
Like Beyonce said, “I ain't sorry."