Feb 08, 2016 @ 1:32 pm | By TheFeministGriote | 3 Comments
On November 18th, 2015, I was invited to FIU North to give a talk on #BlackWomenMatter. I was encouraged to make the speech available and here it is. Happy Reading it is a #longread.
Happy Black History Month.
In the words of my favorite rapper Jay-Z, “First of all, I wanna thank my connect who is the most important person with all due respect.” Clearly Jay-Z is talking about his drug connect, but that is not what I am talking about. In this context, my “connect” is Meredith Morgan, the Coordinator of the Women’s Center here t FIU. I want to take this time out to thank you Meredith for inviting me to give this keynote.
I met Meredith last year on a scholarship committee. We were both asked to sit on for an organization that shall remain nameless. I remember that day of the meeting vividly. I remember what I had on and the feeling I had as I entered the building. I walked into the space and took my seat next to Meredith, who turned to me and said hello and was super nice. I must admit: I had my game face on. I did not know what to expect from this group or meeting, but I knew I was going to be the token in the room and I was preparing myself for it. I had that fear of how my Blackness would be received in these particular group dynamics, which lead me to tread cautiously in this space. I said hello to her, but I was trying not to be too “friendly.” However, by the end of the meeting, Meredith had won my heart because in the meeting, she had the courage to shut down this supremely privileged white woman who was taking up too much and sucking up all the oxygen in the room. I chuckled to myself and in that moment, realized that perhaps Meredith was about that intersectional feminist life and that I could at least give her chance I do not regret my decision.
At the final meeting for this committee, my worst fear came to fruition when a supremely racist thing happened to me. I remember feeling very exposed and alone. I remember feeling that my Blackness was a problem, and not the system that I was critiquing and highlighting to this predominately white POC passing group. After the incident, Meredith was the only ally who reached out to me in an intentional way. She listened to me, centered my feelings, asked me what I wanted, and used her privilege to give voice to my thoughts, feelings, and concerns to the powers that be.
One of the biggest mistakes that allies make is not remembering that Black folks and more specifically, Black women, have feelings and we too need tenderness and space. What I appreciated most is that Meredith checked in on my humanity. To me, that was huge because that is not always a benefit that is afforded to me. As a Black woman who is not thin or soft-spoken, folks tend to think that I have no feelings or that words don’t impact me.
This is me being vulnerable, so brace yourself for impact: The truth of the matter is that I am a very sensitive soul who often finds it hard to be in the world because the world is not kind or made for sensitive folks who like me.
I was genuinely shocked when Meredith asked if I was interested in doing this talk after she discovered an online article I had written for Salon years ago. I meet lots of white feminist allies who want nothing more than to pilfer and pillage my #BlackGirlMagic and genius. Everyone wants to meet with me and have me be their personal social justice Iyanla Vanzant and fix their social justice organizations, committees, and lives. Folks always want to be their magical negro or their wet nurse. In the end, of course, they always want this labor for free and more importantly, without accountability. Very few white feminist allies seek to pay me for my #BlackGirlMagic or truly center my voice. Therefore, I would like to thank Meredith for being the kind of ally who makes intentional space for Black women to speak for themselves and who creates space for the emotional, intellectual, and physical labor of Black women to be paid. One of the easiest ways for white women be complicit in the violence against women of color is to not pay women of color for their labor.
I am so honored to have this opportunity to give the keynote as we honor International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, with an emphasis on #Blackwomenmatter. I am just a regular hyphenated American woman who was born and raised in Dade County. I am the product of Haitian immigrant parents who came to the U.S. on a raft back in the 80’s due to being reared and socialized under back-to-back oppressive dictatorships. Right before my parents left Ayiti, they had recently met and chose to be in love and my momma had a seed growing in her belly whose name was Lutze. My parents took the treacherous sojourn from Ayiti to Miami without being sure that their Black immigrant bodies would be welcomed in the U.S. As it turns out, their Black immigrant bodies were not welcomed in the U.S.
My parents suffered grave racism and xenophobia from white folks. My parents also had to deal with not actually being welcomed in this country by African-Americans either. I say that to caution people of color, especially Black folks, that we must be careful not to become complicit in xenophobia and the erasure of immigrants as they seek to enter our country. My parents were forced to live in a country that at the time, said in order to protect oneself from HIV, which had just recently and violently exploded onto the scene, one needed to avoid the three H’s: homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and Haitians. That was the context in which my parents were daring to live, love, and raise a girl child.
I love talking about my parents’ migration story. Their migration story has impacted me and shaped by Blackness and the way I see the world. I am not ashamed to say that my parents came on a raft. In a place like Miami, I am often surprised by the amount of folks who carry shame about migrating here via the waters. Nobody wants to be seen as a ref or as the “the boat people.” In my day job, I work with youth and do anti-bias/anti-prejudice work. I help young people reclaim their stories of times they were othered or participated in the othering of a peer. A huge crux of the work requires the kids to talk about their family’s migration story and how their family ended up in Miami. As the kids stand up to discuss their families’ migration stories, many of the youth use the disclaimer and say, “My parents did not come on a boat.” And again, that cultural shame and immigrant shame rears its head. It makes me sad, but I get it. I proudly proclaim that my parents came on a raft. I say this knowing the connotations and feelings that it may bring up for some of you. I am proud of this aspect of my parents’ story, because it has shaped the human being that I am today. You see, as the Somali-born poet Warshine Shire says, “No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” My pregnant mother went days without food and water because even back then, both of my parents knew that Black lives and Black freedom mattered. Langston Hughes asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” I have the answer. In the case of my mother, you put that dream you are carrying on a boat and give birth to her in the United States and hope and pray she survives and becomes a Black woman who can own herself outright.
So here I am, Lutze, aka the FeministGriote on the Twitter streets. I am the oldest of four and the only girl child in my family. Therefore, it was inevitable that I would grow up to be a big ol’ feminist. As a little girl, I always got the sense that for me, life was going to be harder because of my gender. I was expected to clean more, be more responsible, to care for others above myself, and if I had any care left, I could ration some to myself. I was also expected to do the feeling for the men in my life.
I am the proud product of a historically Black college, Florida Memorial to be exact. It was at Flo Mo that I found Black feminist thought and Dr. Keshia Abraham, who became my first real life example of what a free Black woman looks like. It was also at Flo Mo where my life was saved. When I went back to college, I was considered a non-traditional student because I was a little older than the rest of the kids. When I first graduated Miami Central, I attended Wesleyan in Macon, GA and lasted only a semester. I came back to Miami and matriculated on and off at Miami-Dade North, but fell in the trap of working and had to put my dreams of graduating college on the back burner.
One day as I was sitting at my bank job and feeling like the end was near. I hated my job, I hated my life, I hated the romantic relationship I was in, and there were some major signs of a recession starting to rear its head. The recession was my way out of my misery. I knew that I was going to get fired from the bank soon for not making my loan goals, so I started applying at Florida Memorial and I waited for emancipation day.
Growing up, I was deeply impacted by the show “A Different World” and always wanted the Black college experience. I found out that there was an HBCU here in Miami and I applied. When I entered Flo Mo, I was exactly like the character Jalessa from the show “A Different World.” I was a little older than everyone and had a little bit of lived experiences under my belt and of course, I had lots of thoughts and opinions about everything. I majored in English literature and concentrated my studies on Black women’s literature, which that was the specific thing that saved me. I read books and critical essays that were written by Black women for Black women. It is at Florida Memorial that I became conscious and stopped being a patriarchal princess and awakened my sociopolitical consciousness. Reading the autobiography of Assata Shakur planted the seed in my mind that Black women are powerful, magical, and vital to any sociopolitcal movement that is serious about the liberation of Black folks. At Flo Mo, which is the home of the Negro National anthem “Lift Every Voice,” I was surrounded by Black excellence and every professor and administrator irrespective of gender and race reminded me that Black Lives not only mattered, but that Black thought mattered, Black discourse mattered, and Black cool mattered and that Blackness was a vital and crucial part of sustaining the world at large. It is in undergrad that I made contact with the true source of my power, which is the power that resides within. I also learned about the collective power of community.
I am a woman who tweets too much and so I’d like to shout out my smartphone for being my weapon, my tool, and for reminding me that I am connected to a global network of dope ass Black women!
I say thank you again for having me. I start this talk by holding space for the Syrian refugees and ALL the lives lost in terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, Beirut, Baghdad, Paris, and Charleston, South Carolina. I also want to center this talk on ALL the Black bodies that have been murdered by the state. More specifically, I want to posit the lives of Black women and girls who have been killed by the state and who didn’t have thousands of folks marching on their behalf #sayhername ,#SandraBland, #RekiaBoyd, #AyanaStanleyJones, # MiriamCarey, #MyaHall,#NatashMcKenna, #TanishaAnderson, and #KathrynJohnston, who who was 92 years young when the Atlanta police performed a no-knock raid on her home and killed mother Johnston. Not only did the police have the wrong address, but they subscribed to the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. I also want to hold space for trans folks being that this week is Trans Awareness Week and unfortunately, this Friday November 20th is Trans Day of Remembrance. I would like to place special emphasis on the myriad of trans women of color who are killed for simply daring to be their authentic selves in a transphobic, racist, misogynistic world. I also want to pause and state clearly that #BlackTransLivesMatter. We must #sayhername: #ZellaZiona #KeshiaJenkins #JasmineCollins and #KeshiaBlige are all trans women who were killed. The life expectancy for trans women of color is 35 years young and even when these women’s lives have been savagely cut short, they are further subjected to violence by being misgendered in death by the media and often by their loved ones. They are then forced to lie beneath tombstones that do not reflect their truth.
I also start this talk by holding space for the “sassy” young Black girls in our school systems who are disproportionately impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. I hold space for queer, femme, female-bodied folk who have been violated on college campuses, but will never march or write a blog post about it because they are too busy soldiering on. This talk is for you!
I am not here to lecture you. I am already on a college campus and therefore I respect the intellengentsia present within these walls. It is also not lost on me that I am addressing dope ass Black women student leaders, who I know are out here getting it and killing it in every arena because perfectionism is the price Black women pay in order to occupy academic spaces that are diverse in name only. So, this talk is going to be a sister-friend talk; an intimate Twitter chat, if you will. Consider me your big sister or cool young auntie who came to see about you because I care. I want to center this talk on the topic of internal abolition. I recently watched a talk that bell hooks gave at the New School with Darnell Moore, a gay, Black, cis feminist man who is an editor at the Feminist Wire. He used the phrase “internal abolition” and that phrase blew my mind. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I mean, I really paused to evaluate myself and the work I am doing to free myself.
#BlackLivesMatter is a deeply radical statement, but only to folks who ain’t Black or folks who are committed to upholding white supremacy. Unfortunately, people of color often uphold and participate in white supremacy. Like Zora Neale Hurston said, “All your skin folk ain’t your kin folk.” Globally, Black people have always known that #BlackLivesMatter. As I mentioned earlier, my parents knew that #BlackLivesMatter when they decided to posit their freedom and seek refuge in this host country. My ancestors knew #BlackLivesMatter back in 1804 on the island of Ayiti. My ancestors took up arms and violently and rightfully decentered and unseated their white oppressors and did so knowing that #BlackLivesMatter. These enslaved Africans had no blueprint for what freedom was nor did they know, in 1804, how daring it was to affirm their humanity or the long-term sociopolitical impact it would have on Ayiti more than 200 years later. When Harriet Tubman, one my absolute favorite ancestral mentors, dared to see herself as free, she took her freedom into her own hands. Harriet Tubman went back and freed other enslaved Black Africans. She, no doubt, knew on a cellular level that #BlackLivesMatter and she was willing to baptize herself in that knowledge and go seek converts, serving as our John Baptist. BlackLivesMattered so much to Tubman she had a shotgun in her hand while she led others to freedom, just in case anyone needed a reminder that Black freedom was a serious matter and would move forward by any means necessary.
That is the power and beauty of Black women: We love hard, but we still have our shotgun in our hand.
However, when I think about BlackWomenMatter, it is deeply rooted in spirituality or as Audre Lorde called it, “the erotic.” Audre Lorde defined the erotic this way: “There are many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.”
When I speak of spirituality, I am speaking of the deepest part of ourselves where the soul resides and where the truth of who we are truly reigns. That deep part of ourselves that always knows we are worthy, we are lovable, and we matter! Although the architects of the Black Lives Matter movement happen to be three queer Black women, the movement tends to center Black cis hetero men who are killed by the state. The truth of the matter is that our communities have not always centered Black women’s freedom.
In part, I think it is because that we as Black women often think too much about the collective and less about ourselves as autonomous liberated individuals, who also happen to be part of a collective. The Civil Rights Movement tends to be told through the eyes of the men who were the towering figures, but rarely is there equal attention paid to the women who organized, who were the foot soldiers, and who chose to love these flawed and often philandering men into their greatness.
Fast forward to 2015 and in the words of Future and Drake, “What a time to be alive.” Black women are running the yard, the white house, movements, direct action protests, Twitter, Instagram, Thursday nights on ABC, and every other corner of the universe that we choose to bless with our Black excellence and #BlackGirlMagic. We must ensure that this time around that history gets it right, we MUST tell our own stories and center our wins and our leadership. As Chinua Achibe wote, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history, the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Therefore, I urge you all to document and record your stories. Take visual notes of your lives and the movements you are leading and participating in and tell your side of the story often and don’t minimize your awesomeness when telling your story.
In my humble opinion, the biggest ally and the natural ally of Black women is Black women. Black women will ride for each other in ways that Black men can’t because more often than not, their allegiance to sexism, toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and misogyny robs them of the ability to hold space for Black women. This truth also applies to gay men, who are also actors in misogyny. White women often fail to be good allies to Black women because although white women may understand gender issues, they don’t get the intersectionality piece of how race and gender intersect. Coming to intersection from an intellectual standpoint ain’t the same as living your life at the intersection. Like I always say, “My intersections have intersections.” White women live in a world where their femininity is heralded and protected by any means necessary. How many mass shooters have mentioned protecting white women or being rejected by white women as just cause to exact their domestic terrorism? Emmet Till, who allegedly whistled at a white woman, was savagely murdered. White femininity is considered the holy grail and this is a luxury tax Black femininity has never been afforded.
Too often, white women refuse to name the ways in which they play vital roles in upholding white supremacy. We tend to engender white supremacy and see it as a white man’s problem, but it is not. In my experience, my most violent oppressors have been white women posing as intersectional allies, friends, or bosses.
So Black women we all we got, and praise Beysus for this beautiful truth. Like I said, this talk is about internal abolition. So ask yourself: Have you deeply considered what it is that you need to internally free yourself? Are we pluralizing our understanding and context of freedom? Otherwise, there is no one way to achieve Black freedom. We need to be talking about freedom! If BlackWomenMatter, then we have to imagine what it might look like to be happy in these United States. The vision of the U.S. has always been fashioned by the white gaze and more specifically, the white male gaze, but what would it look like if Black folks – and more importantly, Black women, fashioned the U.S. in our image? Many of your families have been been part of this country since its inception. Therefore, this country is yours in a way that whiteness cannot claim. So, what do you want from your country and what does your country owe you? As astute, radical Black women, we are good at being able to name our systems of oppression and our oppressors, but are we equally well-versed in being able to name those things that will liberate us, make us happy, and make us the carefree Black women that we often embody in our style of dress, but not in consciousness?
Black women, we are the living and breathing embodiment of “ride or die.” We ride hard for our communities, our kids, and our lovers. But I am not yet fully convinced that we ride for ourselves as fiercely. If #BlackWomenMatter, then what are we doing with this knowledge? Do we listen to our bodies when they tell us that they can’t go another day of being ignored and abused? Are we centering our self-care? It is one thing to free yourself and it is another thing to claim freedom over that free self. As we meditate on the idea that #BlackWomenMatter, I ask: Who are we talking to when we make this declarative statement? I stand before you as a Black woman who has to weekly – and sometimes daily – remind myself that I matter and that I have the right to take up space like I matter.
My favorite book is “Sula,” which I consider to be the greatest Black love story written by one of the greatest American writers, Toni Morrison. This book is about a complicated friendship between two bff’s, Nel and Sula. In “Sula,” Morrison writes, “Sula was so scared that she had mutilated herself to protect herself.” How many times have you mutilated yourself in the name of protecting yourself? How many times have you truncated yourself, edited yourself, made yourself small, how many times have you sacrificed and diminished yourself for the benefit of the movement, your community, your family, and lovers? What did you get in return for this service? Unrequited love, a march, affirmation, belonging, or just another scar and wound that you had to watch scab, but never really heal?
Black women, we are awesome at marching for folks and will be in solidarity with everybody and their momma, but we need to ask ourselves are we on our side and are we in radical solidarity with ourselves?
In the words of the Miami philosopher Ebony Rhodes, “The only thing that is holding Black women back is who we are indebted to.” Who do you feel indebted to? Your past, your perfectionism, white supremacy, toxic relationships, both political and romantic? Also, when was the last time you centered your pleasure? When was the last time you allowed yourself to relax or Netflix and chill with yourself or your bae? Or are you too busy staying busy and chastising yourself for not being busy or involved enough? Black women, we are powerful. We get stuff done and every social justice movement wants our co-sign and physical and emotional labor, but what are we getting in return?
Are we demanding that our allies, lovers, and comrades do more on our behalf or do we resign ourselves to accepting crumbs of love, acceptance, and solidarity? As we denounce and say no to our oppression, I would like to challenge us all to say yes to our desires, our dreams, and our healing. The sacred “yes” is going to be very vital and important to our internal abolition. To who and what are we saying yes to, Black women? Are we saying yes to all parts of ourselves? When was the last time you let the little Black girl in you go out and have fun and play? Are you saying yes to the part of you that suffers from perfectionism? Are you offering that part of yourself compassion and permission to not be perfect? Every dope Black woman I know suffers from the perfectionist disease, but in reality our mediocre is most folks A+. Therefore, we can afford to relax! Are we saying yes to the part that wants love, but doesn’t always believe that we are worthy of love, but asking for the love we want anyways? Are you saying yes to your raggedy parts and still love it? Whose version of freedom are we centering? Whose pleasure are we centering? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be purely in your body and enjoy being in it and taking space? When was the last time you thanked your body for showing up and being the vehicle through which you get epic stuff done in the world?
Folks, we don’t have to set ourselves on fire to light our own way.
It is imperative that we work with the idea of internal abolition because unfortunately, the world doesn’t send the infantry to save women who look like us. When I look at this audience, I see many soldiers. In thinking about internal abolition, we must take good care of ourselves and offer that same love and attention to our sister-friends. It ain’t easy being a Black girl or a Black woman in this world, but it becomes more manageable when you have a badass Black girl squad to lean on. There is nothing like Black sisterhood, whether it comes from your blood sister, play sister, soror, or the beautiful Black woman that you call your lover.
Sisterhood is like a salve to the soul and we need to make more space for it. It is a powerful time to be Black and alive. Black power, Black collective power, Black female power is setting the world ablaze. As Black women caught in this matrix, we are both the architect and oracle. The liberation of others is inextricably tied to the liberation of Black women. We are worthy of taking up space and also worthy of laying our burdens down. Don’t let the movement rob you of your joy and your sanity. You deserve to have wellness because when you truly believe that #BlackWomenMatter, you will protect your #BlackGirlMagic and demand that folks come correct or not come at all.
One of my favorite lines in “Sula” is when Nel is asking Sula why she didn’t have any children and Sula responds, “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.” As I close, I ask you to consider what self are you making? Is the self that you are making the kind of self that the 13-year-old you would be want to be friends with and emulate? Would your 16 year-old self think that you were awesome, dope, and fierce? Is the self that you are making one that you are radically in love with without qualifications and excuses? Please remember that you are the best thing that has ever happened to you and you are worthy of your own love and adoration.
You too can book me to speak at your school or organization. As always, if you appreciate my blog and the space that I take up on your timeline, please consider donating to my get free account paypal thefeministgtriote[at]gmail.com
Categories: Mind Over Chatter