Women have never been the first nor the only group who struggle for inherent rights like freedom of choice. The fight still continues and worth participating in even if the outcomes of such participation are never known by each generation. Yesterdays ruling by the court is another reminder that we have miles ahead to go for women’s right in this country. And even if we make a turn in any direction, we must still be prepared to face obstacles along the way for today and generations to come.
Supreme Court Justice Ketanji, woman to woman, I know many who look like you. They look like me. You illuminate our ways for all to see. Uncover cherished dreams long gone with the wind. Remind us to persevere too. We see you and whisper sweet prayers of thanks. Many will never fully understand what it takes to sit in the seats we sit on. Many will never fully get how we touch each other in secret places through a look, a smile, a word, or a sigh. We do not come speaking as if we are afraid. We are not. We do not come waiting for your praises. We are not fools. They stay rigid in denial. We remain a burst of light. Where they reside in a rage for finally seeing a black woman in stride, we stay perched up knowing there is magic in our stride. There is. We see it across our screens. We feel it too.
We know the boundaries of our desires. Our eyes fill up with tears for finally being seen. Call it what you want. Let them do their best to remember the old days when we cleaned and not lead. But we hope their eyes do not hurt in pain for still seeing us. And even though we shine brightly, we still know our blackness is rich beyond today, our womanhood supreme and beyond fear, and our head, held up high like the mount of Zion. Our entire being even in your spaces is sharpened like knives, unresisting, unwavering, unyielding, not when we are called to lead. We are called. There is magic in our stride even in this season. And like baobab trees, we will stand erect forever.
Imagine being with women. Some as radiant as stars. Yet everyone different, with their own stories and testament. Eyes staring at each other, like a mirror. The strength unknown. The gift of opening. The tears that flow. From deep within. A space we let go. Like fruits falling. We let go and cry. The crying. All of it that flows. Beneath the weight of silent selves. The hugs. All the deep moans, our mouths let out. Through tight hugs and throats. All from a place of knowing. The wiping of tears. The warmth of hands with a gentle ease. The bonding that occurs. When beauty within lightens up like a thunder. The peace too that overflows after the storm. All that follow like eyes on a mirror are divine. I have been in such a space. I surrounded myself with women as brilliant as the stars. Within our power, within all we know is possible, I saw for myself that we can watch seeds grow, see flowers bloom, stand erect as trees, watch birds soar to the skies above, and still see them reach for the earth below. We can reach for cactus and cry afterwards for forgetting the lessons of pine needles. We can also choose to recollect pain. Like a pregnant woman on her due date. First, it begins, next you lose yourself, then joy overflows despite pain. Nothing so certain as pain. As joy. As falling, and rising again. Surrounded by women through and through. Surrendering to the lessons of trees and branches and deep evergreen forests. When you find yourself in such a space, know that even the forest is woman, just as erect as trees. Gusts of wind may push us to bend. Some of us may severely bow and bend over and over again. Others may spring back at a different speed. Straighten up at their own pace. No matter what, every tree, like every woman is helped. Until we stand. Together we are no longer womb but on our own.
Call it dismissal.
Call it ignorance.
Call it visible invisibility.
Call it being black and female in academia too.
But know that your straight up sharp, single handled ignorance of my light, whatever you choose to call it, will not provoke this fire burning within.
Not when we are legions.
We are not bent or broken when life insists on us.
To be black, female and invisible in academic spaces. That’s my keep for today. I have always expected it. Audre Lorde warned me about this in her book Sister Outsider. I have even reflected on it in my medium page here. But to go through this experience over and over again makes me angry. Not because I know it’s not fair or that maybe I should be the loudest so that I won’t be invisible but more so because of the price we pay. This experience remains rent-free in my head for awhile. I have gotten it from white counterparts, funders and senior research scientists alike. My take home. Know that your silence will never protect you. As a black, female in academia, keep flourishing in academic spaces with love and light the way too.
Of course the system is designed so you remain behind the scenes. I share this because the one of today is so insidious. Imagine being in a meeting with faculty and fellows and a senior research scientists decides to put all the faculty on the spot. Every single one available is called up except you whom your last name even implies difference. Imagine again too where you are the leader of a group, which means every single planning for the groups meeting should have your blessings and yet, somehow, the meeting agenda is formed without even your Oxford Comma. I don’t mean to brag, but lord knows I am the hardest working, baddest implementation science researcher I know. Some of the things people are talking about today, I have written them as grants and yes failed at them long before they became mainstream. My hard work ethic has no description. I can write a grant in the morning and go to a tennis match in the afternoon with the same vigor as the morning. I literally write academic papers, especially if the results are ready in 1-2 days. Writing is a gift for me. One that I am grateful for the source. So when I get dismissed or undervalued, I keep saying to them, your loss. Like really, your loss. If only you know where I am coming from, if you then add to the fact that I was not meant to be, then you will understand that my presence is a blessing to you and your life. We, all the ancestors that came before me and me, literally bring light to your dark world in every single way you can imagine. So we will not be silent. Just because you think we are invisible. We are legions and like Mary, we are blessed among men and women alike. Keep knowing that which is in us is truly lit for you. And without us, well darkness is all you will know.
Everyone wants to be a black woman. Everyone. Some want us invisible and silent. Something like being dead. Others want us behind the scenes, serving others. Something like only bending one’s knees. While others want us to follow only. Something like never leading an orchestra. Trying climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and they’ll have you fall before the climb. Try going to the bottom of the ocean and you will drown before getting there. And if even you make it, even if you try to climb the highest mountains or sail to the bottom of the oceans, none of that will be enough, when you are never meant to be visible. But still try. No matter what, try. Nothing is worse than being invisible and silent. You might as well be dead.
Since the pandemic began, many mothers, myself included, have been following unknowingly, dominant narratives of how mothers are languishing. Last week, I discovered for myself another story never told. It was at the first Ambitious Mothers summit held in Paradise Valley by my dear friend Ronke Faleti.
The woman who arrived at the summit the first night, was certainly not the same one that left by the end of the summit. I was pushed out of my comfort zone, pushed out of my boundaries, pushed through dry deserts, pushed through steep mountain roads, until I literally arrived at the summit of my life. And at the summit, I surrendered to beauty embraced truly by the soul with a community of women I now call my own. A collective initial sense of disorientation, a collective decision to connect, or perceive others connecting, from our spirit to those of others, and back again to our own, gradually morphed into an experience so divine that it can only be God. I vividly felt in my own spirit, saw too in the eyes of all the women around, that perhaps God is a woman.
The constant birthing of new lives, the constant flow from the womb to new selves alerted me to be beginning of our creation. At the summit, I was taken back to my beginning, moved through a tidal wave of sorts, with sounds of Himalayan singing bowls, drifting in and out, and tears from my eyes, and those of all the women around me, dripping from our eyes, helping all of us construct meaning from a world in disarray. Here in Paradise Valley, surrounded women whom I can only describe as a community of ambitious mothers, we collectively forged new paths, that allowed us to reach the summit of our lives. Here in Paradise we told stories, shared histories, formed circles, as we together reconstituted a world of ambitious mothers whose lived experiences have simply being brushed aside by dominant accounts, that allowed us to forget the power within. Together, we flourished as we grew and transformed our lives, nourished our souls with food from a good table, healed, loved, surrendered, and discovered and rediscovered our place of safety, our horizon, our joy, our light. Together, we found beauty for ourselves, rustled with a certain sweet inwardness, a realization that we were more than we envisioned for ourselves, all because we choose to clean our eyes so we see clearly. Like looking at mirror of our lives though the lens of others. The summit has become for me a catalyst for vigorous change, one where I fully own for myself first, that which I used to whisper in silence. Motherhood and being a professional can coexist together, once you find your community. We found ours, and together we touched the paradise of our lives. May all mothers find their community, and together reach the summit.
Where there is a woman there is magic. Where there is a woman, magic is there. If the moon is falling from her mouth, if the brilliance of the moon is even in her mouth, she is a woman who knows her magic. Like a gentle deer, she knows her brilliance too. And a woman prepared to share the brilliance that is her, prepared to reveal even the moon falling from her mouth, is magical, sterling, grace and everything else that personifies the radiance of a queen. For when you see women with moon in their mouths, when you get the chance to surround yourself with a community of women, for whom the moon has found a rest place within, rise too and join them, or get out of the way. Either way, there is magic, and the women are walking and working hand in hand with the moon. I am in the midst of women with moon falling out of their mouths. In the midst of magic and my soul finally sees, surmises, understands content.
I wrote this mini verse in honor of Ntozake Shange’s novel, Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo. It’s from the opening lines of the book. Indigo, a key character rarely spoke because there was a moon in her mouth. Indigo knew who she was, was in contact too with spirits who helped her imagination roam free. I once read this from an interview with Ntozake, that ‘imagination allows us to feel and express those things that might destroy us in any other form. If we couldn’t write, if we couldn’t sculpt, if we couldn’t play music, we might kill somebody.’ Of course I don’t intend to kill anyone, but with each passing day I am learning that my responsibility like Ntozake would suggest is to write something that somebody can take and have it in their life. Even if you remember a line, then my job is done. For today, I hope you remember it is worthwhile. That you never be afraid, whatever it is, whether beautiful or terrible, to keep something, no matter how small, for you. I am keeping this knowledge that where women are gathered, there is magic, and if the moon rests in her mouth, brilliance and light is your portion.
As I type this, I am sleepy. Tired too. I almost didn’t write today. I let work and all it’s intricacies take control. I am writing now given the commitment I made to myself. That I would write not only in joy but also in pain. Not just when alert, but also when sleepy.
Bell Hooks once shared in her book Sisters of the Yam, that when we speak the truth of our lives, we begin to heal. Telling the truth, a flat-footed one, as Patricia Bell Scott would suggest, is a crucial step in any process of self-recovery. Telling the truth releases the burden of hiding. Telling the truth helps to shape and determine my destiny. Telling the truth keeps me alert. It’s also a reminder of the powers that lie deep within me and a commitment to honor that power. And so writing has become a space where my truths are uncovered, where my feelings are expressed, and my thoughts are listened too.
Writing for me is also a place of hope. An intense one. It’s the one place I am free to be myself. Free to touch my core self. Free to let it be. Free to let it move as I want. Free to let it speak as it feels. Writing is hope for me. A space where my soul is restored, where my mind is recovered, where my being is redeemed even while sleepy. Keep telling your truth.
Ethereally lost in the world of words, Pinke Gordon Lane was a poet’s poet. She once said, her ideas, her reality, filled her with a drunken desire. I am learning about this desire with writing. Pinke was a master at writing poetry her way. She had a way with words that could make you feel drunk. She also wrote for herself, the kind of poetry she wanted to hear herself. Take for example one of her poem’s entitled ‘A quiet poem’ where she spoke of things often not quiet among blacks people, like pain. But rather than delving deeply into the pain, Pinke used words instead, like a soothing balm, to quiet the mind, the origin of pain. But it’s her poem, ‘To a woman poet I know,’ that I want to share to you all in praise of International Woman’s Day.
I deliberately choose to write my blog now, not because I didn’t have anything to say like the cliched Happy Woman’s Day, but because I wanted my words to move me as well. I am drawn to Pinke and her words because she first wrote for herself, the poem, or in my case, the stories, I have always wanted to read. If only more black women scholars wrote this book and I was given opportunities to understand as only we sisters know to speak, what to do when the devil knocked at my door. That my mind would wander is what Pinke’s poem states. It would wander but fall into it and wait for the truth. That my voice would not save me, is another thing Pinke stated. That I maybe lost, standing on the edge, even surrounded by terrible darkness as we help ourselves to make sense of where we find ourselves in academia. A space in need of light was the gift she offered. That and the need to dispel any personal and private hell black, lovely and lost women may be experiencing. Even when our voice cries our, with the silent air, dissolving us, our essence, our being, Pinke reminded me that my beauty and strength, my very existence, were all destined from the begin. She may have been writing to a woman poet. But Pinke was speaking to my soul. Keep knowing the beauty and strength of you. Pinke would want that.
A picture I saw the other day on social media, depicted the many ways women work. Not only does she tend the cow, she cooks it too. Not only does she grow her own food, she buys them from the market too. Not only does she tend to her children, she tends to the home where they live too. That women work both outside and inside the home is well known. But the details, the feelings, every mood, every thought that occupies her mind when she gives herself to all the ‘multiple selves’ she inhabits is almost invisible in mainstream discourse. Anthropologist Ifi Amadiume defined this notion of ‘multiple selves’ as not only being a daughter or a mother, but a member of an extended family, a social being with independent political views. It’s this standpoint that I seek to explore further, the fact that all the multiple selves of women need to considered when thoughts or discussions about her are brought to the foreground. Most women are not frail or weak, passive or submissive. Yet all you see are these portrayals time and time again. For Black women, it’s a double edged sword. Not only are we ignored, invisible, but when we speak, we are labeled angry, aggressive, too oppositional in our thoughts and action as if our gaze isn’t oppositional in the first place. But what if we lay bare all the assumptions and speak from a place of truth. Shine light on the multiple lives of women, the good, the bad, in sickness, or in health, as mothers or daughters, what would such a crucial critical standpoint entail.
When you use a radical visionary stance Bell Hooks once shared in her book ‘Yearning’, to understand the ‘multiple selves’ of women, you call attention to alternative ways of thinking, alternative ways of seeing, alternative ways of being. You also call attention to how deeply connected we all are, our shared humanity, our shared passion, our shared yearnings as women. When you see women from this radical visionary stance, a connectedness comes to mind. Women are not only life giving but a strong sustenance comes to mind in a way that the depiction above helps to tell a cohesive story about her. When people need food, in many diverse contexts, it’s not uncommon for her to find the food herself. When people are sick, the same applies, with women doing their best to find cure or treatments where necessary. Children belong to women. Not just your own, but every child around you. I personally owe my upbringing to multiple women around me, not just my own mother. All sorts of women in my life, have helped to raise me, telling me exactly what to do and how, showing an interest in me, my behavior, my mind, my being. The very essence of who I am today is because I was surrounded by strong women, mostly strong Black women, who were never afraid to speak their mind, to tell the truth and shame the devil.
Living out the truth of my experience in a space where feelings of out of place are all too common is the sole reason for this keep. That and the fact that the time for a radical visionary stance is ripe for all women, Black women in particular. I would love to see more representation of myself, all my ‘multiple selves’ too not just for me but for future generations of daughters, mothers, sisters, all black and unafraid to be themselves. Keep the multiple selves of women in mind as we approach International Day for Women.