I have been tossing with a sentence for the last two weeks. Too afraid to say it out loud but also struggling to find a scenario where it is not true.
“To be a black woman is to be heard but not believed.”
I want this sentence not to be true. God, I’ve prayed to wake up to a world that this isn’t a true reality.
I kept this sentence to myself:
- Out of fear
- Out of retribution
- Because I’m struggling expressing why it’s true
Number three is the main reason I’m writing this. It’s the reason that brings up the most emotion inside of me. I fight against the emotions I feel when I read reason number three because I know that no matter who I express that emotion to…the sentence won’t stop becoming true.
And so I fall silent. I take the words on my heart and shove them down to my stomach hoping to bury them along with the grease covered burger I secretly ate. I hide every consonant among the fried foods I pounded down before bedtime. Both trying to fill the same empty hole that was created by the reality of what it’s like to be a black woman.
To be a black woman is to have your own life experiences explained to you by a woman of a different race or a man of the same race.
Sharing a simple experience turns into a undermining and renaming as if we cannot cognitively understand or properly name our own lives.
We do not get to title our life stories or get to star in them.
We have black men screaming black lives matter but when we ask to be protected we are told to be more obedient…is that not the same thing ‘blue backers’ have told black men as a response to getting shot by the police? We all know that it doesn’t work yet we are blamed for our own trauma as if we both have been freed from the PTSD of slavery. Our past or imperfections used as a tool to explain our worthlessness.
To be a black woman is to constantly struggle with suppressing emotion (in fear of being called too emotional or angry) or expressing the emotions you feel (and actually be angry in public) and regret it later. Both are a lose lose. So which route do you take?
I wish I had some profound explanation or solution but alas friends, I have none. I offer instead the story of when I lost my voice. The day I went silent and decided that a complicit life was the best means of survival.
My parents had gotten divorced. I was angry and sad and way too young to understand everything happening swiftly around me. I was shoved into rooms with adults I had never met who asked me strange questions about the people I love. I remember just wanting a moment to breath. I remember wanting to be rescued. I remember feeling like a tiny mouse trapped in the corner of a cage with no way to go.
So, I lied. I told the strange adults yes to whatever they wanted to know. I gave them my best stories and wove together what I thought they wanted to hear. Anything to get out of there. Anything to get back to my room to my reading corner, with my books.
A safe place filled with wonder where I knew everyone well. I knew every character and their history. I knew how they saw the world and I could escape mine. In my books there was no divorce, adults, or creepy questions. Everyone was happy and the biggest global problem was what fun should they have that day.
It didn’t take long for my lies to become public knowledge. I went from rooms with one or two adults to rooms with four adults. Sometimes those adults rotated in and out so much I couldn’t keep up with the ones I had seen before. Their faces blank like a fresh canvas painted with spots of disapproval over my words. They asked harder questions and sometimes the same questions.
I just want to go home.
The tears welled up in my eyes but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to cry here. So, I swallowed it. I sat still and lifeless. I decided that not talking would be the best thing for me. When I didn’t talk the sessions seemed to go by quicker. The adults asked less questions and that was okay with me.
It went on for weeks. I didn’t talk, not a word. The childhood light in my eyes became dimmer and dimmer. My ability to retreat within my self increased and I noticed a new worry line that began to form on my mothers forehead.
Now, I didn’t speak because I no longer had anything to say.
Finally, after what I’m sure was a major frustrating situation, one of the adults trying to do their job squatted down to my level. She spoke slowly and calmly. I watched her mouth as she gave each syllable its own sentence.
“Can you please tell me why you hit Bradley, Janae.”
Was that what this was about? That annoying twerp Bradley in my class?
My face lit up, finally a topic I had many words for. I explained to her that Bradley is a bully. He was always pulling my hair and saying mean things to me. He would follow me around the playground and sometimes try to pull up my dress. I told her how he told the other boys in my class that I did ‘IT’ with him and that I had no idea what ‘IT’ was. I told her that Bradley talked too much in class and that he thought he should always be the line leader because his mom was assistant principal. I told her that Bradley had pulled his pants down at the water fountain once when my friend and I got caught in a hallway alone with him. I told her every detail I could think of about Bradley.
Finally my ticket out of here permanently and all I had to do was talk about Bradley.
When I finished my monologue I smiled at the woman waiting for her to grab my hand, lead me out of the cold brick room. Instead, she said…
“You’re a liar. A filthy liar. Bradley wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t do ANY of that.”
My smiled dropped as I watched her warm demeanor turn icy.
My small voice could barely be heard.
“No, he didn’t! It’s clear that you are a liar. You couldn’t tell the truth if you wanted to. How dare you spread rumors like that around MY school about MY son.”
I don’t think I went back to that room again or saw that woman again. But I did see Bradley. I saw him everyday. I saw him tell my classmates that I have the word liar on my permanent record. I saw him harass the other girls in my class. He pulled their hair kicked them into dirt and took their snacks. I saw him…but no one saw me.
I retreated into myself unable to figure out how I was in trouble when I told the truth. Isn’t that what always happened in my books. The character would tell the truth and everyone would be happy. The problem they were facing would go away. They’d throw a party and live happily ever after.
They were the TRUE liars. They told me to just be me. To be nice and tell the truth and good things would happen to you. But good things didn’t happen. We were homeless sleeping on the couches of friends of my moms’. I couldn’t get my toys or books because they were with my dad. And worse of all, my attempt to tell the truth got me in more trouble.
I silently vowed to myself to never speak up again. And it’s been an internal battle since. I have a hard time standing up for myself without manipulation, fighting, or revenge. It’s how I survived. I didn’t want to do those things but eventually they just became easier to do than face the truth. It was easier than hurting someone’s feelings or disappointing people I love. I fought my bullies with cunning and wit (and sometimes my fists).
I was the crab who escaped the barrel.
…but I never escaped. I just crawled into a bigger barrel. The barrel now is not childhood bullies but racism, sexism, ageism, and more!
All these things are daily struggles to be who I actually want to be or cover up the parts of me not accepted. Even with the people who know me and love me most. I hide things and appease them because I don’t think they’ll understand. And to most people their inability to understand means that what I am experiencing cannot be right, justified or logical. But it is correct, I can feel it. I can see it. Sometimes I can even sense it.
Black women are not allowed duality. They are either soft or hard. Independent or dependent. Loud or meek. Goal-getting or lazy. Intelligent or stupid. Manipulator or victim.
They are always present but rarely counted. They are read but not written about. They are mocked but rarely revered. They are the considered but not cared for. They are copied but not congratulated
Black women are heard…but never believed.
And I know there are some of you thinking: well I listen to black women. I don’t do that to them.
Good. Then you aren’t who this post is for. This post is for the man screaming good guys finish last while calling a woman ugly and asking himself who would wanna eff that?
This post is for the women of white who interject the black experience with ALL women experience sexism.
This post is for the culture vultures, Terry Crews coons, & model minorities.
The ones who are disgusted by black culture but love to profit off of it.
This post is for the ones who only value and respect women they are related or attracted to.
This post is for the ones who wait until a girl has has enough drinks to approach her. The ones whose response to a woman saying no is, “Cmon…” or “Why?” or “Just for a minute…”
This post is for the ones who respect women but sit idly by while their boys don’t. 1/3 women is raped in her lifetime & everyone knows one woman who has been raped yet no one claims to know any rapist.
This post is for the ones who are saying…men get raped too.
This post is for those of you who choose to speak instead of listen. Those of you who choose to pacify the collective experience of many and pass it off as a complaint or personal vendetta.
This post is for you who are trying to figure out if Bradley is a white boy or a black boy. Not realizing that with either race the story remains just as damaging. Go ahead, picture either and the fact is, the damage done might look different but they’re equalmy painful.
This post is for YOU….the unseen
k, good talk
*Names may have been changed to protect the innocent