I recently watched Black Panther (again) and was taken with the scene where the warrior turns her spear on the love of her life and informs him that the nation of Wakonda was more important than their love. As a woman of color, this speaks volumes to how we navigate our multitude of roles and how those roles can conflict with romantic relationships. Coming from a large family with the woman being the figurative "head", my question to myself today was at what point do we sacrifice Wakonda-the culmination of life experiences and support systems that are thriving-for love?
In the "traditional family, the man is the head of the household yet we women know that our role is vital; for without our strength, our men may stumble and the family fails. The rampant trend of our men not staying with the family unit has enabled women of color to do just fine without them. As a married woman I ask myself if I would have turned my spear on my husband for Wakonda?
Family dynamics are as varied as the elements of this earth and just as some of those elements attract, others when combined can create a cataclysm. Is it possible, as a strong woman, to be wholly united with a strong man and create a new nation? What if she had joined him by his side and they ruled Wakonda and changed the world?
Family conflict is a major source of stress within my marriage. My husband gets angered when he see me hurting. He believes that I do too much. But on the flip side, my family believes that I can do so much more to contribute to the stability of the whole. It may seem foreign to some readers that the two concepts are in opposition of each other but hell, that's just how it is sometimes. I have a man who is willing to sacrifice; to love me and support me as I pursue my wildest dreams. Yet I have a family, who also gives me that love and support. Although the words are the same the reality is not. Is it the fate of the woman to constantly have to choose? Choose between a vibrant love and a legacy of women who have sustained themselves quite well without the male that provides it? I currently hold the spear and am asking myself what would I do for Wakonda?
As a wife, mother, a full time RN I seldom have time to watch a tv show that I really enjoy. I have been taking back my free time by kicking my daughters off the couch, yelling for my husband to join me, and searching for shows that I will enjoy. One of my favorites is "Finding your Roots" with Henry Louis Gates Jr on PBS. The last episode detailed the lineage of a lawyer and she said something that struck me. She stated that people of color, particularly Black people, have endured many obstacles. She pointed out that even within families, the stories of how we faced those obstacles are seldom told; that we endure, overcome, and move right along.
My logic implored me to think of examples of Black people who have become legends of our past and I reconcile that these people, such as Maya Angelou, Billy Holiday, and countless others, grew above the shame of their personal experience to share the reality of Black life with us. My right brain moved to my writing. As a poet, I have the ability to mix words and send messages that are inferred, rather than explicitly stating the truth. And now I am at a point where I must decide am I ready yet?
My book of poetry touches on my life as a Black woman. From being assaulted and humiliated, to discovering the difference between true love and infatuation. There have been times, when pushed, that I have written down the exact truth without mincing words. These pieces are only shared with family and are often the cause of turmoil as they bring out traumatic memories that some have chosen to forget. As a writer, is it my responsibility to tell the truth and if I did would it really matter?
I think of my research into the personal life of my icon, Maya Angelou. She was not ashamed to say that she and her mother did not see eye to eye. She was not conflicted over sharing the time she spent working in the sex industry. Did she have the resolve to share that part of herself or did she have the responsibility? I tell my children that I write because I hope that one day, a black girl will read a poem and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that she is not alone in her experience. So often, family secrets are shared and then silence is imposed with the knowledge, to preserve the "family name". I am at the point where I must negotiate what I have to lose by sharing intimate details with strangers. I am not playing victim and it is not my intent to manipulate audiences gain notoriety. It is my intent to live by example; to show other black women that our experiences deserve to be normalized. Sharing our pain with our progress is essential. We have been made into icons for our strength to the determent of our mental health. Imagine how iconic it would be for our struggle to be made as public as our strength.
On my facebook timeline I'm always seeing posts of affirmation. Of women urging each other to stay away from toxic people and relationships. I begin to think of toxic people in my life who have hurt me and either deserve or who have already gotten the boot. One affirmation took the extra step of defining what a toxic relationship was, and to my chagrin I recognized that it described me.
I had a friend that I had not spoken to, intentionally for nearly a decade. Living in the age of social media and instance acceptance, I reached out. Over a couple of years a pattern emerged-we reconnect, we reminisce, then we both regret that contact was ever made. We only remember each other as teens, and trying to reconcile how or even if we fit into each others lives as adults caused turmoil. The friend backed away. The friend blocked me. A year later, I would reach out again and the cycle would repeat itself.
Last month, I recognized that I am toxic for this person. Every time they cross my mind I want to reach out and say hello; ignoring the barriers that they have intentionally setup to prevent contact. And I shrug them off, knowing that eventually I can get back in. I had to take a couple of weeks and to be honest, and still accepting that I am no good for this person. I am accepting my responsibility for putting them through something, the way that others have put me through hardship. And my heart cries out, "It's impossible! You are a good person, YOU can't be toxic!" But my mind reviews the interactions in a logical way and only comes to one conclusion: stay away. It is painful for me to accept that I hurt this person and I find another excuse to reach out-to apologize. But I cannot. I make excuses on how much I am hurting, how much I need to say and therein lies the toxicity. My utter inability to just let them go and let them be.
Whenever this person crosses my mind, I write a letter to them. It's one that I know they may never read but I write it anyway. I write it to relieve my anxiety about whatever made me think of them that day and then I throw it away. Because I don't want to be a poison in their life. I am empowering them, to create a safe space for themselves, even if that means that I am not included. I have come to accept that at the heart of toxicity lies selfishness. And I am choosing (struggling but choosing) to no longer add any undue stress. A saying states that if you love someone let them go and I realize that I must let this person go. Because the best way that I can show them the love they deserve is by being absent.
Last night I was invited to perform at an open mic event hosted by my town's art committee. As you can imagine, I was nervous and excited. This would be my fist event where I invited my children, ages 5,8, and 11 to see mommy perform. Having met the MC at a previous event, I volunteered to go first to warm up the crowd. There were about 30 people in attendance, lights dim and children coloring to soft jazz music. Good vibes. As the music came to a stop, the MC introduced me. Of course, I plugged my book that is releasing this month and gave the title of my poem. After that, I'm not sure what happened. Over the course of my 3 minute recitation, my audience went from energetic and open to completely shut down. I received polite claps and as I walked back to my seat, I realized that this was the first time I ever bombed a performance. Later that night, while talking to my hubby in bed he told me "you're performance was great. They just weren't ready for the content". His words cycled through my mind.
The poem I read was called Middle Class and reflected on how middle class liberals like myself have certain expectations; especially in a small liberal college town. I spoke about how we, as these middle class liberals do just enough to feel good about ourselves; to challenge the system but not break it because breaking it would me we lose our way of life. I admit the crowd was majority white people between the ages of 20 and 45 give or take. I was forced to ponder, is my perspective skewed or was my husband right, they were just not ready for that truth?
Here is an excerpt from the poem:
"This middle class life will have you hating the fact that you spent
7 years in college to get 2 degrees and still struggle sometimes to get necessities
Go to church every now and then to get anointed
Forgetting that church is as a poignant example of the haves and the have nots
Drop a few dollars in the collection plate for those sleeping in the basement on cots because they lost everything
They can hear us shouting let freedom ring because we elected that black guy to the highest office
While putting our babies into tiny coffins because healthcare is just too expensive
We can’t afford quality AND have defenses to protect our middle class way of life
Doing just enough to feel like I am a part of the solution
To this backwards evolution of democracy"
Being Black in America we are afforded only one privilege: that is what W.E.B. Du Bois termed Double Consciousness. Minorities, specifically Black people can see two separate worlds within America and we must negotiate them all the time. Perhaps my listeners, as liberal as they are, were unable to reconcile the theme of my poem. Maybe my poem really did suck along with my performance. I would love to know your thoughts and experiences.
I have a B.A. in Political Science, an A.D. in Nursing and a keen interest in writing about the whole person