This list is part black-women-who-get-it and part stark resource for searching black lady souls. Resources that help us calculate our grief and separation from White Christianity are very slim. I invite you to peruse the following books that have been very helpful for me in my process.Read More
My most recent and second only serious relationship ended inside of my partner's sudden and unmoving silence. After we ended things, we danced through a number of months, skipping around the fringes of a friendship. We texted, joked, went to movies, and tried to move on in our own ways. Still, I had questions. I think part of me was trying to understand why his response held the same frequency as almost every black man (both patriarch and friend) I had ever been close to.
I found myself rationalizing. Perhaps, it was me. I was the cause of all of my father's and step-father's and grandfather's and ex-husband's and brother's and ex-boyfriend's silences. Perhaps, it was the quiet six-year-old with the thumb in her mouth who caused the effect. Perhaps it was the 15-year-old girl who was confused about affection. Perhaps it was my 19-year-old self who was so determined to be loved that I got married way before I could really understand what love was and was divorced before I had time to truly become an adult.
Perhaps it was my personality type. I am an I/ENFP according to Myers Brigg. I am Gemini, born on the 8th day of June in 1993 (the day of new language) at 2:02 p.m. My natal chart sites that my moon sits in Aquarius, Mercury in Cancer, Venus in Taurus, Saturn in Pisces, and my rising sign is Libra. All of this natal chart business (apparently) means that I’m equal parts analytical, expressive, and emotional AF. I am an Enneagram type 7w8: the enthusiast meets the challenger. I am High Dominant Influential, according to DISC. Perhaps, I am too much the strong black woman feminist type who wears her heart on her sleeve. Perhaps I self-victimize. Perhaps my hyper-analyzed patience for men has too many holes in it.
Perhaps it was my fault that almost every black man I'd known had at times chosen silence over softness, but I would wager that this was not the case. I would wager that the relational casualties of every black man I know has less to do with me and everything to do with the systemic emotional economies that people of color have had to negotiate since the beginnings of colonization. Perhaps this issue is much deeper than one of the many contemporary conclusions we draw: "these niggas ain't shit."
how I’ve fed the system
In the months after my relationship ended, I delved deeper into this idea of confronting my relationship to an ideal of how black men show up in our culture. Black men are some of the most beautiful and deeply complex people on earth. Yet, our culture treats them like zoo animals—empty-minded creatures on display who are not to be tampered with. Black masculinity has become costumed in the garments of white distance, lest white fragility be triggered. The integrity of black masculinity as a construct has historically also been called into question.
But here’s the thing, I believe that black men are made in the image of God just like I am. We live in a fallen culture that does not create space for the rehumanizing of their image. The black male image is probed, questioned, and tested for safety. I hate it, because I’ve done it too. I’ve walked into rooms and into conversations with presumptions that are out of line.
Lately, in my photographic work, I've been exploring this topic of black masculinity and it's continued narration of both silence and violence in our culture. It has exposed some deeply wounded parts of me and has called me to question my understanding of the experiences of black men. Despite the major and minor traumas I've experienced with black men in my life, I'm learning my bias has been destructive and bleached in a colonized understanding.
The hardest part of advocating for black men in my work is the fight to see. It's the fight to see the hairline crack of hope for softness in places where all I've experienced was hard-heartedness, stoic apathy, and immense pain. It's the fight to intentionally listen though I can only recall a handful of black men who have listened to my experience as a black woman without rationalizing or minimizing. It's seeing the hairline when most of my hardest nightmares have come from memories of (several) angry black men in my life and their hands placed somewhere on my body, ready to strike. It's pushing aside the memory of his arm around my throat, or his voice booming through my heart. It's seeing the hairline when those same voices drown out my own, just because they can't relate.
This work has been an exercise in quieting my heart to hear beyond my bias and the pain of my experience. It's an exercise in empathy when on some days, I just want retribution. This work is the question that I've been asking my whole life: Where are you, black man? Are you here?
I loved the moments I found with women who were strangers to me in South Africa. I loved how normal it was to call other women "sisters" and mean it. It was the kind of solidarity some women go their whole lives searching for.
I met women who looked me in the eye and praised our collective beauty with sincerity. We shared a strictly feminine energy in our conversations that balanced the soft and strong. I couldn't get enough of it. There was the bead artist at the waterfront craft market. At Woodstock's Saturday market, there was the spunky woman who spoke unabashedly of political unrest, the clothing designer and her gorgeous smile, the woman my age who stopped me because she "loved my energy" and, thus, immediately invited us to her place for a gathering and wine.
There was Gertrude who joined us for dinner. We became warm friends quickly. We left the restaurant with locked arms and searched for a place to go dancing. The guys strolled behind us in Cape Town's moonlit midnight streets. We conversed about the connection that black women have and how we have to look out for each other. There was Roxy and her sweet, blue-eyed son. There was Zizi and Lauren who we'd run into at a sporting event. We talked dreams, travel, and truth. Zizi even drove us to the waterfront so that we could find dinner and charge our cell phones enough to get back to our Airbnb.
As someone who has always wrestled with finding true sisterhood and deep companionship in my relationships with women, I left South Africa feeling recharged and thankful. Each of these instances was full of genuine generosity. I know that it would be naive of me to assume that every encounter with black women across the globe could be like these were, but damn, I can only hope. Black women, no matter the cultural context, inspire me to live intentionally and love deeply. These black women taught me that it's beautiful to listen closely to people I have never met. I learned to value the stories of powerful, beautiful strangers and, by them, be coaxed into a softer sense of myself.
I have been finding myself drinking in
everything that is black womanhood.
Everything that is tight curl and spice;
the unfiltered verses of a welcome song.
My tongue is a siren soaked in blackness
And it is beautiful.
It is the ink of ocean. Every inch of me is
an open palm soaked in moon.
How did I not know that my lungs
were meant to breathe in this deep water?