The arrival of February has always been special to me. It’s Black History Month and I enjoy the opportunities to celebrate our art and culture while acknowledging our history and the role that so many African Americans played in evolving this country. Then there’s the added bonus of Valentine’s Day which brings deep reflection on love.
The combination of the themes of love and Blackness evokes an even greater truth– the power of love to transform us and the world around us.
As a Black woman, I reflect on the power of love and Blackness in light of the current battle we face as women. We are on the frontlines in a battle for our liberation: the ability to decide who we are and what we can do with our own bodies. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t get more real than that. The rage, grief, and sorrow we feel in this moment are justified and yet I worry about how they are directed. Because of my work, I spend a lot of time with adolescent girls and it’s heartbreaking to see how many of them have learned to repress the anger and sadness they feel.
Their relentless facade of positivity reminds me that women still have a long way to go in our process of liberation if we don’t even think we have the right to express our own feelings in this journey of being human. I see the suppressed anger turn into hatefulness and disgust that leave us disconnected from other women and from our communities.
In those moments, when I feel utterly stumped about our culture and how we can move forward, I am grateful for the gift of travel and the experiences that travel allowed me to have in other cultures.
It is this perspective that helps me to answer the following questions: is there another way of being? Is there a way of life untouched by prejudice and violence? How can we move towards freedom from the systems that seek to destroy us?
As a New Yorker, I developed a habit of very rarely going out on major holidays. In NYC, major holidays resulted in overcrowding and increased prices. But some years ago, while I lived in Cairo, Egypt, I had a friend visiting during the winter holiday and she wanted to go out for New Year’s Eve. I was told of a party at a Cairo hotel. While purchasing the tickets, the concierge told me how excited I should be that a certain belly dancer would be performing. I just stared at him blankly. I had no idea who the performer was and besides, I’d seen many belly dancing performances during my time living in Cairo.
That New Year’s Eve, I found out the reason for his enthusiasm- sure enough, this was beyond any performance I had ever seen. The dancer’s power was indescribable. The combination of drumming and movement held the entire room in a trance. Nothing about that performance was tangible– at that moment, we were held to an ancient ritual of the divine feminine. I was reminded of the creative power that we possess in our very beings and it was magnificent to witness and behold.
Right then and there, it all made sense. Why our forefathers forced us to cover our bodies, why we were stoned by our brothers, why our mothers cut away our vulvas, why our lovers raped us, and why we were burned at the stake.
The oppression of women has always been connected to controlling our bodies and taking away our power to create a new world. We women are more powerful than we could ever imagine and that power inspires fear and awe.
And so myths were created to tell the opposite story- to convince women that we are weak and helpless, that we need protection, and that we must wait our entire lives to be rescued by a charming prince so we can live happily ever after in a prison with a white picket fence. In turn, we teach those stories to our daughters and they teach them to their daughters and it keeps women trapped in a prison of our own making. Over centuries, instead of joining together to throw off these outdated ideologies, many of us have doubled down and bought into the system that was designed by the oppressors. We did this because we didn’t see any other options; we thought it would keep us safe but the price we pay is our own freedom.
We Black women in the United States have had an easier time waking up to the truth because there is no illusion of safety in a country hellbent on destroying us. Now, all women must wake up to that same truth.
The question is, what now? What if the fairy tales are right? We are, each one of us women, Rapunzel, trapped in an impenetrable tower, guarded by a vicious dragon. And the shocking truth is- nobody is coming to save us. We are the ones who must save ourselves. We have to be our own heroes and slay our own dragons. The weapon we have, the only one that was ever needed is the power of love. We can sharpen that weapon with our empathy and compassion.
Standing up for what is right is always a choice. Free will has and will always be part of the agreement inherent in our existence. In each moment, we get to decide how we use the power of love to show up for ourselves and for one another.
It starts with loving and accepting ourselves, forgiving ourselves for the grievous mistakes committed by our own hands, and letting go of the criticism and fear that drive our every action. Or every inaction, because the failure to act is as much an action as any other. Through it all, we must not let go of our own humanity. There is nothing to fix– we are not broken. The systems that seek to destroy us are broken, but it’s easy for us to internalize the damage as inherent worthlessness.
In challenging moments, the questions can be more important than the answers.
For white women, your proximity to power in this system presents a deeper conundrum. Is it fair that your Black sisters ask you to burn down the house that you live in (even when we all can see that the house is already on fire)?
Is the rage you feel because you are trapped behind the golden cage of the status quo that you may or may not benefit from?
For the sake of yourself, your children, and humanity, are you able to see the value and uniqueness of each individual and bear witness to the beautiful tapestry that exists in our world?
We are humans and by our very nature, that means we will be hurt and hurt others. This is unavoidable, so all I ask is that we not do this on purpose with our overt actions or our covert inactions. Don’t fall for the obvious trap. Your intentions are at fault when they seek to reinforce systems of oppression. That same energy that you can tap into to protect your seemingly comfortable life is the same energy you need to tap into when you dismantle inequitable systems.
In each moment of discomfort, reach for your own humanity and the humanity of the other persons involved. Before taking any action, ask yourself– who is my real enemy? Who do racist systems target and who- knowingly or not- benefits from them? Who wins and who loses? Follow the money. It’s an ongoing practice to unravel. It may take a lifetime, so be patient with yourself and one another but keep going.
Women are divinely designed to create and protect life. But there are forces that seek to destroy life on this planet. I suggest you make a choice at this very moment and decide which side of the battlefield you are on. Below, I have written an oath for the times we live in. Tailor it to your own needs but make sure that you have some identity statement, acknowledgment, or manifesto that will guide you through the times ahead. Armor up through your words and actions.
I live in a world that seeks to control my mind and body through systems of oppression.
Those systems have resulted in centuries of trauma that is embedded in my physical body and psyche, including my nervous system. I deeply acknowledge the ways in which this trauma has impacted me and how I show up in the world. I am aware of how I respond when I am triggered and in what ways I move through those painful moments.
I am committed to my own healing and to the healing of the collective. I was made for this fight. I’m committed to this planet and this species and I will hold the line for truth and justice for people of all races.
Guest Writer: Kalimah Fergus
Kalimah Fergus is an NYC-based educator and word warrior committed to transformational change on the personal, collective and global level. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at Stanford University, a Master of Arts in Secondary Science Education at Teachers College Columbia University, a Master of Science in School Administration from the College of Saint Rose, and an Ed.M in Organization Leadership through the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College Columbia University.
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