Who’s Gonna Save My Soul Now (Mad or Count it on Joy)? Part Two of A Date with Misogyny and Misogynoir.
August 18, 2020. 7:50PM.
“The government is only a reflection of where our country is today. The people create the change,” he says pensively. “I believe in you,” he takes a deep breath. “Me. Us.”
Last night I placed my phone down. Tasted salt on my cheeks. And I sat there.
Staring in the mirror.
The song Mad by Solange echoing on my ceiling- “Youuuuuuu got the light, count it on joy. Youuuuuuu got the right, to be mad. And when you carry it alone, you find it only getting in the way.”
“They say you gotta let it go,” she sings.
Somewhere in the last year, I lost something I believed in. America. And I didn’t have money to buy it back. And in this, I realized no one was coming to save me.
I lost the hope that I held closely on the left side of my chest. Although I desperately wanted that back, I failed to realize there were new flowers planted.
But why am I upset? Sad? Am I bitter? Jaded? Disappointed?
Am I Nikki Giovanni at 28, afro cherished by hot oil treatments, shaped into strength I 4C, sighing deeply in utter frustration?
Was it years of believing I was not a public speaker only to realize that I’m an activist? To encourage others to use their voice? That my experience gives me more than any 9-5 could give me? That somehow, I grew and stretched and became more of myself than I ever was in my 28 years? And that I discovered- the pen is mightier than the sword, my Lord.
That an author is an artist and just maybe, I can put food on my table from my creativity.
“I ran into this girl, I said, “I’m tired of explaining,’ man, this shit is draining, but I’m not really allowed to be mad,” Solange sings.
But… was it how I never realized that the weight I feel is because I’m a woman? This weight was summarized as the color of my skin as the issue; returned to me by America in the form of a balled-up receipt. I believed that I was just as equal to anyone else in this country, only to articulately explain this twice at midnight to a man who would offer nothing but an expired coupon.
All in the name of love?
The movies depicted me, a princess, hoping that my foot fits a glass slipper as an escape from my oppression. A glass slipper? Seriously? With both the iconic Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother and Brandy as Cinderella, 23 years later, I no longer believe in fairytales. I want to tell you that the shoe is mine, instead of waiting for a prince to ask me to try on a glass slipper. All in the name of love.
So, with my 40 acres and a mule, I would like a carriage and a Fairy Godmother as a mentor.
So, my friend asked if I, honestly, gave every man I dated a fair chance. I didn’t like how this question raised the hair on the back on my neck. Because, I mean, surely, if I was vulnerable in my writing, in my conversation, in my perspective; if I was willing to write something on paper, willing to critique, then surely, I, needed to look at myself.
So, for the entire night, I thought about if I had… and yes, I did, but… there was the guy from college who I was probably supposed to end up with. But it was too late. You know. If both of us had the courage to express how we felt face to face rather than on Facetime. Instead, a missed flight would do because missed flights are easier to face than therapy.
He’d probably say the same about me. And maybe this was the reason I was sad?
Maybe it was the divorce? That my idea of family exploded into 1,212 pieces and recently collapsed. That I kind of believed we were always were the exception to the rule. Was it that I finally realized that you have to believe in the rule to even consider yourself an exception? Or that when I finally came home from years of traveling with all of my possessions in a backpack, a piece of my heart now lived on the other side of the country? That family was however I wanted to define it? That the last two years were experiences of a lifetime that no one wanted to name, because when you named it, God forbid you actually attempted to heal it?
Or was it because I am now faced with the fact that my parents are actually people? That despite how much they love me and did their best, they can’t save me?
Was it… the respectability politics that trickled through my childhood that we read in textbooks? The respectability politics we saw in the media? The idea that if I abided by mainstream standards of my appearance, my behavior; if I studied hard; if I did all I could then I would achieve success?
Was it the fact that Eurocentric standards of beauty were burned into Just for Me relaxer kits that were just for me? No-lie?
If I sat up straight, wore my hair bone straight for job interviews, that I too, could break through the glass ceiling? If I read motivational books and leaned in, that somehow, I too, could become a rich woman in a position of wealth and power? And guess the blow I felt when I worked for the U.S. government and U.S. customs officials beat every ounce of respect out of my mouth, my soul, and my career.
Maybe I’m not sad. Maybe I just feel oppressed; that the oppression that Black women feel as a person who is Black and Woman is a singular sword and not double edged.
This shows up in many ways and I am not the only one with examples.
After my story and photo were published in the New York Times, I told a few male relatives that I no longer felt safe in my apartment. Alone; a target. I was told that I was overreacting. So, what’s worse, the fact that men at home struggle in active listening or that the patriarchy was intentionally designed for no one to hear me?
We could address this now, instead of repeating this in 20 years at a family dinner, I suppose, demanding my brother’s friend leave, if he implies that my daughter can’t be an engineer.
We tell young men that they should do better, but if and when they disappoint, we allow them. In the end, I suppose we are complicit, and we also do not discover who they could have been.
We tell young women to focus on moving forward. We write young women apologies. And people say they’re proud of me for speaking my truth, but does anyone acknowledge that I’m sad? Does anyone acknowledge the fact that even in the midst of the media, the articles, that I lost something of significance? That 25-year-old me dreamed of being a Foreign Service Officer? That my dream was thrown into a trashcan at secondary inspection?
Was it because we don’t discuss mental illness? And that in the Black community, we don’t talk about depression? Go to church. Pray it away. Tell God to help you through. We all think of counseling as something you do when your legs are broken, but baby you still need a crutch.
For five years, my friend’s parents refused to get her diagnosed. Five years. Ignored who she could have been with medication. And God knows she’s not the only one.
When you normalize it, you can face it.
And then you can fly.
The other day, I listened to my little brother speak to the president of his company. When the president spoke, my brother listened for a few minutes and then while he paused, my brother immediately stated his point. Who was this man? Where did he learn this skill; the ability to speak without his voice shaking, without apology, void of the – “oh excuse me, go ahead, what were you saying?” The- “Oh no worries! You go first!”
As women, we exclamation mark ourselves to death!
I called a friend, bewildered; that my brother was able to do the things that me, at 28-years-old, was still learning how to do. To say “NO” as a complete sentence. “That doesn’t work for me.” To speak up. Take control.
How could this be? My brother was five years younger. What was in his voice that was not in mine? Weren’t we raised in the same household? Somehow, in a heinous manner, I was not afforded the same confidence awarded to my brother; same approach of navigating the world.
And that as much as our parents love us, if we did not interrogate, heal, and eliminate this internal narrative and oppression, we would pass it on to every single person we touched.
We see this in politics.
We know that Kamala Harris is just as qualified as Joe Biden, yet she plays the role of vice president. As my friend pointed out, we, and America analyze her under a microscope of double standards that we did not use with Barrack Obama.
And we know that America would not permit Michelle to be President before Barack. Why?
There is violence that we do not discuss and when discussed, please mention intersectionality.
If white women were granted the right to vote in 1920, how did my grandmother feel as she waited for her right? If America would not elect Hillary Clinton as President in 2016, how long for Stacey Abrams?
People tend to forget that you can critique and still vote at the same time. This is still progress. However, in 2020, why is Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President the safe ticket that Americans would support? Yes, this is our option, but have we not come farther? And then on August 13, I shake my head when I discover Black women had to work an additional 7.5 months (19 months) to earn what white men made in a year.
My friend says this reflects where America is.
But are we ignorant to the fact that America asks Black women to save us?
In respectability politics, Michelle Obama is continuously awarded and praised for “going high” but as a Black woman, all I want is for Michelle to go high and shake you for holding her to this ridiculous standard.
So… am I angry, sad even, disappointed that when we coddle men, that men also miss the opportunity to be the best versions of ourselves, all in the name of patriarchy? That if men healed these wounds, women would sleep easier at night?
Because at the end of the day, I want you to do better because I love you.
And love is accountability.
With the same intensity that white people need additional evidence when presented with the facts of yet another racist situation, men wave away sexism. With the same rage you displayed when George Floyd was murdered, react when you hear about Breonna Taylor. And for the love of God, don’t mention how direct relation to your mother, sister, or daughter excuses you from your behavior.
On a walk later the next day, I hold the phone to my ear. “You keep being you and you don’t settle for no sucka,” my uncle says. “You are going to meet a man that loves you. Trust me.”
I take a deep breath, look to my left and right, and cross the street.
And while this is a step forward, we don’t want Vice Presidency.
We want to be President.