There was something corrupted about her. Some days she’d joke and laugh, rubbing shoulders with others in the crowd, batting social cues left and right. But at any point she might turn and stare into space, a smile stretching her lips into a thin corkscrew, a dark humor flushing her cheeks.
The moment would pass. She would become human again.
But when she drank it returned and the predatory gleam of violence re-infused her face, some malevolence that soiled her eyes, marked her every movement with a curious, rancid energy.
I would step back from her then, unnerved. She’d be fine in the morning but at night I watched as pretense drained away, as she became a being who walked a language-restrained, whose voice, to everyone so smooth and sweet, was the voice of a woman in bondage, whose painful, silent, unconscious battle re-emerged in charmless, hollowed out encounters against the very people she loved and needed most. It made the tiny hairs on my neck recoil in alarm.
That the world existed to destroy her–well, there was no question. But that a swollen cheek or tear-stained chin became orgasmic was the other part of the story–and not the most interesting part besides.
~Kismet Nuñez, Untitled/Unfinished Book Project, September 2010
Some of the hardest battles we fight are the battles over own souls. Our sanity. It is real work to keep our love unsoiled by the pressures of a world that wants to deny our existence–that, at times, is mobilized in a concerted effort to exterminate us. A world that does not acknowledge that we are human, that we are women, that our blackness & brownness has meaning in our lives and therefore is relevant and real and beautiful, that our right to passion and to the fullness of our being is a right we deserve to fight for and kill for unto the end of our days.
It is a battle that isn’t won once. It is labor we do over and over, from the moment we wake up in the morning. Our inability to love ourselves fully is insidious and sneaky and before we know it, the damage is done. We open our eyes and the sun is shining but our love is a twisted, dark and dangerous thing, a weapon we deploy against others–often women as brown and black as we are–to keep them in line. A whip against those who are struggling and deserve our support, our help, but whose road to brilliance is a light that illuminates the self hatred in our lives.
Before we know it, we are on the way to making ourselves better by manifesting the breadth and depth of a toxic inhumanity and justifying the same with the long arm of Church, State & Politics.
It is what happens when brown girls are told by mothers and fathers and priests that the God they love is judging them by criteria ranging from the color of their hair to the color of their hymen.
It is what happens when academic institutions construct esoteric parameters for tenure that, in their very structure, deny the legitimacy of research & writing specific to bodies of color.
It is what happens when we drink the water and let settle, deep inside us, the silt and muddy wetness of a hatred that knows no bounds, that is deadly serious, that would see us destroyed to justify itself, so that instead of waiting for the dark to come we do the work of execution all on our own.
“I’m talking to you, Brownfield,” said Grange, “and most of what I’m saying is you got to hold tight a place in you where they can’t come.” ~Alice Walker, Third Life of Grange Copeland, 1970
This morning I finished The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker (courtesy of @booksfree). And I spent last night fielding a series of crisis calls from friends in need, sistren grappling with the reality of their lives, yearning to love themselves against institutions with paradigms that deny them even a language to understand their world.
After each conversation, I forced myself to focus, because in their words I also heard myself; fighting for life, fighting not to drown under the weight of rules and regulations that do not fit the actuality of our lives. My struggle was their struggle, is my sister’s struggle, my mother’s struggle, my abuela’s….
…and it is more than just breathing. It is a daily battle to breathe and stay human, to avoid becoming as twisted and gnarled and wrong as they’d like us to, as they imagine we are, because that is what they see when they look at their own reflection.
But how the hell do you give birth to yourself–and keep that self alive?
That is part of the excitement over Willow Smith’s video. And the general hub-bub over the Sesame Street “I Love My Hair” video (and the mash-up). And the importance of wearing purple on Oct. 20th and advocating against homophobia on a daily basis.
Because this is a little girl not only breathing but manifesting every innocent and fabulous part of herself, sharing it with the world, demanding that we be “warriorettes” and “warriors” right along with her.
Because little girls are here and around the world are going to watch Willow, are going to watch the “I Love My Hair” muppet (who Puff is right–needs a name) and dance, unconsciously or consciously mapping new terrain in the way they are allowed/able/affirmed/admonished to understand themselves. And growing up in a world of social media, they may even be able to start making their own language to understand themselves, troubling the edges of what we all believe to be true or untrue, appropriate or inappropriate, manifesting a love that isn’t wrong or right but at least free–and therefore all their own.
Because if we do not find ways to fight against the terrain of hatred that we’ve sown, willingly or unwillingly, in our lives and in our society, what we can expect is many more little girls, little boys, and children who fall somewhere in between, hurting themselves, killing themselves, or killing others because they are doing with their bodies and their hands what society is doing to them.