That I’m Black informs my movement. My ability to literally ground myself in my own physical experience, in my own body is challenged by systemic oppression, by racism, by misogyny. Aspects of my own femininity, my own womanhood, my own sensuality have been stolen from me because, in someone like me, they are of no use to the oppressor.
“Are you feeling a little uncomfortable right now?” Our photographer asked me. And I knew that my trauma was showing. I knew that my shortcomings were evident. I knew that I was wearing, on my body, in my expression, all that this system has forced from my being.
For the past couple of days, I’ve been reflecting on all of the beautiful, necessary things my foremothers secreted from their bodies in their efforts to produce; to produce what our oppressor demanded, to produce what our men expected, to produce that which would protect our children, to produce the transformation of a legacy of Blackness that was shaped by white influence, white expectation, and white gaze and, somehow, nonsensically, made our responsibility.
“After I been at he place 'bout a year, de massa come to me and say. 'You gwine live with Rufus in dat cabin over yonder. Go fix it for livin'.' I's 'bout sixteen year old and has no larnin', and I's jus' igno'nus chile. I's thought dat him mean for me to tend de cabin for Rufus and some other niggers. Well, dat an start de pestigation for me.
I's take charge of de cabin after work am done and fixes supper. Hew. I don't like dat Rufus , 'cause he a bully. He am big and 'cause he so, he think everybody de what him say. We'uns has supper, den I goes here and dere talkin', till I's ready for sleep and den I gits in de bunk. After I's in, dat nigger come and crawl in de bunk with me 'fore I knews it. I says, 'What you means, you fool nigger?' He say for me to hush de mouth. 'Dis so my bunk, too,' he say.
You's teched in de head. Git out," I's told him, and I puts de feet 'gainst him and give his a shove and out he go on de floor 'fore he knew what I's doin'. Dat nigger jump up and he and. He look like de wild bear. He starts for de bunk and I jumps quick for de poker. It am 'bout three feet long and when he comes at me I lets him have it over he head. Did dat nigger stop in he tracks? I's say he did. He looks at no steady for a minute and you's could toll he thinkin' hard. Dam he go and set on de bench and say, 'Jus wait. You thinks it am smart, but you's am foolish in de head. Dey's gwine larn you somethin'.
Hush yous big mouth and sty 'way fron dis nigger, dat all I wants,' I say, and jus' sets and hold dat poker in de hand. He jus' sets, lookin' like de bull. Dere we'uns sets and sets for 'bout an hour and den he go out and I bars de door.
De nex' day I goes to de missy and tells her what Rufus wants and missy say dat am de massa's wishes. She say, 'Yous am de portly gal and Rufus am de pertly man. De massa wants you-uns for to bring forth portly chillen.
I's thinkin' 'bout what de missy say, but say to myse'f, 'I's not gwine live with dat Rufus .' Dat night when him come in de cabin, I grabs de poker and sits on de bench and says, 'Git 'way from me, nigger, 'fore I busts yous brains out and stomp on den.' He say nothin' and git out.
De nex' day de massa call me and tell me, 'Woman, I's pay big money for you and I's done dat for de cause I wants yous to raise me chillens. I's put yous to live with Rufus for dat purpose. Now, if you doesn't want whippin' at de stake, yous de what I wants.
I thinks 'bout massa buyin' me offen de block and savin' me from bein' sep'rated from my folks and 'bout bein' whipped at de stake. Dere it am. What am I's to do? So I 'cides to do as de massa wish and so I yields.”
What did it mean to be a Black woman in 1793? When your being, your body, your sexuality were simply the means of production? Didn’t serve you, but were actually your enemy? Weren’t vessels through which you could consistently experience pleasure, but instead betrayed you; constantly, perpetually? The white man’s law declared that there would be no more slaves across the border in 1808. And what did that mean for you? What was seen as politically humane, a step toward abolition meant for you that the master would force himself on you a few more nights per week, that he would force a Black man, his slave, to fuck you because, together, you could produce little Black babies that would grow his estate, grow his wealth, and perpetuate your own oppression. It meant that you would work your fingers, your arms, your legs, your heart to exhaustion with a protruding belly, swollen feet and lashes across your back. Love did not belong to you. Sex did not belong to you. Motherhood did not belong to you. You didn’t belong to you. Submission meant the forfeiture of your womanhood and submission was your reality.
Nineteen sixty one and freedom will be mine; My body is weary and my smile is slow. One, two, one thousand steps to the doctor’s. Laying down for this white man like my grandmother did. Except this time is different. This time massa means me well. I’ll be cured of all ills and will bequeath none upon my offspring; That way he can tenant farm for Massa and work for damn near free And maybe vote. But, alas, my eyes peel open and the doctor is done. Won’t be no offspring.
What did it mean to be a Black woman in 1961? When your lashes became bruises left by the fists of white men who would not risk a second, nor a real emancipation. When your womb became a war zone and your future children didn’t stand a fighting chance against white supremacy? When visiting the doctor for a procedural cyst removal meant sterilization, but never relief from the incessant mothering you owed as fealty for the color of your skin; for being on the wrong side of perpetual greed? For, it was up to you to mother the movement, to mask the stench of decaying bodies hoisted throughout the south as both decoration and demonstration, to be a symbol of hope for the Black man’s future-but not necessarily for your own. Democracy did not belong to you.The future did not belong to you. The dirt cheap labor you produced to cushion America’s perfect, seemingly rock-solid economy would never benefit you. You would never have children of your own; even if you birthed them.
“I’m not in love. People see Robyn with me, and they draw their own conclusions. Anyway, whose business is it if you’re gay or like dogs? What others do shouldn’t matter. Let people talk. It doesn’t bother me because I know I’m not gay. I don’t care.”
“You know what? I am so tired of this. I’m really sick of it. People want to know if there is a relationship: Our relationship is that we’re friends. We’ve been friends since we were kids. She is now my employee. I’m her employer. And we’re still best friends. That’s what it is. You mean to tell me that if I have a woman friend, I have to have a lesbian relationship with her? That’s bullshit. There are so many, so many female artists who have women as their confidantes, and nobody questions that.”
“People out there know I’m a married woman. I mean, what kind of a person am I-to be married and to have another life? First of all, my husband wouldn’t go for it-let’s get that out of the way, okay? He’s all boy, and he ain’t goin’ for it, okay? But I’m so fucking tired of that question, and I’m tired of answering it.”
What did it mean to be a Black woman in 1992? To trade the love of your life for a man your family could accept and the record label could sell? To make decisions about your body, your heart, your womb, and your womanhood that had nothing to do with your happiness and everything to do with your ability to produce for the white men who circled you like vultures, feeding from your talent and basking in a light that only she whom they banished could replenish? To have no one ask of your desires and to watch those who claimed to love you become seduced by the luxury the commodification of your spirit afforded them? To die because you could not, you could never be free?
“Cardi gained some weight in this picture. Lose the dead weight sweetheart its slowing you down.”
“Your album was trash. Your music sucks. You didn’t deserve shit. Go back to being a STRIPPER.”
“Go away please. You’re making ghetto people proud to be ghetto.”
“The hips look nasty.”
“Well iamcardib just when everyone gave you much respect for your comment about Trump! You probably just lost more than half of those people. Wondering what you’re going to teach your daughter.”
“I love Cardi as an entertainer but this is just degrading. Ladies show off your mental talent more than your sexual ones. Let’s put some respect on our names.”
What does it mean to be a woman in 2019? To be left unprotected by a faux-heroic feminism that never considered misogynoir? To continue to collect the check anyway?
“Are you feeling a little uncomfortable right now?” Our photographer asked me and I felt ashamed before I could catch myself. I felt ashamed that she could see what I inherited from the women who lived before my time. I felt ashamed of the toll my proud lesbianism has had on the perceived legitimacy of my pro-Black platform. I felt ashamed of the sex I’ve had with men that left me confused about what, exactly, women are supposed to take from sexual experiences. I felt ashamed of the sacrificial mothering the self-erasure I engage in on a daily basis in the name of Black liberatory struggle. But I am uncomfortable with being found responsible for my body’s dysfunction. Generational trauma is an obvious culprit and a given impediment to the accessibility of my own womanhood.
How outrageous that I should expect myself to know how to be femininely, sexually, or sensually free knowing that this sacred knowledge has been intentionally kept from me?
How outrageous that I should expect myself to, in an instant, heal a disconnect so deeply rooted in my heritage that it spans hundreds of years?
How outrageous that I should expect myself to truly lean into freedom and fluidity even as I find myself vicariously moist with the divine feminine wasted, replaced by conditioning that forever dictates Black womanhood’s manifestation.
There is nothing to do but reclaim my sex and my womb, at my own pace, in my own time.
There is nothing to do but celebrate, for all of the world to see, the light filled love I have been blessed to find in a Black woman with whom I will never reproduce human resources for the oppressor to exploit; to wield against us in our war for liberation.
There is nothing to do but proclaim my body, my demonstrative sensuality a gift to myself, to my community, to the universe I inhabit.
There is nothing to do but reject the idea that I must disprove the world’s ideas about Black women, that I must focus on anything other than dismantling the system that stigmatized my existence, my sexuality, my being, my motherhood.
I have a duty, a responsibility to my ancestors, to live my life as a wildflower would, thriving beyond boundary for the rest of my life; healing the fissures left in the innumerable spirits housed in my heart, with hands on my head, and with breath in harmony with mine that could not be treated in their lifetimes.