I am the daughter of Marie. The granddaughter of Mildred. The great-granddaughter of Ida. The great great-granddaughter of Lula Mae. The niece of Virginia, Barbara and Janet. The younger cousin of Sherice, Vickie and Roben, and the older cousin of Keshonda. The object of affections rained down by no less than 10 church mothers who shushed me in service, smiled at my stumbling Easter recitations and put daintily folded dollar bills in my patent leather purses when my mama and nana weren’t looking.
I am a student of the writing and thinking of Kierna Mayo, Danyel Smith, Joan Morgan, Denene Millner, Susan Taylor and Melissa Harris-Perry. I am the adoring protégé of history-making badasses Zora Neale Hurston and Ida Wells-Barnett. I am the best friend of Tikeisha and the sister-in-heart of Gretchen, who are steadying themselves in their own incredible legacy-building.
I am the mother of a fiery contemplative and fiercely independent girl child who, a mere 15 years into her own life, has taught me more about what it really means to be first a girl, then a woman than any journal exercise or string of a-ha moments. Her name is Skylar—“scholar” in Dutch—and, even without me fully knowing it, it predestined her brilliance as a free spirit and smart cookie.
I am who I am because of Black women. I am an investment of a dexterous village of beautifully proud and accomplished sisters who poured into my childhood or inspired my adulthood. They are factory workers and PhD’d academicians, a patchwork quilt of personalities and temperaments, personal ambitions and education levels.
They are the world to me because they sowed sisterhood into my spirit. They are mothers of thought and encouragement, even if they are not yet mothers in the biological, nine-months-to-delivery sense.
My mom raised me by herself and she is fabulous for it. I didn’t see it in the doing because I was a kid too salty about not receiving regular gifts of brand-name sneakers and nights out at McDonald’s which, in our household, was a special occasion treat. More than anything, even above her life lessons as a single mama and financial survivalist, she taught me to believe in the power and potential of my womanhood.
She wasn’t fancy or highfalutin about it. I’m almost positive if I mention “feminism” to Mommy, she’ll hit me with either a blank stare or a shrug and a dismissive wave. The term is useless to her. In her world, that word is permanently tied to hippies and bra burnings and 60s social unrest that interrupted her TV-watching when she was a kid. The action behind it, however, the movement that pushes the being, is what she’s been showing me my entire life. She led by her own, offhanded example.
We are in a seemingly turned-up state of conflict about who is and isn’t feminist enough. It’s bell hooks vs. Beyonce, it’s natural girls vs. permed chicks, it’s womanism vs. Black feminism and quite honestly, it’s distracting. Raise your hand if you love being a woman. Pump your fist if you want to see ladies, no matter how old or marginalized or underserved, do well and live their best lives by having equitable access to the resources to make it happen.
I’m oversimplifying the issues, I know. They are both far-reaching and deep-rooted, much too large for any one 800-word blog post to intelligently analyze and discuss. On the other end, however, it’s the white noise that pits one lady’s entitlement as a woman against another’s. We’re bridged by commonality and at odds over our freedom of choice. Labels are becoming a distraction to what we all seem to ultimately want: uncompromised girl power.
I’m thankful for the women who have shown me that feminism doesn’t have to be or look just one way to be useful and balanced and good including, unbeknownst to her, my mama. We don’t make a big deal about Mother’s Day because, true to her nature, she won’t tolerate a whole lot of fussing over her. Generally, I buy her a huge apple fritter to eat with her coffee while she’s reading the Sunday paper and she is sublimely content.
If we’re getting real fancy, she may let me take her to Friendly’s or Five Guys. She ain’t about no frou frou restaurants with dishes she can’t pronounce and I cannot get her to commit to taking a trip any further south than Florida. She’s had 60 years now to be firmly set in her ways, so what she pretty much says is pretty much what it’s gonna be. I can’t even begin to knock her. She’s an independent, self-assured Black woman. So she can do that.