Issues
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A Freedom Song for Black Women

Black woman in a barren darkened room, looking out of a window

Black women are like flowers in a field of kudzu. Beautiful, bright and colorful, we fight our way to the light so we are not overcome by society’s demands that climb and shade, smother and constrict our true selves.

There are so many ways to be Black and so many ways to be a woman. 

Oh, to throw our arms wide and embrace the expansiveness of Black womanhood! 

Hundreds of years of misogynoir* — misogyny directed at Black women — have made that harder than it should be, though. Slavers insisted our foremothers were bestial, fractious and over-sexed natural-born servants. They said so in order to commodify our gifts and shame the ones who loved us. 

Good White America told Black women we are emancipated, yet still believes what the men and women, who once held our chains, said about us: Too hard. Too mad. Too untameable. Too loose. Too ugly. Too far from fine womanhood. Too contrary to whiteness. After years of terror and trauma and brainwashing, Good Black America believes some of these things, too. And so Black women forever must negotiate our humanity. We must always be proving that we are not who they say we are. We can never just be.

This is a narrow existence — living to disprove someone else’s delusions about you. Not being an angry Black woman when we ought to be fucking outraged. Not being a matriarch when we have the skill, knowledge and heart to lead. Not being sexually liberated when our bodies yearn to be pleasured. Being forced to save everyone while we slowly bleed out. It is harder still to be unapologetically angry, aggressive, promiscuous or liberated. Black women who dare to embrace these things are roundly judged and punished. 

Imagine what we could do if the world let us breathe and let us be.

What a tangle. Black women can easily find ourselves unable to move authentically. Instead we lurch along in response to other folks’ biases and hatred, never knowing our true selves and living out loud. This too is bondage.

It is a wonder that Black women are able to accomplish all that we do, bound as we are. We love. We fight. We raise our babies. We raise other people’s babies. We create. We laugh. We are your style icons. We stand in the middle of city streets raging against a system that consumes Black lives. We remind the world that our people can’t breathe. All this while struggling for oxygen ourselves.

Imagine what we could do if the world let us breathe and let us be.

Let us be loud. Demanding. Let us chastise and shriek our displeasure like banshees.

Let us be quiet. Meek. Let us keep our tongues and thoughts for only ourselves.

Let us be wanton. Let us sweat and grind. Let us give our love freely, legs akimbo and hips thrusting.

Let us be chaste. Let us love only Jesus. Or let us save ourselves for Boaz. Or Malcolm. Or Malikah.. 

Let us lead the way. Let us guide our families and communities. Let us sit in boardrooms, corner offices and the Oval.

Let us follow. Let us rest. Give us a capable shoulder to carry the burden for a while. And do not make the cost of relaxing our vigilance another foot on our necks. 

Let us give you our beauty uncut — brown skin glistening, lips full, ass sitting and kinky hair reaching toward the sun.

Let us serve our flyest artifice — dagger nails, Bambi lashes and the finest lace-fronts.

Let us care and nurture. Let us cook nourishing meals and kiss scars. Let us part kinks, oil scalps and make plaits with loving hands.

Let us be cared for. Somebody worry about us. Somebody hold us. Somebody love us.

Let us find the gray between this black and white. That is where humanness lies. That is where we flower, unimpeded. Let us be whole. 

This is how you free Black women. 

Let us live in the fullness of our humanity.

Let Black women be.

Let us be free.

*A concept coined by queer Black femnist Moya Bailey in 2010

Filed under: Issues

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Tamara Winfrey Harris

Tamara Winfrey Harris’s first book, The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America was published in 2015 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers and called “a myth-busting portrait of black women in America,” by The Washington Post. She is a writer who specializes in the ever-evolving space where current events, politics and pop culture intersect with race and gender. Her work has been published in media outlets, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, New York, The Guardian, Ebony, Ms., and The American Prospect. Tamara's next book, Dear Black Girl: Letters from Your Sisters on Stepping into Your Power, will be published March 2021.

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