VOICES OF THE UNHEARD: DEAR BLACK WOMEN
“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
I cannot recall in what context or even what age I was when I first learned of this Malcom X quote. What I do recall, however, was the searing rage and hollowing sadness that washed over me as I immediately understood every part of this statement to be fact. Those feelings of rage and sadness have been constant company throughout my lifetime, and now they most often appear in flashes and waves as I skim twitter to consume the day’s news. While over time, the anger has subsided more quickly, the sadness often lingers. 2020 has not made any of this easier. The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on black women in particular is evidence of societal neglect. The murder of Breonna Taylor that failed to produce an indictment of the cops who killed her in her home spotlights the protection not often afforded to black women. Talib Kweli recently joined the club of unambiguous incidences of misogynoir which reflect the disrespect too often targeted at black women.
There are moments in which I reflect on the sheer magnitude of these challenges and feel overwhelmed by rage and grief. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. Somedays it feels like nobody, not even other black women are willing to go the distance to love and protect black girls and women. The concurrent threats of white supremacy and misogyny and the myriad of ways that the black community has internalized and continues to perpetuate these social crimes against black women feels, at times, too much to bear. Talib Kweli’s behavior is just another example of the too often toxic behavior of men, who even when well intentioned, can still disappoint us, because unlearning these systems of being on which we were all raised is a long and never-ending process.
In the moments when the overwhelm will not yield, I find myself asking, where do we go to be safe? Who loves us enough to protect us without question? Are we going to be ok? I wish more than anything, that these were rhetorical questions.
The answer that snaps me out of this spiral of despair, however, is us—Black women. We create spaces where we can be safe. We love us enough to fight for our protection. We keep fighting to demand justice. We love us enough to keep growing, even when it hurts. I love us, because of us.
Dear Black Women,
We are an altar of stars. We are a tribe of friends. We are a coven of sisters. We are an army of mothers. We are the conspirators of revolution. We are a circle of healers. We are the women wailing at the wall of injustice. We are the salt of the earth.
We are a source refuge for each other when the world ignores our pain. We are each other’s cheerleaders when the world wants nothing more than for us to fail. We are each other’s comfort when society would rather see us wither. We are each other’s teachers, when the world has taught us lies.
When the weight of the world feels like it’s too much to bear, I remember my love for us and from us, I turn to us, and I know that I can keep on pushing.
We are brilliance. We are abundance and gratitude. We are self-determination. We are love. I love us with every inch of my existence, because without us I would have nothing, be nothing.
Because of us, I have everything.
Bernadette Onyenaka, MS, is a consultant at O&G Racial Equity Collaborative and self-described Racial Educator, Facilitator, and Strategic Agitator. She recently completed a National Urban Fellowship while earning her second masters in Public Policy Management from Georgetown University. Prior to this role, she was a National Equity Manager at the National League of Cities and Health Program Specialist with the NAACP.