If you’re not paying close attention, this summer seems like a time of unity for Black Americans. Forced to stand up to a dizzying — and nonstop — assault by trigger-happy policemen and courts that don’t believe Black lives matter even enough to indict the people who kill us, it’s an era of increased protests that show Black men, women and children together on the street, on social media and at meetings in an effort to bring change.
Yet when we listen closer to some of the things women are saying, there is a crack in the unity. There is the consensus, among many, that the slogan is Black Lives Matter, but the belief is that Black Men’s Lives Matter more. This discontent found a strong voice recently when college students Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad created a poem called “To Be Black and Woman and Alive.” They performed it this past April at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam and their work has now gone viral after being uploaded online this week.
The poem, which they performed in unison, has lines which include: "In college, this boy said that he didn't date Black girls. Like his mama wasn't a Black girl. Like his sister wasn't a Black girl. Like he didn't drink milk and fat from a Black nipple. Like a Black woman's body ain't bend for him, ain't spill herself to make room for him." But it’s about a lot more than personal relationships and also says, “I grew up learning how to protect men who hate me...learned how to be the revolution spit-shining their spines."
The women, part of a six-person team from New York University, went on to win the competition. Yet their greatest achievement that night may have been tapping into a collective experience that Black girls and Black women everywhere understand. Says Zeba Blay in a piece she wrote for Huffington Post: “The poem perfectly encapsulates the reality of being a Black woman, highlighting how ironic it is that while Black men make Black women feel undesirable, Black women are also on the front lines of civil rights issues that affect Black men — and rarely getting any credit for it.”
Some may disagree, they may not think this is their reality as a Black woman at all. And some Black men may feel that this absolutely does not represent them. The only point isn’t to hear the poem and feel absolute and total connection to it — though if it is speaking directly to you, their words are that much more powerful. The poem’s impact is also in how it conveys an important message, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Black female college students in the 1960s could have written this poem. Or the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s. This belief is why we have the poetry of Ntozake Shange, Sonia Sanchez, Ursula Rucker and many others committed to putting our lives into lyrical stanzas.
These young women’s poem can help get us one necessary step closer to a reality in which all Black lives do, indeed, matter.
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