THE GLOW OF BLACK WOMEN

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”– Maya Angelou

Lupita Nyong'o  at the 2014 Academy Awards.

Lupita Nyong’o at the 2014 Academy Awards.

I have been more than a little disconnected from recent news and current affairs surrounding the commencement of Olympic Medalist   Oscar Prestorias’s murder trial and the film academy awards in Hollywood otherwise known to many as the Oscars. I have observed both news events on the periphery through status updates on Facebook. I have not had much time to think about the Oscars or Oscar Prestorius’ much publicized murder trial ( which I will not mention again in this blog) because I have been searching through the corridors of my mind for a way to become effectively… a “successful” human being.  I have been trying to figure out once and for all what it is that I love doing  actually so I can do that  and do it  so well  that people won’t be able to keep their eyes off me just like African-American writer Maya Angelou says.

I have been staring at myself in the mirror in an effort to unlock the answer.

Writing this down now makes me feel extremely vain and self-absorbed. This is something  which does not sit well with me, however I do find it a necessary exercise at this  stage in my life when I’m not exactly sure I know what I’m doing in it,  but then again who does?  So I have been meditating on how to make this life of mine work. I considered that if joy and fulfillment come from doing what you love then I should waste no time in  doing just that.

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?

It has also just simply dawned on me in the most crystal clear way now that; whatever challenges I’m dealing with in any given month become elevated and assume paranormal if not supernatural  importance in my life when I am in a pre-menstrual state or entering the menstruation cycle. I know that women in general myself included are quick to retort to those closest to them saying “don’t you dare say I’m pmsing!’  And though I will concede that some people do use that excuse against women at every opportunity.  I now truly believe that a major shift does take place within a woman around that time.  Often you don’t even know that you are pre-menstrual {over reacting} until the evidence arrives which makes finding creative solutions to manage the blood on the floor somewhat of a challenge. Having said that the menstrual cycle does not negate the validity of my concerns which are all very legitimate – what it does though is to make my response to them essentially primal. Issues which I would otherwise approach methodically in a calm, rational manner suddenly become uncontrollable tornadoes and epic tsunamis. Yes I have had to accept this as part of being a woman – we are creatures not unlike nature itself; nurturing, calm and beautiful one day and wild, moody, and unpredictable the next.  Yes I say this as we mark marking International Women’s day this weekend. I will no longer deny myself the luxury of PMSing. So this conversation with myself takes place within this context. The world will end any minute now if I don’t figure out just what I love doing and do it now, because after all everyone will surely benefit from such a grand epiphany and one more happy person will surely do the universe a world of good!

THE GLOW:  “God Please, Please, Make Me White”

Last night I had a chance to catch up on news and get updates on Oscar’s trial which though I haven’t paid much attention to has been hard to ignore ( I did say I won’t mention Oscar again, I won’t promise). Lupita Nyong’o Oscar win has similarly dominated all my social media channels, I just could not escape her.  Breath taking pictures of her draped in spectacular gowns on the red carpet suddenly threw me into that weird place where the only word I could find to describe myself in the mirror was – inadequate. Ah what have I achieved in my life? What have I contributed to this world that is noteworthy (am I not enough?)….oh here I go doing it again comparing myself to all kinds of people and judging my life based on someone else’s one night at the Oscars. Her  one  moment to shine after a gut-wrenching performance  (in the movie  12yrs a slave) and years and years of praying  and bargaining with God to “ please please, make me white, when I wake up in the morning”.  Finally God has approved. Lupita Nyong’os’ story has turned from one of self-loathing to one of self-love and public – international validation – with everyone singing in a harmonious chorus that says yes – you are worthy, yes you are beautiful Lupita! Though her skin may not have changed shades she has finally received the validation she’s always yearned for in the form  of an Academy Award.  God and all the white and coloured people of the world approve. But life continues and the next day she was pictured dressed in a neon bright oversized t-shirt a nondescript jacket, greenish blue jeans and flat shoes… her hair all messed up and straight from a recent perm. She is standing next to a man thought to be her Ethiopian/Somali boyfriend or brother ( the rumour mill is now well oiled with the latest on Lupita) holding the Oscar possessively next to her. She looked so ordinary, like a long-lost friend I suddenly felt like jumping through the internet and giving her the biggest warmest hug.  Pictures are but a split second freeze frame in a persons’ life, which makes photography such an amazing art-form.  One cannot in all honestly judge one’s entire life (or that of the person being pictured) based on a moment. That is totally crazy and yes completely irrational but it does not stop it from happening.  I suddenly thought about what one of my mentors said to me once, matter-of-factly. He won the title of best journalist of the year in his country (something close to a Pulitzer) after he broke a story which changed environmental laws in Norway and possibly even the world. After 50 years in the profession he says that award which he received aged 26, was the beginning of the end for him. How far would I go to win a prize or be validated….I wondered what am I prepared to sacrifice for a moment of glory on any  carpet?

THE WINNER TAKES ALL:“It was ALL DOWNHILL from there…”

He said. What do you mean? I asked. He told me that though there were study opportunities following a breath-taking year of publicity nothing nearly  as extraordinary has happened to him since – being the African Bureau Chief for his media house (country) was not much of an award for him.  He was effectively saying that winning that award was the end of his career in journalism as he understood it. I found his outlook on this and the concept of “award-giving” or life after winning quite intriguing. It made me think very carefully, deeply and again about why it is that I am still a journalist, why I am doing this job, writing even. What are my truest motives? Why am I doing it? What is the meaning of this that I am doing now, writing on a  Sunday Night? what is the point of  being journalist?   with so many of us doing it all the time in different ways, is my profession still relevant? to me? Am I still relevant? to you? How would winning an award change my life?  Do I want to win? Why?

The Oscar for those in the film world is like a Pulitzer for journalists or the Nobel Peace prize for note-worthy individuals of the world. What do you do after you’ve won an Oscar for the first movie you’ve ever acted in at 31 years of age? Two things, either you keep winning more and more Oscars every year or as my mentor said it’s all downhill from there. In Lupita’s case one hopes it’s the beginning of great things to come. She’s been raised by a strong woman, and has been through more than one Ivy League University, she has produced documentaries {investigating prejudice or discrimination based on skin colour},   she is a polyglot and the list goes on.  Perhaps now that the pressure for an Oscar has been taken off her shoulders so to speak she can relax into roles and movies she loves to do with less pressure and more time.

RISE AND SHINE!

Maya Angelou’s poem– Still I rise encapsulates the glow of Black women as realised in Lupita Nyong’os now iconic status in Hollywood – a moment never to be forgotten by critics and lovers alike.  I don’t think I have ever understood her lyrical poem quite so poignantly before. The glow of black women lies in the fact that no matter how badly we are treated – by all and sundry,  as slaves, caricatures, dolls, idols, sex objects, or as insignificant things to be tossed and turned, used and discarded at will. No matter what challenges are heaped, stacked on our door step for fun… just to “see” how much we can take – we still manage to smile, to love, to laugh, to give unconditionally, to be kind,  to forgive over and over again, to be generous and so understanding of other people’s inner and outer struggles even if those struggles make our lives much harder than they could ever imagine. We still manage to be ravishing while mopping the floor or cleaning up people’s underwear. Even when people don’t think, we’re beautiful, we still  rise everyday like the morning sun to claim our place in the centre of the world. Whether we’re acknowledged with awards or Oscars is neither here nor there. Because there is no one walking on that red carpet who hasn’t been loved, cared for, embraced, or served by a black woman in one way or another. There is no garment, diamond, shoe or skin that has not passed through a black womans’ hands. Black women do it all – lay down the whatever colour carpet you want to walk on, deck out  tables, cook  any meal at whatever time you want it, do the laundry,  look after  children. They council; tell you is beautiful, you is kind, you are great, you deserve good things, you are worthy, you are valid and valuable even if they have never  been told those words before – even if they have never received that love and understanding.  Even if they deserve all those things which you consistently denie them just as much as you do. They don’t complain even if  they have every reason to. I am in complete and total awe of black women, not only because they are black – but precisely because black women always Rise above colour lines. Because we are at your service, black child, black man, white man, white woman and every other shade… we serve you all with the same loyalty and care we would give to our own children if you allowed us enough time to spend with them. We still accord you the respect you deserve even as you spit in our faces and make us seem worth less than the carpet you wipe your shoes on. We continue to care and to serve you whether you acknowledge us or not. That is why we are such a wonder –” how can you be so kind, so beautiful, so understanding ?” you ask ..”after all I’ve put you through? After all I’ve done to you, don’t you give up? Why don’t you retaliate? are you not upset? or angry? Even while you think you’re using us as pawns in a chess game – we already know that we are queens. And nothing you do or don’t do will take that away from us. That is why people wonder. How do you do it Mom? How do you do it sister –child? We are born of love. And therefore we can only do loving things for you. I am in awe of black women…by an overwhelming majority you inspire GREATNESS in me and once more and again I will say…

 Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

In honour of you my mother Joy, in honour of you my loving sister Victoria, in honour of you Madidimalo, in honour of you who have served me – tirelessly – over and over again without ever complaining.  Still I will Rise and Shine in honour of all the black women who have wiped my tears, hugged me and rocked me to sleep at night, who have listened to my stories, and laughed at my jokes, provided me with shelter, words of advice and  life lessons that made me stronger. Still I will rise in honour of those  who never gave up, who never gave in, who never stop loving, believing, hoping, creating, inspiring, caring, fighting for love, being Peace for generations upon generations. Each day I will rise knowing that I stand on the shoulders of great women who may have never walked on any red carpet, and yet, these women, when they walk    every corridor, side street , pavement, gravel, mud path including the red carpet turns into pure GOLD.  Precisely because  it’s not the outside that counts. 

Thank you all so  very much and  Happy International Women’s day Every -Day!

 Love. You.

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