From the Jerame Reid killing stretching back to the Michael Brown killing, multiracial, intergenerational communities have proudly proclaimed that Black lives matter. But within our contemporary context “Black lives matter” seems to be associated only with Black men, young and old. I want to tell you, Mom, that when I chant those three words, when I march, lie in the streets, or raise my hands symmetrically in the air, I do so to assert your humanity too. You are worthy.
Our Black foremothers in America always had to fight for humanity. In the early stages of the slave trade, Black women were economically less valuable than Black men. When Black women were seized from their homelands and forced aboard slave ships, they were branded with hot irons. When they resisted or expressed their agony through a scream or cry, they were deprived of clothing, and all parts of their bodies were beaten. When Black women were slaves, they were seen as reproducers of property, not of children, with no legal claims over the children they birthed.
When Black women fought for the rights of the children they bore, they still had to become the maid or the midwife to the white family, for pay and survival. Not only could they not take care of their own children, but they had to take care of other people’s children.
Even when Great-Grandma wasn’t given the right to vote, she helped Black men strategize. She told them how they should vote. She and her sisters filled political meetings. Black women coordinated slave revolts. They sued for freedom. They prayed.
Through the Black freedom struggle Grandma was there fighting for collective Black humanity. She demonstrated support. She organized. She led teach-ins. She facilitated literacy and citizenship workshops. She taught us to think beyond conventional models of leadership.
You refused to be moved from sitting in segregated public spaces. You withstood threats against your Black dignity and the currents of volatile white racism. You took a stand against white supremacy with calm and determination to change the moral compass of America. If our community forgot to thank you for your sacrifice, I didn’t. Thank you. You are worthy. You are loved.
You shared some sacred lessons with me. You told me to drink not from the well of hatred, immorality and dishonesty but from the fountain of love, justice and truth, and it nourishes my soul. You told me to seek opportunities just like my grandparents, who joined over 6 million other Black families in the Great Migration and relocated for better opportunities.
You taught me the ritual of saving our financial earnings. Even in 2015, when Black women make 64 cents to every dollar white men make, they still find a way to support their families. You were able to make meals with the few dollars you had. Not once were the lights, cable or water absent from daily use. And you wouldn’t let your financial worries wither a dream. You sought to help your child achieve his dream of graduating from college.
Mom, you taught me how to vote by taking me with you into the voting booth during every presidential election since I was 4, until I was able to participate in democracy myself by becoming a registered voter. You were among the 96 percent of Black women who helped elect our first Black president in 2008, and four years later you remained in this vast group, reelecting President Barack Obama. In fact, in every presidential election since 1984, Black women have voted in greater numbers than Black men, and in the last two elections the voter turnout rate was higher among Black women than among women or men of any racial group.
After all your sacrifices you still suffer the sting of racism and sexism. It seems that the only way you’re rendered visible is through the loss of a Black male, like when your sister lost her husband and had to take on the role of grieving widow, or when your aunt lost her son and had to take on the role of grieving mother. For months we witnessed them endure their misery.
We were left broken each time news came that another Black person had died at the hands of non-Black police officers. We were left damaged when we learned that two separate grand juries had decided not to indict the officers involved in such killings, yet again affirming that our Blackness is a crime. But there seems to be some hope, as we learned that the officer who killed a 28-year-old unarmed Black man who’d entered a dark stairwell was indicted on six counts.
So here we stand, amid turmoil and thoughts of our contemporary moment. Our nation may honor our race and your gender from time to time, but never both simultaneously, outwardly rejecting your dual identity, denying the real forces of racism and sexism and dismissing your heritage. Black women embody the struggle for recognition in America.
So I’m fighting for you, Grandma, my sisters and our ancestors. If the nation is unable to validate your existence, may this offering animate you. You and Black women everywhere matter. God need send no person to the burning bush to affirm your being, because you are made in the image and likeness of God. Just like when you told me that God is love and urged me to discover the God within, Mom, you are loved. You are worthy.