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Protecting our Intersectional Identity

Once as a graduate level student earning a master’s in Secondary English Education at Brooklyn College (CUNY), I read a poignant work by a Caribbean scholar and wrote a paper entitled Fat, Black Woman Exposed and earned an A+ for my rather unorthodox and admittedly risky approach to a graduate course assignment. In retrospect, I had dared to engage in a scholarly, comprehensive literary analysis in a manner which addressed identity both personally and head on. Based on the time period in my life in which I submitted this assignment, I had to have penned this close reading assignment and thoroughly personal examination between 2008-2010. And this was long before I knew of or had even been exposed to Dr. Kimberle Crensahw’s brilliant framework of the concept of Intersectionality. Yet, I innately understood and even then could passionately speak to how the intersection of these identities resided in my own Black experience. I could also readily relate to how the author and others who identified with identities similar to my own, related to the world around us (or at least, so I thought).

My intersectionality is comprised of all the ways that my identity presents itself to the public and it means that injustice does not merely manifest as racism, sexism, ageism, or ableism (which for me is more sensitive and prevalent, since I have only spent the past 6-7 years facing the tumultuous cycles of disability and limited mobility). Truly, my own unique intersectional identity is a unique combination whereby all of these primary identities and descriptors intersect as a means to either oppress me (in the form of a triple threat), or spur me into action against the injustice of the being unduly oppressed – and I choose (and have always chosen) the latter as an appropriate form of self expression. I embrace, as did my ancestors before me, every component of my intersectional identity as a badge of honor and an enormous asset in my life and work. I keenly trace my educational career through the lens of an empowered Educate to Liberate movement ideal in the sense that I have an unspoken, obligatory commitment to much more than parroting curriculum and standards in a way which is devoid from critical consciousness.

The meeting of my Blackness, my womanhood, my wisdom in aging and even in my (often invisible), disability is itself revolutionary. Because I experience all these identities very consciously and simultaneously, there is this constant need to engage in spirit, soul and life-affirming practices (like prayer, meditation, journaling, affirmations, positive self-talk and the ever warranted need to fiercely protect my inner light and joy). For me, everyday life in America wields power in an intentionally genocidal manner and it literally drains my Revolutionary life blood to be forced to exist and/or identify in ways which are foreign and yet inescapable from a colonizer and marginalized perspective. So, to live, work and fight against oppression yet another day and what motivates me to be ever so committed to retaining the parts of me which are innately African, without making apologies for doing so is to proverbially fill my own cup and to religiously protect my energy.

As such, every part of me is loud, Black and proud and speaks to my identity. From my name to my physical appearance and my personal habits and thoughts, I live out loud, and I celebrate my culture in a manner which is consistent with both an outer and inner appreciation for all the things which uniquely set me apart in this society. My unique Pan-African name is as much of an intentional choice as is my natural hairstyle, my inner city of Detroit address, my lifelong activism, to even my career as an educator and something as seemingly insignificant as my style of dress – I am an intentionally authentic reflection of a proud Woman of African descent, who is differently abled and unafraid to challenge the WS culture norms and system which would sooner erase than embrace me in that it has persistently oppressed my people for generations.

My most unexpected collision with the insidious WS culture traits to which I refer and have become accustomed to being misjudged by, occurred earlier this month amongst a large, virtual gathering of Black activists no less (and while smack dab in the midst of mourning the abrupt end devastating loss of my dear, beloved Queen Mother). As a revered, African woman who worked well beyond retirement age and who gave of herself unselfishly to ALL – my mother should have only been showered with high accolades and regard upon her transition into the ancestral plane. However, two women who worked very closely in the movement for liberation with her and who have known and experienced firsthand the benefits of being loved by such a remarkable woman, opted to speak of her in a recent posthumous tribute in ways that were more offensive and off putting than reflective of respect. In the moment, while I was deeply grieving but still ever protective of my mother’s legacy and keenly conscious of the initial slighted comments, in regards to her heavy teaching load as a tenured professor, I opted to speak freely rather than to read my prepared remarks. But in hindsight, what an incredible oxymoron to be faced with offensive comments and intersectional identity adjacent beliefs (regarding the tireless work ethic and heavy load of Black womanhood), while simultaneously paying tribute and honor to a larger than life human rights activist and public servant who had just literally given of her life’s work in devotion to our collective struggle against racism and oppression, sheesh. Given our common history of raising children, speaking truth to power, being a wife/mother/activist while still maintaining an extensive work schedule any untimely and distasteful commentary re: our cautionary need to attend to self-care as a deterrent against illness and death is as assumptive as it is reprehensible. Both of these separate and disparaging comments and statements (from so-called sister friends no less), are/were deeply driven by personal agendas, opinions, the literal pot calling the kettle black and represent merely a sad reflection of WS culture traits which seek to weaponize catch phrases like self-care, and are not based upon the abject reality of growing up Black, and woman in a culture that solely promotes and affirms white male, heteronormative identity as valued, treasured and synonymous with the privilege of longevity.

Furthermore, the sheer biased, incredulous and external assertion that my mother did not engage in her own deeply regimented lifestyle inclusive of: prayer, meditation, journaling, affirmations, spiritual/physical fitness, positive self-talk and conscious, fierce protection of her deeply religious and ever present spiritual light and joy is wholly unwarranted and false. Her transition from the earthly realm was as predestined, inevitable and as inescapable as is the sun rising in the east and setting on the west. Her life infinitely worth much more than your sound bites of flawed, biased, and un informed opinions. Indeed, her inspirational life and hugely influential path was predetermined and should therefore not be subject to the scrutiny and dangerous assumptions of other Black women whom she regarded as so fondly.

Rather, each of us are entitled to determine for ourselves how to best protect and honor our intersectionality in ways that contribute not only to our own preservation but in such a way as to enhance the lives of others. As for me, I owe an insurmountable debt to my mother, one of my longest 6-year blog subscribers, and certainly my greatest love and fiercest ally and source of strength in all aspects of life. In so much as I have always and will forever strive to model mama’s wealth of love for God, her family and others and to live her exemplary life of service in a way that outlives my own fragile, temporary years – I will continue to embrace and protect her powerful legacy, which proudly runs through my DNA as I continue to protect my intersectionality. Of course, I am extremely aware that perhaps in doing so, and not spending my life retrofitting my African hips, nor lips into too small places that were never meant for me, I risk the consequences of harsh judgment from those whom I love and the external world alike; but honestly, that’s a risk that I’m willing to take and the only one which honors the ultimate sacrifice of the mighty African warrior women who came before me. Asé

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