Must We Die Exhausted Though?
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted is not only the title of Jayne Allen's 2018 debut novel in a trilogy, it is a phrase that we, Black women have heard for generations.
The "mules of the world." As coined by my Triumphant Soror, the prolific anthropologist and writer, Zora Neale Hurston, in her book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, opens up an entire body of work (just Google it) about the colonizing racist sexist trope placed on Black women, echoing still Sojourner Truth's question, "Ain't I a Woman?" We carry so much.
When do we get to just lay our burdens down?
To be more than a stereotype, a syndrome, or a symbol? There is an entire body of work and study about either the strong Black woman or the Black women who is just tired. People getting PhDs on us, Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, psychologist, professor, minister, wrote about the impact of it in her 2014 book, Too Heavy A Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength.
The last chosen and never wanted.
The least protected and most overworked.
The regulated, the scrutinized, the ones that need an act had to be passed just so we can walk around and not continue to have our natural appearance met with detention, demotion, or disdain in schools and workplaces.
The loud ones.
The oversexed ones.
Or the pent up ones.
The mean ones.
The everything but loved ones.
Yes, it all seems that Black Girls Must Die Exhausted.
But I am deciding differently for myself and for my daughters.
We are deciding differently, if my Instagram is telling the tale. From Black Girl Coffee
to the Black Nutritionist, and the Nap Ministry, Black women are deciding a different narrative.
When I was thinking about this, I was reminded that I spent the better part of my mid-twenties all the way to my early forties being exhausted.
When I was a young professional in Chicago, I was up at 5 o'clock in the morning to get my young sons to their daycare - a bus, a train, and a long walk away, to turn around and hustle back to catch the train for my 8:30am job in the Loop. I was the walking epitome of tired deep in my bones, but I had to keep going.
Then, we had all the demands on our time to be present in church, in community, in every social cause that happened, because mostly, it was happening in our community and who was going to save us but us.
It was draining.
So, over the past two months that I pulled from one of my favorite books, daughter by Asha Bandele, and said, "I will be a collector of me and put meat on my soul," and left something that was sucking the life blood from me, I have been refreshing and renewing myself every day.
It had me thinking this morning, as I was making coffee for my last child, my senior in high school, that I was exhausted.
It wasn't just the pandemic, albeit that altered some things about my life, but I already have an office at home and was working remotely, so not much changed at first for me. It changed more for my daughters who were in high school at the time, and for my in-the-community meetings, but other than that, I didn't have to adjust to working-at-home.
What was draining me was that the demands placed on Black, specifically African American women, were taking every bit of everything out of me.
I was not "woke" enough in some of the circles, even though my body and. memories bear the scars of when I was "closest to the pain."
I was too educated for some of the folks even though we advocated for kids in school to get all they can in the nation's public education system, as their birthright.
I was too comfortable for some even though they do not know the cost of structuring my life around the lives of my daughters, both of whom battle chronic illnesses that made it necessary to be accessible during the day, to have flexibility, and autonomy.
I was too aware for others because I read and read voraciously, I am an intellectual, as my seminary sister called me, and I connect the dots. It was never about self-aggrandizement, even thought that became the badge I saw others claim, about how much they were doing in "the movement."
In the end, I was too ethical.
I could not continue to live an exploited life, of my own story and the stories of others, but ultimately, of a community that has become the scapegoat for everything.
Educated Black Women are the office scary woman that others either wanted to regulate or modulate, or even well-meaning, want to restructure into their image. Catch episodes of Netflix's "The Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce" and see what I'm talking about with the sole Black female character in this ensemble. They were always trying to fix us, even other Black women, cue a scene from The Only Black Girl by Zakiya Dalia Harris about the fictional account of the only Black editor in a publishing house until another one showed up.
It all had me thinking this morning, as I was putting on my dressy sweat pants and "I'm speaking" t-shirt to drive my daughter to school, must we die exhausted?
Over the past few months that I have not had to worry about what was happening in a state a whole other time zone away. The toxicity of the work that entailed being so aware of every single social, cultural, political, and economic thing that was going on was too much, so over the past two months, I tuned out.
I tuned out of Facebook, even before Zuckerburg tried to rebrand it to Meta. I mostly just tuned out, I needed the quiet contemplation of my heart.
The news was mostly read, in The New Yorker, and of my daily posts on Apple. I had to get still.
So this morning, as I am thinking about 2022 and emerging, I am deciding that while I may have more years behind me than in front of me, I do not intend to use them up for endeavors that will not feed my soul.
That means I am going to choose what I do next. I have worked my entire life for that luxury, sacrificed much, and as my last child journeys through her senior year of high school, embracing this time of renewal.
In 2019, I uttered a word - S H I F T - over my life. That was my word the entire year. It was when I graduated seminary, when I made a decision to stay for what I thought was just one more year in a faith-based organization, and while I navigated through my denominational ordination process.
In 2020, I uttered a phrase - Reclaiming the Dream. Little did I know all that was going to happen that year, after I was in Las Vegas for a foray into what was to be a tumultuous political season, that a month later our world would stop. The phrase still became reality as my family stood in the gap for a life cherished and thankfully still with us.
In 2021, now in a new state, my word became, B E I N G. I wanted to be present in my new space and was working on ways to extricated myself from the former places that were taking up all my energy. I wanted to be fully present for my life here. It took nine months into the year to be able to release the last hold, but I did and I am, being.
Black women don't owe the world anything.
We have already given everything, especially in America.
And we continue to do so, in so many ways.
One of the things I am claiming for myself and others is that we give to ourselves.
Give to ourself the gift of space, of renewal, of thinking, of dreaming.
It is not too late to shift, reclaim the dream, and be.
I do not know what the remainder of the year will entail and I do not know what 2022 will bring, what I do know is that I will not die exhausted, I will not die unspoken, I will not die unfulfilled.
Maybe I will just C L A I M all that was mine in the first place.
Tayé Foster Bradshaw enjoys lattes, strolls along the Long Island Sound, a pour over of Fair Trade Coffee, her Moleskins, handmade pens, and growing TBR pile. She and her family live in Connecticut. Tayé Foster Bradshaw is her pseudonym honoring her late father and matrilineal heritage.
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