Lately, I've been practicing the habit of taking a book to the toilet with me, instead of my cell phone. If I have a book that I am intensely in love with, this increases the likelihood of disregarding the cell. Currently, that book is 'A Burst of Light and Other Essays' by Audre Lorde, and it has a brilliant turquoise cover with an illustration of Audre Lorde that makes her look like she could be my sister, or mother, or auntie. (But really, wasn't she all of those things, and more?)
Audre has been on my mind a lot lately. On my last journey to the john, I breezed through her essay titled 'Apartheid U.S.A.' Poignant and timely, for obvious reasons.
But this morning, I decided to skim the title essay, and discovered that she had written it in several journal entries whilst breast cancer ravaged her body. Of all the entries, I chose to read the May 1985 entry, my birth month and year.
On May 28, 1985, Audre describes attending her daughter Beth's graduation from Harvard. She describes it as being a rite of passage, emotional, a proud and of course important moment, and yet terrifying in the most familiar ways. That familiarity is what led me here, to these words.
There were, and still are, so many reasons to be afraid as a black woman living in America. Before writing this, before getting up to take a bathroom break, before picking up Audre for that journey, I sat in front of my keyboard, trembling with fear. I often try to fight this fear, but more often than not, it wins, and paralyzes me. When it comes, it holds me captive, keeping me from writing the words, typing the words, speaking the words that will otherwise choke me.
So I find some courage because of Audre. A sister, mother, auntie, black woman, who jumps out at me like a wise ancestor, relating, pushing me through the fear, into hope and courage. She helps me break free and emerge, stronger, more powerful. In this essay, she speaks her own fears at Beth's graduation. "I couldn't help but think of all the racist, sexist ways they've tried to through the last four years to diminish and destroy the essence of all the young black women enrolled here." But even in this, she is happy that her daughter has remained somewhat intact, carrying herself proudly and with style, and has found a "self she can continue living with." I like that. Out of her own fears, she is able to still honor her daughter's place and where she has positioned herself. Yet and still, the terror is real. The trauma of being a black woman in America, is real and ever present. This trauma is laced in Audre's lines, "So I was proud of Beth...but I was also very scared for her." How familiar.
What terrified Audre in May 1985, when I was still less than 30 days old, was the very same bullshit that terrifies me right now. It was and is all the ways American society slowly destroys black women. The pathologies, the myths, the constant onslaught of oppressions. Cycle after cycle, abuse after abuse. Working hard to pacify, be complaint, not disrupt or upset the fragility of the systems reeking of white supremacy that destroy us, one nod at a time. It's all very exhausting, terrifying, and infuriating. I am constantly reminded of what James Baldwin said, "to be black in America is to be in a constant state of rage." Well, to be a black woman in America is to be in a constant state of trauma. Just another layer to the rage that erodes us all. Yet, as Audre once said, our silence will not protect us. Lately, I've taken courage from the words of Baldwin, Lorde, Jesus, and a new favorite, Adrienne Maree Brown, whose book 'Emergent Strategy' is like new wine in new wine skin; these are a few pathways to strength and foundations of liberation.
What helps fight the fear, the rage, and the trauma? Those ceaseless voices calling out, prophetically, encouraging me to prepare the way, again. To break the bread one more time. To reach across the table one more time. To speak the words of truth, peace and Spirit, one.more.time. Because maybe one day, the women who read my words will need the power, too. The power that Audre has passed on to me, so that I can become a voice alongside her.
By the end of my potty break, I had a renewed courage to write this down, and I emerged from the bathroom with tears in my eyes after reading these words:
"I tremble for her, for them all, because of the world we are giving them and all the work still to be done, and the gnawing question of will there be enough time? But I celebrate her, too, another one of those fine, strong, young Black women moving out to war, outrageous and resilient, plucky and beautiful."
We tremble, all the time. For ourselves and for one another. The bible says live it out anyway, in the fear
and with the trembling. And yet, we can celebrate too. Celebrate all that we are, and all that we are becoming as we choose to live in truth.
Sister Audre Lorde said that to me, and to us. For me, and for us.
We can fight the inevitable rage, use it, channel it, leverage it. Face the trauma, and the fear, with our beautiful undeniable truth, our stories, our power to restore and transform. When we hold one another up in sisterhood, we are the collective answer to Audre's gnawing question.
Indeed, there is enough time.
So, tremble and celebrate.
About the Author: Ashley Hill is 32 years old. She currently resides in Humble, TX with her husband Jason, 4 fur babies, and teaches 11th grade English in Humble ISD. She holds a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Connecticut (GO HUSKIES!!) And a Master's degree in Theological Studies (MTS) from Houston Graduate School of Theology. She is a proud and active member of Project Curate Spring 2018 cohort. This piece was originally posted on her blog at www.brokenloaves.wordpress.com