My Blackness Goes Before Me: A Poem and Commentary on Racism and Reproductive Justice


Cross-posted from Race-Talk.

“In our research, what’s detrimental to the black community is the lack of access to comprehensive health care and education,” said Candace Cabbil, the program associate for pro-choice group Sister Song. “We believe that abortion is a part of healthcare.”

I wrote the poem below because I had grown tired of people not seeing me beyond the color of my skin or my “otherness.” The other day I visited a friend and the first thing her mother-in-law asked me was if I was from Haiti after she heard my accent.  I know not everybody can differentiate which is which accent from people in the Caribbean but sometimes it just gets tiring when you are lumped into one big statistic.  She later asked my 11 year-old, who is proving to be a very accomplished artist already, if she wanted to go to the local school in NH.  My daughter was offended that she could only see her attending a local university when she has ambitions for more specialized ones like Rhode Island School of design or MIT. She is young but we stress education and she knows what she wants to do and where she wants to go already. My friend’s mother-in-law’s attitude plays into the whole educated blacks equals affirmative action thing without her even knowing how she is being perceived by a person like me. It does not even matter because she does not care. She does not “see me.”

 On the macro level I see it being played out on a larger scale as in African-American’s women’s right to choose as exemplified in this article that talks about Anti-Abortion Billboards.  The organization responsible for these billboards just lumps all black women into one pile without any credible evidence.  I get offended by things like this because it feels as if so many people are speaking for black and African-American women/people or even for our President without knowing what is true or not about so many things. Have many of them ever visited the home of a black person in the inner city? Do many of them know our true day to day struggles? No. I wonder why they feel the need to use our skin color to define us. The poem came from the recognition that even though I might have a lot to say about many things, in this country, when people see me they first see my “blackness” and then they register (or not) the rest of me.  My daughter puts it even better.  She says it is like she is invisible. This is how it feels most days especially living in surburbia where there are not many of us. It is sad that they don’t see us as human beings.  Then I realize it is imprinted in the sacred document of this country that blacks are not fully human and I realize that race is stitched into the very fabric of what makes this country what it is. Not taking out the piece in the Constitution that stresses the inhumanity of black people gives a kind of permission for those who see us as ‘lesser than’ to continue to dehumanize us by not even registering our presence or our needs. After all, the Constitution says they can.

The whole President Obama certiicate fiasco made me want to say something about it so I decided to break out this poem to say what is on my mind. If they can question his very citizenship then what would they do to a mere immigrant like me? The fact that my 11 year-old daughter could translate my words into a drawing says that she is really listening and hearing what I have to say regarding race past and present in America.

See Amaranthia’s art blog here.

A steady anger burns within me
Welling up from deep
Deep inside

Three-fifths of a human being
The sacred constitution of the
Red, white and blue

Walking into a room
My blackness goes
My blackness goes
Goes before me

Those of the majority
Not all
Not few
But many
Still do not see
See me as
human
woman

Only
Black

Not as mother
Of a beautiful almond eyed
Sepia skinned
Baby girl
Not as graduate
of
Ivy league
Not as wife
As I
As Me

Someone whose life is
Just as significant
Meaningful
Purposeful
Beautiful

Three-fifths of a human being
The sacred
Sacred constitution of the
The red, white
Red, white and blue
Not removed
Still written in
Indelible ink
To be read
Perused
Overlooked
Excused
Invoked

When I walk in
Into a room in my blackness
Precedes me
You see not I
Not mother
Not woman
Not wife
Just

Black

Nothing has changed

So many things locked in
Racist
Classist
Sexist
Passive aggressiveness
Intellectual sarcasm
Impoverished ignorance
Blatant Alienation

Little has changed
I am
Black and living next door
Behind the same white
Picket fence
Enduring bleached smiles
But not with
Eyes

A steady anger
Burns within me
Welling up from deep
Deep inside

Three-fifths of a human being
The sacred constitution
Of the red, white, and blue
Blackness walking
Walking into
Into the room before me

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  • plume-assassine

    Thank you for this article, and for the beautiful poem.

     

    The organization responsible for these billboards just lumps all black women into one pile without any credible evidence.  I get offended by things like this because it feels as if so many people are speaking for black and African-American women/people or even for our President without knowing what is true or not about so many things. Have many of them ever visited the home of a black person in the inner city? Do many of them know our true day to day struggles?

    This stood out to me the most. I have met so many rural white conservatives who “question” the President’s birth certificate based on his skin color (and they try to tell me it’s not about that), or try to co-opt Black civil rights in their desire to shame women for abortion. It doesn’t make any sense; they talk about how poor people struggling to get by “shouldn’t” have kids, but then they turn around and say they “shouldn’t” have abortions. How about they stop trying to tell an entire gender or an entire race what they should or should not do?

     

    By the way, your daughter is a very talented artist, at only 11 years old. MIT was my one of my dream schools when I was her age, too. (I settled for a local undergrad school after all.) But I know she will get in. :)

  • cheryl-gittensjones

    Thanx for the compliment on Amaranthia’s art. She will be happy to hear! She is definitely a talented kid and we try to give as much positive support and guidance as we can. Even if she decides to go to a local university in the end that is ok too, I just get offended when the first assumption is that her only choice is local. Why? Black people and their kids have big dreams too and not just about being a sports star… Puleassse! Most of the time these people do not even realize they are being or saying something offensive. I truly think it is because even as you stand in front of them they do not register your presence because your ‘blackness’ keeps getting in the way.  It is a very frustrating feeling to be on the other side of this. feels like you are insde a bad movie each time it happens.  I just get so fed up of people who know nothing of my experiences speaking down to or at me.  Really teaching my daughter to be strong and centered in her life so she can stand rooted in this world. Thanx again.

     

  • pilar608

    Thank you for the article and the lovely poem.  And your daughter is very talented–the picture she drew is what caught my eye as the articles were scrolling across the front page.

     

    It’s hard for me to articulate what I’m thinking, so I think I’ll just leave it at thank you.