Sometimes you come across words that reach inside, squeeze your senses and leave an unforgettable imprint.
Chinaka Hodge is a writer and educator, and presented this spoken word piece at TEDWomen in October 2016. Since I first heard it many months ago, I’ve thought about it so often, that I wanted to share it with you and preserve it here too. I hope you find your call to courage in it, as I did. And please know that here, you are always in the company of courage. x
Tell your daughters of this year, how we woke needing coffee but discovered instead cadavers strewn about our morning papers, waterlogged facsimiles of our sisters, spouses, small children. Say to your baby of this year when she asks, as she certainly should, tell her it was too late coming. Admit even in the year we leased freedom, we didn’t own it outright. There were still laws for every way we used our privates while they pawed at the soft folds of us, grabbed with no concern for consent, no laws made for the men that enforced them. We were trained to dodge, to wait, to cower and cover, to wait more, still, wait. We were told to be silent.
But speak to your girls of this wartime, a year preceded by a score of the same, so as in two decades before, we wiped our eyes, laced caskets with flags, evacuated the crime scene of the club, caterwauled in the street, laid our bodies on the concrete against the outlines of our fallen, cried, “Of course we mattered,” chanted for our disappeared. The women wept this year. They did.
In the same year, we were ready. The year we lost our inhibition and moved with courageous abandon was also the year we stared down barrels, sang of cranes in skies, ducked and parried, caught gold in hijab, collected death threats, knew ourselves as patriots, said, “We’re 35 now, time we settled down and found a running mate,” made road maps for infant joy, shamed nothing but fear, called ourselves fat and meant, of course, impeccable.
This year, we were women, not brides or trinkets, not an off-brand gender, not a concession, but women.
Instruct your babies. Remind them that the year has passed to be docile or small. Some of us said for the first time that we were women, took this oath of solidarity seriously. Some of us bore children and some of us did not, and none of us questioned whether that made us real or appropriate or true.
When she asks you of this year, your daughter, whether your offspring or heir to your triumph, from her comforted side of history teetering towards woman, she will wonder and ask voraciously, though she cannot fathom your sacrifice, she will hold your estimation of it holy, curiously probing, “Where were you? Did you fight? Were you fearful or fearsome? What colored the walls of your regret? What did you do for women in the year it was time? This path you made for me, which bones had to break? Did you do enough, and are you OK, momma? And are you a hero?” She will ask the difficult questions.
She will not care about the arc of your brow, the weight of your clutch. She will not ask of your mentions. Your daughter, for whom you have already carried so much, wants to know what you brought, what gift, what light did you keep from extinction? When they came for victims in the night, did you sleep through it or were you roused? What was the cost of staying woke? What, in the year we said time’s up, what did you do with your privilege? Did you sup on others’ squalor? Did you look away or directly into the flame? Did you know your skill or treat it like a liability? Were you fooled by the epithets of “nasty” or “less than”? Did you teach with an open heart or a clenched fist? Where were you?
Tell her the truth. Make it your life. Confirm it. Say, “Daughter, I stood there with the moment drawn on my face like a dagger, and flung it back at itself, slicing space for you.” Tell her the truth, how you lived in spite of crooked odds. Tell her you were brave, and always, always in the company of courage, mostly the days when you just had yourself. Tell her she was born as you were, as your mothers before, and the sisters beside them, in the age of legends, like always.
Tell her she was born just in time, just in time to lead.