A couple of weeks ago, Meghan Markle released the latest episode of her podcast, Archetypes, just as she does every Tuesday. This one was about the angry Black woman trope and it set Twitter on fire even more than anything else because of the use of my favourite poem of all time, Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise.
I tweeted my feelings about it, and got a stronger response than I’ve ever had on Twitter before. A couple of trolls yes, but overwhelmingly, retweets from women of colour who resonated with my comment ‘if you know, you know.’ We all feel seen by the words of that iconic poem.
The podcast, Maya’s words, the Twittersphere, it all got me thinking….why have I always loved that poem so much? Why do I feel so strongly about supporting Meghan? And why does the combination of the two make the hairs on the back of my neck rise and tears spring to my eyes?
And Still I Rise is a poem that celebrates the resilience of women of colour. It begins by acknowledging the lies that are told about us….the false accounts in history…
In my journey of reading books by authors of colour, I’ve certainly learned how the mainstream history we learn as Brits doesn’t portray the reality of Africa, of Black culture or of anything non-white. It doesn’t dwell on the horror of colonialism, or analyse the sophisticated heritage of other lands. It’s not the average school boys’ fault that they believed the grandeur of their history lessons. Sadly, the repercussions still exist today.
I’ve mentioned some of the stats before. Tragically, Black people are not seen to be as “human” as others. Black women are five times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts and we still see stories today of Black men killed by the police. Maya Angelou’s poem taps into all of this in just a few words, at the same time as celebrating the resilience of the Black community. As well as the humour, confidence and pride that it so often portrayed in a swagger or a hearty laugh.
Sadly, some don’t like this confidence, they would rather see people beaten down, or at least what they would describe as ‘humble’, ‘grateful’ and most certainly, ‘quiet’.
‘Head bowed and lowered eyes. Shoulders falling down like teardrops’.
Maya’s acknowledgement of the sexiness of Black women is pertinent more than ever today too. The silicone bums, lip fillers, false eyelashes that are in fashion – whose characteristics do these procedures emulate? Even going back to the bustles of the Victorian era – a curvaceous bottom has always been in style!
Black people have gone through unimaginable oppression – slavery – those “nights of terror” that Maya mentions. That trauma passes down through the generations. The unwritten rule to work twice as hard as the white counterpart for half the pay. (The ethnicity pay gap in Britain is currently at 34%). The danger of wearing a hoody, driving a fast car, wearing natural hair styles…..there are have certain rules that Black people have to follow to be safe. And yet the community continues to to succeed, to support each other and to have fun doing it, to “laugh like we’ve got gold mines diggin’ in our own backyards”.
It’s not uncommon to hear a Black woman described as ‘too’ something. Too scary. Too haughty. Too loud. Too confident. Too much.
It means it’s not always easy to walk tall. but there’s something the blood, but noone does it quite as well as a woman who’s succeeding against the odds.
So I celebrate Maya (if anyone has read any of her series of autobiographies, you’ll know what incredible resilience she had!) Meghan, and all my female friends and family walking tall. I’m proud of them all. And I’m proud of myself, for everything I’ve learnt, leant into and shared.