These are my thoughts on how Black women are represented in politics, policy and in the media. It's my response to the often invisibility or hypervisbiity of Black women. It's my quest to (re)claim our humanity.
A couple of days ago I learned that a 22 year old black woman named Karyn Washington had ended her young life. I didn’t know Karyn, or her presence on social media, although I am truly impressed by what I am beginning to learn about her life and work. Last night as I was reading about her work with “For Black Girls” and #DarkSkinRedLip project, I discovered she attended the same undergraduate institution that I did, Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. She seemed like someone I would have been friends with when I was a student there. This realization, this connection was triggering for me and serves as the impetus for this blog.
You see, I was a 22 year old student at Morgan State in 1993. I arrived at Morgan State’s steps a severely damaged person, having survived a childhood of sexual, physical and psychological abuse at the hands of my father and physical, and emotional abuse as well as neglect at the hands of my mother who knew of his crimes but chose to keep him in our home. I too, tried to end my life at some point when I was younger because the pain was too great to bear but my spirit was stronger than the pills in that moment and I woke up. I took to hanging in the streets and to engaging in risky behaviors to survive my home reality. These behaviors were not without consequence, I also had to survive slut shaming from my peers as well as opportunistic guys taking sexual advantage of my vulnerability and desire to simply be loved.
The letter of acceptance from Morgan was the only one that came my senior year. It was my escape hatch. My haven. My safe space. My reboot/Monique 2.0. But when I arrived to O’Connell Hall in 1989, I was damaged, traumatized, and in great need of repair. How is it that I am still here and Karyn is not? I am haunted by this question. What went right for me and went so very wrong for my sister? This question is not about some “strong black woman” victim blaming stance but more about which systems failed her. It is a structural question that I am confronting. She and her beautiful red lips deserves to be here with me. with us.
Karyn’s untimely death has also forced me to accept that I am indeed here. Still here. This may at first appear narcissistic to state that her death has inspired me to document the beautiful ugliness that is life but I would argue instead that this moment right here is about the interconnectedness of our lives. The travesty of Karyn’s death has forced me, black woman surviving, to speak. I have been at the crossroads, I have decided that this life was not worth living. I’ve acted on it once. Why did I wake up? I do not have the answers as to why Karyn is no longer with us. She will be missed deeply. But I am awakened by her infectious spirit and it is now running through my veins. I must—we MUST survive. live. together.
Many folks have told me I should document a black girl’s survival. my survival. I have shied away from such a venture because I have feared that documenting my pains—past and present would render me exposed unto myself and I would not be able to put myself back together again to function day to day. But sista, mother, warrior, Audre Lorde has already reminded me that my silence will not protect me. And so this blog begins, acknowledging my/our intertwined histories of pain and joy and charting the journey forward. I shall testify here in this space. I’m not sure what will come but it is time that I speak. This blog is for Karyn Washington. This blog is brown and black girls. This blog is for me. I’m (we are) still here. I (we) need to bear witness to life. to claw at it. to fight it back. to dance with it. to claim it.
RIP, brown girl. We carry your torch with the brightest of red lips.