Archive for the ‘Maya Angelou’ Category

Missing Old Black Women

Monday, February 11th, 2008

A grandmother’s love, I have been told, is one of life’s gifts. I wouldn’t know. Both of my grandmothers died before I was born. Which probably explains why for much of my life I have suffered from grandmother-hunger. I can not get enough of old black women. That is one of the things I cherish about the black church, despite its many warts. Where else but in the black church do you get to see old black women in significant numbers on a regular basis? Women are invisible after they reach a certain age.

What was unthinkable a century ago is commonplace today: a young woman can live out her 20s and 30s, those delicate decades, without any female kin over fifty years old in a 200 hundred mile radius of where she lives. No woman she’s bound to by blood who can get to her at a moment’s notice when she’s in trouble. No woman nearby to remind her what women in her family look like as they age. No woman nearby who has the right to correct her when she’s wrong.  No mother on hand to tell her the story of her beginnings. No grandmother to tell her what she thinks whether the younger woman wants to hear it or not. No aunt nearby to interpret her dreams. No old woman around to pat her hand and assure her, ”Baby, The Lord will make a way somehow.”

Watching this video of Maya Angelou who, the Lord willing, turns 80 years old this spring, I understand what the Bible means when it says, “The glory of the young is their strength, but gray hair is the splendor of the old” (Proverbs 16:31).

Only the godless disrepects his or her elders.

Every society has some hallowed image of the old wise woman, the crone, the female sage of the village. In the world’s mythologies,  wisdom is feminine. Wisdom is usually an attribute of a goddess or woman in whom wisdom has become a conscious part of her psyche. Wisdom is a woman, a crone, a goddess, a feminine archetype. In Greek mythology, she is Athena, goddess of wisdom and military victory, the patron goddess of the city Athens. In the Bible, she is Sophia, Lady Wisdom crying out in the streets. She is the Divine Mother, the Sacred Feminine, Mother of God, Mother Earth. Her name is Mary, Aphrodite, Venus, Kwan Yin, Tara, Gaia, Maat, Isis, Saraswati, the Shekinah, to name a few. To experience her is to catch a whiff of the Divine.

Sadly, the image of the female sage has been in recent years reduced in our community to a commodity to poke fun at. She is the loud, boisterous, overweight, sexless, middle-aged woman played by a male actor in drag. No woman wants to admit to being old in our youth crazed culture. Fifty-five is the new thirty-five.

Until we hear Maya Angelou speak. Or see Cecily Tyson on screen. Or catch Dorothy Height in one of her hats. Or eavesdrop on Ruby Dee reminiscing about her career in theatre. Or listen to Marian Wright Edelman talk about children. Or experience Nikki Giovanni read a poem. Or watch Mother Hambrick step into my church on Sunday morning and take her favorite seat.  They serve as role models for us of a possible aged self. Unbought. Unbossed. Wise. Old. Settled in the skin you’re in.

She captivates us and embarrasses us, this old wise woman does. As much as we sit on edge when she comes in the room, wondering what in God’s name will come out her toothless mouth this time, she continues to be the object of our secret longing.  Watching her sit there–old, but regal, doddering but undefeated, withered, but wise–she reminds us of all the un-mothered/ under-mothered places within. Places within each of us that still long for a (grand)mother’s touch, a (grand)mother’s voice, a (grand)mother’s guidance, a (grand)mother’s protection, a (grand)mother’s breast, a (grand)mother’s wisdom.

Baby Girl, Where’s Your Line in the Sand?

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Warning: This is a rant.

A popular website that will not be named on this blog decided earlier in the week that the way to get back at Maya Angelou for endorsing Hillary Clinton is to post Angelou’s photo there on the website with the caption underneath “Ho, Sit Down.”

It’s taken me several days to catch my breath.

Okay, young womyn of the hip-hop generation, whoever you are, whatever you call yourselves, however you define yourselves, where’s the line? When is enuf enuf? When is it not funny anymore?

Ms. AngelouNot only is Maya Angelou at 79 years old an icon in our community. Not only is Maya Angelou an elder in the village who has made invaluable contributions as a poet and writer and footsoldier in the Civil Rights Movement. Maya Angelou is old enough to be your great grandmother. Baby girl, Maya Angelou is your great grandmother.

Aren’t mothers and grandmothers, and old women, off-limits when we’re fighting? 

I’ve been wondering lately, young womyn, where is your line in the sand?

Evidently I, and the women of my generation, can’t decide that for you. The late C. Delores Tucker learned that the hard way back in the early 1990s when she tried to launch a campaign against the filth in rap music and your beloved Eminem and Tupac deployed some pretty filthy language in their lyrics to shut her up. 

As someone reminded me the other day, I’ll be collecting Social Security in few years, if it’s still around by then. (Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise.) And as such, you and I are generations apart. What I say is smut, you say is art. What I consider obscene, you consider free expression. What I decry as profane, you embrace as edgy. What I label risky, you label sex positive. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

So, here’s what I have to want to know from you young womyn.

Forget what you want in a presidential candidate. Forget what you think about the black church. Forget what you think about feminism and second wave feminists. Forget what you think about your mother.

What do you want for yourselves? What do you consider to be sacred? What are your values?  What does it take to make you mad, baby girl? (Thanks Song in the Key of Life for showing that some of you get it.)

But why is there no outrage at calling Maya Angelou a “ho” to match the outrage that was launched against Don Imus? Or was it “nappy headed” that was the real insult back then?

You seem to be knowledgeable and articulate about racism, but can you recognize sexism when you see it? Does it make you mad?

Baby girl, do you know when you’ve been betrayed?

Baby girl, do you even know when you’ve been disrespected?

Baby girl, do you know when you’re hated?

Tears in the eyes. Face in the hands. Elbows in the lap. Chest heaving. And, yes, scarf around my head. I sit here asking myself, ”Lord. Lord. Lord. Somebody tell me, where did we go wrong?”

Do What You Have The Power To Do

Monday, December 10th, 2007

You don’t even have to be a starry-eyed Oprah follower to know how much medial mogul Oprah Winfrey respects Maya Angelou, writer, activist and poet. She quotes from Maya Angelou on her show and has had the Poet Laureate on many times over the years. Maya Angelou was one of the 25 honorees at Winfrey’s Legends Ball earlier this year, and Oprah has even given her mentor a weekly radio show on her “Oprah & Friends” satellite radio channel.

But when it comes to politics, evidently friendship has its limits. And that’s a good thing, I believe.

Close friends Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey – mentor and protégée, godmother and adoring daughter-like figure —have decided to use their star power to lend their support to their favorite presidential candidate. The problem, for some, is that the two friends disagree on which candidate should become president. Oprah Winfrey has decided to go all out for Barack Obama’s campaign by throwing a Hollywood studded fundraiser for him back in the fall and this weekend joining him in Iowa and South Carolina at his stomp speeches. Maya Angelou, 79, who was the poet at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in January 1993, makes it clear that she’s ready to pen another poem for a Clinton presidency

Speaking to the throngs in Iowa and South Carolina who, like myself, have doubts about Obama’s experience, Winfrey said: “Experience in the hallways of government isn’t as important to me as experience on the pathway of life…The amount of time you spent in Washington means nothing unless you are accountable for the judgments you made with the time you had.”

Frail, but undaunted, poet Maya Angelou has taken her support of long time friend from Arkansas, Hillary Clinton, to the airwaves in a 60-second radio spot running throughout South Carolina entitled “My Girl.”

“Each generation of African Americans stands on the shoulders of those who came before,” says Maya Angelou.” Today, the challenges facing us threaten the dreams we have had for our children. We need a president with the experience and strength to meet those challenges. I am inspired by Hillary Clinton’s commitment and courage … a daughter, a wife, a mother… my girl.”

It’s a lesson in the use of power. We are witnessing two African American women using their power as cultural icons to make the changes they want to see in the world.

You remember the story in Mark 14 of Jesus’s anointing at Bethany by the woman with an alabaster jar filled with costly ointment. When some of the guests treated her rudely, Jesus replied, “Leave her alone.” (I like that part.) Then Jesus told them, “She has done what was in her power to do.”

Do what you have the power to do.

Power. Influence. Charisma. Seniority. Wisdom. Capital– financial and moral.

Certainly, power is difficult to define and takes many forms. In the past power has been defined in the male sphere as having control. But as more and more women stretch out and begin to use their moral, economic, political, and intellectual influence to change the way things are done, perhaps it’s time to redefine power itself as having the energy, influence, vision, and the courage to risk becoming a change agent.

I admire Oprah Winfrey. I like what she has to say about Obama’s candadacy in her stomp speeches. (Too bad Obama has to take the mic after Winfrey.) I agree with her that values and vision matter. I just disagree with her on how very much experience matters when it comes to the highest office in the land. Too bad she’s not running for president. I trust her experience in effecting change more than I do Obama’s.

But that’s a point for another day.

For now, I am just enjoying watching two powerful black women go out on a limb for who they believe in. Angelou and Winfrey, two women at the height of their careers, one in media and the other in art, each using her seniority, making use of her influence and visibility, and tapping the moral and political capital she’s amassed over the years in her career, to get her favorite candidate elected. I’m delighted to have lived long enough to see black women making it clear where they stand by playing an important role in reimagining and redefining power in all of its contexts—not only for the sake of women, or for blacks, but also for the well-being of all people, all cultures, and the earth itself.

Do what’s in your power to do.

What’s the point in having seniority if you’re going to play if safe, like you did when you were an upstart and were afraid to make waves? What’s the point in climbing to the top of your profession, if all you’re going to do when you get there is to continue with business as usual? What’s the point in having power if you’re not going to use it?

Do what’s in your power.

Leave the rest to God.