I’ve invited a couple of young women in their 20s to write a guest editorial here today at Something Within. I know these two young womyn personally. They are two of my toughest critics as well as two of my biggest supporters. We are from different generations. I am from the Moses’ generation, they are from the Joshua generation. Sometime I want to take a switch to their legs and banish them from buttin’ into the conversation of the grown women around the kitchen table. Other times I’m grateful that they keep showing up and buttin’ in. I guess I oughta listen.
It’s called the quarter-life crisis. Not to be confused with the mid-life crisis, the quarter-life crisis is not about re-inventing yourself. It’s about starting from scratch. Some refer to it as “finding voice,” “searching for self,” and “becoming a woman.” But what it’s called is not the point here. The point is that just about every young Black woman around the age of 25 knows what it’s like. It’s that period when you find yourself teetering on a fine line between promise and potential and a full-fledged mental breakdown. That period just between graduation and starting a career. That time in your life when you look around and realize that while the mid-twenties is about reveling in the glory of newfound independence, it’s also about milling around in uncertainty and confusion. All of a sudden, you find yourself trying to recall what your mothers and other-mothers once said to you. Or you find yourself reflecting on what you wish they had said to you. To prepare you. To get you ready.
As two young Black women in our mid-twenties, it is from this place—this “quarter-life crisis”—that we write. Seeking wisdom, insight and dialogue from older, wiser women, we’ve mustered up enough courage to venture from our spot at the “children’s table” to enter into the kitchen, the revered realm of grown women. And thankfully, instead of being shooed away, we’ve been invited by Dr. Weems to stick around, “sit a’spell,” and engage in a series of intergenerational discussions here on the blog about the pressing issues impacting young Black women, how older Black women in our lives have informed our experience with these issues, as well as what we need from older generations of Black women to help us navigate our journey.
In the midst of a nail-biting U.S. presidential campaign season, we’ll begin this series with the topic of politics and more specifically, the larger socio-political-economic landscape that impacts the lives of young Black women in the 21st century.
As is the case with older generations, there are a number of current events that have impacted our sense of political consciousness, including the September 11 World Trade Center attacks (most of us recall stories of being interrupted in the middle of morning classes in college with the shocking news), the War in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the Don Imus comments, the Jena 6 protest as well as the Dunbar Village gang rape and the Megan Williams case. And yet, for many of us, our political awareness started budding well before any of these events ever occurred. In fact, much of our early political formation and awareness is indelibly tied to the ways we saw our grandmothers, mothers, and other-mothers engage (and disengage) with politics and current events when we were small children.
While we may have never felt the rush of adrenaline or righteous indignation during a Civil Rights march or sit-in, we did witness (and feel) the hard, cold scowl that came across our mothers’ faces whenever Ronald Reagan was on the television screen. We learned, through eavesdropping on conversations, that the “war on drugs” was a code phrase for the “annihilation of the Black community.” We had grandmothers who allowed us to look at the comics section of the newspaper while they casually told us the “goings on in the world.” We had aunts who read the newspaper from section to section, including every single obituary. There were days when, after a long day at school, we waited in even longer lines just to squeeze into a small voting booth with our mothers, who took less than a minute to vote. We heard women in our families and in our communities rally around Clarence Thomas and shout with joy over of O.J. Simpson’s acquittal and somehow, we learned that Black men must be protected, even if it is at the expense of Black women.
Now, we know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering why our generation, after witnessing such awareness and engagement among older generations, has not continued the legacy of political engagement, or as one older Black woman put it, “We were storming buildings and holding rallies. We knew what was happening in the world. But you all are too busy playing Wii and watching television to care.” O-kay. Enough already! Before the gnashing of teeth, wailing and lamenting commences, we need to debunk a myth: Though young black women (and men) are not out marching and holding sit-ins, it does not mean that we aren’t politically conscious nor does it mean that we aren’t doing political activism. It does, however, mean that our method of activism looks and sounds different.
For the most part, we use the internet to mobilize diverse groups of people to protest injustices. Internet websites like Facebook, Myspace, and Friendster allow people to “interface” with each other creating in cyberspace traditional social networks where mobilization efforts can occur. Just look at the online mobilization efforts and activisms surrounding Megan Williams, Jena 6, MoveOn.org’s campaign to out President Bush to see that the internet is a new place where young activist are being political. In particular, Black women and we would venture to say younger black women between the ages of 18 to 35 are blogging about the political complexities of black female identity.
This is not to say that cyber space is the only place where young black women are acting politically because that’s not true. At younger ages, Black women are creating and sustaining non-profit organizations geared toward uplifting and empowering themselves and their peers politically such as Women’s Empowerment Street Team or HOTGIRLS.
Furthermore, while it’s true that most popular and mainstream black female music artists like Lil’ Kim and Trina rap about material things and their sexual abilities, not all black female MC’s do. There are some that rap and write about the political landscapes of their communities and its implication on black women such as Jean Grae, Lauryn Hil, Toni Blackman, and Bassey Ikpi. By and large, our activism takes on different shades of purple. Yes, we marched on Jena, but we also used cyberspace, lyrics, and non-profit organizations to voice our political agendas concerning Megan Williams and the Dunbar gang rapes.
And of course the reason why silvered hair black women cannot see these activisms is because of the mantra “I brought you into dis world and I will take yo behind out” which quails any type of youthful dissident or political voice. This mantras has other manifestations such as, “Y’all think you stand on your own two feet,” “You don’t know anything about struggle,” “You girls are too fast,” “Y’all don’t go to church no more.” All of these parental, aged, and experienced sayings minimize the ability of older black women to see the activisms and political opinions of young black women.
In most cases, younger black women know the shoulders they stand upon whether they acknowledge the names of the shoulders is somewhat irrelevant if they are acting upon the sacrifices that were rendered. With some limits and constraints, younger black women are creating spaces for them to speak and not relying upon men to pave their way, just look at all the Myspace pages detailing who they are and what they want. Furthermore, they do not have to experience fire hoses, biting dogs, and lynching to know of struggle. They experience struggle everyday when confronted by men who grope them without condoms, by a growing rate of HIV infection among young black women, by a school system that cheats them out of a quality education because they are black children, and by older black people and white people who judge them by their clothes, their hair, their language, and their lack reverence to authority. Black girls know struggle.
And for older black women to understand this—our activisms, political thoughts, and struggles—they must listen to us. Not to tell us “we are in grown folks business” when we convey our concerns and skepticism about Barack Obama’s black male privileges. To listen to us as individuals with opinions and not to down play our voice when we do not share their opinions regarding Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, for seasoned black women to see our activisms, struggles, and concerns, they must get to know us which means dismantling the wall of “I am older and I know” mantra and replacing it with “I am older and know, but I am willing to hear and actively engage your ability to know.” Because at the end of the day this creates a space for mutual dialogue about how we “collectively” and “intergenerationally” can ensure that black women’s voices are heard in various political arenas.
Ultimately, the act of listening and actively engaging our voices helps us to trust older black women. When we trust older black women, we will allow them to assist us in constructing tight critiques of Don Imus and Hip Hop Artist Nelly. When we trust older black women, we will tell them that we want to see more Ella Baker black female leaders who unapologetically confront systems of racism sexism, homophobia, and capitalism. When we trust older black women, we will tell them that we’re supporting Obama because black men have it hard and also because he looks good without them casting The Eye upon us in judgment. When we trust older black women we will tell them that justice and sisterhood extend beyond black women to include other US women of color as well as Mexican US immigrant women and women who live in the Global South. When we trust older black women we will undoubtedly respect their frame of reference when it comes to traditional ways of mobilizing and acting politically. We are even willing to assist them with becoming techno savvy and learning how Hip Hop can be used as a vehicle of social change . . . when we trust older black women to listen and actively engage our voices.