Maya Angelou left her body behind 12 days ago. I am usually not affected by celebrity passings but I realize that I deal with death the same way I deal with most emotions; I put it away until it falls off the shelf and knocks me in the head. Well Maya just knocked me in the head.
I was reading this quote,
I’m grateful for being here, for being able to think, for being able to see, for being able to taste, for appreciating love – for knowing that it exists in a world so rife with vulgarity, with brutality and violence, and yet love exists. I’m grateful to know that it exists.
and I could almost feel her whispering in my ear. I was reminded of the memes that I saw that featured Phenomenal Woman, “thots” and Kermit the Frog; quotes that made me sadder than I understood. I blamed it on my cycle, but now I understand.
My junior year of college, Dr. Angelou gave the convocation speech. Out she came, a little ol grey-haired lady with glasses and an assistant to help her on. Was this the same woman whose poems we recite with a hip check and a snap and words we wear like a shield? She looked like someone’s grandma bringing them cookies from the house. But when she spoke there was no denying. She said something to the effect of,
“When your back’s against the wall your pride will fall like a hooker(prostitute’s) drawers.
There were gasps, snickers and full out laughter. I was a bit aghast myself. Mama Maya No! Not a prostitute’s drawers! I didn’t understand then but I think I understand now.
Enough people have highlighted the hypocrisy of these statements in comparison to Dr. Angelou’s experience as a sex worker. The part that hurts is that we have abandoned our grandmothers, our great aunts, our woman elders and made them relics in the corner, good only for recipes and warm hugs. We refuse to accept that they were once young women with full breasts and full beds. No, Granny was born, met Grandpa, had kids, cooked meatloaf and now she’s old. The End. We have completely erased their womanhood thus rendering them sexless, voiceless and powerless. That’s what caused the discomfort of my fellow audience members when Maya dared to let the words “prostitute’s drawers” fall gracefully from her lips. Because in that action she said “And Aint I A Woman?”
Imagine the lessons we could learn if we listened to older women. And imagine the cycles that could be broken if older women were not shamed into silence. I need the mothers to tell me about the men they loved, the loves they lost and the lives they’ve lived. I dont want to reinvent the wheel every generation. I want to sit around the the table, turn down the radio and giggle and wipe tears and be schooled. Pass down some life saving knowledge with that biscuit recipe; we wont get it right the first time but we’ll learn.
*Thank you Mama Angelou for reminding us that our stories matter, even if no one wants them or understands them but us. Thank you for living, breathing and telling your truth. We needed you.*