Being #alivewhileblack, female and queer is often a multilayered experience that compromises our mental and physical health moment by moment. It’s as if people of Afrikan descent have an instinctual ability to sense when white people are uncomfortable around us or when they’re being racially insensitive even when they’re not blatant about it. In fact their negative behavior is often a reflection of the irrational fear they feel about us. And it down right sucks to always be aware of the elephant in the room on some level.
I remember the first time I heard the racial slur “cotton pickin” used in a professional setting by a white person. I was working as a mental health professional in a hospital. My new clinical director at the time summoned me to her office to discuss my annual employee evaluation. Keep in mind that she perpetuated racist stereotypes toward me since meeting her. She would wait until no other staff member was around and began speaking “urban” colloquialisms for instance “yo” or “what up homegirl”. She used swear words in my vicinity in excess as if (looking for my approval) on some #DrivingMrsDaisy shit and how she categorized me in racially biased stereotypes projected onto black people like “you know how it is growing up in the hood” or “y’all blacks got they rhythm”. The instant I entered her office she told me to “wait a cotton pickin’ minute” while she went to the bathroom. I was like no this bitch didn’t just say that to me. I regressed to less than favorable memories of my first human examples cautioning me about white people. How my gram, aunts and uncles told me to never say much in their presence and if we did speak, to do so “white” like them. I learned to speak in my best speaking voice to avoid any dialogue that would make me a target-to not give them a reason to cast me out and to never give a white person a reason to disrespect me. And while I know now that wearing suits or Sundays best will never prevent racism from targeting me I was sorely mistaken back then.
I felt emotionally raped by my supervisor because I never gave her an invitation or any permission to access me. I would remain mute on purpose anytime she came around and never shared anything about me with her. After she came back I told her that I was offended by something she said-in fact that I had an entire list of things that offended me about my encounters with her. She was visibly shaken and in a tone less than condescending she said really…what could that be? I asked if she was familiar with the historical etymology of the term “cotton pickin”, she told me no. I gave her a brief lesson on diction about how #cottonpickin was a derogatory term used to slander people of Afrikan descent that picked cotton in America. How cotton fueled the racist genocide of black bodies in America. Cotton that generated much of this countries wealth. Cotton that systematically benefits european Americans to this day. She chuckled and said shit! Then told me how she didn’t mean anything by it. I gave her a copy of the list of complaints about our encounters. After making a series of excuses justifying her behavior toward me she gave me a half ass apology. The moral of the story is that American lexicon is filled with many slang terms, slang terms that are often rooted in racism. And that some colloquialisms are best avoided by anyone with a modicum of racial sensitivity.
The Healing Feel of Cotton: I was raised hearing stories about how my Afrikan ancestors picked cotton during the days of American slavery. How bone breaking. How humiliating. How exhausting. How unforgiving it was to them. How they worked from sunup to sundown with guns trained on them. My partner and I were driving along a back road in Alabama and came upon fields that looked heavily sprinkled with snow, but there being no way in hell it was snow since it was 69 degrees outside. I witnessed for the first time in person a field of white cotton. We pulled over on the side of the road. I got out of the car and walked across the field. The best way I can describe the feeling is to imagine all of the blackness between the stars embodying my my body. #Melaninmatter aligned ALL of my chakras that instant. I wept. I kneeled. I was humbled to my knees. I couldn’t conceive of what I was experiencing. I kneeled, taking in what felt like endless breaths, endless landscape-like a deep abyss of land surrounding me. My spirit hovered over my body like Sankfoa. I could hear and see all types of painful things. Pain. I couldn’t feel the triumph-there was no triumph. My sneakers sank into the damp, red clay-mud beneath me. I could feel an increase in pain in my back and legs. My head hurt as I kneeled underneath overcast skies.
It was surreal! Then I remembered GirlrillaVintage and how our legacy didn’t start with cotton picking. How powerful we were. How beautiful our hands. How we were hunters and gatherers of our own land. How spiritual our steez. How we set trends that made the world follow. How loving our families and traditions. How we worshipped deity’s and ancestors. How we are still suffering from the voyage. How damming the residual effects are today. How we never fully recovered. The fear of white people killing us off. How we never gave ourselves permission to heal. I cried for our black bodies all torn to pieces and for the moments of our lives. And yes, I took some cotton. I took cotton to commemorate my ancestors experience. I took cotton to share with the black children in my life. I took cotton to tell stories of our people to all of the black babies I love.
I got back in the passenger seat of the car and we drove off. I began what seemed like the most tedious task. I picked out the seeds with no EN(GIN)E. It took me a little over 25-minutes to pick 12 seeds from the tiny bit of cotton I gathered. I prayed internally to my ancestors right then. I begged for their forgiveness. I insisted that they rest in eternal peace. I asked them to dwell inside of my soul. I promised to always work with them and to honor them. I sent them gifts of strength and power. I conjured the spirit of the Nagas-the Nubians. I asked them to heal us INSIDE OUT all the days of our lives.
-Thee Amazing Grace