2011 has garnered a lot of conversations centering on the undesirability (hence un-marryability) of (professional) black women. Black women have been fed unsolicited and unnecessary information about how to correct and prepare ourselves for our soulmate without giving us the credit due grown ass women who routinely (and effectively) handle our ish, look good doing it, and write home about it. By mid-year I was already exhausted of the black woman dramas that were being written about (but not by) black women. It was almost as traumatic as last year’s For Colored Girls.
In response and in reaction to many of the speculations around black women and their experiences of being single, I began to write poetry excerpts, sometimes owning my feelings, sometimes distancing myself (as is evidenced by the first and third person techniques). The following poem is featured in a recently published anthology, With This Ph.D., I Thee Wed: Experiences of Single African-American Women Professors. I use the poem to think through my internal dialogues about single professionalism. I am still thinking through…
Sexy, Self-Conscious, Sanctified, Sassy & Single: Why I Married My Ph.D.
thirty years later
nakedness prevailed in dim lit rooms
smelling of sour musk and
dull like water,
she longed for silver touches
on her skin, violently brown and calm
and longing to be touched
after years of reckoning
she did not want to be another man’s invention
but rather his salvation
becoming whatever it was he wanted
in the moment, sacrificing herself
to be everything he needed
subsiding his aggression,
swallowing his wonder,
tracing his steps with her fingers.
she was not told about love
only the loneliness it left
and the possibility of scorn
and the vulnerability and visibility inherent in
she was told
desperation is never sexy
i lose consciousness
when faced with the self-awareness
that swallows me, cradling the duality of roles I play.
professor by day, woman by night.
but not superwoman
and not strongblackwoman,
vulnerable and newly aware of childhood scars
and moles like mama on my face.
working these curves because it gives me more than attention,
because between these thighs is as much treasure as my brain,
and my heart beats strong for every wrong I ever made.
i am self-conscious of the image i see in the mirror facing me.
a seeming fraud, a scam artist
a black girl docta
holding all these damn credentials
in my hands
& a ringless second finger
pushing away doubt and doubters because I can do this, be this
falling to her knees and praying loudly and silently at the same time.
loud enough for the people to hear her on the back pews
saying lines of scripture long memorized and silently begging God to hear her
save her from herself, this time,
& her ambitions,
& fierce independence,
her feminist, can-do-bad-by-her-damn-self self.
seemed to my mother another word for acting grown,
too big for my britches,
and she felt it her right and responsibility to wear me down,
or with switches harboring her own stifled sass,
wear me out
until I learned how to watch my mouth
but as I grew older,
kept my tongue sharp like a razor,
with words of fire rising in me,
words on fire forcing me to speak my mind and speak out about what I thought,
no longer under my breath in intimidation, but out loud and lyrical
in a take-it-or-leave it tone
and a take-me-or-leave-me way.
& so often I got left
statistics startled me
from whitegirl fairytales
& my own flagrant fantasies
so I married me
to stifle the possibility of loneliness
& it spoiled me with the possibilities & promises
of permanence and prominence
when stable arms were not there
my ph.d. sweet talked me like the man who never stayed
& the one who never showed up in the first place
this education thing is what mama promised me
what daddy left as a viable option
what the church ladies were so proud of
my ph.d. is not a substitute for a husband
but it is my destiny, my soulmate
the reason I changed my name
& everything I fought so hard for
this must be love.
AFTERTHOUGHT (later morning musings): I think it is important that we learn how to celebrate ourselves both inside and outside of relationships–or perhaps see our relationship with ourselves as the most significant one we will ever have. Loving myself intentionally has been the most difficult, yet necessary, feat of my life. There were times, this year, when I questioned my successess, questioned my accomplishments, as if I had somehow done something wrong by “doing me” and prioritizing my life goals. This would have been one of those moments when after reading an assanine assessment of why Black women are perpetually single I had a temporary lapse of individual judgment, and wondered, sometimes out loud and oftentimes to my friend girls, should I have not pursued my Ph.D.? Should I have not devoted my twenties to self-improvement? Should I have settled? The answer is no, hell no, to all three questions. I became a feminist during my pursuit of a Ph.D. I became a feminist in my twenties. Being a feminist urges me to never settle… for anything… less than I deserve/want/need. So in many ways my Ph.D. was my salvation, my awakening, an irrevocable investment in myself and my consciousness.
So yeah, after having slept on it, I embrace my sexy, self-conscious, sanctified, sassy, single self! You can call me Dr. SSSSS!