THE BLOG
06/29/2016 02:42 pm ET Updated Jun 29, 2017

Role Model: A Poetic Essay

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I wanted to say something.

I did!

I opened up my mouth and everything.

I had the words organized into scathing sentences in my mind.

I was gonna set the record straight.

I was gonna say my piece. But I didn't. Because I remembered my Dad. His words still sting even in memory.

"You really like to run your mouth, don't you?" With a sneer.

And I remembered my high school boyfriend.

"You aren't naggy like other girls." With a proud face, and in front of his friends who nodded in agreement.

I remembered my teacher, who rolled her eyes every time I raised my hand.

"Let's try not to make this answer a fight, ok, hun?"

I remembered my friends, who got quiet when I interrupted our regular conversation with talk about a world outside of our ignorance and privilege.

I meant to speak up.

I remembered something I saw on TV.

The girl stood up.

She was mad. It was righteous! She had all the right words and things to say. Her face was red and her fist hit her classroom desk, and she stormed out and everyone respected her. She saved the day!

I tried to be like her once, when I was younger, because I'd seen versions of her before.

But I can't talk like her. My words are too simple. I'm probably not as smart I bet.

I'm not pretty like she is.

I don't have swinging hair or a flat stomach like she did.

If my eyes were lighter, then maybe.

But they are mud brown. No one special has mud brown eyes.

Maybe that's why I get yelled back at, maybe that's why I'm ignored. If I were better and prettier they would listen, I think.

I don't want to be ignored, but I don't want to be one of "those Black girls."

The ones that "stay angry" and "that's why they can't keep a man."

I was silent because remembered my neighbor friend saying "why you catchin' an attitude?" When I yelled at him for touching my friend's butt uninvited.

"Black girls always got attitudes."

All the family shows I've ever seen say, "Quit being a nag!" when the wife corrects her husband.

My dad says that too. He says that about my aunt and the mothers of my friends and says he likes his second wife because "She doesn't cause any problems."

My friends say, "Don't you want a man?" and I'm starting to realize that I am not valid unless I do, and talking too much is not the way to find one.

The girl who gets the guy is always soft-spoken, apologetic, and cries a lot, ,or so I am told in a hundred different ways.

That's your strength as a woman, to soften a man.

That is not how I do things. I am hard and covered in armor. I think about everything and speak up even if I disagree.

That's not how you catch a man. So I have to change.

I'm going to have to cut parts of myself off, because I'm so naturally big and I think too highly of myself.

The pastor in the pulpit says "Submit. Submit. Submit!" He never mentions the love, nor does he care that I don't have anyone to submit to.

My friend's sister told me that I should practice for the ultimate role, wife and mother.

I didn't think I wanted that, but I am beginning to realize that I am not valid otherwise.

I was gonna say something. I was going to defend someone whom I've never met and yet recognize.

Our struggles have met before.

I've yelled about things I know feel wrong but I don't understand.

"I just KNOW I'm worth more!"

"How? Lay out the facts and figures and the quotes of the famous men that prove you aren't beneath me."

If only I'd known then what I know now.

I could have pulled it all out on them, all the facts and quotes and 10-point words and slapped them onto the table.

Look at all the contributions we've made!

See how important we are to history?

Look at all the ways progress has been stalled because of people who think like you!

And list them in order, 1, and 2, and 3, and 4! If I had been the woman I am now back then.

Instead I stumbled through memories of passages whose sources I could not cite.

I explained and re-explained my position, the perspective they valued the least.

Why did my words mean so little

and why did they run away from me half formed?

I have never felt more helpless, each time it happened.

I was going to say something, but I didn't want to be called a feminazi.

I didn't want to "betray my community".

I've learned that always, my needs come second to his wants.

I have learned that only my support is wanted, and not my opinion.

I have learned that I can be confident enough not to need emotional sustenance, but not so confident that I threaten him.

I have learned that if I was too loud or too smart or too athletic or too sexy I could intimidate the men that I am supposed to need.

If I am to have value, I have to constantly police myself and concentrate on carefully towing this thin line, no matter how much stress it brings.

I have learned that being a "lady" is more important and valuable than being a human.

And I have learned that there is only one way right way to be a "lady"

and so I stayed quiet.

I was silent and I didn't stop it

The verbal mobbing of ignorance

Stupid, privileged arrogance that went against everything I stood for.

I let it happen....

I felt like nothing

I felt like the worst

The WORST.

I could feel a flutter of shame in my shoulders

It traveled down to my fingers, and my mouth went dry even though it was tightly shut.

I knew she would go on through life like me, thinking about moments like this forever

When she took a shaky stand and no one came to her defense

Thinking maybe she should have just stayed quiet

and insecure

Ashamed

Programmed

Less than

And in denial

Fearful

Thinking about how her actions will affect men before the way they will affect her

Feeling that she is responsible for male abuse

Emotional

Physical

And sexual.

Maybe if I had known that she would face people that would tear her apart

because of her gender, people that she would not have the confidence to stop

Maybe if I could have foreseen her rallying against the rights of other women

Because she no longer believes she sees the oppression that she dared to face today

If I had spoken up

I wouldn't have seen

The fire in her eyes turned to panic

or heard her voice get quieter

And even though she didn't say "I'm sorry" her tone apologized.

It is my fault. Why am I not as brave as she is in this moment? Who has declawed me?

Who made me so helpless, who tangled my mind so that I'm too afraid of invisible consequences to stand for what is right?

At least back then I had the heart of a warrior, fighting and getting stronger everyday

Now I'm a wimp, a nothing. I can feel my heart and tears dropping together.

I began to lower my head in disappointment, curling into my body and slowly slinking away

deeply ashamed

as her tormentors, noting her distress, point in my direction and say

"You should be more like her, quiet, and you would probably be happier."