Almost a year ago, I breathed a sigh of relief when Kamala Harris dropped out of the presidential race. Amidst all the talk about Black Girl Magic and visions of a new America, I knew the danger she faced as a Black woman whose light shines too brightly. She wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last Black woman to come under fire for being more than what this world had imagined for us. I thought about the Hottentot Venus, Sara Baartman, and the legacy of Black women’s bodies being mutilated to set an example for the rest of us to keep us in line. I could care less about her politics, once she removed herself from the presidential race, she was safe.
My experience as a Black woman in a world that has proved to be anti-Black and anti-female along with anti-poor and anti-immigrant has shown me many times that there was a price to be paid for speaking too loudly and doing too much. Warrior women have to learn how to walk a delicate balance.
We can survive if we stay quiet and only do what we are told. I would hear the words “Know your place gal!!” spitting out at me with a southern twang, ringing in my ears as if it happened yesterday. Even though I had never once had those words spoken to me, they were always there. These words seeped out of the walls when I entered buildings that were not designed with me in mind. These words were in the subtle shock that tightened bodies and constricted breathing around me when I found myself in places where I had not been given permission to exist.
Over the years, I had learned to ignore the dilating pupils or the shift in conversations but I still felt it and it made me feel unsafe. When my children were born, my fear only intensified and I saw danger everywhere. My limbic system went into overdrive in response to a country that seems to be saturated with the narrative of white male supremacy.
In our national narrative of separation and division, we have long needed someone to be the receptacle for our collective pain and shame. Our national definition of self requires a scapegoat, and in an effort to avoid facing our own demons, we demonize those who are seen as less worthy.
The rich need the poor, men need women, whites need Blacks, and the citizen needs the immigrant. It’s brutal to be on the receiving end and at a certain point, as a Black woman, I had enough.
Everywhere I looked, I saw danger.
So in the choice between fight or flight, this warrior woman chose flight. If you know my whole story, you know that I ran for a decade, looking for someplace in the world where it was safe to be Black and be a woman and raise children. I’m sure you can guess how that story ended. I still recall a funny moment after I got tired of running. I was living in Egypt when a fellow American ex-pat friend and I stood doubled over in laughter at the image of me leaving the USA a decade earlier with my children– my toddler son small enough to be tied to my back. She imagined her own Mexican relatives making their way into the USA yelling at me “Wait, you’re going the wrong way!!”
Yet, I am surrounded by women who fight. Warrior women who have embraced their fighting spirit. Some years back, a close friend told me that she had been receiving death threats because of her civil rights work. She said it with the same tone you would use to describe what you had for dinner. She is also somebody’s mother, daughter, and sister and I panicked at the thought of losing her.
“Aren’t you afraid?” I asked.
“Naw, not really,” she responded.
At that moment, I told myself that she must have some fearlessness gene that I don’t have; she is a warrior woman descended from the Maroons inheriting the warrior spirit of Jamaica. Just like Kamala. I must not have it, that’s why I run.
Kamala was just announced as Biden’s running mate. I felt the tightness in my chest, knowing the misogyny and racism and xenophobia that would ensue would be terrifying and triggering for me, and for other Black women in the United States. My friend posted a picture of them together and I saw their resemblance. These warrior women had something that I didn’t. They are bullet-proof. Somehow, they are able to withstand the onslaught. This is my excuse when I feel compelled to run again. I just don’t have the warrior genes.
Yet my excuse is just a lie. The truth is that we all have our inner warrior.
We have each inherited the warrior spirit of the women who walked, fought, and stood their ground on the battlefield. Some burned, some drowned, some hung, and some died peacefully in their sleep.
After a decade of running, my feet are weary and swollen with edema that after multiple tests, doctors can’t explain. It is a sign that my healing isn’t complete. I need to learn not to run from the battle. When I start to stand my ground and speak my truth, the swelling subsides. I’m still in training but I’m ready to take my place in the battle. If I can flee with my children tied to me, I can keep them with me as I fight. If you also hear the battle cry, warrior woman, I’ll see you on the battlefield.
Guest Author: Kalimah Fergus Ayele
Kalimah Fergus Ayele is the author of “Roundtrip Ticket Home” a memoir of her experiences living in different parts of the world. She has over 20 years of experience as a school leader and secondary science educator in both U.S. and international public and private schools. She began her teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania, East Africa, and has also taught in South Africa, Lesotho, and most recently, Egypt. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at Stanford University, Master of Arts in Secondary Science Education at Teachers College Columbia University, Master of Science in School Administration from the College of Saint Rose and Ed.M in Organization Leadership through the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College Columbia University.