Ain’t I human (thoughts emerging from a reading of “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Ain't I a Woman?
May 28-29, 1851
"Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women of the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I could have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man- when I could get it- and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman? Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [Intellect, somebody whispers] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negro's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure-full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them. Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
As I read Sojourner Truth’s words, and, through various social media, see the police abuse and brutality of today in the 21st century, particularly in the context of Ferguson, MO, New York City, NY, and Black life in America, I am mindful that the question of humanity regarding Black Life has been a constant underlying mindset within the structure and systemic policies of law enforcement in the United States. This mindset has defined law enforcement’s relationship with Black life, Black Humanity since the time of Sojourner Truth and before. The politics of Black life i.e. whether fully or partly human addressed in 1865 by the 13th amendment did not/could not address the social or cultural concerns and issues of the humanity of Black life within a white racist society. I suspect, if all things were laid bare, I would encounter the question, “Is Monica, a Black Transgender Woman who is queer, fully human. The question of the humanity of Black life, sparks great fear in a significant number of law enforcement officials who shoot first out of fear, predicated on notions of the superhuman and knowing within that nothing would happen to them simply because the question of humanity, defined by white supremacy and privilege, this based on the words of Darren Wilson, the policeman who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teen, describing him as a demon, is one that circulates throughout law enforcement agencies.
Sojourner Truth’s words ring true for me even today as Black life, Black Humanity engages the same issues of racism and patriarchy, and a law enforcement structure and its policies which question the reality of Black life and Black Humanity again and again.
Writing, similar to planting seeds gives great productive outlet to a righteous anger.
Similiar to Sojourner Truth, I seek to plant seeds of hope in the midst of weeds of oppression. To inject anger, whether righteous or not, religious or not with a fruitful intent. Reading further, I find that Sojourner Truth presents anger as a strutural element within a hopeful discourse. In this sense she maintains a curious sense of anger as a matter of hope even in the sense, that all is not well. This anger, borne out of frustration, I sense, more than anything else is a hopeful recognition of her womanhood and in essence her humanity in the face of a people, who, although well intentioned and I suspect open to her words, are nonetheless captive to the normative of the time. I must consider anger not only a response to the normative but a hopeful response to the middle passage, nourishment to life on a plantation bound to be liberated from imaginations of profit. Ain’t I human denotes a longing to position this anger in a way that causes white supremacy and privilege of which law enforcement is a tool, to pause and consider its wretched ways regarding Black Life, Black Humanity. More so, I consider anger to be a sacred call which, though put away for a time, eventually has its day, it shall not be shut up or denied. All of the appeals to appease white privilege and its advocates shall fall on deaf ears as the question of Black life and Black Humanity become a critical narrative within a new inclusive racial discourse of solidarity.
At some point desires, formed in the womb of oppression, must be liberated by anger so that life and her humanity would fully appear. Beloved reader anger must begin to awaken and liberate our humanity from the clutches of whiteness and its imagination. We must take hold of our humanity. Yes, even more so we must grap hold of the anger which strengthened our ancestors and in this to know even more so our sacred humanity.
And Ain't I human!
And Ain't I human!