Happy Black History Month! Throughout October we will be celebratig the achievements of black women past and present through our SHEroes series. To kick things off, here is a ‘Poessay’ (Poetic essay) by our newest writer, Jasmine Jones.
“dark phrases of womanhood
of never havin been a girl”
13 – You are walking down an aisle in a supermarket when you realize a
man has been following you. This man must be at least five years your
senior and he soon tries to call after you. Even as he sees you running
away – he persists. As you run all the way home you are not just running
from the man. You are running from the idea that you – year 8, pre-GCSE –
could be pursued by an adult man. That in that man’s eyes you were no
longer a girl but – an adult woman. When you finally reach home you are
gasping for air. Your brother asks you what’s wrong but when you
respond all you can say is: nothing. Why? You can’t help but feel that
maybe you were too rash just running away like that, perhaps even
After all: how was he to know that you were 13?
This is just the first – and certainly not the last – time men much older
than you will stop, beep, whistle and follow you. Some will stop you in
mini skirts and cropped shirts. Sometimes you will be completely covered
up. But what you are wearing is irrelevant – because the sight of your skin
should not be an invitation for intrusion. You don’t owe anyone a smile,
an ear or a second – much less five minutes – of your time. Even if you
appear tall for your age men have no right to harass you or intrude your
space. For some men, your gender and your blackness renders you
automatically sexually experienced no matter what your age is. It’s for the
same reason you will sit frustrated behind a computer screen two years
later when you see Nicki Minaj criticized for utilizing her bodily
autonomy while numerous white models have done the same with barely
any uproar. You, like Nicki, are not responsible for the perceptions of
others. You do not have to grow up. Live in your childhood. Go on
neopets. Watch Disney channel. Go shopping with your mum. Be the
young girl you want to be and still are.
“distraught laughter fallin
over a black girl’s shoulder”
14 – By this age you have tried every hair extension type on the racks of
black beauty supply stores. You have tried every hair variation you could
find by google searching “black woman hairstyles”. And frankly you are
tired of making hair choices that only please your peers. One day, while
on youtube, you come across a secret port of black natural hair tutorials.
You have never seen black women style their hair with this sense of pride
before. And so it’s no surprise that that sense of pride begins to rub off
On the first day of the new term you make sure your hair is puffed to
perfection. It may be slightly lopsided but at least you’re happy with it. At
school you arrive to sniggers and glares from people who claim to be
your friends. They lecture you on the health of something you have
extensively researched and spent ages conditioning and twisting. They
ask: Why don’t you just put your hair back in extensions? Never give into
their pressures – you are your own person. All your life there will be
people badgering you about a fibre that is dead once it grows out of your
scalp. No doubt – in the future you will experiment more with extensions
and so it is certainly not the last time you will be called “horse hair” or
People will tag you with names and touch your hair without permission
no matter what it looks like and no matter how long it has taken you to
do it. Voice your objections to fumbling hands and stand up to your
critics. Most importantly, never let anyone tell you what to do with your
“are we ghouls?
children of horror?
15 – The shade of your skin and other black women will continue to be
scrutinized. You will be called names like “beetle” and “ugly” by
keyboard warriors on social networks. Even men of your own race will
think they can escape their oppression through retweeting degrading
stereotypes and memes designed to try and decrease your femininity.
Your best friend will phone you enraged by the ignorance of it all and
trying to work out how people could be so cruel to attack the emotional
health of pre-pubescent girls. Blue Ivys. North Wests. Girls being
sexualised and commodified before they’ve even learned how to speak.
You will be angry but compartmentalise as you always do. Your GCSEs
are more important right now. You cover your head with a scarf as your
hair begins to fall out your scalp. You hide as you do when you are
scared. Behind history textbooks, Of Mice and Men and numerous past
papers. But you are not happy. Sometimes maybe. But not in the way that
you would like to be.
You come out of secondary school with 11 GCSES A*-A. And on results
day you cry but only because you’re still not satisfied. You feel empty.
You have realised you are not a follower of a crowd. You have realised
you don’t fit. But you haven’t accepted it. I admit this will be something
that at 17 you are still struggling with. Do yourself a favour and don’t
apologise or hide. Instead approach the future with pride. Feel don’t
think. Don’t be afraid to worry about yourself before others and
remember like Audre Lorde said: self-care is an act of political warfare.
There will be breakdowns at family dinners and when you are asked to
phrase your feelings you will be speechless but know that this is also
okay. How can you possibly say what’s wrong with you when you don’t
even always know yourself?
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself”
16. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Sometimes there is even a
little light poking through a hole in your tunnel while you are still on your
journey. You will find erykah badu. You will be near moved to tears by
window seat because you recognise the need to want to be free and
completely open, honest and true but for some reason not being able to.
You will find debbie tucker green and eventually for colored girls – the
play not the film. You will read dark phrases and feel – no, know – that
she is talking for you, to you and about you. You will feel her hand rest
on your shoulder and know that your experiences are not uncommon and
that you are not abnormal.
Know that, despite what your friends past – and even present – may say:
you are the typical black girl. Because blackness is alternative. Blackness is
experimental. Blackness is radical. In all its infinite possibility your
blackness is wonderful and nothing you should possibly shy away from.
You will want to make the same impact as the women before you. You
will be frustrated by not one ceiling but a few above you and by the fact
that the only holes in it are pigeon-shaped. Don’t be disheartened. Be
angry. And know that you’re anger is justified because in the words of
Toni Morrison: “Anger is better”. As long as it is inspiring you to invoke
change don’t feel as if you are fulfilling some cookie cutter stereotype.
Reserve your right to rage. Be angry and be damn proud to be.
“she’s been dead so long
closed in silence so long
she doesn’t know the sound
of her own voice”
16 years and 353 days – You are on the bus scrolling through facebook
and something sublime happens. You are enraged by Sandra Bland’s
mural being defaced you can barely speak. Then from the deafening
silence, words start to come out: rhyme. From this great injustice a form
starts to emerge: poetry. Suddenly you find yourself writing everyday. It’s
less like writing in the mechanical, structured way you have known it in
school textbooks. No – it’s more appearing before your eyes and forming
in your mouth before you can even think about it. You are not thinking
but your emotions and your life are exploding onto a blank canvas. A
blank piece of paper. And you have found freedom – a type at least. Even
if you can’t always control the way you are feeling and the things that are
happening to you at least you can write about them. At least, you have a
record of the injustices committed against you and others like you. At
least you have a record of your truths. At least, even if you are vocally
silent about your pain, the black ink on the page won’t be.
“let her be born
let her be born
& handled warmly”
17 and a day – You stand up behind a mic with a bright light shining right
in your face. You can barely see who you are talking to but all you know
is this stage is a safe space. And anything you want to say you can. Here
you can speak for every coloured girl who has considered suicide when
the rainbow was enuf. For every coloured girl has ever doubted her
beauty. For every coloured girl who has ever questioned her blackness.
For every coloured girl who has wished at some point that she was not a
coloured girl. The poem ends, the private space you have made for
yourself onstage is pierced and as you sit back down people smile at you
and applaud. You feel heard. You feel acknowledged. You feel
recognised. And above all you realise that even if others won’t always let
you feel free, the written word and speech will always allow you to be.
Jasmine Jones is a 17-year-old theatre student who has a passion for words, art and the rhythms of spoken word and alternative 90s hip-hop. At college and in her spare time, she enjoys performing her own writing and the writing of others. Follow her on twitter: @twicemilitant.