Talking Back is easily is one of my favorite bell hooks pieces. I identify with it as a child who was always getting into trouble for talking too much. Both my family and teachers admonished me for it. Being an African child too, there are multiple ways your parents will remind you that you are not in fact allowed to “talk back” to them. I always had a sharp tongue that got me into trouble more than anything else. As an adult, it still gets me into trouble ever so often.
My parents realized early that I had a knack for communication and language. So despite their discipline – which is much appreciated now that I am all grown up – they did give me a lot of leeway that my older brothers certainly did not have. My younger sister has a lot of leeway too but I’m sure it’s because she’s the youngest and the strength to deal with a young teen after raising four before her, must be weary. As a child and a teen, I was always talking and when I wasn’t, I was journaling or attempting to write something – scripts, songs, etc. And even then, the things that were of great importance to me, always seemed better written before they were spoken.
I’m not a child anymore. I grew up and I realized that the leeway my parents had given me was not one the world was going to give me. I grew up and realized what the world primarily thought of me – as Black, as female, as African. And then I realized that my parents had given me so much leeway because they knew I would be fighting tooth and nail to have a voice that would matter, in places that I wanted it to matter for the rest of my life. They had resisted in many ways on my behalf. Yet I still find myself internalizing experiences that matter as a default setting. It often takes a great deal of reflection before I ever write about something I deem truly important. But writing allows me to transform those internalizations into words that make a difference to me, and to anyone who chooses to listen.
When I talk about race or nationality or womanhood, when I speak from my experience or the experiences of others, the reality that there will be attempts to silence these experiences is one that I have always found most troubling. The claims, “to stop making everything about race,” “to stop bringing up the past,” “to get over it,” often invokes a sadness that I cannot explain. Not because of critics, because those will always exist. But because of an invalidation of an experience that is very much a reality for people who exist inside a body like mine. Or people who can in their bodies, identify with, and understand the experience. When I was a child, it was just a teacher or a parent or an elder telling me to be quiet at one moment in time. As an adult, this silencing is a reminder that the value of my words is sometimes lost because of the construction of the body that is saying them.
I think of my privileges and I think of them often. I think of the sacrifices that were made for me to have them. I think of those great men and women who have always written in order to resist. I think of those who had to be silent so I could write to resist. And so I am aware of when I am being silenced; I am always hyper-aware of it. It is one of the reasons I don’t want to shut up about being Black, and female, and African. Or being any of the identities that were either inflicted on me or that I choose to embody. It is a resistance that is both personal and public but always necessary. Not because I write for public consumption or academia, but because I write; I need to write. Because writing as an act of resistance often feels like coming up for air in a world that seems hell-bent on drowning voices like mine.
So I advocate that all those who suffer from internalizing their experiences, whose lives are tainted with a forced consciousness and a hyper-awareness of inflicted and conflicted identities, to write. Because writing for resistance isn’t writing for a job or a hobby. It isn’t done for popularity or applause; writing for resistance is much more than that. This writing is emancipation, it is mental liberation, and spiritual freedom. This writing is for the words that you’re anxious to say, the anger that you dare not voice, the tears that you have to hold back, the frustration that you are not allowed to feel, simply because the world decided that you weren’t allowed. We write for resistance not just because we can finally be all these things – these things we’re told we’re not allowed to be – but because in writing for resistance, we can finally just be.