“Be a voice for those with prisoner tongues.”
This phrase from Halsey’s breathtaking poem at the Women’s March keeps ringing in my ears. Be a voice for those with prisoner tongues. What a sentence. What a call to action. It’s not a new one, by any stretch, which makes it all the more aching.
I’ve been thinking on what it means to be a white woman in America right now, because we are at a crossroads in this country and women who look like me need to get it together. We white girls are raised with a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, I have been a prisoner of it my whole life. But mine is a gilded cage. My chains are societal norms, cultural conditioning, and generations old misogyny, indoctrinated and internalized. What I specifically needed to break out of my prison was knowledge and the confidence and belief that I could.
Mine are not physical constrainments. Jails and schools are set up to kneecap white girls but not destroy them. It is not this way for others in this country. It is simply not. It’s far past time for us to recognize facts, let go of our defensives and shame over this and deal with it.
I can do nothing about the past. Today I can do something about. It costs me nothing to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and yes, even the part my ancestors may have played in that. (Full disclosure my family arrived in 1631 and settled North. As of now I don’t know if any of my ancestors owned slaves, but we sure didn’t treat Native Americans all that well) I cannot change that. What I can do is honor the sacrifice others made. I can loudly amplify and validate voices crying that systemic racism is real. I lose nothing by doing so. This country was, and still is built on the backs on black and brown people. This is the truth and if my saying it upsets you more than it happening, well then…well, I am gonna keep saying it until the actual events are more upsetting than the words.
So now I personally have reached the point where I have realized I could walk about of my prison on my own (And not all white women can, but I could…and whatever we go through women of color have that plus a million more obstacles) Like Dorothy, I had the power all along. I just wasn’t aware of it. I feel a frustrated empathy for white women who aren’t there yet. Who don’t know yet. We are wasting precious time.
I am learning every day more and more and one thing I know I must learn more.
As white women we are taught to be gentle, decorative and to feel blessed that any good fortune comes our way, especially a good man. Thankful for scraps. I am done with scraps, I want a full course meal and I want EVERYONE to have a full course meal. And it starts with making sure everyone has access to all the same opportunities. What we do with those opportunities is up to us. I have squandered many a one myself. But I had them. So many don’t.
So many have prisoner tongues. Prisoner souls. Prisoner bodies. I found my voice, and I am always testing it out, getting it right more often than not, sometimes saying it wrong. Always willing to learn more.
I will be a voice for those with prisoner tongues. Both publicly and in person one on one.
If someone had done that for me when I was a girl, if just one person had spoken up, if one person had…what might the world have looked like for me? What might it look like for a girl who has all the same problems I had plus those girls of color are born into? We can change this. We must realize that those with prisoner tongues are not less than.
Like anything else, the first step is admitting it is a problem. It is.
Cecile Richards said “I’ve been privileged to be a troublemaker my whole life, I was raised by a troublemaker…..as Rep John Lewis said, good trouble, I hope. ”
There it is. She had the privilege to be a troublemaker. So many do not have the privilege to speak up, to speak out. She does. And I am claiming mine. I have the privilege to do so, I won’t waste it.
I want to be a troublemaker and I want to raise trouble makers. Good troublemakers.
(Some of my favorite pictures I took at the 2018 DC Women’s March. )