By Yolanda Pierce, Ph.D.,
It is a radical act for a black woman to love herself in this country. It is a revolutionary thing to love your body, your hair, your mind, and your soul in a world that constantly insists on your inferiority. In a world in which an “African Queen” is best represented by a model in black face, and a world in which 9 year old girls are the target of racist and misogynistic taunts by adults, it is quite courageous to declare love for yourself. Particularly if you have learned, from the cradle to the grave, that your very existence, and your very body, makes you the target of jokes, satire, and mockery.
I’ve learned some hard lessons about black womanhood since I’ve been in the academy, particularly the extent to which our voices, our opinions, our pain, our knowledge, and our experiences are belittled and disrespected. Because I grew up with grandparents who taught me to radically love myself under every circumstance, it has been hard to see that love tested, bit by bit, under the painful assault of what the world daily offers to me. The ideological privilege and cultural supremacy that greets me at the door, or in the classroom, or in meetings threatens to exhaust and defeat me by the end of any given day.
So, this process towards self love has to be renewed daily. Each day, the mirror must be confronted with an affirmation of beauty. Each day, the racist and sexist microaggressions have to be released. Each day, the heart and soul must find a song it can sing – so that in the morning, we can experience the promise of new mercies and new strength. And for those days in which we cannot confront, or sing, or find release, we need to embrace even our tears as sacred and beautiful.
This Lenten season, I pray that we journey toward self love, whether we travel during a season of laughter or a season of tears.
Dr. Yolanda Pierce is the Elmer G. Homrighausen Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Liaison with the Princeton University Center for African American Studies. She blogs @ Reflections of an Afro-Christian Scholar