I have known Sidney since high school, and she has always been such an outspoken and beautiful person–I mean really look at her. An intellect out of this world, she is such a genuine and strong woman. Read what–and who– this powerful academia is empowered by.
To answer the question of what empowers me as a woman, I must do so in a two-fold manner. Firstly, I will define and discuss my conflict with the word empowerment and the manifestations of it that I find the most beautiful in the world.
Secondly I will, against my academic nature, attempt to briefly and concisely explain why it is the legacy, struggle, and loveliness of the women –specifically black women—who have come before me, walk alongside me, and who will come after me, that empower me on a moment by moment basis.
The word ’empower’ in laymen terms has two definitions. 1) to give someone/something the “power or authority” to take an action. 2) the process of fostering confidence, and/or granting autonomy/self-control/independence. Of the presented definitions the first—to give someone the power or authority to do something- is by far my favorite. There is an undoubted continuity between both of these definitions, however, the idea of granting authority and power is particularly salient to me.
As a Sociologist, my colleagues from all across the nation and I, all empirically study social processes. These social processes take countless shapes and forms, but within them there is almost always some implicit or explicit discussion of the negotiation of both power and authority.
And in a neoliberal-capitalist-patriarchal-white supremacist society where individuals are defined by their economic producing power/worth, the importance of having or not having both power and authority is crucial.
In the backdrop of American society empowerment is often culturally thrown around, and used as a meritocratic whipping tool. A tool that tells people–usually disenfranchised people– that despite all the structural and systemic barriers intentionally constructed to hinder your success, if you would just work harder and sacrifice more than you too might be “empowered”. Here lies my conflict–this is more often than not, a set up.
But despite common misusage, to be empowered is a beautiful feeling.
A necessary feeling.
Authority and power have never been willingly given to black women within the United States. We have often always had to take it. This simple yet powerful fact for me is revolutionary. It means that I come from a legacy of women who survived, what I argue to be, one of the worst types of oppression ever experienced by humanity (400 plus years of American chattel slavery, and the subsequent state sanctioned violence and intimidation.)
Those women then did the impossible –they thrived.
Their survival, and their vigilant pursuit of happiness, is the purest sense a generational transferal of power and authority. In that, my matrilineal lineage is a powerful one that allows my authority to be—to live –to thrive.
When I think deepest about who exactly empowers me, it became clear to me that it is the black women of my interpersonal and broader collective tribe. The women who came before me knew that these American nights would get very dark, and loved me enough to set a guidebook of stars in the sky for me to follow.
These are the women who walk alongside me everyday in the classroom, office, and in the Facebook comment sections that make me laugh. These are the women who know how to get to work when it’s time to handle business, and these are the women yet to come whose hopes make this all worth it.
That is who and what empowers me.
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