In honor of Black History Month and the impending publication of my first collection of poems, which are autobiographical, I will be posting a series of personal essays.
Q: What does it mean to be Black, and multicultural, and a woman writing into the 21st century?
A: It’s a race, class, gender tale of nature versus nurture.
Here in the twenty-first century, on the cusp of publication of my poetry, there is still such an unpleasant focus on the biology and social status of Americans that I am stuck under the label “Black,” which I will gladly keep, and “ghetto girl,” which I reject as racist, sexist, and elitist. For I am not from the ghetto, street, or inner city. My inner child is indeed a girl from the ‘hood, but the term is short for “neighborhood,” and it is for me an internalized term, not one that is merely suggestive of a past or current geographic or socio-economic location/status but also representative of a complex now-woman’s identity.
It means that I am confident, sassy, strong, yet love being a woman: wearing lipstick, skirts, and shiny new shoes if I please; being unashamed to have feelings; keeping secrets or indulging in a bit of harmless gossip; saying thank you when a man swings open a door in front of me rather than being insulted. Any so-called “low-class” woman will tell you, there are more manners in the poor and blue collar men of Dorchester, Eastie, and Roxbury than in the Financial District, Newton, and West End. “Class” to me means that one actually recalls having been raised right, with common manners and sense, respect for both genders, and an old-fashioned notion of decency.
How a child was born and raised and who an adult has chosen and still chooses to be and become—two different things. A truly multicultural artist, like me, embraces nature via self-acceptance and spirituality as well as nurture via accepting the best, most interesting, most compatible people, concepts, pleasures, responsibilities that exist outside of the self. For me, allowing the internal marriage of nature and nurture, of high and low culture, has created an identity. It is bothersome, to say the least, to be answering the same questions about my bookish and artsy self that I was answering twenty-five years ago. At 20, I was a confused and misfit girl, student, living in one tiny area of the world. At 45, I am an educated woman who has discovered, and who constantly stretches the limits of, her current power and her artistic and human potential. Recognition of that fact respects the general process of learning, growing, and maturing in a society that is still less than kind to its minorities and its poor. Artists, Black Americans, and women fall into at least one of those categories.