Sunday Kind of Love #43
Don't Tell Me To Be Quiet.
April 10, 2016
My mother spoke one language growing up and that language was loud. Thundering. Always three decibels above what my elementary school teachers referred to as your inside voice. It didn't matter if it was a directive to clean your room or a debrief with one of my aunts about the latest family gossip. She spoke loudly. She cackled. She boomed and she roared. To this day, when I visit for holidays or just for the weekend, my mother's voice dances from her spot on the couch down the hallway, competing with whatever television program I'm watching in one of the bedrooms.
I have my mother's voice. Albeit not the exact same tone or her New York accent, but the same heavy, big, and emphatic voice. I cackle. I boom and I roar. I'm certain my neighbors hear me through our thin apartment walls every night when I talk to my sister on the phone. I have mastered many things in this life, but whispering is not one of them.
I remember the first time a white woman told me to be quiet. I was only a few months into a new assignment at work, spitting off something during a conference call. The instant message box on my computer appeared.
"OMG, you're screaming!" the IM said, an observation from my cube mate.
I lost track of whatever was happening on the conference call. I don't remember what I said in response, but I remember mustering every quiet bone in my body to try and lower my voice. A flood of self-consciousness drowned me, and I wanted to recoil. I wanted to occupy less space. Take up less air. Even though I knew in my heart of hearts that I was not screaming; I was simply speaking.
There is something especially poisonous about a white woman telling a black woman to be quiet. I can't quite put my finger on it. I can't sum it up eloquently or make sense of it all. But, I know that when a white woman tells you to be quiet as a black woman, it sticks with you. It haunts you. It strikes you as a unique, covert, and slimy form of injustice. It reminds you that even on our best bra-burning days, we all are not fighting the same fight. The world is not experiencing or accepting us all in the same ways. And some days, we are simply cannibalizing one another.
Maybe that's why I haven't forgotten that IM. Maybe that's why it has stayed with me years later, even after I've bid farewell to that work assignment and continued making my way through this life.
The world does not always appreciate loud folks. We deem them less smart, in desperate need of a lesson in self-awareness. But, some days, even when an intelligent and self-aware black woman simply speaks, it's too loud. It's too much. The world hasn't learned how to handle it. It hasn't learned how to handle us when we would rather raise our voices than repress them, or when we occupy the arenas God has unapologetically given us. The opportunities to speak, laugh, and fill these spaces with our sounds are not things for which we should require permission. These opportunities are our birthrights, and we have to welcome them as such.
So, I will still roar. I will speak up and I will not shrink. I will laugh loudly, all the way through these thin apartment walls and throughout this life. I will embrace the booming voice I've inherited from my mother. Because every time I speak, three decibels above an inside voice, it's a tribute to her. It's a vestige of her. My sentences are her, and my laughter is her, and this is life is far too short and way too savage not to bring my mother with me in everything I do.
Today's edition of Sunday Kind of Love is part of Write Your Ass Off, a 10-day writing challenge to create your most naked, brave, and no holds barred writing. Click here to learn more.