My maternal grandmother died at age 79, owning her own home but not the land on which it still sits. A place of her own meant a lot to her as her childhood and early adulthood were filled with violence. Coming from a long line of women with very little resources, the overriding lesson I was taught was that independence (or at the very least ingenuity in service of it) was the single defining marker of womanhood.
My upbringing did not include any preparation to be a man’s wife as I’ve heard other Afro-Caribbean women express. I came to the conviction that I should live life radically on my own terms. I learnt from women who dealt in complexities, not in ideals that set you up for a spectacular set of disappointments.
I’d plait my paternal grandmother’s hair as she shared stories of pretending to cry after her lover had beat her only to break a bottle over his head when he came to comfort her. Womanhood meant toughness, an ability to decode sexism and skillfully negotiate it with wits or fists. I did not inherit this grandmother’s toughness. Easily moved to tears, they wrote in my first report from school. That’s still true.
In the historical denial of black womanhood there is of course the denial of black humanity but there is also a freedom from a hetero/sexist scripting of womanhood to be claimed. The denial of femininity offers not just the opportunity to intentionally create femme identities of our own making but to reject what Toni Cade Bambara has called the “madness of masculinity and femininity”. That which was denied you can create a space of freedom not just a space of yearning.
Academic scholarship and creative work alike celebrate black Caribbean women’s abilities to work economic miracles:
She could work miracles, she would make a garment from a square of cloth
in a span that defied time. Or feed twenty people on a stew made from
fallen-from-the-head cabbage leaves and a carrot and a cho-cho and a palmful of meat.
–from For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength) by Lorna Goodison)
Less is said about the other kinds of magic we make (other than that we make it in exile or in Suriname 😉
Who knows how my grandmothers would feel about my decision to make love and life with a defiant, self-defined dyke whose emotions are always on the surface, just as my maternal grandmother’s were, and who makes my soul sing? But I can’t help but connect my homemaking to theirs. Home is the magic my love and I conjure together across multiple differences, across oceans and time zones and stubborn similarities that could undo us. Loving her makes me feel free.