In a piercing poem entitled “I Used To Think” published in the 1983 poetry collection, Homegirls: A Black Feminist Anthology, writer and editor Chirlane McCray, wife of NYC mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio, tackles narrow European beauty standards and the White supremacy that undergirds them head on.
The poem stands as a powerful literary example of why BLACK GIRLS ROCK! — a non-profit organization established by Beverly Bond to “promote the arts for young women of color, as well as to encourage dialogue and analysis of the ways women of color are portrayed in the media” — is so very necessary.
It also taps into why the organization’s marquee event, ‘Black Girls Rock,’ which aired Sunday, Nov. 3 on BET, has continued to resonate with audiences for four years.
McCray, an unapologetic feminist who identified as a lesbian prior to her marriage to de Blasio, purged her soul of the shame the Black community and United States at-large made her feel about herself. From her “nappy” head to her “big-bottom,” McCray wrote that she “used to think” her Blackness rendered her unworthy of love and that her strength was her greatest weakness.
Read McCray’s poem below via KinteSpace.com:
I Used to Think
©1983 Chirlane McCray
I used to think
I can’t be a poet
because a poem is being everything you can be
in one moment,
speaking with lightning protest
unveiling a fiery intellect
or letting the words drift feather-soft
into the ears of strangers
who will suddenly understand
my beautiful and tortured soul.
But, I’ve spent my life as a Black girl
a nappy-headed, no-haired,
big-bottomed Black girl
and the poem will surely come out wrong
And, I don’t want everyone looking at me.
If I could be a cream-colored lovely
with gypsy curls,
someone’s pecan dream and sweet sensation,
I’d be poetry in motion
without saying a word
and wouldn’t have to make sense if I did.
If I were beautiful, I could be angry and cute
instead of an evil, pouting mammy b**ch
a ni**er woman, passed over
conquested and passed over,
a ni**er woman
to do it to in the bushes.
My mother tells me
I used to run home crying
that I wanted to be light like my sisters.
She shook her head and told me
there was nothing wrong with my color.
She didn’t tell me I was pretty
(so my head wouldn’t swell up).
Black girls cannot afford to
have illusions of grandeur,
not ass-kicking, too-loud-laughing,
mean and loose Black girls.
And even though in Afrika
I was mistaken for someone’s fine sister or cousin
or neighbor down the way,
even though I swore
never again to walk with my head down,
never to care
that those people who celebrate
the popular brand of beauty
don’t see me,
it still matters.
Looking for a job, it matters.
Standing next to my lover
when someone light gets that
“she ain’t nothin come home with me” expression
But it’s not so bad now.
I can laugh about it,
trade stories and write poems
about all those put-downs,
my rage and hiding.
I’m through waiting for minds to change,
the 60’s didn’t put me on a throne
and as many years as I’ve been
Black like ebony
Black like the night
I have seen in the mirror
and the eyes of my sisters
that pretty is the woman in darkness
who flowers with loving.
When asked about the poem, de Blasio, who has made it abundantly clear that the “First Lady” is the love of his life, said that it is a testament to her character:
“It’s a very painful and very challenging poem but very beautiful,” he said in an interview with the Spanish language station La W Radio.
“I love her so deeply and one of the things I love is that she, despite the difficulties she went through, is such a positive and hopeful person and such a creative person. And so that poem really is one of the things that made me fall in love with her.”
McCray’s heart-wrenching poem, which crescendos with purpose and self-actualization, makes it very clear that it is not racist to hold an empowering event such as Black Girls Rock, as some have argued.
The racism lies in a White supremacist nation that continues to marginalize and silence Black women, making Black Girls Rock a non-negotiable necessity.