Black Voices

In honor of Black History month, I have pieced together quotes and ideas from Black authors who have expanded my capacity to love; who teach love as liberation, listening, and intricately connected to loving the self. 

Cole Arthur Riley’s book, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us, breathes with rhythm and style. Her family stories are weaved into her wisdom of rest and liberation and joy and connection as she grapples with physical illness and recognizes how her external world is reflected within her body: the external evidence of being Black is also written inside her; the external injustices of generational poverty, the trauma of racism, and the silence of her enslaved ancestors are carved into her immune system, weaved into her flesh – as is strength, joy, and rest.

In her book, Riley gathers up all of her sorrows and scars, holds them close to her heart, examines them, and learns to find and redefine joy within this body she is learning to love: “I don’t know if liberation depends on our reconciliation with others, but I am certain it at least depends on reconciliation with ourselves.” 

She declares that “In pursuit of liberation, we do not need to pine after the power of our oppressor, we have to long for our own power to be fully realized. We don’t want to steal and dominate someone else’s land, we want agency in reclaiming and establishing our own spaces . . . We don’t want to silence . . . we want to be believed.” 

I believe her.

Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

Frederick Douglass, in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave (1845), confronts the painful reality that religion and scripture are tools that anyone can pick up and use for good or for evil. Douglass, a preacher himself, laments that “for of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst.” 

Douglass describes how his “master found religious sanction for his cruelty. . .” specifically, from the verse Luke 12:47 – “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Douglass sees this scripture played out again and again in his life.

In the appendix of his narrative, Douglass writes, “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I, therefore, hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. . . I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which everywhere surround me.” 

Tarana Burke courageously and empathetically shares herself through her stories and words in her memoir, Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement.

Like Cole Arthur Riley and Frederick Douglass, Tarana Burke holds the wounds of racism within her body and her narrative; she also finds a beautiful and hard-earned liberation within herself: “For the first time in my life, my story was completely out of my body. And I had finally told it to the one person who needed it most: myself.”

Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

As women, we hold our mothers within us. I feel a connection to my grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother. I also love to hear stories of how my great-great-grandma Emma fled persecution in Switzerland and sailed across the world to bring our family here. Recently, however, I have discovered that generational stories are a privilege that slavery steals. 

Lalita Tademy, who holds her mother and grandmothers within her as well, was cut off from their stories because of the color of their skin. She spent years researching and reading census records, deeds, wills, and trial proceedings before she found her great-great-great-grandmother, Philomene, on a bill of sale in a private collection of French plantation records. Only then did she realize that her “ancestors were not free people of color.”

Lalita Tademy creates a novel, Cane River, that tells the stories of her mothers. As Tarana Burke and Cole Arthur Riley describe: stories heal. To reconcile and liberate herself, Tademy tells her family’s story. 

In the Author’s Note, Tademy describes how her ancestor, Philomene, visits her dreams and speaks from the dust: “Philomene demanded that I struggle to understand the different generations of my family and the complexities of their lives. She made it unacceptable that any of them be reduced or forgotten.”

  • Burke, Tarana. Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement. Flatiron Books, 2022.
  • Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Dover Publications, 1995.
  • Riley, Cole Arthur. This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us.  Convergent, 2023.
  • Tademy, Lalita. Cane River. Warner Books, 2001.
I'm a runner, mother of four darlingly varied humans, and a library clerk. While I always feel on the fringes of people, trends, and social etiquette, books, all books, are my people.


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