Fluent in Tears by Sonya Renee Taylor

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


Yesterday a facilitator asked me to share a physical movement that represented my inherited body joy and shame; my mother, father, grandmothers, great grand father's slave shame. The question made heat coil around my throat, fill my chest with sand and lead. I was afraid. I have performed on stages across the globe, in front of hundreds of thousands of people and in this circle of 15 folks I was only fear. When I closed my eyes and let my body unfurl in heat, what came out was a flailing and flesh curdling scream that caused building staff to come close the door to the room we were in. The wail, the thrashing of my body was not my own. It was one hundred thousand bodies in my one body. It was the sum energetic expulsion of what it is to be in this black, queer, fat woman's body — words created to describe the disease of me, words I have tried to take back, always knowing they are there to remind me what it is to be hated, ignored, invisible, feared, frustrated with, thought stupid, thought lazy, thought less than less than less less less.

I began crying last night and could not stop. Every time I actually allowed a thought to root in my body, the weeping began again. It is here now as I try to type this and make you believe my pain, a pain most never think about. Some days I fantasize about stabbing myself in the gut with my fancy kitchen knives in front of a group of white people in a crowded San Francisco restaurant at the peak of Restaurant Week.

I often consider what it would be like to fuck the man I thought I loved, who once raped me out of my sleep, the person I fuck when I hate myself most. I often think of fucking him on the dinner table in the middle of a nice white family's meal in Berkeley, while they eat their organic broccoli. I imagine him pounding into me, hands cupping my ass, telling me I am getting fat, telling me about the size of his "real" girlfriend's pussy. The girl lighter than me, with hair like a white woman. Tears pooling on the tablecloth. 

I considered eating my mother's ashes after her heart gave up on being a black woman in America. I often have chest pains. I think one day my heart will explode, too, when I am 53 and heavy with the whole-cream hatred this country has poured into me. 

Literally, today, there is a rich white woman making dresses for rich white women with Oprah's naked body on the front of them. Oprah is fat in some. She is screaming in others. She is the richest woman in the world and a naked slave on the front of a rich white woman's dress. Always the mammy. A billion dollar mammy. A fat, black sub-human to gawk and guffaw at. 

Literally today, a famous white girl, who doesn't like her body, hired many black women and paid them well, I assume, to dance for her — to be her body by proxy — without the shame living on her flesh, without the centuries-long scroll of filth words written on her creamy skin. Oh to be pure and white and indignant while these beautiful black beasts bounce their asses as exclamation marks to her STATEMENT.

Last week a black girl needed help. But we don't ever need that do we? So she got what us black girls who knock on doors too early in the morning get (deserve) ... killed. She got killed for needing help. Renisha McBride is not allowed to need help. Sonya Renee Taylor is not allowed to need help. 

This week I listened to a room full of very nice white people at a racial equity training tell me (the only black person in the room) they never thought/never think about me, about the lives of Black people. That they didn't know how hard it is. That they were “just so naive.” I have a Ph.D in whiteness. I had to get that degree to live like I do in this nice rented duplex in the middle of constant gunshots, helicopters, sirens that run me down from morning till night. I speak fluent whiteness and it is why I have $100,000 dollars in student loans, a master's degree and a 20 year old BMW parked in my garage. I speak so much whiteness that I have a few thousand dollars in the bank and 6 dead black boy cousins killed before age 25, and a dead mama that used to smoke crack. I speak enough whiteness to know that I shouldn't tell this to the really nice white people who never think about the lives of black people. It will make them uncomfortable. It will make me an exception to this cliché of blackness that they all would assume anyway if they actually ever thought about me. It will make them confused about why I am crying as I write this.

See, I am not “those” black people. I know whiteness so much that I can convince them I have escaped my blackness, that I am different, that we are all the same, so why can't I stop crying?

But blackness is an elective no one takes, except for the curious, the guilty by association, the few who want their humanity back. But no one will assign you the class unless by birth. I am ashamed when I think of how I wanted to be a white girl for 30 years, a beautiful, blonde white girl since before I knew what blonde or white or girl was. I am ashamed of all the people I have fucked because I could never be a white girl, that I knew I was never going to be beautiful before I knew a word for beautiful, when beautiful was just a white girl with blonde ponytails kissing her shoulders.

I knew I was the opposite of that. I am ashamed that the residue of that longing still lives on my skin. There is nothing I will say here that will make you know what it is to carry a whole world's hate, to be pregnant and overdue with it. To be told you will always be on the brink of a delivery that may never come. Every day I have to decide to keep living in a world that is, at best, indifferent to my decision to do so. At worst, a world that will shoot me in my face if I get too close to needing them to see me. FUCK, PLEASE SEE ME. And this is just one week in this body.


Picture of Sonya Renee Taylor

Picture of Sonya Renee Taylor

Performance poet, activist and transformational leader, Sonya Renee Taylor is a national and international award -winning writer and performer, published author and global change maker. She has shared her work and activism across the US, New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands. She is the founder and CEO of The Body is Not An Apology, an international movement of radical self-love and body empowerment that reaches over 100,000 people weekly. Sonya has been seen, heard and read on HBO, BET, MTV, TV One, NPR, PBS, CNN, Oxygen Network, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Today.com, Huffington Post, Vogue Australia, Shape.com, Ms. Magazine and many more. She has shared stages with such luminaries as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Harry Belafonte, Dr. Cornell West, Amiri Baraka and numerous others. Sonya continues to perform, speak and facilitate workshops globally.  Visit her at sonya-renee.com or thebodyisnotanapology.com