How I Learned to Never Ask For Permission: Raised by Women Who Thrived in a World That Demanded a Permission They Would Not Give
my entire life; my great grandmothers cleaned floors, pistols in their housecoat pockets, ran four businesses at night in Florida to own their own property and send their girl children to college. they believed that they were more than what was on offer and demanded i never ever accept less. the world of white men was wrong and they were right and they had a pistol on hand to make sure everyone was clear about that.
i better not come home asking anybody for permission to be who i am and my best bet was to learn how to demand what i needed. my grandmother would walk me back to that school or counter and expect me to clarify for any teacher, student, customer service rep who thought they were dealing with a "nigger" who they were really dealing with. that exercise taught me more about who i was going to be than any other.
that's my measuring stick for what's acceptable. perhaps, i'm not famous bec most of the shit presented to me as "great roles i had to take" were the same small shit on offer over and over again. each role screaming ur a victim, ur a sidekick who only speaks ebonics and needs you to find them noble. everything on option for a black woman is sadness, racism and abuse from white people and black men. accepting that and playing out that story over and over again wears your soul down and u start believing that shit.
then i hear my great grandmother's voice from her hospital bed w/her pistol in her house coat pocket asking me to sing "eye on the sparrow" for her. then she grabbed my hand and said:
"whatever happens when i get up out this bed, u make sure u get back on that plane and carry ur ass back to school. cuz all these muhfukhas gone be right here going to jail, having babies and believing these white folks til the end of their days. u know better. u knew better since u were reading those books on the playground. there is more out there for u to take and be. u aint got to ask nobody for nothing. u know who u are, now go get it."
then she let go of my hand and said
" now go to that soda machine and get me my co'cola."
when i came back, she was gone, the nurse was disconnecting her from the machines. damn.
i never understood why she was saying that bec i had never lived my life any other way. but she knew i was in acting school and they were going to try and come for me. they were going to try to tell me who the fuck i was and what i was worth. and that's exactly what happened. i entered my MFA acting program knowing i was always going to have to make my way and they were going to spend 3 years teaching me how to be less than i was. so i set goals: master the technique, play the great roles so u master acting and learn how to make your own work cuz these here mofoes ain't got nothing life-affirming to offer u.
every lesson the industry taught me was to accept roles that were smaller than who i was and be grateful for it. and every little win is going to happen bec i was better prepared than anyone else. i would always be perceived as the raw, round, long-suffering, unattracive darky. no part of me was ever in sync w/this. every time i broke this rule, the kickback was vicious from my white counterparts, as if i was taking something from them as opposed to the fact that i worked 5 times harder to get a part. i expected it and told them
"my reality is that i'm not expected to win, so i came in more prepared than u so fuck off."
they never got it or came back years later apologizing about not understanding what it was to be black. fuck that. once a privileged racist, always a privileged racist. i have a mission and it is not to convince u of my worth, journey or struggle. one of the same actresses who said some shady shit to me in school was also the actress who told me that during an acting exercise,
"i saw a black woman with a crown of two braids wrapped around her head, standing behind u in the chair with a halo of lavender light around her just observing u from behind."
she had no idea that was how my grandmother wore her hair in the 40's when she was healing women and teaching them how to use sponges as contraception in her boarding house. lavender was the color of the herbal powder she kept in listerine bottles to mix healing elixirs for women. lavender was her color for healing and gardenia was her scent. that white actress had no idea my great grandmother was coming back from the grave to school her on how much she did not know about where i come from. i got steps and steps of pistol packing healing brujas standing behind me waving their fists and demanding what's ours. my grandmother wasn't there for me in that moment, she was there to give that white girl a warning.
my great grandmother was right and she was checking in on me to see if i was going to uphold the promise. i don't/didnt have a pistol but i used my intellect, relentless work ethic and vision like a smoking 45. anybody who got in my sights standing between me and my goal was going to get a cap put in their ass.
bec i'm over here working w/no wealth, no white skin in a skinny body, a high caribbean forehead and a wide african mouth that was not on order in my industry.
i would never be what they wanted,
but i would always be greater than
what was on offer.
my concept of self had nothing to do w/the outside world.
i was/am the sum of the stories of the people who made me.
women who thrived in a world that demanded a permission
that my mothers would never give.
is a Tony-winning producer/writer/actor & CEO of TheDreamUnLocked: Boutique Coaching for Actors, Writers & Dreamers