Hattie Wins the Prize

Hattie McDaniel – Studio Portrait

In 1937 Zora Neale Hurston published her groundbreaking novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. In 1939 Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in protest of the Daughters of the American Revolution while Billie Holiday was recording the song Strange Fruit. In 1940, education pioneer Mary Mcleod Bethune was elected Vice President of the NAACP and  Katherine Dunham choreographed Cabin in the Sky for Broadway with authentic African diaspora inspired dance, a first for a black woman.

…and in 1940, Hattie McDaniel was given the Academy Award for portraying a slave.

In the years just before WWII, white America couldn’t really see what many refer to today as “black girl magic.”  But black women and girls have always seen it…because it is not mysterious or magical for them, it looks back at them in the mirror every day.  And the real black girl magic is only known and communicated between one black girl to another; it is not for those of us outside of that unique sorority.

What the rest of us call “magic” is proven time and again to be quite simply what it means to be a black woman.

Everyone else just needs to catch up.

Hattie Wins the Prize

What Zora wrote
Speaks in our mother’s blood
Coursing with life
Pulsing in our veins
Throbbing in our brains
Pumped by the eternal heart

(…and Hattie wins the prize)

What Marian sang
Fills our sisters’ lungs
With a call to life
Answering the question
With a mighty chorus of “yes”
Breathed across the eternal beauty of our lips

(…and Hattie wins the prize)

What Billie cried
Floods our daughter’s cheeks
With tears of life
The weeping of legions
The grieving for all
The healing of the whole damn world

(…and Hattie wins the prize)

What Mary taught
Enlivens our aunties’ minds
To always hope for life
Knowing the shared wisdom
Of women
Divines the divine
(…and Hattie wins the prize)

What Katherine danced
Is the earth of women’s bodies
The very essence of life
Humanity given birth
And the promise
Of lives to come
(…and Hattie wins the prize)

Is that how it works
This blesséd Black womanhood?
So that even when Hattie wins the prize
For “Yas’m” and “no suh”
A piece of what
Katherine danced
Mary taught
Billie cried
Marian sang
And Zora wrote
Wraps around her soul
Keeping her safe
Making her whole
Giving her peace
As she breaks
The jagged little white spaces
Open wide?


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