Inheritance

Words by Ashley Williams


"Never let your womanhood ask a man for anything."

 

Not rape. 

Not home. 

Not partnership. 

Not stability. 

 

"Not a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. Don't ask no man for nothin’!” 

My Granny says.

 

When my Granny moves on past breath, I will inherit a plethora of polyester, 

2 million non-matching Tupperwear pieces, and my Granny's life thesis:

 

"A man can be a dog, more than a dog can be a man, but a dog can be more of a man than a man can." 

 

I'll inherit the responsibility of being the keeper and translator of our family legacy impacted by a history of oppression of blackness and all things black men, perpetuated through systems still rocking at the manly blue cradles of my 3rd cousins today; while their young fathers and my aging one rot in cell blocks wishing for the cycle to end. 

 

I've also inherited her gift of creative tongue; my Granny is a storyteller. 

 

I always felt like her words and stories were covered in honey the way they would stick and connect, even though they were buried so deep in trauma, that it took me until recently to notice.

 

These stories were dripping of honey, humor, and harmony in her Selma Alabama accent. She would never shed a tear when she talked about how she was abused by the men she loved. Frank raped her. John beat her. She moved on with stories and strength with 2 daughters and 3 granddaughters as listeners and learners. 

 

Her stories of trauma were hidden behind messages of her seeking empowerment and independence summed in simple phrases that taint men, but taught us to hate men.

 

“Mama’s baby, daddy’s maybe.”

 

“You can hardly find a nice man, but you can find a good trash bag.”

 

“Don’t them mens live inside your heart rent free.” 

 

She said.

 

She says:

 

"Why ain't you married? Don't you want somebody slenda, tenda, and tall?" 

 

It's probably because I grew up being told I was a tomboy because I was athletic and interested in fixing things. Maybe, like Granny, it feels safer at night to fall asleep in the layers of it all. Most likely it's because I've inherited the robust mistrust and conflicting disgust. This inherited narrative has left my ears heavy and my mind dizzy in confusion.

 

How am I supposed to understand how to love a man when the hearts that I trust the most with my own, do not speak of loving and being loved by one? 

I know Granny is only trying to protect the womanhood that passes on the legacy of her being, just as her mother and grandmother did.

But I must stand and be. Still listen with intention to honor, shift, and heal from what we’ve known to inform what we’ll be, in this critical moment for the future of this black skin.

I realized that there is a language in my family that is being spoken about men and the phonemes are rooted in pain so deep, you can hear a prayer between each syllable that build words of protection that sound like hate. 

 

This vocabulary around the mistrust is being inherited, spoken fluently amongst our women, and understood in ways that only we know best how to understand. The accent is thicker than hardened honey, forcing us to stick together albeit complacent.

 

Honey. 

 

It can be bitter, sweet. 

 

This native tongue we speak is limiting the space for our boys to grow. The space for men in my family has been befouled to the point that to us, men can only be foul. 

 

I want these words to catapult into existence and taste like truth and empowerment. 

 

We don’t know all men. 

 

We do know the harvesters of pain, heartbreak, and abuse, so we name them, Granny, not all men.

 

This notion of inheritance never strummed at my heartstrings so vehemently until it became blatant to me that the lives of my nephews, boy cousins, and future sons are under attack. There is a dialect about our men in America right now that needs to be redefined so the reflection of how they see themselves and how we see them isn't clouded to the point that a hashtag is a proclamation and reminder that their lives do in fact matter. 

 

I will start on 73rd and Hoover, South Central Los Angeles. When Granny leans back in her chair after telling the stories scorn and delivering warn, and slides her glasses back up on her nose. I will begin the process of redefining our legacy of inheritance and language in her home, for mine, simply by saying: 

 

“Yes, Granny; and that was them, not all men.” 

 

I am open to all that comes with going against this historical grain:

The anxiety and the questioning. 

The isolation of being the “other” in my own family.

The results of the dialogue and the beliefs in the small freedoms to follow from the stories I will surrender to our lineage. 

 

Hoping that one day, like her, my words will stick and connect like honey.

 Illustration of Ashley Williams by Kenta Thomas

Illustration of Ashley Williams by Kenta Thomas

 

*this is installation was brought to you for our Otherness Week. This is the first of our 'Themed Weeks' and I'm so excited to finally open up my site to friends to share their stories and ideas. We're starting the look for more folks to pitch in. If you want to write about Death or Gratitude, or topics beyond that, hit me up at kentathomas@foliohport.com : )! Yay -