On February 27th, 2019, I was watching the Michael Cohen congressional testimony. As the broadcast got underway, I watched as Congressman Elijah Cummings from Maryland managed a very chaotic start to the hearing. I say “managed” because there were others, namely, Congressman Mark Meadows from North Carolina and Jim Jordan from Ohio, who attempted to stop, postpone, or better yet, control the hearing. I was cooking breakfast on that day, so my attention was in and out, but when Mr. Jordan attempted to override the chair regarding a last-minute vote that was taken to table a motion to postpone the hearing per Mr. Meadows, Mr. Cummings, who was chair of the committee, took back the control of the hearing and prefaced his opening statement by saying this: “I am reclaiming my time; I now recognize myself.” Of course, we have heard those words before in other congressional hearings. In the last year or so, it has been a phrase that has been associated with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is another veteran congressional figure , and she is a woman who I have respected from afar for her political career.
I am writing this blog because those words – I AM RECLAIMING MY TIME; I NOW RECOGNIZE MYSELF – were like music to my ears. They resonated with me deeply on that day. In hindsight, my response had nothing to do with Michael Cohen, Elijah Cummings, Mark Meadows, or Jim Jordan. I heard them more subconsciously and in relationship to my own life’s journey.
Over the past several years, I have written about surviving emotional abuse and the breakdown of an important personal relationship. In my scholarly and professional endeavors, I have consistently written and presented on matters of racism, sexism, heterosexism and many of the injustices that we are living with today. That said, my affair with writing goes much further back than my current academic career in and with matters pertaining to urban planning. I was a United Methodist clergywoman before I ever thought about pursuing studies about the politics of planning. Although every part of my life has brought me where I am today, it was there, as a preacher, that I first learned to speak up and to advocate for myself and for others.
My life as a black woman has not been easy. In the words of Langston Hughes, in his 1922 poem “Mother to Son,” “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Indeed, it has had cracks in it and at times it has been very painful. I never would or could have imagined many of the things that have happened to me. Maybe there were some situations that I never wanted to contemplate for myself. But, it is what it is; life is what it is. The things that have happened to me have made me realize and admit to myself that I don’t control life. And, I do not believe that anyone does. No one controls life. It is unpredictable, random; and, at any given moment, things could change for the good, the bad, or the ugly.
On the other hand, I am responsible for how I manage the persons, places and events in my life. And that includes me: how I handle myself. I am responsible for how I react to the events and people that life may bring. I suspect this is why those words were so powerful to me:
I AM RECLAIMING MY TIME
I NOW RECOGNIZE MYSELF
I believe that one of the greatest things that a person can ever do is to recognize her or himself. And it is an even greater thing when you are in a situation where someone or something else is trying their best NOT to recognize you; to ignore or negate you. Reclaiming your time and your person is a power move; it is an action that says: I will see me even if you choose not to; even if you choose to ignore and negate me. Thus, reclaiming your time and recognizing your own presence lets others know that their attempts at not seeing you and not recognizing you are NOT WORKING. Despite their best efforts, you matter, and who you are and what you have to say matters. That said, recognizing yourself is a step towards personal freedom, which could not be more important to many of us today.
When I was a child and an adolescent, and when my parents were upset with me, they would put me on punishment. In response to something I had done or something that I had said, they sent me to my room where I would not be allowed to speak or to be heard. Consequently, I would write out my feelings on paper and post my notes on my bedroom door. I would do it so often that my mother would say, “Go to your room, and don’t you put up any damn notes on your door.” I can’t remember how I responded to her saying that, but, I am sure that it was not good. To lose the ability to voice my thoughts and my feelings, even on my bedroom door, was very, very painful.
I still feel that pain today when someone that I know and love does not want to hear me out. I associate their refusal with the same power and control that my parents had over me as a child. And, back then, when I was a child/adolescent, there was very little that I could do about it. I was a dependent; at their mercy; and, I had to comply or risk being in even more trouble. At the time, I was very helpless.
However, it is not like that today. I am not a child, and I can do something about it when I am not seen or heard by those with whom I am in relationship, and who claim to love me. I am not helpless any longer. I can and I will, like Elijah Cummings or Maxine Waters, find a way to speak: to give voice to my feelings and my thoughts. When someone who says they love me, yet they attempt to rob me of my time, my voice and of my very being, I can act. I can set limits and boundaries on their selfish, controlling, abusive behavior; and, I can reclaim the power they are trying to take from me. I can recognize myself. I don’t have to let their attempts to ignore and disregard me go forward. I can exercise my power with my voice and through my actions to stop their attempts to silence or control me. On the one hand, I am always willing to work with those who want to change their actions and behaviors for the better, but as an adult, I can also choose to disassociate myself from abusive and hateful people, if need be. I don’t have to be with such people.
I suppose that my childhood experience with being punished and silenced is central to why I write today in public spaces. There are many people who write and who put their voices out in the world. When I consider all the great African American thinkers and activists, I need not look far to see their written works and thus their legacies. They wrote about their lives when others tried to keep them quiet; and, because they resisted in print, it is much easier for people like me to write freely today. I am grateful for their dedication to themselves and to the written word.
In conclusion, I do not suppose that those great writers wrote their poems, stories and books because others would read them. The more that I write and the more that I consider my own relationship with writing, I believe they wrote in resistance to being silenced and ignored. And, I believe that the Harlem Renaissance was grounded in that idea. Simply put, they wrote because they realized their own worth, and they knew that they had valuable things to say. They wrote in protest, and in spite of the many attempts to stop them from being seen and heard. And, they wrote, as I write today, because they believed in themselves and the power they had to recognize themselves; and, in what the use of that power was able to do.
© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.