Hurt, Rage, and Endless Beauty

There is a fire at my feet, warm, almost uncomfortably.

A former student e-mailed me, “Your novel is the shit.”

I am in Boston, at the beginning of my book tour. Tomorrow I read at a lovely bookstore 3.2 miles from my hotel. I am nervous. I am excited. This morning I had brunch with a writer I really enjoy. We talked about everything and told truths about ourselves. I thought, “Sometimes, beauty is endless in a woman.” 

I was going to go to the movies but decided to enjoy the luxury of having nowhere to be, a quiet hotel room. Loneliness is familiar. Sometimes it is a comfort. 

Last night on Saturday Night Live, Leslie Jones had a monologue on Weekend Update. What she had to say was uncomfortable. People are reacting. I must say, I understand where Jones is coming from. To be considered beautiful as a black woman, you need to be exceptionally beautiful. In the monologue she talks about how “massa” would have hooked her up with the best slave on the plantation to breed even better slaves. She was being funny or not, humor is relative. I have watched the clip several times now. I see pain. I see rage.

Black women rarely get to be beautiful. We get to be strong. We get to be imposing and intimidating. We get to be thick, hypersexual bodies. We get to be exotic. We get to be the dirty secret you won’t take home to your family. That is all people want to see in us. When black women are considered beautiful (and this is quite a narrow space), too many people want to be congratulated for briefly expanding their understanding of beauty.

Black women are rarely seen for who we are. We are rarely seen or held with any kind of tenderness. We are rarely wanted. Leslie Jones was making a joke but maybe she wasn’t. Look at her face at the end of the monologue. See what is there. She was expressing a very specific loneliness I instantly recognized—having a big black body that may never be seen as beautiful or desirable, while carrying so much desire that goes unsatisfied.

It hurts to watch Leslie Jones sharing her rage and hurt veiled in humor. I want to take her face in my hands and tell her she is beautiful. She is beautiful. I want to hold all her hurt and rage so she can be free of it, even for a little while. I want to remake this world into something better so black women don’t have to recognize this kind of hurt and rage. I want all black women to see the ways in which we are endlessly beautiful even if few others do. I want to believe I am beautiful.