“No!” is more often associated with social justice than “Yes!” is. “No!” is the word of protest; of resistance; of “we are mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.”
“No” is powerful, y’all.
I certainly believe in the power of “No!”. I believe that it is crucial to stand up to policies, institutions, and individuals that are unfair, unjust, and inhumane. Few sounds are as marvelous as the chorus of disenfranchised voices coming together in defiance against the forces that seek to keep them down. Their “No!” is a clarion call to everyone who has yet to pay attention. Their “No!” stirs us from our beds of privilege and shows us the light of day. Their “No!” reminds us that we all have that essential thing in common - we want to be seen. Valued. Respected. Given the chance to go for our dreams - just like the next guy.
But, I am a Libra, which means that I crave balance. This means that, in the fight for social justice, I can’t take my “No!,” without a “Yes!”
As a black woman, identifying with “Yes!” can be tricky. After all, a “yes man” is a hated character; one who agrees with everything in order to suck up to authority; to not rock the boat. A black woman who is a “yes man” lays down with Uncle Tom; not down with the struggle. Perhaps, not black enough.
As a black woman, I have been accused of this.
But, I am an artist, which means that I crave imagination. This means that I can’t rest without considering all the possibilities of a thing. This means that I have considered all of the angles and perspectives of “Yes!” and I have forged a new thing.
“Yes!” is just as much an act of social justice as “No!”
As a black woman, I am certain of this.
The amount of times I have faced “No!” staggers me. I have spent 44 years swimming through a sea of “No!”
- No! You do not meet our agreed upon standard of beauty.
- No! You should not expect to accumulate any kind of wealth in your lifetime.
- No! It doesn’t matter how hard you work, you will never be taken as seriously as a professional.
- No! It is not normal for you to fall in love and make your home with her.
- No! Black people don’t talk like that.
- No! Black people don’t like that kind of music.
- No! You will never be the POTUS or the CEO or walk on the moon or direct a major motion picture.
- No! There aren’t enough people out there who care about your story.
- No! You will never survive as an artist.
- No! Women are supposed to have long hair.
- No! Women are supposed to keep slim and trim.
- No! Women aren’t supposed to like whiskey.
- No! You will never get anywhere without a master’s degree.
- No! No one wants to invest in a business like yours.
- No! No! No!
Once, I told a friend that I wanted to start a business and become a millionaire doing it. That friend laughed at me.
The above story happened to me more than once.
I shared this with a miraculous leadership coach who told me “Wow, that just shows how resilient you are. They told you “No!” and here you are, still doing it.
“Yes!” is my act of resistance.
I say “Yes!” in face of all of those goddamned “No!”s. I say “Yes!” in the way that my grandmother did when she went back to school in her 50’s and earned her masters degree in library science. I say “Yes!” the way my great grandmother did when she lost her husband at an early age and took jobs cleaning white folks’ homes because she still had to take care of herself and her daughter. I say “Yes!” the way that my great great great great grandmother did who was enslaved by the same man who fathered her but stuck it out until she finally made it to freedom.
I say “Yes!” because, as a black woman, it is my super power. “Yes!” as been passed down to me from my ancestors as a way of resisting the sea of “No!”s we swim in each and every day. “Yes!” has nothing to do with submission. “Yes!” has everything to do with rebellion.
You’ve heard, “When they go low, we go high.”
I say, when they go “No!”, I go “Yes!”