The Way God Made Me
You never know what you’re going to find on Instagram. Maybe an artistic foam swirl on a latte, a selfie of a friend, sporting a top knot, or the reminder, according to author and scholar, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, that everything you’ve ever learned is thanks to a black woman you've likely overlooked.
A social media friend of mine posted a lengthy quote from Gumbs’ latest book, M Archive, and I was stunned as I read it. Not because it was unbelievable, but because it was truth. Instantly, I thought of Yvonne, my mom’s friend and colleague from back in the mid 1970’s. Back then, it was acceptable parlance in Missouri to use “the N word,” and was practically unheard of to have a black and female architect on staff at any firm. And as for my mom, she was harassed almost daily by engineers who snapped her in the butt with rubber bands when she walked by their drafting tables. Perhaps these less than pleasant workforce conditions could have split the two women, but instead they banded together.
At first my mom was afraid of this larger than life architect-pioneer-black woman; her long flowing maxi dresses and epic afro. But then they were friends. They would spend time together outside of work, she got to know our family, and even taught my mom how to crochet afghans on giant hooks with several strands of yarn. As a child, so the family folklore goes, I looked at Yvonne upon meeting her and asked, with all the bluntness of my youth, “Why do you have those black hands?” Mom says Yvonne didn’t miss a beat. Probably used to answering absurd questions from children and adults: “Well that’s the way God made me.”
I was puzzled by those black hands back then and stunned by Gumbs’ writing today. And in between, I was awestruck by the beauty and brilliance of Yvonne’s black Baptist funeral that my mom and I road-tripped from Northern Colorado to attend. The preacher invoked the Spirit by calling on – in song – God as “Healer, Healer, Healer,” that’s what I remember. That and a brave nephew, maybe twelve at the time, who stood up and eulogized his auntie, tears streaming his face.
Yvonne, to me, was my mother’s “black friend;” as a child, to me, she was a pair of mystifying black hands.
But as Gumbs insists, she was and is also a snapshot of the Divine; defying parameters of what’s acceptable, blessing God’s holy name and attributing her very gifts to that God-given light.
Gumbs beckons her readers to acknowledge these marvelous women in our lives, because chances are, we’ve overlooked them. Who are they to you? These larger than life black women, who’ve taught us everything we know? What are their names?
Thanks for Reading.