Friday, July 1, 2011

Do Not Call Me a Queen!

"Someone claimed, rhetorically, that we are the only `true
queens of the universe.' I do not want to be a queen, because
queens are oppressive, but even so the thought came to me
that any true queen know the names, words, and actions of the
other queens of her lineage and is very sharp about her story." -- Alice Walker

Yesterday a stranger broke my personal space to pay what he thought was a compliment. He simply said, "You are a beautiful African queen". I probably should have thanked the stranger and reclaimed my sacred by moving along. The approach and words of a stranger nearly cost me a little of my power. The stranger was not the first to refer to me in this manner. It is not likely that he will be the last. But I need to get my reaction to what I’m sure is a well-intended, harmless compliment under control. At issue is the fact that I do not like my having my gender “colored” with hued adjectives. Until now, I have never taken the time to understand why. Here are a few thoughts on the matter.

Alice in Wonderland
I remember the day and the hour that I first read Alice Walker’s position on the title of “queen”. It was 1990. I had just entered graduate school. I had read every one of Walker’s books that were available at the time, and I called myself a “womanist”. What ever Alice did, I endeavored to do it better.

To that end I agreed with her every word, and reached the conclusion that there is not a queen in history who did not rule her “queendom” without history’s pen recording her dainty slippers weighing heavily on the necks of her subjects. I neither rule nor manage people; therefore do not call me a queen.

Note: Alice and I went our literary separate ways years later when she discovered she loved women, vegetables and the environment while I held tightly to men, my SUV and a hot, salty and rare Ribeye. But her edict regarding royalty remains as resonate as ever.

I was Born in Georgia!

Not in Africa! I spent my formidable years in another country, speaking another language. I speak English and German. I read Arabic, Hebrew and Sanskrit. The color of my skin is my only tangible connection to Africa and even that is an insufficient reason to call me out as a member of the continent’s royal family.

Not Everyone was a King!

There was necessarily a class of subjects. Revisionists of African-American history would have all persons of African descent as former kings and queens. This is simply impossible. I imagine that if Africa was at one time a continent made up entirely of royalty, then the “middle passage” would be a term for a car passing in the median rather than an idiom that marks some of the darkest days in American history.

Why Color the Obvious?

I felt that the coloring of the stranger’s compliment compartmentalized me and all women who look like me, leaving our beauty restricted to the confines of our shading. The stranger would have been better served by simply complimenting...ME. I have worked very hard ensuring that my life and my work are colorblind. I want my beauty held to the same standard.

I am a beautiful woman. Do not qualify my existence by my color.


Do not call me a Queen!