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TEDWomen 2016

Chinaka Hodge: What will you tell your daughters about 2016?

October 28, 2016

With words like shards of glass, Chinaka Hodge cuts open 2016 and lets 12 months of violence, grief, fear, shame, courage and hope spill out in this original poem about a year none of us will soon forget.

Chinaka Hodge - Writer, educator
Poet, playwright, filmmaker and educator Chinaka Hodge uses her own life and experiences as the backbone of wildly creative, powerful works. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Tell your daughters of this year,
00:12
how we woke needing coffee
00:15
but discovered instead cadavers
strewn about our morning papers,
00:17
waterlogged facsimiles
of our sisters, spouses, small children.
00:21
Say to your baby of this year
when she asks, as she certainly should,
00:26
tell her it was too late coming.
00:30
Admit even in the year we leased freedom,
we didn't own it outright.
00:31
There were still laws
for every way we used our privates
00:36
while they pawed at the soft folds of us,
00:39
grabbed with no concern for consent,
00:41
no laws made for the men
that enforced them.
00:44
We were trained to dodge,
00:47
to wait, to cower and cover,
00:49
to wait more, still, wait.
00:52
We were told to be silent.
00:55
But speak to your girls of this wartime,
00:57
a year preceded by a score of the same,
00:59
so as in two decades before,
01:02
we wiped our eyes,
01:04
laced caskets with flags,
01:06
evacuated the crime scene of the club,
01:08
caterwauled in the street,
01:10
laid our bodies on the concrete
against the outlines of our fallen,
01:11
cried, "Of course we mattered,"
01:14
chanted for our disappeared.
01:16
The women wept this year.
01:18
They did.
01:20
In the same year, we were ready.
01:21
The year we lost our inhibition
and moved with courageous abandon
01:24
was also the year we stared down barrels,
01:27
sang of cranes in skies,
ducked and parried,
01:29
caught gold in hijab,
collected death threats,
01:32
knew ourselves as patriots,
01:34
said, "We're 35 now, time we settled down
and found a running mate,"
01:36
made road maps for infant joy,
shamed nothing but fear,
01:39
called ourselves fat and meant, of course,
01:42
impeccable.
01:44
This year, we were women,
01:45
not brides or trinkets,
01:47
not an off-brand gender,
01:49
not a concession, but women.
01:51
Instruct your babies.
01:53
Remind them that the year has passed
to be docile or small.
01:54
Some of us said for the first time
that we were women,
01:58
took this oath of solidarity seriously.
02:00
Some of us bore children
and some of us did not,
02:03
and none of us questioned
whether that made us real
02:05
or appropriate or true.
02:07
When she asks you of this year,
02:09
your daughter, whether your offspring
or heir to your triumph,
02:11
from her comforted side of history
teetering towards woman,
02:14
she will wonder and ask voraciously,
02:17
though she cannot fathom your sacrifice,
02:20
she will hold your estimation of it holy,
02:22
curiously probing, "Where were you?
02:24
Did you fight?
Were you fearful or fearsome?
02:27
What colored the walls of your regret?
02:30
What did you do for women
in the year it was time?
02:32
This path you made for me,
which bones had to break?
02:34
Did you do enough, and are you OK, momma?
02:37
And are you a hero?"
02:40
She will ask the difficult questions.
02:41
She will not care
about the arc of your brow,
02:43
the weight of your clutch.
02:46
She will not ask of your mentions.
02:47
Your daughter, for whom you have
already carried so much, wants to know
02:49
what you brought, what gift,
what light did you keep from extinction?
02:52
When they came for victims in the night,
02:55
did you sleep through it
or were you roused?
02:57
What was the cost of staying woke?
03:00
What, in the year we said time's up,
what did you do with your privilege?
03:01
Did you sup on others' squalor?
03:05
Did you look away
or directly into the flame?
03:06
Did you know your skill
or treat it like a liability?
03:08
Were you fooled by the epithets
of "nasty" or "less than"?
03:11
Did you teach with an open heart
or a clenched fist?
03:14
Where were you?
03:17
Tell her the truth. Make it your life.
03:18
Confirm it. Say, "Daughter, I stood there
03:20
with the moment
drawn on my face like a dagger,
03:22
and flung it back at itself,
03:24
slicing space for you."
03:26
Tell her the truth, how you lived
in spite of crooked odds.
03:27
Tell her you were brave,
03:30
and always, always
in the company of courage,
03:31
mostly the days
when you just had yourself.
03:33
Tell her she was born as you were,
03:36
as your mothers before,
and the sisters beside them,
03:38
in the age of legends, like always.
03:40
Tell her she was born just in time,
03:43
just in time
03:45
to lead.
03:47
(Applause)
03:48

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Chinaka Hodge - Writer, educator
Poet, playwright, filmmaker and educator Chinaka Hodge uses her own life and experiences as the backbone of wildly creative, powerful works.

Why you should listen

Chinaka Hodge is a writer and educator from Oakland. She received her BA from NYU’s Gallatin School and studied Writing for Film and Television at  USC’s School of Cinematic Arts MFA program. Her work has been featured in Believer Magazine, Teen People Magazine, Newsweek, San Francisco Magazine, on PBS and NPR, and in two seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry. She was an Associate Producer on Simmons Lathan presents Brave New Voices for HBO.

She is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, was a playwright-in-residence at SF Playwrights Foundation and serves as a Visiting Editor at The California Sunday Magazine. She is an inaugural Senior Fellow at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

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