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Op Eds

Sounds of the Strong Black Woman

By Kyla N. Golding, Crimson Opinion Writer
Kyla N. Golding ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House.

I was the toddler who told my actual age when my parents wanted to get kiddie discounts at restaurants and events. I was that little kid who said precisely what she was thinking about anything and anyone. I was the little girl who didn’t want to be a princess. Unironically, I grew up to be the girl that was unafraid to use her voice whenever, wherever, and however she saw fit. It became, essentially, one of the most overt parts of my personality as I grew through adolescence and into young adulthood — until I started losing my voice.

I lose my voice when I’m tired. My vocal cords flare up from overuse and irritation, prohibiting the normally full, commanding, and throaty frequencies from reaching the tip of my tongue. And while I strain to preserve the presence of the most precious instrument in my justice-for-Kyla-and-all-the-little-black-girls-like-her symphony, all that is left is a hoarse, cracking, lilting melody.

The fullness of my voice often masks the exhaustion and concealed pain from what sometimes feels like the weight of a cruel world — particularly for Black women. And so, in every space, the notes that leave my mouth must be strong. It must be unfaltering during classroom and friendly introductions, fierce in protest and mighty while fighting against injustices, and yet cheery with those I love. Until I lose my voice again — and the strength that came with it seems as though it has slipped away.

It’s in these moments I feel weak, defenseless, without my natural guard that protects the sanctity of my doctrine of forthrightness. It’s where I feel an unfulfilled duty to the little black girl that always demanded the world hear her clearly. But in my silence and between the cracks of my voice — despite how eerily hollow and shaken it may seem — I’ve found solace in an unshielded tune.

Sometimes I don’t want to be strong. Sometimes I can’t.

I am constantly tired — for a number of reasons. I am reckoning with a year of change and isolation as well as the mental residue left in its place. I am mourning loved ones and experiences lost. I am adjusting to the semi-post-pandemic return to outside as I attempt to recall being an in-person student, friend, and family member. I am learning how to be a real-time college kid for the first time here at Harvard. I’m practicing getting good at being bad. I’m battling the complexities of misogynoir. I am praying night and day for the victims of white supremacy and for those of us left behind to continue the fight against it.

My body is weary. My mind is scattered. As a result, I’m left to bend to the will of high-pitched cracks, a hushed rasp, and even a bodily-enforced silence.

There’s a vulnerability in the shaking breathiness of the notes from vocal cords strained. To be honest, I never liked it. The unsureness of the ability to create another sound and the discomfort in a lack of audible conviction can thrust you into a perpetual quietness until the confidence of a sonorous voice returns. But losing my voice in moments of anxiety, inundation, and restlessness has shown me the power — and the necessity — in having the courage to admit the moments when I’m not the strong Black woman everybody, including myself, has made me out to be.

Losing my voice forces me to slow down. To listen in the ways I hope to be listened to. To rest when the going gets tough. What’s more is establishing the trust in others to speak up for me when I’m bound, with me as allies, and to me in the spaces between. After all, the added harmony of those who help me fill the silence while I embrace the uneasiness during times of strain produces the most exquisite sound.

I am a Black woman who — like anyone else — has moments of strength and moments when I’ve lost my voice. Too often, though, has the world convinced me that my value is fixed in my ability to defend myself incessantly, to fight for others intensely, and to maintain the perfect pitch as my larynx swells.

So every time I lose my voice, I’m reminded that the symphony I had begun to craft as a little Black girl is only fuller with all its notes — even the hushed, the shaken, and cracked ones — because the world will still hear that little girl and all that she is.

Kyla N. Golding ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House.

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