Quiet, that’s what Ebro from Hot 97 calls Sister Souljah–“I don’t see you speaking the same way you used to,” is the direct quote. Quiet seems an ill-fitted adjective for the once forceful Bronx-accented voice that rattled radio waves, television screens, and college auditoriums urging the African and Latino youth to wake up, fight against white supremacy, and to, most importantly, love and respect themselves. Her voice was voracious but clear, ferocious but honest. When Souljah spoke, you listened. Quiet she certainly was not. But that was twenty some years ago, before The Coldest Winter Ever and the Midnight Sagas that launched Souljah into the literary world capturing a loyal readership and the attention of Jada Pinkett-Smith, who is still trying to get The Coldest Winter Ever to the big screen.
“If you see me speaking, you’ll see me speaking the same way, plus the additional wisdom–hopefully,” she responds to Ebro. Today her voice packs less potency in volume but retains its clarity when speaking with the Hot 97 radio team. She’s been making her media rounds promoting her latest novel, A Moment of Silence: Midnight III, while still, always, managing to speak on the matter most dear to her heart–black people.
Though I didn’t grow up listening to Sister Souljah, my own affection for the black diasporic community introduced me to the force that was her presence. I ingested every YouTube clip/interview/song of hers I could find allowing her energy, dominance, and belief in black unity to fill me with enough optimism to navigate my PWI (predominately white institution). There was comfort in listening to a confident, loud, black woman profess her love and commitment to the people.
A sense of nostalgia came over me as I watched Souljah’s Hot 97 interview. I began to remember not only her confident character that was willing to challenge white supremacy, and Bill Clinton, but her autobiography I picked up yet never got around to reading. I went searching for the book with excitement, wanting to uncover more on the woman who rallied up the black youth, worked with Public Enemy and P.Diddy, and debated with Cornel West. What I discovered was…revealing.
“a fiercely candid autobiography and a survival manual for any African American woman who wants to keep her heart open and her integrity intact in 1990s America,”
No Disrespect delivers seven chapters dedicated to people—specifically men–who “educated (and mis-educated) her [Sister Souljah] about love,” and introduces readers to the ways the black family structure–or lack thereof—has been deeply damaged by white-supremacy and has, as a result, failed the black youth.
Sister Souljah likens herself to Harriet Tubman, who she believes had “African spiritual eyes,” a gift Souljah claims to be blessed with as well. This spiritual eye allows for both women to penetrate the dangers of oppression and be guided the philosophy that:
“If one is not safe, all are not safe…If life is not fair and balanced, tragedy will fall on all our houses”
Her belief in African spirituality—something that often seemed like an over-romanticized myth—and profound love for, faith in, and devotion to black people drives her to challenge institutionalized structures that set black people, and black families, up for failure. This love propels her to create a survival camp in North Carolina for black youth in the “welfare hotels” of New York. This love encourages her to open her home and heart to her students. This love ignites her to rally up influential entertainers and businesspeople to invest in a benefit concert for her camp. This love also blinds her particularly when it comes to men.
“I am no angel,” Sister Souljah professes in the first line of the note to her readers, “I am a young black sister with an unselfish heart who overdosed on love long ago.” It is with this love that Souljah bares her soul in an intimately candid memoir.
“By exposing my experiences and the experiences of many of the people around me, I hope and pray that many African men and women will gain an understanding of love and life, that they will have a chance to save themselves the pain of ignorance.”
I found myself flinching through most of the autobiography, not due to any lack of depth or one-dimensional characters, but from its brutal honesty. Souljah holds nothing back as she takes us into the heart and soul of a young woman battling severe loneliness. Being an intelligent, confident, self-aware black woman did not have men lining up to treat Sister Souljah with the respect, love, and kindness she longed for. But despite that fact, one thing remained sure, her devout love for black people.
“No matter how backward and negative the mainstream view and image of black people, I feel compelled to reshape that image and to explore our many positive angels—because I love my own people”
That exploration of black people’s positive angles—which are prodigious—has Souljah looking quite desperate in some of her romantic choices.For a woman who is so book-smart she is rendered incapable of separating intellectual theory from romantic relationships. There comes a point when she forgoes her own principals and beliefs in the black family structure for “love.” It is then where one can see how loneliness, naiveté, and idealism can bring even the strongest woman to her knees.
“I have a problem: I love hard. Maybe too hard,” she confesses. Most of us have probably not used our theoretical notions on the broken black family structure as an excuse to remain in dysfunctional relationships, but we were all young and dumb once. We’ve often ignored the signs, the warnings from our friends, the inner-voice urging us to turn away. Love, or the many flawed and fragmented ideas of it, is equally dangerous and redemptive. Without it for ourselves we are lost, without it for our fellow human we are doomed. However, we have to find a balance between loving someone and making excuses for their inadequacies. This, I believe, is the ultimate lesson Souljah risked her vulnerability to share.
“I finally figured out what takes many people a lifetime to discover. I figured out: to love myself, to understand my value and power…”
The road to self-love is a bumpy one full of detours to places most wouldn’t shine a light on, but Souljah bravely illuminated many of her own pit-falls in an attempt to be a beacon for the lost ones she devoted a career to saving. Despite a few questionable sentiments (like homosexuality being a “lifestyle” of choice), which we can only hope have evolved in the twenty years since the publication of the book, Sister Souljah is a brilliant mind and brave soul who readily gave of herself for the progression of those she loved—black people.