This month, I’m still highlighting women whose histories have greatly impacted my own. I have talked about my mother, my grandmothers, and my aunties. I do not become who I am without their great influence, but there is another group of women whom I might not have any familiar relationship, but whose lives and stories have impacted me in ways that can hardly be summed up in the few hundred words I write here once a week. I only know some of their names, and for many, I don’t even know that. I will call them the wailing women.
In Jeremiah 9, the prophet is telling the people of Israel about themselves. He is saddened by their condition, and in his lament, he says on behalf of the Lord, “Call for the wailing women.” These were people who mourned for a living. It was their job to follow in funeral processions, and cry out on behalf of the bereaved. But that’s not all they did. The wailing women were prophetic. When Jeremiah said “call for the wailing women.” He wasn’t asking them to cry over a dead body. He was calling them to mourn over the sins of the nation, that the nation might hear their cries and repent. But the tradition of the wailing woman continues today.
I think first, of the women at the foot of the cross.
I think of Phyllis Wheatley, the first Black woman to publish a book of poetry in America. In her life, she experienced great tragedy, not the least of which was being captured by traders in 1761, and forced into slavery on foreign shores.
I think of Billie Holiday, whose life and story has recently generated a lot of buzz. Her voice was haunting and harrowing as she sang about lynchings across the American south. The lady wasn’t just singing the blues, she was wailing.
I think of Beyonce Knowles-Carter, who took her broken heart and put it on wax, only for the album to go platinum. I imagine it wasn’t just because the visuals were stunning, and the poetry was beautiful. It was because she reminded us that none of us is above heartbreak, and none of us are immune to pain.
I think of Sabrina Fulton, Gwen Carr, Maria Hamilton, Lucy McBath, Lezley McSpadden, Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley, Geneva Reed-Veal, and Samaria Rice, collectively called the Mothers of the Movement, who took their very real grief, and transformed it into political action.
This is what wailing women do. They mourn publicly, causing their entire communities to look upon their tears. Their cries cause others to join them in their grief. If you are not weeping about the state of the world right now, I imagine it’s because you’ve hardened your heart, and covered your ears. But their tears will not be ignored. Our tears will not be ignored. Real grief demands action.
What are you going to do?