“What is unpleasant to some people is news for others…” -Tina Turner, 1993 Canadian Interview
Dear Ms. Turner,
In interviews you’ve said the movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It” barely scratched the surface of your real-life abuse. I cannot imagine being married to man who would hit me with a shoe stretcher or proudly sleep with other women during our marriage. I am barely functional with the flu, but you worked a stage between broken jaws, swollen eyes and lips. How did you shimmy into spotlights with such a determined smile after fighting for your life day and night? How those legs never collapsed, I’ll never know.
It can take a lifetime to know there’s a weapon inside you. Your story shows how to plan an exit, never look back, tap your inner power, rebuild a career, keep singing, take your time with new love and do it all gracefully.
Our hindsight makes us believe we know your story because we can Netflix your bio-pic and Youtube your performances.
There weren’t feminists sitting at their keyboards on patrol. No president was telling America women deserved equal pay.
Looking back at how you zigzagged on stage, dipped your head with arms ready for flight while singing duets with your abuser only makes me admire you more. Then, a dancing singer had to come back to the mic stand where long cords could have tripped them up. It was you with that work-it stare, curled lip and peek-a-boo outfits that made you a stunner light years before you graced a Vogue magazine cover. Did I mention that voice that could capture gospel, blues and rock in one note? You could have taken all the glory and been the only dancer on stage, but you brought the background singers up front and rolled right in our memory forever with that sexy swag—all this before there were ever videos.
You say you don’t like to dwell on the past and as church folks often say, “You don’t look like what you’ve been through.” In November you’ll be 75. You’re a happily married woman now and a Swiss citizen. You probably aren’t even interested in looking back at us.
But I can’t shake my frustration with music these days. I don’t know how fist-forced oppression became sweetness in our mouths. We nod our heads to the beat of your beatings. Did you ever think your abuse would become iconic?
Ms. Turner, you don’t need rescuing or defending by anyone. You’ve earned the right to not respond to all the “Eat the Cake Anna Mae” talk. You’ve done your work as Iyanla often suggests we do.
In the end, it’s about our daughters.
How do we raise them to be allies to those whose wounds are not theirs?
How do we model relationships in front of them that don’t send mix messages about what’s healthy?
How do we mute the beat and create an environment where they can stand proud of their bodies and themselves when there is no spotlight?
Kelly Harris is the founder and editor of BrassyBrown.com
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