Since becoming a mother myself, my eyes were immediately opened to the importance of representation. I can’t say why it was such a strong realization, it might partly be because it is something I realized I lacked growing up. Or it was just something that rushed into my life along with all the love and emotions that come when you meet a piece of your own heart.
I’ve always been inspired by my son and his ability to be SO comfortable in his skin. He has pushed me to put away the straightener and embrace the hairs on my head. He prepared me for a move I made largely for him and his access to representation.
At least I told myself it was largely for him.
Since moving to the DMV I feel as though I have shed layer after layer of skin and masks that never suited me. Every day I wake up in a world that affirms that there is no one way to “be” who you are. Where you’re from. What the color of your skin is. What god you may believe in. Who you love. Etc. Etc. There IS no box for any of us.
I’ve known this. My sister will attest, as will my parents, I’ve always been the one to step back and see if we can look at situations and people from another angle. Let’s be humble and compassionate I’d hear myself saying over and over. (And no, that does not mean we need to ‘agree’ or surround ourselves with those who make the environment toxic. We just certainly do not need to take the toxicity into our own lives by becoming them) I digress.
Despite my focus on understanding the constraints and utter harmfulness of boxes, it felt like I was fighting the norm day in and day out. It wasn’t ever a comfortable place to be. So I had so many different cloaks and walls of protections. Masks on hand at all times in case I said something “too far” outside of what was supposed to be my norm, I could rescind and hide to avoid too much attention and be outcast.
Here. Where I’m at now. My heart is SOARING.
I’ll start with the most recent case. I was on a weekend vacation with a friend and 54 of her family members. We took a charter bus to a ski resort and just hung out all weekend. It was fantastic. (and that doesn’t even TOUCH how wonderful it was) One of the nights one of the guys we were with used the word fag. I told him “No. You can’t use that word. Please. Never use that word. It’s gross. It’s ugly. It’s so harmful.”
Now. This IS something I believe. 100%. But I surprised myself by speaking up so quickly. It was automatic. I was comfortable in that space. Despite that I had never met these people any more than 6 hours ago. That led to a lengthy discussion about the word, the stereotypes of those who are gay, why the letters are important in the acronym LGBTQIA, what it’s like as a bisexual women (and black – my friend), how parents feel when their kids bring their true selves to the table, the power of words in the gay and black communities, etc. etc. etc. Did we agree? Fundamentally I think yes. Did I say a few times “No. You cannot say you’re accepting. No you can not say you respect humanness if you continue to hold the beliefs you do.” Yep. I did.
And at one point I was going to leave. Not because I was angry, just because as an introvert, who happens to be a black woman, sometimes these conversations exhaust me. They go deep and they can be generally harmful to the individual trying to be the educator. BUT. The two men I was speaking to said “No, don’t leave. This is a great conversation. I love this conversation. This is how we learn. This is how we get better.”
My heart. My heart soared. The acceptance. I cannot. I did not. I had no idea.
It was a beautiful moment for the little girl inside of me. My older self was saying “See, baby. It’s okay to be who you are. It’s okay to have differing views. It’s okay to share those. Be exactly who you are.”
The rest of the weekend I learned the wonderful dynamics in which all black people can exist. It only perpetuated the people I have chosen to surround myself with and who I have now come to call my friends since moving to this area. Black people like IPA beer, country music, hiking, not all of us can dance, not all of us are athletic. Big hair is okay. Big hair is gorgeous. There is NO SUCH THING AS TALKING BLACK. Being intelligent and articulate is what it is. You don’t have to “speak well” to be either.
And omg. Black people RUN. For exercise. Even those who were never athletes.
These all sound ridiculous. I know. I am fully aware.
I am being completely honest when I say I KNEW….I KNEW black people are just f-ing human. But when you grow up where I did (and where I lived most of my life) that knowledge is what you whisper to yourself as you lay down your head at the end of the day. After a long day of trying to fit it, all while not completely suffocating who you are. It’s like a bedtime story you tell yourself.
Unless. You. Have. Representation.
It matters so damn much.