We are cast into roles we never auditioned to play. We have learned to show up for others in ways we have never been taught to show up for ourselves. We've become conditioned to give our best to others with greater zeal and intention than we give to ourselves. Black women are worthy of so much more than what we have learned we deserve. In fact, it is a revolutionary act to pursue ALL we deserve. We cannot get to the well-deserving place of liberation and radical well-being without some unlearning.
Each week in July I posted a message to the world of social media. Each message was apart of a larger series of conversations connected to a larger campaign globally to center the liberation and well-being of Black women. As a recap, I gave a hump day reminder to Protect Black women. I asked for folks to Believe Black women: our truths, wisdom, intuition, ingenuity, genius, and magic. I reminded people to Honor Black women at all times: when we shatter ceilings, resist the small boxes defined by society, challenge egos, push beyond your comfort zone, tell our truths, and call you to a higher standard. Finally, I called on everyone to Respect Black women. Because unfortunately brother Malcolm’s words still hold truth today:
“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
Through my professional work and personal experience as a Black woman, it has become very clear to me that too often Black women's voices and experiences are not centered, believed, honored, or respected. Our well-being is not prioritized. Our liberation is not at the forefront of people’s minds. In fact, the radical acts of nurturing those we are in relationship with despite all we endure are not received as a gift to be appreciated, rather an expectation. The emotional labor we offer daily, the energy and wisdom we exert towards Black liberation, and the critical role we play in the lives of the people we love is taken for granted.
It is clear to me, though I am not sure as clear for others, that the world we live in EXPECT Black women to be everything to everyone at all times at any cost. If and when we believe that narrative and begin to live it out daily, too often it is at the expense of our well-being and liberation. This ain’t what I heard, this is what I know.
Why is this you may ask? The answer to that question is complex and nuanced. It begins with socialization. No one escapes socialization. It begins at birth. We receive messages, directly and indirectly, images, stories, and narratives about how we should move in the world as Black women, who we are to be to people, what we should offer, and to what degree we should be protected. These messages come from a myriad of places; parents, school, peers, religious institutions, art, and media.
The fact of the matter is Black women are socialized. AND, the world is socialized specifically about what to expect from Black women.
Let’s then add on the layer of race in that gender socialization. Meaning, messaging becomes more specific when we talk about how we should engage the world as a BLACK female.
Let’s take it a step further and add sexual orientation. There are specific narratives around what it means to be a Black heterosexual woman.
Pause and reflect on that.
What are some of the messages you receive daily about what it means to be a black heterosexual female?
What is expected of you in relation to other black women?
What is expected of you in relation to black men?
We've learned so much about how we are expected to show up in the world, and that relentless messaging informs how we move through the world. We become so caught up in living out the learning and socialization we've received as Black women that we neglect to pause to examine the messages we have internalized.
Let's change that. As we approach new beginnings in August, I challenge you to give yourself permission to pause. Pause to reflect on the stories you are telling yourself and the internal dialogue that guide your everyday life in ways in which you are not even aware of. Together let's explore the internal narratives we have on repeat that impact us both positively and negatively. We are going to reflect on the ways in which those internal messages harm us, fail to nurture us, and reinforce the inequitable expectations others place on us. We will give ourselves time to pause and reflect, and invest in ourselves as much as we invest in others. We are worth that investment.
I paused to sit down to have a very rich and transformative conversation with Dr. Nikki Coleman (@drnikkiknows on Instagram and Facebook). That conversation gave voice to the experiences and humanity of Black women. The full conversation is found here:
Dr. Nikki challenged Black women to be as present with themselves as they are with others.
We closed that conversation with a reflection from Dr. Ebony, creator of my therapy cards (https://www.mytherapycards.com/?r_done=1),
"Sometimes we are carrying the burdens of people who came before us. Although we didn't ask for this, it is up to us to figure out and resolve as much as we can before we pass it on to those coming after us. "
I'll add to that, sometimes the narratives we are living out and the roles we are playing are learned and passed on from those who come before us. Sometimes the relationships we've learned to prioritize don’t always give to us in the ways in which we need it. Throughout the month of August, I invite you to give yourselves permission to pause and identify what you've learned that needs to be unlearned.