Approaching Black Womanhood Is Scary

 

Erica Garner's death reminded me that I'm not ready for my twenties.

 me on my 19th birthday

me on my 19th birthday

 

I’ll be 20 years old this year. Twenty. That scares me. It’s not merely because of my fear of adulthood, but it’s more concentrated on the fear of approaching black womanhood. Initially, I imagined that I would spend my twenties “Living Single”-ing  it up—thriving in melanated magic in a Brooklyn brownstone with my black friends, having a bombass journalism career, living my life to a Frank Ocean playlist. I pictured myself as an independent and level-headed character like Khadijah James (Queen Latifah), who was mainly doing all three of those things (Frank Ocean could be replaced with Sade or any other prolific 90’s R&B artist during that time). Or, I could be “Insecure”-ing it up— being a mix of Molly and Issa while having love interests in a regular rotation, basing by experiences off of SZA’s “Ctrl” and living in a black middle class neighborhood in Los Angeles. I still fantasize about living in both of those realities.

Last year, however, I realized that there are ugly realities associated with black womanhood that I’m not ready to face. It’s more than just the regular-degular things that come with being an adult like bills, employment, and more bills. My fear stems from maternal mortality, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and other issues that plague black women at alarming rates.

Erica Garner found herself at the intersection of many avenues of structural racism that ultimately inhibit black women the most, and that is something that I’m not ready to encounter

Consider Erica Garner. Out of all the deaths related to white supremacy that have been amplified by the Black Lives Matter Movement, Erica Garner’s death hit me the most. Her death was the culmination of my realization that living in black girl magic is too often confronted with hardships that contribute to the erasure of a black woman’s existence. It wasn’t just the stress of her witnessing her father being placed in a chokehold by the police which prompted him to scream “I Can’t Breathe” that contributed to that realization. It wasn’t the narrative of black women sacrificing themselves for black liberation movements that wasn’t a stranger to Erica Garner. It wasn’t her surviving intimate partner violence while pregnant. It wasn’t even her suffering major complications post-pregnancy that later resulted in her death. Instead, it was a combination of all those things that increased my fear of approaching my twenties. Thus, Erica Garner found herself at the intersection of many avenues of structural racism that ultimately inhibit black women the most, and that is something that I’m not ready to encounter.

When I was younger, I always dreamed of having a lot of kids (six was the maximum). Being the only child hasn’t been easy, and I wanted to ensure that my children would never lack having a big family. At 16, I reduced that number in half partially because I’ve realized that I don’t like children past the age of four and mainly because they’re just too expensive. Now, my thoughts on motherhood have drastically changed to me being content without having any children. While those aforementioned reasons still remain true, I’ve become aware of the startling maternal mortality rate for black women that has discouraged any thought that I’ve had on having a child.

Last fall, I read in Essence Magazine about the death Kyira Dixon Johnson. At age 37, she was accomplished and travelled across the world. She was also the daughter-in-law of the Hon. Glenda Hatchett who had her own television series. Last year, Johnson was pregnant with her second child and was scheduled for a C-section in the top-tier hospital of Cedars-Sinai. It was the same hospital where Beyonce would give birth to twins nearly a year later. According to the article, Johnson was also in perfect health which is why it was a huge shock to her family that she hemorrhaged to death. However, it was a situation that could have been avoided if she received the proper care.

How could highly-rated hospital be dangerously inattentive to the care of a patient, especially one who knows their own body? I asked that same question after reading Vogue’s interview with Serena Williams, in which she detailed some complications of her pregnancy. The tennis star, and arguably the greatest athlete of our generation, had to plead with physicians to care for her pulmonary embolism that was making her short of breath the day after giving birth.

I also read the scathing report by ProPublica that detailed how structural racism impacts black motherhood. According to the report, black mothers die at more than triple the rate than  white mothers and are still at an startling advantage when considering factors like poverty and low educational attainment. But nothing stunted my pregnancy dreams  than this statistic that explains everything—black women are 243 percent more likely to die from childbirth or  pregnancy-related issues than white women.

Being raised in the black church and in a family that’s predominantly Christian, marriage was always the goal. Most of my childhood and teenage years were spent (are often still spent) listening to messages about how my virginity would lead me to the prize of marriage in which I would experience a limitless amount of love and happiness from a husband who found me worthy of being a wife. I believed it. So, in every relationship that I was in, I entered it with marriage as the goal. Yes, before the age of 16, I seriously thought I would happen to meet my soulmate. Some people do. However, I’ve realized the pernicious effects that mindset can have on a young girl.

Those sermons that I consistently heard throughout my upbringing failed to mention that women don’t need men to reach their happiness. Although those messages didn’t explicitly say the contrary, it certainly implied it by associating my happiness to how I’m perceived by men and God. At 19, I’ve finally understood I am not defined by what goes inside of me and how many men I decide to be with. My identity is controlled on my own terms.

Thus, when Ciara posted a video on social media of John Gray preaching those same toxic messages that I grew up on, I became frustrated by the constant oppression that women face within the four walls of the sanctuary. However, the sad part about the entire situation was the many women who still amplify their support of it. Black women are the backbones of the black church. They are the nurses board, choir directors, and Bible Study teachers. Black women are also among the most religious demographics in the nation. They give their lives to churches that don’t thoroughly support them, and most black women seem to be content with that. The only reason why preachers like John Gray continuously sell these “singleness sermons” is because the target market—black women— isn’t in jeopardy, and it’s perhaps the greatest finesse of all-time.

This current realization of having agency over my own happiness included the my newly found agency over my body. With the agency that I’ve tried to have over my body, I can’t help but notice the menacing glares from men who examine it as if it’s theirs. I’ve been receiving these stares for a while, and I’m still not used to it.  No, hiding my ass and thighs won’t do the trick because somehow, men find a way to take control of my body. Furthermore, why should I have to hide parts of my body to tame a man’s bad behavior? That’s the very reason why the #MeToo movement exists today. However, while the #MeToo movement has benefited wealthy white actresses, it hasn’t quite served justice for the many girls in the black community who’ve had to experience sexual assault at a young age. Because of racism, black girls have learned to carry their pain without any recognition because we know the damaging effects that white supremacy has on our men. R.Kelly is a perfect example of this, but, in this case, there has been decades of evidence against him targeting young black girls for his toxic behavior. However, he still gets to sell out stadiums and featured on songs. The #MeToo movement certainly showed whose pain matters and who gets to be a victim.

Realizing these things at 19 years old has been a telling experience of how much I’ve grown, and I’m ready to explore more issues in my twenties. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t say how discouraging all of these things are. How am I supposed to make my own happily ever after when there are many obstacles that prevent black women from having one? Erica Garner was only 27 years old when she died and didn’t get to experience a remnant of a happily ever after. I can’t help but attempt to tie her life with mine because she’s only eight years older than me. What does this mean for me, at 19? Will I get to live my happily ever after? Will I be able to have children? Will I be able to find love without the problematic messages tied to it? More, importantly, will I be able to have my dreams fully realized without the burden of white supremacy sabotaging them?

The Church & Sexual Assault

 little ole' me

little ole' me

Is there room in the #MeToo movement for young black girls who suffered sexual abuse in the church?

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”- Audre Lorde

When I recently discovered this quote, it shook my entire life, edges and all. It wasn’t just because the quote was another pearl of wisdom that I learned from the great Audre Lorde, but it’s how the quote deeply resonated with this current stage of my life. Prior to discovering this quote, I was always taught, being raised in church culture, that knowledge is closely associated to your familiarity with God. In other words, I was taught that knowledge manifested itself by being close with God. While I am not negating the previous notion, I know now that it’s problematic to think that God is the only way to gain knowledge because it directly invalidates our feelings and experiences. In fact, by comparing feelings to “being in your flesh” ( and not being “of God”), I was often taught not to embrace the way that I felt.

Enters my first semester of college from stage left with love, sex, discernment, joy, pain, happiness, unhappiness, fear, courage and other feelings that I was forced to confront. All of those emotions that I was once taught to avoid became precursors to this timely realization in which I learned that having the freedom to take ownership of my body without pentecostal dogma deserved top priority.

Sexual freedom has become a significant aspect of that realization. The extent to which I’ve approached that freedom is even more telling of this period of my life. Church culture not only delayed my personal development but repressed my perception of my own sexuality with the ways in which it policed a woman’s body. That constant oppression of my body was almost always for the preservation of a man’s righteousness. My curves consistently had to be hidden under the guise of  “not tempting men” or “not leading them to sin”. I was taught that women were seductive and manipulative with teachings on how Eve persuaded Adam to sin. That particular story in the Bible laid the foundation for the narrative of women being responsible for the demise of men, one that would contribute to the patriarchal systems that are prevalent in  church culture. However, if men could be so easily tempted, then why were women always the problem?

It took nearly ten years after being sexually assaulted for me to wrestle with that question. I was watching "Wild'n Out" with a boy from church at his house before he told me to follow him to the closet. I didn't think much of it; I just thought he wanted to play a game. It was to my surprise that he tried to push my body toward his and force himself on me. Although I struggled, I was able to push him away. The six-year-old DeAsia thought that particular behavior was normal for little boys, so I continued to be friends with him following that incident. Furthermore, church practices did nothing to invalidate that behavior. The lack of scorn that was directed at men for their appearance and sex lives taught me that maybe God was less concerned about their behavior, and therefore, I should be too. Additionally, I never heard the topic of sexual assault being preached in the pulpit as much as I heard lectures about abstinence. Women were always directed to not have sex, while conversations about involuntary sexual experiences were nonexistent. My head was always turned away from sex scenes in films and my ears were closed to music mentioning sex, but there was never any mention of traumatic effects of sexual assault when I was younger. Thus, I thought that my silence about the situation was the most preferred

During the years following that situation, I didn’t realize the magnitude of how much that situation literally fucked up my life. It fucked up my confidence and self-worth because I remember being this sociable little black girl who was fearless. I became less outspoken and increasingly introverted without knowing why, and subtle sexual advances from black men and lustful looks at my prepubescent body followed me into my teenage years. That behavior seems to be even more prevalent during this time as I approach my twenties, and I unfortunately perceived it as normal (I often still do).

I shared my story in church, seeking some sort of consolation besides the typical “God will see you through it”. While, I’m thankful that I was able to share my experience with the church, it was disheartening to know that the conversation wouldn’t go beyond God. Because the person who harassed me was a product of the church, I was seeking some sort of explanation from the church. Instead, I just received 10 minutes of trivial conversation based on God and his strength.

However, I didn’t know that the incident and what I was taught would have negative impacts on how I embraced my sexuality until now——when I actually decided to have sex and take ownership of my body. I’ve become rigid in my own body and can’t have a regular sexual experience with someone that I love because of years filled with sexual repression.

I later learned that the person who assaulted me was in jail, which encouraged me to remain silent. It wasn’t just due to sympathy for him; it was more of an unfortunate understanding of the societal systems put in place that most often take a toll on young black girls. Furthermore, the intersections of race, femininity, Christianity, and sex couldn’t be even more clear. In one direction, at six years old, I felt guilty for approaching that extremely forbidden sin, one that was constantly taught to be connected to my womanhood and my relationship with God. In the other direction, I felt that speaking up would do nothing but exacerbate the racist structures that inhibited black men. I chose silence.

However, referencing Audre Lorde’s quote, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t have muted those emotions. I stopped doing that last year, and learned, since then, that teaching young black girls not to have agency over their bodies is damn near a crime because it only warrants violence against their bodies and years worth of sexual shame and confusion that's nearly inescapable. I’m currently living that toxic reality.

I Tried Being a Church Girl

 The picture I took the the last time I went to church.

The picture I took the the last time I went to church.

This past year, I’ve had the most transformative experiences of my life. It’s befitting that this all happened during the beginning of my college career, right? Anyways, a year ago, I was in a completely different space. I was so aloof from the girl that I am today that I have no idea who that girl used to be.

Okay, I have some idea. That girl was shy and quiet. That girl was focused and determined. That girl had a closer relationship with God and her mom.That girl graduated from high school with honors about to attend college. That girl was in a self-proclaimed “I ain’t got time to fall in love” mood. However, most of that shattered like broken glass during the end of summer 2016.

Now, as I am a month into my sophomore year of college (I didn’t realize how fast I would approach it), I’ve distanced myself away from the church and my mom, and I have a boyfriend whom I love dearly. I’m still as focused as I am timid. There will never be anything that gets in the way of my success, and I can’t help being introverted. In fact, some people have decided to keep their distance from me. However, I left out a key descriptor of the girl whom I was a year ago-----she was broken. Since I’ve had that realization, I’ve been trying to repair myself.  How does a girl who is on a journey to recovery from brokenness wind up losing valuable relationships along the way?

I have no fucking idea.

I do know that prior to college, I wasn’t living my life. It took me a year to realize it. I was too busy trying to live up to everyone’s expectations of me. For my family, especially my mom, I was trying to be the best example for other 18-year olds. That meant getting good grades, not focusing on boys, and being God-fearing. I put heavy emphasis on that because it overrides everything in my family. Christianity dominated my life. It was absorbed in it, revolved around it and I ensured that I was doing everything possible to maintain my relationship with God. Thus, I read my Bible every day, studied devotionals, attended Bible study and Sunday school regularly, volunteered at church events, and tried to become the epitome of the perfect “church girl”.

 

The church community only coaxed my attempt to be this perfect church girl. Involvement in Sunday worship was encouraged because it was what God deserved and not being involved would only inhibit our blessings. I did that. Wearing the best outfit (by “best” I mean the most appropriate for the church’s standards) was emphasized simply because God deserved the best appearance presented before him on Sundays. It was a struggle, but I eventually learned to strut in heels and became comfortable wearing “nice” dresses to church. Additionally, there was this sentiment within the church that a woman’s value was directly associated with her romantic life. Virginity was the key to success in God, and marriage was the presumed goal for every “wholesome, Christian woman” (that Proverbs 31 woman).

Instead of doing those things out of devotion to God, I did them because I was afraid of the reaction not doing them would invoke. I feared being judged. In fact, I meticulously  judged others who weren’t doing those things because I envied their decision to live their lives. What would my mom,  who preached “keeping God first” to me every day, say if I stopped doing those things? She’d say that God isn’t pleased and there will be repercussions for my actions.

That’s what she’s been telling me for the past year. Of course, she wasn't alone. The judgment from everyone is a bit overwhelming at times, but I’m learning to understand that my happiness is a priority. In this learning process, I’ve understood why the hell I was broken in the first place.

It hit me during the first couple months of my freshman year, but it really slapped the shit out of me just recently. I am incessantly concerned with what others think about me, and I finally know why. It’s simply because the people around me would judge every thing that I did, and it was under the guise of Christianity. Basically, if I let those people down, I was letting God down. Thus, I had this unspoken loyalty to people regardless of how they made me feel.

Furthermore, when I lost my virginity, I felt like I had all of these eyes gazing down upon me. I could imagine the woman from church who forced me to go to the altar to worship on the last Sunday I was in attendance, looking at me with a disappointed grin. I could imagine the pastor who called my name to run around the church in response to my acquiescence to worship ignore me. I could imagine my mother’s tearful plea to save her “rebellious” daughter. In that moment, I could sense the instant disconnect of my church family from myself as if they had already come to their selfish conclusions about the woman I was becoming. As if they knew, better than me, who I was supposed to be.

However, losing my virginity to an atheist made me feel even more culpable. It was counterintuitive to anything involving Christianity. I shared one of the most sacred experiences a girl can have with someone who doesn’t believe in the God I was trying to escape judgment from my entire life. That someone is my current boyfriend. In what felt like a relief, that moment of passion gradually loosened the shackles of oppression from the church that I couldn’t break off by myself.

When I stood in my first silent protest on campus for the LGBTQ+ community which the church so publicly castigates, I still felt those eyes heavily surrounding me. I remembered the brief grimace I'd received from a minister when she saw I was wearing my “Free Black Woman” t-shirt to church, insinuating that the words “free” and “Christian” could not be associated.  I remembered the “Amens” from the church when the preacher criticized Black Lives Matter by saying that black lives didn’t matter until black lives mattered to black people. I could imagine those same people looking at me like I was doing something wrong as I silently stood there, protesting the way that a trans woman was treated on campus.

I became more liberated as aspects of myself started to be pieced together. During that process, the last thing I wanted to do was find a church home near campus, although I was telling my mom otherwise. I didn’t want to return to brokenness while I was in the process of being restored. I didn’t want to be re-introduced to that burden of moral and Biblical pressure to the point where it decimated my relationship with God. I wanted to discover God in my own way, without anyone forcing a relationship between us. I wanted to redevelop a relationship with God because I truly loved him and not because of the consequence I would face if I didn’t.

That girl from a year ago was broken from years of unhappiness that became the reward in the race to live up to everyone’s expectation. I’ve since taken a detour to the finish line of my happiness without any pressure, and instead of having a fearful and oppressive relationship with God, I’m rediscovering His goodness on my own.

 

How You Gonna Win If You Ain't Right Within?

I don't have a lot of confidence in myself. There, I said it.

I have dealt with this lack of self-confidence for my entire life. It has been at the forefront every action I've made and every decision I've chosen. It has been the driving force in relationships and has unfortunately been the fuel of my success (or lack of it). Every time I wanted to be in denial of the problem, it slapped me right in the face with next decision I made.

In high school, (whether I was aware of it or not), my lack of self-confidence was in full effect, and I didn't realize it until now. I was the type of student who hoped that the teacher wouldn't call on her to participate. I was so scared of having to talk in the class that I would try to avoid eye contact with the teacher when he/she was asking a question. It was ten times worse when I had to give a speech or presentation. I literally dreaded the day that I would have to speak in front of the entire class. When I was asked to speak in class, on one of those dreaded days, I would get tongue-tied and my answer or speech would not go as I planned. Whenever it was my turn to talk in class, I would literally practice what I was going to say because I knew I was prone to messing up.

Of course I was shy. Whenever I found myself in one of those rare instances where I would be in large crowds, I felt extremely uncomfortable. Thus, I was not the social butterfly in high school. I can count the number of friends I had on one hand, although I spent most of the time by myself. I remember going to the library during lunch to mask my fear of being seen alone with the want to finish my homework. Prom, which was supposed to be the peak of my high school career, was spent with me sitting down the majority of the time.

Why was I afraid to participate? Why did I isolate myself at prom instead of dancing the night away with my peers? Why was the idea of friends so aloof to me that I would literally shy away from it? I had an aha moment and came to the unfortunate conclusion that I did those things because I was afraid of rejection. Going through the process of inductive reasoning, I pondered, "Why was I afraid of rejection?". It is because I didn't feel like I was good enough to be accepted; therefore, I didn't have any confidence in myself. I was afraid that I would say a stupid answer in class. I was afraid that people would not like me for who I was. I was afraid that people would talk about me if they saw me sitting alone at the lunch table.

I was afraid of being myself.

It was only recently, during my second semester of college, that I became introspective and realized (with my boyfriend's help) that I did not have a lot of confidence in myself. It's important to note that I did not need my boyfriend, Matt, to figure this out. I am not weak-willed; I can come to my own conclusions about my life (*in my Joan Clayton voice*). However, it's also important to note that your partner is able to understand your flaws and help you to overcome them instead of using those flaws to take advantage of you, which is what most guys do.  Although Matt showers me with compliments and supports me in order to remind myself that I have a lot to be confident about, he knows that it's not enough; I have to do this for myself.

As with everything that I do,  I placed my issue in the general perspective of black women. I know that black women often put their issues on the backburner in order to provide for someone or something else. Black women have always been the supporters, backbones, therapists because they have been historically confined to neglecting themselves. That's what I was doing. I catered people's needs while neglecting my own.

But, I choose me now.

This summer, I've made it my mission to simply go through the seemingly effortless task of choosing DeAsia. I am letting go of all the toxicity in my life that was detrimental to my growth as a young woman. I've learned that I can't be authentic with people if I'm not true to myself, and I can't be successful if I'm not mentally healthy. Therefore, I am deciding to choose myself before everything in my life right now because I'm worth it.

 

My Realization About Independence Day

Written on July 4, 2016

 

 

Initially, I was going to title this post, "Independence for Who?", but then I realized I should go with a more subtle approach.

This is the first time in my life when I realized the significance of the Fourth of July-----there is none. Well, not for blacks, at least. Monday, I did not celebrate the patriotic holiday, and I knew why. I spent the day reading the works of Frederick Douglass, Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, and Assata Shakur. I realized that I spent my entire life celebrating the holiday and not knowing why.

Granted, the holiday represents the birth of this "great" nation and the end of British control. I can respect that. The various taxes and acts enforced by the British proved to be highly ludicrous. The frivolity of those acts and taxes deserved the "No taxation without representation" cry from the colonies. It simply was not fair.

However, it was downright hypocritical for Americans to take pride in that holiday in 1852, when Frederick Douglass gave his acclaimed speech, when they subjugated an entire race for years under hate and the manipulation of Christianity. How can one celebrate and have pride in a national identity when the existence of slavery characterizes that same identity?

That question still holds. It is still downright hypocritical to celebrate Independence Day in this modern age. Independence remains selective. Black males are disproportionately represented in the prisons, while Black females seem to always be neglected and at the bottom of the totem pole. The disparities that black people face today make them among the lowest numbers in all aspects of humanity.

In the 2014 book by Monique Morris titled, Black Stats: African-Americans by the Numbers in the Twenty-First Century, the following demonstrates the disadvantages that blacks face:

 

- Forty-two percent of black children are educated in high-poverty neighborhoods in contrast to the six percent of white children.

 

-Black television writers are underrepresented by a factor of 2 to 1.

 

-Thirty-two percent of juveniles arrested are black youth.

 

-Most of the nations worst food deserts are disproportionately located in cities with a high percentage of blacks. (Detroit-83 percent).

Does that sound like freedom and independence to you ( not to mention the statistics other minorities)?

In the word of Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?". Though we are departed from the slave labor of our ancestors, blacks are constantly reminded that they are second-class citizens. We're not free until we all are free.