I am concerned about black girls. I am concerned about black girls dealing with depression. I am concerned about black girls dealing with depression while trying to define themselves. I am concerned about black girls dealing with depression while trying to define themselves in a world that doesn’t care. I am concerned about black girls dealing with depression while trying to define themselves in a world that doesn’t care about them or their bodies being violated.
I am concerned about me.
During finals week of my sophomore year of college, I was depressed. As fuck. Grieving the death of my grandmother collided with the stress of final exams. The stress of final exams collided with the fear of being alone. But, in retrospect, the depression really stemmed from disappointment of not being where I wanted to be at 19 years old.
I mean, in terms of my aspiring journalism career, everything was in tact. Shit was beautiful. Pristine. I was getting closer to my dreams of being like Sanaa Lathan’s character in “Brown Sugar”, writing about my love for music for a popular platform. I had accepted an internship. I was on the cusp of finishing a journalism fellowship with one of my favorite writers that resulted in a byline with a major publication, and I was looking forward to furthering my college reporting career with my school’s student newspaper.
On the outside, it would be easy to describe me as someone who had her shit together, but on the inside, I was fucked up. I was disappointed that I ended my sophomore year in the same way that it started—— very depressed and lonely. I couldn’t shake it. Before the school year started, I was on the path to recovering from the trauma of ending my relationship with the church and re-evaluating one with God, so I had every intention of ending the school year with more friends, a better social life and having a life less traumatized from the burdens of depression. But I found myself more unhappy as none of those things came to fruition.
I wanted a different reality for summer 2018.
I was ready to leave all of that shit behind and bury it deep in the Kansas soil to start a new life, one in which I was able to meaningfully define myself and what I truly wanted and didn’t want. That included making new friends, having some sort of social life and starting my new internship. I was set to do all of those things in Detroit, a place that conveys of sense of home and broken promises for me, but I was determined, nevertheless.
It started off pretty well during the first month and half there, too. Amid the scenes of abandoned homes and neighborhood decay tied with prevalent gentrification and a budding renaissance, I started my time in Detroit off pretty well. I connected with friends, smoked weed for the first time, had sex, had more sex and surprisingly became less committed in my relationship to my boyfriend. I finally got my driver’s license and a car. I was finally able to realize what I wanted in my life, and being in a committed relationship wasn’t one of those things.
I just wanted to fuck. And I only wanted to do that with one person. However, now I’m not really sure if that’s what I really wanted. I am sure, though, that the DeAsia nearly two years ago would have judged the sex-having, weed-smoking DeAsia of this summer. But I realized that this was a part of the process of becoming the woman that I envision myself to be: free from the limits of patriarchal thinking, a rigid church culture, and a close-minded attitude. I realized that true happiness is being fully aware of and content with who you are without worrying about others opinions. And I couldn’t judge that.
I thought I was truly at the finish line to finally discovering that happiness and embarking on that newly found freedom, but some life-altering experiences took me off course:
- I wasn’t in love with my boyfriend like I thought I was.
- I was sexually assaulted by a family friend’s cousin in July.
- A potential friend died in the exact location where I was the week before.
- I was betrayed by people I thought were friends.
- I didn’t feel comfortable in the home where I was staying.
Somehow, I managed to suppress all of these feelings while going to my internship every day. There were times when I wanted to go to my boss, explain what happened and suggest needing a day off. I couldn’t do it. I was the only black intern, and I knew that I had to follow the unspoken but extremely felt rules of being more than enough, regardless of whatever I had experienced. I knew that it would look typical for the black female intern to take a break from work due to personal issues while none of the white interns asked for something even remotely similar. This isn’t to say that my boss wouldn’t have understood. I just knew that everything that I went through was too much for me to explain, and I couldn’t bear the self-inflicted disappointment of not being able to successfully finish my internship. I didn’t want to succumb to any stereotype, and I wanted to prove that I deserved to be in that newsroom.
So, I left my depressed face at home only to pick it back up when I returned from work. I went on long drives at midnight to escape the home where I was staying and the pain of feeling alone and unprotected from everything that happened.
Amid all of those things, the person I was trying to avoid was the person who needed me the most—myself. The girl who wanted to cry herself to sleep after the assault, the girl who contemplated suicide, the girl who contemplated about becoming Jennifer Lopez during the ending scene of Enough and beating dude’s ass who assaulted me——she needed to love on herself a little more. And that included not giving one fuck about people’s opinions.
In trying to appease everyone’s feelings and thoughts about what I was doing and how they could make me happy about the aforementioned situations, I neglected myself. I abandoned myself in search for a happiness controlled by other people, ultimately setting myself up for disappointment. I was more concerned with others (and my own) expectations of where I should be in my life instead of enjoying the moments and experiences I’ve already had. I wasted an entire summer desperately relying on others to make me happy.
I won’t do that again.
I’m currently beginning the process of self-love, and I’m finally in a spot in my life where things seem to be more clear. Some of those things include:
Niggas ain’t shit
I never truly grasped the understanding behind this motto when I first heard it because I believed that everyone deserved the benefit of doubt. Therefore, it wasn’t entirely fair to just deem an entire demographic unworthy of any acceptance or understanding. But after I was assaulted in July, the depths of patriarchy became visibly clear. This was the second time I’ve had to experience this in my life, and I wasn’t sure what I had done to deserve any of it. Was I too forthcoming? Were my shorts the visual translation of “Yes, I want you to touch me”? I didn’t know what to think.
It was only a week after the incident that I realized that this nigga simply wasn’t shit.
In retrospect, he’s not the only nigga who isn’t shit. There are many. There are many niggas who are raised to assume control over women’s bodies. The assault made me think about how I, and other girls I grew up around, were raised to hide their bodies for fear of pregnancy, which is treated like the Black Death in the Black community. Meanwhile, I never witnessed the same amount of attention toward a boy’s sexuality and his appearance.
The assault also made me think about how Black girls are taught to be docile. At least that’s what my childhood socialization led me to believe. I was taught that my obedience to authority, and especially God, would ultimately lead to my success. I was taught to be homely, modest and refrain from thinking about sex until the man “chosen” for them sweeps them off their feet and marries them.
Some black girls are perfectly fine with this lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with that. It becomes problematic when that way of life becomes the only route for every black girl to follow.
After the assault, it dawned on me that maybe the guy who assaulted me was fully aware of this unspoken rule of docility for black girls. And I think it’s the reason why I was targeted that night——because he knew that I would be quiet and act like the situation never happened.
And I did stay quiet about it. I didn’t speak up until hours later and told the guy’s cousin, someone who I considered a friend, someone who I had allowed to have sex with me, someone who I thought would protect me. I was wrong. He brushed it off as if it was something that didn’t need to be dealt with immediately. I believed him, and didn’t say anything more about it until hours later. That moment reminded of a time when I was in A.P. government class in my senior year of high school. During a group project one day, an Indian girl in my group would almost instinctively write off any answers that I gave her as if I had no idea what I was talking about. It was almost like she didn’t believe what I was saying to be true. I’m not sure if that’s how she truly felt, but she made me feel that way, and I turned that feeling into a reality when I stopped participating in group projects for fear of saying the “wrong” answers. Similarly, the guy that I told about the assault made me feel like I wasn’t worthy to be believed and reduced the situation. And, considering that it was his cousin that was being accused, maybe that’s not how he truly felt, but he made me feel that way, which is why acted like nothing happened.
As I was driving away from the home that morning, my body didn’t feel right, and I instantly knew that I wasn’t wrong about what happened. I told someone else in the guy’s family, and she handled the situation immediately.
In the aftermath of everything, I didn’t feel protected (not even by my dad and step mom at the time). I never pressed charges, and I don’t think I will. I also felt unsafe in my parents’ home. I know it wasn’t their intention to make me feel that way, but they did. And I learned a long time ago that I should never apologize for the way that I feel.
That’s why I’m not apologizing for feeling the need to embrace the idea of niggas not being shit.
I like sex
I was raised in a Christian household that praised docility and being prude. According to the way my family and the church perceived that behavior I graced for most of my life, I was well on my way to success. I was socialized to believe that me being prude would ultimately ward off pregnancy and lead me to marriage. I was also taught that guys respected that behavior more than a woman who embraced her sexuality.
I considered all of those things to be true, and lived most of my teens abiding by those rules. However, when I came to college, I realized how fucked up all of those rules were. I started reading the feminist works of Morgan Jerkins, Brittney Cooper, Candice Benbow and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie— black women who are of a Christian background——, and I saw myself. Their words became my Bible during a time in which I wasn’t clear about my relationship to God. They gave me clarity on things that I wasn’t receiving within the four walls of the church. They became my spiritual empowerment. And it didn’t seem blasphemous, either because I truly believe my God to be a black woman.
By reading their works, it was confirmed for me that those things I was taught about sexuality do nothing more than oppress women and uphold patriarchy. Furthermore, I realized that religious ideas of sex and love pertaining women revolved around men and how they feel. Women shouldn’t have to hide their bodies until a man, who finds them worthy of marriage, gives them the leeway not to. That basically gives men the control of a woman’s sexuality.
And it was that same control that made the guy who assaulted me that night believe that he had the right to touch my body without my consent. It’s the same narrative of control that leads many more men to think that any part of a woman’s body is freely at their disposal. It’s the same narrative of control that protects rapists and perpetuates a lifelong feeling of abuse and brokenness for women.
I had a sexual reawakening after learning all of these things. I had more sex. And I liked it. I enjoyed it without having fear of an unwanted pregnancy or religious consequences, and it really felt good. The best part about it was that it was something that I really wanted to do. It was the first time in my life where I really felt secure in my sexuality, and I’m not afraid to explore my sexuality more as I enter my twenties.
I plan to have more sex. But I should be aware of not catching feelings for the other person while doing it because Lord knows that I’m not ready for any relationship yet. Because I was taught that marriage/commitment and sex are related, it will be hard to deconstruct this idea, but I’m learning and I haven’t fucked up yet. But if I do, then I know that having casual sex certainly isn’t for me.
Self love is a journey
I started therapy a week after I was assaulted. I desperately needed someone to talk to, and I didn’t think I could get that from my parents. Seeking counseling isn’t something that would’ve been natural to me two years ago because prayer was always the resolution. I’m glad I was able to overcome the stigma of being vocal about my mental health.
Considering that I only had three weeks left of my internship before heading back to school, I could only attend three sessions. But they damn sure were worth it. I felt a huge burden lifted off my shoulders as I was able to tell a complete stranger about my feelings without the fear of judgment. I learned that I don’t focus on the positive aspects of myself during my second session as it became blatantly clear that I couldn’t tell her three things that I liked about myself. She told me to start writing down things that I liked about myself, and I’m committed to doing that now.
The biggest realization of myself came at the end of our last session, when I had an epiphany that I rely on men to make me happy. I don’t know why I do it, but I know that it’s wrong. I often neglect long-term relationships with friends and family for an opportunity to be in the presence of a man that I’m attracted to. That’s a huge problem because I’m just walking right into disappointment and unhappiness, and I’m ready to explore the root of this issue so that I can get rid of it. I think seeking therapy near my school to tackle this issue will be best for me, and I don’t plan on getting into any relationship until this problem is gone. I cannot be in a different relationship with that unrealistic expectation. It’s not fair to me or the other person, and having those expectations is what went wrong in my previous relationship.
I won’t do that again, either.
Therapy taught me that truly loving myself is going to take some time. It’s not going to happen when I want it to, and I’m going to have to put the effort in to make it happen. Love takes time. I’m in a fully committed relationship with myself, and I’m ready to explore the depths of all the things that make up who I am. I’m still getting to know myself. That’s ok. But what I do know is that I just finished two bomb ass writing opportunities within the same year and fostered important relationships in my professional career. And, for now, I’m going to allow myself the space to take pride in that. I’m a great writer who has many things to learn, and I’m excited to discover myself more with my writing.
It was finals week. I was just days away from completing my sophomore year of college. As I was cleaning my room, I couldn’t help but look one last time at the pink obituary lying on my dresser. It had been lying there for almost two months, and there was a sense of freedom associated with school being over that gave me the space to finally reflect on my grandma’s death. So I read her obituary and scanned the pictures in it again as if I didn’t know who my grandmother was. Maybe I didn’t.
My grandma died in March. I didn’t cry about her because that’s not how I choose to express my grief. I didn’t become filled with some unresolved anger due to us not having a closer relationship. Actually, I couldn’t properly grieve about her at all because stress from school was too overwhelming for me to focus on losing my grandma. It wasn’t until a month after the funeral (during the last week of school) that I started to heavily reflect on my grandma’s life and legacy. And an integral part of her life and a lasting memory of mine that I’m still pondering is her battle with mental illness. During our last phone call, she was in a manic state when her caretaker’s son informed me that she was about to take her medication.
Since I’ve been alive, my grandma had bipolar disorder. I never knew my grandma before she became mentally ill, but it was by simply reading her obituary that I discovered she had an accomplished life that seemed to not be overtaken by mental illness. LaDonna Davis graduated summa cum laude from high school, went to college to study business and worked her way up to becoming the youngest manager in the history of First Federal Bank’s loan department in Detroit. She was also active in her church community. I was impressed by what I read. In fact, I learned more about LaDonna Davis, the woman, through an obituary than I did knowing her as my grandmother, which is sad, to say the least. I guess I never fathomed her life outside the boundaries of mental illness.
As I glossed over her achievements, I didn’t see any paragraph about her mental illness. No one even mentioned it during the funeral. This surprised me because her mental illness was a significant aspect of our relationship, but I later realized that maybe her illness wasn’t a factor in her relationship with others. As a child, I knew that there was something wrong with her. However, “something’s wrong with grandma” never translated to her being bipolar. No one voluntarily told me. I guess you don’t just voluntarily tell a child that a family member has been mentally ill. I guess it’s something that’s not talked about in many black families. I guess you don’t just talk about someone’s failing mental health to a sanctuary full of family, friends and strangers. No. And I guess you don’t do that in a space that warmfully embraces the practice of recommending prayer over therapy.
As I glossed over her achievements, I kept wondering how did those achievements translate to mental illness. How did making the dean’s list and having a successful banking career end up in a life that was scarred by bipolar disorder? Did she get it after she had my father? Before? All of those questions raced in mind as I tried to pinpoint the moment she became mentally ill. Then I had an epiphany— being successful and seemingly having it “all together” and being mentally ill aren’t mutually exclusive. My grandmother could have made the Dean’s List and graduated with high honors while battling her mental health. It’s likely that she could’ve been dealing with it as a child and never received proper treatment.
It’s also likely that the church couldn’t help her. Throughout her life, LaDonna Davis was a member of several churches, even serving as a Sunday school teacher at one of them. She was a diligent servant in Detroit’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) community. She could’ve been mentally suffering while being active in the church.She could’ve been suffering silently because mental illness is typically dismissed as “a sign to go to God and pray” in black churches. And maybe her illness was something that couldn’t be fixed by only God. Maybe God couldn’t fix it at all. Considering these things, I’d imagine my grandmother being frustrated that a mental illness was starting to consume her life.
Maybe that’s why her heart gave up and stopped beating—— because she was simply tired of being in a battle in which victory wasn’t imminent.
And maybe that’s why I couldn’t cry about her death—— because the desire for freedom when fighting a mental battle without a subtle victory is a feeling that’s too familiar for me.
I don’t know how long I’ve battled with depression. I do know that my teenage years have been engrossed by it. Thanks to High School Musical (1,2 and 3), I thought my teenage experience would be fun and carefree. Instead, it was filled with a lot of pain. In college, it became worse. I started isolating myself from people and settings that would likely make me happy because I thought people would eventually find out that I wasn’t “ok” on the inside. I still do it.
I often feel empty and alone because I’m not enjoying the “best years of my life” as I thought I would. I felt uncomfortable at the only college party that I’ve been to (I basically just sat there and acted as if I was on my phone the entire time). I rarely hang out with people, and I don’t have a close group of friends that I would even hang out with. When I see photos of my peers enjoying college with their friends, I instantly want to cry because I desperately wanted those things to happen for me. I always envisioned myself of having a close circle of friends that mirrored something like “Girlfriends” or my auntie’s crew of best friends. And I thought it would happen once I got to college. Instead, my depression exacerbated itself to the point in which I became used to being alone even though I wasn’t satisfied with it.
I tried seeking a therapist through my school’s CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) program twice. In scheduling my appointment, I was met with a man whose inability to pronounce my name accurately for 15 minutes overshadowed him making arrangements for my appointment. When he finally got around to making the appointment, I was discouraged by having to wait two months before meeting with a therapist. My busy schedule with school and work ultimately made me forget about the appointment, and a $15 fee was immediately billed to my account again.
That was the last time I sought therapy through my school. Although my school boasted about their psychological services, my experience certainly didn’t match what they were saying. It was in that moment that I realized college wasn’t the place for me to focus on my mental health. The standards set by some teacher that are often hard to attain makes it difficult for students to focus on things other than school. At least that’s what it felt like when my grandmother died. I had two projects and an in-class writing assignment that interfered with my chances of attending the funeral. Honestly, I was going to skip it because travelling to another state for a funeral felt like entirely too much for me to do, considering my workload. College doesn’t just give you a week off from school for bereavement. Missing a week of classes ultimately means risking your grades. But I knew that I couldn’t miss my grandmother’s funeral, and I knew that not attending meant more than just keeping my grades and being able to work on projects. It meant that I couldn’t be in Detroit to emotionally support my dad, auntie or great-grandma. Thus, without any sleep, I took the earliest flight to Detroit and returned the same day.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but school obligations would only allow me to miss one day. That was it. In retrospect, though, I wish I had more time to be with my family and grieve (or simply just think) about my grandma’s death.
As I prepared to move out of my apartment, I looked at that pink obituary on the dresser again. I scanned it for ten minutes and thought about how my grandma transcended her mental illness. I thought how maybe her mental illness actually didn’t define her. I thought about her strength. I thought about the many ways in which I saw myself in her. I thought about how she never neglected our relationship, although I could never hold a phone conversation with her due to her illness. I also thought about how I almost neglected her when she needed me because I was too busy with school. In almost neglecting her, I neglected myself by not giving me the space to properly think about my feelings,which is a trend that I’ve practiced since I’ve been in high school. I’ve finally realized its pernicious effects.
LaDonna Davis was only 63-years-old when she died, and I couldn’t help but think about the stress from her mental illness and other health issues that led to her death. It’s something that reminded me of how weathering, a condition in which physical and emotional stress tears on the bodies of marginalized communities, impacts black women. It makes them more susceptible to chronic diseases and makes them age earlier than their white counterparts. I think that was a factor in my grandma’s death. I don’t want that to be a factor in mine.
I threw the obituary away. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to deal with my grandma’s death. It was because I knew that the best way for me to honor my grandma’s legacy would be to confront my mental health with at least half as much of the strength that she had when battling her mental illness. And I can’t do that by just reminiscing on pictures in an obituary; I have to act on it.
Erica Garner's death reminded me that I'm not ready for my twenties.
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.
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?
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.
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.
As much as self-care has entered the mainstream conversation amongst black women as an essential act, it’s still a hard task. I actively search for self-care routines on social media (shoutout to that 21Ninety newsletter that hits my inbox every morning) in an attempt to prove to myself that I am really trying to take better care of myself. However, I realized that I can’t take time to care for myself without loving the person whom I’m caring for.
There are times when I feel so alone that I'm minimized into this caricature that is undeserving of love. For years, I’ve brainwashed myself into believing that it’s totally fine for someone to neglect me as long as they show an ounce or even the slightest glimpse of love or support. I would be too busy trying to give others the love that I wasn’t giving to myself just to have it not reciprocated in the end. And, I was ok with that. I learned to be ok with that. I taught myself that it was ok to be disrespected as long that person shows (or has shown) that they love you. I taught myself that I wasn’t worth the respect and acknowledgement that I deserved. Simply, I was taught to unlove myself by showering others with the love I wasn’t giving myself.
Yesterday was my breaking point. I’m writing this at 3 A.M. because I’m finally done with the lethargic task of loving others for the expense of myself. I’ve cried, been overwhelmed, second-guessed my worth, and spent over $200 at the grocery store within the past eight hours because of my foolishness in allowing people to blatantly disrespect me. I hate how I finally realized it now after years of being indirectly slapped in the face by people whose hits travelled beyond my external.
I’ve lost a valuable relationship. In fact, now I’m not sure if it was that valuable. Nevertheless, when she and her mother came into my life, I was ecstatic that I could finally have a friend who had the same ambitions as me after years of feeling lonely. Her energy was so magnetic that I was so sure that we would be the best of friends. Because we had the same goals, we decided to go into business together in an attempt to reach our ultimate goal that we knew was going to be monumental in the city of Chicago. However, it seemed like our business goals would be focal point of our conversations during the rare occasion that we did talk to each other. In fact, she was more of a business partner than she was a friend. Most of the time, we didn’t talk at all. Unread texts seemed to become more than just an “Oh, I forgot”, but I dismissed it and made excuses because I knew that deep down inside there was no malicious intent involved.
Thus, when her mom basically did the same thing to me by not acknowledging me as apart of her team for her business, I dismissed that too as an oversight from a very busy woman who had too much going on to acknowledge lil ole’ me. Even after the first time it happened, I was still on board to do whatever she needed me to do for the next event, knowingly leading myself to be unacknowledged again. Welp, it happened again, and I was still ready for the next event, up until yesterday.
Prior to yesterday, though, I received a call from the mom. I thought the call would be an explanation of why I wasn’t included in her acknowledgements and recognition for my work during the event, but it was for something totally different. It was about the issues I am having with my mom (another post for a different day). She lectured me on what I was doing wrong and urged that I should do better. Although I listened to her wisdom, she caught me off guard a bit because this is her first time calling me…..like ever. I found it weird that our first phone conversation would be about how “terrible” I am as a daughter. She’s never called to see how I was doing before or to simply talk to me although she claimed I’m like a “daughter” to her. Still, my “yes, you’re right” after the advice she gave proved I was willing to overlook that in order comply with what she was telling me.
Her daughter, my “best friend”, followed up with an unexpected text yesterday (two days later). She basically said that she couldn’t be friends with me anymore because I’m not “of God” and she was disgusted by the way I was treating my mom. She mentioned that we couldn’t be “best friends” because she couldn’t be associated with someone who’s having problems with her mom. This also blindsided me because our last line of communication was me inviting her to an event and her never getting back to me about her attendance. Our line of communication is usually like that-----me texting her, and she not texting back-----when we’re not talking about our next event. However, it has progressed recently, and I’d hoped our relationship would get better. Nevertheless, I told her how I felt while still (ironically) invalidating my feelings when she explained her reasoning. Then, she abruptly ended the conversation and blocked me from her social media pages. Her mom just unfriended me on Facebook and stopped following me on Instagram.
Prior to this, I never received a phone call or text inquiring how I felt regarding the situation with my mom. It would have been nice to receive a "Hey, sis. Is everything ok?". They were immediately ready to dismiss me once they heard my mom’s complaints. And just like that, I’ve been made to seem like the “bad guy” because I tried to express how I felt. Why did I invalidate my feelings when talking to her? Why did I continue to be in a relationship in which reciprocity or respect for me clearly didn’t exist? Why was I so distraught when they dismissed me from their lives and social media realm?
Because I wanted them to like me, and I failed at doing that. Unfortunately, I’m inherently a people pleaser; I will do whatever it takes to make someone like me, even if that means it costs my self-worth because I’m not used to people taking interest in me. Whenever that tiny spark of interest presents itself, I do anything in my power to keep it. Too often, black girls overwhelm themselves by trying to be everything to everybody else when they do nothing for themselves, and they end up with so much pain because of it. That’s how I felt last night. Among the array of emotions of feeling overwhelmed, betrayed, and utterly disrespected, culpability plagued my mind. I couldn’t sleep last night because I had this guilt that felt all too familiar. Amid the hurt I felt, I managed to continue to make myself the culprit and victimize them. That was just another act of me invalidating my feelings.
I refuse to consistently neglect my feelings. No longer will I allow myself to be a doormat for somebody else’s ego. I can’t continue to sacrifice myself so that others can feel good about themselves. I matter. I am important in this world. My existence warrants some respect, and I’d be damned if I risk losing my confidence again just to garner attention.
While self-care is a necessary work, self-love is even more important. I’m in a new phase of my life, and I can’t allow anyone to get in the way of my quest for happiness and inner peace. Unsurprisingly, I’ve lost a lot of seemingly meaningful relationships along the way. I’ve learned to be ok with that because if people can’t like me in this journey of self-discovery, then they weren’t intended to be in my life at all. They were only a roadblock to happiness.
When I was fourteen years old, I thought love betrayed me. I really betrayed myself.
I really hate to open up or even think about this moment of my life. I am embarrassed of it. I am ashamed of it. For the past four years I have been trying to put that aspect of my life in a metaphoric locked closet in my head so that no one, not even myself, would be able to open that door and see it. In the words of Solange," I tried to keep myself busy. I ran around in circles thinking I made myself dizzy" in an attempt to place that episode of my life so far behind me that no one, not even me, would ever fathom if I had experienced it.
As hard as I try to forget, though, each day I have a flashback of particular moments from that period of my life and the painful regret starts to plague my thoughts. However, I think "writing it away" (going along with the "Cranes in the Sky" vibe), is apart of the healing process and my self-care routine because as much as I've said that I've been restored, there are times when I am left feeling broken, and I'll be damned if I continue to remain somewhat broken at the hands of a black man.
He ain't shit, girl
Don't fall for the first person who gives you attention.
Four years ago, I was in a completely different space. I was either a freshman or a sophomore in high school (I can't remember) when I met him. He was four years older than me (I was fourteen with an eighteen-year old), so of course this relationship was problematic from the day that we met. I was a church girl whose eyes were so innocent that I wouldn't see what being played looked like if it had hit me right in the face. And the fact that I had never been in a relationship before was the icing on the cake of my naïveté. Sprinkle in a dash of loneliness from being the only child, insecurity in not having a lot of friends, my overall social awkwardness, and voila! There you have a fourteen-year old girl who felt invisible and strongly desired someone to give her the attention she's been lacking from her environment. I was young and dumb. I constantly question whether I should be that hard on myself, but in retrospect, I'm stuck between sympathizing with the fourteen-year-old me and being incredibly harsh on the actions I made because the eighteen- year- old me knew that the fourteen-year-old me could have done better. I find myself constantly choosing the latter because I can't really remember if the pain that the fourteen-year-old me felt from constantly being alone blindsided my instinct.
But what I do remember is me being instantly attracted to him, although I hate to admit it. I met him during a college tour affiliated with my aunt's church. Instead of focusing on the information that colleges provided, my fast ass was more focused on him. I hate to be that harsh on myself, but I deserve it. There was just something about him that instantly appealed to me. I know that sounds cliché, but I really felt that his personality and style was so unique that I couldn't help but like him. He was also attractive (it was really hard to type that compliment), so there was that. To top it off, he was interested in me, so, of course, I couldn't reject that. After years of feeling invisible, I was excited that there was someone who finally "saw me".
His stark uniqueness that I instantly became fond of had nothing to do with him. Hell, the only unique aspect of him was his name. In retrospect, I've learned that what was unique was the attention that I was receiving because I never felt that type of affection from a guy before. So when I knew that he felt a certain way about me (a feeling that was foreign to me), I took that feeling and held it so close to me that I didn't want it to slip away.
In fact, I did everything in my power to not let it slip away. That feeling was like holding a carton of eggs----I held it so tight that I didn't want it to let it fall and crack. So, I chased, and I chased more aggressively because I didn't want that feeling (that alien feeling of being loved by someone who wasn't family) to crack. My means of chasing him was going to the place where I knew I would see him-----my auntie's church. I started going to that church every Sunday simply because I would see him. I went out of my way in order to experience that same feeling. Thus, I really wasn't chasing him; I was just chasing the way he made me feel.
My visits to the church in which I saw him multiple times, led to our inevitable relationship (if that's what you want to call that disaster). You would think that I would stop chasing him because I finally had him. But no, the chasing certainly didn't end with the question, "Do you want to be my girl?". During the relationship, I chased for the love and affection that wasn't reciprocated and that same ole' feeling that I couldn't let get away from me. In fact, the entire relationship could be summed up by me doing all of the work. I worked so hard for the relationship that it was the impetus of my emotions, the momentum of my heart, and the driving force of most of my actions.
He isn't your everything.
However, I never saw the fruits of my labor. At the time, however, I really didn't care. As long as I was somewhat getting that currently dreaded feeling, I was ok. I say "somewhat" because he clearly couldn't make up his mind about how he felt about me. Actually, as the relationship transpired, that feeling that was in abundance on the first day that we met gradually reduced. Although I was aware of that, I was in denial because he was in control of my emotions and he made me feel good sometimes. I allowed him to have a significant amount of power over my feelings; my mood was predicated upon him. I gave him the keys to my heart, and he didn't know what to do with it.
I've learned that it was an intense amount of pressure that I imposed upon him-----to be the dictator of my happiness-------but I placed it on him anyway because I wasn't receiving the same affection from anyone else. I made him my everything and gave him all of my love and support, but all I received was crumbs of his indecisive feeling regarding me in return.
Don't be a fool
I was a fool for him. In my search for love and companionship, I ended up playing myself. I played my heart, my intelligence, and, more importantly, I played my self-worth. So when he told me that rekindling the fire with his ex was normal, I believed it because I was willing to stay in a toxic relationship that only gave me companionship in return. So all of those nights in which I would wait up patiently for his call only to be met with a voicemail were tolerable because I told myself that sacrificing myself for the idea of having a boyfriend and kind of being wanted by someone was ok. The days that I spent questioning his love for me (while knowing the negative answer) were well spent in my eyes because I made myself believe that this was what a relationship should be like.
Therefore, when the relationship came to an end, I did not initiate it (of course). In fact, I fought against it. I fought against a breakup because I didn't want that feeling to end-----the feeling of being wanted by someone---- and I didn't want our forced love to crack. But once we actually did breakup, after months of me convincing him to stay, I broke down. I wasn't eating, wasn't going to school, and suicidal thoughts ran rampant. I didn't want to talk to anyone because that feeling that I fought to have wasn't around anymore. It left me broken and unhappy.
There were days where I just didn't go anywhere and felt as if all hope was gone. I think the aspect that hurt me the most about our relationship was that I couldn't even get an apology or anything, especially since I learned he had a baby with someone else while we were together. He was over my auntie's house and eating our food meanwhile he had a newborn daughter. I was so shocked when I heard the news that I finally realized that he was playing me. Then, I finally learned that I really played myself because it didn't have to take a baby to make me realize that I was in a toxic relationship. I just ignored the many signs because I really believed that this is what a woman does when she's in love.
Now, I've learned that I was really never in love with him at all; I was just in love with this feeling that he gave me. Although he was a part-time (damn near once a month) sender of this love I felt I was missing my entire life, I made him the general manager of my heart and being. At an early age I learned the damaging effects of a black woman not being loved properly and being in denial about it without realizing it until now. More importantly, I learned the burden that black women often place on black men to control their happiness to compensate for the insecurities imposed upon society and environment and the emotional burden that black women often carry in relationships. That was me. That was what I was doing.
However, as wrong as he was, I know that I am culpable for everything that I received because I allowed it to happen. I forced it, and the result was inevitable. Although an apology from him would be nice, I've learned that sometimes you have to be ok with an "I'm sorry" that you'll never receive. I'm being loved properly now by someone who has showed me what really being in love looks like. He's showed me that what I dealt with wasn't love at all (it was more like the nearest exit to hell). More importantly, he's helped me to understand that I have an identity outside of our relationship and that my happiness ultimately comes first. I HAVE A MAN WHO LOVES ME FOR ME AND NOT HOW HE CAN MAKE ME FEEL, Y'ALL! That was definitely unheard of in my previous relationship, and I received the bitter end of the stick for allowing it.
But I'd be damned if I let it happen again. I refuse to allow my happiness to be conditioned by someone else. In the words of Toni Morrison from Song of Solomon, "You wanna fly you got to give up the shit that weighs you down". Well, I'm ready to pick up my wings and fly my own route without allowing anyone to stop me.
It's been a week since I attended the 21Ninety's second annual EmpowerHer conference. It was truly a life-changing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I remember the day that I bought my ticket, and I thought I wasn't qualified to attend. Thinking to myself, "I'm only a college student; I'm clearly too young; I haven't even accomplished the least of what these other women are doing." I really doubted myself and almost made me believe that I didn't have the credentials to attend. However, I made the right decision in purchasing the ticket because I've learned so much, but, more importantly, I learned that I am a creative (regardless how comfortable I am in saying it) and I have the tools necessary to take myself to the next level.
There were many gems dropped, and I've been reflecting on them throughout the week. Ok, I've actually thoroughly reflected on them only on today. My summer job is very stressful, so it really drains my energy and creativity, so I haven't appropriately set out time to think about everything that was said at the conference. But, because I have this weekend off, I can concentrate deeper on the notes I took.
SELF-CARE IS THE BEST CARE
One of the most important pieces of advice that I learned was the emphasis on self-care. Nearly every speaker spoke about the importance of having a routine simply for yourself. "Living your best life" was the theme of the conference, and you cannot live your best life if you don't start off your day right. I'm really trying to do this. Since I've been out of school, my daily routine has been limited to working out, re-watching "Girlfriends", and a shitty job that has really gotten the best of me (the first two are good aspects of my routine; the job just makes me not want to do those things and more, sometimes). I really dread going, so I just have this gray cloud lingering around me in the morning. However, I realized that if I just got up a bit earlier in order to have this sacred time to myself before going into work, my energy won't be wasted on the tasks at my job.
Zim Ugochukwu, founder of Travel Noire, talked about her personal morning routine. She mentioned how her routine includes reading the Bible (and other books related to it), eliminating distractions (especially social media) and meditating. She discussed how the day will flow easier if you have this time for meditation before going into work.
BE YOURSELF AND THE COINS WILL FOLLOW!
Another gem that I learned was the importance of being true to yourself and brand. Kyra Kyles, the former editor-in-chief Ebony, talked about this during the Black Women in Media Panel (the one that I was obviously the most excited about). She addressed the question of thriving in predominantly white spaces by stating that you simply have to be strong in yourself in order to withstand any degree of oppression within the work environment. From a journalist perspective, she talked about how you need to be strong in yourself regarding your money. With the recent layoffs at Huffington Post, TIME Inc., ESPN and Ebony, freelance has unfortunately become a reality for writers. However, freelance doesn't imply free, and Kyra Kyles expressed that (and was received with a giant "YAAAAAAS" and a couple of snaps from the audience). She said that you don't have to beg for your money. Writers deserve to be compensated (I will definitely reflect on this as I further my career as a writer). Collect them coins.
Lena Waithe, producer (whom I just love watching on "Master of None"), touched on how it's ok if you don't have all the coins. She mentioned that being your talented self will trump money, "If you want to be viral, go be great". I learned that I shouldn't be too concerned about what's in my bank account when creating, especially as a college student. If I just be myself and do the best with what I have, the success will come.
YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG
I think the biggest lesson I learned from this powerful conference is that you're never too young to start your career. Before going to the conference, I really wanted to link up with college students because I knew there weren't going to be a lot of us there. With no responses to my request, I knew that I would probably be the youngest attending the conference. It was a bit intimidating at first because there were so many creators and innovators that I felt I couldn't compare with at all. I know comparison is literally the worst thing to do, but it's hard no to when everyone else is older and more established than you. However, it was refreshing to hear "Wow", "You're on the right path", "Keep goin' girl!" when I told people that I was 18 and just finished my first year of college. I think being the youngest in the room was an advantage because I could soak in all of the wisdom and knowledge from women whom I aspire to be.
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.
Throughout my life, I've had this love-hate relationship with my body. I've weighed over 120 pounds for as long as I can remember (now my weight is somewhere between 130 and 135 pounds). My stomach is flat. My thighs have always been too big for me to understand. My butt has become this idea that draws unwanted attention at times. My hips are too pretentious because they are always dominant in everything that I wear. My breasts are small enough for me to often wonder, "When will they grow?".
Add being muscular to the mix. Because of working out, my legs are big, yet muscular. My thighs bulge out and my hips are wider. My butt has become firm although it still manages to take control of the rest of my body. My arms and shoulders make me look stocky.
I thought I was ok with my body type until last week. Under the influence of white gaze, I learned that I was not thoroughly content with my body. I was attending a ceremony at which I was receiving a scholarship. I thought the dress that I wore was fine. But what was supposed to be a great moment turned out to be a cautionary reminder that my body was an anomaly. The stares and grins that were responses to my smiles and attempted hellos told me that people were not seeing me; they could not get past how "different" my body was. Even as I began to approach my teacher, she looked at me as if I made her uncomfortable before walking right past me. People stared me up and down as if my curves were not accepted. I could not wait to get out of that event and escape those dreaded stares. I couldn't stop the tears from pouring down my face as I left.
"Maybe I shouldn't have worn that dress; If I was just a bit thinner, then maybe I would have been treated better," I thought to myself. But if I had not worn that dress, it would just had been another dress that received the same treatment. No matter how many times I try to hide my curves, they always prevail. Thus, I thought that there was something wrong with my body.
The treatment that I received made me think of all the times that black women have been bashed for having a unique body type. From the days of slavery, black women have been taught that their bodies are too complicated to be accepted while at the same time their bodies were being appropriated by the same people who criticized them. I thought of Sarah Baartman and how she was used to contribute to the ignorance of pseudoscience in racism. Her body was displayed as some sort of animal attraction for white people who were too shallow to understand the beauty of a black woman's body type. I thought about Serena Williams whose body has been considered less feminine simply because she had muscles. I thought of Michelle Obama and how her body has been bashed because she didn't have the standard first lady figure.
I do not have the average body type. I have never been a skinny girl. My curves have always prevailed in literally everything that I wear. But because of similar instances to last week that I have experienced, I tried hiding my body. Like Sarah Baartman, white gaze made me feel that my body was not enough. I wore clothes that did not show off my figure because I assumed that my body wasn't enough to be accepted.
However, the past couple of days have made me realize that my body is enough. I am done with trying to fit my body for society's standards. If people don't like it, then I am ok with that. I am not here to adjust my body in order to make others comfortable. I embrace my wide hips, my thick and bulging thighs, my fat and toned ass, my big arms and broad shoulders, my small breasts that I jokingly criticize for resembling mosquito bites, my strong legs, and my flat stomach that will have a six-pack pretty soon. I love my body, and that's all that matters.
For black girls who have too often felt like their bodies were not accepted, remember that your body is too beautiful and uniquely complex for others to comprehend.
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.