When Memories of Former Lovers Resurface

 

Our bodies remember the traumas we dare not speak.

A week before my ninth birthday, my dad moved out, and my parents announced they were getting a divorce. Nearly two weeks before I turned twenty, I decided to end a healthy relationship with someone I wasn’t connected to intellectually. One week before my twenty-second birthday, the first person I trusted fully and loved deeply walked away from our relationship — this shattered my spirit in ways I didn’t know was possible. Two weeks after I turned twenty-four, one of the most intimate platonic friendships I had ended. We’ve since reconnected but…

My body remembers the history of unexpected endings every November.

She braces herself for premature goodbyes and a rush of intense memories she would rather forget. Not because the memories are too painful to revisit but because they remind her of a significant, interrupted soul connection.

Breakups are difficult.

I’ve been through three romantic endings in my life, but only one crushed my spirit. It was the person that would become my “first love,” and the relationship I still reflect on eight years later. Sometimes I wonder how he’s doing. Sometimes I wonder how different we probably are now, but other times — well, I just miss him.

More than anything, I think I miss the intimacy and the soul connection we once had. Because I still think about him so many years later, I decided to write a poem in hopes that releasing it will allow me to release his hold on my memories.

Missing Memories

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep the past in its place / And I’m a bit of an insomniac so often I stay up late / And some nights / I / Mix together letters that form monikers of lovers I’m no longer connected to / Just to catch a current glimpse at your intellectual development/ And currently your musings are reminiscent of the revolutionary spirit I inherited / And in these moments I wish we were relatives or close friends that could get lost in sociopolitical discussions / Exchange writings like we used to, read radical texts together, dissect, and just connect / Instead of exes disconnected by the pretext of an antiquated economic institution / I was never really interested in pursuing / So now I’m seven years out still periodically considering your whereabouts / Wondering how you’ve been / Wondering if you ever regretted our final conversations / Or if I was a necessary loss that simply got lost in your quest to maintain a burgeoning relationship / But whatever the motivation, the callousness lingers, and it appears to be transferrable so I continue to meet hordes of inconsiderate people / And again I wish I could keep the past in its place because periodically mulling over past times can be painful / And I’m not really into self-inflicted injury / I’ve been in two committed relationships since the last time we spoke and tried to get to know quite a few people in between but it seems the true intimacy we once shared continues to evade my reach these days / And to be honest, I’m tired of reaching / Tired of trying to cultivate close relationships in an era where superficiality, meaningless sex, and guardedness reign supreme / Tired of meeting new people with the same archaic, apolitical points of view / Tired of missing memories and rituals we shared so long ago / Remember / The forehead to eyelids to cheeks then lips type of kisses we shared before we parted ways? / Damn that shit feels like way, way back in the day / But what do I do when what was reappears in my dreams so vividly? / I wake up feeling guilty when my subconscious self thinks of you / And I feel inauthentic if I force myself not to / And don’t even get me started on how foolish I feel knowing someone else has your heart but you still have an emotional hold on me / I used to think about the next time we’d meet again / Quite frequently / To the point I had to relinquish my imagination for a second / Just so I could sit in the discomfort of what happened and accept it / Then a few years back, I thought I saw you from afar in Charlotte / I wanted to speak so desperately but I couldn’t bear the thought of being just a distant memory / When you meant so damn much to me / So / I didn’t chance it / I decided if there’s any chance for us to enter a radical friendship you would have to extend it / On occasion I waver and consider reaching out to you / It’s like I know if we were relatives or even close friends that we could get lost in sociopolitical discussions again / Exchange writings like we used to / Read radical texts together, dissect, and just connect / Instead of exes / Disconnected by the pretext of an antiquated economic institution / But then again / I could never exchange an experience as beautiful as loving you / I guess I’ll just have to get used to missing memories we shared so long ago

In memory of my first love: “Yesterday I was putting all my eggs inside a book / Given by them slave owners / Religion had me stuck” -JDG

But Have You Compromised Your Inner Landscape?

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Image on the left: Sketch of  a brain with two thought bubbles. One thought bubble is labeled “Water” and includes ideas we should grow, including equity, education as the practice of freedom, critically interrogating your conditioning, resistance to systems of domination, inner reflection, imagination, decolonizing education, collectivity, radical love, courage, revolution, growth, and interconnectedness. The other thought bubble is labeled “Weed Out” and includes ways of thinking that should be weeded out of our minds, including violence, deference to authority, domination, white supremacy, sexism and patriarchy, anti-blackness, myth of meritocracy, abuse is normal, unquestioned allegiance to religion, rugged individualism, oversimplification, money over everything, and hollow love. Image on the right: A direct quote from the writing, “From dating to art to our sense of justice to how we conceptualize labor…there is a set of beliefs, of irrigated ideas, that govern our every move.” 

The partners we choose and the people we opt out of choosing as partners reflect the recesses of our inner world.

These words evaded my lips when I heard a friend of over ten years utter that she’s failed in romantic relationships. There was something about this language that struck me immediately. To say “I’ve failed in romantic relationships” is to flatten our field of sight. It’s to negate that whom we date is a direct manifestation of what we believe to be true about ourselves. Simplifying patterns of unhealthy coupling as “failed” makes it easier to maintain unhealthy bonds because severing that relationship inevitably signals personal lack, failure. When, truthfully, understanding when it may be necessary to sever, to cut off, to restrict from penetrating only becomes optional through an ongoing commitment to honor our most authentic selves in thought and action. This inner digging, unearthing, confronting, and ultimately transforming what we’ve dug up into maneuvering differently prepares us for what Sunni Patterson refers to as “extended sight.”

Sunni describes extended sight as the ability to expand our vision “so that you see more than what you are going through.” She probes: “What seeds have we allowed to be planted that we can weed out? What can we get out of here, (pointing to her head) that really is not serving us?” This line of inquiry becomes possible when we realize we are living out implanted ideas in everything we do. From dating to art to our sense of justice to how we conceptualize labor to family to community, to loving, there is a set of beliefs, of irrigated ideas, that govern our every move. Some of these ideas embedded in the recesses of our mind must be pulled out in order to see anew. Sunni continues:

“We [have] to constantly ask…who am I? Who am I? Who am I? See when you’re grounded in this who am I, you’re moving from a different kind of space…We are bombarded and hit with trauma after trauma after trauma after trauma every day, but one thing for certain—I know who I am. So see when I know who I am, I’m in a less-compromising position. There are things that I will not compromise when I know who I am. It’s only when I don’t know who I am when I don’t have faith in who I am…when I deem myself unworthy that I will gravel.”

If we are operating out of self-belief that some aspect of our being has failed, we are choosing a language of lack. Deeming ourselves failed—that is, damaged—simultaneously makes it harder to imagine ourselves whole and prevents us from asking the type of questions that may actually lead to inner and outer disruptions: What aspects of myself do I compromise, do I negotiate in order to stay in relationships and situations that I admit are unfulfilling? Am I worthy of a partnership, of conscious coupling, that is fundamentally rooted in respect, compassion, kindness, and trust? Do I make exceptions for what respect, compassion, kindness, and trust look like based on ways of understanding I witnessed in childhood but haven’t divested from as an adult? How did I come to understand love? How has what I was taught about love served me and worked against me in adulthood? What concessions have I made that were detrimental to my personal wellbeing? What bruised parts of my inner world allowed me to make those concessions? What messages am I subconsciously sending myself about what I deserve when I accept anything that is thrown my way? What language do I use to speak to myself? What allowances have I made that are misaligned with the values I claim to hold? What am I willing to abandon to open myself up to the type of world I’ve never even imagined? This type of critical interrogation is key if we wish to unlock and overcome our complicity in toxic relationships.

In our society, toxic relationships are romanticized. If you’re in a romantic relationship and your partner attempts to control your movements, they are often described or interpreted as expressing their love for you. And of course, this way of thinking seems legitimate because, well, we learned this in childhood. Many of us were raised in environments where we couldn’t even control what time we went to sleep or how short our hair could be. If you were raised in a strict household where everything you did was heavily monitored and you rarely, if ever, had opportunities to make informed decisions for yourself, you were socialized to normalize symptoms of domination. So moving from a controlling household to a controlling partner doesn’t seem that abnormal. Reflecting on the sometimes tumultuous and remarkably painful moments in childhood can lead to new routes that circumvent the allure of toxic relationships. Without deep and honest reflection, however, we are prone to overlook childhood connections that may have trapped us in a cycle of psychological servitude.

While the glorification of toxic relationships are rampant onscreen, in families, and friendships, there is also an overarching sense of urgency fueling unconscious coupling. And the pressure to partner up regardless of signs of toxicity can be debilitating. To measure what is deemed valuable in any society, you can begin by dissecting frequently asked questions. As a woman, I am often asked the same two questions. Whether it’s from a family member or a stranger, I can be sure to hear: Have you found someone yet? When are you having a baby? These questions, while well meaning at best and presumptuous at worst, reveal a larger phenomenon. Both questions indicate assumed interest. According to these two questions, I should be interested in pursuing a romantic relationship and motherhood. It presupposes that my number one priority is in finding someone, and if my response is that I am not in a romantic relationship, I receive reactions of pity: “Oh you’ll find him soon. I know he’s out there.” Which illuminates other presuppositions because I’m sexually fluid and I am highly attracted to one’s personality regardless of genitalia and gender identity. More fitting questions we might consider exploring frequently include: How is your inner landscape? What’s the energy of your inner circle like these days? By ritualizing questions and thought processes that provide space to contemplate and assess our individual selves, we reprioritize self-reflection.

Too many of us are seeking peace and comfort in dysfunctional romantic relationships at the expense of our inner landscape. When I speak of inner landscape, I am speaking of the interconnected aspects of our psychosocial, sociopolitical, emotional, intellectual, relational, collective, imaginative selves. Who are we when we are sitting alone with our individual vulnerabilities? Who are we when we are in the company of selected comrades? What are we craving when we select our comrades and lovers? Who are we in relation to the broader communities in which we belong? How do we grapple with the larger context of our peculiar social conditions? How do we extend our sight and imagine that which seems improbable? To determine if you are compromising your inner landscape to date, I implore you to wrestle with these questions in the most radically honest way.

So to my dear friend of over ten years, I’d like to say explicitly that you have not failed at relationships. You have, however, compromised your inner landscape to date, and I can only hope that one day you ask the type of questions and move in such a way that announces instantly to any prospective partner, “I am worthy of and will accept nothing less than radical love!”

Did They Know? (Part I)

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Cousins Assata, Natalia, and Sanaa are having an intergenerational conversation with their Grandma Angela-Yvonne and Auntie Bell about the psychic toll of witnessing black bodies lynched across the nation and how deep anti-black girlhood/womanhood runs. They are sitting around the kitchen table when Natalia begins to think about whether black people of various ages knew their sheer presence was deemed threatening by the decided majority before they were murdered.

  • Assata          20-year old young black woman attending college
  • Natalia         16-year old black girl about to graduate early
  • Sanaa           6-year old black girl being homeschooled
  • Grandma     Angela-Yvonne, 68 years old, retired school teacher
  • Auntie         Bell, 44 years old, writer

(Natalia)  Do you think they knew?

(Grandma)  I don’t know if they all knew how deep it runs. But I think on some level, we all know. It’s almost impossible not to.

(Assata)  Well we’ve been sold a list of instances that marked the beginning of our ever-growing ascension and supposedly ushered us into an era of color blindness. I mean one of my professor even said it.

(Auntie)  Oh please. We’ve never bought into that.

(Assata)  You sure about that? I think quite a few of us have.

(Auntie) Well, if they have they were simply masking or too detached from the masses to acknowledge the facts.

(Sanaa)  Auntie, what you mean by masking and detaching?

(Grandma)  (stuttering) You, you know how we talk about our ancestors, those people who lived before us and still live in our hearts? Well, that there is an ancestral trait we had to cultivate to survive and we still learning how to remove it and use other tools in our toolkit.

(Sanaa)  Well, I wanna survive but sometimes I’m not sure why. I mean it seems like we’re hated by the bad cop guys and the black boys, too.

(Grandma)  Oooh my sweet, sweet baby. What on earth could you possibly mean?

(Sanaa)  Well, Lela told me that black people are dying everywhere and that bad cop guys  are killing ‘em and some were shot when they were asking for help and others when they were selling things like CDs, or even when they were sitting in their own car listening to music, or when they were outside playing with toys, and somebody else got shot just a few years younger than TT by a different kinda cop after he bought a pack of skittles.

(Sanaa)  Sometimes I ask for help, auntie. And I like CDs, music, toys, and candy, too. I don’t wanna be next.

(Sanaa)  And as far as the boys go… when I told Taplin I liked him more than friends, he said I was too dark skinned and that his dad said black girls like me are crazy.

(Sanaa)  And then Kayla whispered in my ear and said she bet he would like her because her mom always says that she has the right complexion and perfect hair.

(Assata)  Do you see what we have to go through? She’s only six years old and she’s already being taught that she is despised by just about everyone. And they only seem to like our blackness when the evidence of intermingling is conspicuous.

(Natalia)  And it’s plastered all over TV auntie. On nearly every channel, they say the exact same thing.  And Mr. George-Bush-doesn’t-care-about-black-people is out here announcing that his manufactured wife is the finest person alive while we out here dying and he’s lying publicly about the cessation of racism while he begs for their money. And didn’t he just make another public announcement that he would have voted for a vocal bigot at a time when we got people being tear-gassed, shot in the back, shot while reading, shot while thinking, shooting each other because resources are depleted. I mean what would he have to do for us to refuse to support his modern-day minstrelsy?

(Sanaa)  And I used to love him too auntie because he said (rapping) “they made us hate ourselves and love they wealth.” And I don’t really know what that means but it sounded po-wer-ful. You think the boogeyman finally got to him, too?

(Natalia)  The boogeyman got to him alright and it’s gotten to several others, too. Black men and women outside the spotlight despise black women just as much. Did you see  what they did in Philly…to Joyce? How they stripped her naked, tied her up, and beat her to death?

(Assata)  (heavy sigh) I did. I even ended up writing about it. I was examining the larger societal messages we consume that contribute to the development of someone that could humiliate and berate someone, tie them up, beat them, beat them long enough to stop breathing, beat them while their children watched, and beat them in an attempt to get them to submit to their demands. I mean doesn’t this sound familiar? It sounds a lot like the governing principles of chattel slavery practiced on this very soil not too long ago. In the essay, I also explored the particular nuances of misogyny we experience within and outside the Black community and among other Black women. And we get these messages everywhere. I mean we are conditioned to believe in and normalize the philosophy of violence and submission every Sunday through our assigned religion.

(Sanaa)  And didn’t you say he said something ‘bout submission. And don’t the bible say something about us submittin’ too? Why our religion talking about submittin’? I got my own mind, too.

(Sanaa)  Who dat writer y’all always talking bout? Bald-men or somethin’? Didn’t he say if god has any use it would make us freer and more loving? And if he can’t then we need to get rid of him? Well, I think I like Bald-men instead of submittin’ so good riddance.

(Grandma)  Mmm oooh all this hurt and fear makes my spirit so weak. My sweet, sweet baby, now you listen up real good you hear? You come from a long line of Negro fighters, builders, healers, thinkers, and writers that survived and thrived. Now, you probably gon hear a lot of nonsense in ya day, and for that I am deeply pained. But I want you to remember this…and remember this always: The inner limitations of someone else’s imagination will never reflect the reality of the brilliance that is you, your voice, and your mind. Now your little friend Taplin may believe these delusions, these fictional tales of black girl inadequacy right now and he may very well hold on to it until his dying day, but I want you to practice radical compassion anyhow because they conditioning him that way. They teaching him to hate his reflection and compete for their acceptance. So when he sees you, he sees a part of himself he’s been taught to reject. But he can always unlearn, sweetie, and all black boys and all black girls and all black, what they say now, gender-benders will not mistreat you. Some will remind you of the best parts of yourself on the days you’ve developed amnesia. And some will feel like home immediately the very first time you meet them. And that Bald-men you speak of is James Bald-win. And yes, he was definitely on to something. But you gon have to find peace somewhere. And if it ain’t in organized religion, you write it out. And if you can’t find peace in the pen, then you paint it out. And if you can’t find peace in the paintbrush, then you dance it out. And if you can’t find peace in dancing then you march it out. But you must find it inside yourself some way somehow so you don’t go mad in this upside down world.

(Assata)  Granny, I was with you up until all that peace talk. I think I’m past peaceful reckonings. I’m tapping into my black rage and doing everything I can to fight back. And no one calls people gender-benders grandma. They identify as gender-nonconforming or genderqueer.

(Grandma)  (laughing) I knew it was something like that. Well sugar I’d definitely never tell you to stop fighting. We certainly need more people in the fight. But even freedom fighters have to protect their minds from the madness.

(Natalia)  Grandma how she s’posed to understand all that? And even if she could, you think she’s going to retain (exaggerating) all that?

(Grandma)  Oh she might not know all the words right now, but she’ll retain it (pauses), she’ll remember. We just have to keep telling her.

(Natalia)  But what happens when words aren’t enough—then what?

Disillusioned by the Ballot: I Did Not Storm the Polls

 

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Over the past few weeks, I have heard ongoing rants suggesting abstainers and independent voters bear primary responsibility for the results of the 2016 election. It’s as if the masses are unwilling to critique how choosing the “lesser of two evils” supports the maintenance of our flawed two-party system. It ensures our uninterrupted participation in binary thinking and limits our ability to imagine radical alternatives for the people. I am not interested in limiting my thinking. I believe we can think up new possibilities when we aren’t forced to choose between two problematic options.

In school, I was taught to trust in the greatness of America. I was taught to believe I lived in a democracy, that the option to vote granted me access to a democratic society. For years, I questioned the legitimacy of this widely accepted fallacy. I never heard a president espouse viewpoints that, at the very least, offered long-term solutions to reconcile the vast needs of America’s most vulnerable citizenry (here citizenry refers to any and everyone that lives in the U.S.). I never saw a president that looked like me. I was led to believe my apprehensions were naïve, a consequence of my youthfulness. I would come to learn that this was a common excuse offered by adults unwilling to explore historical realities.

But I was still hopeful. And in 2008, I took my hope to the voting booth.

The first time I voted, I was filled with inherited pride. Finally, I had the opportunity to contribute to the political landscape in the nation of my birth, and I was thrilled. I was in my senior year of college and was engaging in discussions daily that challenged me to decode and deconstruct messages in televised news, newspapers, radio, and classrooms. As I prepared to cast my first vote ever in the 2008 presidential election, I felt the faint footsteps of my ancestors beating within me. This was an obligation, I thought. My ancestors have stained the streets, trees, and fields with the blood of their bodies for my right to vote. So I must cast it intentionally. I must not let their collective struggle be in vain.

At the same time, through my coursework, I was beginning to learn about the striking similarities between both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and what I learned was alarming. Both parties have been responsible for: restricting educational funding; defunding welfare initiatives; pushing standardized assessments; high rates of deportation; mass incarceration of Black and Brown peoples; supporting zero tolerance policies that disproportionately suspend and expel youth of color; aggressively increasing defense spending; remaining in a perpetual state of war and unrest; backing the militarization of law enforcement agencies; overlooking the importance of free universal healthcare; monitoring Americans’ private lives; and refusing to redress historical and ongoing injustices systems of oppression have imposed on Black people and other people of color in the United States. When examining our so-called democratic, two-party system from this lens the parties don’t seem so distinct.

Unable to stomach the political implications of abstaining, I continued to associate the voting process with ancestral responsibility. Images of slavery, auction blocks, beatings, lynchings, uprisings, Jim Crow, marches, burning buildings, arrests, water hoses, and sit-ins swarmed my mind. Voting had been impressed upon my consciousness as the most instrumental civic engagement tool in a free society. And I shared this sentiment with any friend that voiced their reluctance to continue participating in electoral politics.

In 2016 an inner shift occurred.

This year, I did not go to the poll booth, and I didn’t fill in my absentee ballot. I exercised my right not to vote. I wrestled with my decision for months following Bernie Sanders’ failed democratic nomination. To choose not to vote felt like historical dismissal. I wanted to support a presidential candidate that had a history of prioritizing progressive social justice initiatives and inspired me to vote with a clear conscience. I discovered Dr. Jill Stein. I introduced her name to friends who were oblivious of her political platform and resisted reductive reasoning that declared a vote in her support as a vote for the Republican Party.

If we truly live in a democratic society, how could that be? How could voting for someone you believe best represents the issues that impact your day-to-day life, and the lives of millions more, be the equivalent of a wasted vote? It seems obvious that the likelihood of electing a presidential candidate outside of our current two-party system would significantly increase if more people would abandon two-party politics that more closely resembles a single-party agenda. With deficit-based thinking—the nation’s prevailing ideological framework—shaping the bulk of our public imagination, I wondered how a Stein administration would convince a largely homogenous Congress to grapple with police brutality, anti-Black racism and other forms of structural oppression, economic disparities, environmental degradation, restorative justice, education as the practice of freedom, etc. Ultimately, I was dissuaded by historical evidence.

Voting has not shielded us from death. It has not protected us from political loopholes that attempt to stomp the life out of us long before we die physically. Even with anti-discrimination laws in place, we haven’t been able to sidestep disparate treatment. We’ve placed too much weight in the vote. We’ve accepted that voting is the primary means to amplify our voices, to stimulate change. But what exactly are we voting for? Both the Democratic and Republican Parties offer limited, if any, solutions to the type of challenges that impact my everyday life, and the everyday lives of many people of color from working class and lower income households. And as Tricia Rose correctly observes in Longing to Tell, “The kinds of [narratives] that have worked to marginalize, pathologize, and condense the lives of [B]lack women, [and Black people as a whole] cannot simply be legislated out of circulation.” Often, the only suggested recourse presented to Black folks is the ballot.

But is the ballot enough? What can we be doing on the periphery of election years? What can we do in our respective workplaces and industries on a regular basis to disrupt systems of domination? What can we do to address the particular needs of our communities? What can we be doing to interrupt dominator discourse in our homes, in our relationships, in every facet of our lives? What can we do across socioeconomic backgrounds to lift each other up and lean on one another throughout the year? What else can we be doing to think more imaginatively? These are the questions we have to contend with as we commit ourselves to grassroots activism.

And to some extent, I understand the emphasis on electoral politics and legislation. If elected officials are going through such lengths to institutionalize voter suppression laws, there must be some power in our vote. This observation cannot be understated. My choice not to vote does not justify external efforts to strip me, and historically disenfranchised people, of that right. As a sexually fluid Black woman, I also have the right to marry, but ultimately I decide whether marriage is the right path for me. It isn’t. Until there is more promise in electoral politics shifting the United States’ foundational practices of domination, exploitation, and profit-generation, I will disengage from this charade and redirect my energies elsewhere.

While the implications of voting are far-reaching, we can’t expect the same system that was erected to negate and exclude us to turn on itself and topple. We have to think differently. We have to organize differently. We have to open ourselves up to new forms of resistance.

We need to change shit substantially before we continue to stress voting as the most instrumental civic engagement tool in a free society, especially when that so-called free society in which we live is entrenched in imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Sister to Sister: To Black Girls with Fading Hopes of Sisterhood

Dear Soul Sister,

I know how hard it can be when you long for meaningful connections with women rooted in trust, respect, openness, honesty, and mutual admiration. All around you, you are being conditioned into seeing your sisters as the competition, the enemy, as someone to distrust. But you have not been misled. You know that the bonds of authentic sisterhood can be life sustaining. That sometimes it only takes one compassionate act from a distant sister to become re-invigorated by her spirit…by the greatness overflowing from her being. You sometimes daydream about how rewarding it would be if only you had the opportunity to connect with a circle of women that encourage you, challenge you, and support your continual growth. Even still, establishing lifelong bonds with progressive women who are committed to resisting and unlearning the myths of our existence has slipped from your grasp.

Every year, sometimes a couple times a year, I complete a friendship audit. I examine the people in my life and think about how we add value to each other’s lives. I consider whether our interaction is healthy, if we can have open dialogue, and then I reflect on the nature of our discussions. This exercise can be very revealing. Sometimes it becomes painstakingly clear that the dynamics I’ve grown accustomed to are simply emotionally unhealthy, limiting, or one-sided. At times, I have examined those closest to me and realized that I had very few women in my life that I really felt connected to without reservation or pause.

I’ve witnessed distance permeate my female friendships after exciting romantic relationships flourished. I’ve witnessed friendships abruptly collapse over false accusations and distrust. I’ve been disappointed, I’ve been hurt, I’ve been angry, I’ve been perplexed, but I’ve also been introspective. I’ve examined the role I’ve played in the breakdown of once meaningful woman-to-woman bonds, but most of all I haven’t retired my desire to connect, to love, to trust my fellow sisters. We are united through our shared history, through our persistent marginalization in a variety of public spaces, and through our right to be recognized as whole women not caricatures of our diverse experiences. Maybe you’ve given up hope that establishing meaningful bonds with other supportive young women is possible. Maybe you’ve written off women as a source of distress.

But we are all flawed, and, if we’re lucky, we’re in a perpetual process of becoming. So wipe away your tears young love. Replace your pain with compassion and commit to being the sister you wish you had in your life. Acknowledge the hurt. Acknowledge your anger. Acknowledge every bit of your being, and when the threat of silence attempts to swallow you whole, give birth to revolutionary love. I can’t see your face, but I love you unconditionally. I honor you. I stand by you, always.

With loving-kindness,

Nikia

Re-Imagining Community

My proclivity for reimagining community as the site of connectedness, imaginative expansion, and reaffirmation of our beings typically thrusts me into the very isolation I am attempting to flee because we have been lured into accepting community as the locale of superficial similarities.

Community is the unseen thread that binds us together. As we share in our suffering, as we disclose our frustrations, as we resist reductive reasoning, as we work toward dismantling systems of subjugation, as we reimagine alternative ways of living, as we protect ourselves against psychological assaults, as we stand in solidarity, as we champion connectedness, as we decolonize our minds, as we challenge injustice, as we reject recycled myths, as we brainstorm solutions, as we laugh in unison, as we affirm each other, and express the wholeness of our beings we move closer to creating a loving community that is transcendent…that is incapable of destruction.

Before we ever step foot in communities as advocates and organizers, we have to reimagine the purpose of community. We have to consider which communities we belong to, examine whether we feel like a true member of these communities, and explore what is preventing us from feeling that deep sense of connectedness to others. We have to be willing to ask ourselves what we would like to see more or less of in order to actualize our visions of rebuilding tight-knit communities, and we must be willing to make substantial contributions in the form of time and energy to realize these visions. If you truly feel connected to the communities in which you belong, what encourages that connectedness? What factors consistently promote connection and support? What foundational values bind you to one another? It is through this reflection and interrogation that we can begin to understand how to create a new standard of community that delves beneath superficial similarities.

While it is true that we are born into communities, form communities, join communities, thrive in communities, and embrace the need for community, we sometimes fail to participate in communion. If community is the unseen thread that binds us together, communion is the needle purposely weaving together our souls creating a binding effect. In Communion: The Female Search for Love, bell hooks speaks candidly about the importance of women unabashedly sharing our personal stories. The transformative power of sharing should not be overlooked. As we begin to open ourselves up, we bond through the rebellious and courageous act of sharing. Openly discussing our lived experiences is a rebellious act because we are taught to withhold our truths, to disguise our truths, to stick to small talk, to suck it up, to mask any semblance of pain, racial injustice, or disappointment we encounter. But who does that serve?  It keeps us in a cycle of silence where uplifting stories remain unheard even as we yearn to know that someone else understands exactly what it’s like to walk ten miles in our shoes. In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander stresses the importance of dialogue stating that “…dialogue, a conversation that fosters a critical consciousness [is a] key prerequisite to effective social action.”

We cannot effect change in our communities if we are unwilling to converse and undergo metamorphosis ourselves.

Who Am I?

Usually, when I consider my response to this question, I tend to think about it from a very individualistic point of view. I think of colorful adjectives, nouns, and verbs that best represent the core of who I am, what I desire most in the world, what excites me, and how I go about achieving goals that are important to me. After all, ‘Who am I?’ seems like a deeply personal question that can only involve an independent understanding of myself, right? Perhaps. But even as an individual, I exist within a world of systems, structures, and historical realities that have worked together to shape who I am today and who I wish to become tomorrow. In the summer of 2012, I explored this question from this very lens, pondering who I am from a socially contextualized standpoint. I often return to this reflection as a stirring reminder of who I am, what I represent, why my voice matters, and why I make the choices I make:

“I am but one blade in a field of grass struggling for collective advancement as a result of immoral procedures and practices that have disproportionately impacted people of color in the United States. The challenge of being a black woman in America transcends physical markers of racial categorization. It is an ongoing battle to deconstruct, critically challenge, and publicly combat socialized norms that place black womanhood at the base of a vertical hierarchy. What does it mean to be an African American woman? Better yet, what does it mean to be historically delimited, demarcated, despised, and repudiated by the decided majority? It means constantly seeking alternative avenues to acquire knowledge, to be mindful of where and how you receive acceptance and affirmation, to resist fervently oppressive structures, and to have an unshakable commitment to humanity that is informed by an ongoing struggle to attain equality for all. This is but a snapshot of what being an African American woman symbolizes to me.”

While this excerpt does not capture the full essence of who I am, my unique combination of qualities, my lived experiences, and my inner desires, it absolutely captures those aspects of me that often take center stage even as they remain unspoken cues, signaling to the dominant culture that my mere presence warrants suspicion, tension, or angst. I cannot count the number of times my presence has been dismissed, ignored, or reduced to someone else’s one-dimensional interpretation of me before I ever had the chance to open my mouth. To be the lone African American, the designated ‘spokesperson,’ the dissident voice, or the radical visionary is to continually enter spaces where my uniqueness, my humanness is overshadowed by the hegemonic gaze.

I am a growing list of paradoxical truths where my past, present, and visions of a brighter future converge to create a relentless, resilient, community-oriented, open, caring, critically conscious, loving, passionate, authentic, vulnerable, exacting, playful, energetic, spiritual, analytical, freedom-seeking, creative, sensitive, hopeful, compassionate, honest, writer, poet, dreamer, conversationalist who is undeniably brown, undeniably woman, and unapologetically me.

I am trudging paved paths of my predecessors’ past, taking each step with a purpose that is greater than my individual achievement. I am but one blade in a field of grass struggling for collective advancement. We are still fighting for our rights…we are still fighting for equity.