Embracing Community

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

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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.