Archived: May 15, 2016
"If we are silent about our pain, they will kill us and say we enjoyed it." -Zora Neale Hurston
It has taken a long time for me to craft this piece. Lots of prayer, tears and meditation went into whether or not I could be as honest as I would like to be during this post. I hope my candor will in turn help someone else reflect upon the treatment they have subjected themselves to in the name of being black, a woman, a bighearted person or all of the above.
For as a long as I can remember black women have been in the business of sacrificing. I've watched many beautiful black women in my life sacrifice sleep, time, health, grades, opportunities for professional development and more without being appreciated. That is not to say that sacrifices need to be acknowledged in order for them to have value, but that is to say living a life that is completely sacrificial can oftentimes be exhausting. Sacrificing is defined as: an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. This past year has been one of insane sacrifice for me. I have spent the past year protecting entities and people more than I have protected myself. However, I am slowly but surely learning that before I am obligated to anyone, I am obligated to myself. Here's how and why:
On Social Justice
As an African American student at a predominately white institution (PWI) I have found comfort in the African American community at my university. Unlike many other universities we have resources in place to guide us through our time here. The African American Cultural Center and Multicultural Student Affairs are filled with those who are committed to the success of minority students but the presence of offices like these does not negate that my campus has a cultural competency issue. White students on campus have thrown parties that parody black culture, I've personally been called a monkey, calls for black genocide were made in the wake of our campus electing our former student body president who was a black man and more. On top of outright discrimination students face micro aggressions from faculty, staff and their peers daily. I must say it can be extremely exhausting to consistently have to attend and/or participate in town halls on race and protests about black lives. It is genuinely tiring being a student, a campus leader and a lot of times an educator on diversity and inclusion. I've heard from myself and various other campus leaders that living a life dedicated to social justice while simultaneously being a student is taxing. After the party thrown by white students that parodied black culture, I distinctly remember needing to take time to process. That time turned into weeks, where I started to journal my thoughts and started practicing more self care. It is essential that I and other social justice warriors take the time to practice self care. You need to be just as loyal to yourself as you are to your cause. Spend time processing your experiences and step away if you need to because you cannot help anyone unless you help yourself first.
On Protecting Black Men
Anyone who knows me, knows I love myself some black men. Something about the resilience, melanin and spirit of black men just draws me in. I'm probably biased because I had two amazing grandfathers who loved me. I also have a best friend in my father, a couple of pretty cool uncles (fake and real alike) and some overprotective but loving guy friends. Overall, I have had a positive experience with most of the black men in my life. My positive experiences and the recent slaughters of black men and boys have almost backed me into a corner. You see, I'm protective of black men by nature because if black women aren't protective of our men, who will be? However, the presence of amazing black men and the injustices committed against many black men does not excuse the inexcusable. During my first semester of my sophomore year I was sexually assaulted by another black student on campus. This student, someone I once considered a close friend, was heavily involved. I felt as though coming clean about the attack would only do a disservice to the black community. I even wrote in a journal "we (the community) have enough issues on campus, the last thing we need is a rape scandal." Months later, I can honestly say I was wrong. I did more of a disservice to my community and myself by allowing this individual to roam campus freely. African American women have been known to protect our men which is fine until it leads to our own destruction. According to a fact sheet accessed through the Department of Justice's website: "African American females experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females, and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races. However they are less likely than white women to use social services, battered women's programs or go to the hospital because of domestic violence" Intimate partner violence can include but is not limited to: rape, physical assault or stalking. Protecting our men is hard work but most of the time it is worth it. However, it is never worth it if that person is harming you or others. It can be tempting to sweep the wrongdoings of black men under the rug, but doing so only harms you and others more than it helps them.
On Being a Black Girl with Depression
I'm honestly a very vivacious person. I'm extremely bubbly, I love to laugh and I talk A LOT. I'm also heterosexual, able bodied, a Christian, middle class, I have the privilege of attending a nationally recognized university and I am a black woman. Which is why I never thought I would be diagnosed with depression or PTSD. Black women are known to be strong, resilient, full of life and always making lemonade out of lemons(shoutout to Queen Bey). I've always thought that being a black woman meant that your strength was innate and that you could conquer anything. Black women are and always have been superheroes in my eyes. But even superheroes have issues. Depression can be debilitating and exhausting. Not wanting to get out of bed, having to explain why you haven't talked to some of your friends in days, not sleeping, under or overeating and being a prisoner of your mind can wear you out. It's exhausting to struggle with these things and still be a student, a campus leader, a friend, daughter and a productive member of society. Depression can honestly take control of your life and while there are debates about what can help those struggling with depression I can tell you what can't: ignoring the issue. There is still a major stigma in the black community in regards to mental health. We think that if we don't talk about it, that if we silently pray about it, that the issues will disappear. This is not only wrong, it is harmful to our community. An older survey accessed through Mental Health America found that of the African Americans surveyed, 40% cited denial as a barrier to treating depression and 38% cited embarrassment or shame. I am honestly grateful that I have sought professional help for my depression and PTSD, but I know I should have sought that help sooner. I want others to know that it is okay to seek help. It is essential to the vitality of the black community that we provide open honest spaces for those struggling with mental illnesses. It is essential that we come out of the darkness about illnesses that plague our community and instead face them head on. The strength and resilience of our people will not to be voided by doing so.
I have spent the past few months obligated to social justice, the preservation of black men and protecting the strong independent black woman narrative. However, I will spend the rest of my life protecting myself. That is not to say, I am any less dedicated to these issues but rather that I now understand the value of self-care and self-love. I hope anyone reading this has the same revelation with less painful experiences. Be obligated to yourself and I promise that it will only aid you in helping others.
As always stay sassy,