“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.”
A few weeks ago, I went to judge a Youth Poetry slam at the famous Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side of New York City. I’m always amazed at the thoughts of our young people and how powerful spoken word and story telling is. It’s refreshing and inspiring to hear teenagers tell stories of life as an adolescent in 2014. It differs from mine a decade prior and for that alone, I’m intrigued and fascinated by how much has changed in our school system and in our young people’s lives today when I was just a sixteen-year old girl the other day.
No older than 17, one young man started off his piece by saying, “I just want to say, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one going through the things I’m hearing from my fellow poets today. It makes me feel a little better.” When I listen to poetry, I have a habit of closing my eyes and tuning everything out except the voice of the artist, to hear what someone else won’t, to feel what the person next to me can’t. His poem was dark. Disturbing. I wondered what a teenager like him had gone through and transported thoughts from my head to his, telling him it’ll get better. I judged him on paper and inside, wished I didn’t have to. Out of fear. Because I know what he’s gone (or going) through. I’ve been the very words he spoke; the hurt he tried his best to convey and the things that helped him get through his days used to be aspirin and my mother’s hidden prescription pills. I used to be well-acquainted with it all. He’d never know that though. I was just judging.
I did not know Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls, personally or on the web. However, news of her death by suicide on Twitter last week saddened my spirit. I read her story and my mouth managed to form a smirk finding out she was the force behind #DarkSkinRedLip. I remembered hearing of the movement a few months ago, becoming one of those women who started to wear, and started to really feel confident, in red lipstick. I didn’t know it was due in part to the twenty-two year old and subconsciously, I thanked her. I hoped she heard me. But I felt selfish making this about me when I wish someone heard her.
We think nothing of the tumblr quotes and song lyrics people post on Instagram, double tapping and scrolling on by. We think of how it pertains to us, ways in which we can relate, but never once thinking of the person who uploaded it. If we can’t identify with it, we keep it moving. And to say that’s fucked up, is an understatement. When was the last time you closed your eyes to really see what someone was going through, read between the cryptic lines to understand someone else’s plight? Far too often we take those moments captured on Instagram and formulate conclusions that that person is doing well, but in all honesty, who’s really going to post a picture of them in the struggle? Who is going to take a photo of the pain they feel inside and fancy it up with a filter or leave it as is and hope someone gets it? No one. Because the glamorous life is the target destination and if you can bypass a homeless man on the street or on the subway and not think twice of his journey, who is going to give a damn about your internal struggles and your heartbreak and your financial woes online?
I wish we didn’t have to act like we have it all together. I wish I could’ve uploaded a picture of me in the welfare office just so someone could reach out and ask me if I needed help because the case workers in the social services building really didn’t give a damn about me. To them, I’m probably another young Black woman with kids trying to take advantage of the system. Nevermind the fact that I legitimately needed help. To them, I’m just “trying to get over”. I wanted people to know I needed help, but who would care in a world where everyone is out for self? Going through their own shit?
I wish I could show y’all pictures of how empty my fridge used to be and how I found myself eating franks and beans or white rice and ketchup as a child and giving my children the very same thing twenty-something years later. We preach real, real, real but would we really be supportive of the people who show us the bottom of their lives? How would we respond to photos of everyday hustling and the fight to make it to the next day? The real of the matter is, sometimes, a lot of us are not qualified to be under the category of “strong Black women.” Stop holding us up on that pedestal to be perfect and to have it right.
On occasion, those Sunday morning prayers in the pews and well-wishes through the World Wide Web do not feel like they’re doing much. Sometimes, I want to give up. And society won’t mind I’m sure, because as a Black person I’m “destined” to fail anyway. Black men bash me on social media anyway. I’m the laughing stock of the internet, with memes being made of my kind every week. I can try to read self-help books and articles on loving yourself all I want, but in all honestly, sometimes I am not a strong Black woman. Often times, I can’t “keep calm”. I want to turn up and fuck shit up and act like a” mad Black woman” because I’m tired of dressing up the front. I’m everything but strong.
My dark skin is ostracized and ridiculed and fairer skin Black women are favored more. I am unattractive; Instagram likes told me so and magazines that get front priority and first dibs in Barnes & Noble confirmed it for me. I will not act like Lupita Nyong’o is the savior for little Black girls worldwide that will finally receive recognition and be praised for milk and dark-chocolate skin because see, sometimes, I still do not feel like a beautiful Black woman. People would rather bleach than be Black. I cry because of that.
These stigmas that African-American women are supposed to be all, do all and still have it all in order, have to go. We are humans. We don’t always have to “win”. Trying to “win” in society has made me lose myself and what folks have called losses, I saw as personal gains. Not everyone sees or knows that though. Everyone wants to see well-dressed, put together, composed Black women all the time. That is not alright. We have burdens we carry and crosses we bear on our backs too.
Can someone tell us it’ll be okay? When we don’t know what our next move is or when we don’t know how we’ll make ends meet? Can we be mothers who make mistakes too? Can we hear that?