Our Voices (My Black Voice)....Unlocked
“I have not written my experiences in order to attract attention to myself; on the contrary, it would have been more pleasant to me to have been silent about my own history. Neither do I care to excite sympathy for my own sufferings. But I do earnestly desire to arouse the women of the North to a realizing sense of the condition of two millions of women at the South, still in bondage, suffering what I suffered and most of them far worse”- Harriet Jacobs, Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl.
That was the first quote I open to when I revisited my African American Literature book. It was highlighted. It resonated with me college and still resonates with me now.
“All Black people have courage. We have courage”- my mom.
Trauma and Triggers are real, and we all need to understand that. The follow message is only speaking from my lens and experience.
The last couple of weeks have been triggering and have brought up a lot of feelings and energy from the past. Which I believe it has for many of black people. It has brought up my feelings growing up back home in Michigan. The feeling of not being seen as a black person and not being black enough among various groups, people, friends and dare I say even family. However, my parents never made me forget my amazingness as a Black woman. The dichotomy of the nature of all those things, has molded me into who I am. But the racism endured and the being told I wasn’t being Black enough, plays a part in some of the hesitancy I often feel when I speak. When I use my platform. When I make noise.
It is an interesting feeling scrolling through my social media feeds during this time and seeing people from my childhood and college years views on what is going on in the country. Some of it makes me uncomfortable, angry, sad and some of it makes me smile. Some, just silent. What makes it wild, is I can almost replay incidents, events, feelings in my life with each of them. That is triggering. Then to have some of those very people reach out to me to check-in and see how I am doing. Equally as triggering. Though the intent is nice, and the gesture is appreciative. It still makes me feel some kind of way.
My experience with racism is all tied into the feelings growing up being told I wasn’t Black enough, because in the end, those experience told me I wasn’t enough, that I didn’t matter, that my voice and my presence didn’t matter as a Black woman, a Black person. The words and action one say’s to someone, affects them in ways you don’t know.
Through the years I have learned how to cope and find my voice. It is often what I speak about in my trainings/speaking events and when I manage youth and young people. The importance of finding your voice to be an effective leader and HOW you got there. Mine unfortunately, came out of trauma and being silence for so long. It wasn’t until my mid to late teens, early 20s I started understanding what that meant. What that meant navigating my voice in predominantly Black spaces and navigating my voice in white spaces. Which often were around my work, social settings and friend groups. The fact that I even had to navigate spaces is something many of my white counterparts do not have to manage nor think about.
Just for clarity, in my opinion. Your voice is not only your audible voice, but it is your actions connected to that. For example, my friends and I use to make birthday videos for our friends. There were often times I did not participate because of the created content was borderline prejudice/racist. I revisited some of these videos about a month ago and cringed. My choice not to participate in some of our sketches was mainly because of the idea circulating it. When I would say something, I was of course gaslit and met with “Oh, it won’t be that bad and (insert friend name) won’t care! It’s all a joke”, “That’s not racist” or “They didn’t mean that” or “It’s all out jest!”. So why keep saying something if no one actually cares what you have to say? Or choose to see the problem with what we were doing at the time. You shut down, you become silent, you have been silenced. When I would say something, I was “to upset” “angry” “Jessica is in one of her moods”, the list goes on. Stereotypes that often come with being a black woman. While my white female counterparts would get met with being listened to, or understood, or willing to make said change within what we were trying to accomplish. I was never in a ‘mood’ by the way, I become in a ‘mood’ when I didn’t feel heard.
The hurt and doubt I feel for not being seen or heard for who I am has been with me for some time. But this is the effect of systemic racism and covert racism. That now as an adult and creeping towards my 40s, it has manifest in different ways. It’s a feeling I have every time I have public speaking gig, send an e-mail to work about something important, post on my social media, audition for shows, even dating! To the eye, I am confident. I mean, I am confident. However, what’s not seen is the inner work I have to do to get to where I am as a person on this earth, or that I am actually dying inside before I sit at the table or step onto my platform and use it. Or, I am just a true Pisces at its core, lol. Which is also true. But to get to where I am, I have to do some extra work and work that I still do till’ this day. The power of Therapy is real!
To reiterate, I am a confident person, talented etc, but know the work it had to take and trauma and experiences it had to derive from.. I literally just had a friend text me the other day “I don’t think you give yourself credit for what you bring to the table”. and the reality and hard truth, is that, I don’t. I have never had because of years from not being heard and not knowing the power of my voice or my presence or being told it even matter. It wasn’t until my mid 20s and I started developing new friendships with people who understood me. More importantly who understood me as a Black woman. There lies where I learned about the importance of safe spaces, even within your friend and acquaintance groups. That also started my journey in understanding I deserve to have a seat at the table.
I am black. I am proud to be black. I am very pro-black and that was instilled in me for much through my childhood. At a young age, I was reading up on Maya Angelou and all her poems. She was the only reason I wanted to be a poet. Clearly, I am not a poet, lol. However, I do enjoy writing personal essays. Being dressed in African garment, because that’s my mom, lol. I was so embarrassed by it! Why amplify my blackness, when it was already being muted? Those ideals changed quickly. Learning about the African Diaspora because my mom didn’t want us to forget where we came from, and black history in general. My first black authors I read and introduce to was Toni Morrison and April Sinclair. I never questioned my blackness…however the people closest to me did. Probably because I listened too Nirvana, and wore Etnies, and went to basement punk concerts, even at a young age I didn’t understand why that define my blackness. Or that I talked "white". As if the timbre and sound of my voice doesn't have the privilege to fit this black body.
I hope that during this time of finding your voice. That you are finding it for good. I hope your actions during this time is for good and that it’s to dismantle racism, so that young black children can find their voice way quicker than I have did. I hope white people with this newfound wokeness, you have acquired doesn’t stop. This energy for equality and activism, doesn’t stop. You do the work, self-educate, etc you heard it all. This isn’t about just being a good “ally” this is about a lifestyle shift. A shift to be an accomplice in this fight. I hope you open your mind and start to embrace the different spectrum of blackness, of beauty, shades, genders, and sexuality, we hold. Black lives matter to all those who walk in Black skin.
As you continue to find your voice during this time. Know that it comes with choices and consequences. Most importantly it comes with time as long as you are doing the work to get to where you need to be. To get to where this country needs and must be.
For me, I am grateful and blessed for who I am now. Though racism isn't gone, I spend my time using my voice to fight injustice, advocating for black and brown people, advocating for youth. I use my voice to sing songs and to entertain. I use my voice to teach and coach people. I use my voice to let people know I am here for them and that I love them. I use my voice to to scream pain, to laugh, and to spread joy. Though not perfect, because growth as a person should never stop. I continue to find ways to make noise. to take up space. To finally say..I am here and I deserve to be here.
To whoever is reading this, Take what you will from it. Go forth with your new found understanding of the world.