It’s Not Insecurity; It’s Society...and Sometimes That's You
My mom loves to tell the story of when she learned I could write. She tells people that she sat down with me one day with a pencil and paper and showed me how to write my name. When she asked if I thought I could do it, I said, “sure,” took the pencil and wrote my name. It wasn’t great handwriting but it was legible enough and I had no doubt in my mind that I could do it. To this day, she doesn’t credit herself with teaching me how to use a pencil or write my name. She credits my absolute certainty in myself and my capabilities.
Until I started going to school, I navigated the world with that same confidence. If someone showed me something, I had no doubt I could do it, eventually. It may take practice, but I was fine with that. But I never doubted that if I wanted to do something badly enough, eventually I could do it. I routinely got into competitions with boys proving time and time again that I was skilled enough to play the same games they played, use the same toys they used. I demanded a dirt bike to do stunts with the other kids. When I saw 10-speed bikes were faster, I fought for one of those because I wanted to be the fastest when we raced. I didn’t understand why people thought I couldn’t do the same things the boys were doing, I just knew they were wrong.
It was the same with school. When I entered school, I already knew many of the skills being taught. I could read, write, and process information. What I didn’t know was the actual information – the whys of things. I also learned that adults don’t like being asked why, especially white adults being asked by a little Black girl.
I couldn’t understand why I’d be punished for asking questions. I didn’t understand why some kids could get away with things and others could not. I didn’t understand why I was denied access to the same computers and electronics the white male students used without objection. I couldn’t figure out why my work was scrutinized and questioned for being correct, while others were praised.
When I grew breasts, I was taught that I couldn’t do the same things boys were doing anymore. When I was around white people, I was taught that I wasn’t as smart or as capable as them. I left my home and walked into the world with absolute confidence in myself and year after year, the world gave me excuses as to why that could not be true. And eventually, I started believing it.
I went to school knowing I was a good kid but learned that I was only good if I stayed quiet and only did what I was told. Then I was penalized for not trying harder and doing more…as long as it was done quietly and “respectfully”. I’ve been threatened with suspension simply for questioning my teacher’s decision. I was the only Black person in many of my classes from 7th grade until graduation, with students whose parents lived in neighborhoods that forbid Black families from living in them. Thinking about my teen years is often so emotionally painful that the idea of thinking about it makes me start to cry. It was a time of constantly being challenged for daring to exist as I am, yet so oppressive that I remember opting out of virtually everything from which I wasn’t excluded from participating. Where, despite being a straight-A honors student, I was deterred from applying to any “good schools” because I was aiming too high.
These early lessons were only reinforced the more independently I engaged with the world. “Black people don’t do this.” “Women don’t do that.” “Black women especially shouldn’t be doing that.” I was “counseled” and “educated” on my proper role by complete strangers, arbitrarily enforced rules, and constant surveillance by my peers. Everything from how I dressed to what I ate and how I wore my hair was up for criticism and counsel. The only way for me to function was to distrust everyone and tell myself that I’m weird and fucked up and didn’t need to be around anyone. Because my other option to being painfully reminded how I wasn’t shit was to kill myself and I didn’t like that option.
Then a friend introduced me to comic conventions and I found a whole new world of creativity and bullshit. I quickly learned how Blackness was othered in that space. Recognizable characters were rendered the Black version, if recognized at all. But by that time, I was kind of used to existing on the margins and wasn’t deterred. When the popularity of cosplay exploded, I was again reminded of the societal hierarchies and that I was somewhere near the bottom of that hierarchy.
I watched approved bodies, skin colors, and beauty aesthetics simultaneously punished and rewarded, as is the way of racist, patriarchal, cis-het, capitalism. I watched as geek culture, a supposed counter-culture to mainstream culture, fight to maintain the same hierarchies as mainstream culture. I watched marginalized and oppressed groups fight back. And I watched white people fight for their right to maintain racist power dynamics and men fight for their right to maintain patriarchal power dynamics. I watched disability be sneered and fat bodies be ostracized, ridiculed, or fetishized.
I watch as people fight for the right to be oppressors instead of the oppressed and realize that’s why none of this shit changes. And the worst part is how we, as a society, blame victims of oppression for the oppression they are fighting to change. The oppression they have to fight to change because if it doesn’t, it means they don’t have the right to exist.
It’s when I’m told that I shouldn’t do cosplay unless I lose weight because fat cosplayers promote obesity. That saying I have the right to be fat without criticism and shame means that I’m being harmful.
It’s when I’m told that talking about colorism and thin privilege are just excuses for my own feelings of inadequacy instead of social norms that allow people to ignore, abuse, and kill people who are “too dark” or “too fat.”
It’s when Trans people speak of their truncated life expectancy and are told that if they just “acted normal” then they wouldn’t have these problems.
It’s when my depression at the realization of reality and my constant battles are reduced to me being a “difficult person who can only see the negative.”
As a culture, people who benefit from their privilege are highly invested in silencing anyone who threatens it, and psychological warfare is much more difficult to prove than physical assault. Ask any Black woman whose word was in question the moment she resisted some man or white person in her life. We are damned regardless of whether we “lean in” and when we don’t speak, we’re told that it can’t be as bad as it is otherwise more people would talk about it.
We see how well that worked with racism. So, no. It’s not me. It’s you. It’s been you. It continues to be you. It’s so fucking common that I don’t have to do shit before being labeled a problem. And I am not alone in dealing with this shit just like you’re not alone in perpetuating it.
So, here’s what you’re going to do. You are going to spend time reflecting on your role in maintaining oppressive systems. You are going to think about the people you know in a marginalized group and reflect on how you’ve contributed to that silence.
Were you dismissive of their concerns?
Did you undermine their ideas?
Did you accuse them of having a bad attitude?
Did you touch them without their permission?
Did you assume an intimacy with them that didn’t exist?
Did you “translate” for them (i.e. reframe their words in a way that was more palatable for you)?
Did you think they lacked expertise or knowledge about the topic?
Did you feel the need to second guess their work?
Did you ever actually listen to what they had to say?
Did you feel defensive and start defending yourself?
Because the reality of living in a marginalized group is constant gaslighting, constant challenge, constant accusations of lying or misunderstanding situations until you realize that defending yourself from normalized toxicity is another form of toxicity. You start limiting contact with people and avoiding situations where you will find yourself attacked and abused in the name of “fun.” When thy intentionally fuck with you and you respond, you’re the crybaby, the one with the shitty sense of humor who can’t take a joke. You aren’t allowed to acknowledge the abuse; it’s your job to accept it with a smile, confirming that they aren’t doing anything wrong.
It’s not funny. You are not a problem. You are allowed to push back when people attack you. And no, white people – calling you racist isn’t an attack; it’s reality. Informing you that you’ve done something racist is a response to your racist shit, not an attack on your person. Same with you men – calling something you did sexist is informing you of how you are opting-in on abuse. It’s not attacking you.
When you say and do racist, sexist, transphobic, ableist, xenophobic shit, you are the one attacking other people. YOU! YOU are the one being abusive. YOU are the problem. And being defensive about it, especially without thinking about what you did, is also abusive. You are the problem.
So, shut the fuck up and think about what you’re doing and research how to fix it. Start reading Black feminist literature and thinking about the world from more perspectives than just your own. Accept that you are ignorant about this shit, because you’ve probably never been challenged about it. Then start reflecting on how shitty you’ve been throughout your life and THEN you can start dismantling your shitty beliefs and subsequent behaviors.
Stop lying to yourself about your assumed goodness and accept you’ve been shitty all your life. Then start fucking fixing it. This ain’t your world - it’s OUR world and improving it starts with improving you.