Getting My Free
In 2015, I decided to start telling my story. I wasn’t 100% sure that I would, but I figured it couldn’t be worse than what I was seeing out there. Not to mention, I was having issues in my relationship and I wanted to see if anyone else was having the same issues. What I discovered is that if they were, they weren’t writing about it. That was when I knew I had to, because I couldn’t be the only one.
And I was right. I wasn’t the only one living this story, but I learned that my experience was important because too many Black people were being dishonest about what it meant to be in an interracial relationship. I’m not saying everyone is lying. I don’t know that. But in this completely racialized environment, I could not believe that Black people were in intimate relationships with white or non-Black partners and never talking about race. I don’t even know how that’s fucking possible. But I did learn that the way I discuss it is unique and unheard, and that like the many stories I read from other people, I had something that needed to be shared.
Because to this day, I don’t see myself in those stories and now I no longer try.
Instead, I tell the story of the little Black girl who was told she talked too much. The little Black girl who was told that she treated adults like her peers because she struggled to see them as anything but that. I tell the story of the Black womxn who knows what it’s like to be told they are too much. To have their every mistake be used as proof that they didn’t belong and as an opportunity for others to tell them that they weren’t welcome or wanted. I tell the story of a life that has been nothing but a proving ground of humanity and welcome. I tell the story of a Black womxn who has been told that she doesn’t deserve to exist yet finds ways to exist and excel anyway.
I tell the story of a Black womxn who believed the lies that she was underqualified, unintelligent, inept and incapable because that was an inherent facet of her people, Black people. I share the story of someone who, to this day has her wins diminished and discarded, declared a fluke, or co-opted by people deemed worth hearing by those who cannot believe that someone who looks like me could have anything worthwhile to say. Because no matter how hard I work and how much I accomplish, when I succeed, everyone looks for someone else to credit with my work.
I know what it is to not believe in myself because for a long time everyone told me why I shouldn’t. Even now, I fight the urge to numb myself to the casual, habitual slights, the multiple times people speak over me, use my ideas without credit, accuse me of being difficult and negative for troubleshooting, and then try to push me out of the community I’ve been living in and helping build for years. If I fought back every time I experienced this, I’d have a stroke. Between work and play, I have tried to fight this and been fired for being ambitious, too knowledgeable, not friendly, too independent, too inquisitive, too proud, or any myriad of things that makes white people and men less sure of themselves. Regardless of whether I fight or not, this environment is harmful and I know this because I was diagnosed with high blood pressure at 28, completely changed my lifestyle for years and still had high blood pressure. Ad to that an unstable career trajectory, and an increasingly hostile and violent environment and you have the perfect recipe for chronic stress. And it shows.
It’s taken years, and it’s still a daily fight, but now, instead of focusing on fighting the powers that be, I fight to live the life that I want. Once I accepted that I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t, I’ve finally reached a place where I give a lot less of a fuck about it. I got too much shit I want to do and I now know that I don’t need anyone’s permission to do it.
I’ve learned to see the subtle manipulations of people around me. The not so subtle power plays to reassert their perceived dominance. The hints that while I may have created, organized, and curated something, that someone else actually holds the power. I’ve experienced the constant hints that I am the problem with everything, regardless of the fact that my track record says otherwise. I’ve accepted that living my life and owning my work is a problem for some folks and I have decided not to make their issues with me into my personal problem. Cuz it’s not.
Despite knowing all that, despite knowing that I’m not hurting anyone or doing anything wrong, I still find myself being disparaged by others and it hurts. Even though I know they are full of shit. Even though I know they resent and rejected the boundaries I set until we couldn’t work together anymore. Even though I know they can’t really touch me, I still live with this dread that they will somehow wreck my shit. I know that to a certain extent, they want to hurt me and even knowing that, it still fucking hurts. That is the wonder and the bullshit of being human – you get the good and the bad and sometimes it happens at the same damn time. And all I can do is experience it and keep moving forward.
The worst part is the doubt it fuels for the part of me that sometimes doubts myself. The part of me that wonders if I am actually the problem. I find myself spinning my wheels about all my choices because I’m too worried about accidentally proving someone who is a known enemy to be right. And I keep learning that it’s a waste of my fucking time.
This is the inherent danger of gaslighting. It’s the distrust it sows in oneself. It’s the way we start to undermine ourselves and wonder if we are the cause of our problems. It’s the way it has us replaying the same scenarios in our heads as we try to figure out our fault in it. And that’s not to say that we don’t have a role, but we are not responsible for people being terrible to us. That is their choice.
I’m not perfect. I fuck up a lot. I think about what I say and do, and I examine my motivations for doing it. When I lash out, and sometimes I do lash out, I examine what caused that response and if I’m wrong, I apologize.
But often I’m not wrong. My response may not have been constructive, but my feelings, my emotional response was dead on and I have enough years of experience dealing with people to know I can trust myself. I’m open to new information that may change my perspective, cuz that’s what information does…it provides more or different context. And, again, if I’m wrong, I’ll own that. But many times, over the past few years, I haven’t been wrong…I’ve been gaslit. And that shit doesn’t fly with me anymore.
It’s a challenging path to walk. It’s an isolating path to walk. But I do it because it’s the right path for me to walk. And now my goal is to find people interested in walking a similar path lined with mutual respect, honesty, and growth. I want to meet and work with people who want to create too and find things we can collaborate on creating. I want to find people interested in being my peers and working as a collective, not a collaborative. I want our individuality to shine both together and separately. But I sure as fuck don’t want to be on anyone’s team because teams share an identity while collectives build strength from their individuality. I want to come work on your project in the way that suits you best and invite you to work on mine. I want us all to lead because there is room for all of our different visions.
We don’t need dominance games. We don’t need to undermine each other. We don’t need to all agree on everything. But we do need to agree to respect one another and each other’s boundaries. We need to be autonomous and harmonious. We need to be free.
I don’t know if this is realistic. We live in a society that teaches us there can only be one leader and that to get ahead, we have to step on someone. That’s not how I want to live and that is not how I choose to live. I think there can be a better society and better ways to work both alongside each other and with one another without recreating the same toxic hierarchies we’re fighting. I don’t know exactly how to get there, but I refuse to incorporate that shit into any plan I make or story I write. At least, not intentionally.
Just because I exist in this system doesn’t mean I have to willingly support it or recreate it. We can push back. We can fight. We can decide to do it differently. So rather than try to convince me that I have to learn how to compromise myself to fit in with this toxic broken shit, we spend that energy making better shit with different rules. How about instead of trying to make me fit, we make shit that works for us all. And yes, that means giving up the tiny bit of power you think you have over someone else. Yes, that means making space for more than just you. Yes, that means being creative and inventive and ambitious in ways that destroy current systems and hierarchies. And yes, it’s gonna fucking hurt.
I’m not interested in learning to play nice with my oppressors. And if you are, that means I’m not interested in playing nice with you. It’s time for a new game assholes and if your goal is to win the old game, you’re not fucking invited.
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