i have a confession…

20 Jan

last night i was reading an essay by audre lorde in sister outsider, called “eye to eye: black women, hatred, and anger.”  this must have been the 3rd time i read this essay, but for some reason i was reading it with different eyes last night (and who knows, i was in so much pain and it may have been the prescribed codeine).  what follows is everything i wrote after finishing.  i wrote it all in one breath. and when i finished, it made enough sense to me (and it means enough to me ) to post.  i wrote it to my fellow black women…

“i was never meant to be alone without you who understand.”

i have been harboring emotions i still do not fully understand yet.  and i have a confession.  i am scared to be myself.  the self who is me as a black woman.  i was young when i figured out that in order to be tolerable as a human, i had to contain (read: silence) whatever (or whoever) i am as a black person and as a black female.  this was  true as a friend to mostly white children of white parents, and as a student of schools where my “blackness” and my “black femaleness” was not particularly valued, but more often admonished and “corrected.”   discipline, you might call it.  but it has always felt more like suppression.  i believe that i was trained by hate to want to be something other than black and female.  and i grew up fearing that if i identified with my black femaleness, i would be claiming everything the world despises about black women.  i would be reduced to the least of what i was.  i did not want to be loathed, or to feel inferior.  as audre lorde writes in “eye to eye,” in most spaces black women are only allowed to be our skin color and our hair, our non-white female features, “and those things were clearly not acceptable as human.”  and if black women had any human quality, she appeared as an asexual feminist or mammy.  or she was a gold-digging, hypersexual video girl.  and i didn’t want to be her.  or only her.

this is what it means to ingest hate.  and when you metabolize hatred, your relations with the rest of the world carry the burden of the “negative passion and intensity of its by-products.”  for me the most salient by-product has been silence.  and isolation.  before recently, i rarely spoke as a black female.  it has always been easier to hardly acknowledge her existence – unless offended.  as an adolescent, instead of befriending little black girls who were never crazy about the idea of being a friend to me, and who used the language of hate to describe me (too white) and themselves (too black), i chose to withdraw myself.  and instead of building meaningful relationships with those who might best understand my black femaleness, i nurtured superficial friendships and associations with white girls, and a few non-threatening black faces.  but each relationship has been tainted with a necessary, vigilant distance.  i do believe that i have had the opportunity to foster meaningful relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.  yet a part of me feels that few could ever realize the true potential of what it means for me to build with another black woman.  (i feel uncomfortable saying that, but i think it might be true.)

finally, at 25, as i am acquiring the language to describe my experiences, i am beginning to own my black womanhood.  but the damage has already been done.  i still have not fully accepted myself.  and i fear that my efforts to help young people build consciousness and esteem as it concerns their identities is limited by my own shortcomings.  at times, in certain places, i still feel like i can only be part of me.  i walk on egg shells, because if i slip i will get cut.  if i slip, i risk being named some distorted moniker for my black female existence.  i feel comfortable only being a particular type of black female, or i risk a perverted name for my black femininity.  i have been doing everything in my power not to be who they say we are.  i have been doing everything in my power not to be you, because you remind me of myself.  something is seriously wrong here.  for in deconstructing stereotypes, and racism and sexism, instead of resisting you, i should be resisting them.  i should be naming myself.

my assault against hate and the uncomfortable place it has reserved for me has been my rejection of you – of us.  i have been running from you.  and in doing so i hoped to escape not only your violence and our association, but myself.  turns out, the injury is the same and i got hurt anyway.   in “eye to eye,” lorde writes to us, “all your faults become magnified reflections of my own threatening inadequacies.  i must attack you first, before our enemies confuse us with each other.”  but, as lorde explains, these defense tactics are misguided.  i targeted the wrong enemy.  and i not only need to redirect my struggle against something else, i need new weapons.  clearly silence is killing me more than it is solving any problem.

i have been hurt way too much, and all i ever desired was your acceptance.  your friendship, your support.  your validation.  because i have always known that while others can offer me their kindness and understanding, conversation and friendship, even their solidarity, they live on the “better” side of a system that privileges some over others, in a world where hate is still profoundly present.  that is an uncomfortable truth.   still, everyone has been reared in this hate.  we haven’t “survived” untouched.  this is also uncomfortable.  we all have work to do.  i know that in order to love you, i must love myself first.  the ironic part about this is that in order to love myself, i must learn to you love as well.  i must acknowledge those parts of me the world has tried to annihilate and distort.  treat them tenderly, so i may treat you that way.  lorde writes, “if we can learn to give ourselves the recognition and acceptance that we have come to expect only form our mommas, black women will be able to see each other much more clearly and deal with each other much more directly.”

distance has allowed me to paint an illusion of you and me that “makes me less you, and you less me.”  but i no longer want to hold onto that portrait.  it is not only mythical, it is useless, and destructive.  i no longer want to pretend that you don’t hurt me.  and that i don’t need you.  i have another confession:  one of my deepest desires is to be connected with/to you.  silence and separation are killing me.  i have been carrying the weight of hate on my own.  and i hear anger in my voice when i speak sometimes (some people confuse it with fervor and “passion,” but i know what it is).  i have been suffering this black female “thing” in tortuous solitude.  and there is a certain love i need, which only you can offer me.  “i was never meant to be alone without you who understand.”  i need you.

(artwork by michael anthony brown)

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7 Responses to “i have a confession…”

  1. JD February 3, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    i get it.

  2. Nick Vittum February 3, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    There are certain types of spiritual processes that require a witness— someone who will see, hear, feel, accept, without judgment, without the need for comment, without anything at all except to “hold the space,” while you experience wht you need to experience.

    I am white, I am midde aged, I am male. And yet some way, I would “hold the space” for you. In humility, in honor of your pain, your courage, your need. If I knew how, I would do more.

    • patrice berry February 8, 2010 at 11:00 am #

      i am grateful not only for your presence here, but for your willingness to respond. you could very easily pass by and i would never know – that you took the time to share means a lot to me. if you do nothing else, that has been more than enough. thank you.

  3. vintage__t February 10, 2010 at 2:56 am #

    the first time i was “present” to ur intellect, i felt on a soulful level the oneness Pearl Cleage describes in her essay about the Amazon women. i don’t even remember the conversation we (the get-a-long gang) were having but i remember feeling my soul jump in agreement as you insightfully spoke from a “black femaleness” consciousness (4give the cumbersome phrasing) that resonated that deeply with me.

    concisely articulating the intuitive relm of “black femaleness” takes careful reflection and hard work. i not only commend ur efforts, having (soulfully) experienced ur level of consciousness, i welcome the opportunity to heal/build/go deep with u…i need u2!!

    • patrice berry February 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

      (for some reason, i thought i responded to this already – my bad)

      the process of getting to that piece was definitely more difficult than actually writing it. i’ve felt that way for a long time, but apparently i was trying to write before i was ready…

      im glad you’re with me 🙂 that feels good, seriously. JD, you too. and it means even more that you took the time to share that with me. much love to you.

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