For the most part, my family laughs a lot and we love hard.
We crack jokes constantly and we are extremely loyal.
We have a rich, complex history and we take pride in who we are.
We stay connected through technology and make best efforts to see one another as much as possible for being spread across the country.
But with all that said, I still find that sometimes we don’t *really* know one another. As with any family there are secrets and there is hidden pain; there are the people and the lives that we think we know and then there are the people and the lives that are purposely hidden from our view.
And without making broad stroked generalities, I find that often to be true about the black (and more generally, people of color) emotional experience: it is often hidden from the view of the world, the view of friends and family and most painfully, the view from ourselves.
This is not to say that non-people of color (i.e: white) don’t have this experience as well since being disconnected and out of touch with our own internal states is not contained to certain races; it is a very prominent and rampant human phenomenon especially in this current day and age when we we can hide behind the sometimes misleading images and updates of social media.
This was not written to minimize others’ experiences because we are all working our way through this thing called life, but this is focused on the black emotional experience because it’s one that I find is not talked about nearly often enough.
And why is that? Why is it not talked about? Why are we (and once again this does not pertain to EVERY black experience) so comfortable with cracking jokes, having fun and keeping things “100” and so uncomfortable with discussing what’s really going on with us?
I can’t say I really know the absolute truth to those questions but I like to believe it has something to do with the fact that historically the black experience has been shafted, minimized, unrecognized or just flat out ignored. History has told us that our experience does not matter, our emotions do not matter and our lives do not matter and that history is still very much alive in the context of today’s society and within our present day selves.
I believe that the fear of being seen as weak runs deep in our blood from the days of our ancestors when being seen as weak could literally cost us our life or the lives of the ones we loved. Historically we had to work so much harder than the white population (and still often do) so while we may have been in deep physical and emotional pain, tears and discussions of our emotions were not always a priority when survival was far more pressing.
Today our landscape is different. I’m not going to say that we are not in danger like our ancestors because if we weren’t, “Black Lives Matter” would not even be a thing and we wouldn’t see black men and women being carelessly slain/assassinated across our TVs and social media.
But we have progressed. We have moved forward in leaps and bounds despite the odds that are sometimes stacked against us. We are successful. We are proud. We are strong.
……...But many of us have not moved forward emotionally. The pain of our ancestors is quite literally still running through the blood in our veins. We have not yet broken the cycle and so we continue to live our lives partially hidden. We laugh and joke and try to ignore that heaviness in our heart; that sinking feeling in our stomach; the anxiety that keeps us up at night.
We do not speak of anxiety or depression because it is deemed as weak and yet mental illness is as prominent as ever; its prominence continuously kept alive due to the fact that it is so often suppressed. The shame and secrecy surrounding it keeps it stored deep inside of our cells allowing it to replay over and over again throughout our various lineages and lifetimes. It has no place to go; no outlet for healing; no way to be released (This was a strong contribution to my own breakdown I experienced in 2012).
And so we often suffer in silence only letting a few, if any, know our truth; know what’s really going on with us. We may have all of the success of the material world but our inner worlds are often a mess. We may have all the money we could desire, a great job, friends who love us but what does that really mean if we don’t know ourselves? If we don’t allow others to know us? No, not the facade that we put out into the world and on social media but the real us?
Until we learn to break this pattern of hiding, shame and secrecy around the black emotional experience, it will continue to live on. We will continue to live our lives not fully self-expressed, fruitlessly trying to mask or fill a void that can only be filled by the willingness to be vulnerable with ourselves and with others…...and we will continue to pass it on from generation to generation.
So what does it mean to heal? What will it mean for us to break this pattern?
To start, it doesn’t mean we must air “our dirty laundry” to anyone who will listen to us. Nor does it mean we go around confronting and yelling at anyone who we believe has wronged us.
It does mean that we begin to stop and actually take stock of how we feel (a novel concept for some of us); it means breaking our habitual pattern of suppression and denial as I believe it often manifests itself physically in the many diseases that plague us; it means allowing ourselves to feel whatever it is we need to feel and not making ourselves wrong for feeling it; it means giving ourselves permission to cry, to ask for help, to reach out, to let someone into our worlds.
It means owning our shit. It means stopping the stories that habitually run our lives. It means taking responsibility for ourselves and learning to validate our experiences as we cannot expect others or the world to do that for us. We are often our own worst enemies and expect ourselves to be “stronger than that.” What if we redefined what “being strong” meant? What if we had it mean having the strength to know and accept ourselves exactly as we are in any given moment in time?
And you know what? It means validating others. It means giving them the same acceptance that we want for ourselves. So often we judge others for the same shit that we have not accepted within ourselves and so we continue the cycle; the cycle of judgement, resentment, suppression and denial.
This is not where our healing lies; it rests solely in the realm of vulnerability and acceptance.
So let us have the courage to take these steps; let us have the courage to break these cycles. Let us give ourselves the gift of healing and the gift of a life fully lived, fully loved and fully expressed and let’s have THAT be the new pattern not only for ourselves but for the generations to come.
Although this is geared towards the black experience, let this ring true for all of us. Let us all take these steps and begin to set a new standard for our existence: a standard of pure love.