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A Reminder For Black Women: You Don't Owe The World A Damn Thing

Black women owe no explanations for blocking, muting, restricting, and reporting anyone that threatens the sanctity of the spaces you carve out for yourself.

TW/CW: racism, sexism, misogynoir, eating disorders, mental illness, r/pe

By Adrie Rose

I haven’t been kicked out of anything in years. I haven’t been told not to come back to a place since I was 14 and I was charged with shoplifting a pair of earrings from Claire’s (I didn’t do it, even though I absolutely should have since they accused me of it, but I was still banned from that mall for a year). I haven’t been told, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t welcome in a place since I was pre-pubescent and barely cognizant of exactly what visible Blackness means in a world that punishes non-whiteness and femininity. Until now. At 26 years old, as a graduate student and a fully grown adult, I’ve been barred entry to a program with a distinct lack of Black faces, Black women, and non-white leadership.

The Inside/Out program, which exists to make “community policing” and community engagement a norm in police education before officers are sworn in, is something of a bittersweet experience for me. Mostly bitter (because: cops), but still sweet in turns. Having lost 15-odd years with my father because of prison, I always feel some impotent rage at being in or near any “correctional institution.”  But the opportunity to speak with, work with, and amplify the voices of prisoners silenced through physical, emotional, and psychological violence is not one that I can pass up with a clean conscience. So when a career Detective and relative newcomer to the Inside/Out program takes such offence with the chosen mission that he takes it upon himself to either have me removed or have the program eliminated altogether, I am at a loss.

I want to cry for the loss of access to men who don’t see or interact with people that share their life experiences and skin colour unless they also share a uniform and a system of dehumanisation. I want to rage at being forced to break a promise to return to hear these men out, giving them the space to be human and flawed without fear of judgement or retribution. I am confused at how my recounting of an experience with two police officers—who, when I was being stalked by a pimp, let me know they would only do their job if I allowed them to “run a train” on me—created such ire in a self-proclaimed “good one” that he would jeopardise the entire program’s existence. I am stunned by the visceral opposition to my statement that community policing doesn’t work when the police don’t acknowledge the very real and very valid fears in the communities they police. I am incensed by a refusal to understand that choosing to wear a uniform soaked in the blood, sweat, and tears of beaten down and murdered bodies comes with an inherent responsibility to carry the weight of that uniform’s history alongside a gun, night-stick, badge, taser, and mace. 

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But mostly, I am exhausted. I’m tired. And I think that I’m not alone in my exhaustion. I think that many Black women across the world are tired of being forced to shoulder the twin burdens of Blackness and femininity with none of the protections provided by perceived masculinity or whiteness. When your Blackness is conflated with inherent aggression, violence, illiteracy, ignorance, and ugliness, whatever femininity you may have is cancelled out. When your femininity is considered inherently tied to irrationality, inability to lead, emotional instability, and innate weakness, the assumed and oft-proclaimed “magic” and power of Blackness disappears. We are universally hated, derided, denigrated, used, and cast aside. We are walking contradictions—too frail, yet too strong and too loud, yet too unheard. We are insignificant yet crucial to the survival of Black men and democracy alike. We are necessary for the survival of men like Terry Crews who see no need for our input if we are not in perfect alignment with the continuation of the same hypermasculine, patriarchal rule of law he both upholds and represents.

I’m really fucking tired of being tired, so I’ve decided to stop. I’m not arguing with anyone else online. I’m not answering combative emails and DMs that don’t have a receipt or screenshot of prior payment attached. I’m not apologising to anymore weak-chinned, slack-jawed men with something to prove. And I’m telling you, other Black women, that you can do that too. You don’t owe anyone your righteous rage or your passive silence. You don’t owe anyone your approval—quiet or loud. You don’t owe anyone a goddamned thing. You’re allowed to be angry. You’re allowed to be vulgar and loud. You’re allowed to laugh at and boo ridiculous neoliberal politicians trying to sell you capitalist white supremacy disguised as female empowerment. You’re allowed to call out Black men that throw you under the bus to protect their own paycheques after using you to save their careers. 

Black women, you are allowed to be human and imperfect. You’re allowed to have and talk about your eating disorders whether they’re characterised by starvation, purging, or overeating. You’re allowed to hate exercise and love your body despite an outdated, outmoded, completely unscientific measurement that tells you to shrink yourself. You’re allowed to hate the white commodification of the same features you’ve been forced to hide and cover up. You have the god-given right to wear your hair however the fuck you want whether it grows towards the ground or the sky. You have the inalienable right to trade sex for money, housing, food, and drugs in a society that would rather watch you starve and waste away than provide you the basic fucking necessities for survival despite taking your labour and your life for granted. You are absolutely allowed to remove any foreign body from your own should it pose a hindrance or a threat to your wellbeing—be it physical, mental, or emotional.

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You deserve peace. You deserve happiness. You deserve safety. You deserve love. You deserve the same confidence of Megan Thee Stallion. You deserve the same vulnerability as Ari Lennox. You deserve the human frailty of Rico Nasty. You deserve to love yourself with the unwavering ferocity of Lizzo. You deserve to see yourself in Jackie Aina, Lolly Adefope, Viola Davis, and Alfre Woodard. You deserve the joy of being Black and carefree. You deserve the safety and security of knowing that you don’t have to look and pass like Laverne Cox, Angelica Ross, or Janet Mock to have your identity validated. You deserve joy in the morning, afternoon, and at night. 

And you deserve to say you’ve had enough. You are allowed to say “no” because no is a complete sentence. You have the right to set boundaries. You have the right to protect yourself. You owe no explanations for blocking, muting, restricting, and reporting anyone that threatens the sanctity of the spaces you carve out for yourself. You deserve to fight and you deserve rest. You can take breaks for five minutes or five years. You can remove yourself from situations and relationships that threaten your health and your sanity. You can seek out and restrict access to spaces that affirm your Blackness and/or your femme identity without feeling obligated to allow the first Karen or Kaleb who cries inside. You are allowed to fill your life with friends and pets and artwork and anything else that allows you to thrive.

Your identity is not up for debate. Your boundaries are not open to negotiation. You are not required to qualify your choice to keep yourself safe, sane, and happy. You are not obligated to defend your choice to avoid dating, children, marriage, and formal education. You are enough. In all of your mistakes, accidents, missteps, faux pas, and genuine regrets… you are more than enough. And in being enough, as you already are, you owe it to yourself to only do that which fulfills you. Disconnect yourself from social media, unequal relationships, unnecessary guilt, stigmas about your body and your health, and anyone that threatens your peace. This year, beginning now, I’m taking the best care of me, and you need no one’s permission to do the same.

Adrie, Sociology student, book hoarder, and mother to Oscar (5) and Misty (15). I believe in the power of the glitter accent nail, sex workers, and black people.

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