Election day was complete chaos in New York City. No one could focus because all day was spent on edge, refreshing social media, and being hyper aware of our surroundings. I became physically sick from anxiety, thinking about the possibility of what could happen in the next 24 hours. When I awoke the next day, paralyzed with fear to check my phone, it was like a switch went off. I immediately went into survival mode. I didn’t care about protesting, I didn’t care about writing long social media posts, I didn’t even care to cry or scream in fear, anger, and pain. My mind immediately rewired itself to do what I have to do to survive. I felt like this was the moment for the country to prove itself as the Promised Land it claims itself to be…and it failed. My mom always told me, when people show you who they are, believe them. America showed who it is this year.
I grew up in the small town of Medical Lake, Washington. A town so small, there isn’t a stop light within the city limits. I was raised by a low-income, single mother, in a place where I was different, and Medical Lake loved to remind me how different I was. Growing up in a predominantly White, middle-class town where most of the girls around me looked like Taylor Swift and idolized her just as much, every single inch of me didn’t fit in. I forced myself to be like everyone else around me. To count my calories carefully, to bleach and straighten my hair regularly, and to laugh oh-so-delicately. Not to take up too much space, because that would remind folks that the space wasn’t meant for me.
But that’s just the thing, the space wasn’t meant for me. When we find ourselves in spaces that we just don’t quite fit in, we often internalize it. We tend to blame ourselves rather than the space. How often do you find yourself apologizing for taking up “too much” space? When you round the corner and almost bump into someone, you apologize. When you’re walking down a narrow hallway, where the person coming towards has no intention of moving to one side, you apologize. You apologize when your body happens to take up more than the 15 inch wide seats in public places. You apologize before you speak in class. You apologize for taking up space.
Towards the end of 2016, I was sort of pessimistic about the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I thought, “2016 has been full of these incredible milestones for me, there is no way that 2017 could top that”. Plus, how can I go into 2017 knowing that I still have to rely on a country that has failed me? But as it got closer to midnight on New Years Eve, and I sat in a bar in Spokane, WA, reminded of why I had left in the first place, I realized that this year is the year for resolutions. So here are mine.
Number one: Stop unnecessarily apologizing. Stop saying sorry for things that you have no business being sorry for. Instead of apologizing to the man next to me on the 13 hour flight back from China for my hips being a bit wider than the ableist, fatphobic seats on airplanes and walking away with a fat bruise from this man slamming the armrest down repeatedly on my “too big” hips I should have taken up that space, unapologetically. Instead, as he slept peacefully next to me, I was too busy contorting myself smaller and smaller, to make him more comfortable, to not take up too much space.
When I put on a façade for the benefit of other people, I feel like it starts chipping away at who I am, and what I stand for. So often, as underrepresented people, we put on a poker face just to survive. How many times have you heard someone say some reckless, racist, or otherwise disrespectful nonsense, and you just hold your tongue? Whether it’s in the classroom, in the workplace, in the bedroom, from your peers, from your family, or your lover, so often we find ourselves holding our tongue for the benefit of others’ ignorance. We find ourselves acting, playing the parts expected of us, instead writing it for ourselves.
So my second resolution of 2017, is be authentic. The more authentic you are, the more you realize your potential, and the potential of those around you. For as long as I can remember, I played the parts expected of me. Medical Lake is a very interesting place to grow up for someone like me. My Blackness was what separated me from my peers. My otherness was a valid enough excuse to not invite to sleepovers, to not introduce to parents, because they don’t like Black people, or to not be interested in dating, because they don’t find Black girls attractive. But while my Blackness separated me from everyone else, it was simultaneously suppressed. I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to truly be Black, because I was so busy trying to blend in. I carried myself as if I was always apologizing for who I was.
When I moved to New York in August, I was petrified that I wouldn’t fit in. My whole life had been a constant battle of fitting in. A delicate balance of multiple margins, balancing my Blackness, code switching frequently as to not confuse people, balancing being a woman in a patriarchal society, balancing being plus-size in a fatphobic society. I was so afraid that the balance I thought I had mastered would lose balance, that no matter how far I got from Medical Lake, that I would never be allowed to be authentic. But my first day riding the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I looked around and was so taken a back. I realized again that I was different, but this time I was different just like everyone else. I finally felt like I could blend in as just me. I felt so validated in my skin, something I had never before experienced.
So my third resolution is find validation. Whether within yourself, other people, other spaces, find something that validates who you are. Since moving to New York, I have never had someone question my Blackness. I have never had someone question my accomplishments, or anything that makes me who I am. Moving to New York was the validation I had been searching for for so long. Validation, I believe is incredibly important to personal success. We tend to hold onto the rejection, the disapproval, the negative in our lives. I’ll never forget my professor telling me that I shouldn’t bother applying to the top fashion program in the country, because I could never get in. But I’ll also never forget the unwavering support of everyone who kept telling me “there’s no way you won’t get in!” Though that professor’s comments stuck with me, that same professor is hitting me up now talking about “congratulations, I’m proud of you”. The same people who made me feel worthless in high school, who told me I wouldn’t amount to anything, that I’d be just another statistic, are the same ones in my DMs talking about “congratulations, I’m proud of you!” Remember who was with you in the trenches, when people show you who they are, believe them.
Which goes to the fourth resolution, cleanse your life of negativity. This is something that has been really difficult for me. I held onto a lot of negative people and negative things in my life, hoping the day would come where I would have enough courage to be address that negativity face to face. When I was 8 years old, I was molested by my stepbrother. When it happened again when I was 11, and I finally had the courage to speak up to the person capable of doing something about it, their response was, “boys will be boys”. They showed me who they were in that moment, just as my stepbrother did. But at the time, I didn’t believe them. My stepbrother added me on facebook a few years ago, and I let that friend request stay there for 3 years. Because I didn’t know how to remove that negativity that had been there for so long. Every single time I opened up my friend requests, there was his name. There was his face. I finally deleted it one day, allowing myself to feel valid in my pain and anger. Realizing I didn’t owe him anything, especially a friend request. After the election, I went on a Facebook cleanse, which was incredibly therapeutic. I removed all of those people who said things like “All Lives Matter”, who said things like “Feminism is bad because”, and other negative nonsense I didn’t really need in my life. I’m slowly starting to move this out of social media, and remove other negative entities from my life. And I have to be unapologetic in that. This year I want to transcend the negativity in my life, to find contentment by either accepting the things I cannot change, or changing the things I cannot accept.
Which leads to number 5. Support things that support you. When I started removing negative things from my life, I also stopped supporting negative things. Victoria’s Secret, Wal-Mart, H&M, Nike, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods, etc. have all been cut out. As someone who is in the fashion industry, I have to talk about this. It is so important for us to be educated as consumers. Where is your money really going? Is it going in the hands of the White supremacist capitalist patriarchy? If they don’t support you, which we all know they don’t, then why support them? This comes down to a personal level as well. Support people, support spaces, support things that support you. Shop local, shop secondhand, shop Black owned, Latinx owned, Queer owned. Educate yourself on what you’re actually supporting. If you plan on continuing your education, or getting into your field or industry post graduation, be somewhere that supports you. I cannot tell you how much better my quality of education is being in a place that supports and validates me as a student, as a woman of color, and as a scholar. Educate yourself on what you’re supporting. Educate yourself and spread the wealth.
None of these things happen simultaneously. They work together, but they cannot be all implemented overnight. Each of these I have been working on progressively the past few years. I have learned how to be unapologetic in my Blackness, and support things that support me, but I still have a hard time removing negativity from my life, because it seems like it’s surrounding us all the time. So even if it’s just small things, like acknowledging your pain, acknowledging your success, being authentic in how you feel, and finding validation where it’s needed, those things begin to add up.