Feminism | Posted by Cheyenne T on 12/28/2015

How I Discovered The Power Of Black Womanhood

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After spending the last school year immersed in political turmoil and tension on my college campus, I decided this past summer that it was time to actively choose to either eject or change the things in my life that make me unhappy. So I did: I stopped wasting time on people who didn’t reciprocate the energy I put into our relationships and stopped participating in activities that were not directly contributing to my happiness of self-betterment.

In addition to rejecting negative influences, I decided to allow myself to indulge more in the people and daily activities that I enjoy, including things that are societally labelled as feminine, such as makeup and fashion. I initially rejected such practices upon first identifying as feminist because I thought they were at odds with those beliefs. When I stopped to really think about it, though, I realized that part of this rejection was also due to not feeling beautiful enough. I went to a private high school that, despite promoting diversity and “inclusion,” still upheld stereotypical, white-centric standards of beauty. It wasn’t until I surrounded myself with people who actively promoted an inclusive understanding of self-love and beauty that I realized beauty itself or appreciating one’s own appearance isn’t at odds with feminism — a narrow, exclusive, oppressive understanding of beauty constructed to reflect whiteness, symmetry, ablism is.

In fact, embracing one’s own beauty can actually bolster feminist values. Owning our bodies as women, and especially as black women, is an act of empowerment. It enables us to go out in the world and promote ourselves. It encourages us to do things for ourselves – a luxury of entitlement black women are almost never afforded – and to believe in our own success. And I found this to be true firsthand: Once I gave myself permission to accept my own beauty, I felt more confident, more at home in my own skin and more comfortable being myself no matter who surrounded me. I stopped trying to impress other people simply to prove that I was worth listening to and worthy of respect.

This realization extended to other parts of my feminist identity, too. This newfound ability to act based on my own standards did much to counter previous anxiety I had felt as an activist. I once felt guilty, helpless and constantly disappointed that I wasn’t solving the world’s problems. But once I owned my own body and history of accomplishments, I found it easier to understand what I’m capable of and where my strengths lie. I realized being an effective activist involves starting with what you know you can do and building from there.

I’ve tried to put this newfound philosophy to work since returning to campus. For example, as part of an internship with my campus’s Women’s Center, a coalition of interns at other feminist organizations on campus and I turned our school’s annual Women’s Studies Coalition Dinner, which historically has brought women from different organizations on campus together, into an opportunity for women of color in particular to celebrate themselves. In the past, the dinner has been predominantly white and predominantly consisted of the same people who were already friends. We encouraged everyone on campus to nominate women of color who accomplished amazing things in the past year and then recognized them by displaying their accomplishments around the room during the dinner. This re-imagined dinner will hopefully be the first of many dialogues and events for women of color on campus in coming years that will hopefully continue long after I graduate.

Ultimately, I’ve realized just how important it is to #SayHerName when we talk about organizing, loving our communities and loving ourselves. Black women are subliminally, yet overtly, taught from a young age to do the exact opposite, which often leads to the internalization of low self-worth and hatred. These messages stem from a patriarchal society that continues to objectify and dehumanize us. Learning how to love ourselves is a process and certainly a challenging one. I’ve still struggled with frustration and sadness since embarking on my journey of self-discovery. But trying new coping mechanisms — even if they initially fail or turn out to be less than healthy or effective — is part of how we learn and make ourselves feel better.

I had to make the choice to reject the negative and focus on things that make me happy to even embark on the pursuit of finding an enduring strategy for living the happiest version of my life every day. This journey of searching for self-love and happiness is one that can be traumatic but can also be rewarding, and I believe that this journey is a large part of being a black woman today. It has taken our ancestors’ work to uplift each other and ourselves in order to survive, but we have begun to — and must — build on their accomplishments in order to thrive and flourish.

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