I received You Are Your Best Thing: An Anthology edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown and card from my lovely, supportive, and compassionate friend Shannon earlier this week. The Black authors who contributed to this anthology are extraordinary and so raw in sharing their experiences of being Black in this society. It has taken almost the entire week before I had the right headspace to begin reading it.
I feel an avalanche of emotions topple over me after reading the introduction and the first four stories. My head is spinning, tears drying, and heart is still pounding.
I must thank Shannon for sending this to me because it is not something I would’ve bought on my own. To be honest, seeing Brené Brown’s name on it made me hesitant to even open it at first. Once I read the introduction, I appreciated that Brené acknowledged that some Black people would feel this way and she and Tarana addressed the reason for this collaboration and both explained the dynamics of their friendship.
The fact is, Shannon reads my blog, my social media posts, and takes time to check on me and really talk to me about racism and how she’s worked toward acknowledging her own white privilege. She’s heard the brokenness in my voice, has seen the pain and exhaustion on my face, and continues to reassure me that she IS a safe white ally and genuine friend.
She knew I needed a different kind of support and keenly aware that she should not be that person for obvious reasons. I’ve expressed countless times through conversations and through my writing that I don’t have many Black friends and have always struggled with accepting my own Blackness and experiences. It’s what prompted the blog piece I wrote called Mixed Fragility last year. Much of my existence has been where I am the only Black person in the room, in the company, at the table or on the stage.
2020 was a pivotal year for me because it’s the first time I truly began to be afraid to drive alone, live alone, go into the store alone. I also felt a newfound sense of rage and brokenness that differs from all my previous feelings and entered a period of wanting to rise up and express the hurt and confusion I continuously feel for being in this skin.
I’m about to make another cup of chai tea and read a few more chapters because this is the first time I can honestly fully relate to parts of these Black experiences shared. These Black authors are exceptional, and I can feel a tender pull of togetherness and understanding from their words. I used to think I was the only one who felt such rage, self-hate, and shame.
Through action and from a place of respect, Shannon let me know that she stands firmly by my side as not only a white ally and anti-racist, but also as a genuine friend.
My birthday is next Saturday, July 3rd. I’m hitting another pivotal age that will move me into a new age category when filling out registrations, applications, or patient paperwork – 45. Aside from noticing how much my face and body has aged the past five years post-cancer, I’ve noticed the mandatory toleration of bullshit and then racist bullshit barometer that has been forced upon me since the first time I was called a nigger in the 4th grade in order to survive is gone.
Will there ever a time where I can bring all of myself into a room? How much of me can I reveal without getting hurt? How do so many white people not see the protective cloak I wear to help fend off the inevitable insults, microaggressions, full on racists remarks, undermining of me, and them trying to “put me in my place?”
I remember turning 25 while living in LA. By that point, I had become
A little jaded.
Had experienced first heartbreak.
Unhappy with career.
Diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
I couldn’t financially pursue acting the way I wanted because many unexpected and painful things happened while in LA that forced me to go the corporate route because I needed health insurance and somewhat steady income. I put my dreams on hold.
I remember turning 35 while living in Atlanta. By that point, I had experienced
Living through a terrible recession.
Lack of professional direction.
Being called stupid by my white female boss when I worked for an in-house agency.
Being told I’m brilliant by a white employer but unwilling to pay more for my expertise.
Letting go of pursuing acting.
More health issues and unexpected weight gain.
My hair on the left side started falling out.
More depression and anxiety.
My white doctors dismissing my symptoms even though I knew something was seriously wrong.
More anger that was boiling into rage.
Now we fast forward to soon-to-be 45 while living in Atlanta. Now, I continue to have difficulty navigating through life because of
Supposedly “surviving” Stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer.
Lack of quality of life thanks to permanent damage stemming from 16 rounds of chemo, 8 surgeries, and 33 radiation treatments.
Unmanaged chronic pain due to fibromyalgia and chemo induced peripheral neuropathy and medically induced menopause.
Being told by two white women when I was working at a huge ad agency that I had to keep my health and work separate when I began struggling from side effects from taking Arimidex to help prevent a recurrence. They said this in front of everyone.
Being called by the other black woman’s name 2x by an older white woman, who was/is a tRump supporter, after being there for two years at the job I had before the pandemic. There were only two black women in the marketing department. We have vastly different looks and personalities.
Having my ideas stolen by white women in the workplace throughout my entire career and them receiving the credit and not being able to call them out on it for fear of losing my job because I needed the money.
Realizing how oppressed and degraded I had become after consistently dealing with the white fragility of white women and every so often white men.
Dealing with white women in certain cancer groups who have actually said, “race doesn’t belong in the cancer space” and “not everything is about race.”
Being trolled and targeted on Twitter by racists because I began speaking up about it more and more.
Palpable cracks in my soul after seeing black men and women being murdered at the hands of white people over and over and over and over again with no accountability.
Discovering white people who I thought were friends and who I trusted let their racial bias and racists thoughts show, which has destroyed my trust in a lot of white people.
Watching an insurrection happen LIVE and seeing those racists being treated with dignity and able to just go home afterward.
Palpable pain, self-hate, unhappiness, and rage continues to runneth over.
I honestly didn’t want to write out the flood of thoughts that have been whirling in my head since the start of this year. Writing it down makes it real. I literally have tears in my eyes as I write this, and heart is pounding furiously because I am just so fucking tired of having to be ON all the time and never knowing who I can trust anymore. Now that the veil of oppression has been lifted from my face, how do I continue moving forward without hate seeping into all the cracks in my soul that have formed during my soon-to-be 45 years on this hateful planet?
Will I ever develop the ability to move past…
and the rage.
Well, that remains to be determined.
What I can confidently say is I’m finally at a place professionally where my voice and ideas are encouraged, supported, and uplifted. I’ve never received that kind of respect before, and it feels strange yet deeply appreciated and comforting. I suppose miniscule steps forward are still steps to be acknowledged.
I’ve always detested the saying, “turn lemons into lemonade.” I don’t like lemonade. A friend from the high school days came up with turning lemons into a lemon martini because that fits me better. I wholeheartedly agree.
I know it has been a few months since I last posted something original. Some good things have happened during this hiatus. Heck, I’ll even say some great things have happened! Unfortunately, some truly sad and upsetting things have happened too.
Is it possible to get through a month without trauma, sadness, rage, disappointment and frustration? I’m continuously thrown into the depths of despair because I expect too much of people and get hurt when they don’t show up the way I thought they would. The more I talk openly about race, the more I see the true colors of so-called friends who I never dreamed would have a racist bone in their body. I have officially lost the ability to trust and be vulnerable with people. When I say people, I am referring to white people because I only have four black true friends.
Of course, I know not every white friend will let me down, but I can literally feel my cloak of armor wrapping me tighter to fend off the possibility of hurtful words. To this day, I am most surprised by the racism within the cancer community. I naively thought the cancer space would be free from that kind of bullshit but sadly it’s not.
The more I keep trying to be my authentic self, the more alone and isolated I feel. I often feel like the only single person on this planet.
I no longer feel like a warrior.
I no longer feel strong.
I no longer feel hopeful.
This world continues to be so cruel and oppressive. I’m desperately trying to let go of past and current hurts and let offensive and racist words roll off my protective cloak. The harsh truth is there will never be relief while in this skin because racism will never end. It seeps into everything.
I wanted to read the words below out loud so you can feel the full emotions in my words.
I think many can agree 2020 has been like an episode of The Twilight Zone played on a loop. It was like the lid on Pandora’s box was forced opened and nothing could stop the chain of events. The pure hatred, corruption, greed, rage, white privilege, and selfishness of people boiled over.
There were days where I could embrace the suck through challenging myself professionally and spiritually. I was able to rise up for myself with a new confidence. I felt bolder, inspired, empowered, and even thankful because I took the professional risks I had been wanting to take for years and years. Instead of shying away from risks, I finally had the ability to get off that hamster wheel and believe in my talents. How I wish I had had this forced pause and push back in my 20’s but better late than never, right?
I have also never felt more afraid, paranoid, heartbroken, horrified, and filled with a level 4 kind of rage than I have this year. I witnessed two of those “Karens” during the summer. I had more racist remarks directed toward me. The horrific images of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd being murdered by white men who smiled will haunt me forever. Police uniforms and red hats became the modern Ku Klux Klan attire. There was no need for them to cover their faces anymore. That racist tRump and the GOP gave a green light because they knew there would not be any consequences.
My soul cracked.
Instead of solely focusing my blog about cancer, I felt I had to start writing about racism and the difficulties I continue to face both inside and outside of cancerland. I stopped being nervous about possibly offending people. Blogging my point of view and experiences of the past and present was a way to keep from going insane.
I really wanted the white people I knew and those I did not know to see my face and that I am not immune to have racist comments spewed at me. This year truly let me know that it does not matter how educated, talented, and classy I am. At the end of the day, I will always, always be seen as a black woman first.
When I wrote the blog post “Mixed Fragility,” it was the first time I had truly uncomfortable conversations with myself about race, how I am perceived, and how I perceive others. I technically have two black female friends and one black male friend. They can relate to a lot of what I feel on a daily basis. It was the first time I have had that.
How does one ever heal from severe trauma when it is their existence causing all the pain and turmoil? Even though I am still not accepted in the black world – no invitations to the barbeque – something changed for me when thinking about all the white people I know. I began to pull away from the white friends in my inner circle. In fact, I would say I am still pulling away.
What I say next is not to anyone specifically. It would be rude to call out people by name. It is what I experienced heavily this year, so I’m speaking to the general white population.
So here I go…
I get so sick of white people saying not everything is about race.
I get so sick of white people questioning me and not believing me when I share a racist experience.
I get so sick of white doctors dismissing my pain and talking down to me.
I get so sick of white people being unable to control their surprised facial expressions when they hear my voice.
I get so sick of white people feeling the need to tell me about black people and black organizations within the cancer community.
I get so sick of white people feeling the need to start any conversation about race by saying they will never know what it is like to be black and how that feels.
I get so sick of white people not believing there is racism within the medical community.
I cannot even be viewed as just a cancer survivor because groups and organizations make it noticeably clear they label me as a BLACK cancer survivor; therefore, I must be an expert on all black-related issues. I thought the days of being used as a black token were gone. It has never been more apparent how many white people view me.
As I write this, I can almost hear the thoughts of any white person reading this. I know you are thinking “what am I supposed to say” and “I’m not a racist” and “I don’t view you as black” and “I don’t see color” and “why are so many black people angry.”
While I am excelling professionally, I am a wreck personally. I no longer know who to trust. Some of the places and people I thought were safe showed their true colors. No one, including me, knows how to categorize me. I do not fit in any common mold. I am unapologetically ME.
So, while I had some amazing and one of kind opportunities come my way this year, I continue to grapple with depression, pain, loneliness, rage, hurt, and confusion. This James Baldwin quote is one I have used repeatedly this year. It is the first time I feel what he felt. I wonder if 2021 will be any different.
It is important for me to thank all of you for taking the time to read my blog this year. While the bulk of my posts took courage to write and share, I acknowledge it took courage for you to read it. I read every single comment, negative and positive, that I received. Life can shove many of us off the rails with unforeseen challenges, unexpected deaths of friends and family, and hard truths revealed. What I do know is I will continue to be bold, work through the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and keep sharing my truth.
Thank you for coming on board the cancer train of vulnerability and mixed emotions.