People have very narrow ideas about what you can accomplish, depending on who THEY think you are.Gabrielle Union, actor/producer/all-around Black woman hero, guest on the Hear to Slay podcast
The bigotry of low expectations is damning, and I think, for Black women, it is particularly damning.Roxane Gay, co-host of the Hear to Slay podcast
These two quotes have been sitting with me since I heard them. I’ve been following Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom on Twitter for a while, but had yet to check out the podcast. I went to Apple Podcasts and it was not there. They’re on Luminary. It’s a $7.99 charge to get the premium subscription, but after this free month trial I have, it will be more than money well spent. It serves as a reminder to pay for the content you value (if you have the ability to do so).
They drop gems upon gems upon gems.
These quotes, however, touched on a few things I’ve been dealing with. It also helps to have a couple of friends in my corner who drop gems into me on a regular basis. I know that I need friends who inspire me, friends that I can inspire, and friends with whom we can reciprocally put a short handle on each other and get right. Get-right group texts are sometimes the only things keeping some of us together.
A few of the words that have been floating around in my head, in my soul, are “validation” and “enough”. I am enough. This has been something I struggled with, and still struggle with but a lot less. Those quotes were confirmation of my friends’ words, and a strong reminder that I don’t need validation from anyone else but myself.
A few months ago, I was asked to be involved in the Knitworthy, Together project, and it was when it was almost time to launch that I recommended it be cancelled, and bowed out. There was an IG Live incident with Ysolda, some apology posts, comment deletions, etc. and I didn’t think the pros outweighed the cons enough that the repercussions from her actions wouldn’t negatively affect the designers involved. I don’t know which other designers gave input; I just know what I recommended. She did cancel it, and we came to an agreement about me releasing my pattern and their level of involvement, which was entirely my call.
I’ve been thinking about why I doubt myself when it comes to the impression I get from people, both online and offline. (The things I could tell you about my offline interactions, sweet hell.)
I still think about my own gut feelings about the project, though, and why I didn’t listen to myself. Those internal alarms were going a bit, but I figured that I was being paranoid (I wasn’t). It felt like my Blackness was just palatable enough to be consumed by the Knitworthy demographic without being too offensive, and that’s not a place where I want to be right now. I don’t want to be a white person’s “safe” option when it comes to racism. It seemed like a decent collaboration, but the warnings I felt were for me to consider why I was participating, why I said yes. I couldn’t have the reason be that I wanted to feel like I mattered to more than just the people who know me on a personal level.
I had to remember that I don’t need an Ysolda to be Jen. I don’t need an external source of validation or for someone to put me on in order for me to find the space that is meant to be mine. I don’t need someone else to recognize or illustrate my worthiness or legitimacy as a designer, as a person. I design because I like to design. There are times that I don’t love it so much, and there are times that it is literally the thing that keeps me up at night (in a fulfilling way).
I found words that I wrote in an unpublished draft in April:
“I don’t want validation from anyone anymore. Having other women, especially Black women, offer advice and encouragement is comforting. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to rely more on my own instinct and gut feeling when it comes to people & situations. It’s not out of a desire to cloister myself, but it’s like people are losing clarity when examining organizations. Why do these companies want to have councils and discussions now? Their bottom line is affected by people speaking up and pointing out what’s always been there. An organization shouldn’t need a watershed moment to put more people in their visible media (magazines, social media, etc.) who have disabilities, are not white, cishetero, and/or neurotypical. The empty attempts at those who are doing so simply to seem “with it” is both laughable and insulting.
Even some Black women are seeming real suspect to me. It hurts to see people you once respected seem to step and fetch for the organizations that claim to want to change. If you want to change, hire some people who specialize in diversity teaching and HR. Do not use them on your council for free labor. Pay them what you owe them, and make sure that equal pay is equal for everyone and not just white women.
Going along to get along doesn’t mean jackshit if you lose yourself in doing so.”
That last sentence was April 2019 me calling out August-September 2019 me. I can care about people without losing who I am. I can care without being involved in everything someone does, especially if that person doesn’t want to listen to me. This goes for online and offline life. It is some insulting shit to have someone tell you that they didn’t do anything with the help you offered, the help they asked for. You ask me for my advice, my words, and then willfully disregard them?
Moving forward, I’m more cautious about my words and to whom I give them. I still want to leave room for people to improve upon themselves and grow, but this is a time when folks are going to have to start sitting with uncomfortable feelings and not jumping to the next project to make those feelings go away.
My favorite and most apropos gem from Ms. Gay, for all areas of my life, goes like this,
“Black women have long memories. We have no choice BUT to have long memories.”