I am learning to bring all of myself to my work. For a long time I thought I had to chop myself into pieces in order to be understood. I thought separating my womanhood from my blackness was the only way I could operate in the world — perhaps the only way to make sense of the world. By separating myself, I believed I could gain control. If I only brought my womanhood to women’s conferences, and ignored my race, I could fill up one bucket while ignoring the other. Similarly, in social justice spaces that are dominated by patriarchy, I thought I could stuff my womanhood down, put it on hold, throw it on the back burner and focus on racial justice for a moment. While these are clear spaces where I am highly aware of the “need” to split myself in half, there is a sense that I am regularly doing this.
I walk into a room and people aren’t sure how to react to the black woman standing before them. Is that because I am black or because I am woman? If I was a black man would they respond the same way? Or if I was a white woman would I have gotten the same treatment? If I am asked to speak about race, do I only tell stories that I am certain involved race only? If someone agrees with everything I think about racial justice but doesn’t have a problem with patriarchy, do I get to address that? Or must I split them in half as well — cheering for the justice side, but pretending the patriarchy isn’t somehow at play in the moment?
Splitting myself was both a way of survival and a way of believing in the world. Let me tell you, its so easy to find women who care about womanhood and activists who care about racial justice. Finding folks who are willing to take on multiple forms of oppression are significantly harder to come by.
But this way of survival leaves much to be desired. I want more. I want more than survival. More than half truths. More than sort-of allies. More than halfway on board institutions. I want more than dissection — of myself and of those around me. I want wholeness.
I want to bring the complicated mess that I am to the table because I didn’t create the complications. I didn’t erect racial injustice, and I didn’t build patriarchy. I didn’t inform white supremacy, and I didn’t write books on a woman’s “rightful place.”
I see the world as a black woman. It is the perspective God gave me. It is the lens through which I see the world. It’s how I understand the world — how I talk, how I walk, how I think, how I write, how I move in the world.
Black and woman. This is a gift. It’s so easy to forget what a gift this is because patriarchy and racism would have me believe otherwise, would have me believe that I am less than, that the weight of both is too much to carry all at once, that I must focus on just one if I am to be effective. Lies.
I believe in the legacy of black women who refused to be satisfied with lies. I believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I believe that I am created in the image of the Divine. I believe that I am at my best when I bring my wholeness to the table. I believe that the weight of racism and patriarchy can’t drown me. I believe that I am perfectly made for resistance, for freedom, for community.
If there are others out there, working to dismantle multiple oppressions, navigating multiple identities, I want you to know that I believe in us. I believe in our wholeness. I believe in our legacy and our future. I believe in our work, in our community, in our sense of self.
Bring yourself. All of you. And I promise to bring myself, too. We’ll practice. And we’ll get better. We’ll do it together. We’ll cheer one another on. And in holding hands we’ll find that we are stronger together. In holding hands we will find that oppressive systems don’t stand a chance. In holding hands we will find ourselves. We will move closer to the whole being God created. We will live.
Be brave. Being yourself is resistance.
Austin Channing Brown works speaking, training, facilitating dialogue or planning strategies in reconciliation. She works at Willow Creek Community Church’s Chicago Campus as their Multicultural Ministry Specialist. This first appeared on her blog, austinchanning.com.
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