I Am Not The Paraphernalia Of My Past

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The greatest gift I've given myself was the permission to surpass the barriers that were put in my way.

It's still an ongoing gift that I have to reopen every single day; it comes in the form of self care - writing notes on the mirror to remind myself exactly who I am, re-affirming my power, asserting myself in the spaces that water my soul but set my spirit on fire.

For a while, I settled with the idea of painting the walls and making home of the boxes I was placed in by others. People have told me that I'll never be able to accomplish all my goals because there were just too many; being a writer is all I'll ever amount to; I should take the easy route to my dreams if I really want to make it.

I moved in to the box they put me in and began to get comfortable with the small, suffocating room of others' projected opinions. I put on the wardrobes they created for me and it was only so long before I lost my own sense of self in the mass assortment of misplaced identities. Finding who I was through the eyes of others came at the cost of losing myself. Now, I am able to look outside of these cages and sing the song of my truth:

I know who I am and I do not fit inside of the cage of your limited vision.

They say that those around you that you can relate to are the mirrors you need to look into.

I see so much of myself in Cardi B's story - a woman who has consistently proven her abilities to break out of molds, and is still constantly being held down by others' tongues because they hold the chains to her past in their hands. At every turn, someone on the internet is holding up the paraphernalia of Cardi's past and trying to deceive her of her worth.

Cardi B just broke Beyonce's record for top singles in the charts - in the first year of her career - and yet, we can find an article or a comment trying to tear her down because of who she was on the early journey.

In little to no time, the rapper has also solidified herself as an entertainer, an influencer, and she is now breaking into the fashion industry with brand collaborations that are unheard of in the first year of someone's career.

Cardi's own rise has influenced my reflection of my own career and artistry. She's continued to break every mold that others have tried to shape her in. The way she rises to the occasion and still is herself is the true art of two-stepping out of the marginalizations that are created for you. Though still Cardi from the block, as her genuine essence remains true, it's not worth the disservice to discredit everything she has accomplished.

I am learning that the world will want to clothe you with their own perceptions of you, from their limited understanding of you or from the pieces of your past.

However, if we fill our closet with only the wardrobe of our own self-expression and self-affirming armor, then there will be no room for the fast-fashion of feeble opinions.

I am not only a writer, not someone who will be defined by my past, and definitely not a person who will take the easy way out because I'm a woman. On my journey, I've found that in the simple act of creating ourselves, on our own terms, we find ourselves simultaneously.

I've been able to forge my own signature on my journey by taking back the power of knowing exactly who I am and what I have to offer - and not watering down these things to fit the taste level of those around me. Deciding who you are for yourself is the only explaining you have to do.

As ever-evolving beings, as artists painting the picture of our own life, we are much more than meets the eye, and if we have to re-introduce ourselves each time we step into a room, that is the responsibility of the artist. To express who we are, and all of our multitudes, at the very core of our being, and in everything we do.

We are never our pasts, we are exactly always who we are now.

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It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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