Survival in Practice


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By Dr. Sekile Nzinga-Johnson

 

I’m typically a chatty Cathy…except for when I’m in pain.

When I was in labor with my children, I was sooooooo quiet. Labor was painful and somehow I intuitively turned inward to survive it. During my first labor and delivery, I remember my grandmother being very worried about me not using medical intervention. She and her bible sat in the corner. She was present and prayerful and I was grateful for her.

Cedric was right beside me and I recall when the pain got so intense I looked at him and said “I don’t think I can do it!!” He looked back at me and said, “Yes, you can”. I turned inward and I did.  I pushed out a 7 lb 15 oz baby boy. It was then that realized that I could survive what was quite surely one of the greatest physical pains that a body can tolerate. I set the terms, no pain killers, a Ghanian fertility doll as a focal point and loved ones present to help me get through. But ultimately, it was me who had to get that baby out of me and had to deal with the pain associated with childbirth.

It was no joke but I felt like a bad ass after.

During labor, it was my silence that was most necessary. I had learned the Lamaze breathing/panting (ineffective) technique, but I just wanted peace and quiet so I could listen to my body and survive the pain. With each childbirth, I refined my desire for intentional silence during labor. I learned Hypno birthing and incorporated affirmations that helped me believe that I could birth my baby. This practice is necessary only because we have been taught to fear our bodies and the child birthing process as well as deny our strength. The hypnotic state was really a deep relaxation and meditative process. It required inward reflection and visualizing a place of peace. Even the verbal prompts Cedric had practiced to help me go deeper into a hypnotic/relaxed state were distracting in the labor process because of my deep desire for silence and turning inward. I needed peace and quiet to survive that pain. No nurses coming in and out poking and prodding, no lights on, no massages. Just me getting through that shit.

Leave me alone.

I birthed an 8 lb 7 oz baby boy that day with very little pushing thanks to a very self-determined little one.  By the time the 3rd labor came along, I was skilled at childbirth and also at knowing which conditions were ideal for me. Silence and solitude during labor! I wanted my support system there, which now included Cedric and the boys. I had the boys with a family friend while I was in labor but they were the 1st ones to hold and see their little sister after she was born. Unfortunately, my midwife did not get the memo about my need for peace and quiet and got on my damned nerves the whole time. She could not accept that I was in charge of my birthing process and kept trying to offer suggestions. Irritated the fuck out of me.

What I have realized is that when I am in pain, deep pain, I hurt too much to explain myself to others. Cedric was my advocate but we could not regain control of the labor and delivery process. I felt disempowered. I recall that process as my worse birthing experience simply because I felt imposed upon and I was not allowed to just lie there and meditate til that baby was ready to come out. She wanted me to shift positions and just kept talking. I needed to just survive the ugly beauty of my pain in peace. Thankfully, a 8 lb 6 oz baby girl blessed me with another quick labor and put me out of my noise induced misery.

I find myself in pain a lot lately. My current pain is not physical–it is psychic, emotional, psychological and spiritual. It still hurts and it’s hard to explain its fullness to others. I tend to retreat into myself during these times. It’s simply too tiring and painful to try to help others get why and how a happily married, mother of 3 beautiful children with a bunch of sister-friends who owns a home, smiles a lot, and is a professor is dealing with anxiety and life long depression. My support team is ready to help—friends call, family members pray, Cedric does the heavy lifting at home and is the affirming spouse that I need in my life. I am grateful.

But I have learned that sometimes I still have to–need to– turn inward to survive my life. Especially when I feel my survival and joy are at risk or are being threatened. It is how I have survived before when there was seemingly no one at my side (go ahead, insert your “but God” here). Turning inward is how I am still here. I need to time to think, to name my pain, and at times go numb to survive it. Turning inward feels safe in this moment. Being in silent solitude through pain also allows me to spiritually ground myself and to store my reserves so I can tackle life as it is dealt. Living in solitude means not having to explain why I stopped listening to someone in the middle of their sentence, or why I am not feeling happy at “happy” moments or why I am not interested in things that typically bring me joy like socializing and exercising and eases some of the pressure. It means not having to cry in public or navigate answering the dreaded question “how are you doing?”

Prayer, meditation, silence, and out of body robot mode—have helped me survive before, in beautiful times like during childbirth and in horrific times, like during child sexual abuse.  I won’t stay forever but this is where I am in this moment.

This is survival.

 

“Survival in Practice”  was reposted in The Possible World with Dr. Nzinga-Johnson’s permission.  Readers can find this piece and others on her Blogger.com blog, I usta be monique.

 

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The Politics Behind #Icanbeboth


 

“Pride…If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it.  If you got, you can’t hide it.”

–Zora Neale Hurston, Author

 

Recently, I’ve been noticing the hashtag #icanbeboth popping up in my newfeed.

For those who don’t know, #icanbeboth refers to the fact that women of color can be sexual, sexy and fun loving one day and professional in every way, shape and form the next.  Those who participate in the online campaign post comparison photos: one of themselves in the club, at a party or wearing a cocktail dress with heels and the other of them in casual or professional attire while on the job.

Hence “I can be both.”

I’m going to tell y’all right now that I love every minute of this campaign, Dear Readers.  For one, women are coming together to celebrate everything about their individual personalities and interests without throwing shade.  This can’t make me any prouder because we know how much the media loves featuring Black women slapping the shit out of each other or feuding on Instagram.  Major networks and social media sites stay making us look outrageous in the negative fashion, so I stan for anything that show us celebrating our magic.

But I also immediately recognize the politics behind the hashtag and how it can encourage us to have a much needed conversation about why #Icanbeboth exists to begin with.  There’s so much I can touch on so much here, but I’m going to focus on three main issues that:  White supremacy, respectability politics, and Black male privilege.

White supremacy is the idea that people of European descent are superior to people of color—Black people especially.  It’s the reason why all the negative “isms” exist: racism, sexism, ableism, lookism, ageism and so forth. It is also created the male privilege and systematic oppression that Black women endure in the labor force, the education system, the religious community and other environments that shape the individualism of Black women.  Furthermore, White supremacy perpetuates their ideologies pertaining to European standards of beauty and social etiquette.  So while White women are deemed beautiful and pure (even to this day), Black women are seen as ugly, classless, uneducated and promiscuous.

Now keep that in mind as we move on to respectability politics. There’s this notion that Black people are to present themselves a certain way in order to be accepted by mainstream society.  In many cases, it is the Black woman who is spoon fed this message by both the media and her community.  Unlike our White female counterparts, Black women are not given the liberty to disclose their entire self without the risk of criticism or losing a necessary resource such as employment.

But the main focus is often the sexuality and sexual expression of the Black woman. Even in 2016, women are placed in the position to explain themselves when they promote and profit from their sexuality or sex positivity in general.  Celebrities like Amber Rose is a prime example.  Though she’s known for her Instagram presence and relationship with rapper Kanye West, Amber Rose is known for her sex politics (In 2015, she has organized Slut Walk LA and campaigns for sexual consent).  But she begins to pique my attention when bluntly explains consent to entertainers Rev Run and Tyrese Gibson on their show It’s Not You, It’s Men.  Yes, ladies and gentlecats.  Amber Rose has to explain to these two grown ass men that not only is it ok for us to be sexually provocative, but that we have the right to say “No.”  This is the same woman who is criticized by both the media and members of the Black community for being comfortable in her own body.   And like many Black women, I notice that our biggest detractors are Black men.  Case in point: Louis Farrakhan.

Which brings me to my last point about the politics of #icanbeboth:  the hashtag and the women who take part are pushing back against Black male patriarchy—and rightfully so.  Most Black men tend to erroneously assume that Black women should somehow fit into some vision of what we should be—whatever that may be.  And when we don’t meet their standard of whatever the hell, then they claim that that’s the MAIN reason why they started dating White women (no shade towards interracial relationships, but there are so many Black men who have only date outside their race because they’ve internalized the negative Black woman stereotypes). But what these men don’t realize is that this type of nonsense feeds into the very negativity that #icanbeboth is rallying against.

Why am I writing about this, Readers?  Because as a Black Pansexual woman, I am growing very tired of women of color having their intelligence, integrity and very existence questioned and their whole entire selves compartmentalized just so someone else can be comfortable. It’s this type of pigeon holing that contributes to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.  It can furthermore play into the Impostor Syndrome, the belief that they don’t belong in an academic and/or professional setting.

But most of all, it’s a full-on attack on the human spirit.  When society and members of the very community that supposedly promotes unity and safety criticizes the Black woman’s individuality, it is she who feels every word piercing through her.  And when we can’t find refuge within our own environment or negatively affected by the people in it, it can lead to issues such PTSD or Complex PTSD as well as this sense of disappointment.  And due to the current political climate, feeling displaced due to simply celebrating every part of ourselves is the last issue we need.

So, yes!  I’m extremely stoked about the very existence of #icandbeboth because 1) it brings together a tribe of women who embrace (or wish to embrace) their individuality and 2) it challenges and claps back at respectability politics and patriarchy by showing that women of all ethnicities and ages can be both ratchet and classy.  At the same time, I do hope that the hashtag generates a discussion about White supremacy and how it’s being used against women of color in the forms of respectability politics and Black male privilege and how we can all work together to cut the monster off at the head.