Living and thriving in predominately white spaces: a PoC survival guide

Stand in your truth.  What does it mean to stand in our truth? To my understanding, standing in one’s truth means being in alignment or harmony with all parts of self: mind, body, spirit. Which means there is a voice tugging at our consciousness, telling us something is off. Whether it be physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Often when I am doing something—be it a project, relationship, or in an area which runs counter to my nature—I get a feeling which I cannot shake. To put it simply, I am aware of what serves me and wary of what does not. I am finding it increasingly important to seek out what will allow me to vibrate higher and root out what will not.

Take care of what serves you. Finding what serves me has taken a lot of time and effort and essentially comes down to basic needs. Finding what or who makes me feel good and making sure, to the best of my ability, that requirements are being met to keep them in my life. Whether it be showing up to work and doing the work well, watering my plants more or less so they don’t shrivel up and die, or hanging out with a friend when I may be a little tired. Doing maintenance to make sure that blessings continue to cycle in and out of our lives.

Ask for what you need. People of color are magic. We have always been magic and we will always be magic. It comes as no surprise then to realize that we have been pouring all of our time and energy into places and people which do not serve us. Through conversations with fellow PoC, I am coming to notice a trend. More and more artists, organizers, and the like are moving their gifts from white spaces, which have frequently only served as a sucking void, into PoC spaces which feel nourishing and validating. Because of rampant (often unchecked) racism and appropriation in predominately white spaces, it is understandably difficult for PoC to advocate for themselves and be heard. Lack of support and understanding naturally leads us to find other outlets for our gifts. People of color are coming to understand the depth and breadth of our history on this continent and are finding that makes more sense to divest from what does not serve us and invest in what does. If we aren’t getting what we need from one space, we will create and nurture one that does. This energy is evident in the growing PoC spaces around my own town, which is replicated in many other (thought still not enough) communities. Spaces that span many areas of life from music, to spirituality, to interpersonal.

Make sure you’re being compensated. Should PoC choose to lend our gifts to spaces which may not serve us but serve the greater good, it is important to make sure we are compensated. Creating and manifesting take time and labor, and existing is hard. To ask PoC to invest in a thing which actively harms us (i.e. asking a PoC to enter a white-only or nearly-white-only space specifically to educate) is counterproductive; we need to make sure we are being paid for our time and our energy. This is basic and a realization which has helped me to understand how far people are willing to go down the path to liberation.

Make sure you’re being supported. More than being compensated, it is important to ensure we are being supported. When considering where to place my energy, personally, professionally, creatively, I check in to see if the people, organization, facility I am working with has got my back. Regardless of whether there are PoC, I ask myself, “Are the people I am dealing with down for the movement?” If I don’t know the answer, I ask questions to find out. Where does my request for validity and self-respect meet their boundaries?

Take care of your heart. Beyond all of this I am finding the most important thing to take care of my heart. It becomes easy to get so caught up in the daily grind of it all, crossing off check-lists, putting away groceries, getting through the next thing…that we forget to be kind to ourselves. We need to be gentle with ourselves—as people of color we stay being under an extreme amount of stress while somehow finding a way to dream and achieve our goals. Despite our magic, it cannot serve us if we run ourselves ragged. This is a lesson I am learning for myself; understanding when to slow down, ask questions and when necessary, step away from what does not serve me. This is a thing we all can do by paying attention to what we need, investing in our gifts and taking care of our hearts, we can stand fully in our truth.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Heart-shaped herb: Wakanda and ancestral healing

The release of Marvel’s Black Panther really spoke to the Black writers here at Black Girl in Maine Media, and this week, we are offering our reflections on the film. Today LaLa Drew shares their thoughts. 

I watched Black Panther this past weekend in 3D, in NYC, surrounded by brilliant, beautiful, shining and proud Blackness. Let me just say this, Black Panther comes through. I will preface this by saying my spoiler game is shameless. If you have not seen Black Panther get right and come back when you have.

There is a narrative among Black people of brokenness, broken communities, broken families, broken homes. This film addresses those head on in a subtle but oh, so powerful way. Not only do T’Challa, Shuri, and Ramonda (played by our Queen—Angela Bassett) have a beautifully strong connection, but Erik Killmonger and his father (before his death) have a strong bond as well. We can feel the connection in the conversations they have about Wakanda, the past, and life in general. Black Panther successfully displays the ways in which we as Black people can and do hold and uplift one another. Even M’Baku, the leader of a tribe in Wakanda (who was the only one to challenge T’Challa’s rule) comes through at the end, albeit in a grand, and perhaps very calculated fashion—all hail the hero! Nevertheless, he comes through.

There is an herb, it is called the “heart-shaped herb” which, when ingested allows one to cross to the spiritual plain and speak with the ancestors. In the film Both T’Challa and Erik do this. The difference in experience is staggering; much like the African experience and the African American experience, which I would imagine, is the point.

When T’Challa crosses over (which he does twice, once at the beginning of the film, and again at the end) he is able to speak with his father, as is the case with Erik when he consumes the heart-shaped herb. However, their experiences are strikingly disparate.  T’Challa, born and raised in Wakanda, is taken to a land with a tall, sprawling tree in the foreground which is surrounded by expansive landscapes. Present is a sense that the ancestral realm is endless. Erik’s crossing however, takes him to Oakland and the apartment where he lived as a child, and held his father as he died.

T’Challa’s reunion with his father leaves him with the confidence to lead, having been granted permission, and indeed, the expectation from his father that he has been prepared to lead. His father’s clear stance is that, if T’Challa feels he is not ready to lead, had his father failed him? This is a powerful moment, a passing on of lineage and responsibility which instilled confidence in T’Challa and his ability to be both Black Panther and ruler. T’Challa had that access to ancestry, history, and quite literally, roots, much like Africans in and outside of the continent.

Erik’s experience was not so transformative. The spiritual plain was closed in, congested, you could hear the street outside. Erik was reverted to a child, where he watched his father die, literally held him as he bled out. There is a moment when Erik is sitting on the floor, and his father appears. He says, “No tears for me?” Erik replies “Everybody dies.” (Then cries a single thug tear.) His father only nods, but there is a sadness there, you can feel the disappointment and the failure his father feels in response to his son’s anger and hatred. This feeling is like the failure T’Challa’s father would have felt, had T’Challa felt he was unable to lead Wakanda.

Again, we see the separation which comes when Africans are taken from our homes and become, after generations, African Americans; we witness the break down of lineage and history. Erik grew up listening to stories of Wakanda, of the sunrise but after the death of his father, he wants to destroy Wakanda the home he never knew.

The second time T’Challa returns to the spiritual plane, it is to confront his father. To demand an explanation, not of how he could slay his own brother, but of how he could leave behind his own nephew alone, unprotected and disconnected.

At the end of the film there is a recognition between T’Challa and Erik. T’Challa brings Erik to a cliff where he can finally see the sunrise he had heard of all his life. Longed so desperately to see and witness and feel the light wash over him. “Maybe we could still save you.” T’Challa says. “Why? Just to put me in a cage?” Erik responds, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage…” before pulling the spear from his chest and bleeding out like his father.

Black Panther dives so deeply into our experiences. It lifts us up, rips us open and leaves us exposed and wanting so much more. Black Panther gives us hope, shows us love, and shakes up the traditional narrative of what it means to be Black and what it means to be African and what it means to be African American living and dead. This film explores not only our history, ancestry and lineage, but it dares us to hope for the future. Black Panther gives us a model of how to lift each other up, how to love each other, and how to create the world we wish to live in.

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Healing my heart: A quest for love

Allowing the heart to open up and let in the love that is offered from the world and the people who occupy it is a constant practice. I am a person with a fortress of walls. I have dragons and moats and oubliettes. People often get eaten by the dragons, drown in the moats and tumble into the oubliettes. A precious few make it through to the caverns of my heart.

I crave love so, I run from it—there is a part of me, (some days large, some days small) which believes I am not lovable. This comes from being given up for adoption as a child, growing up in a family that did not reflect me, having white friends who did not value me, and a society which tells me I am wrong simply for existing. I am also pretty weird and empathetic, so finding a place where I fit in has always been difficult. I have always felt like an outcast in every social situation I found myself in.

Over the past few months I have had the honor of finding people who do not make me feel othered. They are Black and brown and queer and straight, and spiritual and nerdy and weird and rad and fierce and I love them dearly. The only problem is, I am now in a space where I want to delve deeper into relationships, but I find myself lacking some of the necessary tools to forge the bonds I am after. Fortunately, I don’t give up easily, I am slowly wading into the waters of connection.

Receiving love from others begins with receiving love from myself. There four basic things that I do every day to help me to love myself and teach myself that I am worthy and capable of incredible love and compassion.

  1. I stretch. Every day…well, almost. I released a lot of tension and trauma during the four days I spent at the Shambhala POC meditation retreat at Sky Lake in Rosendale, N.Y. Every day we did yoga and not only did it stretch my body, but it helped to clear away the stress, settle me back into my body, become reacquainted with my breath. So, in the morning I wake up, stretch and breathe.
  2. I drink a jar of water. Making sure I stay hydrated allows me to feel energized and kicks my system into gear. It makes my skin and hair smooth and moves toxins out of my body so that I don’t feel bogged down. That and I want this melanin to stay poppin’ long into the future.
  3. I interrupt negative thinking. I tell myself that I am doing “such a good job” and that “I am so proud of myself” because if I don’t clap for me, who else will? I am incredibly hard on myself. My inner voice is foolishly abusive and so interrupting the sessions of abuse is helpful in creating a new narrative. If I am able, I try to identify the voice who is speaking: Is it my mother, boss, a mean teacher, the racist down the street? Who is speaking to me in such a cruel way? I will also correct the narrative moving forward. Often when I am stressed, I say “Fuck” loudly and with gusto. When this happens, I like to check in and see if “fuck” is really my mood, or if maybe something else going on. Usually I swear in response to something which triggers my anxiety, at which point I like to talk to myself about it. “Fuckkkkkkkk!” “No, LaLa, you’re fine. You’re not running late. You’re making yourself food which is important because you need to eat and nourish yourself. You are doing such a good job. You are fine.” This may sound silly, but it is important to be kind to ourselves, to love on ourselves. I try to speak to myself as a stern but loving parent to a child, because in those moments, that is what I am. I am raising myself.
  4. The fourth thing I do is listen to music. Simple, easy way to raise my frequency, work out my emotions and belt out a few tunes in the process (sorry neighbors!) It is no secret that music is therapy. Combine the right notes with the right chords and some killer harmonies and take me away. I have playlists which work me through a range of emotions, starting out sad or angry and ending contemplative or joyful. Music has been in my life since I was a child learning to play to violin, and it has stuck with me as my go to for healing myself and my heart.

The surest way to letting others love me is for me to love myself. It’s taken me 28 years to believe that I am worthy of love, and that my body is worthy of being cared for. I have just begun to look in the mirror and appreciate that I am getting older. Honor that I am on this planet to stay. There is something scary about that, committing to being present. Since I am going to be here, I’m going to be here for love. I have a difficult time connecting, but I am changing that narrative, one day at a time. Using these for tools as a base, I am adding more and growing each day.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash