“Black women will always be too loud in a world that never intended on listening to them.” I recently heard this powerful quote, and though I didn’t have the words to describe its significance, it burned itself into my memory. The quote felt like it was created with me in mind and spoke directly to my life experiences.
I’ve spent much of my life trying to be seen and not heard. I didn’t want to make waves because I was afraid of the consequences. Deep down, I knew that some of that was taught to me in an attempt to keep me safe – there aren’t many safe spaces for Black women. Perhaps being quiet decreased the chances that I’d get another target on my back.
The early lessons we teach Black children suggest that they should take up as little space as possible if they want to survive in the world. But that safety comes at a cost. It locks us into a life of mediocracy and tells us the price of following our dreams is too high.
I don’t want to pay that price anymore. And I’ve decided if I need to take up more space to accomplish the life of my dreams, so be it.
It’s been uncomfortable, terrifying, and downright frustrating.
At first, I started small. I mean super small. I’m talking about posting one sentence of a dissenting Facebook post small.
On the surface, posting a Facebook status seems miniscule. But for me it made an impact. I regularly make excuses for why I should not express my opinion. I’m trying to teach myself that my opinions have just as much value as everyone else’s.
From there, my fire grew. I’ve moved from social media updates to blog posts to full-length articles and even a small book. Still, despite Impostor Syndrome yelling loudly in my ears, I’ve kept crawling toward my dreams.
When I feel like giving up, or the toll of occupying that space is too high, I look to my Black foremothers and co-conspirators for encouragement. I’m not the first, nor the last, person to make this uphill trek. I keep my self-grounded with books, poetry, and films of stories like mine who are often left out of mainstream images.
I’ve come to understand that each word I write joins the collection of Black women who have claimed another inch of space reclaimed to share our experiences.
This isn’t only true for Black women. There are a number of people who have been “othered” in our society because they deviate from mainstream images of what it means to be American. We have to learn to center ourselves because there are so many others who are counting on us.
Each time I raise my hand or offer my opinion, I know I’m taking up space in a way my people were never expected to do. There’s beauty in knowing you’re continuing a legacy of resistance simply through living. And I’ll teach my children to be confident as they play their role in the next generation of taking up space. We’ll do this until a Black little mermaid or recasting a historically white superhero as a Black woman doesn’t trigger hateful comments and anti-Black boycotts.
The journey to self-efficacy is long and arduous for Black women. We’ve been forced to work behind the shadow for much of our existence. The world around us has benefited from our labor, both literally and figuratively, for most of America’s most important achievements. But we don’t hear that story often.
And we definitely don’t discuss the individual contributions of people who look like me. So, over the next few years, I’m in pursuit of personal change. I’m going to take risks that I wouldn’t otherwise take. I’m going to make comments that make me anxious about the way they’ll be received.
And I’m going to continue sharing my perspectives, because with all of the uninformed hate in the world today, I know there are millions of Black women who are still searching for their voice and enjoy hearing the perspectives of someone who looks like them — even if they don’t agree with it.
It’s worth noting that taking up that space doesn’t mean I’ll always be right. I see a life full of mistakes ahead of me. But I’m finally understanding that I deserve the freedom to try and fail. In taking up space, I hope to send a message to my children and a number of others from a variety of backgrounds.
I’m far from the first Black woman that has accepted the challenge of taking up space and speaking candidly about their life and experiences. Likewise, I won’t be the last. But I might be the first one to have an impact on a little Black girl’s sense of self, and that’s a worthy enough goal for me.