“That was my first mistake. Not to make him leave some room for me…I didn’t know to keep up his strength I had to give up little pieces of mine. I did that. I took on his life as mine and mixed up the pieces so that you couldn’t hardly tell which was which anymore.” – Rose from Fences by August Wilson
While watching Fences, a play written by August Wilson adapted for film and directed by Denzel Washington, I was struck by Rose (played by Viola Davis); her commitment to doing the right thing and the stability that she provided for her family. Rose’s sacrifices on behalf of her family are characteristic of the sacrifices that so many Black women make. Putting aside our desires and ourselves to such an extent that it’s hard to find either after a while. Hiding our wants so well that even our loved ones can’t tell that we’ve lost touch with the things that used to excite and energize us. In the quote above, Rose reflects on the fact that she married a man who took up all of the room in their house, all of the room in their lives, and that she lost herself in their relationship. She failed to make room for herself.
Failing to make room for ourselves in relationships is something that happens to many women. We are socialized to prioritize relationships, to prioritize the well being of our romantic partners. This is particularly true for heterosexual relationships that adhere to patriarchal values. As Black women we are often asked to put aside our strengths and defer our dreams in order to support our romantic partners. It is communicated to us through family members, friends, and church communities that we should prioritize our relationship, that we should support our man, that him and his needs should be put first. That achieving the goal of marriage should be enough to sustain and fulfill us. We are shown models of “good women” who don’t have needs of their own, who spend all of their time and energy catering to the men and children in their lives. We hear the harsh critiques of women who dare to put themselves first. Continue reading
2016 has been a rough year for many of us. There have been deaths, losses, grief, disappointments, heartbreak, and more. It is easy to dismiss 2016 as a horrible year that we would like to forget. However, when we don’t reflect on what we’ve been through, we miss the opportunity to learn from what we’ve experienced and move forward in healthy and constructive ways. It can be alluring to externalize all of the hard things we went through, feeling as though we had no role to play, no power or agency in difficult situations. While this is any easy stance to take, it puts us in a passive position and keeps us from learning from our experiences. Additionally, when we fail to take stock of what has happened we may overlook things that feel proud of or positively about.
Despite the challenges most of us have faced this year, the beauty, creativity and strength of Black women has shone through 2016. Black women have continued to lead as activists, in the arts and entertainment industries, in business, politics, sports, literature, and health care fields. We have continued to push the needle forward, speaking truth to power, advocating for our communities, and encouraging each other along the way. It has been a tough year and like a tea bag put into hot water our bold, sweet, strong flavors have been highlighted as we were immersed in 2016.
You’re heading home for the holidays and cautiously looking forward to spending time with your family. Hoping that maybe this year will be different. Maybe things will go smoothly and you and your family will be able to keep things light and get along. Then while you’re home have a simple conversation with your mom, and before you know it she’s said something that makes you feel like a helpless 5 year old and you want to crawl under your chair. Family drama can involve anything from tense interactions and arguments to navigating a family member’s ongoing drinking problem and hurtful outbursts, to facing the daunting experience of going to spend time with family members who were abusive.
For some people the holidays are a wonderful, uncomplicated time spent with family. However, for many of us, spending extended time with family during the holidays can be complicated; there are some aspects that we enjoy and others that we dread. Much of the conflict and and drama we experience when we return home arises from unresolved issues that began long ago. Our visits home are made more difficult when we haven’t sorted through these complicated dynamics. Continue reading