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I STAND WITH ISHAWNA: Dancehall’s ‘Equal Rights’ Fight

Ishawna-Bounty (1)
In a piece I wrote last year for The Establishment on women in Jamaica’s dancehall culture, I said the following:

Misogyny, violence, and homophobia permeate [hip hop and dancehall], with the male-dominated nature of each being highly prevalent. Through the transition from girl to woman, I loved my culture, but didn’t always feel like it loved me. Where was the room for women’s ownership and expression of dancehall music and culture? In what ways could women siphon some of the control from men and create space for themselves?

Through my reverence for Carnival and love for women in dancehall who helped pave the way to my own brand of womanism, that positivity is all-too-often interjected by a misogynistic, patriarchal, homophobic poison that reminds me just how much my culture doesn’t love me – or anyone who isn’t a heterosexual, cisgender male.

BFF-bounty-ishawna (2)

Some of that poison permeated the general bashment and bacchanal of my life a few days ago, when I got caught up on the latest gendered controversy happening in dancehall. Long-time artist Bounty Killer issued an Instagram post “warning” to fellow artist Ishawna, demanding that she not perform her new hit single at a Labour Day show they’re both billed on for tonight (EDIT: post has since been deleted, but screenshots live forever). Why would he do such a thing, especially after recently speaking out against gender-based violence? Follow me, camera. (RIP Messy Mya!)

Dancehall artist Ishawna recently released her new single, “Equal Rights,” which explicitly details her preferences for a sexual partner who can provide her the oral satisfaction she desires. Now – dancehall enthusiasts know that discussing the merits of heterosexual sex is not off-limits in the music, and explicit lyrics ensure that the point is not misconstrued. However, dancehall’s (and Jamaica’s overall) patriarchal culture has normalized the permission for male dancehall artists to speak on sex as they see fit, and hypocritically clutches its pearls at a woman doing the same.

YouTube Preview Image

Enter, the current eruption over “Equal Rights.” A significant amount of men (and women who uphold the practice of misogyny for their own myriad of reasons) have condemned Ishawna and the song, seemingly unable to swallow (pun intended) a woman who is calling the shots on her own sexual pleasure – what she’s willing to give, and what she wants to receive.

From the dawn of dancehall in Kingston’s inner-city communities to now, men have detailed exactly how they like sex, how dem bad inna bed, how they (think they) pleasure women, and how they’re “champion lovers” and “bedroom bullies” drinking peanut punch and magnum tonics with the stamina to ‘tan pon it long.’ Anything other than penis-inserted-into-vagina sex is shunned, with an interesting juxtaposition between the gunfingas that fling up when a DJ says “dem nuh bow,” the women who look around the club and see the men who they know are lying, and artists like Vybz Kartel, who openly sing about receiving blow jobs.

via GIPHY

Ishawna isn’t the first woman in dancehall to share how she likes it. Lady Saw and Tanya Stephens came before her, and Spice is currently touring Europe, letting audiences know she likes when her partner “stab up mi meat, mek mi tear up di sheet.” It hasn’t been an easy road for any woman in dancehall – but Bounty Killer took it to a new low when he threatened Ishawna and tried to blackball her by refusing to do any future shows with her (actually, not that new – since male artists did the same to Lady Saw in her heyday).

Misogyny, sexism, and homophobia weren’t invented in Jamaica, and aren’t unique to dancehall. However, for the purpose of today’s blog post, I’m going to put the videolight squarely on men like Bounty Killer who exhibit their fragile, toxic masculinity in reaction to a woman making a song for other women. These men stay firmly pressed about what others do in their bedrooms, inserting themselves into conversations no one invited them to, and puffing out their chests to share what they will or won’t do in their own encounters. These men exhibit their innate sensitivities at not being the head of the sexual pyramid, recoiling at the idea of *gasp* reciprocity in sex and pleasure. They react with violence when they feel threatened, when their status quo is rocked, when others dare to love differently from them, when sex isn’t just about getting pussy and getting their dicks wet. These men put their cards on the table, and all of them show weakness. In Bounty’s case, being braggadocious on Instagram and threatening the livelihood of another artist – a younger woman who will do something for the audience that he can’t – is the only way he can scramble to clutch at some semblance of strength. These men and their delayed evolution are a pox upon the richness of dancehall, supported by a society that serves as a Petri dish, allowing their bacteria to multiply.

Call me an overthinker if you want – but reactions to Ishawna’s song clearly tie to other issues across the Caribbean region and diaspora. The Tambourine Army in Jamaica and the #lifeinleggins social media movement started by Bajan women fight against sexual harassment, rape culture, and violence against women. Heteronormativity plays into the rigid gender roles and homophobia that are dangerously rampant across the culture. And though there’s further societal and historical context that can be applied to this entire discussion, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel if we continue to assume that things – and people – cannot change.

All this to say – #IStandWithIShawna and want her to do the damn thing tonight at the show. She’s already responded to Bounty, basically telling him to “bring it on,” so I hope she’s got a supportive circle and audience standing with her – and I hope Bounty is ready to get put in his place and watch how ‘oman run tings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Birthdays And The Promise Of New Days

birthday girl

My mom tells me that she laboured for a fairly long time when I was born. I finally made my grand appearance on the evening of May 10th, then caught my first sunrise on May 11th, beginning my first full day of life.

Whenever I think about what some of the energy of that May 10th must have been like, I see how it recreates itself on nearly every birthday that has followed. The flurry of activity, the anxiety, the flood of emotion, the celebratory well-wishes, the love, and the wondering of “OK – now what? What’s next?” May 10th is always a high vibration day, but after that sunrise on May 11th things start to settle into whatever “next” is, the same way I imagine it did back when I was born.

It’s felt like I’ve been labouring for a while. Life has been hitting me with wave after wave of discomfort that must be pushing me towards some kind of breakthrough – at least, that’s what I tell myself to have made it through the last 4 weeks with my sanity relatively intact.

There’s been the disappointment of reaching the end of a contract at a dope job after hoping that months of renewal plans would pan out, then learning 2 days before contract end that everything had changed. There’s the effort it takes to get used to switching a side hustle to a main, and hitting a new stride with freelance and entrepreneurial work. There’s the panic that sets in when one of North America’s most prominent children’s hospitals calls and tells you something might be wrong with the baby still in your womb, the days of anxiety before testing, and the overwhelming relief when everything turns out to be OK.

There’s the guilt you feel when you decide to take your toddler out of her regular daycare routine to be financially responsible, knowing that kids are resilient and she’ll love the time with Mommy before her sibling arrives, but still wondering how you blinked and became a stay-at-home, work-at-home mom. Then, there’s dealing with the aftereffects of a car accident. Being rear-ended as a pregnant woman, even in less serious collisions, has a greater impact – thanks to changing centres of gravity and shifting organs and loosened ligaments that are more easily sprained. At least, that’s what my physiotherapist tells me, who I see twice a week to stabilize my body – something that seems like an oxymoron because my pregnant body feels anything but stable.

So, I’m here. I’m OK. My babies, both the one breathing oxygen and the one swimming in amniotic fluid, are fine. Nothing has been catastrophic or insurmountable. It’s just been a lot in a short period of time, and my true Taurean tendency to have difficulty with change is something I have to keep in check every day. Focusing on everything that life encompasses these days led me to almost forget my birthday – something utterly unheard of, since I generally start counting down on April 10th then celebrate for the whole month of May. Even with all the distraction, this May 10th was still full of those usual birth day energies, but the two that won out were love and “What’s next?”

Being reminded that there are amazing people in this world who love me is sustaining. I drank it in and was nourished by it all yesterday. Little Magician sang “Happy Birthday” to me more times than I could count, and every time sounded like the first time to me. And now, it’s May 11th. I’ve seen my first daybreak on this new trip around the sun, and I’m ready to think about what’s next. I’ve been thrown out of my comfort zone and out of alignment, and my plans for what the next few months look like before #BossBaby arrives have been thrown out the window too. Maybe my plans have been thrown away so that my hands are free to catch something else. Maybe my comfort zones needed new, broader boundaries and maybe my alignment will be better now than it was before. Time will tell, but through it all I’m learning more about myself and the people around me than I possibly could without all of these ups and downs.

I have life. I have love. I have another day and another year to do my best in all things and to see myself bloom from the tightly closed bud I seem to have become lately. May 10th was for me. May 11th is for the future. And what a bright one it shall be.

VIOLA ISN’T ROSA: Viola Desmond & The Erasure Of Black Canadian History

Viola Desmond's sister Wanda Robson with Canada's Minister of Finance Bill Morneau - via lpress.com

Viola Desmond’s sister Wanda Robson with Canada’s Minister of Finance Bill Morneau – via lpress.com

I’m not sure what troubles me more – that so many Canadians are unfamiliar with Viola Desmond, or that so many feel the need to validate her experiences by comparing her to Rosa Parks.

Both of these options are tragedies. Let me tell you why.

Last spring, the Bank of Canada launched the #bankNOTEable campaign, soliciting votes from Canadians on which woman they would like to see on a new bank note. 26, 300 submissions were narrowed down to 461 eligible candidates, which was further whittled down to 5 finalists: E. Pauline Johnson, Elizabeth MacGill, Fanny Rosenfeld, Idola Saint-Jean, and Viola Desmond. Desmond was announced today as the winning selection for the campaign, thus becoming the first Canadian woman to be featured on a regularly circulated bank note, other than the Queen. Starting in 2018, Desmond will replace Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, on the $10 bill.

Upon hearing the news, I started a tweet thread about Viola Desmond and her history. Desmond was a Black businesswoman from Nova Scotia, who was arrested in 1946. While waiting for her car to be repaired, Desmond went to watch a movie at a theatre in New Glasgow, NS. Desmond had specifically requested a main floor ticket, but was given a balcony ticket – unbeknownst to her, the main floor was for Whites only, with Black patrons segregated to the balcony level. When the ticket taker blocked her from entering the main level, she went back to the cashier to clarify her request for a main floor ticket. The cashier refused, saying “I’m sorry, but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.” Desmond took a seat on the main level anyways, once she realized that the only thing barring her was the fact that she was Black. Theatre staff later demanded that she move to the balcony, but she refused – she could see better from the main level, and could afford to pay the difference between the two tickets. The manager of the theatre advised that he had the right to “refuse admission to any objectionable person,” and refused to take her money to pay for the main floor ticket. Because of her resistance, police were called and she was dragged out of her seat, suffering a hip injury in the process. She was put in jail overnight, charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia of the tax difference between the balcony and main tickets (1 cent), and freed in the morning when she paid the $20 fine.

Desmond knew that tax was not the reason for her arrest – it was her Blackness. She was not informed of her rights during her arrest or her trial and was subsequently convicted. After two unsuccessful appeals, legal action on the case slowed to a halt. In 2010, Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon by the Government of Nova Scotia (Canada’s first), and today, the Bank of Canada named her as the new face of our $10 bill.

The fact that so many people have admitted to not knowing who Viola Desmond was says so much about Canada’s past and present. Thinking specifically about Black Canadian history, so much has been ignored, buried, brushed aside in favour of Canada’s European history, or supplemented by African-American history. The lack of knowledge about the history of Black people in this country is a contributing factor to our “othering” – when you aren’t taught that you have a solid foothold in the development of this country, it’s that much easier to feel like the Canadian identity (whatever that looks like) doesn’t belong to you. We didn’t all arrive here thanks to former PM Pierre Trudeau – Black people have existed and contributed to this land for generations, and our stories deserve to be told and learned about by all Canadians.

Another example of this erasure was made clear yesterday, when CBC News shared a story of backlash against an incident of blackface in Chatham, Ontario. A grocery store in Chatham held an event featuring Dutch holiday staples Sinterklaas and his sidekick Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), a character displayed in blackface. The store manager addressed the backlash with the following: “It isn’t intended to be racist, it isn’t intended to offend anybody,” he said. “If we offended anybody, we apologize, but it wasn’t intended to offend anyone.”

Any time a “but” is placed in an attempt at an apology, just know that the person doesn’t really feel apologetic. But I digress.

Knowing that this happened in Chatham, which was called the Black Mecca in the 1800s due to its place as a prosperous town for Black people in all industries, makes it all the more egregious. Black people contributed to the Chatham we see today, yet that history still plays second fiddle to Dutch tradition. That hierarchy is explicit when it’s gasp-worthy that blackface could be offensive, especially in a Canadian town with such important Black history. We all need to know better. That’s how you do better.

Knowing better to do better is crucial when it comes to the connections between Viola Desmond and Rosa Parks. Viola Desmond is not “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” yet this need to lean on African-American history to validate Black Canadian history is the only thing that helps some people to see us and our experiences here. Both women’s stories centre around racial discrimination and a sense of resistance, and that’s pretty much where similarities end. To equate the two is ahistorical and reductive to both women’s experiences and impact – but most people won’t readily know that. For one, Viola was arrested 9 years before Rosa. Additionally, Rosa was part of extensive activist work long before she decided to stay in her seat on that Alabama bus in 1955 – she’s credited as a meek, mild woman who innocently launched the American Civil Rights Movement with her actions, but she was an activist and part of organizations that strategically worked towards that moment in 1955. The book “At The Dark End Of The Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance” by Danielle McGuire explains this in depth. Comparatively, to my knowledge, Viola was not part of any activist networks in Nova Scotia prior to her arrest – though she supported and empowered the Black community through her entrepreneurism –  and didn’t have the full support of her community when she chose to appeal her conviction. These women’s stories are very different, and until we do the work to ensure that the fullness of their stories are shared, we’ll continue to see myopic linkages made.

The desire to equate Black Canadian history to African-American history is another sign of how we distance ourselves from Blackness in this country. It helps to perpetuate this idea of racism and bigotry being American ideals – if we continuously attach our history of these ills to our neighbours to the south, it helps Canada to maintain some semblance of decency, even when those same ills have been rotting this country from the inside out since forever. People will call Viola Desmond our “Rosa” because they don’t see enough validity behind her just being Viola – Black people, experiences, and histories in this country are not considered worthy without a connection to America, further diminishing our existence and sense of belonging right here. It’s lazy, it’s insulting, and it needs to stop.

Canada will be going all out for its 150th birthday celebrations in 2017. My wish (and where much of my efforts will be placed) will be for a real push for better and more thorough inclusion of Black history within our Canadian tapestry, and a broadening of what the Canadian experience and identity looks like within our full scope of Canadians. Viola’s history, like the history of so many other Black Canadians, deserves better – and our present and future deserve better as well.

BLACK + WOMAN: The Complications Of Courtesy, Femininity, & Taking Up Space

Aint I - STruth

Sometimes, their faces are nonchalant because they truly couldn’t care less. Sometimes they’re tinged red, signaling the irrational anger bubbling underneath the skin. Sometimes, the redness is from embarrassment – but it’s rare that I hear an apology escape their lips. All of these faces are the ones I see by the people who commit microaggressions against me every day, and I remember each one of them. I saw a couple of those faces today when the people around me reminded me that being a 6ft tall Black woman places me on the lowest rung of their femininity scales.

As the train lurched to my stop this morning, those of us prepping to exit shuffled closer to the double doors, waiting for them to slide open. The White man beside me smiled at the White women around us, then graciously allowed them to exit ahead of him. As I started to walk through the doors as well, he made a great effort to push ahead of me, knocking me off balance in the process. That was one of the red faces, seemingly angry that I assumed his kindness would be extended my way.

Walking through the train station to the doors that led to my office building, I saw another White man holding the door open chivalrously for the White and Asian women walking through. As he saw me coming, he made eye contact, slid through the door, and let it slam in my face. His was one of the nonchalant faces, completely unconcerned with the fact that he purposely chose not to help a woman who had her hands full. The older White woman beside me shook her head and opened the door for me, then chided the man for choosing to rush than to be polite. I thanked her for her help, but didn’t bother to tell her the issue wasn’t his time constraint – it was that he didn’t deem me, a Black woman who towered over him in her heels – worthy of the courtesy he offered to the other women in his midst.

The embarrassed red faces were the ones at the grocery store recently – once, a cashier, once the White woman ahead of me whose child was being rambunctious in the line – who took quick glances at me then referred to me as “Sir” and “him.” Height + dark skin = ‘man’ more often than not, which is why I’ve been described with masculine terms until the person realizes that I’m in fact a woman.

The creation of the construct of Blackness through slavery matched with colonialism, colourism, and pandering to the perceived fragility of White women (whether they’re actually fragile or not) have greatly impacted the perception of Black women and Black femininity. Slavery saw Black men and women working side-by-side in cotton and sugar cane fields, expected to do the same labour. Because slavery denied us our humanity on a base level, you definitely couldn’t expect concepts like masculinity and femininity to be recognized, except for the biological purposes of childbearing. Black women serving as wet nurses and domestics in White homes throughout history were occupations still rooted in a denial of humanity, plus an acceptance of Black womanhood and femininity solely for the benefits it provided White families – particularly White women. Colourism has affected these perceptions as well, where lighter-skinned Black women have often been regarded with more value than darker-skinned women, both inter- and intra-racially. We see how this plays out in media today – how often do we see romantic couples represented with a dark-skinned Black man and a light-skinned Black woman? How often do we see darker-skinned Black men play “comedic” and cartoonish tropes of Black women? Darkness has been matched with masculinity, and lightness with femininity – so for me, it’s no surprise that my brown tone becomes equated with being “him” or presumes me unworthy of chivalrous courtesy in predominantly White spaces.

The flip side is when I am the benefactor of courtesy. When I am the one holding the door or making space for others, that action is expected. Where the corporate-suited White men in my office building bound onto the elevator and stand, legs spread, in the middle of the space, they look at me with the silent expectation that I will make myself smaller to accommodate them. I notice that sometimes my height is seen as a challenge to their masculinity. Where I’ve always joked that shorter men are almost insufferable in their attempts to make up for lack of height in my presence, I’ve come to realize that White men who are my height equals can be worse. The process is usually the following:

  1. White man ends up standing beside me in a public space.
  2. He realizes we’re eye-to-eye.
  3. He looks down to see if I’m wearing heels or flats.
  4. Either way (but especially when I’m in flats), he’ll place his hands on his hips or shift until his legs are hip-width apart, in a challenge to take up even more space.
  5. I laugh internally. And sometimes out loud.

There’s really no final thought to wrap this up with a nice bow. I have no words of advice, no thoughts on educating those who let this deep-rooted consciousness colour their interactions with me on a daily basis. Nothing else to add except to bring these microaggressions to light in hopes that it may make someone more aware, or at least make me feel like I’m not crazy. Even while writing this piece I’ve thought “Am I being too sensitive? Were these situations as bad as they seem? Am I just blowing things out of proportion?” But that’s exactly what microaggressions do – they make us question and second guess ourselves, siphoning time and energy from the victim, keeping us silent when we really need to promptly check a motherfucker.

So, as I head back out into the world for lunch, let me fluff my hair, apply some more lipstick, stand tall, and take up space. It won’t stop the microaggressions from attempting to chip away at my armour, but it’ll help me honour my brand of womanhood, femininity, Blackness, and worth. I’ll always honour it, regardless of who thinks otherwise.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU: Broadening Canada’s Media Landscape

Back in 2013, with some incredible Black Canadian women in media

Back in 2014, with some incredible Black Canadian women in media

It’s always entertaining to watch the reactions of someone who realizes something isn’t about them, when they’re used to everything being about them. Similarly, it’s hilarious to watch what happens when someone is forced to share, especially when it’s clear that sharing is the most unnatural thing to them.

Those two points being said: my popcorn has been popped and buttered for the scores of Ontarians upset that a slice of media has attempted to become more representative of the diversity in our particular province.

The Agenda is a current-affairs program on TVO, a provincially-funded television station. Its summer edition is being hosted by the incomparable Nam Kiwanuka, while regular host Steve Paikin is on hiatus. The Agenda is no stranger to controversies around diversity – this article notes that “The Agenda is self-admittedly too white: only 17 per cent of its guests last year were visible minorities (about 25 per cent of Ontarians identified as visible minorities in the 2011 census)”, and I was actually a guest on the show after a debacle over the lack of women panelists on the show, which aims to represent the demographics of Ontario.

Efforts have been made by the show to exercise more diversity across topic choices and panelist selections, and I’ve enjoyed much of what the show has offered so far in its summer session. I’ve seen more people from a variety of societal intersections featured on the show – discussing topics that are relevant, enlightening, and entertaining – than I remember seeing in the past, and I hope this continues even once the regular season picks up again in the fall.

While I’m enjoying the fresh faces and topics, it seems not everyone is so enthusiastic. A quick glance at comments on The Agenda’s social media accounts show that some feel any topic highlighting the lived experience of non-white people is a red flag that the show has become some far-left demon spawn, spewing propaganda aimed at making white people feel guilty for their privilege.

I just want to know: why do those people think everything is about them?

I mean, on one hand, I get it. Nothing makes the majority feel more victimized than realizing that they have to give up some of their space to the minority. A shifting landscape can be scary. Their territory is being encroached upon by people who they don’t relate to on some level, and the thought that their narrative is not the only one being shared – and not the only one that matters – is a threatening idea. In their eyes, something that they feel rightfully belongs to them (in this case, space in media) is being siphoned from them by people that don’t deserve it, and it’s a cause for panic.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to The Agenda or any particular media outlet – here in Canadian media, we continue to have a huge problem with the inability to make space for diverse faces and diverse narratives, and the efforts to remedy the problem seem to take an incredible amount of time. Because of this, when space is finally made for someone non-white (add to that being a woman, and/or disabled, and/or LGBTQ, etc.), it’s taken as a personal affront by those who are used to seeing their faces and their faces only. Cue panic. Cue paranoia. Cue “Why are we talking about this? It doesn’t matter!” Cue nasty comments online from people with fake names and dog/flag/egg avis – comments designed to put the minority back in their place and restore balance in their tiny, tiny worlds.

It’s a clear sign of an insecurity issue when someone feels their personhood is threatened by the presence of someone else, and I smell a stench of ignorance tinged with arrogance when people feel that a story doesn’t matter simply because it is not one they identify with. These are people who would seek to push those voices back into the margins, only to be called out when they deem necessary (usually when they’re looking for a “new” cultural idea to appropriate, or when we’re pretending that Canada is a multicultural utopia). What I would hope for the offended to understand is that while they are used to being status quo, the presence of “other” isn’t a reactionary one. A non-white person taking up space in media is not there simply to be an antagonist to whiteness. We are there to tell our truths, share our expertise, and make our money just like anyone else. Basically, stop thinking everything is about you.

I have admittedly had to work to undo the thought processes that made me overly concerned with what white people thought of me. As a Black woman, I’ve practiced the habit of running myself through various filters, hoping that whatever diluted product was left at the end was enough to get my idea across efficiently without being “too much” of anything.  The problem with that is, I filtered out myself in the act – so what’s really the point? Yes – I still aim to be professional, entertaining, intelligent, and whatever else is needed in the moment. However, worrying about what any one particular group thinks of me based on a paradigm that was created to make me inherently feel less than is not a good use of my energy. The space I take up in media as a Black woman, whether I’m talking about Blackness or anything else (another topic for another day: Canadian media, you can call on Black folks to discuss things other than Black issues), is valid and worthy and necessary.

That same validity, worth, and necessity is relevant to all of the diverse stories that can and should be told in our media. Until the Canadian industry catches up with what we all have to offer, I’ll continue to appreciate the entities that work to make room for us. Unfortunately for those who feel threatened by our presence: all I have to say is, get used to it. It really isn’t about you.  

FORGIVE/FORGET: Living Through The Process Of Forgiveness

 

forgiveness

I needed a reminder that I was still a good person.

You see, last week I found myself months-deep in my email inbox, looking for a document for the ever-dreaded tax season. I typed some keywords into the search bar, hit enter, and watched the results populate. The first thing I saw, however, wasn’t the email I was looking for – it was one I never really wanted to see again, but there it was.

I should have deleted that email long ago. To be honest, I think I only kept it to refer to in moments where I wondered, “Did that REALLY happen? Did this person REALLY speak to me that way? Did this person REALLY blindside me like that and make me wonder if I was as horrible as they wrote?” When I needed the reminder that, yes, those things were all true, there sat that email to give me the proof I needed. It probably isn’t a healthy practice to revisit, even subconsciously, a moment that causes you great pain – but I think I was in such disbelief for so long that it was part of my process of acceptance, moving on, and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a tricky, tricky thing – and in this particular situation, the work of forgiveness made me angry. It’s one thing to be wronged by someone and have them come to you, arms wide and heart apologetic as they lay down the acknowledgement of what they’ve done to you. You, as the forgiver, still bear the weight of working through your emotions and granting forgiveness when and how you see fit, but you’re not the only person in the conversation. An entirely different level of effort is required when you have nothing from the other person but the pain they’ve left you with – no apologies, no contrition, no acknowledgement, no agreement to sit down and talk it out – but in order to save yourself, you still have to find forgiveness on your own. It’s exhausting. It’s unfair. It’s anger-inducing. That exhaustion and unfairness and anger wrapped up in the process of forgiveness can make the whole thing implode from the inside out – but as I’ve learned, the process is largely inevitable, so you’ve got to push through.

I’ve had to question how effective the act of forgetting is in relation to forgiveness. Forgetting feels good, and when you remember that you’ve forgotten, it can feel like a step towards being able to forgive. When you forget, and move on, and start living your life outside of whatever connections you had with that person – when you do those things, you start to fill your life with new experiences that can soften the blow of the hurt you felt before. But inevitably, you remember. Something reminds you of that person or that situation, and one of two things happen. Either you remember and it doesn’t hurt as much (or at all), and you’re able to smile at your growth and perhaps even look up to the sky and wish that person well, wherever they are. Or, an uncomfortable pressure builds up in your chest and tries to bubble out of your eyes, and you swallow it down, convincing yourself you didn’t feel it. In one situation, forgetting moves you towards forgiving. In the other, forgetting is a flimsy mask for the forgiveness process. I’ve been on both sides, but I know which one feels better.

When I came across that old email the other day, I felt enough of that pressure building to concern me. In the past, I’d been able to smile and nod to the sky, so hadn’t I reached forgiveness? Hadn’t I actually stated out loud in the past that I’ve forgiven this person? So why was I now feeling like I had taken a step back? What I’ve learned here is that forgiveness can be a straightforward process, or it can come in and out like the tide. Maybe I haven’t fully reached the destination yet, or perhaps it’ll be a cyclical thing where the biggest goal will be to make sure each low moment is higher than the last. Then eventually, maybe one day it’ll all even out.

In writing this post, I can say that my biggest win has been taking the lens of forgiveness from the external to the internal. What I mean by this is that I’ve moved from wondering why, wondering what I did to make this person act the way they did, wondering what was and is going through their head – I’ve stopped caring. I know I’ll never get those answers, and even if I did at this point, they’ve lost the impact they could have on my forgiveness process. I’ve moved that lens internally, where it should be. I’ve learned to focus on what I need to do to feel good, what I can do to be a better person in the future, what I can do to accept what was and move on to what will be in my life. Forgiveness is a process for me, not for anyone else. Once I realized that, the process started to flow more authentically without cliched expectations of how it should feel.

So, I’m still on the journey of this and other paths of forgiveness in my life. Being able to forgive – or more realistically, dedicate myself to the process of forgiveness – reminds me that I’m still a good person, and I’m getting better every day.

CHANGING SEASONS: The Art of Letting Things Go

protect passions

When I started writing this post, I searched “letting things go” on my blog to make sure I hadn’t used the title before.

It felt like something I’ve felt before – and if it’s something I’ve felt before, I’ve probably said it before. And if I’ve said it before, I’ve surely written it before, so my thoughts were that I’d be repeating a sentiment with this piece.

The good news? I hadn’t used those three words in a previous blog post title. The not-so-good news? I’ve definitely expressed this sentiment before: here, here, and here.

I had a bit of a breakdown recently, where I tearfully admitted that “Nothing feels fun anymore.” This blog has led to an incredible amount of awesome opportunities doing things that I’ve really enjoyed. Sure, there have been downsides to it too – chasing freelance publications for monies owed, uncomfortable clashes between online/offline life, battling my own insecurities and imposter syndrome symptoms – but even the crappy moments have become wonderful teachable moments that may not have felt great, but served important purpose. The major lesson I’m learning now is that I’ve hit a wall, and instead of trying to find my way under/over/through it, I need to just sit there for a while with my back against its firmness, and just…be.

At my annual physical, my doctor noted that some of my bloodwork results looked a bit off, and sent me back for a do-over. I’m awaiting those results now, but made the poor decision to find my way down a rabbit hole of WebMD and Mayo Clinic websites, getting more stressed and worried with every click. I’m sure that – as has always been the case – I’m fine, and the majority of my concerns are related to stress that I don’t manage well. In those posts I mentioned before, I’m sure I acknowledged my issues with control, stress, worry, taking on too much, not finding a good balance or taking a break when needed, but I clearly didn’t do a good job of remedying them. I feel like this is the moment where I need to really work on those things and find a way to a healthier and happier me, and I need to be serious about it this time.

I always start out excited about things. Sometimes I’m giddy and passionate about an idea I’ve come up with, or I’m honoured to be approached by someone else who wants to work with me. Sometimes I see a posting for an opportunity that I know I’d be perfect for. Other times I say yes to something because of what I hope it will lead to. The FOMO (fear of missing out) hit me not as a fear of missing out on social media, but a fear of missing out on some incredible opportunity. I’d say “yes” then find myself in the midst of emails and meetings and drafts and rehearsals and busyness with nothing but good intention, ready to grow as a multi-faceted person who’s aware that she’s cultivating a personal brand at the same time. Some of the things I was excited about recently have left me feeling anything but. Chasing entities for thousands of dollars owed, being asked to work for compensation below my worth, consistently showing up for others and noting that reciprocity isn’t in everyone’s vocabulary – these things have been draining me lately, but I’ve kept pressing on.  Other things I remain excited about, but I feel burned out to the point where I have nothing left to give them right now. I miss things like Sunday mornings before anyone else is awake – just me, a cup of tea, and my blog. I miss feeling like I’m not always behind or chasing an ever-lengthening to-do list. I miss taking the time to enjoy life and be inspired by it. The work is fun until it’s not – and it happens so rarely that when I feel it as strongly as I do now, I need to heed the message.

All of the things I do are supposed to compliment each other and give me outlets that other parts of my life don’t provide. When my outlets start feeling like burdens, it’s the most frustrating thing – where do you turn next? During a Twitter chat about making your side hustle a full-time entrepreneurial pursuit, I tweeted that it was crucial to protect your passions – just because your passion becomes your full-time gig, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever end up disillusioned by it like any other job. My passions need to be protected right now. My health needs to be protected right now. My desire to be and do and create needs to be protected right now. All of these things need to be tended to, cared for, nurtured back to a place of fruitfulness and rejuvenation, otherwise nothing that I am or do will ever be where I want and need it to be.

It’s a new season, and we always joke about the cold weather being our sign that it’s time to make like bears and hibernate from the social scene. Instead of thinking of it as hibernation, I’ll take my cue from the trees. There’s something beautiful about the way trees shift, change, and let go, taking time to be still before flourishing again. Maybe that’s what I need. Maybe that’s what more of us need. There’s much to be said about the doing of life, but none of us can afford to miss out on the being. This is the season to pick and choose; to be careful and intentional about what I do and how I do it. I’m sure that soon enough the balance, inspiration, passion, and fun will all return for me, and until then, I’ll just take my time.

#WFC2015: The 2015 Women’s Freedom Conference Is Coming!

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Life has been hectic, but it’s generally been the kind of good hectic that keeps butterflies in my tummy and gives life the sort of exciting, out-of-control feeling that I thrive on at times.

A lot of wonderful new things are in the works, and one of those things is the 1st Women’s Freedom Conference, which I am SO proud to be a part of! If you’re a dope woman of colour, or know a dope woman of colour – keep reading.

While I believe that those of us who are “other” can and should find ways to burrow ourselves into the mainstream, I’m a huge advocate of creating your own space – space to exist, to shine, to share, to be. It’s no secret that marginalized people don’t have red carpets rolled out in their honour, with escorts at the ready to usher them to spaces where they are positively centered. With the Women’s Freedom Conference, intersectional women of colour are creating that space for other intersectional women of colour, to share their stories, their expertise, and their perspectives on life and liberation.

Our Leadership Team and Advisory Board are made up of incredible women like Feminista Jones, Reagan Gomez-Preston, Jamilah Lemieux, Linda Sarsour, and many others who represent the spectrum of women we hope to hear speak on October 25th.

Here’s a bit from our press release:

“On October 25, 2015, the Women’s Freedom Conference will center and amplify the unique voices and experiences of underrepresented women who have been disenfranchised beyond gender alone– women of color whose identities are intersectional and whose womanhood is shaped and defined along those intersections.

Last year, three close friends were having a conversation and one raised the idea of hosting an action that would bring together women of color from around the world together in one space. She asked the other two women if they would be interested in working to make it happen and they enthusiastically agreed. Initially conceived as a “freedom march” that would convene thousands of women in one American city, the women later decided that the platform would be more widely accessible to more people if it was a digital conference that could be accessed from anywhere in the world.”

My favourite thing about this conference is that it’s all digital – no need to travel across states and borders to attend. Find an internet connection, and you’re in there. As the International Marketing & Promotion Committee Leader, this is HUGE for me in encouraging women outside of the U.S. to attend and participate, and eliminates a lot of obstacles that women would face otherwise.

“The mission of the conference is to center Women of Color– our success, our concerns, our work, our activism, and our existence as vital contributors to making the world a better place. We want to make sure that women of color from around the world have a space to speak out and be heard, to teach others and to learn from each other, and to inform people of the work that they are doing in their respective communities.

Our goals include providing practical, real-world information from a diverse group of women, many of whom are actively working to improve the lives of women of color around the world. We want to make this information available to as many people as possible and we believe that utilizing modern technology is the best way to do so. Participants will engage in conversations, seminars, and direct actions focused on the empowerment of women of color by building solidarity and promoting sisterhood.”

Our Call for Submissions is now LIVE! If you are a woman of colour who has something to say or to share with the world, here is your chance.  Please review our submission details, and throw your brilliant hat in the ring!

Perhaps you don’t want to speak, but you want to attend virtually – stay tuned for more info as we get ready to launch the Women’s Freedom Conference on October 25th from 9am-9pm EST! Watch by yourself or organize a “watch party” with some friends, and take in all the amazing things we’ll have to offer! There may be opportunities to attend official watch parties in your city or town (Toronto, I’ve gotchu), so feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to know if someone is hosting in your area, or if you’re interested in doing so yourself!

So, what am I looking for?

I hope you’re as excited for the Women’s Freedom Conference as I am! More good things are on the way!

UNAPOLOGETIC: Focusing On The “Self” In Self-Care

SelfCareRevolutionarySelf-care has been a topic of much discussion in my various circles these days. Whether at work, with friends and family, or on social media, many of us – mostly women – are in the process of prioritizing ourselves in order to preserve ourselves.

Just yesterday, I commented on a Facebook posting on the topic with the following:

I have to be very mindful about my own needs and really have to train myself to stop, say no, relax, and rejuvenate. The two biggest things I’ve realized are: 1) for me, self-care doesn’t have to be a huge action – it can be as small as going inside a bathroom stall and doing some deep breathing, or going for a 10 min walk – and 2) getting over the guilt of practicing self-care is crucial – we need to take care of us so we can take care of everything else.

As soon as I hit send, I had an epiphany and quickly added the following:

Actually – though women have tons to take care of, the validity of our self-care still doesn’t need to be contingent on being able to take care of others. We have to take care of ourselves because we owe it to ourselves. That just popped into my head, so I wanted to add on :)

When we tell people – especially women who carry a multitude of concurrent roles and responsibilities – that their need for self-care is valid because it helps them care for others, is that truly self-care?

At the root of it all is the understanding that we need to create space in our lives to rejuvenate and replenish ourselves. It may look like booking a spa treatment. Or taking a walk on a beautiful day. Or buying ourselves something nice. Or saying no to every hot Friday night plan in favor of Netflix & wine after a tough work week. We can honour ourselves and our immediate needs in a way that no one else can, but we often feel guilt around the practice.

If we need to take a day off from work, we feel like we’re letting our team down. If we tell our families that we’re taking an hour to ourselves to unwind with a bubble bath, we feel bad about not being there for their needs. If we disclose our self-care practices to people who mock us for our “indulgence,” we feel like maybe we’re truly being selfish. A method that’s been used to curb this guilt and second-guessing (and to encourage us to continue along the path of self-care) is the phrase “Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others” – and while that’s undoubtedly a valuable asset to making ourselves priorities, it shouldn’t be the only reason we do.

We juggle so many different hats. Parent. Lover. Friend. Coworker. Caregiver. Financial Advisor. Student. Homemaker. We could be wearing any combination of hats at any given time, and self-care is crucial if we’re going to be any good to the people who depend on us. I definitely believe that in order to be there for others, we first have to be there for ourselves. They say you can’t give from an empty cup, so self-care helps us give to others from a place of abundance, not a place of martyrdom.

HOWEVER.

It still isn’t enough to value self-care solely for the ability it lends us to take care of others.

Isn’t the reverence we have for ourselves enough of a validation for self-care? Isn’t it OK to just say, “I’m doing this for myself” without further explanation? I’ll admit, when I thought about this while writing the aforementioned Facebook comment, I was hit with a nervous flutter in my stomach that signaled the guilt I thought I had swept away. It takes effort as a woman with multiple people depending on her to say “This is for me” instead of “This is for me so that I can be for you.” For those of us who fall prey to the fallacy of the Strong Black Woman trope, it takes effort to separate ourselves from the value we earn by keeping things going. We are prided on our ability to take everything the world throws at us without missing a beat, and we often aren’t afforded the opportunity to drop bits and pieces or the whole load to focus on ourselves, even for a short while. We give ourselves permission for self-care by equating it back to the asset we’ll be to those that need us, and that helps to make it OK. The benefit to others is the easiest defense against cries of indulgence of selfishness, so we grab at it quickly. Forcing myself to move beyond that, and allowing myself to care for myself because I care for myself is a revolutionary act.

As I said on Twitter:


Now, I just need to remember that.

SAVE ROOM: Learning How To Make Space For Life

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I get dramatic about birthdays. I love my birthday, and a personal goal is to accomplish something so incredible in life that May 10th becomes a national (or international!) holiday.

I know I’m dramatic. Luckily for the people who are forced to put up with me, I can step outside of myself and see how ridiculously extravagant I get about each new rotation around the sun.  That being said, this year feels even more profound than usual. I initially chalked it up to needing some positive anticipation – last year was an overwhelming whirlwind of amazing highs and troubling lows, and this year I know I need more stability and growth. But as I thought about it more, I realized this birthday felt so profound because I finally learned a crucial lesson:

I need to make room in my life to let life happen. 

Things have been severely crowded for too long. Moving + baby + work + side hustles + bills + friends + trying not to forget about Bee = a life so stuffed that some days felt downright paralyzing. The most crippling thing was the fact that everything I had gotten myself into, I had chosen to do – so I had no one to blame but myself, and it seemed like no one could help me but myself. Nothing felt optional. I had to go to work. I had to take care of my daughter. I had to pay bills and take care of home repairs. I had to keep up with my freelancing. I had to keep working with the film festivals and magazines and youth groups and projects I was tied to. Everything linked to something else: I kept taking on cool projects because maybe something would pop off and I wouldn’t have to go back to my day job after mat leave. I forced myself to do daily social media management for clients because I needed the extra money to help with diapers and daycare. I felt obligated to try to plan events because I thought I had fallen off and wasn’t “on the scene” anymore like I used to be. Everything seemed indispensable, so while I started feeling stifled, I told myself I couldn’t drop any of it. If I was feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I convinced myself that the problem wasn’t the amount of things I tasked myself with, it was my work ethic. I had to find ways to focus, to be more efficient, to make sure I got things done and done well – in short, I wasn’t kind to myself at all.

Yes – I have an amazing partner in life who shares many of the responsibilities I named above, but when it came down to the things I do outside of home and baby, he wasn’t with me shooting in the gym. The writing, the events, the projects, the work – the choice to do them and the reason why I was doing them lived solely in my head and heart. The pressure I was putting on myself to do them lived there too, so I knew that while HomieLuva is an incredible sounding board, I’d have to initiate any change I wanted in my life on my own.

I started off by doing a basic time audit of my life. My days were full of things to do, but I soon realized that a lot of these things weren’t serving me well anymore. There were things I was doing simply because I told myself I had to, and further – I told myself that to not do them was to be a quitter or a failure. When I was honest about what some of these things were doing for me, I realized they weren’t doing a gotdamn thing except stressing me out. I could barely stand things that used to fill me with excitement, and it was downright depressing. My next realization was that there was a constant, nagging feeling of some awesome opportunity just within my grasp, but my life was so cluttered that there was no room for it. I felt things passing me by and though I couldn’t definitely state what it was that I missed out on, I knew that I literally had no space for anything new – so good things were undoubtedly floating away.

Next, I thought about my current priorities. Taking care of my family, my finances, and investing in myself topped the list. Comparing my priorities to my audit, I realized that a lot of the things I felt obligated to do didn’t fall in line with any of my priorities. They may have had a place at one point in time, but things changed and I was now just forcing a square peg into a round hole. There were things I knew I’d have to say goodbye to, say “not now but maybe later” to, say a firm no to – and I had to say it all immediately. Over the last couple of weeks, emails have gone out, calls have been made, and the things that I needed to say have been said. I’ve finally reclaimed a bit of freedom. I have room to breathe and to just be without having to do, and it’s the best birthday present I could have asked for.

I’ve given myself the gift of leaving room for life. I’m trading in excessive guilt and undue self-imposed pressures for the space to find things to enjoy, inspire me, and help me grow. I’m letting go of things that put some dollars in my bank account, and believing that things are coming that will give me even greater prosperity. I’m clearing things out and making a new foundation, and it feels like I have nowhere to go from here but up.

Let’s toast to fresh starts and swift, sustained ascents. Happy birthday to me.

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