Links in a Chain: On Using My Voice

Every once in a huge while I send out an email newsletter and late last week, a great friend emailed me a copy of my own words with a note that read “You need to get back to and revisit this.” My immediate response was defensiveness as if she was calling me out and I had to protect myself. Well, she was calling me out, but there was absolutely no need for me to get defensive because she was right. Really, really right.

It’s been 5 months since I sent out that newsletter and 5 months of excuses about writing more publicly. I’ve had folks ask me to guest blog whom I turned down and one of my amazing professors, Andrea Scarpino, who I have taken a couple of writing courses with as part of my PhD work noted that she would love to see more of my writing, this type of writing, in print. I brushed it off as a response to the online writer’s notebook I kept for one of her classes, Memoir and Identity where I responded to the readings and writing prompts. I subconsciously privileged writing for my courses, conferences and presentations over a blog, or what I had begun to see as common discourse.

The fact is that I have become a lot more comfortable writing for academia and reasoned that I had nothing really to say outside of that space. Although I already hold an MA, I was suffering a huge bout of imposter syndrome my first year of my doctoral program. I constantly had thoughts like: Who I am to do this? I am only in this program to meet a quota. Who do you think you are? Etc. It got to the point where my fear left me paralyzed and I would do all of my reading, but struggle so hard to write. This is coming from someone who has just below a 4.0 (damned A-). But then I recognized that this was creeping into all areas of my life–my day job, Black Girl Project, relationships–everywhere. I had to take a few steps back and go “Hold up, Aiesha! You are awesome and are here to do the work that only you can do!” Of course it was more involved than that, but it was a beginning.

I have come to understand that this is all rooted in a cultural and societal fear. Many of us Black folk were raised to believe that we had to be twice as better to get even half of what they (and by they I mean white folks) have. I get why this has been enculturated throughout the Diaspora. It is a survival technique that somehow affords us a bit of safety and protection and imbues us with some extra pride when we do accomplish our goals. But on the other hand, it also breads fear and ridiculous amounts of internal pressure. It can also leave us second and triple guessing ourselves and that is neither healthy nor fair. Nothing about blackness, Black accomplishments, or achievements should have to live in some protracted dichotomy with whiteness. None of it. We are who we are and do what we do–individually and collectively–but not in comparison with or opposition to what white folks do. We can stand alone and measure ourselves by the yardsticks of our own making.

A lot has taken place since that email newsletter I sent out 5 months ago. I have been trained to lead Emotional Emancipation Circles, I have connected with some amazing people and organizations to collaborate with, and  it is the middle of a semester and I am writing a blog post. Like I said in my newsletter “My voice, your voice, all voices matter…,” but to add to that, our voices matter in all the spaces we inhabit–the 9 to 5, the halls of the academy, and the street corner. I am thankful to my friend who reminded me to use my voice and for the oftentimes difficult work  have to undertake and return to in order to make sure that I inhabit myself fully.

Today is the first step of many and I have a lot to say (about everything) so I might as well say it.