Thursday, March 21, 2013

Who is this again?

Okay I thought it would be a good idea to talk more about my background and why I am the way I am and why I react to things the way I do.

Call this getting to know why Shannon Says things.

First I want you to read this quote by my friend Hannah from Tumblr.

as a black woman, being a critical thinker who is sensitive too is exhausting you think i WANT to see racism and sexism and all this fucked up shit everywhere? it would be nice to shut it off every once in a while and enjoy some stupid show like big bang theory or arrested development or whatever it is white people are watching these days but i really can’t because not only do i SEE all these things, but i feel them too
 The bolding there is mine for emphasis.If you tumblr you should follow her here.

I'm going to get a tad nerdy on you for a second and reference the fantasy novel series Sword of Truth. At one point there's talk about these sadistic trainer warrior ladies and the point of the conversation is that the cruelest among them, were the softest most sensitive little girls.

I was and am a very sensitive creature. Let me tell you a slightly embarrassing story from my childhood.

If you are my age or grew up watching TV in the 80s I'm sure you remember those awful commercials with the dying, starving children of Africa. They were fairly traumatizing for me on several levels. Those were frequently the only images of other Black children I saw. There were not many other Black kids in my school therefore in my wee baby brain, those few of us must have been the super lucky ones.

At one point I remember watching cartoons and there came Wile Coyote. Wile to my eyes looked like a taller version of those starving African kids. He was so thin, with his sometimes round belly, he never caught the Road Runner, he never got to eat. I cried. I brooded about poor hungry Wile, I was upset. I had nightmares about him dying and suddenly there would be no more cartoons.

I didn't talk about it with my parents or friends because that's the kind of kid I was (am). Instead I cut up a few apples and packed them the way my Mom did for me. I also knew how to make an awful tuna sandwich  I packed four of each, watched the show and wrote down the address shown on one of the ACME boxes Wile got. I addressed it, waited on my front porch and gave the box to the mailman.

The mailman, bless his soul for this, took the box after I explained that I wanted to feed Wile and could he please make sure it got there and I wrote on the box what was in it.

I don't know what he ever did with it, but he did not laugh at me or call me stupid (as when I retold this to a few people did) he just took it off and I stopped crying for poor Wile.

That my friends is a prime example of the kind of sensitive person I am.

Now when I was that young, when I was hurt I cried or I hid. I absorbed it and frequently believed that if someone was mean or rude to me, on some level I probably deserved it. Sometimes I thought it was because I was a Black child. Yes, even at the precious age where I was supposed to be daydreaming about ballet and puppies and shit, I worried about being a Black child.

I was conscious of my size. I was not necessarily a fat child but I was a very very small child and had a complex about it. I did not like having strangers babytalk to me because when I was 5 I looked 3. I did not like that people disbelieved me when after I learned to read.

I learned that often I had to bear being made uncomfortable by Old White Ladies because in my world then, I was taught you do not call shit out. Don't show you're angry, be nice, be polite.

Think about that.

Today, I am often told that White kids are always exempt from consequences of their racism. It's always, they don't know any better, they are just kids etc etc.

How is it okay that I had to learn about racism by age 6 but white kids are exempt seemingly forever?

We'll talk about that later but I want you to really think about that.

As a child, I often was very quiet. I listened, I watched. I learned. I learned to take my tears to private times because often, there wasn't a lot of mercy or pity for my tears.

I learned that I could not cry to my White teachers about racist shit other kids said to me because it was always me being too sensitive. There was no understanding, there was no safety.

That continued through my childhood and teen years.

What I was taught by society, school etc was that my sensitivity was a problem. It was not a gateway to me learning to be a critical thinker, it was not important to my development, it was not protected or coddled.

The world at large tried very hard to burn it out of me.

I learned to bear the brunt of my pain in silence. Stone faced. Never angry, always polite, always nice.

Until I wasn't.

I recall a moment when I was maybe 15 or so, a sophomore in high school. I was trying really hard to be that nice, non angry person and I just couldn't. I saw my education for what it was. I was rewarded for vomiting back bullshit I didn't believe in and I got angry.

Unfortunately for me perhaps, part of me expressing that anger was largely giving up on my extracurricular activities and some of my classes. I just couldn't care.

Everything hurt.


Watching tv hurt. I wasn't really fat in any real sense of the term but in the microcosm of my school and friends I was and it hurt.

I couldn't read teen magazines because they served to remind me that my Blackness was not beautiful enough to be in them, nor was it important enough to get beauty tips or hair tips.

I tried reading Teeny bopper romance novels and other YA girly lit and they hurt. I was not a beautiful Blond Teen girl with slim thighs and a flat stomach. My parents weren't wealthy, my biggest problems didn't have to do with them not buying me the car I wanted or not having the handsomest guys in school arguing over who got to take me to the Spring formal.

I went through a long period feeling like I was rejected from the entire universe.

I had no ties to the Black community, I didn't even know there was a Queer community, I wrote perverted poems, I wanted to be tied up, I wanted to fuck a lot of people, I wanted to be loved and valued for being a sensitive, super smart critically thinking fireplug and not like the bad evil black sheep.

My sensitivity and proclivity for critical thinking, made growing up hard.

As an adult it's harder.

Because of the way I learned to survive, it's hard for me to be vulnerable. Feeling fragile or hurt enrages me. I want to pretend I am made of stone, that nothing you or anyone else does can hurt me.

But, I am not a machine.

I am a deeply feeling, deeply thinking person.

I am a sensitive critical Black woman.

And that shit is hard my friends. Sometimes it is honestly just too much to bear.

So here's what I need for my White homies to take away from this.

Before you think that any POC is overthinking, being over sensitive, or reverse racist or whatever White Nonsense you may be thinking, think about what it's like to have the culture you are trying to survive in crush you for thinking and existing. For having feelings.

Think about WOC like me who, are often beasts of burden until someone declares us a Jezebel regardless of what we may or may not do or say.

Think about the degree of pressure there is for Black women especially to bear the burden of educating White feminists on why being a racist is a shitty thing to do, about why we want to be included in media, about why no if you're going to critique media or popular culture focusing on only women of color is fucking racist, on why not to touch our hair, or why sometimes we need our own spaces to work out intra racial problems and your voice and opinions on the matter are not needed.

Look at it this way, think about spending the next fifteen or twenty years answering the same four questions every single day and being expected to be ever so nice and polite, to not have feelings about it or at least not be such a scary individual who has feelings.

Think about the awfulness and sheer degradation involved in not being considered a complete human being.

That's all.

Homo Out.


Haddayr said...

This is a fucking awesome essay.

Thae86 said...

Thank you for sharing this. There is still so much I'm making myself learn about my White privilege. I empathize with the anger at having to navigate through that bullshit. As for being sensitive...I can relate. Even now, I can hardly watch a living creature in pain and helplessness without crying, whether it's tv or real life.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I came across this today though it would be a good read any day.

I can't just turn it off my feelings when some man I respect for talent or whatever says horrible, sexist stuff. I get hurt, but I get angry too so the enraged at being hurt thing.

Not everyone's brain is made so that stuff just rolls off of them. What your friend said about wanting to turn off critical thinking.. yeah, that would be nice.

But this post makes me think about when Black people have gone off on me.. take a minute to understand why the other person without a privilege is upset, or pissed. Or just shutting up and letting someone have space to be upset or pissed without me around as a White person.

Short version: good post, thanks.

Also your Wile E. Coyote story is pretty awesome.. not that you felt bad, but your impulse to help and the postman seeing that in you. :)

Apolla said...

Simply put: thank you.

Michelle said...


The Real Cie said...

I'm also a highly sensitive person and a very defensive person. I'm mentally ill (bipolar disorder + borderline personality disorder + OCD.) Believe me, I got zero understanding about being very sensitive or about being bullied. I was always told to suck it up, to toughen up, or to stop "being so weird."
I actually wasn't fat when I was in my teens but I had body dysmorphic disorder so I perceived myself as fat. Also the other girls were always more than happy to point out my comparatively big butt. I quickly learned to hate my hips and thighs because of the attention they drew to me. I was also tall for my age. And I had the horrifying Martian headgear in an attempt to pull back my buck teeth. I was not a pretty girl.
I started doing drugs in my teens, and I very quickly morphed from a sweet little girl into a snarky tough chick with a cigarette dangling from my lip whenever I left school property.
I have people tell me not to be so defensive, but I've been victimized to many times. I refuse to be the victim again.

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