by Adaku Okeke
I was always so attracted to the idea of having power.
Of being magical.
Of being seen as more than me, because I was not enough.
As a kid, I used to flick my wrist and see if I could shoot webs out like Spider-Man.
I used to stare at objects and will them to move with my mind.
I knew nothing would happen,
but still I'd try.
I was so fascinated, so captivated by the idea of being more than me.
As I grew older, Black started to become the new beautiful.
Hashtag Black Girl Magic spread everywhere.
My worth could be proven.
I posted the selfies.
I got some of the likes.
But it didn’t feel right.
I was a Black girl, but was I magic?
Was it just my physical attributes that would make me this idolized fantasy being?
Was it because my hair defied gravity or was it my curves that gave me validity?
Did I have to be desired?
Was my being reduced to a fetish?
Was I just a sexual being?
and many of my brothers included,
seemed to agree that our features defied the oppressive westernized ideology of beauty.
They agreed that our features were beautiful.
But at times, it felt like they were more struck by the idea of our features on white women than
our features on us.
My skin, heavily melanated, glistened in the sun so beautifully, still,
because of the internal self-hate instilled in me, I was quick to seek shade on hot sunny days.
Yes, my natural hair was beautiful when it defied gravity,
but only if it was long enough in length and formed perfect spirals.
So every few days, I sat in front of my mirror, manipulating the strands of my hair between my
fingers so that they would form more perfect curls than the natural ones I was given.
I grew frustrated with my hair.
If I had just a little white in me,
I would think with shame.
My eyes would scrutinize every part of me, my twisted perception of beauty deemed
I wasn’t thick enough in the places that mattered. And I wasn’t thin enough either.
I judged myself with ease.
Conscious actions consequences of my subconscious thoughts.
Comparing and contrasting myself to what?
I’ve had academic advisors tell me I was doing more than what was expected,
neglecting the fact that I was accepted to the institution because of what I could do.
I feared they were right.
I couldn’t stop though. I had to prove I was worthy.
Worthy of the Black women who came before me.
I wouldn’t be the Black woman they wanted me to be.
I couldn’t be their stereotype.
If Ruby Bridges was in my position,
would she give up at the opposition to her success?
I had to prove that I was deserving of my space in this world.
I had to prove that I was deserving of my space at this institution.
Small sacrifices of my sanity were worth the end prize,
a pride in myself that no one could take away.
When they questioned my ability,
when they looked at my skin and my sex as if it was a disability that I should be ashamed of,
I had to rise above.
I’ve been rejected by the feminism of close confidants.
The difference between our skin colors shattered any vision of unity.
When Alice Walker said it, I didn’t understand it,
but they were white women and that whiteness mattered.
I understand it now.
Their feminism was a euphemism for white privilege, and denial of.
Their feminism denied my existence as a woman,
the color barrier too obvious,
no matter how colorblind they claimed to be.
Because I was more than just a woman,
my fight was not the same.
My fight was not theirs to worry about
and they had the right to shut me down
because they were worried about women as a whole
and to exclude myself from their narrative
was to create division,
so I could either fight for them
or against them.
I chose to fight for myself.
I’ve been subjected to ridicule and objectified by my own brothers,
brothers that claimed to love me.
I was convinced that my brothers hated me.
I was convinced that the rage they felt was used to wage war on me.
I am convinced that the mentality that binds and confines them to a cage they have forcefully
been backed into has caused them to misdirect their hate.
Not that I believe in hate,
but it is very easy to feel.
It is very easy to be angry.
We nurture our Black men.
We shield our Black men.
Rather than uplift us, they pull us back and push us behind them,
not to protect us, but to make it known that we matter less.
does it not matter, that when you are down, I am the one that holds you?
My King, does it not matter, that it was a Queen who birthed you?
Does it not matter,
that I could be the missing piece,
to your peace?
So quick to attack the vessel our creator and maker designed to carry you.
Hate is so easy to feel.
And hate is so easy to feel for you.
You contribute to the anger I am not allowed to express.
I feel so pushed into submission by you.
There is no room for my voice.
And it makes me feel weak.
Created and developed in the sanctuary of a queen, you were,
sheltered by her womb,
but perhaps because you could not see during the time,
you did not realize who was responsible for giving you your power.
Power you have used to trivialize my pain as a Black woman.
Though you remind me that I am Black before I am a woman, but I am still a woman,
so I should know my place.
Everyone seemed to know my place but me.
I was constantly being told that I was not allowed to feel what I feel,
or be who I wanted to be.
And it made me angry.
It made me sad.
It depressed me.
It hurt me.
The sides of me I wanted to show, I made invisible.
I suffered for their comfort.
I suffered for their conditional love.
I was broken down.
I was made to hate myself.
I was made to reject myself.
I was made to not be loved.
Made by people who did not make me,
but thought they had the right to that claim.
When I was tired, I could not show it.
When I felt passionate, I had to remain calm.
When I needed love, I was expected to be strong.
Being human was not an excuse,
for I was not a human.
I was a Black woman and there was a difference.
As a Black woman, I am held to higher standards,
while simultaneously being expected to fail.
As a Black woman, I am a paradox.
I constantly questioned myself.
Was I beautiful enough?
Was I smart enough?
Was I unique enough?
Was I good enough?
Was I thin enough?
Was I thick enough?
Did I give it up enough?
Was I modest enough?
Was I passionate enough?
Was I woman enough?
Was I Black enough?
Did I accommodate enough?
Was I submissive enough?
Was I at the battlefront enough?
Was I compliant enough?
Was I deep enough?
Or was skin deep enough?
Was I myself enough?
Or was my sex enough?
For you to judge me by?
Who was I?
Could I truly show myself?
Could I truly be myself?
Was it possible?
To show myself?
Past the color sex I had been defined with?
If no one was with me, then maybe it really was myself against the world.
But I knew that lie wasn’t true.
That’s what they wanted us to believe.
They fed off our division so that we would think we were made to stand alone.
They had pitted us against each other.
Cultured us to compare and not to connect.
So we learned to disrespect one another,
Rather than accept the other.
But we were sisters.
And if no one else thought we mattered,
the very least we could do,
was love ourselves,
then love each other,
enough to prove we mattered.
There is beauty in unity.
In being able to share stories of struggles,
while encouraging each other's journeys.
There is beauty in being able to laugh and cry together,
in being able to pray together.
Carrying on this tradition of competition was neither healthy nor necessary to our survival.
It was possible to light each other’s candles without putting out our own flames.
We were not crabs in a barrel,
we could all rise.
At some point,
I began to realize that the love I was seeking, did not come from validation,
but from within.
I could be myself, and contradictory to the popular opinion,
who I was,
I could excel with what I had,
I could excel by being me.
My random curl patterns, my skin, my body,
they surpassed any beauty limitations set on me.
Were to be determined only by me.
I had the power to set myself free from hurt.
I had the power to be who I wanted to be.
So I decided,
to embrace it all.
To love my anger like I love my peace.
To love my sadness like I love my happiness.
I could not hide.
I could not change my narrative to fit someone’s subjective view of what my life should look like.
Even when I fit their stereotype, I was not their stereotype.
I was me. So beautifully me.
Even when they tried to tear me down,
Even when they tried to silence my voice.
They could not take the pieces of me they liked and shame me for the pieces they didn’t.
They could not force me to be ashamed.
I am reclaiming myself, renaming myself,
Creating the me I want to be.
So beautifully divine I am.
They will see, that it is true, that I too am made in the image of the most high.
I too am God
And they will,
respect my being,
respect me as the beautiful extension of nature I am.
Because if I cannot bask in the glory of my existence,
without it being seen as a resistance to the system they created for me,
Then I welcome them to my rebellion.
It is not perfect, but it is resilient
is our power.
Our ability to do what we want, how we want.
Our ability to love ourselves.
Our love for self.
To be Black and proud.
To be a woman and proud.
To be a Black woman and proud.
To be able to claim it.
To be able to dance away stress
and paint out negative energy.
To write, speak what we write and love what we speak,
because our words verbalized,
symbolized that our voices mattered.
We are not meant to be compliant.
We were not given words to speak with to remain silent.
We create and innovate with nothing but our beautiful minds.
Doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists,
Artists, writers, teachers, mothers.
Architects of our own empire,
we aspire to be greater than what is expected,
And remain perfect in our imperfections.
We wear our crowns high for the world to see,
that we are freeing ourselves internally.
And because our kingdom is built from within,
because our love for self does not come from validation,
but from within,
we have full ownership,
and no one with dirty hands can touch our souls.
Our spirits remain intact despite the attacks.
Our insecurities and our vulnerabilities are not to be played with.
We embrace them,
because they remind us that we too are human,
and we don’t need magic and special powers for us to be enough.
Our humanity is beautiful,
and it just so happens
that we get the privilege
of experiencing it
as Black women.