A few months ago I was invited to be part of a planning committee dedicated to putting on two events for “women in leadership.” I found the invitation to be quite curious because while I am indeed a woman in the field of leadership, that was not the area of interest I was passionate about. In fact, to call myself a woman without the qualifier black woman feels remiss and incomplete. Though at the time it felt wrong, the pairing of me and this group I felt strongly that the invitation was extended, perhaps, for a greater more abstract reason.
Ever since I was a child I wanted to be in a sorority. Educated in a private prep school requiring pink jumpers for girls and green khakis for boys, looking up to women like my headmaster, I saw my eventual pursuit was something of a given. Upon entering college and having the dream be closer to actualization I was met with the reality of politics. That’s perhaps the best word for it. And in the time between then and fairly recently, the pursuit was superficial. It was the thing I always thought I would do, the thing that was expected of me. I even struggled to reconcile which organization fit me because so much of my own thoughts were entangled in perceived expectations of others.
The thing that has become important to me is my role within the Black community. Its something I never really considered before, and at some points during my past would have even seen as limiting or crippling. Wanting to dull the shine of my Black identity because of the distance it may put between myself and others. Wanting to remain calm and even-keeled working under threat of being yet another angry Black woman. I, too, had bought into the idea that in order to succeed in the way I wanted to succeed, I would have to dilute my blackness, my atlantaness, my otherness.
What I have come to realize be grateful for is being completely out of my element here in San Diego. I will never be the pretty that is pretty here. So I’ve had to embrace my own. My inability to fit in has challenged me to appreciate myself in an entirely new way. Not only that, but my pride in some areas has developed immensely. I’ve become so proud to be Southern. Black. Young. Shapely. Because really my only other option was discomfort and probably self loathing, or resentment.
So I look at women. I say, yes I am a woman. A Black woman, but a woman. And I don’t clarify to indicate that we’re completely different, because I think some things are universal to the experience of this gender. But I add it to indicate that my womanness resides within this context. That sometimes the agreeable docile, “quiet storm” type woman doesn’t fit my lived experience.
And I look at sorority. And I think that in a place like this, I really do wish I was connected to more women who understood more of my experience. The journey of navigating two words, the journey of navigating the roles of two gender roles (being powerful and strong, yet loving and supportive) the dizzying spin of professional politics and general growing pains. I think of the collective legacy the organizations leave within our communities and I want to be apart of that. I couldn’t have articulated that with any real sense of knowing before now.
And while I still think, SoCal is not for me. I find myself fashioning a flag to be placed when I leave. Not solely to mark that I was here, but to testify that it was here that I laid claim to myself. That I owned parts of me I felt were undesirable or even took for granted. I appreciate my struggle here. It serves as my strength, and in using it I’ve connected to causes, and people, and have grown, but not up…down. Here at the edge near the ocean I sunk my roots into the earth and I stood proud.
I think it is because of that, because of having to confront all my facets that I can really appreciate the richness. I see how deep my own well is and I know others’ are the same. I look back and sincerely thank god that somethings I’ve prayed for haven’t come to pass. Because I wasn’t ready for them. I wouldn’t have know what to do with them.
Which brings me to a quick point about love. I told a friend tonight that its funny you can look back on a relationship and say man…I barely had one toe in that union. Even if at the time it felt otherwise. And sometimes its intentional, but other times its because that toe’s worth of You is all you have access to. You can’t give what you don’t have. So I realize in my recent petitions to god I’ve asked for a partner to love with my wholeheart. And I backed up to first say, god give me access to my whole heart, help me to get there first.
And it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be authentic. As open as I can be, and when its time to go deeper, he has his shovel too and isn’t just helping me pile my dirt. Which is why I think right now is so perfect. Roots. I’ve got those, but the branching out, the blossoming, the growing? I don’t have to do that alone, and I don’t want to. Hence this idea of sorority. Its about the collective, the we, the fist…that and love are things I used to claim I wanted yet actively worked against. But not now. Not since settling in to me. Honestly not since realizing this idea of abandonment v. Engulfment. I wasn’t looking for a new definition of sister. Woman. Black. Me. But the rejection of these words as others described them felt like they didn’t include me. I’ve somehow been able to negotiate a balance of sorts. Where I do not feel left out nor overwhelmed by them. And I can own my desire for sorority, and companionship. I can own my identity as a woman and a Black woman. I can own my sense of Black. Imperfect though it all may be, the messiness is just life. Its part of the experience. The mess. The muck. The unkempt. It is evidence of life in motion. The dynamic fluidity: I am always becoming.