By: Bri Watts
I grew, believing I had nothing to fight for.
My parents lived with me and had steady jobs (albeit their psyches were not steady).
I ate home-made food everyday.
On Fridays and sometimes Saturdays, we ate out (having to go 40 minutes out of the way for fresh produce — only ten for fast food).
I went to school and got good grades (even if I did live in a predominantly black hood and even though my text books were older than my great grandmother).
I never had to look over my shoulder in fear of being attacked (although a man, fresh out of jail, came knocking on my window in the middle of the night).
I could play in my yard without being afraid that I or my siblings would catch a stray bullet (even though my yard contained no privacy).
In comparison to my peers and fellows in my generation, I was in the clear. No need to be an activist.
I did not acknowledge what was in the parentheses until now.Presently, at 17, I truly realize the struggle is far beyond having a secure home and a steady income. I recognize I have been affected by things that once did not seem like a big deal. Yet, they were right in front of me, gave birth to me, grew up with me.
Amidst the home-made food, steady income, and a two-parent household, my mother was, and still is suffering from depression, my father is illiterate, and I’ve been watching my cousin suffer with anger management issues my whole life.
My mom will have no appetite for days and conclude that it is normal behavior. She is constantly experiencing mood swings and her emotions are bold, unmistaken, and unavoidable. She can laugh with me about a Netflix show, admonish me about keeping the dishes washed, and belittle herself about her hair looking terrible (when it often times looks magnificent), causing her to become beset with sadness, all within a matter of minutes. Her anger often times is projected onto my father as well.
She never hesitates to remind him of his downfalls, of how much power she holds. It sometimes frightened me, how such spite could come from a beautiful woman with such a kind soul, and sadly the systemic and institutionalized powers set in place by schools, media, and society that make her believe that “depression is a white thing” keeps her from seeking the help she needs.
My father was illiterate since before the day my mother met him. He would have continued to not know how to read without my mother, because of the capitalism and greed that poisoned his mother. His mother decided that more important than working to get a better education for her son, was the money she received keeping him in the state he was in (stagnant).
So now, all he is able to do is be a factory worker, experiencing the same type of mental and emotional attacks that slaves received. He is stripped of his manhood at work and sometimes through my mother’s depression and he often feels useless, worthless.
I watched my older cousin more often times than not, throw extreme fits. He would start fights, constantly get suspended from school, raise his voice at my auntie over things one would think were small, but to him, were everything. The situations had to be, right? Why else would his anger be so massive, so undeniable, so unmistakable? Why else would he be so plagued with rage, confusion, frustration so often that he had no room left to feel ambition?
It is not a coincidence that my mother battles depression, that my father is illiterate, or that my cousin is consistently losing to anger management issues.
It is in the pollution that unapologetically throws off our mental balance.
It is the processed, artificial food we eat that stunts our growth, as well as the lead-filled water we consume.
It is in the images and representations that tells us “this is what we were destined to be like”. It can be found in the lack of resources that prevents us from going any place better. It is ever present in the lack of creative outlets that restricts us from telling our stories.
I, a young black Queen, got used to the fear of ending up like my mother, and having to learn to deal with loving people like my cousin, my father.
It became normal to me; my mother’s sadness, my father’s lifelessness, my cousins unmatched anger, emptiness.
I, once upon a past, thought nothing of their condition, of the factors so palpable to me (literally). I did not believe I had anything to fight for and that is because of the best and worst thing about being a human — adaptability.
I allowed myself to get comfortable. In getting comfortable, I allowed myself to think that my ‘parenthesis’ were normal. The mental illness, the food deserst, the limited education, the stray convicts , and lack of privacy became normalized. With normalization, I allowed myself to think that these things were not worth fighting for, that such an issues did not deserve or call for fighting for.
You Queen, that is reading this, remember that you do not have to fear in your youthful years that you will become like your mother; unstable, angry, sad, unpredictable.
You do not have to run further away from yourself in order to ensure that you are not growing closer to being like her.
You do not have to readjust who you are because you think you have to in order to accommodate marrying someone like your father.
You do not have to shrink yourself in order to make a man feel like a man because you know how low your father often felt.
You do not have to cowardly apologize if you find yourself angering a man who has been suffering from anger far beyond anything you could have ever done.
You should not have to settle.
And you cannot get comfortable. Do not allow things to introduce themselves to you as normal. You must acknowledge the parenthesis. Stop the factors so that the fears need not exist. It is necessary that you start exactly where you are.
Stop taking the small things that seem harmless as things you can overlook because they are the very building blocks of destruction.
You do not have to march or give long speeches in order to Act.
You can no longer accept having to drive out of your way for produce, you can demand fresh food be closer to you.
You can refuse to read books made out of the ashes of past ideologies.
You can tell your mother or your father that their mental setbacks are not a white thing — that getting help makes them strong.
You can simply tell your story to give others strength to do the same.
But first things first, you have to get uncomfortable because we can not keep allowing people, ourselves to live in a mindset that encourages us to settle.
About the Author:
Bri LeAnn Watts is an eighteen-year-old high school senior attending the Cleveland School of the Arts as a Creative Writing major.She is a strong advocate of self love and self awareness, using poetry, fiction, and playwriting as tools to create new worlds.