By: Ajaika McLemore
“I’m trying not to face what’s become of me. My hopeless opus” – Imagine Dragons: Hopeless Opus
Don’t do this, don’t say that, don’t talk too loud, don’t overpower. These things are what we’re told. This is what’s called policing of Black girls and women. When you’re used to hearing things that restrain you and confine your personality, it makes it hard for you to discover who you really are; or at least it was that way for me. Day in and day out, everyone told me how I should act, what clothes I should wear, what music I should listen to. Silly, young, naïve me listened. I took everyone’s opinions into consideration, and molded myself into someone I thought everyone would enjoy. My issue? I didn’t even enjoy myself.
My sophomore year in high school was a truly trying one for me. That was when I was looking into colleges and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. My parents, teachers, peers, family members all inserted their ideas into my dream, and by the time my sophomore year was up, I didn’t even recognize my dream anymore. I first had dreams of being someone who headed a non-profit organization, but by the end of that year, I had been so influenced that I changed my mind to corporate law, something I couldn’t do without at least thinking of a gun once everyday. Not only had my career interests changed, but my personality did an entire three-sixty.
I went from the always loud, bubbly, incredibly careless girl to someone who was completely focused on the future. I had heard that not everyone would react well to the “loud Black girl” stereotype, that not everyone appreciated the jokes I would tell or my always smiling face. Instead, I was taught to control myself; again, don’t laugh too loud, don’t talk too loud, don’t speak up too much. I was taught to speak when spoken to. I allowed these things to condition my mind and heart, taking away from who I really was.
The following summer, I experienced what I call an Identity Crisis: not recognizing the person inside you who you once knew so well. I looked at myself in the mirror one day, genuinely sad and depressed because I felt like I had let myself down. I felt like I didn’t have any reason to be happy because the things that made me happy, laughing, talking as loud as I wanted, and being carefree, had been snatched from me, and I didn’t contest it. I didn’t know who Ajaika was anymore, and that frustrated me beyond belief. Tears were streaming and my heart was full of immense depression. I decided I wanted to get to know whoever the girl was that was staring back at me. I wanted to know Ajaika again.
At that moment, I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know what questions to ask myself, how to find out what I liked besides fronting in front of the white people around me so I could assimilate well into their culture and essentially “get in good” with who I thought would help my success, not wanting the responsibility of reaching success on my own. So, I did the only thing I knew to do. I put in my headphones, turned on my favorite album, grabbed a pen, and I wrote.
I wrote down everything about myself that I wanted to fix, everything that wasn’t there before I was sad and depressed all the time. I wrote down who I wanted to be. Four hours later, I had learned more about myself than ever before. I knew that I was done pretending that everything was always okay, that I was done smiling when I was breaking down inside. I decided that I wanted to be genuine, I wanted to be able to connect with people and actually allow someone to see who I was– as soon as I figured that out for myself.
I learned that I didn’t want to police internally any longer. Instead, I wanted to talk and laugh as loud as I felt like doing.
I found out that Ajaika was actually someone who needed help from time to time, which was a hard concept to grasp because I was being forced to be independent and strong for so long. And finally, I decided I wanted to be a Black woman who wasn’t confined. I didn’t want to hide behind quietness and independence in order to please my white peers. I wanted to be free and breathe. I wanted to bask in my own glory and personality without worrying about what everyone else thought of me. Me. That two letter word was new to me then, and it remains new now.
I learn something about myself each and everyday. Writing is how I find out more. Even while writing this article, I had to hold myself accountable for being real with the readers. As I’m writing this, I’m learning the most important thing that I have during this entire process: self is an incomplete project, and it always will be. I don’t know if it’s impossible to learn everything about yourself, but I do know that there’s no room for stagnancy.
I don’t ever want to reach a point where I’m not growing. I don’t want to lose myself again. I was lucky enough to get Ajaika back the first time, and, in all honesty, if it did happen again, I’m not sure if I could recover. It would be like losing my best friend, someone I’ve grown to know, understand, and love. It’s almost like I began dating me, in the strangest yet most insightful of ways, and now that I’m at the stage of becoming comfortable, it would hurt to lose all the ground I’ve covered. It would be painful.
As I finish this, I stand in my truth. The truth about Ajaika is that she’s hidden for so long, and she’s free now; she can breathe and live as she wants. This freeing feels like crossing a finishing line. But I have already entered another race, and that’s learning about myself as I transition into womanhood. I look forward to the journey, and embrace the idea that in the next few years, I wont be the same woman. I’ll be better.
I’ll work harder. I’ll push further. That’s the only way to officially beat the barriers in my mind holding the true me back from reaching my incomplete completeness. And for right now, in this moment of reflection and realness, I’m more okay with being incomplete because that is who I truly am: an incomplete, imperfect, carefree, loud, powerful, intellectual Black woman, and I won’t lose sight of who I truly am again.