Empowerment

Is This Thing On? Finding Your Voice As a Young Black Woman

By: Domi

Ah, yes, social media. We love it. We hate it. We love to hate it. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr provide Average Joes (and Josephines) with opportunities to release any frustrations, opinions, and emotions that swirl around the bustling whirlpools of our brains. For me, and tens of millions of others, these outlets have become vessels of freedom. We now have the wherewithal to share thoughts that have long been vaulted within our minds—whether due to fear of criticism or apprehension about sharing pieces of our inner selves.

I’m sure I can speak for many other young black women when I say that oftentimes, we’ve been made to feel as though our voices should be repressed or flat-out silenced. From music, to sports, to politics, to social ills that have plagued the globe for hundreds of years, far too often are the views of black women tossed by the wayside.

We’re branded as “too opinionated”, “unknowledgeable”, and perhaps the most infamous mudsling of them all: “loud, angry black women”—labels that are rarely (if ever) imposed upon our male counterparts. It’s incredibly exasperating to deal with; dehumanizing, even. For years, I’ve been conditioned to believe that my voice has no value; that my musings are hardly anything to sneeze at, which, in turn, made me feel invisible. Worthless.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a little hermit. Even during my elementary school years when I was a bit livelier than I am now, solitude was my bestie. I loved the quiet. Extensive time alone to think was (and remains to this day) an absolute must for me. Silence, solitude, and solace afford me with the chance to drown in my thoughts—the good, the unsettling, the silly, the romantic; all of it.

Though socializing has never been a strong suit of mine, I’ve been able to befriend several cool peeps over the years. Most of them were polar opposites of me. They were boisterous, well-liked, talkative, and humorous—characteristics that, once I discovered how revered they are in society, I longed to possess. Realizing that I could never be like my uninhibited and unreserved buddies, increment by increment, my self-esteem began to nosedive. Whenever I dared to share bits and pieces of the inner workings of my mind with friends and acquaintances, I was met with blank stares and slow blinks.

There were only two instances in which I felt exalted for my smarts—in the classroom and around my mother. From the time I was four-years-old, I received endless praise from teachers for my insight and effort. This might sound a little pathetic, but those were the only moments where I felt empowered by my thoughts, rather than embarrassed by them. As for my mother? Bless her heart.

She’s always done her best to assure me of my positive qualities. “You’re so smart,” she’d say. “I wish I were as refined as you when I was your age,” she’d gush. “You need to share all that insight with the world,” she’d declare. No matter how much adoration my mother showered me with, I could not shake the voices from the outside world that seemingly shouted, “You’re not that smart.” “Nobody cares.” “Your voice does not matter.”

To make circumstances worse, several years ago, I entered an emotionally-draining relationship with a young man whose micro-aggressions further contributed to my poor self-image. Though he found my astuteness to be intriguing and attractive, my occasional commentary on race and culture frustrated him. He morphed into a placid antagonizer (the worst kind, if you ask me)—mocking the fact that I heavily embraced my blackness and making attempts at devaluing my beliefs. Needless to say, my experience with him left me heartbroken and more insecure than ever before.

To be perfectly honest, I have not fully recovered from those less-than-positive experiences. It’s been an uphill battle in gaining wholehearted belief in what I mentally have to offer to the world. I’m certain that I am not alone in my struggle, so fellow black girls, I’d like to share a few things that have been of great aid to me in becoming more comfortable in expressing myself and maintaining confidence in my convictions. Hopefully, these little ditties will be useful for you, too:

1) Find one (or a few) people who share your viewpoints and interests. Now, this one can be a little tricky if you’re shy and introverted like me. Seeking out others to connect with through similar hobbies and views will help you feel less isolated. If you happen to be at your favorite artist’s concert, an art gallery, a local festival, a wine tasting, or wherever, try to strike up conversation with someone there. You never know what it might lead to.

2) Embrace online community. The internet can be an overwhelming place, but if you know where to look, you can find incredibly brilliant, talented, and all-around dope folks. Don’t be afraid to participate in Twitter conversations, hashtags, and polls. Interact with a person you follow whom you admire from afar. Make postings on your favorite forum. I can proudly say that I made an amazing friend through simple Twitter interactions, and if my awkward self can do it, I know you can.

3) Start a blog and self-promote. Writing is highly cathartic for me, and for that very reason, I created a Tumblr to release what’s on my mind out into the atmosphere. Sometimes, I even share my posts with a friend, and she kindly reblogs them. Composing blog posts can be a gateway to self-discovery and, if you’re an aspiring writer, honing your craft. Try it. You might like it.

5) Patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Cut yourself some slack and realize that everything is a process. Whether you gain an audience of 3 or 3000, understand that you’re ultimately embarking on this journey for yourself. You have so much to offer. Never give up.

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