When Protecting Yourself isn’t Magical Unicorn Shit or When Setting Boundaries is Fundamentally Life Saving
Reading Time: 8 minutes
Alright, so I already know that you clicked on this one simply because the title had “shit” in it.
So, I better deliver right?
Have you ever read an article and realized it felt like the author had stolen your diary? Okay, super melodramatic, I know, and maybe even super reminiscent of that Lauryn Hill & The Fugee’s song:
I felt all flushed with fever, embarrassed by the crowd,
I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud.
I prayed that he would finish, but he just kept right on…
Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
But, that moment happened to me this week. Sometimes when I do self-care it looks like chocolate or crazy-stress cleaning or a mound of books or a hike. And, other times it just looks like mindless stumbling on the internet finding articles from other black women on self-care.
Can you guess what this week held?
5 gold stars if you said something to the effect of: all of the above.
I’vebeen slowly cutting people out of my life for a while now. (yeah, I know that you’re over there holding your breath wondering if I’m going to cut you out. But this isn’t about you. Or maybe it is. I”m not telling).
At first I thought I was being super slick. You know, like utilizing that “unfriend” button or even that “delete” button on the phone contacts. But then it progressed, and I thought that maybe it would go unnoticed if I didn’t acknowledge that I was doing this out loud. So, I just…stopped going to certain things: parties, weddings, holiday celebrations. As if I could lie to myself about it (but honestly, I didn’t need to do that, because I was okay with it.)
It kind of started with an extended family’s holiday gathering…which then led to missing other gatherings and celebrations. And, when people asked me why, or let’s be honest – when people asked other people why, no one could really give a good answer. Or at least, not an honest answer. Because that would mean intentionally acknowledging and naming that racism, misogyny and sexual abuse are inherent structures in my family system.
So, usually these “other people” give some glib response or, when they are feeling particularly noble say something like: “well, why don’t you ask her?”
Nobody has asked me to my face yet.
And, this has caused substantial crises within the larger and smaller family units.
Someone will ask me if I’m going to an upcoming extended family event. I will smile and say no. And, usually the conversation dies. Or, someone will ask me when I think I will be “up for it,” and I say something along the lines of:
Recently, a family member reached out to me and wondered why they never see me anymore. And, I took a deep breath. The last family event I went to was a wedding. I had been anxious and stressing in the days leading up to the event because…everything. So, when it came time for the wedding, I worked hard to make sure that what I was wearing would be inconspicuous and that I could mentally and emotionally handle all the stupid, silly, ridiculous, offensive shit family members and strangers would say:
“You and your husband will make the most beautiful babies,”
“Is your hair real,” *insert hair grab*
“Can black people really get sunburnt?”
“You look just like Lupito”
“I bet you can teach us some fun dance moves”
“Oh, so you were the one they adopted…we were wondering”
So, I went to the wedding. And, I grabbed my purse with the lipstick Mace…and prayed for restraint or alcohol.
See, growing up, when something happened – you know, those incidents (ie: Grandma says something racist), it was always about prioritizing the event:
“well, this is Christmas, we don’t want to ruin Christmas…”
or the other person:
“well, they didn’t know that it meant that…”
“well, they didn’t mean it…”
and I was always supposed to remember that.
And, while it was never really said out loud, my family would hint that certain family members weren’t “particularly bright or socially adept” or, for some… “well, they are just old…” As if this cleared up or explained the situation.
But see, the comments were always about how I was different and how my difference was a problem. And it was never the right time to address my experience or how these comments, when left alone and unattended, resulted in feeling profoundly isolated and traumatized.
Being in an interracial relationship and growing up as an interracial adoptee in a Mennonite family also propounds these events because Mennonites are so ingrained with that passive-aggressive type shit.
Heads up: I hate passive aggressive shit.
Family members limit contacts with certain other family members, and while I know that many posture with the false “I love you,” nobody really likes or even knows one another. When I explain this to my parents, I’m caught up in the realization that they often do not understand how offensive the comments are because the particulars are usually so lost on them. And, to borrow from Kel’s piece:
“…in the interest of getting in and out of whatever social obligation pulled me into their orbit, I needed to understand they were limited and let this ignorant shit go because the situation at hand was always more important, and I shouldn’t make things about me. Except this was about me – how this family talks to me – and only I seemed to care about it.”
It was after that wedding and after a whole slew of choice comments made from party-goers and extended family members alike that I decided to just let shit go…meaning, people, go. I should clarify here that I understand and believe that it is important to have friends in your life whom can hold you accountable and can disagree with you on things. But, having friends whom are invested in your life and want the best for you is fundamentally different than continuing to engage in relationship with those whom do not hold your best interests at heart.
So, I started cutting people out. Specifically, I decided that I could not and would not eff up my self-worth anymore by interacting with others whom fundamentally could not and would not respect my body or my existence. And, that included letting shit go…on both sides of my family.
My choice to let people go has been difficult. Not only because I believe deeply in relationships but I also recognize my own propensity to stay in shitty relationships and do all the work even when that means sacrificing my own body for people whom are not invested in my own intrinsic and inherent self-worth. Kell expresses it this way:
“Our culture is inundated with images of Black women sacrificing themselves in every way imaginable for whatever greater good is in vogue. And when we collapse from the strain and die from the stress, people look around for the next martyr for the cause. But I’m not a martyr. I’m a Black woman trying to live her life under ridiculous circumstances, in a society that tells me I’m not enough. I deserve better than sacrificing my physical and emotional safety to support anyone.”
For me, these expectations of the sacrificial black-woman-lamb-for-slaughter is not just relevant in familial circles, but also in religious and business community’s ones as well. This idea has institutional backing and creates very real, physical, emotional and psychological damage. As I’ve begun talking about the microaggressions and racism that I’ve experienced within family systems, I have often run into the following, but ubiquitous type of all kinds of shitty phrase:
Remember that dreaded middle-school phrase?
As if sensitivity is somehow a reasonable dismissive tactic for expecting reasonable, respectful, responsible relationship.
In my commitment to self-worth and self-care, I’ve been accused of:
- Having an “agenda”
- Playing the “race card,”
- Intentionally and maliciouslly creating divisive relationships
- Being too militantly black (whatever that means?!)
And, being in an interracial relationship, I have often been told to slow down, or “not bring up” race-related topics, because it was always about saving his feelings.
**News flash: if your relationship relies on tiptoeing on eggshells in order to save one another’s feelings, that is not a relationship. (To clarify, this should not be mistaken as a flippant response meant to usurp the idea of committed, loving relationships. However, my commitment to my husband relies on our commitment to be honest with one another. For me, this does not mean avoiding race related conversations).**
For most of my life, whenever I have confronted people about something that I have experienced as racist, my experience is reduced to something emotional, irrational or hormonal. You know, those fun little trite sayings:
“Someone’s on her period.”
“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed”
In past family situations, I was often expected to roll over and accept the abuse in order to maintain the peace…to maintain the holiday gathering.
“I’ve lost count of the myriad of ways people will tell me to put my well-being and emotional and personal safety behind the needs of others, be they the men in my life, the white people in my life, the good of the family, the good of the company…the reasons are limitless.”
While, society has conditioned us to believe that prioritizing my body and black women bodies and my well-being (and black women’s well-being) equates with selfishness, I am convinced that instead this makes me responsible. When I say ‘no’ to situations in which I know that I will not be respected, I allow myself to acknowledge the reality that some communities cannot and will not give a damn and, as a result, I am no longer putting energy into persons whom are not invested in my inherent value.
It is important and responsible to choose yourself.
Go ahead – call me selfish, if you want.
As I have begun to opt out of emotionally tiring and traumatizing situations, I have begun to notice an interesting pattern emerge involving my husband. Instead of asking me about why I have opted out of specific events, persons whom are curious about my life decisions now ask my husband.
Remember how I mentioned that I hate passive aggressive shit?
Already, my husband has been fielding emotional attacks from both his family and mine. And, while he has become an expert on flippant comebacks, I am often reminded how easily my body has become weaponized. And now my very being is a black threat “[some]feel the need to manage and can’t.”
I’m reminded how easy it would be to just let shit go. You know, the side comments about “the illegals,” or the comments about “black-on-black-violence” or police brutality.
There almost seems like there is this unspoken expectation that if only I could let that shit go and accept it, everything would “go back to the way it was.”
It is reasonable and acceptable for me to demand and expect respect.
It is reasonable and acceptable to expect civil disagreements in loving relationships with others.
It is reasonable and acceptable to set boundaries that protect your ability to function holistically.
It is reasonable and acceptable to realize that the word “friend” has been tossed around like free candy, and that even within family systems there will be some people whom are not your friends. And, this is okay.
Additionally, there are things on which I cannot compromise because:
- There are people that are dangerous for me.
- There are people who intentionally and maliciously mean me harm.
- There are people who expect me to roll over and keep the peace.
- There are people who expect me to keep my angry black woman rage to myself while simultaneously sharing the #blackgirlmagic
- There are people who expect my back to be the bridge for racial reconciliation
- There are people who expect me to be expendable and to accept this reality
As a follower of Jesus, I have often struggled to follow Jesus and value my body because the rhetoric peddled by many Jesus followers is often one in which follows a colorblind script or a racist one.
That is not Jesus.
So, I’m cutting shit out and choosing me.