I saw these beautiful multicolored leaves this week as I was leaving a Queer Woman of Color intentional breathing space that I was recently involved in forming. This was the first collective meditation space I had been in several months after relocating from sunny California to (really) chilly Ohio . As we held this tender and compassionate space for one another to share truths and shed tears, I thought about the intimate ways our tenderness as women & femmes of color of all genders is consistently unrecognized. I thought about the damage done as we inherit intergenerational trauma that inflicts wounds on our hearts and spirits. I thought about the institutionalized forms of violence that we continue to be subject to both systematically and interpersonally; recurring patterns of the same violence that our foremothers and femme ancestors endured. I thought about how effortless it seems for people to refuse to recognize my humanity and complexity as a Black woman. How difficult it is for people to look me in the eye and affirm my humanity; how simple it is for others to hold their breath when moving past me. I thought about the extreme danger of internalizing one dimensional falsehoods about myself and the ways tropes of Black womanhood have made me question my humanity.
I have often thought intimately about how the imposition of a “strong Black woman” archetype has impacted the ways I move through my life within a U.S. capitalist landscape that is stained with colonial residue. I think about the ways I am perceived through a society that has racialized, gendered, classed, & coded my mannerisms as pathological, abnormal, and needing to be fixed. By virtue of embodying my truth in a vessel that is informed by institutionalized forces of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, misogyny, anti-Black misogyny/misogynoir, capitalism, & heteropatriarchy, I will spend lifetimes enduring the violence of being subject to scrutiny and subsequent domination over my agency & liberation as a Black woman.
My heart and mind are overwhelmed when I begin to reflect upon the relentlessness with which I have been targeted by accusations of intimidation. This happens in a number of capacities, namely when I assert my boundaries, refuse to be disrespected, share ideas, am upfront about what I do and do not want, deconstruct why and how shit is problematic and violent, when I don’t agree with someone, when I dare to move, speak, think. And universe forbid I have the audacity to recognize the fullness of my humanity! What is it about my personhood that threatens white people, non-Black people, and masculine people so deeply? Am I not allowed to be brilliant? Am I not worthy of affirmation? Is there no room in the breadth of this galaxy for me as a Black woman to embody and articulate my authenticity? What does this suggest about the expectations held over me when my ways of being are seen as exceptional? What does this say about the ways we exclude Black women and Black femmes from asserting our humanity? When the operation of an apparatus of systematized violence is reliant upon my dehumanization, my humanity is a direct threat to the functionality of an effective society. Capitalism and white supremacy maintain momentum as long as Black women believe themselves to be unworthy of wholeness and respect.
Accusations of intimidation have been and continue to be an obscenely effective mechanism of regulation, control, and silencing amongst Black women & femmes and other women & femmes of color when we dare to be great. As womyn & femmes of color of all genders, particularly as Black women & femmes, there are a number of ways our hearts & souls respond to and survive through accusations of intimidation. We cower. Move slower. Think. Evaluate. Rethink, Reevaluate. Tread light, tiptoe around our truths, afraid to make others uncomfortable with our brilliance. Begin to self-regulate every single movement we make. Consider every blink. Consider every breath. Reshape ourselves entirely into a disempowered fragments of our full selves until our reflection is entirely unrecognizable. We thin ourselves. Make ourselves small. All too convinced that our ways of being are wrong, and should be abandoned, left at the doorstep to never be welcomed in. Forgotten.
I have been living this way in my recent past for some time now. Being made to feel I should forget myself. Trembling in fear at my own intrinsic power because other people cannot handle it. Dulling the sharpness of my tongue, because I am seen as dangerous. But I will *always* be considered dangerous as long as my Black queer femme truth telling is a threat to white supremacist ways of being that teach me to obey, to be like others, to relinquish my authenticity and deny myself of my truth in order to be digestible, acceptable, in this Black skin.
The more I abandon my truths, the more I forget my self. The more I neglect & ignore what is intrinsic to me, the less I remember who I am. So many of my ancestors’ truths have remained unspoken, silenced, taken with them to the grave, written over in history books by white cis men who entitle themselves to narrate the perspectives & experiences of Black women; Who are trained to shatter our hearts, fragment our spirits, and strip us of our collective agency & autonomy to embody our own truths; Who could not care less about our survival if they tried; Whose mission it was (and still is) to manage every part of our consciousness that knows we are magical human beings; abundantly brilliant from the depth of our souls.
In articulating resistance to the ways we are told to internalize endless falsehoods about who we are, we must remember that we don’t have to ask for permission to reclaim the narratives that are genuine to us. We must allow ourselves to dream ourselves big, to imagine ourselves whole, to center what is real for us in the here and now. We can live, breathe, move with the audacity to be ourselves. To be phenomenal and unapologetic in the ways we move through our authenticity. To embody the truth that is genuine to us. We must recognize that so many of our ancestors were made ill, ostracized, pushed out, excluded, killed because they were either too much or not enough. We must empower their legacy and inhale their truth as we embody and reclaim our own power.
I continue to gaze upon the multicolored leaves as my bones inhale the truths I uncover through nature. I am delightfully overwhelmed and inspired by the audacity that our plant allies have in sharing themselves with such magnificence; Generously colorful and vibrant leaves, basking in their abundant beauty, refusing to quiet themselves; Not apologizing but simply breathing, existing, moving with the wind. We, too, can reflect the radiance of these leaves. For all of us womyn and femmes of color who are regulated by discursive violence; who are told we are intimidating, or “know it all”; who have been told we cannot be tender with ourselves or cannot be great; and who are tired of being told what to, how do be, how to live; It is my absolute honor to bask in the warmth of your authenticity. I hold your truths in infinite compassion and tenderness. I witness and celebrate you and all of your dimensions without question or consideration. I visualize you indulging in the vastness and richness that is you. Lifting ourselves in vibrance is my (he)artwork; Let’s ascend together.
Danielle Stevens is a radically compassionate warrior woman & afro-futurist healer with a gentle and sharp unapologetic tongue; she is one of the Co-Founders of This Bridge Called Our Health.. A dreamer in all senses of the word, Danielle is enchanted by the limitless possibilities and variability of life. As a gender-nonconforming femme person and lover engaged in work related to anti-oppression education, social justice activism, and community organizing (particularly within femme, queer, and trans people of color communities), Danielle’s life work is engaging in coalition and movement building amongst various communities, as our liberation depends on it. She dreams of worlds in folx who are targeted by institutional forms of violence can posses and access the blueprints, tools, & frameworks necessary in activating our collective self-determination, authenticity, liberation & freedom. She is committed to honoring the collective ancestral truths & generous elder wisdoms that flow through her body, guiding her visions of liberation.