*I wrote this for and originally posted on my LinkedIn page.
I was talking to my Aunt the other day about "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz, which I find to be such a profound 138 pages that I recommend it on a regular basis to all of my clients and I give it away, consistently, to my closest friends. The book is four basic agreements we make with the world that shapes our existence, and how making some new agreements can radically change our lives.
The Four Agreements are: (1) Be impeccable with your word (2) Don't take anything personal (3) Don't make assumptions, and (4) Always do your best.
The conversation I was having the other day brought me back to the profound ways that the Second Agreement changed my life when I first read this book several years ago.
Do not take anything personal.
Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.
This particular excerpt got me to thinking about the way that words have created unsafe worlds for black women, both online and IRL (in real life). The way that cis-hetero-able bodied-patriarchal white supremacy centers itself, its body, its needs, and even its language in everything is the main reason that black women's person, black women's needs, and black women's language is aggressed against on a daily basis. The "dream," that Ruiz is talking about as he describes The Second Agreement, of being superior causes the system of white supremacy to create language that others marginalized groups of people and we are taught to "trust" these systems - so we have taken these words and ideas personally.
This is the reason black women "believe" their natural hair can be "unprofessional" so they relax it with harsh chemicals or press it with hard heat. We have taken "straight hair is professional" personally.
This is the reason black women "believe" their bodies can be "wrong" so they attempt to exercise their shapeliness away or even to dress in a way that they hope will make them look less "wrong" and more accepted. We have taken "slender bodies that take up less space" personally.
This is the reason black women "believe" their voices are too "aggressive" so they code switch in certain spaces by changing their tone to sound more "white safe" and less in their authentic timbre. We have taken "soft" or "sing songy voices are safer" personally.
And guess what - the system of white supremacy has solidified its stand on the words it has created to "Other" black women - so much so that, for the most part, these (sometimes unspoken - often so audacious that they ARE spoken) words have so much "power over" that a whole word had to be made up to acknowledge this particular form of racism and misogyyn: (misogynoir) a phrase coined by Moya Bailey, who created the term to address misogyny directed toward black women in American visual and popular culture - which acknowledges the specific forms of racism and misogyny directed towards black women where both their race and their gender are being targeted. Get that for your self; a whole new word had to be created to acknowledge the ways this othering system harms black women.
This got me to thinking about BULLYING BLACK WOMEN.
White Supremacy is A Bully to Black Women and we have to do the intentional work of not taking white supremacy, personally, so that we can shift our own narratives and the future of our being.
Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators, the black magicians. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up….
How do we not take a system serious that is so historically ingrained in the fiber of our existence that even WE participate in the perpetuation of this bullying language on a daily basis? I will acknowledge, up front, that I realize the powerful hold of a system that is already against black women, from jump. With that, it makes sense that we would "take personally" the language and realities that were created to "other" us because outside of that system there is not much for us to own. When the bully is the government, the police, the hiring manager, the education system, the church, the entertainment industry - every institution in existence... how can a black woman NOT take anything personal?
I believe this with all my heart:
- Know, without a shadow of a doubt that the othering language created against black women is not about us - it is about the impotence of those that created and uphold these systems. Know this. We do not have to take personally what an entire institution says. We do not have to make the agreement about our bodies, our voices, our language being wrong. We can know, with certainty, that the stakeholders in ensuring we remain small are living in a dream world that is just not true. We do NOT have to take their words personally on an intellectual or spiritual level - to the point that we perpetuate those realities within our own families and for ourselves. Let's refuse to agree with these stories any longer. When these ideas attempt to belittle us, let's quote my cousin Jay Z, "We don't believe you - you need more people."
- We can stop taking this bullying language personal by supporting each other in all the ways there are to support each other. I am basically saying we can refuse to take these systems and the folk that benefit in these systems (or what they think about/say about us) personally - by "creating societies within society." Yes. That's another Jay Z quote. I want us to support the work of our sister to the right and to the left soooo passionately that the "need" for approval, inclusion, or validation from these bullying systems is lessened. This seems so basic but it could be so powerful. If I shift my focus to removing myself from a codependence on these systems (which considers where I spend my money, where I spend my time, where I give my focus) and shift all of that to supporting, centering, and lifting the work of other black women - then I get to create more powerful and affirming language that we CAN make agreements with -- and that will put us in a better position to not be forced to "take personal" what white supremacy is attempting to say about us.
- When we create counter language and culture - we lessen the impact of the bullies voice and we increase the power of our own voices. So, I am offering that we continue to create spaces for ourselves where we center and celebrate our own authority as a result of our lived experiences, our ancestors, and the intellectual knowledge production that we have co-created. I am clear that white supremacy has, so strategically, created a "dream world" where we have previously had to remain dependent -- but what if continuing to create counter language and culture is our way to no longer take their systems of dependency personal that we have no other alternatives?
For someone reading this - these three suggestions may seem very basic. It may seem like, "Ok girl. Duh!" But for someone, perhaps this is your first time considering what it would look like for us to stop taking the words of our bullies personally and to really begin to shift our energy in more empowering directions. What could be more empowering than seeing a bully having an impact on your sister and instead of corroborating the bullies lies by "agreeing" with (perpetuating, emphasizing, enforcing) the standard -- you supported her with the fact that (1) what they're saying isn't true, (2) remind her that we support each other so here is xyz space/person/resource that you can connect with to make that happen instead of having to be beholden to that system, and (3) offer her some counter language to replace that harm done. "Sis you are amazing." "You are wonderful." "You are perfect." "You are vital." "You are necessary."
If we could take these very basic ideas and expand them into more complex realities for ourselves and our community - imagine where we could be.
Black Girls 1 - Bullies Zero
*While this was written with black women in mind - consider this language and these ideas for bullying in general. Instead of taking bullying personal - instead of believing the language that bullies use to harm - instead of making the agreement that whatever the bully is saying is truth - what if people, collectively, agreed that what they were saying (1) is not true, (2) supported each other in those moments by simply standing up for one another, and (3) created counter culture in those spaces that isolates bullying behavior and either forces them to join in on the new narrative or move on.
*Thinking about white supremacy as a bully was easy for me because white supremacy tricks us into believing it has more leverage than it really has when "whiteness" as an idea is artificial. It only holds power if we agree with it. There are, in fact, far more of us in marginalized positions than those in so-called "White privileged" positions - so if we (the marginalized) joined together and agreed to stop agreeing with the bully, we could be so powerful. The same goes for regular old school, every-day-life bullies. There is usually only 1 or 2 of them. Imagine if when the big bully got started trying to enforce their dream world as the truth, everyone in the school (or on the job) disagreed, refused to take it personal, and created new realities for what it would look like to share power "with" instead of power "over."
*Considering this topic from a social media perspective is simple as well. We do not have assume that the "society within society" that I'm speaking of is some physical, geographical location. We do NOT have to go to "Wakanda" to have "Wakanda." Even stepping in for each other, supporting each other, and creating counter narratives online is possible. We just have to make some new agreements and disagree with the trolls and bullies that currently run rampant. My favorite way to disempower an online bully is to |Block|Delete|Refuse to engage|Continue being black, nappy, and perfection|Repeat.
EbonyJanice Moore is a womanist scholar and activist doing community-organizing work, most specifically around black women’s body ownership as a justice issue, and equal access to education and pay for women of color in the U.S. and in several African countries. She has created curriculum for leadership development for high school aged girls in Kenya and South Africa, developed programming for teenagers in housing projects in Decatur, Georgia giving them exposure to culture, STEM programs and the arts, and she teaches a bimonthly workshop on issues involving interrupting racism, individual civic responsibilities, and intersectional advocacy.
Her research interests include issues pertaining to blackness, woman-ness, and spirituality - most specifically black women's use of spirit, conjure, and/or the supernatural as a tool to impact social justice, and the pluralism of Black Christianity and the interconnectedness of the Southern Black Christian experience with Indigenous African religions and African Spirituality. EbonyJanice has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Political Science, and a Master of Arts in Social Change with a concentration in Spiritual Leadership, Womanist Theology, and Racial Justice. She is also a certified Body Justice Advocate and Holistic Healer.
Find her online @ebonyjanice on Instagram, www.ebonyjanice.com, and by searching the hashtags: #TheFreePeopleProject #PreachEb #BlackGirlMixtape
P.S. I just launched an online school that is centering the intellectual authority of black women and doing the work of decolonizing authority and education called BGM Institute. It is an online education center for POC that is making education more accessible in language and in cost. The idea is that marginalized minds should be taught with us in mine. You can learn more about it at www.blackgirlmixtape.com/institute/