Having known this sistah for awhile, I can confidently say that the same way guest bloomer, Ashley Stone makes herself visible, as a Womon/Black, is the same way she protects her Black girl magic – she shows up for herself, at ALL times! Come thru sistah Ashley.
Keep reading to get you some of this good-good on this full moon Thursday, the first one of 2017!
It was evident from childhood – the way I should navigate the world as both Woman and Black. I am not quite sure where or how it began, but my environment informed me of its expectations. There was a way that I was supposed to sit, stand, speak, and (more times than most) not speak. I was not supposed to challenge, question, or think critically. It seemed, to me, that being Black and being a Woman was an endless list of things I shouldn’t do. Above all, I was supposed know my role and perform it – at all times.
As I got older, I evolved into the Strong Black Woman. And I reveled in this identity. Being that Black Woman that EVERYONE could rely on. I was the savior, the heroine, and the matriarch. I had stealthily and unknowingly built my identity around serving others. And it was okay. I needed someone to see me, even if it was as the “helper”. And who was I without them?
After some years, in many venues, jobs, “friendship” circles, and volunteer groups – I had become fed up with being “Superwoman.” It wasn’t fun anymore, and, in hindsight, it never really was. It became clear – people valued my labor, my ideas, my genius – but they did not value me. I made a conscious decision to remove myself completely from these situations. As someone (or some meme) once said, If folks cannot appreciate your presence, make them appreciate your absence. And upon my abrupt retreat, slowly, surely, I became visible to everyone. It baffled me – how I could disappear and folks could suddenly see me.
Upon examination of my life, and my interactions with others, one thing that was clear – I had been taught that the purpose of my existence was to be of service to everyone around me. And over the years I had deeply internalized this idea. I can recall being told as a child (by a stranger) that I needed to learn how to cook and clean (not for my own benefit and self-preservation, but rather) in preparation for marriage to a husband. I remember being told that I should not under any circumstances let others know how smart I am, as to not intimidate them (especially ((black)) men).
Growing up, all that I valued about myself-my intelligence, my sense of humor, and my creativity-was stifled as a result of others’ expectations. I understood a troubling duality – I was at all times invisible in the sense that no one seemed to care about my humanity, and visible at all times, because people expected me to “show up” for them. Prior to my realization, it felt good to be “Superwoman”, to be somewhat admired in that way. But I could no longer deny that being “Superwoman” was exhausting and sad. The truth of the matter was I had no identity outside of being the “Superwoman”.
As defined by the Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, eshofuni (Jpn.) means “The principle that life and its environment, though two seemingly distinct phenomena, are essentially non-dual; they are two integral phases of a single reality.” In short, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment that we find ourselves in. Reflecting on this term based upon my faith, I realized why I felt invisible. In my effort to be “Superwoman”, I had consistently put myself on the back burner. I was cancelling spa appointments at the last minute to help someone move to their new place. I would rearrange my schedule at a moment’s notice because someone wanted to hang out. I would answer the phone on the first ring – even in my sleep. People treated me as if I were invisible because I treated myself that way. I had successfully trained others to believe that their needs were my priority.
I decided that in order to become visible to me, I needed to show up for myself.
So what did that mean? It meant that I had to acknowledge Ashley, and hold myself accountable for my happiness and my goals. It meant that I had to use every moment of every day to practice “seeing” me. I had to re-learn who I am. It meant informing people that if they wanted to see me that they need to “get on my calendar” at least 14 business days in advance. It meant letting the phone go to voicemail, and sometimes not checking the message for days. It meant learning how to (ever so compassionately) say “no”. It meant acknowledging the fact that I have a right to change my mind. It meant carving out time to intentionally work on my “stuff”, whether it was a book I wanted to finish reading, or even this blog post. And I had to learn to do this all (as Ntozake said) without being sorry for any of it.
This process has not been easy for everyone else. And it has been slightly intimidating for me. To re-learn who I am has been wonderful, but not without first navigating the guilt I felt for neglecting me, and forgiving myself. I also had to face the anger I felt toward others for not “seeing” me, and forgiving them also.
The beauty of it all is that I can change what has already occurred by choosing to transform how I live from today forward. I am learning that I like a little advance notice before the squad makes plans. I am learning that I am a bit introverted. I like to create art, I am very analytical, and I really like to spend time with my family. I am learning that I love macaroons, and that I enjoy traveling. I am learning that I lose nothing by allowing others to lead. I become more visible by acknowledging all aspects of who I am – the intellect, the comedian, the artist. Above all, I now know that my identity extends far beyond what I can do for someone else.
Today, the way I make myself visible as a Black Woman is simple: I show up for me – at all times.
Ashley Yvonne Stone was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. A higher education professional, she works in a capacity that allows her to advise and mentor college students of African descent. Away from the office, she volunteers as a youth leader in her local community. Raised in a Buddhist household, her faith serves as the foundation upon which she navigates being both Woman and Black, finding joy in all of life’s challenges.
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org