I wrote this essay months ago. After the words and thoughts got too loud rolling around in my head. I think I’ve been waiting to see if things change, if my thoughts shift. But I’m in a process of working on my novel, Stands Alone. Doing another line by line revision. (This is to cut 16,000 words to get my debut novel under 100,000, which is another post or more for later).
This morning, though, I’ve decided that there is so much to unpack about vulnerability of being brown, I need to open up this up. And where else can I do that? In addition to therapy. Lol.
Maybe it’s the incredible work of current books and TV shows and movies that are prompting me to share my thoughts. (GO TO NETFLIX AND WATCH WHEN THEY SEE US- NOW!) Maybe this is just time. My time.
I will continue to write more on the subject. But I’m also hoping to hear from others who get this. Who understand what this feels like. Who want to change things for people of color which…get this… is good for all people. See how that works?
Here we go. Part 1:
The Vulnerability of Being Brown – Part 1
I never contemplated vulnerability until Brene Brown’s research and books turned me on to the topic. I remember feeling alive and empowered when I understood more about what it meant to live a whole-hearted life. To be my best authentic self.
Whenever I think about vulnerability I think about resiliency, too. They’re not opposites but I think you may need one to have the other. I learned of resiliency years ago and it shook me wide open. I was in school for my BA in Liberal Studies. My emphasis was on families. I was a child advocate. While studying about how some children ‘make it’ and for others, their struggles overcome them, which I know is a very simple way of breaking this down and in no way is it simple for children born in or living with adversity, the term popped up right off the page. My thoughts didn’t travel to future children’s programs I hoped to create but to myself. My siblings. Our childhood and what we had in our lives that made us resilient. Made us survive.
Coming to an understanding about vulnerability was the same way. I went from reading ‘women’ as a whole to focus on myself. Of course, we all do this. We encounter new concepts that turn on and turn up lights bringing understanding to something about ourselves that we might not even know needed the light. I embraced the term vulnerability just like I did with resiliency. Collected these terms and my understanding of them like weapons and set out on my way.
Lately, though, I can’t get past how difficult it is to be authentic because I am always vulnerable. I don’t get to determine how much. I don’t get a break from it unless I’m home, with the news off and away from social media.
I’m a brown woman living in this country. I’m Mixed. Indigenous and Black. And I can’t hide it. And I don’t want to but yet; I am so damn tired from the weight of the target that being brown carries.
I live in a world where random acts of violence against people of color are no longer so random, where brown men, women and children are targeted, or hunted. However it happens, the man in the white house who bullies, taunts and spews hateful racism, and applauds the minions who carry out his work, sanctions these crimes. He seems so very comfortable in his power to rein havoc, pain and even death on people of color. Sure, he’s at a distance and protected right now but the white person fueled by his words and actions, who is living in fear of losing something, anything, everything to a person of color, will attack. Has attacked.
Being a woman who looks like me is to live in a state of constant vulnerability. I am confused, sad and pissed because I want to be my full ‘give zero F*#ks’ all natural fierce AF badass brown woman. I want to always be okay in my skin with these curls and this body. I want to walk with pride and purpose. And yet, I’m the woman who makes ‘kind eyes’ at people in the stores. I’m the one who makes sure I make no sudden moves around white shoppers and say ‘sorry’ when they bump me. I’m the one who is vigilant about giving space to white people and making sure they’re comfortable with me. I do all that to create armor around my vulnerability. Which also feels futile because I can’t hide my brownness. Or pretend I’m something other than what they see. And that’s what makes me a target.
Too many times, because once was too much, brown women, men, and children are attacked and killed for no other reason than being brown and perceived to be a threat, because of that brownness. And instead of dealing with their misplaced fear, those with power and privilege to harm use it to do so. To kill.
And yes, there are efforts and activists doing incredibly hard work but will that keep me safe today?
I think about these women like me when I venture from my home. My thoughts run a bit wild, wondering who’s scared, who’s running, who’s being attacked right now, and just what am I going to do if it’s me in the next moments. I know, though, that if I let myself stay in those fearful thoughts, I wouldn’t leave my home at all. Ever. So there is a part of me that overcomes this. For bits of time. That’s how I make to Target, the grocery story or the post office. That’s how I get to the movies. Or out for lunch.
But it’s exhausting. To be hyper vigilant. To carry the pain of other brown women, my sisters, my aunties and grandmothers. It’s often crushing to be in this battle. To just exist. And yet, I do.
Stacey Parshall Jensen is a Mandan, Hidatsa and African-American writer, storyteller and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Minnesota.