in the spirit of not being afraid of my voice [both literally and figuratively], I participated in a podcast conversation about my identity as a diaspora Ethiopian. I discussed what it was like to grow up in the Ethiopian/African/immigrant concentrated D.C. area and my current relationships to my country of origin + my current home [the U.S.]. my talk with the two lovely hosts from Black Women Be Like was framed by a piece I wrote in November, monday morning blues. enjoy below or on SoundCloud.
Do you find that some emotions are more socially ‘acceptable’ than others? I’m becoming more and more conscious about which of my emotions the people in my daily life support and respond to and which ones they ignore or disengage with. And beyond myself, I try to pay attention to these patterns across social media platforms, especially Facebook which allows for longer, in-depth posts.
Facebook ‘friends’ seem to react more robustly and frequently with happy, cheery, ‘something-great-happened-to-me,’ ‘look-how-amazing-my-life-is’ posts than ones that express sadness, depression, grief, anger, melancholy, disappointment.
And while I understand that some people may not know how to react to someone’s sadness or do their best to show support, their response tends to brush off the emotion, rather than recognizing and validating it, sending the message of don’t let this get you down, you can beat this, don’t let this have power over you.
While these kinds of comments may come from a good place or intention, sometimes they come off as impatient and restrict the freedom of the person to represent their life as it currently stands. I notice that social spaces don’t allow the same room for sadness and discomfort as they do with happiness and cheer. But we do know that life ain’t always a picnic, right? Who’s to determine which feelings deserve to come to light and which ones remain hidden?
We, as sentient, complex humans, should be allowed to feel and express the full range of emotions we experience on a daily basis. The best thing we can do for the people we love and care about is give them permission to fully feel what they feel, freely allow them that space, just listen and absorb. Let them be human, basically.
Here’s an excerpt from that piece:
No one questions the value of feeling good. In fact, it seems that for the past 20 years, everyone in America has been on a relentless quest for a blue-sky state of mind, in pursuit of permanent residence on the spectrum between contentment and ecstasy. Feeling bad is another matter entirely. Emotions that generate unpleasant feelings have been called sins (wrath, envy), shunned in polite interaction (jealousy, frustration), or identified as unhealthy (sadness, shame). We suppress them, medicate them, and berate ourselves for feeling them. Because such feelings are aversive, they are often called “negative” emotions, although “negative” is a misnomer. Emotions are not inherently positive or negative. They are distinguished by much more than whether they feel good or bad.
hi *waves.* The lovely people at BlackWomenBeLike recently asked me to contribute a short story to their Finish the Story Friday series, in collaboration with Storymoja Africa. The series and the platform itself exist for the purpose of allowing African women to tell their own stories from their perspectives. My piece closed out the series, the previous three also written by East African women. I had fun trying my hand at fiction! Here’s a snippet below, read it in full here.
“So, what did you do with all that cake?”
“Netsu, after I have just told you the disaster of that day, the cake is what concerns you? Mtsm. Just pass me the comb.”
She slid the bristles through my hair, easing the tangles out along the way, dipping her fingers into a jar of Dax for extra help.
“No, no, sorry mommy. Please continue, forget the cake.”
I’d heard this story before but I still entertained it, as I often do. She tells me each one with the same gusto as when it was still new. Sometimes I can’t feign even an ounce of interest and exasperated, I blurt, “I know, I know, you already told me this story.”
“Oh,” she mumbles, and shrinks away.
I can’t bear to see her shrink like that so I backtrack – “but that’s okay, I want to hear it again. Tell me.”
My mother is the type who thinks she’ll burst open at the seams if she’s made to hold her stories in; if she must swallow her anger, hold her tongue upon mistreatment, and bury her pain, though she does all three more than she cares to admit or show. But most days, she vents and I listen, with ears as open as my mood will allow.
“He said nothing. Barry said nothing. He just lay there on the ground, faking injury, even though we all had a bird’s eye view of his invisible wounds.”
Barry is the first father I ever had, a placeholder of sorts for the first two years of my life. But as soon as he learned the truth, he vanished, in much the same way as my real one.
“As they say, silence speaks louder than words. He loved Eve, long past their six-month union. But I wanted him to pick me, I wanted to be chosen, to be someone’s wife finally, wholesome and stable and respectable. But Satan knew too much, with her big mouth and cheap weave.”
I already knew who Satan was.
“As Eve stood there chanting ‘they have a daughter, they have a daughter, they have a daughter’ through blurry tears, she told on herself. She loved Barry, too.
Satan said ‘do they or does she?’
That jolted Barry back to life. In the next instant, it seemed his cuts and bruises had healed and he staggered to his feet with bewildered eyes.
‘Amina, what is Shiku saying?’
‘Barry, what is Shiku saying?’
That moment broke us. We knew too much to continue pretending that we didn’t.”
The cake became inconsequential, that’s what happened to it.
Of course I don’t remember any of this, 2-years-old and swaddling around the wedding reception hall in my poofy white dress. I was the ‘daughter,’ oblivious to the drama unfolding in my name. Who did I belong to – Barry or someone else?