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The cheerleader, the check-in & the chair

I've spent this lockdown watching a lot of television. A lot. I watched The Emmys last night, and let me begin by saying, we need to give a massive round of applause to Michaela Coel's Emmy win for I May Destroy You. In my opinion, this is a MASTERPIECE. If you have a Neon subscription, do yourself this favour. #rootingforeveryoneblack

One of my TV guilty pleasures is The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It’s an anomaly because for the most I do love the experience that comes with watching an excellent award-winning film or TV show. However, I’ve found that reality tv series and their rapid-fire drama has taken me out of the bubbles I’ve found myself bouncing around in for the last five weeks.

Of course, I totally know that not everyone has the opportunity to watch television - there are folks working all hours at home, taking care of children, other family members, some people might not ever get to use the remote for what they actually want to watch but for me, this was a way to escape - even momentarily from the pressures of lockdown.

And unpacking what these shows actually are offering their audiences, especially as a black actress gives me a tool to engage with the digital banquet I am devouring.

For example, for those who don't watch RHOBH, it might come across as a bougie never-ending dinner party. However, the thinly veiled racism that occurs between actress Garcelle Beauvais (the only black castmate on the show ever), and the rest of the women didn’t get past me.

There's a divide amongst the group, a rift, and yes, she mentions it many times and unfortunately, it’s dismissed by the other women.

Last week was an emotionally taxing week for me. By the middle of the week, in no small part deeply affected by my online acting class, I found myself weeping in my bathroom as the mascara went running down my face. It was not my cutest look, but best believe I wore it well! All that was missing was a sepia filter.

The weeping was a combination of many things, but at the core: hurt. The lockdown has been challenging and the earlier portion of last week was hard AF.

I had a friend text me and attempt a check-in but just ended up telling me how great they were feeling. I told them that I was not but they didn't ask me any questions. Not one. I felt ignored. Somehow, I was expected to deal with how I was feeling by myself. Granted, my emotions and I take full responsibility for them. But sometimes a girl just needs some support. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman to seek nomination for the United States presidency. She famously said:

If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.

A powerful statement, which I love. Do what you've got to do to get in the places you want to be. But what if that actually is part of the problem? What if black women are carrying folding chairs to be part of the discourse and it’s happening in the sealed room? What if in this room we are being stifled? Too often, instead of acknowledging that we are indeed sitting on a lowly camp chair, the rhetoric of gratitude demands, "Aren't you happy to be sitting with us?"

No. I'm not happy. How often do you hear black women or even women of colour say that out loud?

It’s hard. Saying it to ourselves is hard, but saying it to someone in power is even more so.

But here I am. I am tired. I was emotionally beat-up, and rather than breezing past what I was saying and feeling, I needed someone to take time to acknowledge my feelings. Put simply, I needed some damn cheerleaders!

I'm exhausted by the fact that when black women speak up and say, "Hey! I'm not feeling great." instead of pulling them up and letting them lean on you for a while, it's a high-five or even worse, a put-down that reminds you to be grateful because so many others have it worse.

Some people get uncomfortable when you have these types of conversations. I was one of them. I swallowed all my thoughts and feelings down. After eighteen months of therapy that came to its end in August, I'm doing things differently. . Here’s what I do:

I tell people when I am not feeling great AND

I let people know when my needs are not met.

This isn’t just about me though. There has been a historic erasure of black women and their voices from spaces. I am no longer contributing to that. Starting with me and the spaces I take up, I’m proud to step away from those practices. Not talking about it doesn't change anything.

So, my black sisters speak up, it’s not easy but it’s important - let people know your needs and my black brothers, create the spaces where your sisters feel seen, feel heard and be there, be the strong black man behind the women in your life.

By Jennifer Onyeiwu


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