Speaking from Experience: A Black Woman’s Take on Boundaries

 

do-not-cross

 

About a couple of months ago, my friend Michelle proposed that I write a piece about how to establish boundaries for yourself and to respect that of others.

Honestly, I have no advice for my friend or my fellow readers as I can only speak from my perspective and personal experiences. As a Black female abuse survivor with mental illness and neurodivergence, the very concept of boundaries is dissimilar to that of the next individual.  For one, I had to find out and understand were boundaries were. The term itself is defined as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent,” meaning that a barrier (invisible or otherwise) is employed to preserve something significantly important.

But for countless Black women and young girls, boundaries within their immediate environment are nonexistent.  Writer Nneka M. Okona accurately describes the typical role of the Black woman within the family structure when she writes: “We do not belong to ourselves: our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our hearts, our spiritual state. Our emotional labor is prescribed and expected.”  I grew up in a household where healthy boundaries were not exactly established—let alone enforced. In addition to rarely having my own space in our little home on 19th Street (as I shared it with my brothers or visiting cousins), my body, ideologies, creative expression, and even my voice was under what seemed like constant scrutiny. My aspirations and need for self-identity were dismissed because they didn’t involve my mother’s Christian God.  When I attempted to defend myself, I was punished even further as I was not allowed express any emotion towards being mistreated.

So, by the time I stumbled into young adulthood, I’ve concluded that my very identity was spoken for by others.  Whenever I was asked to do something, I complied despite my misgivings about the people and situation at hand.  The main objective, I justified, was to keep everyone calm to avoid an altercation that would involve me being violated. It wasn’t until I moved to Rochester, New York in 2005 and began my personal journey towards sobriety that I gave myself the permission to feel.  While I was a newcomer in Alcoholics Anonymous, my first sponsor informed me that expressing anger was allowed—a foreign concept to me.  Nevertheless, that invitation stuck with me and, after years of taming it to some extent, my fury groomed me into the passionate, opinionated Radical creative I am today.

And who I am at this moment is one of the reasons I decided to not marginalize myself in regards to my capabilities.  Throughout the education system, Black children with learning disabilities are often labeled incompetent and unteachable while associated with negative stereotypes constructed by systematic racism.  Already branded as an “Other,” the result is that many of us place limitations on ourselves psychologically as adults, resigning to the false narrative that we’ll never make it. For more than a decade, I unknowingly struggled with Inattentive Attention Deficit Disorder or Inattentive ADD.  Because I was untreated the majority of the time, I literally navigated through this society believing that I was unintelligent (being called “stupid” by family members and bullies only seemed to solidify this perception).

But once I realized what I was struggling with, I had to learn to overcome the psychological, emotional, and intellectually boundaries I placed on myself and my capabilities. This White dominated society thrives on neurotypical induced ableism infused with supremacy.  Since it refuses to support me and my learning needs, my only alternative was to discover ways to manage my symptoms. I can’t retain information, so I write everything down—most of the time—and read aloud so I remember.  I’m a visual learner who loves to read, which is why I watch programs with closed captions to catch every word. I have “To Do” sticky notes on my computer to stay on track.  My doctor will reinstate the prescription for Adderal due to my high blood pressure, so strong coffee works as a substitute.

But above all, I refuse to allow intellectual elitists of any shade plant the seed that I am incapable. If anyone even attempts to take there, I exercise right to aggressively vocalize my disdain with exemption.   Too many people have crossed my boundaries because I did not have the courage to speak up in the past.  I even considered the feelings of the other person above my own believing that I’ve done something wrong. At this point in my life, however, I have neither patience for assholes nor for their aspiration to do the absolute most.

And I now expect a similar response from others when I myself become a line-stepper.  Until recently, I often thought that many people (particularly Radical Leftists) shared similar ideologies regarding sex. As a sexual abuse survivor, my views on relationships and intimacy are skewed for the most part. So I went through my early 20s/early 30s chasing partners, sexualizing friendships by only viewing them to as a means to an end—which involved getting into their bed.  If there was an “initial session,” I treated that person as if they owed me companionship and became infuriated when affection was not reciprocated. I’ve burned entire bridges due to my unhealthy conduct towards unhealthy people.

Though I’m gradually embracing my sexual expression, I had to understand that not all minds think alike in regards to sex and relationships.  In retrospect, my behavior was very similar to that of my perpetrator and those who’ve sexual assaulted me as an adult.  The power and control inflicted upon me throughout the years—the emotional manipulation, feigned compassion, intimidation, and infuriation—I’ve imposed onto potential partners.  Beneath the shield toxicity was the yearning for the unconditional love and respect I barely experienced as a child.  Unfortunately, my story is nothing new, considering that Black women and young girls are more likely raped and/or sexually abused before the age of eighteen.  And many of us, searching for validation, often use sex to obtain it by violating the borderlines of others.

That fact alone forced me to realize that not every individual I shake hands with is a friend for life.  I learned that I’ve no right to hold someone hostage simply because we had coffee a few times.  No one owes me eternal friendship.  People have the liberty to tell me “No,” “Not right now,” and multiple versions of that response.  My fear of rejection and loneliness is not an excuse to step over someone’s line in the sand.  If anything, I deserve to have my feelings hurt if the situation calls for it—especially if I’m not acquainted with the individual or group in question.

And yes, I naturally want to assist folks—especially friends and family members for when I care about deeply.  But not everyone needs me caping for them when they are more capable of defending themselves.  Besides being a Captain Saveaho causing me humiliation and stress on numerous occasions, it further perpetuates the Mammy stereotype associated with protective Black women.  I’m not insinuating that I’m going to cease supporting folks, but unless the situation is dire and the person is in imminent danger, I only intervene when asked.

As I said before, everyone has their own set of boundaries so there are many answers to this universal question of where to draw the line.  But by the end of the day, establishing one’s threshold includes constant self-reflection and learning from personal experiences.  It involves being mindful of how I am treated as a Black woman with a traumatic history, what I myself have allowed to occur, and why.  It’s understanding and respecting the limitations of others and their tolerance for my behavior—even though my bruised ego may not agree.  But most importantly, it’s about knowing what my boundaries are to begin with and living by those convictions to maintain a meaningful quality of life.

Her Word Against His:  How the Azealia Banks’ Past is Being Used Against Her

 

When I initially heard about Azealia Banks/Russel Crowe controversy on Facebook, the thought that popped in my head was What the fuck did she do now?

According to TMZ, actor Russel Crowe was forced to remove the 25-year-old rapper from his private party after she threatened physical violence. But Banks’s tweet told a whole account of that night when she stated that the actor choked her, called a her a n****r, and spat on her as he threw her out of the hotel room.  She has since deleted the status, but it sparked a plethora of online discussions about what transpired that night.

Black folks were somewhat polarized about the alleged attack on Banks. There were folks argued that Banks was lying and, due to her offensive language against members of the LGBTIQA community and dark Black women, she was undeserving of sympathy.  But then I and other commentators felt the complete opposite.  As I much as I don’t care for Banks, I truly believe that she was victim of violence and White superiority in this case. Not only that, but that her mental illness and past transgressions are being used against her.

I’ve come to that conclusion while reading the witnesses’ account.  They claimed the trouble was initiated when Banks laughed at Crowe’s music selection and called him an “old White man.”  When a female guest told her to settle down, Banks allegedly responded “You would love it if I broke my glass, stabbed you guys in the throat, and blood would squirt everywhere,” before reaching for glass and drawing it back. Though Crowe supposedly remained calm, it was her violent gesture that prompted him to throw her out of his party.

Now, Banks is notorious for launching verbal assaults at dark-skinned femmes and fellow artists via Twitter. But she had yet to go beyond this form of abuse because, believe it or not, Banks is aware of her limitations as a Black woman.   I can’t even imagine her getting irate to the point of shanking someone in the neck…at an all White gathering. So, to me, the witness’s assessment of Banks was out of character and unrealistic.

So is her lying on a random White celebrity. In the past, Banks often expressed frustration, infuriation, and even oppressive slurs describing disenfranchised groups on her social media account.  She promoted lightening her skin and her ideologies regarding shadeism.  But not once had the artist fabricated entire experiences to portray herself as a victim of violence. She had never fixed her fingers to accuse anyone of harming her unless an altercation actually occurred.  And if she were lying, why would she file a police report on Crowe—risking what little social capital she has left? Falsifying a case against Crowe will be a detriment to Banks because of her past behavior.

Meanwhile, Crowe’s history of inflicting physical violence at random was rarely mentioned in regards to this latest controversy. Though him attacking Banks for knocking on his Muzak playlist wouldn’t surprise me, I’m bothered by the fact that his false sense of entitlement encouraged him to dehumanize this young Black woman.  He used his White privilege and superiority to encourage his other guests to weave an outlandish tale about this “mentally unstable” woman threatening to stab him, knowing that the press would believe him. In Crowe’s mind, no one will question (or challenge) the story because his skin color allows him to avoid personal responsibility and accountability. And due to Banks’ past behavior and mental illness, it was basically her word against his.

And unfortunately, the actor was right.

Those not taking the time to analyze the situation quickly dismissed Banks’ accusation, forgetting that the White-dominated media employed the “Crazy Black woman” stereotype to discredit her.  Online commentators (mostly Black folks) used her history of mental and emotional instability to determine that she must’ve done something to provoke the attack. I’m not surprised, though, because whenever Black women are assaulted, our behavior is the reason behind the provocation.  In the case of Banks, it was RZA (who invited Banks to the party) who claimed that she was acting out, which is why she was tossed from the party.

Long story short, Azealia Banks’s past behavior and mental illness is being used against her. Crowe put his hands on her and everyone at the party knows he did. But due to her past actions and political ideologies, no one (RZA included) isn’t even attempting to come forward and tell the truth.

Granted, I’m not a Banks fan. Until she was banned from Twitter, she continuously went after people for little to know reason with no desire to hold herself accountable. But she doesn’t deserve to be attacked, called a n****r, choked, and spat on. What happened to her isn’t about “karma” coming back at her tenfold. What happened is that a violent, racist, ego-maniacal White man using his privilege and social status to dehumanize a Black woman for “not knowing her place.”

Let’s be real.