Branden Janese: My Best Black Self

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I’m learning how to speak to myself honestly about who I am in this world. Some self-reflective pills are easy to get down and digest while others feel like swallowing mountains. The recognition that weighs on me the heaviest is that the American white gaze, hyper-focused on my Black body, has infiltrated my habits. If I strip all the honey-coated, self-righteous words away, the truth is that I move, live, think, and grow all within the restraints of the white man.

I fight it. I convince myself that I am Black like the sky at 4 am. However, a close examination reveals that an embarrassing percentage of my narrative as a Black woman has been whitewashed.

Which parts, I’m not ready to reveal. We are in the middle of a racial uprising and that information is too critical to share with the public.

However, I do feel confident when I say that if you’re not white, there is room for you to investigate where in your life the colonizing, European, slave-owning mentality seeps in.

Here are ten ways I’m getting back to my best Black self:

1. I moved to an all Black and Brown neighborhood uptown. I don’t care what nobody says. My parents raised me in an all-white community. I'm here to announce that there is no reason any Black person, no matter the circumstances, should ever live in a majority white neighborhood. It strips something from you and if you're not careful, it’ll have you afraid of your own shadow.

2. I started a garden. This is a stretch because it’s really only a corner of my living room with a variety of plants and herbs. However, getting my hands in the dirt feels like a direct, spiritual connection to my ancestors.

3. My man is straight outta The Bronx. So I’ve learned that one of the many benefits to loving a Brown man from the hood is that my white patriarchal thoughts are challenged and called out immediately. Choosing a partner whose life is absent of white people has forced me to reassess my morals and my classist passing thoughts.

4. All of my sources of income are Black owned. I work full time on a team started by Shaun King. I am a facilitator for a Black owned book club. I handcraft candles and herbal smudges and sell them online. This one took time. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed.

5. I spend time with older Black people. Even though Black millennials like me experience anti-Blackness on a daily basis, the ways of the world were much crueler to our surviving elders. I’ve found that visiting a Black church (especially on a calm night like a Wednesday Bible study) allows me to learn about Black American history. It inspires me to keep going on my journey, keep investing in my healing, and keep being my best Black self so that the Black American culture stays rich and healthy.

6. When I’m not okay, I remind myself that it’s okay. Living as a young, Black American woman is a stressful and dangerous state of being. The loneliness alone is enough to break most women. It’s a life full of judgment, assumptions, constant ridicule, and fear. Most days I feel good about myself. On the days the world gets to me, I own it and I allow myself to feel pain and grow from the struggle.

7. I set fire to all the fucks I used to give about the ‘Angry Black Woman’ trope. I’ll change my hairstyle when I feel like it. I’ll stand up for myself and any other Black woman when it’s necessary. I’ll say, ‘No, I’m not doing that,’ when it’s necessary. The best way to be your best Black self relies on you not taking shit from anyone.

8. I teach kids yoga in the hood. Every time I teach a class to young students in The Bronx or in Flatbush, I am cleansed of a different fear. It’s a time when I feel alive. Seeing all those Black babies smile makes me feel closer to God.

9. I stopped talking to white people about race. It’s exhausting and it’s self-sabotaging to talk about the Black experience to non-Black people. I simply can not tell a Black story using white language. Too much gets lost in translation and I end up second-guessing my truth. A’Nuff uh dat.

10. If I can’t pull up and be my biggest, Blackest self then I don’t pull up. If I step foot into a restaurant or shopping store and I get a whiff of anti-Blackness, I don’t eat or shop there. I let go of the notion of being too Black.