A CASE FOR SELF-ESTEEM IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY

Photo Credit: Mattia Pelizzari

I have always struggled with Self Esteem. I have relied heavily on others opinions, compliments, reassurance, and acceptance in order to make my life feel more valuable. When my family and friends were no longer there to provide me with positive reinforcements, I questioned everything about my life, which put my sense of self in a tailspin of self-loathing and insecurity. Self Esteem is more than just a feel good buzzword; it is connected to our very essence, our very reason for existence. Self Esteem is a spiritual crisis stemming from unhealed wounds.

When I think of where my lack of Self Esteem originated, I realize how much society has played a part in making me feel less than on a regular basis. As a black woman I am in a constant state of never feeling beautiful enough, smart enough, worthy enough, or valued enough as my white female counterparts. I would sit and wonder about the one thing I could change, whether it be my looks or my character, that would make me more acceptable in societies eyes, making me not only equal, but granting me the liberty of being treated as such. But no matter how educated I was, how straight my hair was, how often I stayed out of the sun so my skin wouldn’t get darker, or practicing my vernacular so I sounded more quote unquote intelligent, I never felt fully accepted by a society steeped in white supremacy.

YOUR SILENCE WILL NOT PROTECT YOU. — AUDRE LORDE

Yet my story is not unique. Self Esteem is not just a personal issue, but it’s an issue for black men, women and children. It has lent itself to a societal structure that has kept us down for hundreds of years. This spiritual crisis has plagued our community for generations; the fact that a movement called Black Lives Matter has to even exist is clear evidence that we have a ways to go before completely healing from our turbulent past. The past few years has been proof that not only is racism still alive and well, but the white supremacist system in which racism was born is not just surviving, but thriving and doing so on the backs of black men and women. Of course people will tell us to get over it, that we have more opportunity than our great grandparents or grandparents did, and to some extent this is true. But when you have a societal structure that has been built, structured, and constantly reorganized in order to keep the black community hundreds of years behind, how is it possible to build a healthy sense of self when the world is constantly telling you, you ain’t shit?

YOU MAY NOT CONTROL ALL THE EVENTS THAT HAPPEN TO YOU, BUT YOU CAN DECIDE NOT TO BE DEFEATED BY THEM. — MAYA ANGELOU

What does it do to someone’s self esteem when all the images they see of themselves or their communities are ones of public execution, beatings or mass incarceration? What does it do to someone’s Self Esteem when they’re constantly told you will never meet the standards of beauty, yet their culture is constantly being appropriated as others are praised for their originality? What does it do to someone’s self esteem when they are being expelled from school because their hair wasn’t acceptable or met their schools “protocol”? What does it do to someone’s’ self esteem when they want to sell you a cream that lightens your skin? What does it do to someone’s self esteem when their lives become caricatures or living stereotypes? What does it mean to someone’s self esteem when their history is constantly being downplayed, rewritten, or completely eliminated from history books? What does it do to someone’s Self Esteem when one must act “white” in order to be accepted? What does it do to someone’s Self Esteem when the media tries to justify a fellow Black Americans being carelessly shot and murdered? What does it do to someone’s Self Esteem when a film can’t be cast with black characters without there being uproar from white fans?

What does it do to your spirit, when you are constantly told that you ain’t shit and you’ll never be shit? What does it do to your spirit when a movement is just one dead black body away? What does it do to your spirit when you rebel you’re called hoodlums, thugs, and rebel rousers? What does it do to your spirit when you realize that they traded slavery and Jim Crow for mass incarceration? What does it do to your spirit when you are begging society to see you as a human being? Asking them to recognize that your life indeed matters too, but instead you are overlooked and told that all lives matter, even though they have done nothing to prove this statement as a fact.

You can only survive under so much weight before you break. You can only survive under so much pressure before you explode. You can only survive for so long in a system that was built to hold you down. You will want to shatter under the pressure, but I beg of you, DO NOT let your spirit break. Your spirit will be restored, but first you must recognize how powerful you are.

Stop asking for permission. Stop right here, right now. If you constantly have to ask permission of others in order to feel empowered, you’re never going to get there. If you don’t feel empowered, you will never find the strength to liberate yourself, and if you can’t find the strength to liberate yourself you will never be free. The time has come for us to come together and support one another. The time has come for us to hold one another as we cry from a pain that is so deep, from a wound that is so wide we thought it would never heal. We must thank our ancestors for their sacrifice and pledge to them that it will not be in vain. We must support one another in time of need, and uplift one another without someone having to ask. We must be the change we want to see in our community, but first we must heal. We must heal before we educate. We must heal before we discuss matters of health. We must heal before we can even think about building our wealth.

THERE IS NO EASY WALK TO FREEDOM ANYWHERE, AND MANY OF US WILL HAVE TO PASS THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH AGAIN AND AGAIN BEFORE WE REACH THE MOUNTAINTOP OF OUR DESIRES. — NELSON MANDELA

Remember you are worthy. You are worthy of thriving. You are worthy of your desires. You are worthy to live and walk freely on this earth. You are worthy of claiming and taking up space. So show up! Do the work, and not only for your liberation, but the liberation of all. We have no time to waste. The time is now. Live, give yourself permission to do so, because only you have that power.