The Undoing

In February, I moved out of my parents’ house into a cozy apartment in downtown Baltimore. When I moved out, I started rethinking my ideals, values, and beliefs. It came naturally, the more I experienced living by myself as a black woman, the more I was forced to learn about the world around me and how I choose to live in it. I wanted ideas that belonged to me and were not imposed on me. I am in the thick of this season: decolonizing my life.

Colonizing is the act of dominating a territory and population. That domination includes erasure, severance of common memory, and a forceful infiltration of the colonizer’s customs, ideals, and culture. Globally, Europe’s receipts are wreathed with colonizing black people. “Decolonization” is a term I’ve been pondering on for a couple of months. “Decolonization” is the reverse act of colonizing — an undoing.

I want to live a life that is decolonized to free myself and other black women. In my pursuit of holistic liberation I ask myself: what does “decolonization” look like? How can I, a black woman, seek to decolonize my heart, mind, and spirit? What the hell does that look like? What does that even mean?

We cannot advance without decolonizing that which keeps us bound. We can’t truly discover who we are without going through this process of decolonizing. We cannot. We have to first recognize the areas in which our lives our colonized. Recognition is important because without recognizing colonization we cannot assess and uproot it.

I used to hear my parents on the phone with bill collectors, their bank and their bosses. They spoke differently when speaking to them. My dad said, “this is how we are to speak to white people.” I started silencing my black expression and my sound. Later, when applying for jobs and having phone interviews I would change my accent to sound more like a white woman.

However, constantly limiting our expression is suffocating in the long run. I know Standard American English, but I am not going to erase how I speak to make someone else comfortable. Language that is birthed out of adversity, triumph, and pain is beautiful. This is who I am. My language is an extension of me and an extension of the African Diaspora.

One of the painful revelations while on this journey of self discovery is learning the ways I am colonized. Colonization is horrific. It strips me from myself and blinds me from truth. It’s deadly. Recall that time that InTouch Weekly compared Solange’s fro to a poodle? This is an example of how white society will taunt those seeking to decolonize themselves. Colonization is poisonous. It is a deeply embedded poison that has sought to destroy our culture and our sense of self. We have to be diligent in our walk towards decolonizing. You may take it step by step, but it is an incredibly beautiful journey.

Decolonization is not something that we will get overnight. It takes hard work and intentional effort. There is no success without these two components. Colonization has hurt us in more ways than we can imagine. Our land and homes were taken, but also our culture and identities were blanketed by white society.

I am a college student and inevitably I have to read textbooks about old dead white men and women who “paved the way” for society. I am challenging myself to read two books/articles/essays about black people for every textbook that praises white people. Decolonizing means you have to do research, attain the knowledge and then apply it. It is a slow process, but it is not impossible. The results of coming to grips with how you are colonized and then journeying to release yourself from that is glorious and rejuvenating. We can all get there.

My senior year at the Baltimore School for the Arts, I joined the natural hair movement. I cut my hair off and decided to start over. Four years later, I’m still reworking some of my ideas and biases about my hair. Sometimes I still look in the mirror and cringe at the sight of my edges. They are full, kinky and determined to not be controlled. When I have that idea, I always remind myself: these are the coils that come from my head. They are mine. They are unique and beautiful!

This is the work of decolonizing.

Recently, my boyfriend and I had a conversation on how despite being colonized as a people, our heritage spills out of us in different ways: dance, music, visual art, literature and more. To be specific, look at the twerking and how it rooted in West African dance culture or how our foods descended from slaves shaped American cooking. There is joy in this journey.

The decolonization, the undoing, begins and ends with realizing that you are a daughter of rich African heritage. You are a daughter of ancestors who endured immeasurable sorrow and their stories prevail and gives us strength.

Sometimes when I look at my hair, and I struggle with out thick my coils are. Sometimes I find myself running my fingers through my hair and finding that sometimes it’s hard to get it out. For a while the thickness of my coils were ugly to me, because of that even with natural hair it made me feel inferior somehow. The inferiority came from lies that because my hair was so thick it was not able to do the same things that their hair can do. The sentiment is akin to that of makeup, being told that I can’t do certain hairstyles because it was too “nappy”. I’m still working through that, and just recently I decided to shave off both sides of my hair to reclaim authority over the way I think about my hair. I call it, hair liberation. I remember sitting in the barber shop, and feeling the cool razors gliding across my scalp, the freedom I felt. The freedom did not come from cutting my hair, but doing whatever the hell I wanted to do with it — because it’s mine. This is what decolonizing looks like. Taking back ownership of that which was stolen.

Decolonizing areas of my life in this season has been beautifully complicated. I’m constantly arguing with myself and truth. When you have lived your entire life under what someone foreign has taught you it can take a lifetime to undo. Sometimes, you might find yourself crying or wanting to give up. Trust me, in all of this mess, you will find yourself. Never give up, you are getting back to the roots of who you are.

Today, my ideas and thoughts are no longer regurgitated from someone else, but formulated by my experiences as a black woman and shaped by my perspectives, as a black woman. I am working not to mirror white society. Is this what liberation tastes like?

This journey of decolonization has taught me that the truth of who I am is not shameful or something that I need to hide. We have lost so much already and we are learning how to sew it back together, thread by thread. It is a healing process with blood and tears and someone will always try to reinforce colonization, but I know the truth. The truth of myself, of us, is setting me free, everyday.

I embrace the journey because I understand these lessons are irreplaceable gifts. They are life-giving. These gifts are constant reminders of who I am and who my ancestors were. My decolonization is a contribution to the advancement of the African Diaspora. Decolonizing as a Black women is difficult, it will not be easy because you will feel like you are up against the whole world, but in the words of the beloved Assata Shakur, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Your freedom will never be contingent on those who oppress us, let’s get free, and let’s get free together.

So, onward and upward!