You are perfect
This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the LA Times Festival of Books. I was part of this amazing program put together by a dear friend, Brittany Ballard. With Hanna Bowens, she has put together this exercise in bravery and openness called Unsent. Like a modern day and even more revealing, Post Secret (I’m dating myself), Unsent is a live show where brave souls get on the mic and share that email, letter, or text message they’ve kept to themselves.
It was thrilling to get the piece off my chest. I followed it up by hoping on a plane and heading to the American Planning Association’s (APA)National Planning Conference in San Francisco.
The conference had a huge emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I was even there to moderate an equity focused panel. Yet, I was in many sessions where I saw people of color, and specifically women of color, and specifically black women, get up and talk about the doubt they felt in the space. The space was supposed to be open, welcoming, diverse and inclusive. Instead, they talked about the contradictory feelings they felt in the space. They talked about how no one spoke to them, except other people of color. They talked about how people assumed they were students or nonprofit organizers, not members of APA. They talked about being skipped in line when people just simply went past them to help the white people all around them.
This feeling of being invisible is the exact opposite of what I felt when I was onstage in Los Angeles the day before. Unfortunately, it’s a feeling that many people feel way too often. Being in white centered professions, spaces, and institutions means constantly struggling to be seen. Sometimes it means struggling with self-doubt. Sometimes it means struggling to feel loved or appreciated.
The juxtaposition of these two experiences made me want to share about a time in my life where I saw someone and loved her. The video is linked above. The words are pasted below. This isn’t the final piece as I threw it together in 20 mins before going on stage. I’ll keep work-shopping it, but just in case it helps any of the folks out there struggling to be seen or loved or appreciated, I wanted to share.
I mean, how you doin’?
I mean. Dear you. You know who you are.
The only thing is I don’t think you know who I am. We’ll get back to that. But first let me tell you all the things I love about you. Maybe then when you realize how much I really see you. Like really really see you. Like know what you wear every single day. Like know your schedule. Like the know face you make right before you sneeze. Or fart. Like…wait…this is getting weird. I don’t want to be weird. I’m not weird. I just really like you. I want you to get how much I like you so that maybe then, you’ll like me just as much. Or maybe even just half as much. Okay fine. A quarter as much.
Let me get back to the point. Let me tell you why you’re amazing. If you could see yourself through my eyes you’d get it. I used to avoid seeing you because I thought if you saw me you wouldn’t like what you see. I’m short and chubby and darker than all the pretty girls in magazines. My hair is never done and always dry and frizzy so I try to cover it with a hat.
Not like you. You’re…you’re the perfect height. Perfect for hugging. Perfect for reaching things on the middle shelf. Who needs the top shelf? Am I right? Your skin is perfect and golden brown. When the light hits it, you look just like the pretty girls in the magazines. At least the magazines I want to read. Frankly, I’d subscribe. Even if they keep doing that thing where they auto-renew your card. I don’t care. Auto renew, I’ll go broke off magazines if you’re the girl in them. Too much? Let’s move on. Your hair. You have these curls and you must spend all day making them look perfectly imperfect. I can tell you’re one of those people who doesn’t even try. What did Beyonce say? You woke up like this? I’d like to wake up like that. Next to you. Too much? And even though your hair is perfect, I love when you throw on a cap. It’s like, you know you’re a queen. Throw that crown up there. YAAAAAAS Queen. I live for the confidence you show when you walk in a room, crown to the back.
You’re so perfect that when I see you, I can’t help but to smile. But not too big. I don’t have great teeth. I had braces when I was a kid. Then a retainer. I lost it. And a lot of money. At least that’s what my parents say when they always tease me about my teeth. I mean, I have dimples, but you’d never notice because I also always have horrible acne all over my face.
Not like you. You have the perfect smile. It lights up the room. Whenever you walk in and smile it’s like DAMN! Old black parents everywhere scream, “turn off the lights, we ain’t paying the electricity for the whole damn neighborhood.” That’s how bright your smile is. You never needed braces. Sure, you have a gap, but it’s perfect. You look like Angela Davis. A revolutionary. A gap that I don’t mind. A gap that fights for justice. A gap that’s just..a slight pause…to fully take in your perfection. And you have dimples, oh my god your dimples. The rest of us struggle through puberty, but somehow your zits are perfect. One, because I like popping zits. I’d pop your zits any time. Too much? The point is, your zits are perfectly positioned. They look like freckles. And who cares, but you’re perfect. And your smile and dimples are so bright that no one even notices. But I notice.
Because I love you.
Oh man, I wasn’t going to say that in here. The L word. Mainly because you’d never say it back. My eyes are too big. My ears are too pointy. My butt doesn’t really fit snugly into any pants. And honestly, I don’t even know who I am yet. I’m struggling with if I’m gay or trans. Man or women. Too black or not black enough. I’m just so unsure of everything. Except that I love you. I really do. Because you don’t have any flaws.
I’m not like you. But I like you.
The way your eyes are just big enough to look for the truth. To always find the best in people. To always look and listen for more. For justice. I love that about you. The way your ears are not quite like any I’ve ever seen. They’re so cute. I want to shower them with kisses. I love them. The way your butt.
Oh my god Becky, look at your butt.
Okay, I know your name isn’t Becky. Sorry. I thought it was funny. It wasn’t funny. Either is your butt. Your butt is serious business. I want it to be my business. I love it. It is a phat ass. That’s P-H-A-T. You know, pretty hot and tempting. And perfect. I love it.
Whenever I see you out or run into you. I know how comfortable you are with yourself. I was in the bathroom once and you came in. It was surprising, because I rarely go, because I’m afraid the other women will think I’m too much like a man, but not you. You walked into that women’s room like a boss. I wanted to wait and talk to you. But that’s weird, people don’t wait and talk in bathrooms. Plus, you pooped. But don’t worry, about halfway through I realized it and left. But it’s cool, because even your poop is perfect. I don’t even really think it stinks. Okay, I lied. I don’t ever want to lie to you. It did stink. It really smelled bad. I’m sorry.
But back to not lying. I don’t want to lie to you because you never lie to yourself. You don’t let people tell you who you should be. You are who you are. You know that’s enough for you. You speak up for what’s right. You walk away when things are wrong. You don’t let other people define what’s cool. You are the definition of cool. And for that I really do love you.
But you do lie on one topic. I once found your journal. Okay, I took it. But whatever, I’m a younger sibling, it’s what we do. And I saw you write about how no one would ever love you because you were ugly and dumb.
That’s fucking crazy. Sure I just focused on your physical traits, but that’s because this page is not long enough to put into words how your intellect stimulates me… more than a vibrator. In class, in every conversation, in everything you say. You are beautiful. You are smart. You are perfect. I am only at this school with you because I’m black or gay. That’s what they say. I’m not as smart as these other kids whose parents had tutors and money. I don’t even know why I’m here. But not you. You belong. Don’t lie on yourself like that, because I see the truth.
I want you to see what I see. I’ve never said your name because that would make it too real. But I’m going to do it. Next time I see you. I’m going to walk right up with my short, chubby, black, hatted, frizzy, gapped, zitted, big eyed, pointy eared, large butt, gender nonconforming, not smart enough to be at this school-self and say hey.
Maybe I’ll have a mirror. I’ll hold it up. I’ll say. I love you. I want you to see what I see. Tamika La Kae Butler, I want you to know all along it’s been you. I mean me.