It is very important to us, that the MMD space isn’t just narrated by its founders. When we began this journey we always had a vision of it going beyond Instagram. This is us trying to begin that process. The piece that follows is written by the talented Remi Sade ( @booksbabyandback ) we do hope you enjoy.
There are many different boxes in this world or circles as some like to call them. They’re opportunities to distinguish one group from another. They’re also a tool used to categorize people based on factors out of their control. So, since we’re on the topic let’s talk about the elephants in this room. I am a black, inner-city London, 18-24-year-old, child of a single parent, overweight, dyslexic and dyspraxic, unmarried mother, student, working-class woman. According to societal norms and values, this description of myself is a sentence purely loaded with social inequalities. While I personally see these as opportunities for me to break the mold of perception, I also know that these are boxes for which I can tick. There are only so many times you can be the token (insert choice here) person before you understand and realize the role you are fulfilling.
With all the elephants in my room, I’m sure one can understand how busy it might be. I hope there might not always be such slim breathing room or as I like to call it “me room”. When I had the idea for this piece I wrote it and let it sit for two months. It took me two months to get my head around a concept I had conjured up myself because It made me uncomfortable.
My concern isn’t that people will read this and be offended it’s that they’ll be uncomfortable and isolated by the narrative of this prose. I find the irony in that statement because the topic at hand is a question of how much comfort I find in being a walking statistic. A living breathing example of what could happen should you be subjected to less than desirable circumstances. The verdict is in, obviously, in a biased fashion, I feel that I turned out okay.
When some people encounter me, they have expectations of who I am based on the boxes I tick. Because of these preconceived notions, a verbal dance of sorts can ensue. I’d love to give you a play by play transcript, however, I have a plethora of various encounters to choose from. The most common questions I get are: “Wow you’re young…, Are you still with your daughter’s father?” “Don’t you want to get married?” or the most intrusive experience we have “Her hair looks so (thinks of an adjective other than afro) … dynamic, how do you manage to maintain it?”. They then usually proceed to tangle their fingers in my baby’s hair without invitation and tell me a story about their black or brown friend with afro/ curly hair.
These alone aren’t offensive questions, statements or doings. It is the undercurrent of why we are even on the topic that is, the assumptions on my whole character and the then clear stereotyping. I understand for some of you reading this, you will argue no harm was meant and it was a minor curious way these questions were implied. This is a trending rhetoric. This is what then causes people who discuss their discomfort with these occurrences to be labeled as oversensitive or too PC. The ambiguity of situations like this is why they aren’t labeled as racist or ageist. They aren’t labeled as prejudiced or even ignorant.
The clear stereotyping of a whole group of people when done right can move through institutions and be no more than “inquisitive minds”.
However, for the person on the receiving end, many questions can arise. For those who are self-aware or woke, there is a very conscious decision. To not engage in a passive combat, every time we don’t address each person as they commit their microaggressions. Very sadly for those who are oblivious they welcome the interests of those who by choice know no better. They go from being a peer to part of the exhibition. Simply asking why or what isn’t enough anymore. The intention behind every sentence must be genuine for our relationships as people to progress.
Likewise, empathy can go a very long way. There is a rule among black women in corporate environments. Never embody the angry black woman; even when you are angry, regardless of whether you may be right or wrong. Not because of concern for how it will portray you. Quite the contrary specifically because you know how it will portray you. Similarly, when a man speaks down to a woman a show of emotion may feel appropriate. Yet, the concern of being patronized can often mean that they harden their stance and express themselves in private.
Being me is not easy. Don’t get me wrong I love the person I am and I feel great pride in what I mean but I have never been allowed by external influences to feel comfortable in who I am. Instead, I had to yield the confidence in myself to be accepted. When I was a child all I knew of women is that they grow to be great mothers and great wives. But, my mother didn’t have a husband so how could she be a good wife and moreover a good woman? Would my fate be the same? Why wasn’t my father seen with the same pity? I was taught that my skin should be fairer and my hair straighter yet this was unlikely to happen. Then while I wasn’t a part of the system; the system was a part of me. No matter how much positive I heard from friends and family it felt like the rest of the world disagreed and after every joke, the impression it left gained more depth.
The system said that I had a predisposition to failure because of a home life I never chose, a family I never had, a socioeconomic status I had no influence on and a gender that was assigned to me in the womb.
What the system never considered was that while I am and was all those things I was more I was also a partially privately educated, trilingual, well-traveled, individual with strong family values and a knack for people. Being a writer means that we draw inspiration from abstract sources sometimes.
One thing I’ve noticed as a trend is a desire for people with these labels to seek out the opposite of their stereotyped characteristics, to prove they don’t fit the mold. Some young people like to appear more mature. Some people of color associate success with being palatable to the white gaze. Overweight people can often feel the need to impress they’re still healthy. City folks like to show they’re not stuck in the rat race. Cohabiting couples often mention how marriage is just a piece of paper they don’t need. Working class people know the connotations of being one meal away from the dole. I still fall victim to some of these “let me show you I’m an exception” moments.
I can see why in theory these descriptions of me are met with an already formed idea. However, I thrive on the surprise I’m met with when I open my mouth. When I figuratively smash the glass ceiling and redirect peoples hidden prejudices. You know, the ones that allow you to believe its okay to compare your majority privileges with those of the oppressed.
For example, I shared an anecdote of some racism I faced in west England. My friend’s response was well I understand how you feel because you know with me being white when I go to predominantly black or Asian countries they give me the funny stares, it goes both ways. Yes, it does go both ways. This is something I couldn’t and didn’t want to dispute, I did wonder though. If, one of us had been male and said male heard a tale of sexism and told their experiences of women being inappropriate toward him. Would it be comparable?
What it also does is prove that we are all subject to perception. These perceptions in the wrong or unknowing hands can also prove dangerous. However, these are simply perceptions. While we are all aware that injustices can be driven by a warped observation or idea we also must realize that these aren’t factual. Therefore, there is always another angle from which a more progressive view can be found, should the eye of the beholder be open to it.
The insecure prepubescent inside of me wants to let you know, that despite all I have spoken about not everyone treats me this way. I have many friendships with people who could have been at one point or another guilty of some of these prejudices. She is the one who keeps me within the lines of acceptance reminding me of what may happen should I not conform. The adolescent rebel within has added that while I know it’s wrong to speak on such taboo subjects when you essentially are the taboo you’re welcomed to speak as free as the wind. The woman in me, the present-day mother, understands the complexity of life and circumstance over a choice.
However, she also knows the power in choosing the effect of your circumstances. If we can open a conversation and not allow our juvenile selves to steer a narrative our adult selves speak then we can learn from our history. The child in all of us is very clear about what they will and won’t do. There is where most of us find emotional clarity and sensitivity. But, this is also where we are most unlikely to respect a point of view we disagree with.
If you could humor me, give this a whirl: If I were a heterosexual middle-class middle-aged Caucasian white-collar male, would you be curious to know if my life experiences and upbringing impacted on my seemingly better than the average position in society?