Essays

#MeToo: My Story of Resilience

[Trigger Warning: This letter contains graphic descriptions some readers might find personally disturbing. Discretion is advised.]

Dear Dream,

It’s your senior year of college and you are confused. I apologize that I cannot assure you any relief in the coming months or years but I know how you feel. You feel trapped. You feel scared. But most importantly, after a lifetime of defiance, you are actually feeling the pressures of an unjust society and “the real world” in your life. You may not know this but you soon become a statistic albeit not one that may occur to you right now. My dear, you will be sexually harassed.

It won’t be at work, it won’t be at school. It is somewhere you almost always lets your guard down, in favor of relaxation. It will be on the bus, at your bus stop. And it won’t be someone you suspect or can easily avoid, like a leering business man or that guy with the ponytail that makes an effort to sit next to you whenever he sees you. It will be the bus driver. Not just any bus driver, the “nice” one who sits and talks with you about poetry and politics. Like most predatory men, he hid behind a façade of kindness to gain your trust before trying to take advantage. To you, his compliments mean nothing but unbeknownst to you, he takes your uncomfortable polite smile as sexual interest, not as the manners you are accustomed to showing people of older age.

The incident will be Labor Day weekend. You will be wearing a miniskirt, perfectly suited for the hot weather that accompanies the final days of Atlanta summer. He will feign interest and try to make conversation while you wait for your mom to pick you up. He will pretend he is being watched or listened to and push you further away from the crowd. In all the peculiarity, you will follow but not by choice but because he is pushing you. He is bigger and stronger, 6 feet tall by estimate. You are 5 feet 2. You will be perplexed. And once everyone is out of sight and earshot, that is when the ordeal will begin.

The next part is the hardest part to write, little me, because the violation that ensued will never quite feel like it wasn’t violent. When you think of it, you will close your eyes, trying to erase the feelings of his hands on your body. You will pause when you talk about it, trying to recenter yourself and reacquaint yourself with reality. You will need a moment, deep breaths just as I needed when I wrote this and later when I typed it. It will stay with you, like a stain or bruise. You will remind yourself that now is the easy part. It happened but it is over. But not for you, not yet.

He will suddenly position himself behind you. Kiss his toothless mouth to your head and cheek. Then, he will press his penis into your back, a move you will gag over later. His hands, like a viper, will move under your blouse and try to move under your skirt. His hands will squeeze as they reach your breast.

During the first few seconds of the ordeal, you will freeze. Olivia Benson of Law & Order SVU says this is normal. You will feel like you never freeze, especially during critical moments like this. The truth is, though, you did because you are blaming yourself. In your mind, you should have said you have a boyfriend. You should have questioned him more. You shouldn’t have been so polite. You should have screamed. You should scream now.

Instead, you fight. You try to push his hands off of you, you attempt to move away from him. You gear your elbow back to defend yourself. But he is stronger than you. You will blame yourself more and more. Do not worry, it will end almost as soon as it started but not before another one of his disgusting puckers hit your head. You silently continue to blame yourself even after it is all over. Let me assure you, just as Olivia Benson assures the victims, this was not your fault. No matter what you may have done, you did what you could. You did what you felt necessary to survive. And you did. You survived.

In my humble opinion, what saves this entire ordeal is what you did next. Instead of carrying it in shame, you tell. You share the story on Twitter, on your Snapchat, much to the dismay of your then kinda-sorta beau. You call your friends. You text them. You tear the veil of silence so many end up carrying. That is your saving grace. Some semblance of self reinforced your decision making here. I want to thank you for this. Your voice, our voice almost completely shed the burden of blame. It saved me. It saved us.

In the coming months after the attack, you will not call what happened to you ‘harassment’. In your eyes, it was nothing short of assault. It wasn’t an inappropriate stare or a knee touch with a lewd suggestion. It was an intentional, sexually motivated, non-consensual physical attack to your person that left you feeling violated and vulnerable in the worst way. You were preyed upon, you were targeted. Some people might attempt to ‘correct’ you on this but do not let this deter you. This experience didn’t happen to them– it happened to you. You have a right to call it as you see it.

The one criticism we will carry is the choice not to report it. You definitely know he deserved reprimand. But out of a strange sense of racial obligation and with your own guilt and victim blaming bias, you hesitate. You think, who will believe you? You were wearing a mini skirt. You didn’t stop him from moving you away from the crowd. You didn’t scream. Who will believe you? You settle on not reporting it but it leaves an odd taste in your mouth. After all, you can still feel his hands on you. Even now. It is the decision I struggle to grapple with but I recognize that you had a lot to deal with. You didn’t need the added stress of a report, a follow up investigation. An emotionally abusive ex, a cheating boyfriend, launching a media platform plus Dr. Barthlow’s & Dr. Welch’s classes and volunteering. You had a lot on your plate. I understand your choice to not pursue the issue. But it will still keep you up at night. Especially since your brother’s friend admits she only narrowly escaped his claws. You will wonder how many other girls he has and/or will hurt. If he continues to use the ruse of an innocuous bus driver. If you could have saved any other girls from your pain. Understand this: this choice is not an easy one for anyone. It is alright not to report it. It is alright.

I know you are wondering why I am writing this. To tell you the truth, I struggled with this decision. No, you don’t owe your story to anyone for whatever reason. No, you don’t have to justify anything to anyone. That is not what this is. This is… catharsis. This is a release. This is speaking truth to power. This is your hammer swinging against a wall of bullshit patriarchy, out there in the real world and even inside you. This is a declaration, a line in the sand. But even this is secondary to the real reason: this is a message of unknown strength to who you are and who you will be.

Yes, right now, you are hurt. You are vulnerable and scared. Rightfully so. But at the end of the day, you are resilient and powerful beyond your wildest dreams. Know this. There isn’t a man who can stop you from anything. His hands will haunt you but it is over. You are past it. You have survived. You will always survive. Above all else, remember that.

With the utmost love and respect,

Dream M.

Standard
Essays

The Divine Sisterhood That Saved Me

“Keep Your Head Up, Keep Your Head Up. Whenever this life gets tough, you gotta fight with your homegirls standing your left and your right. True blue and tight like glue.”

Living Single is probably my favorite sitcom ever. If you’re unfamiliar with the iconic sitcom, it’s based around four black women and their two male housemates, living together in their Brooklyn brownstone. Successful, black and living in a non gentrified Brooklyn, the women were inspirational to me. They were black women who had fruitful careers, real conversations with each other and a friendship that could not be broken, no matter the circumstances the world threw at them. They were grown but they were still just figuring it all out with the help of their friends (albeit sometimes unwarranted). Just as their creator, Yvette Lee Bowser, had intended, the foursome’s interpersonal dynamics was real, intense, frank and funny. My sophomore year of college, I almost planned my entire schedule around its showings on TVOne. That’s how much I love Living Single.

But despite my exhaustive efforts, it seemed that I could not recreate those same relationships in real life. In terms of friends, I was mostly alone. I had friends but I found myself profoundly detached from them, no matter how close I believed they should be. I was infamous for falling out with best friends. Truth be told, I didn’t think I needed them when it was all said and done. I rationalized, “I came into this world alone and caskets don’t have bunk beds.” Their presence was never a given so I learned how to be alone. I supposed I wasn’t as invested as I thought but either way, it didn’t really matter to me. It wasn’t until I found myself truly alone that I changed my mind. Continue reading

Standard
Essays

2017 Met Gala: The Good & The Bad

This year’s Met Gala carpet was a disappointment to the fashion world.

This year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art chose Rei Kawakubo to build their annual fashion exhibit around, due to her authentic and eccentric take on art and fashion. Costume Institute’s curator Andrew Bolton praised Rei Kawakubo as “one of the most important and influential designers of the past forty years.” Such a distinct design sense is the entire reason she is only the second living designer to have a Met exhibit. Kawabuko studied the history of aesthetics at Keio University in Tokyo and later on, became a stylist. She then went on lead design her own clothes and founded the iconic brand, Comme des Garçons. Some of Kawakubo’s trademark styles includes abstract shapes, bold colors, ruffles, and bridging the modern with the past.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Photos via the NYT and People)

It seems every year more and more A-list superstars decide to part away from the theme, in favor of what social media audiences claimed was more of prom dress code. This year, the Met’s blue and white carpet was met with mediocre outfits at best, with only a dash of spectacular outfits which nailed the theme. Only a few demonstrated the avant-garde design/Comme des Garçons authenticity fashion lovers were looking for. Celebrities such as Rihanna, Solange Knowles, and Katy Perry took the theme and dress code to heart to showcase what the Met Gala is all about: the art of fashion.

All too often, the theme gets lost in the prestigious fundraising event when it is supposed to be the main focus when celebrities are walking up the long carpeted stairs with intricate outfits to the venue. Such is the case with celebrities and models alike who barely followed the theme that honors the creativeness and innovation of Rei Kawakubo. Other celebrities such as Selena Gomez, prominent Victoria’s Secret Models (well besides Lily Aldridge), Gwyneth Paltrow and more decided to go simple as though they were attending an awards show instead of fashion’s most distinguished carpet.

Here are my Top Ten Best at the Met: Helen Lasichanh, Cynthia Erivo, Rihanna, Kerry Washington, Katy Perry, Janelle Monáe, Lilly Collins, Haley Bennett, Michéle Lamy and Sean Combs (Diddy).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Least favorites at the Met: Gisele Bündchen, Kendall Jenner, Adriana Lima, Sofia Richie, Bee Shaffer, Jennifer Lopez, Donatella Versace, Joan Smalls, Laura Dern, and Alexa Chung.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Standard
Essays

Dark Skinned Girls Don’t Get Married

(Photo via Pinterest)

Like every other little girl, I used to dream about getting married. And when I dream, I dream big. I’m talking 3.5, vs1, pear shaped, near colourless brilliant cut diamond on a 14K white gold band married. Cupcakes with initials married. Three tier cake, flower canopy, a peonies, calla lilies & roses bouquet with a dessert bar and me in a long, dramatic white dress with a train and a cathedral veil in front of all my friends and family with candles and fireworks married. My husband– who in my head looks like something like Trevante Rhodes– in a white tuxedo and a calla lily boutonniere bawling from my beauty married. I have dreamt about being married. (OK, I didn’t dream all that– Pinterest filled in some details.)

And it would be lit, a dream, truly. But the reality is… I’m too dark skinned to get married.

Continue reading

Standard
Essays

The Beauty of Aging

It’s popular to say that “black don’t crack,” which, if you’re unfamiliar, refers to how it is often hard to tell a black woman’s age because of visible youth. This is often true and it has been for my family. I dare not reveal my mom and grandma’s ages without their approval, but they are usually not perceived to be the ages that they are. However, this does not remove women of color from experiencing ageism. This is a form of discrimination that can affect both the young and old, but really gets discussed more in terms of obstacles faced by older people. Aging in this society is seen as something that we should not want to do, even though it’s a natural part of life. Why as a society are we ashamed to embrace aging when, one, it’s an opportunity not afforded to everyone and two, with age comes wisdom (for most)? In reflecting on this, I wanted to counter this narrative by showing examples of the beauty of aging.

Style Like U x Allure – Dispelling Beauty Myths

One of my favorite resources for style inspiration and good vibes, Style Like U, recently partnered with Allure for a series titled “Dispelling Beauty Myths.” In this version, the team speaks to Norma Kamali, Michaela Angela Davis, and Joani Johnson – all women of varying ages and backgrounds that provide a positive perspective on aging. Kamali mentions how in her younger age, during the time when society would have deemed her most beautiful/worthy, she was riddled with insecurities. Now, at 71, she feels the most beautiful and she is still very active despite what naysayers would believe about someone her age. Davis, who is in her early fifties, has finally found peace of mind (she calls this sexy!). And can we just talk about Johnson’s fabulous grey hair? Based on the gems provided in this video, I’m curious what wealth of knowledge would come out of a longer conversation with these ladies.

Continue reading

Standard
Essays

Cardi B. : A Bronx Shero

Photo via FashionBombDaily

It’s strange who we, as women, are told to idolize. While we have the ability to discern, we almost always sold women who are unlike most women. They are perfect, in each and every way and thus, impossible to replicate. Whether they are bombshells or bookworms, we as women are expected to choose our empowerment from what seems like two piles. If we do get a woman that is more complex with a more checkered past, there is often a scrubbing of that past in an attempt to further remove her from the everyday woman. That is until recently. The ubiquity and easy access of internet made it possible to find facts and allowed women (past and present) to be more open about their lives. Legends and newcomers alike were open to show the reality of what being a woman meant. It expanded horizons and allowed women to be more openly multidimensional. Our heros or sheros were more… like us… But even now there is a stigma around who women herald.

When you think shero, who do you think of? Femmes who defy the odds? Activists? Businesswomen, perhaps? Well, I want to nominate someone for consideration. She’s funny, intelligent, resilient and probably already clawed her way into your heart. People on Tumblr have already given her title of a great sociologist, able to see and assess the world accurately and concisely. Only 24, she’s already staked her claim and gone after it. That’s right, I’m talking about Belicalis Almanzar of the Bronx, NY, AKA, the one and only Cardi B. My shero.

Here’s a disclaimer before we continue. I am not saying Cardi is perfect, far from. In fact, I think she has a lot to unlearn, in the same way I did. But I can critique and admire her at the same time.

Continue reading

Standard
Essays

State of America

There are so many words, but simultaneously not enough to describe where we are at right now. I’m referring to personally, interpersonally, nationally, and globally. I have a lot of feelings. But a week post-election, my initial shock and distress has subsided. At this point, my concern is not becoming complacent with the situation. Learning more and challenging/championing certain issues, especially in my own community, is important to me.

Even though I don’t really have all the words, Dream wrote this article for HerCampus the day right after the election. It perfectly sums up how many of us felt on November 9 and how many continue to feel.

Many of us are concerned with how the policies enacted in the next four years will affect us. Just know in these times of uncertainty that it’s important for us to band together, support one another, and allow room for healing. A goal for Fleurish1994 moving forward is for this platform to be one of those healing spaces. If you have any suggestions for topics you would like to see, be it related to healing or otherwise, feel free to let us know.

With Love,

Shanté

Standard