who i want to be vs. who i need to be

words and art by martina gordon

To be something that you are not isn’t a feeling that anyone is unfamiliar with. Wanting to fit in is like a rite of passage into adolescence and we find ourselves dreaming of the day where our pretences will come naturally to us and we’ll be revered and worshipped as the idealized person we’ve created. But there are different levels to the way these manifest in people.

To be honest, I don’t think that trying to fit in is necessarily a bad thing. For a black woman, trying to fit in may be the difference between standing in her truth or providing for her family. But when are we able to discern our want to fit in versus our need? I have struggled with these ambiguous boundaries of self hatred and self sufficiency and I’ve come to realize they rely on each other. Black women cannot love themselves if they wish to be accepted by *insert oppressors here*.

As a black woman, you become entrapped in this cycle of trying to be who you want to be and needing to be who others want you to be. Who you want to be leaves you exposed to the hounds of intolerant rhetoric, and people who can’t see past skin pigmentation. Who they want you to be leaves you unfulfilled at your core and silenced from your candor. And yet, we find ourselves shifting between these two separate entities in an attempt to figure out which one best suits us, which one will bring us the least amount of pain when we look at ourselves in the mirror.

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood

Audre Lorde

I don’t speak for all black women, but I do speak for the ones that have hated themselves for their entire lives. The ones who fear being seen because that will only open themselves up to ridicule. It is a side effect of living in such a close-minded system. One where diversity may be encouraged but it certainly is not celebrated.

One of the most visible separations between black women and their non coloured counterparts (other than skin colour) is their hair. To us it is a crown that we wear upon our heads, while to others it’s a sign of our inferiority and unattainability. But if we fix the hair, like I did, straightening my hair for most of my life – to the point I forgot what my curls looked like – what else is there to pick apart? The distinct facial features, that have somehow only become popular because they pertain to our society’s vanity.

I used to get bullied for having big lips. I was embarrassed to speak because I was convinced people would be looking at my mouth constantly and judging me. This newfound popularity for blackness angers so many of us black people because when we see our features being fetishized after years of taunting, it leaves us defeated.

Why does the world not love us AS us? Why do they only revere our features in lighter shades? These are questions that rang through my 10-year-old mind so much so, I wrote them down in my diary.

We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings

Audre Lorde

To say that black women are not trying hard enough to be accepted, is to assume that we want to be accepted. Survival is not acceptance, it is survival. We want to be treated equally but we do not crave approval from others. I didn’t want people to validate me in high school when I tried to distance myself from my blackness. I wanted my life to be easier. I wanted to avoid the ridicule and hate that I saw other black kids experiencing.

My insecurities had nothing to do with what other people thought of me and everything to do with what I thought of myself. And my life was easier but at the expense of my happiness. I would never truly know the happiness that living my truth could bring until university. And once you’ve experienced it, it is hard to go back to adhering to societal standards.

Once you decide to live in your truth, that is when other people start to come out of their dark jealousy ridden corners. It is when you get to figure out how strong you are. I don’t think I’m that strong because a lot of what people say about my hair, my skin, my face, reopen wounds that I thought were healing from my past. But I know I’m strong enough, because my heart still beats in the same rhythmic determination after all the stumbles.

The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The black goddess within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.

Audre Lorde

The thing they don’t tell you about wearing your natural hair is that you have to love it before you can wear it out. The first time I wore my hair out, I was terrified. I felt like the world had their eyes on me and everywhere I went people were staring at me.

The 10th time I wore my natural hair, I didn’t think twice about who was looking at me. It didn’t matter to me because I found comfort in the freeness that my curls brought. It is a process transitioning from being the poster child for the model black girl versus the unapologetically black and proud activist, but a process I couldn’t be more thankful for.

Yes, I am now living in my truth because Audre Lorde told me, “your silence will not protect you” and I did not realize that my survival left me implicit. As much as I loved how easy life was for me externally, I could never go back to the internal woes that took my mind hostage.

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Audre Lorde

And so less afraid I became.

I am no longer who they need me to be, but who I need and want to be. I say both because wanting to be your truest self only provokes the motivation, but needing to be your truest self goes beyond the desires and is an essential necessity for inner peace. I think it’s important to question who we need to be for ourselves so that we can capture that solitude and watch it transform us into the highest possible level of being.

To be something that you aren’t is not a feeling that anyone is unfamiliar with, but it has become a feeling I can no longer identify with and because of that I will survive.

instagram: @martinagordon