By Jacquelyn Iyamah. Photography By Deun Ivory.
A little over a year ago, I began writing ‘the geometry of being Black’. I wanted to create a piece of art that delves into how anti-Blackness impacts the minds, bodies, and souls of Black folk. A piece of art that highlights how consuming anti-Blackness can cause our own community to exude anti-Blackness. But most importantly, a piece of art that calls for healing within the community.
As a Nigerian who was raised in France, and now lives in the US; I have spent the majority of my life trying to navigate anti-Blackness. I have seen it show up in different places and in different ways at almost every stage in my life. Like most Black people, I was introduced to it at an incredibly young age. I started to recognize that society did not want to make room for my skin when I was 5 years old.
My first encounters with anti-Blackness were with my white kindergarten teachers. At the age of 5, I was unable to comprehend why it was that my teachers treated my peers with tenderness, and me with callousness. And while I was not aware of what racism was, I understood the basic principles of color. I understood that the main difference between my peers and I was the color of the skin clothing our bones.
“The children of the despised and rejected are menaced from the moment they stir in the womb” – James Baldwin
moment of reflection: one common-thread of human life – particularly black life, is the aching desire to be free. free to be ourselves without judgement. free to celebrate who we are without someone attempting to steal our joy. free to love. free to exist. free. to be. black. navigating through this world in this beautiful black body is hard. but we pull through. every. single. day. we pull ourselves free from the notion that we don’t deserve to experience joy, beautiful memories + all that life has to offer. all of this comes to mind because i had the chance to watch the netflix screening of @mudbound this past weekend. and it was quite emotional, mainly because it’s never easy to watch black people struggle or be deprived of their freedom. it sucks. but i can say that i walked away from this film with the reminder to always fight for my right to exist, joyfully, in the face of those who don’t care to see me being. breathing + thriving. #ad #netflix #mudbound #reflection #minimal #art #black #illustration
I have been thinking a lot about what it means to carry the trauma of anti-Blackness from birth. About what it means to be born into a world that has already decided how you should be treated before meeting you. Many Black people spend their younger years inhaling so much anti Blackness that we begin to exhale our Blackness. We grow to think that this is what breathing looks like. That this is what will keep us alive.
The last six years of my life have been spent meditating on the intensity at which internalized racism shows up in our community. I have witnessed it show up with family, friends, romantic partners, and even acquaintances. This issue is so pervasive; yet we rarely discuss the harm it poses to our community.
So where do we go from here?
Confronting internalized anti-Blackness will never be easy, but I believe that there are steps that we can take to begin to heal and center love in our stories. I wrote ‘The Geometry of Being Black’ in five segments to shed light on these steps. These steps are receiving, internalizing, unlearning, loving and resisting.
The purpose of this step is to recognize some of the ways our community has experienced racism from society at large.
From colonialism, to slavery, to police brutality, to mass incarceration, to racialized sexual violence, to environmental racism (e.g. flint), to workplace, housing, and educational discrimination – how has global anti-Blackness hurt you and the community?
This step is about acknowledgement. Take the time to reaffirm your experiences. In order to restore ourselves, we must first acknowledge that there is pain – that there is something that needs to be healed.
Harmful way of thinking: “This world does not care about me, so why should I? I am numb to the pain.”
Afrofuturistic thinking: “This world has hurt me, and I need to find ways to try and remedy the pain.”
The purpose of this step is to confront how we as community embrace and perpetuate anti-Blackness. If you spend enough time hearing, visualizing, and reading about something, your mind begins to learn it. By existing in a world that spews out anti-Black rhetoric and indulges in anti-Black practices, many of us have learned to disown Blackness.
Think about some of the ways in which you may be complicit in anti-Blackness. Do you idolize lighter skin, thinner noses, and straighter hair? Do you think afro-textured hair is “messy”? Do you ever use the term “too Black”? Do you refuse to date people who have traditionally Black features?
This step is about self-reflection and examination. Pay attention to how you may be participating in white supremacist values. Take the time to recognize the politics that have influenced your preferences. Take the time to think about the ways in which you deprecate yourself and those around you.
Harmful way of thinking: “North West is way prettier than Blue Ivy, I want mixed kids.”
Afrofuturistic thinking: “By idolizing mixed children, I am actively agreeing with the colonial school of thought that beauty cannot live in Blackness. Despite what society says, children with afro-textured hair, full lips, a full nose, and a deep skin tone, are just as mesmerizing, as children without these features.”
The purpose of this step is to encourage us to uproot the hate we have internalized, and replace it with something more fruitful.
Make a list of the things that you do not like about being Black. Can you pinpoint where this anti-Blackness stems from? Do you recognize that it is not your Blackness that you do not like, but it is the way society has treated your Blackness?
This step is about unlearning to relearn. In order to unlearn internalized racism, we must learn where it is coming from. When we realize that how we feel about our Blackness is not actually a reflection of our own thoughts, but a reflection of society’s thoughts; we can begin to rewire our minds.
Harmful way of thinking: “I have resentment about my Blackness, but I don’t see the point in addressing it.”
Afrofuturistic thinking: “I am going to study books and watch documentaries about how anti-Blackness emerged. With a better understanding of who made me feel this way about myself, I would be better equipped to address my resentment.”
The purpose of this step is to encourage us to accept our Blackness in its entirety. Think about how you value yourself, and those around you. Do you treat yourself and those around you with love? How often do you remind yourself about the things you love about yourself? Are there ways you can reinforce love within the community? This step reminds us to be tender and kind to ourselves. After all, love belongs to us too.
Harmful way of thinking: “Being loving with myself and those around me shows weakness.”
Afrofuturistic thinking: “I am going to treat myself and those around me with love- especially the youth. I want future generations to know that love breathes in this community.”
This step speaks to how we can transform our experiences into substantive change – how we can alchemize. Think about the different ways you can resist. Sometimes resisting is simply being present. As a community, it is crucial that we take the time to be present in our Blackness. Our presence affirms our right to exist in the space.
Harmful way of thinking: “I do not see the point in us fighting for our Blackness, life will be easier if we assimilate.”
Afrofuturistic thinking: “There is so much beauty and power in preserving our Blackness. I choose to breathe, take up space, question, and be unapologetically Black in a world that is afraid of the dark.”
“in this life
you will receive
but this life
will also grant you
the breath to
and love your Blackness again.”
-Page 4 of ‘the geometry of being Black’
We often discuss what it means to receive racism, but we shy away from conversations about how anti-Blackness has trickled down into our communities. We need to create more spaces where Black people can confront the pain we harbor within. Spaces where we can reflect on our feelings of hurt, betrayal, and self-deprecation. The more we have these honest discussions about what role we play in extending anti-Blackness, the more we can strategize around abolishing it.
Today, we have the opportunity to reimagine what love looks like in the Black community. To reimagine what tenderness looks like in the Black community. To reimagine the type of life we want to create for generations to come. We must take this opportunity and run with it.
Jacquelyn Ogorchukwu Iyamah is a multidisciplinary artist with a passion for writing, photography, and graphic design. She specializes in creating content that speaks to the communities that are often overlooked. You can buy her book ‘the geometry of being Black here. Keep in touch with her work on Instagram @ogorchukwuu and on jacquelyniyamah.com.