It's Time to Honor Your Emotions, Not "Tame" Them: A Manifesto

By Etenish Abebe. Photography By Deun Ivory. 

I have called a truce on a 23-year war with my emotions.

This process of undoing has brought me to confront the guerrilla war between my emotions and what I thought to be objective truths. What I’ve come to learn is that in reality, these are not so far removed from one another.

As black women, we are taught to swallow our emotions, to compromise our humanity. We are taught to carry the world on our backs even when they ache and fold. We teeter a fine line. The imagined limitless strength is met with the looming assumption that this resilience is a malicious resistance to the world – a boisterous “fuck you!”

We are not reflected in popular conceptions of femininity, steeped in narratives about an inherent softness. Black women are not afforded the luxury of accessing emotions that render them vulnerable.  We are often labeled angry, even when we are not. We see this in the media constantly, most notably through the media’s victimization of celebrities like Taylor Swift in contrast to the relentless demonization of any black women in the public sphere that uses their platform to speak out. And if we are angry – and we should be – God forbid we break loose and let the fire of our wrath be seen.

When performed with diligence, the repression of our emotions moves us away from the “masculine,” but our unyielding will to persevere hardens us in the eyes of the public imaginary. We lay in an androgynous purgatory, an anomaly.

In realizing that these conceptions of black womanhood are contradictions that exist outside the realm of our control, I began to question: What humanity am I salvaging if walking that tightrope of a line is an impossible feat? Ambition will not make that walk any easier. That rope is a noose, disguised. Finding your balance won’t change that.

In reading to unlearn, a quote from an Audre Lorde essay has stuck with me for years. In this piece, Lorde recounts a conversation with her daughter, whom she consults to help her flesh out a speech that she is writing about the nuanced relationship between silence and action.

“Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just jump up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.”

Through the repression of our emotions, we are withholding our truths from the world. Who will speak those into existence, if not you?

Although popular discourse has created a schism between emotionality and intelligence, these two things are impossible to separate. We need to move away from exclusively, valuing objectivity to inform “intelligent” decision-making. The assumption that it’s possible for someone to look through a lens that is completely devoid of emotion is a farce. We have to recognize that in reality, nothing is truly objective.

Our emotions inform everything and we should absolutely listen to them.

This prevailing understanding of intelligence is toxic. When paired with the undying perception that women are inherently irrational and act impulsively on their emotions, it exacerbates the pressure to repress our feelings. To combat this, women are forced to be hyper-vigilant about removing themselves from their visceral impulses. We are taught that how we feel doesn’t hold any “real” value, so we hollow ourselves.

In meditating on these truths, I have realized that in order to create liberated futures for black women, we have to imagine worlds outside of the dichotomies we take for granted. Blurring the line between emotion and intelligence through unapologetic self-expression and feeling with intention makes way for a new form of radical [black] feminist praxis.

By channeling our ability to feel and express ourselves fully, black women can create paradise for ourselves and our communities. There is power in the androgynous space black women inhabit in the public imaginary.

Unbound and unafraid, we are revolution.

A manifesto grew from this self-proclaimed truce:

I am woman and black.

I will not be shrunken down to compromise everyone’s comfort but my own.

I am everyone, to me.

I will not allow another’s perspective to diminish my own.

I feel – sometimes too much, sometimes all at once.

I promise to sit in my emotions with intention and acceptance.

am not always willing or able to extend myself, and that’s ok.

I will communicate.

I will not hold back in fear of my truths splitting me in half and leaving me vulnerable.

The alternative is worse.

Sometimes I am angry.

My tongue a knife, a voice trained to sound like honey can spill from my throat like a fountain of bitter vinegar.

I am a force.

And I will own it all.

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Etenish A is a Boston-based writer, organizer and media strategist. She can be found on both Twitter and Instagram (@etnsh) and can be contacted at etenishabebe@gmail.com.