I don’t want to apologize for existing or interrupting your existence. My Beloved said something to this effect a few days ago. I was telling her how that afternoon a student in my Wellness class had sat folded in on herself the entire length of the class, her long weave shading her slouched body and hiding her face. Beloved said if she had a child, she would raise them not to fold in on themselves and not to slink off to the corners. Whether or not this is a thing that she would have accomplished through mothering is a moot point as she has decided not to have children. She declared that it was not the type of woman she was, and it certainly would not be the type of child she raised.
As she spoke, I thought of all the times I’d been told to keep my head down, don’t ask questions, don’t ruffle feathers, stay out of the sun, don’t walk barefoot, don’t wear red. According to them being my shade of Black made me stand out; there was no need to draw more attention to myself. I was gangly with buck teeth and the shade of a Maltese ball. Darker still since the equator sun and I had a love-hate relationship. I was raised to apologize for my existence. My family thought they had been raising me right—if a dark-skinned Black girl knew her place and knew not to expect much then she wouldn’t be constantly disappointed; she would know to set her expectations low. They had certainly done a good job in producing just the woman they set out to produce. Later as Beloved and I parted after dinner, I reminisced about the woman I am today.
My boldness and assertiveness had only come to the surface after a coming out of sorts. I was informed of my beauty and my ability to attract the other back in the Summer of 2002. Later a Babalawo would call it Oshun. I would revel in it. One might say this is perhaps shallow, but I would defend it. Because 17 years ago when someone beckoned to the woman inside the woman who had folded in on herself her whole life, they broke the spell I had been living under.
In Rabat while I was a GA to my esteemed Fulbright professor and kick-my-ass advisor and mentor, I came into my own. Most of the people I met thought I was Nubian. The Moroccan sun had toasted me just the right shade so I could pass until I opened my mouth. Men ogled me in the streets of Fez and in the souks of Marrakesh, a few bold ones stepped to me whispering about pleasures they could bestow on me. None were lude, but all were aggressively persistent. One man approached me boldly one afternoon saying he’d like my hand in marriage. I coyly replied it wasn’t mine to give and he was to approach my mother, pointing to my mentor, thinking he’d give up. He went away and came back the next day well dressed and approached her while we enjoyed our petit dejeuner. “Madame, I want your daughter hand in marriage. I give you 500 camel!” When the shock of the sight of him wore off, I thought, am I worth 500 camels? Should my mentor demand more? We giggled about Mahmud the rest of our study abroad trip.
Maroc was mesmerizing. I covered my head some days to avoid the attention, but through it all the woman that had been loosed was gaining confidence and building activation energy. In 6 weeks, in another country, the woman I am today was born. Bold, assertive, matter-of-factly, Black-proud, and aware of her worth and her ability to contribute. No more slinking off to corners, sitting in the back, slouching low so I wouldn’t be called on. As I listened to my Beloved, I wondered what life would have been like if I had been raised not to apologize for existing right from the start. I was 25 when I finally stopped apologizing for being born.
I value what I am today and these days it comes naturally however, I couldn’t confidently proclaim that I could raise a bold child and that also is a moot point given my own stance on children.