Black Women & Surviving The Absurd

Trigger Warning: mental health/depression/suicide

I was more than excited to watch Oprah’s interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, better known as, Meghan and Harry. I deemed yesterday, Meg and Harry Day! More than anything, I wanted to hear their voice as the majority of us realized they had little to no control of their own narrative since Meghan joined the Royal Family. I thought I was prepared to hear Meghan’s story; by prepared, I mean, I was ready to hear how the British press othered her to point that she and her husband decided to “step back” as senior, working members of the Royal Family.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the painful honesty that she offered to the world. I wasn’t prepared for the truth: that baby Archie was never offered a title or security protection as the first royal of color. That the potential darkness of his skin color was discussed at length. That once Prince Charles ascends to the throne, they would change the law that automatically grants baby Archie the title of prince and security protection. That the rumor that Meghan made Kate cry was actually the opposite: Kate made Meghan cry and right before her wedding. That the Institution–the business side of the Royal Family–asked her to be 50% of herself; moreover, that the Institution vowed to protect her from the British Press even though they had no intention of doing so. That the unmitigated stress deteriorated her mental health to the point that she saw suicide as the only way out.

Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” Yes, he says America, but let’s be honest–anti-black racism is global–so let’s replace America with the world and I’m not being hyperbolic. The actions of the Institution, the British Press and everywhere really, is the result of an ingrained belief that Black people are inherently inferior–inherently lazy, intellectually inept, and Black women, for that matter, are unworthy of love and protection. It is absurd—an absurdity we live in daily.

Dr. James Cone, the father of Black Liberation Theology, explains how living in the absurd can result in either death or rebellion. He says, “Absurdity arises as the black man seeks to understand his place in the white world. The black man does not view himself as absurd; he views himself as human. But as he meets the white world and its values, he is confronted with an almighty No and is defined as a thing. This produces the absurdity.” He goes on to say, “In this existential absurdity, what should he do? Should he respond as he knows himself to be [a human], or as the world defines him [a thing]?” Cone explains, “If one believes that this world is the extent of reality, he will either despair or rebel” saying, “suicide is the ultimate act of despair.” However, he says, if the black man chooses not to die, he can fight back “with the whole of his being” (13-14). Living as a Black woman in this world means we are in the “existential absurdity,” choosing between despair or rebellion.

Like Meghan, I know what it feels like to see death as a peaceful option to the violent reality of living as a Black woman in an anti-black world. I was the victim of a cyber-incident at my workplace in 2014. I worked for a substance abuse treatment facility for students ages 16 to 24. Clients would move from phase to phase, gaining more freedom as they progressed through the program. Some were successful and others were not. One day, I was called to human resources. The director told me that an ex-client, still in the area, sent nude photos of a fat, Black woman to all the current male residents in the apartments. Along with the photos, he added degrading comments about my fatness and what he’d do to me. I sat frozen. What could I say?

The director asked, “Do you have any nude photos floating around online?”

“Was it me?!” I shot back.

“No, no. I was just…wondering.”

Whether or not the pictures were of me didn’t matter—it was a fat, Black woman. I was a victim to his carnal desires and lascivious gaze; I wasn’t the creative writing professor with a master’s degree in English. I was something to be wrecked and disposed of. The company offered me three free therapy sessions and that was it–I was on my own. Funny enough, that little was more than Meghan received.

I took the next few days off, too embarrassed to face any of them in the Learning Center. I remember a white, male co-worker texting to see where I was. When I told him what happened he said, “Ignore those rascals” as if my body, dignity and humanity–the stripped and bare way in which I felt–was to be ignored. My already fragile mental health snapped and I descended to an even darker place. Like Meghan, I was on the verge of despair. I saw myself as human but others saw me as a thing. My story is one incident, on top of an already existing struggle with depression; I cannot and will not imagine what it was like for her, someone who had no support system to cope with mental distress because she hadn’t dealt with it before. Both Meghan and I survived; we both, in the midst of darkness, chose to rebel against systems that saw us as things instead of human.

Last night, it became evident that Black women can’t wait for white people to read anti-racist books, discuss James Baldwin and attend anti-racist Zoom webinars. We can’t wait for Instagram posts, diversity and inclusion language or for anti-racist behavior to become evident. I’m saying this because while Meghan’s story ends well—she and Harry were able to escape the terrorism of the British press and complicity of the Royal Family—the world hasn’t changed. I don’t have hope that this world will see Black women as worthy of the same protection it easily offers white women, even when they are the perpetrators of violence. I don’t have hope that one day, in the near future, anti-black racism will cease to exist. How can it? It’s ingrained in our global psyche.

I’ll tell you what I do have hope for. I have hope that Black women will continue to thrive, to rebel, to take up space, to care for ourselves, to connect to Divine love, to find our tribe, and to stand in our inherent greatness. I have hope that Black women will continue creating safe spaces within ourselves. That we will continue taking an active role in our mental wellbeing. I have hope that we will continue loving ourselves unconditionally. That, like Meghan, we will continue loving ourselves enough to find romantic partners who reflect that Divine love back to us. A love that shows up as support and protection.

A poem by rupi kaur says:

What is the greatest lesson a woman should learn

that since day one

she’s already had everything she needs within herself

it’s the world that convinced her she did not

Black women have been convinced we are unworthy; that we take up too much space; that our magic is to be exploited; that our beauty is ugly on us and desirable on others. I was empowered by Meghan’s fortitude. It affirmed my own journey of self-love and self-possession. By standing in her truth, she gave us permission to do the same and for that, I’m grateful.

All my love,

Chantell Monique

Cone, James H. Black theology & Black Power. Second ed., Orbis Books, 2020, pp. 13-14

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