The Importance of Representation

Representation

For a long time during my adolescence, I rarely identified with being a “black” girl. I enjoyed being a “black” girl , I loved my complexion , my life and my culture but I just don’t ever recall seeing myself in television , in movies and even in the books I spent so much of my time reading.

The lack of representation didn’t really strike me at that age but as I grew older and struggled with the complexity of being a full human in a world where women often had to pick a side, a personality and a label it became almost painful. There just didn’t seem to be smart and popular women who spent their weekdays reading books and their weekends at service projects or at parties. The women who while fitting into society’s version of “pretty” were not lead by their egos. Women who liked dancehall, could do the latest dances but also enjoyed relaxing to the tranquillity and serenity of offered by classical music. The women who wore sneakers with dresses but wore 5 inch heels when the mood struck. The girls who excelled in ballet and karate, the girls who watched Dragonball Z and Pokemon, the girls who had boy friends and “boyfriends”. In essence, there was an absence of girls who were so multi-faceted in their depth, who challenged perspectives on what girls and women ought to be and who they actually are –multi-dimensional and beautifully complex human beings.

For some reason, the media never showed me these characteristics in women and especially in black women but I knew they existed because I knew these women, I was friends with these women, and I was a reflection of these women. But I never saw them represented anywhere and I began to think that I had to choose to be one type of person. That was quite difficult because at the time I had so many different interests even if I didn’t display them all at one time or to all people. In came Tesse, one of my older friends had come up with the nick name and it stuck. Tesse was my alter ego, known to only a few persons. She was the wilder side of me, the side that loved punk music, wanted tattoos and wore skulls way too often. The side that believed in sexual expression, rebelled against conservative values, liked gun tunes and rocked out to My Chemical Romance. Tesse was never to be confused with Rushell , the straight A , somewhat perky , student and community leader who read at least one book a week and was never seen with anything less than a smile and for a long time I separated my life in that way. Two halves of me that were distinctly different and didn’t seem to fit into any of the boxes or labels that society had assigned to me.

I still had this mindset all the way into university which was where it began to change. I met a lot of different people, I began to read different types of books , watch less television and avoided mainstream media. This was where my horizons started expanding. I began to really understand how beautiful my complexity was, it was not a hindrance as I’d previously thought but rather the key to my liberation –the act of “Tesse” and “Rushell” becoming one. I realised that I needed no definition or validation because…I simply was. I embraced all my interests and passions and groups of friends and for the first time I was free to just be. I didn’t feel the need to separate parts of me to fit a mold that was never for me in the first place. I could simply allow all of those parts to exist within me as a full and complete human being in all their complexities.

Presently, I still work actively on addressing some of the behaviours and stereotypes that have hindered me on my journey. I work on reprogramming my mind, I believe in the power of introspection and reflection, and I believe in change. I now fill my life with representations of black women. The women I always knew existed but the ones I never saw on my TV. I now fully embrace all that I am and believe in all that I can be.

I am not the same person I was 10 years ago, 5 years ago or even 5 weeks prior to this post.

As Alice said – “I knew who I was this morning but I have changed a few times since then”

I simply want to be the most authentic version of myself while encouraging, supporting and promoting the women that are doing the same.

Love and light,
Rushell

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