By Sonya Renee
As a 9 year old, I was sorry for everything. “Sonie you left the refrigerator open!” Sorry. “Sonya, why is your coat on the couch?” Sorry. “Sonya did you get grape jelly on that white pants suit I paid good money for? “ Sorry, Sorry, Sorry…a litany of apologies for my ever present clumsy, messy, forgetful self spilling said evidence all over the house. Sorry was my way of sweeping up the spill. After all, I was a new generation of “raising” my grandmother was enlisted to do after having already raised her own. I knew my grandmother loved me but I also knew she was exhausted. Grandma would eventually start scolding me for saying sorry all the time. “Hush, all that sorry. You ain’t sorry. If you were sorry you would stop doing it!” I wonder today if there is any truth to that. If I were sorry, truly sorry, would I stop doing whatever it was? Could I?
Being born black and/or female is to come to the planet with a certain set of
apologies already on our tongues. There is a level of not enough or too much that are sewn into those particular strands of DNA. Sorry is an early lesson. In the legacy of the Jim Crow south, sorry was often a matter of life or death. Emmitt Till’s family came to know this brutal truth in the summer of 1955. If you are a woman, you may have learned you were supposed to apologize after the first assault report ended in a question about the length of your skirt. Sorry comes standard for the marginalized in America.
I have been thinking about the idea of apology. When and why are we asked to apologize? Who is not asked to apologize? I began realizing how much the act of apologizing is connected to entitlement and privilege. People don’t say sorry when they are clear they were right or when their wrongs are justified at (at least in their minds). In a conversation with an ex once, I told him he said something that hurt my feelings. After 20 minutes of dancing around the conversation, it became clear that he had no intentions of apologizing. According to his logic, he did not intend to hurt my feelings and therefore did not owe me an apology. I countered his answer by asking him if he accidently stepped on someone’s foot would he not say sorry, to which he replied, “No, not if their foot was the only place to stand!” (why was I dating this guy?) Now clearly, I do not propose that communities adopt this sort of thoughtless self centered ideology but I do think there is a spirit in his response that, in small doses, could be helpful in recalibrating our individual
and subsequent community power.
In the course of my life I have apologized for laughing too loudly, being too big, flamboyant, outspoken, analytical etc. I have watched countless others do the same. Not because we were actually wrong for something but because we weren’t what others would have us be. Generally, our apologies were for making others uncomfortable with the act of being ourselves. I came to realize that when I am fully myself, my unapologetic self, one of two things happen. 1. I give others the power and permission to be their unapologetic selves. Or 2, others feel indicted and intimidated by this and attempt to contain or shrink me. This realization was operationalized on Facebook one evening in January. Last summer I took a camera phone picture of myself in a corset before a show. It was purely meant to be silly and initially just for my eyes. When the picture came up, I was in love with it. I felt sexy and vibrant and bold. I loved this picture so much but was afraid to share it with anyone. Would they think I was vain? Would they not think it was as awesome as I thought it was? Some many self censoring instincts welled up in me over a simple picture. It stayed silent in my cell phone, occasionally glanced at when I need an esteem boost. Well that evening in January, I happened on a plus size models picture on line. She was the cover model for a lingerie line and there she was standing in a corset looking delicious! Every question I had asked myself about my little corset picture was answered in that moment. I immediately posted my picture along with a caption that said,
“In this picture I am 230lbs. In this picture, I have stretch marks and an unfortunate decision in the shape of a melting Hershey’s kiss on my left thigh. I am smiling, like a woman who knows you’re watching and likes it. For this one camera flash, I am unashamed, unapologetic.”
Apparently, that little post hit a nerve and all of a sudden Facebook friends began posting pictures of their selves feeling sexy, empowered, and unapologetic! I had given 30 other people in a two hour span permission to stop hiding and apologizing being unabashedly them. The whole thing spawned a Facebook page The Body Is Not An Apology, numerous poems and burgeoning movement toward the goal of unapologetic self love.
The whole experience made me more keenly aware of all the ways we apologize for who we are and the subtle destructive ways that act gnaws at our power and self worth. This month I will be using this space to explore what it means to be unapologetic in all facets of our lives: in our art, relationships, experiences, truth. I hope to keep exploring the idea of living unapologetically. Maybe there is a new word that is born when we embrace the fullness of ourselves, some word that is more accurate than sorry. Perhaps Grandma was right, I wasn’t ever really sorry. Perhaps when we truly love ourselves, we can’t be.