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By Sonya Renee Taylor

 

I started my day writing a difficult letter to a difficult person in my life.  It is not easy to speak historical hurts.  There is always an internal and external voice telling you to “Get Over It”.  It is like a social billboard reinforcing the pull ourselves up by our boot straps, take a licking and keep on ticking mentality.   It lets everyone off the hook for those often messy but hard to grab emotional and mental wounds we cause one another.   Americans are into accountability but only if the wound is visible. Also, we like accountability but not when we have to be accountable, hence the “Get Over It” mantra.

Sometime last year the difficult person in my life heard me recite a poem about the potential in transforming a historically painful relationship.  This person’s response to the poem was that I ought to “get over it”. Initially, I was deeply confused as because the point I was trying to convey in the poem was my belief in creating possibility, where pain used to be.  The more I mulled over their response and the phrase in general, it became clear that “Get Over It” meant something different. I realized that its real translation is usually one of two things. “Get Over It because I have no intentions of taking responsibility for my role in your pain, hurt or sadness, so no point in bringing it up, right?” or “Get Over It because whatever you are feeling is making me uncomfortable, so please return to a happy place as I would prefer not to be reminded of the things I have not gotten over!”  One may also hear the phrases, move on, let it go, get past it. These statements are simply a variation on the theme. 

Being told to “Get Over It” is never about the person in pain, it is almost always about that pain’s impact on the receiver of the communication.  The person to whom I wrote the letter, most assuredly will receive it and say to their self that I need to GOI (“Get Over It”).  Although I am sending the letter to them, my reality is it is no longer about them.  It is about the importance of owning and speaking my truth, unapologetically.  My need to say what has happened to me, how it has impacted me and what I plan to do as a result of that impact is a fearless ownership of the power of my experience. That willingness to unapologetically speak our truth is the catalyst between victim and survivor.  This act transitions the conversation from, what someone has done to me, to a place of what I can do for myself. 

Getting over something generally requires that we must get in it first. We must dissect the source of the hurt.  Look at it closely, understand how it has metastasized, then remove it.  There is no short cut with this.  It is a long hard surgery but to do anything else is guarantee the cancer of historical hurt will show up in other places in our lives. To sew ourselves back up having never examined the inside of the pain is to pretend that what is there is not.  So many of us are trying to act as if situations and circumstances have no effect on the way we move through the world.  This sort of denial does not serve to do anything but further hold us captive to old pains.  Personally, I am committed to keeping my bondage to very specific domains ;o).

Those who have a true investment in their own growth and yours will not suggest you get over it.  A person who loves you will ask how they can help you heal from it.  Healing is a different sort of process than getting over.  People get over colds, with the understanding that the virus will always remain, and flair up again.  Healing is about excavating pain at its source. Healing unlike GOI is a kinetic transformation, it requires work; a work that can free us.   Anything else is asking us to create a fictitious reality, one in which we act as if sticks and stones can break our bones but blah blah blah blah blah…  We know this is not truth.     

Today I chose not to get over things, I chose to communicate them, dig into the pain, understand its source and begin the long journey toward healed.  I am certain this is what must be done for me not to “Get Over It” but to get through it.  If this makes you uncomfortable, I am sorry.

 Actually, no I am not.

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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.

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Sonya Renee, Photo: Bazille 2008

 

Sonya Renee is an International Performance Poet, Activist and Educator. She is a national and international poetry slam champion and makes her living writing and performing on stages across the U.S and New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, Sweden, and the Netherlands.  From audiences as small as 5 youth in a juvenile detention placement center to having performed in front of over 1 million spectators on the Washington, D.C. National Mall alongside Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton at the historic March for Women’s Lives, Sonya continues to embody the words she pens through action.  Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies including Spoken Word Revolution:Redux, Growing Up Girl, Off Our Backs, Beltway Quarterly, Just Like A Girl, X Magazine and On the Issues Magazine. She recently released her first collection of poetry, A Little Truth on Your Shirt, published by GirlChild Press. Sonya’s poetry has been translated into Dutch, Swedish and German, used as curriculum in universities across the country and abroad, and as a tool for community and national action for organizations such as the Black AIDS Institute, HIV Campus Education, and Gloria Steinem’s reproductive rights organization, Choice USA. Ms. Renee has also seen commercial success with appearances on HBO, Oxygen Network, BET, CNN, and MTV. She has taught performance and writing residencies and workshops at Julliard, California State University, Smith College and many more.  She just completed a 3-month teaching residency for the transformational education project Lyrical Minded in San Francisco Unified School  District.  Sonya currently resides in Baltimore, MD.

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