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Why I Love Cardi B as Much as I Love Auntie Maxine
by Jared Williams
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May 24, 2019

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Why I Love Cardi B as Much as I Love Auntie Maxine

What do a former pole dancer turned rap superstar and a United States congresswoman have in common? One very distinctive trait that, if you inhabit, could change your life.  

Credit: PageSix.com and Bloomberg

Rep. Maxine Waters has had me “reclaiming my time” for going on almost two years after her iconic exchange during a House Financial Services Committee hearing. Why does Auntie Maxine fill my spirit with joy? Because there is something inherently gratifying about this kind of resistance. See, in this hearing, she was questioning a male witness who decided that elaborating on his answer was more important than answering her questions. There was something about this display of privilege that was so familiar to People of Color and marginalized groups. It was the way this man, who represents the majority, decided that his words, his visibility, and his perception of being respected were all that mattered in that space. In response, Rep. Waters moved to reclaim her time. So, after being shut down once, he looked away from Rep. Waters and directed a question to the cisgendered white man whom he understood held the positional power at that moment and said, “Mister Chairman, I thought when you read the rules, you acknowledged that I shouldn’t be interrupted and would,” he paused giving way to the gentlelady from California. “What he failed to tell you was,” Rep. Waters interjected, When you’re on my time, I can reclaim it.”

“When you’re on my time, I can reclaim it.”

Courtesy image

In that moment, I felt the power of one thousand Negro spirituals run through my body. Not only did she remind me of every branch of my family tree, but the effortless way in which she flexed on that man will forever be one of the greatest political moments of my time. It was more than the excitement of political banter that might land in a Saturday Night Live sketch. Anyone with a Black sister, mother, auntie, cousin, grandmother, doctor, dentist, mail lady, therapist, etc. knew that moment, right there, was real as hell (and maybe a lived experience). It called me back to the number of times I’ve seen a Black woman inspire, command, and influence with a simple look and a practiced tone. We loved it because, in that moment, Auntie Maxine was giving us permission to do all of the things we’ve been taught not to do – resist, rebut, insist on our rights — but most notably, be our authentic selves.

It called me back to the number of times I’ve seen a Black woman inspire, command, and influence with a simple look and a practiced tone.

Courtesy image

At the same time, we were in the Year of Cardi B — a reality television personality whose personality legit could not be contained in the confines of a confessional. In a similar way, her authenticity was magnetic. Bodak Yellow was a bop and steadily climbing the charts, but Belcalis’ appeal to me was her ability to personify the word “unapologetic” and embody the value of not giving a fudge. She took the things the world would use to diminish a woman who worked as an exotic dancer and she owned them. She embraced her story and led with an authenticity that meant her live performances sometimes came with a nod to her pole-aerobics past. She was doing something I, at least, strive to do on a regular basis — taking the parts of herself that would traditionally inspire shame or fear and leaning all the way into that ish.

Authenticity is not a buzzword, and it’s not a bumper sticker, it’s power personified. In my own life, I intentionally look for strong examples of authenticity knowing that I can’t reach my fullest, rawest, most unrestrained potential until I can consistently live an authentic life.

Authenticity is not a buzzword and it’s not a bumper sticker, it’s power personified.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that in a world that rewards assimilation, conformity, and invulnerability, authenticity ain’t free.

What’s the cost?

Courage and comfort.

In an incredible Super Soul Sunday podcast I turned on as I was driving to work, Janet Mock described her decision to conceal the fact that she was a trans woman when she moved to New York City. She talked about what it meant to be like everyone else. “And with that privilege of unmarked existence, the privilege of normalcy,” she paused, “I gained access and was let in.” She went on to describe opportunities she received to connect with some of the best journalists, earn her master’s degree, and become an editor for People Magazine. All the while, Janet acknowledges the conscious decision to put herself into a box that would allow her to blend into the world she wanted to be in — a lie that meant she shut down parts of herself. This is the catch.

Our world rewards invulnerability and inauthenticity. The better you can blend, meaning the better you can look the right way and say the right things, means the more opportunities you’ll be granted by those with the power to give them. At the same time, you grapple with segmenting parts of yourself into the places where those parts are acceptable. W.E.B. Du Bois called this “double consciousness.”

“You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.” -Brene Brown

Authenticity isn’t about one single decision. Authenticity is about the balance between choosing comfort, like Janet describes, or choosing the courage that led Janet to step out of comfort in 2011. In the end, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.” -Brene Brown

What keeps us from being authentic?

Conditioning.

Black Love contributor Jared Williams

Somewhere around 3rd grade, I stopped letting my mom dress me. I’m not sure if I didn’t trust her taste or just wanted my independence, but I felt ready to choose my clothes myself. I put my outfits together with no regard of the season or the weather, and she’d kindly send me back to the drawing board with “You got on too many colors…” But it was me. With my Coke bottle glasses, love of all things Harry Potter, and unique appreciation for sitcoms of the ’70s, ’80s, and ‘90s, I knew I was different, but I wasn’t yet at an age where that was a bad thing. We were kids, kind of aware of ourselves kind of not. I could be imperfect and still be loved. I could be whomever I wanted to be. There was freedom here. Then, of course, that changed. As I got older, I got more messages about what was accepted and what wasn’t.

First, we witness rejection, then we learn what it feels like. We witness the effects of shame, then we learn what shame feels like. Essentially, over the course of growing into adults, we take negative experiences and make meaning of them, most times placing some blame on ourselves. Sometimes they mold us a little, sometimes a lot. We don’t decide in a moment not to be authentic as much as we wake up one day and realize we don’t remember who we were, so we don’t know how.

How do I know when I’m being authentic?

Interrogation.

I joined some friends on a panel for an informal discussion with a master’s/Ph.D. class. We were talking about education and the way race and gender show up in society, but also educational settings. In a room where we all identified as either Queer, a Person of Color, or a Queer Person of Color, we talked about how we show up and lead in this system that’s critical to our future but seems to have more problems than solutions. We were coming up on the end of our time and the question, “How do you stay true to yourself in your work?” was raised. My answer: The only way to stay true to yourself as you continue throughout your life is to know who you are. It’s that simple.

The only way to stay true to yourself as you continue throughout your life is to know who you are. It’s that simple.

We talk about authenticity but rarely are able to talk about how it’s done. It becomes a word without much meaning after so many times of being left to the listener to make their own interpretations. The good Dr. Brown does a fairly good job of breaking it down in Rising Strong. She describes how we build ourselves after being knocked down by acknowledging and getting curious about what we’re feeling and why (reckoning), getting real about the story we’re telling ourselves in the moment (rumbling), and deciding how we want to write the end of that story for ourselves (revolution). The key to authenticity lives in the reckoning. By learning how to tune into yourself, you can rely on your own instinct to tell you when something in the buttermilk ain’t clean.

Let’s say your boss has decided to make a decision that you don’t agree with based on your own experiences. Maybe it feels misaligned to the goals of the organization, maybe you’ve tried it and know it to be an ineffective method. In that moment your body is telling you that something isn’t sitting right — that’s the decision point.  Do you choose comfort and say nothing, or do you follow what your body is telling you and have a one-on-one where you lead with curiosity and questions? The better we learn to listen to ourselves the louder the warning signals when something is wrong. The choice to lean into authenticity is the choice to heed those signals.

In the end, I have a universal purpose that I know I’m trying to get to. I also struggle with feeling lost most of the time on if I’m getting closer to or further from that purpose and wondering if I’m even close to being on track. I’m doing my best to remember that these moments of authenticity — choosing to live as authentically as possible when I can — are steps taken in the right direction.

Credit: Getty Images

I don’t know much, but I do know this — for as long as you’re pretending to be something you aren’t, you’ll always wind up where you were never meant to be. At the same time, for as long as you’re willing to live in blissful ignorance about who you are and how your history informs your present experience, you’re not moving as intentionally as you could be toward your future.

I may stumble, I may fall, but whether my beat is the Negro spiritual, or good ol’ fashioned Latin inspired trap, I choose to march towards authenticity.

Consider this an invitation to join me.  

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