Hope and joyfulness

Hope and joyfulness

Image description: A large airplant on a wall of plants. Text reads: “Do not be afraid. Do not be cynical. Continue to trust in yourself and others. Continue to dream of collective liberation. – scott crow”

I rarely say anything like, “Do not be afraid. Do not be cynical.”

I believe in the radical power of the gloom and the shadowed heart. I believe that negativity has a place in this world, and that when we reject it in favour of forced and weaponized positivity, we lose out on so much – we lose the richness of our sadness, our grief, our rage, our despair.

There is hope to be nurtured and cultivated in the moments of hopelessness – we become hopeless because we want better for ourselves, hope is embedded in the hopelessness.

There is desire in despair – we become despairing because we desire something better, something more just, something sweeter and more sustainable.

Today, I flipped open Joyful Militancy, and read scott crow’s quote – “Do not be afraid. Do not be cynical. Continue to trust in yourself and other. Continue to dream of collective liberation.” – and it hit me right in the heart.

Instead of landing as a weaponized admonition, as I often find these kinds of directives, this came as a reminder of the self that is absent but implicit in my fear, my cynicism, my distrust, my scarcity feardreaming. I think that so many of us are experiencing so much fear these days.

As Nick Montgomery and carla bergman write in Joyful Militancy, “Many people’s impulse is to mistrust others from the start, and it makes sense, given that many of us have been living Hobbes’ dream, made real, for centuries. Most everyone we know has been touched by some kind of oppression and abuse, and Empire’s oppressive divisions often lead people to betray even their most intimate relations.”

But they also write about the radical potential of trust and responsibility, and about how trust and responsibility can be a powerful antidote to the mistrust and violence of life under oppression.

This quote reminds me, today, that I am capable of joyfulness and hope, even in moments of despair and fear.

There is a self who is not afraid – who is willing to act with courage even when fear is present.
There is a self who is not cynical – who is willing to open to joy even when disillusionment is present.
There is a self who trusts, myself and others – who is willing to allow for mistakes and imperfection, and to come back to trust, to do the work of building, sharing, and repairing trust even when betrayal or hurt is present.
There is a self who dreams of collective liberation, even when incredible oppression is present.

Maybe that self exists for you, too.

(This post is an expansion of today’s Tender Year post.)

Navigating access to care

Navigating access to care

Image description: A close-up of the lilacs in my front yard, covered in rain, with the light grey sky behind them.

As a note, I’m going to be posting more often on the blog! I’m shifting my social media presence and will be doing less personal posting and more of my work here. So keep your eye here and on the Patreon. I may also be starting an email list, so if that sounds appealing to you, let me know!

And if the topic of this post interests you, the upcoming Self-Care Salon: Justice and Access to Support is the place to be! The event will be held at Loft 112 in the East Village, from 1-3 pm, on June 3. The cost is $50, and sliding scale is always available.

This morning, I sat in front of my window with the grey skies above and the rain falling. It was lovely.

I’m thinking about how many of us have to try and survive within hostile systems and environments.

How many fat folks have to go to doctors who are steeped in fatphobic prejudice, have to deal with antagonism from the medical system that is meant to help them, and have to advocate for themselves… but not too loudly, not too assertively, or they risk being written off as belligerent and non-compliant. (Especially if they were women or femmes. *Especially* if they are women or femmes of colour.)

How many folks living in poverty have to deal with support systems that vilify, pathologize, and stigmatize them. Have to debase themselves to receive access to food, to shelter, to any kind of medical or mental health support.

How many racialized folks have to deal with racism in their medical and mental health support professionals, have to educate and advocate for themselves but never too much, never too loudly, or risk being seen as “angry.”

How many trans folks have to deal with gatekeeping by professionals meant to help them access transition support, and stigma and pathologization by professionals meant to help them access other support. How advocating for yourself becomes so much harder when you are trans and also racialized, or trans and also fat, or trans and also poor (which is true for far too many), or trans and neurodivergent (despite the high correlation between autism and gender creativity!).

How so many folks stand at multiple points of marginalization, and how few professionals and experts also stand there.

(There are some, and there will be more. Support and love to all the professionals who came from poverty, who are fat, who are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour, who are trans, who are queer, who are disabled – you’re so needed, and you make such a difference!)

I am thinking about all this power that exists in dynamics that are meant to be supportive, how it ends up being hurtful. Harmful.

How that can leave us scared, hopeless, isolated.

If you’re dealing with a system, a professional, an institution, or some other brick wall today – take a deep breath.

What you feel is valid.

If you feel angry at the injustice, that is valid.

If you feel hopeless, that is valid.

If you feel scared, that is valid.

I do not have any easy answers for how to navigate these systems, how to work within harmful frameworks, how to get through. It’s so hard. The more I read about it, the more I work with people who have *not* received the help they needed from professionals who had more privilege, or from systems and institutions that were not justice-oriented, the more I realize how pervasive and persuasive this problem is. The way it makes us doubt ourselves. The way it shuts us up, keeps us quiet and compliant, and how that is a valid survival strategy.

Breathe, friends.

If you have to go into that office and you know you’re going to face yet more racism, ableism, transantagonism… keep breathing. Find something to hold onto – some thread of whatever it is. Hope, or anger, or coffee with a friend tomorrow.

If you’re heading into that appointment and you know you need something that the doctor or social worker or banker or lawyer or whoever else has the power to withhold, and you’re scared, that makes so much sense.

It *is* unjust.

It *is* unfair.

It *is* hurtful, harmful, violent.

But you are good. You are good enough. You are enough.

Just like you are.

You are just the right you.

There is nothing wrong with you, just because you don’t fit into the box assigned to you.

Take a breath.

Do what you need to do to get through.

You’re doing a good job.


Further reading:

  • Stigma in Practice: Barriers to Health for Fat Women in Frontiers in Psychology
    • “In our experience, for fat people, it doesn’t matter if you are bad with a “fatty” disease, or if you are in “good metabolic health” (but NOT FOR LONG, according to several medical professionals), the discrimination, humiliation, and stigma, from health care providers is the same. The fact that we, and every fat person we know, have experienced this fat stigma, no matter what their health status, is an indictment on the health care profession. Health care providers, public health policy makers, and institutions of health such as hospitals have substantial work to do if they exist to treat all patients, and improve the quality of life for all patients, rather than deterring and deferring appropriate health care and reducing quality of life through fat stigma, shame, and eventual patient avoidance of health care providers.”
  • ‘Trans broken arm syndrome’ and the way our health system fails trans people at the Daily Dot
    • “Not a single medical school in the United States has a curriculum devoted to LGBT health issues, much less transgender health issues. Green said the only existing courses that do focus on LGBT health needs are electives taught by students, and it’s not exactly something the medical school leadership wants to change.” (It is important to note that this article is a few years old, and WPATH itself has been critiqued in favour of ICATH – Informed Consent for Access to Trans Healthcare. This article at Slate covers some of the issues.)
  • Why I Left my White Therapist at Vice
    • “Being on the receiving end of the defensive anger of white fragility from someone who I had not only trusted to be a professional care provider with the ethics and background to deal with my needs, but with whom I had also shared some of my most vulnerable thoughts and feelings, means that I am loath to seek out therapy moving forward. To be blunt, I felt exploited. This is something that no individual, and in particular no one opening themselves up for healing, should ever have to endure. But sadly, it’s not uncommon.”
I Will Not Be Thrown Away: guest post

I Will Not Be Thrown Away: guest post

Image description: A black and white photo of the back of a Black woman’s head in a head wrap. Photo credit: Mel Vee. Mel Vee is an aspiring photographer and her guest post series will feature her photography.

This is a guest post by Mel Vee.

Mel Vee mesmerizes, captivates and incites with her spoken word. She is a passionate advocate for the power of narrative to heal and liberate. A general disturber of shit, Mel Vee seeks to blur and disrupt all kinds of distinctions. She is a core member of the Uproot YYC, a grassroots collective for artists of colour dedicated to uprooting systemic barriers in the arts community. She was a member of Calgary’s 2017 slam team, who were semi-finalists at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and co-creator of The Unlearning Channel podcast.

This post is the second is a four-part series, one per week for the month of May. Together, this series will comprise the third entry in the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note for rape, sexual assault, descriptions of misogynoir.


I learned from an early age that my body was not my own.

My Black body was created to be of service to anyone who showed up and demanded it. This Black body, the only home I have on this speck of stardust navigating the cosmos, was as foreign and alien to me as those distant galaxies.

Why should it have been any other way? I received the message clearly that my body was a means through which others could actualize their own wants and desires. My body was not a safe nor joyous place; not a place to be treasured and tended to gently. My body was a vessel – to serve others, for men’s desires, and for birthing children, but never for me.

My education in the precarity and disposability of the Black female body began at home with the women in my family. Their necessarily strong, beautiful black bodies were always in service to others. Most of the women in my family were and are never still.

One aunt, whom I love dearly, always comes to mind. As far back as I can remember, she was always in motion, toiling away for others. She toiled in her home, at her work as a nurse’s aide and in her church. She did it all. Raised a family, held down a career, opened her home to countless unwanted and discarded people in the community and never spoke a word about her struggles to anyone. No one ever questioned what toll this constant availability and service would wreak on her body and mind.

Her pace continued unabated for the entirety of my childhood, adolescence and early adult years until one day, the inevitable happened. She snapped, culminating in a one month stay in a psychiatric ward. People whispered about what might be the culprit for her decline without ever approaching the truth, that she was used up until she had nothing more to offer.

Barely a few months of marginal concern went by before things returned to “normal”. The unceasing demands, the perpetual toil and the complete disregard for her well-being until her health completely failed and simply never returned. She now spends much of her time bedridden. I feel blessed when I receive a message from her because it means her pain eased up just enough to manage a text. My aunt, once a pillar of our family, reduced to sending texts during a brief respite from her unending pain.

Her body bears the cost of continual and unceasing labour for people who took and took and left her an empty shell. Her body is racked with osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and she constantly struggles to maintain a healthy weight. I am certain some will attribute this to the inevitable ravages of age, but I know in my bones biology is only one part of the narrative.

Her body fought back in the only way available, it shut down. My aunt toiled for years without rest for others. Everyone around her demanded more and she gave more. When her health declined, all the people who had taken from her vanished, without a trace. I wish I could say my aunt is an isolated case, but this is the fate of many women in my family. Our bodies, time and energy are used up until there is nothing left and few, if any, stick around to pick up the pieces. My aunt cautions me continually about her fate and encourages me to take care of myself. It is a grim reminder that I take to heart.

What is most grotesque about the situation of my aunt and so many women like her is how normalized this is; how people expect the Black female body to be at service and at the ready.

Our bodies are not meant to be lovingly inhabited by ourselves. The roots of these expectations are deep, undoubtedly tracing their history to chattel slavery where our bodies were literally not our own. How do you love a body that was never meant for you to enjoy; a body that was historically regarded as property and in contemporary times is a reminder of your presumed inferiority?

My own body bears the scars of the precarity and disposability of the Black female body. My left arm is scarred from my wrist up to near my shoulder. All of these wounds are self-inflicted. Even after a decade of being free from self-harming behaviour, my scars are still visible. I wear them openly as an act of defiance, to hold a mirror up to a society whose violence I internalized and enacted upon myself.

I had no shape, no words for the anger and hatred I felt for being born in a Black female body; a body people regarded as valuable only so far as it could serve. I lashed out against a world which continually shows its brutal and naked contempt for me and people who look like me. I lashed out against the one person I knew had no recourse. Myself. I lashed out because rage is all I could muster. Someone had to be punished for the wound of being a Black girl in a society drenched in anti-Black racism and misogynoir.

In the process of addressing trauma and healing in my life, it has become evident that my internalized misogynoir had caused me to disassociate and distance myself from my body. I became an unwilling occupant in a body that others had treated with the utmost contempt; culminating in rape, sexual assault and violence. I sought to protect myself emotionally in the way traumatized people do, by distancing myself emotionally from the source of pain, my brown and despised body; a body that was valuable only to the extent it could serve.

I am now undergoing the painful but enriching process of coming home to my body; the process of reclaiming a body others have treated with contempt and disrespect. I am now learning to inhabit my body and treat it with love, respect and dignity. I am learning slowly to prioritize the needs and desires of my body. I am learning that my body is worthy of fighting for and keeping alive.

I am coming home now to this brown body after 28 years. I am coming home to this brown body which has been the site of so much grief and violence. I am coming home to this brown body where I laugh, love, fight, move, dance and sing. I am coming home to this brown body, imperfections and all. I am coming home to the only body that will carry me until I die.

I am reclaiming my body in defiance of a society that regards brown bodies with violence.

I am reclaiming my body in honour of all the Black women who no longer can.

I am reclaiming my body so others know it is possible.

I am coming home to my brown body, in the only home I will ever know in this beautiful and sometimes terrifying cosmos.

I am finally coming home.


This post is the final piece in the third contribution to the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!

Also check out the other posts in the series:

Living in the Age of White Male Terror: guest post

Living in the Age of White Male Terror: guest post

Image description: A black and white photo of farm equipment in a field. Photo credit: Mel Vee. Mel Vee is an aspiring photographer and her guest post series will feature her photography.

This is a guest post by Mel Vee.

Mel Vee mesmerizes, captivates and incites with her spoken word. She is a passionate advocate for the power of narrative to heal and liberate. A general disturber of shit, Mel Vee seeks to blur and disrupt all kinds of distinctions. She is a core member of the Uproot YYC, a grassroots collective for artists of colour dedicated to uprooting systemic barriers in the arts community. She was a member of Calgary’s 2017 slam team, who were semi-finalists at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and co-creator of The Unlearning Channel podcast.

This post is the second is a four-part series, one per week for the month of May. Together, this series will comprise the third entry in the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note for gun violence, misogyny, terror.


Yet another shooting. Another city. Another place we thought was safe. Countless lives senselessly destroyed; scarred beyond all recognition.

The facts are becoming piercingly clear – there is no safe place to hide from white male violence. Yes, you read that last line correctly. The vast majority of mass shootings in America are committed by men[1], and mostly white men. I refuse to omit this from the conversation around mass violence, gun control and domestic terrorism in the Western world. To omit this fact would be tantamount to gross negligence.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

I came from little and nothing was expected of me. As a queer, working-class Black girl, I had to be exceptional to even be visible at all. This society has never doted on me or presumed my innocence. I’ve been regarded largely as a strange and just barely tolerable presence. I learned to shrink myself and become small so as not to upset or draw attention to myself. I learned to despise everything about who I am because I didn’t match up to a white[2] male[3] standard of humanity.

Now the sons of the Western world are furious that people like me are gaining rights at what must seem like a startling pace and enjoying freedoms and privileges that should not have been barred from us in the first place. I think it is a grotesque irony that these men, who have been doted on, and for whom the world’s finest resources have been extracted and entire cultures devastated and destroyed, now turn around to bite the hand that feeds. Such a nasty surprise.

Or is it?

A wise friend of mine said it succinctly, “we are raising white men to be entitled to a pathological and increasingly tragic degree.”

How does it happen?

Societally reinforced white male entitlement, coupled with a world that seems increasingly fragmented along racial and ethnic lines, compounded by the increasing awareness of the sheer brilliance of marginalized people around the world (who have previously been assumed incapable of brilliance). Add the rage you’d feel at being bested by people you presumed to be your inferiors and you have the making of a toxic brew.

The latest tragedy was apparently sparked by a girl who publicly rejected a boy’s unwanted sexual advances. She had been clear about her refusal and rejected him for some time. She did nothing other than say no and he killed her. He felt entitled to her life. In his eyes, she deserved to die because she refused to say yes. Her refusal now seems tragically heroic. So many of us are coached to say yes in order to avoid this fate. Yet this doesn’t keep us safe, and there is another familiar story – a woman who was exceedingly kind, who gave one of these supposedly misguided but nice young men a chance, then ends up in an early grave.

You cannot be nice to these people, you cannot be cruel.

Either way, you risk life and limb if you dare to raise the ire of one of these men.

Last week I attended active shooter training at work which omitted this vital statistic of white male violence in a stunning act of cowardice and intellectual dishonesty. I shut down. I refused to speak out in that moment because I knew I would be dismissed as the angry Black bitch. But how could I concentrate after? How do you concentrate knowing what is lost by being silent?

My innocence is lost now.

I walk around with more fear. I fear today might be the day when I cross the path of an enraged white male and it may cost me life or limb.

I fear success now because then I may be in someone’s crosshairs. Someone might become obsessed with me and make my life unbearable.

I fear being angry or rude to a white man because it might cost me or someone else our lives.

I cannot go out into public innocently anymore, because when will it happen here too?

Will I die with all of my music still inside of me? My mother weeping over this person she tended to and loved, now still in her casket? All of my potential buried with me.

I discussed the writing of this post with the editor of the series, who brought up an excellent point of white feminists obligation to address the near-epidemic of dangerous white male entitlement.

If the solution is to simply leave it to Black women or queer women or queer Black and racialized women to fix, that simply will not do. Black women cannot save you from this; we cannot save you from yourselves. White women and other white men raise white men and have the best chance of changing the culture of white male entitlement.

Black women have been sounding the alarm bells and fighting white male violence ceaselessly, and are often dismissed as angry or paranoid, their lives threatened (and sometimes outright killed). So now it’s time for everybody else to speak up.

Certainly white women in general have more opportunity and access to white men. I am certain you know someone who fits the description: entitled, arrogant, jokes about hurting others and seemingly has no regard for human life. They believe the world owes them something and feel they are increasingly oppressed or endangered. Often this occurs with socially inappropriate or callous behaviour. Of course, when these behaviours are questioned, people who refuse to see the truth chalk them up to youthful mistakes or ignorance rather than recognizing a system that reinforces and encourages white men to continue to behave in ways that are threatening us all.

So, what can you do if you find yourself in the presence of a white man and you feel threatened (for understandable reasons)?

Choose to see the reality of the person in front of you.

If there is something that puts you on guard about a person, trust that intuition. Do what you need to take care of yourself. Give yourself permission to create boundaries and defend yourself. While people are individuals, do not join others in refusing to look at patterns of white male violence which blind us to the danger right in front of us.

You do not need to approach the world with guns blazing but rather with a clear ability to accept the reality of the person right in front of you, for better or worse. If all else fails, distance yourself from these people when possible. Your life is not worth the appearance of niceness.

Dealing with white men’s racism is already enough for me. Often it is assumed Black women will save everyone, often to our own detriment. It is time for all of us to save ourselves.

These are your brothers, uncles, fathers, sons, and friends. These are the people who are living next door. These are the good old boys. We all have a responsibility here and it cannot fall solely to the most vulnerable to speak out.

This problem of the violent effects of white male entitlement will not be niced to death, but will require our intelligence, wit, preparedness and a willingness to not turn from the truth.

[1] “Mass Shooters Are All Different. Except for One Thing: Most Are Men” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/us/mass-murderers.html

[2] “Identifying Whiteness – An Invisible Norm” https://geezmagazine.org/blogs/entry/identifying-whiteness-an-invisible-norm

[3] “Male as the Neutral Default” https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/02/16/male-as-the-neutral-default/


This post is part of the third in the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!

Also check out the other posts in the series:

Never Ever Follow Those White Kids Around – a brief personal history of race and mental health: guest post

Never Ever Follow Those White Kids Around – a brief personal history of race and mental health: guest post

Image description: A close up of bright greenery with an out of focus cityscape in the background. Photo credit: Mel Vee. Mel Vee is an aspiring photographer and her guest post series will feature her photography.

This is a guest post by Mel Vee.

Mel Vee mesmerizes, captivates and incites with her spoken word. She is a passionate advocate for the power of narrative to heal and liberate. A general disturber of shit, Mel Vee seeks to blur and disrupt all kinds of distinctions. She is a core member of the Uproot YYC, a grassroots collective for artists of colour dedicated to uprooting systemic barriers in the arts community. She was a member of Calgary’s 2017 slam team, who were semi-finalists at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and co-creator of The Unlearning Channel podcast.

This post is the second is a four-part series, one per week for the month of May. Together, this series will comprise the third entry in the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note for racial violence, intimate partner violence, suicidality, graphic description of self-harm.


I learned from a young age that I was valued less than others. My brown skin, femaleness, queerness, working class family, speech impediment and quiet, thoughtful nature, mistaken for mental slowness, marked me for hardship and struggle. No one told me in those exact words, but no one needed to – that much was obvious.

My mother was the first person to impart this lesson and spell it out for me but she did so from a place of love. “NEVER EVER follow those white kids around; think they’re better than you! Don’t believe them, they are not better or worse than you. They are human, same as us. But they will think they are high and mighty because they’re white,” she warned us.

She was specifically referring to my cousin, who hung around the playground and in class desperately following white kids around for their coveted friendship. It is a painful memory to reflect on now. My cousin with her dark brown skin, boxer braids and almond eyes following around blonde and brown haired, blue and green-eyed girls with impossibly straight hair and pale white skin.

They were the epitome of beauty, goodness and wholesomeness and my cousin desperately wanted to be beautiful and good and whole like them. She followed them around like a shadow. They often shooed her away, cussed her, threw things at her and even made fun of her. One time she came home to her mother in tears after one of the white girls spat on her and called her darkie; tar baby. My mom was quiet, but her knowing eyes said, ‘See, this is what I warned you about.’

Looking back, I cannot blame my cousin for wanting to distance herself from her blackness. All I learned about Black people in school was that we were slaves. Our history began with slavery and ended with Martin Luther King Jr (bear in mind this was taught in a Canadian school – hello Black Loyalists!). The only Black person I remember seeing in an elementary school textbook was a hunched over Black woman, obviously enslaved or a sharecropper, with a filthy black and white handkerchief on her head, glaring into the camera from a cotton field. That was it. We had no history prior to enslavement; there was no mention of Africa prior to European colonialism, the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade, current and global Black independence struggles and the connection to diasporic Blacks or even Black people during enslavement who resisted, taught, created art or invented.

Our history was reduced to this picture of a tough-looking, stooped over woman with a mean glare.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my mom was doing her best to shield us from a tide of white supremacy which would seek or simply by design devalue the lives of her children – which taught and continues to teach that we were nothing more than the descendants of enslaved people who contributed little to history; that we were less than Europeans and non-Black People of Colour. Our skins marked us as inferiors. Her efforts in hindsight were commendable, given the impossible nature of the task. I remember she blasted Peter Tosh’s African as her primary act of Black affirmation and pride regularly. Her favorite lyrics were:

Don’t care where you come from
As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African
No mind your nationality
You have got the identity of an African

She would belt out, “As long as you’re a Black man, you’re an African,” much to my chagrin. In spite of her efforts to instill in us a sense of pride in our Black heritage, her African diasporic consciousness was no match for the cruel reality of the white people around us, who viewed us as novelties at best or troublesome inferiors at worst; nor the pervasiveness of white supremacy in public and private institutions and in social life.

As a result, I had few friends during my formative years. I followed my mother’s stern warning but I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret when I saw my cousins, who she chided years ago for following white kids around, now had the cool (read white) kids as friends. I realized though that my mother’s words rang true; nearly any Black kid I noticed hanging around with white kids in my junior high and high school would be following along behind them, like a shadow.

The Black kid in the social group always hung out precariously around the edges, as though they never truly belonged. Thankfully once I entered junior high school, we were no longer the only Black family in the neighborhood, but the dynamics remained unchanged. There was an implied subtext of the Black kids being other than or merely tolerated.

The Black kid in the group also always served a chillingly particular purpose – the comedian. If the Black kid was not providing amusement, they were swiftly ostracized as I was. As a nerdy, smart, quiet and thoughtful sort not accustomed to serving up guffaws, I had no purpose to the majority of the white kids around me (with the exception of my small, racially diverse band of merry misfits). Not only did I not entertain the white kids around me, I was also a threat to them academically and intellectually, as I was always at or near the top of my classes in those years.

A Black kid with a brain who refused to debase herself for the entertainment of whites? That was completely intolerable and I suffered the social price. Black kids were allowed to hang out with the white kids, so long as they knew their place.

In spite of myself, loneliness crept in when my merry band of misfits and I parted ways for high school. For the first time in my life, I felt utterly alone. Since I stubbornly refused to sacrifice my stellar grades for the cheap compensation of male attention (which I cared for little as a budding queer), I watched from the sidelines as the white girls who were former friends and acquaintances begin to reach those adolescent milestones and I remained stubbornly inexperienced. Although I sensed a budding attraction to women, I couldn’t shake the sting of being spurned by the mostly white boys around me. My brown skin, chemically relaxed hair (which was never silky straight like the other girls), thin frame and nearly non-existent breasts marked me painfully as the other. The few black boys and boys of other races worshiped the white girls – I was non-existent to them. I had not yet met any queer people or girls who liked girls. I was awkward, out of place and alone.

Unsurprisingly, my mental health deteriorated.

Accustomed as I had become to spending the afternoons alone in my bedroom after finishing my homework, on one particular day I sat down on the floor in silence and stared at my arms. I had already begun self-harming by then as a way to express the rage I felt towards myself and my circumstances but something inside of me snapped.

The last thing I recall thinking that day was how much I hated my brown skin.

It always got in the way; it made me different.

I did not remember how I got the razor but before I knew it, I had a huge slash on my left inner forearm. It was the deepest cut I had ever inflicted on myself. I did not recall wanting to cut that deeply, but in the fury of my self-loathing I simply had no control. I panicked. I had always heard we were the same colour underneath but now seeing the white flesh beneath the brown skin was too much. I became nauseous, and in my panic I did something uncharacteristic of myself – I got help. My mom freaked out when she saw; she didn’t know whether to cry or scold or pray. Instead, she called my aunt who was a nurse’s aide at the time. They both kept talking to each other while my aunt did her best to stitch me up. They both spoke as if I was not there:

“Why would she do something like this?”
“The poor dear…”
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!”

My aunt, finally coming to her senses, said there was no way they were taking me to the hospital.

“They’ll take her away. There’s no way we are going to the hospital.” And that was that. My mother and aunt knew instinctively getting social services involved would be ruinous to the family. My mom and aunt didn’t bet their and my collective well-being on the charity of social services, a fate we had so far escaped.

Unfortunately for me, the lack of intervention (partly due to that understandable resistance) contributed to further decline. The situation grew more dire as I became involved in an abusive, tumultuous relationship with a white girl who exploited my mental health struggles for her personal gain. She was the first person to ever express any interest in me sexually and I was hooked.

Due to her erratic and abusive behaviour, I became estranged from my family for a few months and opted to live with her and a friend of mine where I deteriorated even further. I learned intimately the extent to which a white person would weaponize their race against mine to exploit and cause destruction. My partner continually called services on me, which led to a trip in the back of a police cruiser. Calling the police on a mentally ill Black person can lead to violence and death – I cannot stress this enough. It is an extremely hateful and vile thing to do. Yet when she was confronted about her despicable and nakedly abusive behaviour by various people, the white girl waterworks began and that was the end of the conversation.

Of course, she was well aware of my struggles with race and with mental health – it was why she singled me out of the crowd for her predatory behaviour. Yet it never ceased to astound me how a person who claimed to love me could also attack with such racist vitriol or stay silent when others did. But instead of being furious at her blatant racism, I began to loathe myself and my race more intensely. Not wanting to be victimized further, my desire to identify with the oppressor grew stronger in a mistaken bid to become the abuser instead of the abused.

When that relationship reached its terrifying conclusion, I was thrust into the world of mental health professionals. The mental health professionals I encountered were exclusively white. I never encountered a single mental health care professional of Colour. The mental health professionals I met with expressed puzzlement at my suffering. By appearances, I was raised in an intact family (I did not disclose the volatility of my home life and my father’s explosive rages and violent outbursts), had stellar grades, played sports, worked part time and volunteered regularly.

I never told a single health care professional the real reason I began self-harming – I hated myself. I hated my brown skin, African features and curly hair. I now cursed my dear mother, who so tenderly attempted to prepare me to live in this racist society, for not being white. I was so close to being white and she was the reason I wasn’t. She received specific vitriol for the then-perceived mortal sin of being Black. I internalized the rampant and unabashed racism of the people around me and it was quite literally killing me.

I planned to end this post on some highfalutin note about how considering the impact of race and systemic inequity on mental health is a moral imperative blah blah.

But I believe that would be too simple of an end. That much is obvious.

Instead, I want to stress the importance and deep implications of the fact that the mental health of racialized people in a white supremacist society is not only simply complicated and impacted by race, but rather that being racialized itself can be a cause of mental health trauma.

This is the controversial part.

I am not a psychologist nor do I claim any expertise in the area. However, my lived experience speaks for itself. How does a queer, young, working class Black woman talk to an aging heterosexual middle or upper class white man about her most vulnerable life struggles? How can you possibly be vulnerable with someone who may have no frame of reference for your life experiences or worse may become hostile at the suggestion that race could be a factor in mental illness?

Though I did find understanding mental health practitioners in time, I never discussed race with them. Yet it was and still is vital for my mental health to be able to talk about what was actually near and dear to my heart – the complex stresses of my life being devalued based on who I am and navigating through the compounded effect of trauma on marginalization.

This is the key message that is missing desperately from the mental health conversation. Most people do not know that I have struggled with my mental health for a reason. The mental health profession as a whole is not equipped to deal with race in a way that is clinically significant to racialized people. I believe this is why I am becoming more candid about my mental health struggles – I want people to understand how psychologically scarring racism can be and how redressing justice can be powerful for improving one’s mental health.

I want to end with a thank you to my mother for her ceaseless efforts to affirm our Black heritage and instill racial pride.


This post is part of the third in the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!

Also check out the other posts in the series:


Further reading on racial trauma, and mental health among Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour