A Letter to my Young Daughter about Living as a Woman of Color & Radical Faith in America 

Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Photo Credit: Devin Allen

Dear Nai,

One week ago, while you slept, Mommy stood in the kitchen, surrounded by plates and cups and cried. I nearly collapsed, knees aching, my stomach somersaulting with uneasiness and lingering pain.

I cried because when I looked at Philando Castile’s fiancée, her eyes, worn from grief and shock, mirrored my own in ways you will one day, sadly, know as a black woman, unless the conscious of America profoundly shifts. Your Mama is an optimist, and a Christian so I stand on the anchor of hope (Hebrews 6:19), praying we will begin seeing each other not as Americans but people, people whose individual truths are valid and real.

Frankly, I don’t know if this will happen in your lifetime, but I want you to extend the love your Daddy and I give you always. Allow it to take up residence in your heart, and fill it often as you come before God in thoughtful prayer and communion.

Kes, Nai and me Photo Credit: Wayne De Coteau

You will need this love to live in a country and world which insists on rendering you, your perspective and intellect, your unique truth, invisible. Mama wants so desperately to protect you from the pernicious sting of rejection, but I cannot. And when I am forced to acknowledge this grimness, the weight of it nearly crushes me.  But then I think of women of color like Dr. Maya Angelou whose sentence from the poem, “Our Grandmothers” rests within Mama’s spirit, eviscerating this looming mist of defeat which attempts to choke out hope: “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.”

Say this to yourself, my love, often, especially when you think you cannot overcome an obstacle. “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.”

You are the descendent of a people rooted in resistance and resilience, dear heart; they refused to allow the ideology of white supremacy to define their destiny. Madam C.J. Walker became the first woman millionaire in America because a divine vision, superseded manmade barriers of skin color and gender.

Your Great Grandmother started working at age 5, and did not stop until her 60s; her retirement from being a domestic worker came because her daughter, your Nana, held a fierce determination within her heart, shutting out the high school counselor’s prediction that she should sweep floors, instead, she graduated with honors from Morgan State University.

Nana became an educator, touching the lives of thousands of children in Baltimore city, opening their minds to a more expansive history of the U.S. And then she came home, every day, and poured these revelations of our past into her children so our futures would not become marred by defeat, but instead, armed with this biblical truth: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalm 139:14

Each time you hear the lies of “not enough” (smart, beautiful or talented) echoed from American culture refute  these destructive words and live. Live because your life is a testament to triumph over fear and hatred.

Lucille Clifton, renowned poet, proudly declares, “come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” These are your foremamas, Nai! Their struggle shall be your strength.

When you experience discrimination and meet others who do, waste no time bemoaning it, put your energy (all of the sadness, anger and frustration) into action. Allow these verses of scripture to dwell within your soul:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31: 8-9

You matter. Your ancestors built this country, not as slaves, but as survivors whose sheer will birthed an unrivaled ingenuity spanning every field and occupation. Listen. You will hear it couched in the melody of the blues, rising in the triumphant praise of gospel music, and through the eloquent work of writers such as James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and many others.

You are always enough. God created you not to conform to this world, but to transform it.

And so, I leave you, my darling, with the words of Howard Thurman, a great African-American theologian, author and thinker (Jesus and the Disinherited) who inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other seekers of justice:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

My Love For You Is Eternal,

Your Mama

Blog Chat: Cultivating Self Love with Shan, The Free Gurl Club

Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Shan & Emelda, Live In Color Blog, The Free Gurl Club

Every other month, Shan and I are going to dish all things inspiration in our  blog chats. 

This month seemed fitting to explore love, especially  self love, as we are often taught, particularly women, to love everyone but ourselves. 

Shan and I are both on paths of healing, love and discovery. We are seeking to honor the light within ourselves, and want those same feelings to manifest for everyone, especially women.

Shan is the creator of The Free Gurl Club, an awesome online space dedicated to empowering women. She hosts a weekly show on YouTube and shares life affirming daily affirmations via Instagram

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Listen to today’s blog chat on Soundcloud. Tomorrow we’ll share on YouTube.

Audio editing by Keystone Productions

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Check out our show notes (including 3 core ways to cultivate self love – listed below first), followed by links to books and other resources we mention: 

1. Make healing yourself (from wounds, past experiences, etc.) a priority! This could be tied to your faith (for me it’s inextricably linked) and include daily and / or frequent time alone (5-10 min.) for reflection. Even if you its initially one minute alone, begin there!  

2.  Post positive self affirmations around your home and work space, or even on your phone. Say them aloud throughout the day.  These may include statements like “I am beautiful. I am worth the life I seek. I am created in the image of God and my life matters. Abundance and joy are my birthrights.” 

Check out this powerful daily affirmation from The Free Gurl Club:

   

3.  Say NO to what drains and depletes you as these people, places and / or choices are creating feelings of being overwhelmed. 

When we are overwhelmed,  we often self medicate in unhealthy ways – excessive drinking, working long hours, overeating, etc. 

  

Further Reading:

Salvation: Black People and Love by bell hooks 

Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant 

Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery by Pamela Sneed 

Commanding Your Morning by Cindy Trimm

Adalmar Life by Nellie Russell (insightful blog) and piece on the importance of self care and healing. Nellie is one of my blogging besties!  

 

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightment by Eckhart Tolle  

The Audre Lorde quote I referenced on self care. You might also enjoy this blog post about Audre and her intellectual work.

    

Who Are You Calling a Bitch?

Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Some days, my husband and I have spirited debates about the b word, that ubiquitous word in American culture – from hip-hop music to sitcoms. Why, he said, in exasperation, “were so many folks angry about Common’s use of the word bitch in “Ghetto Dreams,” his track with Nas?

Rattling off the laundry list of positive elements, he began by mentioning that this was an ode to black women (how rare is that in popular culture), a dark-skinned woman, Bria Myles, was the love interest in the video (which is not seen often enough). Yes. Nas and Common are conscious brothers, but why must they remain in that box relegated to incense and kente cloth?

He thought the song would make me happy. Wasn’t I always propagating the message that women of color are not included enough in our own culture, let alone mainstream society? Here are two hip-hop artists, veterans of the game, uplifting black women, and all I could focus on was one’s use of the word bitch on the song? Why can’t I just let it go, he seemed to say silently as I continued talking about the impact of patriarchy on the psyches of women and girls, channeling the noted writer and intellectual bell hooks.

Somehow, I couldn’t release it. The sting remained with me long after the hypnotic beats ended. Granted, as a loyal fan of this music form, I am all to familiar with the word’s use on tracks, but as I evolve more, I’m beginning to ask myself about ignoring and/ or excusing it with the lame rationale that “I’m not that kind of woman.” or “Some women behave that way so…” Like many other writers and thinkers, when I am wrestling with an idea or reaction to something, I reach out to others, eager to hear their point of view.

A few of my girlfriends disagree with me, pointing to African-Americans (and other groups) frequent use of the word nigga, which has become a term of endearment for some. The word has been desensitized, they argue. Shannon Braxton, a warm and funny woman, says,” The word bitch doesn’t bother me if the intention behind it is not hateful. Missy Elliott reclaimed the word for black women as many male hip-hop artists reclaimed the word nigga. If I say that’s my bitch, other sistas know what I mean.” While Qiana Fountain, graduate school student and mother of three, admits the word used to offend her, but she has heard others she knows use it affectionately. ” I find it distributing,” she says” when a man uses it because its being used as a way of degrading that female.”

Their rationale is not uncommon. Millions have insisted, particularly in America’s post-civil rights era, that in part, we (people of color), can overcome oppression by appropriating language which has traditionally labeled us as inferior. While I understand the desire to rebel and create one’s own unique form of expression, I cannot embrace this word’s use. What do I teach the next generation about their own self worth if they bear witness to me, and other women, referring to ourselves not by our birth names, but an expletive?

Several years ago, Audre Lorde, the dynamic writer and thinker, called for white feminists to look beyond their privilege and acknowledge the struggles of poor women, women of color, and lesbians – along with their right to be heard in that movement. “The master’s tools, she said, “will never dismantle the master’s house.”  While our subject matters differ, her words echo my own thoughts on language and it’s power to either heal or diminish.

Why do some of us view the solution to empowerment as embracing what ultimately dehumanizes us? If worldwide, women are to ever move beyond mere objects, defined solely by such superficial attributes as physical appearance, doesn’t it first begin with loving ourselves enough to ask and examine this question: Who are you calling a bitch?