My Open Letter to Kerry Washington

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Dear Kerry,

I have meant to write this letter for a good minute. To begin this quite succinctly, I have two words for you:

I’m sorry.

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington

I owe you an apology.

Lately, I was beginning to doubt you as an actress.

I admire you greatly as a scholar, graduating from George Washington University with two degrees (anthropology and sociology) and induction into Phi Beta Kappa. As a budding scholar myself, I look to you for inspiration. You show me that black girls from the inner-city like me can duke it out with the best of the brightest minds out there.

I am always pleased by your opinions on issues of race, class, and gender. You are one who recognizes the importance of intersectionality. You give us hope as a figure in the public eye when you assert that post-racism is a myth. We need more figures of influence to express things of this nature vocally.

And even as an actress, there are roles of yours that I will always cherish: Night Catches Us and For Colored Girls being just two of many.

However, recent roles had me a little troubled. I was not too fond of Django Unchained for reasons that have been debated immensely on the Internet, in friends’ circles, film screenings and discussion events everywhere, so I spare the drawn-out explanation. One thing I will say is that I am never fond of damsel-in-distress characters (which is the name of the game in spaghetti Westerns, I suppose).

But it was Scandal that really set me back. I legitimately refused to watch Scandal as the first two seasons aired. I judged the book by the cover; when people told me she had a mistress relationship with the President, I was turned off. Then I heard the President was white, and it immediately reminded me of your character in Django, which infuriated me enough to not watch the show. I would rather see healthy interracial relationships than unhealthy, and I did not want to see Olivia Pope be disrespected in such a way. I thought the show was only going to perpetuate the same narrative from the days of slavery, and that regardless of her occupation, that her relationship would overshadow her feats as a career woman.

Girl, was I wrong.

Kerry Washington in Scandal.

Kerry Washington in Scandal.

I decided this summer to watch the first two seasons of Scandal. I do not remember why; I just did. I went from skeptical, to angry, to sympathetic, to empowered. Olivia was so much more than someone that had this relationship with Fitz; she was selfless. She was passionate. She was strong. She was in love. She was heartbroken, but healing. She represents women who have fought for centuries to be in a position of power, of influence. She represents women who are not afraid being successful. She represents women who struggle with preserving one’s self in the midst of finding love and abundance. She represents women who have fallen, but picked themselves back up. She represents women who are loyal to the ones they love. She represents my mom, my grandma, my aunts, my cousins, my sisters, my friends. She represents me.

(And she ALWAYS dressed fly!)

For you to be the face of Olivia is monumental. For you to immerse herself in her journey is something I now appreciate. For you to draw from the experiences of women, regardless of race or creed or nationality is groundbreaking. But for you to be a black woman in this role is inspiring. 

My best friend wrote a poem about Olivia Pope once and likened her experiences to my own. I did not have an issue with it because she was speaking about her tendency to want to “fix things” even though it may come at an expense to her well being (my life :P), but she did put my name in the poem and I asked her to take it out, saying, “I don’t want to be equated to a mistress!” Needless to say, I now don’t have a problem with it. Because Olivia is nothing like a mistress. And Kerry, you are everything like a beautiful, inspiring woman.

Keep doing what you’re doing, dear.

With love,

Amber <3

Let Them See You Sweat

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I keep beginning to write this post, only to walk away from it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is fear. Maybe it is my ego. I cannot pinpoint it. All I know now is that this time,  I cannot walk away.

I have a supremely difficult time being vulnerable. For me, I do not see vulnerability as a weakness or a dissension from God’s masterful work he employed when sculpting us in His image. It is central to our human experience. It uncovers the depths of our souls. It shines a light in the darkest crevices. It reveals our wholeness. It makes one strong.  It is necessary to trust. It is necessary to love. It is necessary to change lives, to change the world.

And it is one of the biggest plights of my life. I don’t know why I decide to fight it so often, to attempt to live as a Superwoman as if it is humanly possible to do so. Even Superman had a Kryptonite.

I tried to seek out the answer through various venues, starting with my family. I come from a lineage of strong women, and that is something that I am nothing but proud of. My grandmother, aunts, cousins–they pour themselves out for the ones they love on a daily basis, and it is seldom that I see them in a state of weakness. I admire them; their strength, their compassion, their love. I know they have each gone through their share of struggles, and if it was not for their ability to pick themselves up, they would not be where they are today. But even they did not do it themselves. They had each other, their circle of sisterhood. As Pilate, Reba, and Hagar supported each other in Song of Solomon, they continue to come together and support each other.

Then I look to my mother. To this day, she never ceases to amaze me. She is beautiful and beaming of love. Even when I was the irritating, spoiled, ungrateful child I can be, she has not walked away from me. But this is not a trait that she employs solely to her only child, and that is what surprises me. I have seen a snippet of her struggles, and I can count on one hand the times I saw her cry. She held it together, especially for me.

But now I am at this point that while I praise the women before me, I feel like I am employing the qualities I admire about them in the wrong way. The largest struggle I have encountered in my nearly two years since leaving home is knowing who I can trust and reveal myself to–all of myself. I’d rather be strong. I’d rather be Superwoman. I’d rather be someone people can depend on. It’s easier to be dependable than dependent.

But it’s also toxic. Very toxic. I remember reading When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks it Down by Joan Morgan and feeling so refreshed because she gets it. She understands. She has an entire chapter on “Strong Black Women” and how toxic that mentality can be to Black women. It is completely okay to be strong. I would not be here today if I was not strong. I would not have been able to get through heartbreak, depression, loneliness, isolation, self-worthlessness, all of this without strength. But when it takes away your vulnerability, your humanity–that is when it becomes toxic. When it makes it increasingly difficult for you to trust people, to lean on them for support–that is when it becomes dangerous.

I’m tired of employing this “Strong Black Woman” logic. It’s not that I do not want to be strong. I just also want to be real. Real with myself and real with the loved ones around me. I have legitimately pushed people away because I felt I was becoming too vulnerable in front of them, and that is something I am not okay with anymore.

The reason why I am writing all of this is because I know I am not the only person struggling with this. Whether it is a person in my life, or a complete stranger across the world, it is not an issue that people do not struggle together with. For me, I can never go through something without taking a note from Jesus. If there was anyone in the history of existence who endured the greatest degrees of vulnerability and triumphed, it is Him. And that keeps me going. Whatever keeps you going, find that. Keep challenging yourself. Push your limits. Because doing so will also challenge you to become a person with no secrets, full of integrity.

We were created to be in community. There is nothing beneficial about perpetually isolating oneself emotionally to preserve “strength.” We are all imperfect beings. We are one piece to a puzzle. When we live like no one needs to truly know us, we set ourselves up for failure, especially in our moments when we need someone the most.

I know this is a stray from my normal topics, but it needed to be said. It must have been if I keep thinking and wrestling with it so much. Hopefully, we can all grow together from this. There is nothing wrong with letting someone see you sweat. Or cry. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Because it is only but one setback on your path to greatness. A setback you can overcome. When you act like it is something you can fix when you really can’t, you end up like Olivia Pope, drowning in a pool of issues and a glass full of egotism. You are better than that. Get back on your path–the right way.

With much love,

Amber <3