Culture & Conversation Media

Our Existence as Women of Color Is Resilience—It Is Radical Love

Erica Cardwell

Like many of the women and people of color in our community, my wife and I have had to become a bit more resourceful for our souls' sake, throughout this violent raking of our civil rights and erasure of our identities.

In these exhausting days since the inauguration, I have come to realize that in order to make it through the morning, I will need to outfit the first few moments of my day with affirmation. Sometimes I’ll light a few candles, if I feel awake enough to remember to blow them out, but usually I’ll start with a brief prayer of protection for my loved ones. Then, I’ll take a few deep peaceful breaths, before placing my lips behind my wife’s ear.

Those are the good mornings. Typically, I am supine with my phone resting on my chest, scrolling through Twitter, tossing an intermittent glance at the warm figure next to me.

I started calling her my wife after Donald Trump was elected president, because I figured it was important and healthy, now more than ever. I am a Black woman; my wife is Iranian and Filipina. As mid-30s women in love, we live in New York with roommates: an Asian non-binary trans comedian and a Latina housing lawyer. And like many of the women and people of color in our community, we have had to become a bit more resourceful for our souls’ sake, throughout this violent raking of our civil rights and erasure of our identities.

My Salvadoran best friend and I check in over marathon phone sessions. Before she moved back home to San Francisco after several years in New York, we would clamber into one another’s arms, exchanging laughter for tears, face to face. The distance is what concerns me, because the vision of love is just as significant as the act. I really miss seeing her.

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A few days after the election, she shouted into my ears, “Girl?! No wonder I have low self-esteem and depression?! The world hates me!” She paused, taking a breath. I sat down at my table, cradling the phone to my ear and stared, into nothing. “Well,” she continued, “At least we know now.”

In these months since the election, my wife and I have attended or have been invited to 11 potlucks and “survival dinners,” warming our temperaments with lavash, lentil curries, collard greens, and extra-long, vibrating hugs from another brown-skinned sister. These are most certainly events that we would have had anyway, laying to rest the speculations about women of color divisiveness. Whether we are marching or breaking bread, we are fortunate that this kind of solidarity was always there.

At times, I fret about whether the collective, women of color “we” would have had the quieter moments to build with our friends as frequently if the climate of urgency hadn’t been raised. And I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has concocted or reinvigorated a morning ritual to make it through her days. So while we know that our solidarity would have been present in trenches, the moments of tangible down time together are equally nourishing for our self-worth.

Recently we have taken to watching the new webseries Brown Girls, which debuted in February. Set in Chicago, the show portrays resilience as joy-filled and offers viewers a glimpse into brown sisterhood that is fantastically timed.

“This is why orphans shouldn’t try and cook.” This comes from Leila, a queer Pakistani writer on the show and one of the main characters, featured alongside Patricia (Trish), a Black straight girl, who is an aspiring musician. Leila is speaking to her sister, after her overzealous attempt to make Pakistani roti from Trader Joe’s garlic and herb flour. It is double-edged humor, referencing Leila and her sister’s deceased parents, and how they have been raising one another. This quip is also smartly resonant for many of us, who have felt “orphaned” in society for a long while, when efforts of belonging are persistently fruitless, and can’t always be oversimplified by a pink knit “pussy” hat.

“Leila what is in this dough? What are these green things?” With its charming makeshift roti, Brown Girls opens a window into another side of women’s solidarity, adding depth to the missteps of  “inclusive programming” and diversity at a particularly fraught time in our world. A similar contribution was made by its queer Black predecessor, 195 Lewis, created by filmmaker Chanelle Aponte Pearson.

This is more than a broad brushstroke of advancing media diversity; Brown Girls has a particular handle on queer narratives of color. While visibility is critical, the intersectional stories and experiences of marginalized bodies is just as key. That way, the representation of people of color is more equitably centralized and features our visions, traumas, triumphs, and mistakes, which does much to lift notes of simplistic inclusion for women/genders of color into authentic existence.

A few moments after Leila’s sister disses her roti, Leila decides to come out to her as queer. Her sister immediately accepts her, in a brief scene welcoming her baby sister to come into her own. While refreshing to witness and amid the moderate acting, there is an undeniable air of “happily ever after” in this scene, felt slightly more unfettered than what may be possible to transpire. However, the scene holds major significance, for Leila’s use of the word “queer” and for the exchange overall: two Muslim women looking into one another’s eyes and discussing queerness, in a presidential era where a Muslim travel ban is sanctioned. The ban is currently frozen, although Trump is trying to stop this.

The show’s creators, Fatima Asghar and Sam Bailey, were intentional about depicting young brown women as happy, complicated, intelligent, sexual, and free. Their show succeeds at encompassing scenarios folks in my community are living through, and are affirmed to watch on screen, from Leila’s precocious and impulsive energy, alluded to in her sexual history, to Trish’s boredom with heteronormative relations with men, even while she desires intimacy and consistency. Trish proves this in a hilarious scene in the second episode where she kicks her date out of her bed at 4 a.m. and calls him an Uber.

Even the Black girl mirror pep talk has become a ubiquity, as played by Trish in episode two, a direct nod to Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure.

The show, like those that came before it—I’m thinking of Living Single and Girlfriends—reveals how Black and brown women resist, create, maneuver, code-switch, and produce, for the families (chosen and unchosen) and communities (built and evolving) that we have come to rely on. We will always need more of this.

Straight Black women are all over mainstream media now, thanks, in part, to Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil (creator of Being Mary Jane). And if my wife wants sexy or sassy portrayals of fast-talking South Asians surrounded by white people, she can choose from Quantico or The Mindy Project. All of these characters are heterosexual workaholics, and if they are looking for love, the show’s narrative depicts it as unattainable or difficult to maintain.

But when it comes to a lesbian or queer storyline in the mainstream, the sex is often a fling or a subversion embodied by a character, like a good-looking sidekick who pokes fun at the protagonist. Our current favorite is Lena Waithe’s character Denise from the Netflix series Master of None, who is pleasantly further developed in the second season. The depiction of women who love other women/genders or women even relying on other women/genders is not only fun to watch, but it is also desired. Because of this, my wife and I tend to get our intersectional rocks off by trading between Insecure and films like Appropriate Behavior with a bisexual Iranian main character, eventually settling on Jane the Virgin and laughing our way through deliberate and reliable stories featuring romance and other hijinks.

***

A few weeks into the long winter of headlines, I met my friend, a heavy-hitting Black film producer, for coffee. We laughed heartily while getting caught up and before we knew it, our coats were back on, lipstick reapplied. As we stomped down the sidewalk, into the brisk February air, the realization hit us: There was no discussion of The End Times. This twinge of unaccountability was quickly relieved when we realized that by simply being together we were talking about It. And until now, this is a moment that would never have been seen. Which is to say two things: By design, Black and brown bodies surviving and thriving is an act of resistance. Secondly, and however, our existence is not merely rooted in living in resistance. It is a certain kind of resilience, the kind that lives without applause or merit, because its richness will always be enough for us and will always be the essence of our otherwise silent suffering.

We have always been here. And not only have we been here in the struggle, we have been here in the persistent light. The collective women of color “we” see this in the shows we watch, in photos on our social media feeds, in the #POCInLove hashtag, during the exhale of our potlucks, or with containers of takeout warming the laps of our community, sprawled in living rooms, bars, and venues, nurturing our space.

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