Plus, an announcement!
And, we’re back like we never left. Hey y’all!
Sooo, in the last storyletter I left you hanging with news that I was planning to make a special announcement soon. Well, the time has finally come to share!
WE’RE HAVING AN EVENT! AND YOU’RE INVITED!
After almost 8 months of growing the Carefree Mag community, I think it’s time we get a little more cozy and host a meetup! With everything going on in the world, I’m sure we can all use some no-strings attached quality time.
This kickback will have a loose agenda with one of our past writers hosting a discussion on cultivating self-love in our selves as Black womxn. We’ll share affirmations and playlists, discuss our favorite Carefree stories, and ultimately, have a fun Saturday afternoon hanging out with the Carefree crew. I literally can’t wait to meet some of you. It’s free to attend & all are welcome!
This Week’s Story
I tried my absolute hardest to edit this piece down for length. I tried to remove a paragraph here, or delete a sentence there; but when I tell you every single word in this essay has purpose? I decided it is near perfect as is. Our Haitian-American writer, Sabine Nemours, so eloquently captures both the subtle and overt tension when it comes to colorism, prejudice, and romantic love. I hope you enjoy reading and ruminating on this piece as much as I did.
How Being Young, Black, and Failing Horribly at Love Liberated Me
by Sabine Nemours
While in elementary school, my first crush passed me a note one day in class asking to meet him after school. I remember curling the paperback delicately in my hands so as not to tear the precious note, as my heart squeezed itself madly in my chest. I thought I would burst from excitement, being convinced that I was in love.
My crush physically beat me up that day.
I remember like it was yesterday. I waited outside the school gates, as everyone else left, no sign of him, with pinprick tears stabbing at my eyes because I was anxious about having missed my bus back home. What would I tell my mother? What lie would I have to conjure up about the risk that did not have any reward? But he did appear, eventually and suddenly, catching me off guard with a friend who he had been hiding with. Together they shoved me against a wall and peppered me with punches and kicks until I curled up on the floor and just lay there. They ran off, laughing, together, shouting little things at me. I remember hearing their laughter echoing off the school walls hollow, but faint. And when they were gone, I laughed too, getting up without knowing why but feeling a chuckle bubbling up inside of me from, of all things, relief that he had come, at least.
I remember too, as their backs grew smaller and smaller, how my crush turned back around one last time to shout at me “ –Stupid!” I thought something then that I did not really understand. That crush, who we will call Joe, had never called any of the other girls in our class stupid. Somehow, even as young as I was, an instinct inside of me thought that I should have asked him, before I had ever been so bold as to fall in love without his consent, if he even liked girls as dark as I was.
But I couldn’t make sense of that instinct until many years after I limped home, laughing about the way a little boy had carved out a special beating just for me. I believed that what he had done to me was an act of affection – even. Little girls are often made to believe that what awful things little boys do to them should be taken as signs of love, and little Black girls, especially, are led to mistake toughness for love. But as children often do, I grew out of that crush. I never told anyone about it, simply because it seemed so odd to have a memory like that. It drew out a poignant ache inside of me that made me wonder why, out of all my peers, I had been the stupid one. I couldn’t make sense of it until the day I met my first official boyfriend’s father.
Like with Joe, I was madly in love with who we will call Isaac. In the years between that girlhood crush and my adolescent romance, I had developed into the first prototype of myself. That self saw herself in many, fragmented ways. In one way she was smart, articulate, and successful. In other ways, she was quiet, had few friends, and an avid bookworm. But in no way did I see myself as feminine. Even when I entered my high school years, I watched as other girls grew things that my body wasn’t giving: wider hips and bigger breasts began to differentiate the women from the girls.
When my own came in as barely-there hips and small breasts I vividly remember a feminine shame of not being enough. I wondered, obsessively, about where that idea about myself came from. The places from where it came were many: from within my own home and out in the world. What I thought of my body came back again to the instinct that I had that I should have been different. So when that first relationship came to me I was easily many things: vulnerable, and young, and just as idealistic as I had been when I was in the first grade.
In the years between Joe and Isaac, I had fed myself on a concoction of cultural attitudes about the bodies of women and what love was meant to be for us. My favored medium had always been reading: the YA boom of the early 2000s provided me with an endless litany of romances to feed myself on. I was definitely a Twilight teen. Devouring communal ideas about life and love that positioned men as the center of female universes and romantic love as the purpose of every woman’s life. But I didn’t think to wonder why none of the girls in those books were Black; I never wondered why I could never recall what it was like to describe dark skin in literature without adding a racial prerogative to it. All that I knew was that my heart throbbed for those dark, brooding boys who never paid me any attention. But after a few months into my relationship with Isaac – and all the interiors of our own messy, emotional, don’t-let-her-parents-find-out romance – I met his father.
He was a Black man, just like his son. On our first meeting, he drove us to a paintball pit – which I didn’t get to play in. The ride there was peppered with polite small talk that I hoped was impressing him; yet as we drove, Isaac’s father said something that instantly made something very clear to me. Offhandedly, somehow, he mentioned to me that he was happy that his son had found a ‘good’ Black girl. As I sat politely in the backseat, hands in my lap, that strange chuckle from many years ago bubbled back up in my chest.
“…What do you mean by that?” I remember asking.
“Well, I’d rather my boy not date a Black girl, oh I hate them, they’re nothing good. But you, you’re good,” he casually responded.
And I felt what I had felt when I was laid on the floor, curled up, covering myself as Joe beat me up all those years ago in elementary school. It wanted to become rage, that realization. But I had neither the courage nor the understanding, yet. All that I knew was that my boyfriend’s father hated Black girls like me. And Isaac, my beloved Isaac, said nothing.
What this opened up was something that I would eventually find inescapable. Putting aside my own interpersonal flaws, I began to suspect that much of what I had gone through in my search for love had less to do with what I did or didn’t do, and more to do with who I was. It wasn’t just those two experiences that began to define the lovelessness of what it can be like to be a dark-skinned Black woman. A mean little Hispanic boy beat me up when I was younger – so what? The Black father of a boyfriend of mine didn’t like his Black son dating Black girls – so what? But it wasn’t only those two. In the moment that someone else chose to define me along the lines of his own disturbing projection, the loose threads that had been hanging around my head my entire life began to connect. I saw while looking down at my hands and smiling like a polite, nice, quiet little girlfriend, something that had escaped me my whole life.
As hopeless a romantic as I was, I could not recall not one story of love, of true intimacy, of sweetness, that featured a woman like myself. With very brown skin. Very kinky hair. What I knew of Black love had much to do with Black pain: if I thought of Black women, I thought of sturdy and tough girls with many children. Who knew how to cook a mean meal with one hand and to care for a baby with the other. All while mending clothes and doing hair and building the trinkets that fit around our homes. All while paying most of the bills. Loud and colorful and sassy. All while defending their men and their boys from the suffering of the world. Our princesses were few and far between. They were very rarely a shade darker than brown paper bags.
But I wanted to reject that realization at the moment that it came to me. I thought Black women couldn’t be reduced to a monolith, like the ones that I had in my head. And in a way I was right: there was a different side to being Black and being a woman. A seductive side. A beguiling side. A side that was so attractive when I thought of sex, my first thought was of a Black woman.
The origins of my young teenaged shame at not being enough came from the idea of Black women, being so sexually appealing. The overrepresentation of Black female sexuality was something that I had accepted, even as a little girl. But I learned as I grew older, after that first boyfriend became my ex-boyfriend, that if I was not seen as a ‘good’ Black girl, then I was the other type of Black girl. The type with the barbie doll hair and feathers for eyelashes. The whistle-worthy type of girl. The girl who was so deliciously appealing the only type of name she could be given was chocolate. And when I was without a man to give me some semblance of humanity, then that was how the world saw me.
In my second year of college, one dark night while walking home from a summer job, I missed my bus. Underneath the cover of the night sky, feeling the stress of not knowing how I’d make it home, I sat on a bus bench and waited for the next one.
Every passerby who looked at me did so from the corner of their eye, with something sly in the way that they did it. When I thought of the Black female body, I could only think of its voluptuousness: of very large breasts and wide hips. But my own, it never looked anything like that. But the way cars honked at me from the street gave me the feeling that I was nothing but hips and thighs and breasts. I was finally old enough to recognize that my anger at the mistreatment that I had been dealt with in my life was a prevalent feminine one. But the insistent number of honks, and then the eventual catcalls, and then finally, a silver SUV that parked right in front of me on the road driven by a stranger that opened his car door to me and enticed me to get in reinforced the suspicion that I had about what femininity was for Black girls like myself.
Many times over, afterward, I felt like that. Long after that first boyfriend, I was stuck with what his father had said to me. I was – by how I chose to present myself on a particular day – a good Black girl. While misogyny is something that every girl runs the risk of facing, in my search for love I had come to find that for Black girls our feminine struggle had an edge to it.
Failing at love forced me to deal with my own flaws – there were many conditional things I had accepted about intimacy, affection, and partnership that needed to be uprooted from inside of me. I, quite obviously, had to unlearn my naivety and to find esteem within myself that did not beg for validation from others. I had a lot of growing up to do. But when I realized that my crush called me ”Stupid” because I was the only Black girl he knew who liked him, or that there were Black fathers actively teaching their sons to disregard women darker than they were, I found a way to unburden myself with the unjust load that is often placed on the back of Black women. I cannot speak to the man in the SUV and why the sight of me sitting on a bus bench drove him to invite me into his car – knowing that he had nothing good planned for me – but I can speak to recognizing that liberation from those limits imposed upon my identity came in finally recognizing that my existence as a Black woman wasn’t aberrant – the communal view of me was.
It took a long time to understand that the way my world was shaped was not natural or loving. In knowing my oppression I could give it a name and choose to divest from living a life as a binary; as either a good Black girl or the other Black girl. It is not to generalize my failings at love as the standard for experiencing love as a Black woman, but it is to speak testimony to it.
Recognizing the privileges withheld from my femininity solely because of the color of my skin opened me up to the idea that love shouldn’t come with conditions; that I shouldn’t have to be a superwoman to cultivate it and that I was not an outlier or a persuasion to enjoy but human, just as any other woman, and free to fail at love not because I was not worthy of it, but because in that failing I would come to know and to love myself all the better.
Enjoyed this week’s storyletter? Tap the heart & leave a comment below! 😍
Sabine Nemours is a creative fiction writer living in Miami, Florida. She draws inspiration from her hyphenated experience as a Haitian American woman; the myths in the diaspora and their living counterparts have shaped a great deal of her life’s course and in her writing. She hope to bring illumination, color, and joy to the many beautiful black stories that exist in the Caribbean and its diaspora across the world. Find more of her work on Medium.