Being A Black Woman and Making Olive Oil
By: Dorcas Onabanjo Illustration: Emmy Smith
The first four months of my 24th year haven’t been the easiest. I feel this crushing sense that I’m not going to live up to the expectations I have set for myself- that I’m not going to live up to the expectations that others have set for me. This doesn’t stem from a childhood trauma where I was told every day that I was good for nothing and that I would never amount to anything. I mean ok, my childhood wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a page out of a Jacqueline Wilson novel either. My childhood consisted of praise. I was constantly told that I was the head and not the tail. That I was more than a conqueror. That I was born for greatness. I was never coddled but I was always uplifted and pushed to be better because I had to be for so many reasons.
Recently, I was watching an episode of Scandal and there was this scene where Olivia Pope’s father, Eli, basically berates and tells her she has to be twice as good and work twice as hard and the reason behind that is because she’s a woman-a black woman. Now, this is what I feel, I have to be better and work harder because I am a black woman. When I was told I couldn’t obtain a neuroscience degree, I did and finished with an upper second-class degree. When I was told that I couldn’t go to America and work with special needs individuals as it was a waste of my time, I did and I did it well- I even fell in love while I was over there but that’s a different story for a different time. I like to do what I’m told is impossible. I like to prove people wrong. I like to disturb the peace by working to be extraordinary. I like to be that kind of woman. This type of drive usually fuels me, it makes me go harder. But this year, however? This year, so far, has broken me. I’m working hard to get back up- and I am, but it’s becoming a painful and laborious process.
My degree is armed with information that is fabulous but also stressful, like, I know that black women get paid 63% less than men which then leaves a 23% gap between black women and white women- which FYI, is A LOT. I know that childbirth mortality rates for black women compared to white women are staggering in the U.S. I know that only 8% of black women get employed in the public sector- these are college educated black women. I always have to work that extra bit harder, not just to get my foot in the door but so I can get my foot in the door. I work that extra bit harder so that the generation after me won’t be facing the same statistics.
I was always that child who teetered on the glass is half-empty rather than it being half-full. I’ve always worked to remain optimistic and steadfast in my belief that this too shall pass. But recently, I find myself asking what if it doesn’t pass? What if I have this sinking feeling forever? What if, I’m constantly going to be afraid of leaving my house because the anxiety is so crippling? What if I’m always about 0.75 seconds from crying when someone gets too close to me on the tube or in the street? What if my breathing always quickens when I start to approach a large crowd and I can feel my eyesight blurring? I have always been a little more melancholic than most people, but recently, it’s become much worse.
As a black woman, I often find I can’t be vulnerable, I can’t have a meltdown because we have this image of being strong. If you google “strong black” it will finish it with “woman.” It’s the narrative that I fit or rather the narrative that I’ve been placed into. It is also a dangerous narrative because black women are often not treated for depression and anxiety because our health isn’t taken as seriously. We are believed to be stronger and tougher. And that not only affects our mental health but our physical health, too. This narrative can be attributed to colonial times when black women were seen as physically stronger and so were able to handle more. And so now, it has trickled down into our post-colonial era of thinking, as well.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I am a strong black woman and I am proud of the strong narrative my sisters have fulfilled. We are remarkable and unwavering women. But I’ve come to realize that I cannot always be that woman. I’m trying to be okay with that and take the advice I so often give others: it’s okay not to be okay- as Jessie J so eloquently and simply puts it. I’ve started to find different coping mechanisms because the ones I used to use aren’t working for me anymore, like, using boys to distract me- again, another story for another time. Maybe that’s why I thought this new chapter would be different. Undergrad wasn’t all peonies, lilacs. and copious amounts of rainbow drops. It was failure after failure, breakdown after breakdown. But, still, I graduated and I was and am still so proud and grateful for that. I learned to cope with hardships while under pressure, so couldn’t I earn my Master’s degree, work, volunteer, and write articles for The Write Dose all at the same time without breaking down or cracking under pressure? No. Instead, I would stumble and fall and by fall I mean crash land. Luckily, it wasn’t face first and my nose is still very much intact.
But I’ve learned that falling down- even crash landing- is actually sometimes inevitable. I compartmentalize and it’s how I’ve dealt with things in the past. I shove it in a box, I put it on a shelf and I say, “I will come back and deal with you when I have the time.” But, now the boxes on the shelf have increased in number as have their contents. Oh, and did I mention, I made the shelf myself from paper mâché and painted it brown to look like wood? I am trying to rebuild, so I decided to go the Anthropologie in my subconscious and buy a new shelf made out of bronze with wood paneling because Anthropologie has stuff like that. At present, nothing is on the shelf, because everything is still on the floor like the clothing of a 16-year-old about to embark on her first date. Slowly but surely, I will begin a spring cleaning and start packing them away because it’s time- especially after that prolonged winter.
Recently, I watched this video with Rich Wilkerson JR and Levi Lusko and in the video, Levi said something that resonated with me. He said that you don’t get olive oil without crushing the olive. I loved this, I was reminded that nothing beautiful ever started out that way, it was created from nothing or was broken before it was made. I believe that I’m being crushed daily but little by little the oil will come and from that, I’ll use it for my glow.
So, what was the point of this anxiety induced rant? Well, if you’re a 20 something woman of color, know you’re not alone in that quest to shatter glass ceilings. It’s okay not to be okay. You should embrace the crushing because without it there would be no olive oil.