Expanding When the World Wants You to Shrink: Be A Dissenter
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
I never thought I would be who I am today. I used to try to do everything to assimilate, and blend-in. I wasn’t the kind of person whom would be the loudest in the room, or the person to call out bullshit.
I always felt as though assimilating to the status quo was the most important thing to do, especially because I have grown up, and mainly occupied majority white spaces.
I’ve operated in spaces in which I was always the minority and therefore I did not want to be pawned off as the loud, angry black woman. I did not want to be stamped and branded as being “too much”. I had been told to tone it down. I had been told that I was lucky to have made it so far. I had been reminded often that I was a rare success story. And even today, I am the success story. And in dealing with those perceptions, I assimilated into being someone whom was black enough to be a great token for diversity, but I also often allowed subtle racism to slide by without explicitly stating, “that’s not cool”. My light skinned privilege and my ability to make people feel comfortable allowed certain individuals the space to remain in my presence and in these spaces without feeling as though they were racist.
I never, up until recently, understood the importance in being a dissenter. I never understood the purpose and importance in breaking down the status quo, and in authentically being my full self even if it makes others feel uncomfortable. I’m a people pleaser, and tend to be an individual whom fears opposition, and judgment. Even when I have told others and myself that I don’t care what others think of me, let's be honest, I’m human, and young, and of course I care about what others think of me. Don’t let the confidence fool you. What I have been able to do all these years to appear unbothered, confident, and authentic, is be myself within a box that expands and shrinks depending on the location, environment, or event.
In a phenomenal book titled, “More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say)” by Elaine Welteroth, she called me out on the concept I just described above. I have been, for years, assimilating to environments in order to make others comfortable with me. I have been shrinking. Shrinking my thoughts, opinions, ideas, and my presence to make others feel less threatened. Awaking to the understanding of how shrinking myself and being okay with the status quo has allowed the world to remain as it is, has caused me to understand why it is so important to be a dissenter.
The definition of dissenter is "one who actively disagrees in opinion, and whom may fight for change". They also disrupt, which according to Merriam Webster is “the act or process of disrupting something : a break or interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity, process, etc.” Why is this important? This is a vitally important when it comes to change. At the chiasm of all change there is an enlightened individual that dissents and disrupts. Martin Luther posted the 99 thesis, disrupting the daily processes of the Catholic Church. Nat Turner led a slave uprising sparking a greater debate around slavery in America. Dora Lewis was jailed after protesting outside of the white house for her right to vote. Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked her entire life dissenting and disrupting what it means to be a law professional in the 20th century. And helped usher in a 21st century that has allowed the rights of women and so many more minorities to be enhanced and protected. All these individuals have something in common, they all dissented and disrupted the status quo, and all brought about change. They all made history. And they for sure did not make history by making people feel comfortable.
It’s in this lesson and reflection that I have become more committed to being authentically me, and not apologizing for it. It’s in this lesson that I have learned the importance of what it really means to be an advocate for civil rights. I am done with making people feel comfortable. I have been an accessory to allowing subtle racism to persist in institutions it has no place in, and I am so disappointed in myself for not only allowing that for myself but also allowing that for others. There are so many teachable moments I can think of in which I should have dissented and didn’t because I was too concerned with making everyone happy, and comfortable. I was too concerned with not wanting to be branded as a stereotype. I was too concerned with assimilating, and not being too loud. And I am incredibly ashamed of that. But it’s time to move forward.
I am today committing to a manifesto based on the idea of no longer allowing racism to continue in any form. I am committing to a manifesto in which I will strive to be the dissenter in the room when racism, sexism, and discrimination has been allowed to be present. I am committing to being me, and speaking my truth, even when it makes others feel uncomfortable.
Lasty, I am taking a tip from that book I read. If Elaine Welteroth ever see’s this post (which I highly doubt she will but if she does) I want her to know one thing, her book quite literally changed the trajectory of my life, and I can’t thank her enough for that. I am taking a tip, and instead of shrinking, I am expanding.
“When the world tells you to shrink, expand.”
This quote quite literally woke me up to the importance of expanding, breaking down the box, and no longer remaining silent and complacent. I will no longer be an accessory to the rhetoric that has been around for far too long.
I will leave you, dear reader, with this, in honor of the woman who taught me that no matter the age, the time, or the perception, I too can reach the sky…
"Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow."
-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
NOTES: HI! If you read this far, thank you! Fun fact, I wrote this piece two weeks ago. I just had a feeling that the world would need this truth soon. Thank you for reading. PLEASE check out a podcast I was just on, the link is here! AND shoutout to my photographer Madi, her website is here! Thank you all!
View more of my photos here!