an open letter

to anyone, to everyone:

you don’t know me. but i’m going to share part of me with you. because i feel compelled to share all that this project represents for me. and the place from which it emerged.

yesterday, my therapist asked me which part of my identity i claimed. which part of your identity do you claim? the question has stayed with me. to give you some background, i started therapy back in december, ultimately, because i didn’t feel black enough. what the hell does that even mean? i can't say explicitly. but i can paint you a picture. i suppose, having grown up in predominantly white spaces, having spent years being called out as an oreo, or for speaking differently, etc. etc. something in me has been convinced that i am not an adequate enough black person. that i don’t have an intimate understanding of our culture or our struggle or our joys. i’ve bought into that on most days. and find that each day presents new obstacles that involve feeling unworthy of wearing this beautifully melanated skin.

over the course of these last few months, my therapy sessions have turned into a litany of identity studies. mostly, how i don’t feel adequate in any of my identities. how i don’t feel affirmed. or worthy. and so, yesterday morning, i was telling her how i don’t call myself a writer. like, i wouldn’t put it on my business card. and, likewise, despite something like eight years of photography experience, i won’t call myself a photographer, either. i do those things, i told her. but i cannot claim my identity as a black creative; because i simply don’t feel worthy of that designation.

we have talked, at length, about how my inability to accept myself has led to a lot of my suffering. we have talked about the opportunity i have to grow and to experience joy and to feel affirmed, if i could only figure out how to extend myself some compassion.

a couple of months back, there was a moment when my therapist got fired up, and told me that i needed to start showing up for myself. that i needed to be my own source of safety and comfort. that the capacity to show up for myself resides in me. you have everything you need, she said. and continues to say. i was compelled by this idea. showing up for myself. and wondered how other people do it. how other people have developed the capacity to actually be their own best friend. their favorite person in the world. a humxn that they love, unconditionally. i didn’t know how they did it. and i wanted to know. so i began to ask. what does tenderness mean to you? how do you choose to be soft with yourself during the hard seasons? how does that choice impact your health, your relationships, your community?

this is the space that this project has been created from. a space of suffering, honestly. and confusion. and lots of insecurity. it has grown with every instance of my therapist telling me, you have to learn to extend yourself some compassion. and wondering what that looks like and feels like. it’s an exploration of self-love and tenderness, in a way i’m not sure i’ve ever really understood. and it’s the recognition that to be black or brown and tender is a radical act of resistance.

thanks for reading.

kristen