As I struggle to give voice to all the parts of me that yearn for recognition, I wonder how to become more of who I am authentically and somehow manage not to offend others, still desperately in search of themselves. Then, just as quickly as the thoughts come, to make myself palatable and creatively package all the components of me that the world might find digestible, I reject this assimilationist nonsense and conclude, I may always be “too much” for others. And what’s more is: that’s okay. Imma just sit with all this splendor and offer up my unique parts as a “take it or leave it/love me or leave me baby”, type deal. Yeah. Blackness-proud-unadulterated-unapologetic and full. Perhaps, X-Clan said it best “My science is deep. My Blackness is deep.”
A few weeks ago, I needed to find a baby picture for a virtual shower I looked forward to attending, to celebrate a friend/colleague and her partner in welcoming their baby in May. Here’s the catch: I have never really been a big fan of baby showers, especially of engaging in the seemingly endless games that accompany them. But recently, that all changed, especially considering that in the winter just before the pandemic it was my turn to host such an event for my own younger sister as she enthusiastically awaited the birth of my beloved nephew that January. Aside from the sheer challenge of hosting a traditional baby shower event – mind you my own baby shower two decades ago, was a creatively themed “MamaToto” or Afrikan-centered, mother-child celebration event, which totally matched my personality and value system in design and execution and ensured that zero games were allowed. LOL. Although they came armed with somewhat traditional gifts as opposed to engaging in gameplay, my own baby shower guests also came armed with personal stories of being (or having themselves become) mothers. As such, the real gifts of the shower, those most memorable 22 years later, were not the seemingly endless list of store bought blessings – for which they all received a personalized thank you card of heartfelt gratitude. As you can imagine, the true “gifts” were the stories of self and countless gems of wisdom as shared from women who had been where I was headed. How fortunate I was to glean from people’s unique maternal tapestry, woven together by their respective family traditions, but as eerily similar as is the Black experience.
Ours is that of a shared value system of nearly identical cultural norms – as the “inside jokes” on Black Twitter seem to prove more and more everyday. Blackness is not purely native African traditions because, well the Maafa all but ensured an erasure of that which we instinctively knew and held dear (or so they thought). And Blackness is certainly not American, because what is that? To conceive of yourself as antithetical to the myth of a white supremacist ideal, which has but a singular trait to unite the masses and enact its poisonous agenda, which is that it despises us so. No, Blackness is its own ideal and the rewards are as innately divine as is our irrevocable connection to God. It is the universal blueprint for all things creative. Because I Am, we are the progenitors of the earth. And as God’s first people forged in his/her image, our very nature is to create. Just like haters gonna hate, creators must create. And it is this enigmatic component of who and whose we are, that is impossible to annihilate. Infinitely appropriated, but alas imitation of the divine is expected and is, after all, merely a shameless attempt at flattery. Non-duplicatable. Unfuckwithable. Yeah. Blackness-proud-unadulterated-unapologetic and full.
To this day, I remain immensely grateful for those intentionally unique baby shower gifts that centered powerful traditions and cultural heirlooms, that were undoubtedly of great value to raising a uniquely well-adjusted, Black Nationalist child, in a thoroughly racist and spiritually devoid culture, which obsessively centers whiteness. Jendayi’s rich, full, innately affirming Pan-Afrikan, Nationalist upbringing was fashioned after me and my siblings own coming-of-age. What results from a full-scale immersion in your God-self and your Blackness as unadulterated by outsiders influence is and was astoundingly rich and memorable – a foundation needed to nurture greatness and to fashion an unconquerable sense of self. It is upon this solid rock foundation that I present myself and all of my parts to the world: full-circle, African Woman, possessing deep, deep Blackness. She/her/hers. but I digress . . .
It was not easy to put my hands on the baby pictures for which I sought. I am frustratingly and distressingly apart from both of my parents-who might have more easily put their hands on one of the faded, undoubtedly dated, 70s photos. An image featuring me with a knowing smile, and a contented, well nurtured-fresh from homemade peanut butter cookies look. I might have an afro, naturally reddish-brown and framing a heart shaped smiling face. Or me with two cornrows, one on either side, symmetrically feeding into afro-puffs. Perhaps photographed solo, but likely accompanied by one, or both of my brothers. Damon, with his handsome, chiseled features and huge grin. Or Stephen, with his pillowy soft skin, and rounded baby parts, grinning infectiously from ear-to-ear and being held by my gorgeous, afro-crowned, ebony faced mother and/or affectionately cradled by my handsome, bearded and reddish-brown, football playing father. Either way, my initial search turned up empty. And we, as a family, now separated by the miles and still secluded from one another as a direct impact of having lost (at least) a dozen family members, give or take a few, to this horrid pandemic…have yet to commune under the same roof. So locating baby pictures of Nikki, my affectionate childhood nickname, was admittedly pretty low on the totem pole of our collective priorities. Or so I erroneously thought.
All of a sudden, it was as if the entire universe conspired on my explicit behalf, so that I could put my hands on at least a digital copy of a childhood photo and somehow manage to show up as graciously requested, for Rachel and Jenna’s highly anticipated and ultimately intimate, lovely, and memorable animal-themed baby shower. I sort of casually mentioned to my sweet, revolutionary and fiercely family-centered, Queen Mother that I was having a bit of trouble attempting to comply with not the conventional, obligatory gift request to contribute the amount of your choosing to the Venmo group-gift pot. But in fact I was struggling to fulfill the seemingly routine request of submitting our baby pictures for a collage to be prominently displayed at this memorable, joint virtual party and baby blessing inspired event. Well unbeknownst to me, mom launched into action from her corner of the world (roughly less than 5 miles away from my own, secluded abode), and called/texted no less than 10 members of our huge extended family, to see if anyone in our collective midst, could forward a baby picture of Nikki-stat. Like whoa! 👀
Soon, pictures of me at all ages (one as young as 3; but many from my teens and early adolescence), began flooding in through text. Funniest was when my own Mama, who birthed me as the second eldest fruit of her blessed womb – sent me a beautiful photo of my own, one and done, peacefully sleeping baby girl (ha!). Meanwhile , members of our family I never imagined would be solicited on my humble, baby-picture-needing behalf, shared of their collective bounty and reasoned that most of all family pictures were likely to be in the possession of a singular, oft-time photo-hoarding Auntie in particular. But alas, an immediate call to her turned up empty. Then, there was a bit of hope when later, one of her two daughters admitted that she had once had in her own possession, many of our family pics (that she had gotten from her mama), but that they had sadly been destroyed in a flooded basement some years ago. The other daughter of my beloved, picture hoarding aunt, convincingly hinted to my mom that she would soon make a visit to her mom’s house in accordance with her frequent, pandemic style check-in’s and that she would keep her eyes on the lookout for any such baby pics of yours truly. In fact, it could be that during one such visit, my sweet , community activist baby cousin soon unearthed a long lost family photo of many of us surrounding our beloved family and extended family matriarchs, including my own maternal grandmother, famed Detroit City Council trailblazer Erma Henderson, and legendary freedom fighter, Rosa Parks. Yeah – that part! But ultimately, it was the sheer “all hands on deck” nature of the baby shower inspired, baby picture of Nikki, all-encompassing search that endlessly affirms and otherwise speaks to my indescribable yet deep well of gratitude and appreciation for the fullness of my Blackness. Non-duplicatable. Unfuckwithable. Yeah. Blackness-proud-unadulterated-unapologetic and full.
I will end this baby shower story with the proverbial happy ending that I did, in fact, show up to this animal-themed, virtual baby shower in accordance with the animal theme: gasp-I was wearing a skin-tight, cheetah printed, move something dress, with a plunging neckline (thank God that Zoom covers up a multitude of sins!). But most importantly, I was confident in reflecting both my 1970s version as juxtaposed against this inappropriately dressed 2021 version. I was admittedly relieved, proud and grateful to have sent in my earliest recovered toddler-aged picture either on, or surprisingly maybe even before, the appointed deadline. As such, my collective family project artifact was somehow unassuming and neatly situated within what turned out to be a diverse and beautiful collage of my closest educational warrior-colleagues; within which a long-legged, pajama clad and distinctly poised George literally stole the spotlight from all of our adorable pics. As his striking beauty and camera readiness is the unmistakable focal point amongst a bevy of beauties. Except that my baby picture had an entire narrative of the Black experience behind it and in its representation I was and am eternally blessed to have been in the midst. It is of little consequence that the honorees, and other shower attendees were thankfully none the wiser for the collective sacrifice my entire beloved family (and especially my mother), made to ensure that I was represented in my self-assured state of full-circle Blackness (she/her/hers).
Though it was telling that some of my adolescent and teenaged photos were only notable in that they were absent my trademark smile, from my earliest childhood depiction to my current iteration – it is me in unapologetic and full formed Blackness. And I am proud. In perhaps the most touching spirit of brotherly love, just yesterday my big brother shared an open-mouthed, gleeful photo of my younger sister and I when she was clearly a teen and I was in my early twenties. I appreciate this representation as well, because I had already morphed into the self-assured, well read, Pan-African Nationalist named and fully formed woman I am proud to have embraced. I will conclude this love letter to my family, ode to our Blackness and perhaps way too personal blog post, by sharing a representative few of the photos discovered, in our collective quest to ensure that my own, rich and deeply immersed Black experience might be shared with others. I am immensely grateful for I Am because We Are. Asé