Vision, Art & Faith meet Boundaries
As a kid I was pretty quiet and didn't talk much. I chose to either live in the shadows so no one saw me, or just avoided conversation and ignored whatever comments came my way. Because of this I didn't learn how to create healthy boundaries for myself and others.
Since learning more about myself and taking active steps to grow into my potential, I've made a choice to be seen which brings all sorts of interesting interactions that seem to trigger me. I find myself triggered by some of the comments and questions I get from people, mostly strangers, regarding where I come from, what I do, and even my ability to do something well. It seems that the farther I moved away from home the more questions and doubts people seem to have which gets to me and makes me realize the importance of standing up for myself by creating healthy boundaries.
In Detroit, it was about pursuing my dance career, then in Washington, D.C. it was about me being from Detroit and now in Brussels, I get questions regarding all of the above and in addition to my abilities and/or ambitions. Up until now, the latter is something that I never even questioned. From a young age I've been encouraged and almost expectated to accomplish what I set my mind to.
I guess you won't get used to being on cruises, huh?
An older man once said to me amongst a group of my friends. We were taking a cruise during the summer of our sophomore year in college and making new friends left and right. One day we're chilling on the deck, making conversation and introducing ourselves including but not limited to name, major, and hometown: friend #1: pre-med, friend #2: social work, me: dance. The order of the given info didn't help mind you but upon my response he insinuates that my cruising days will be long gone once I graduate. Because how on earth or even in this universe could a dancer afford it? #triggered
I've always hated this response from people after I declare my passion and future career, especially because people put dancers so low on the totem pole that they think they have the right to ask how much we make or joke about it. Either way you put it, it's disrespectful.
Little does he know I've been living my best life through what I do now and looking to change the way that dancers approach their work so we can change these stereotypes. (Check out my new Vision, Art & Faith: Creative Living for Dancer Page for more info!)
In that moment I said nothing but today I would say: Yeah I think you're right. I'll probably be too busy flying around the world performing and teaching or something like that.
Isn't your city dying?
I once heard from a friend of my cousin who literally had met me a minute prior. We started with friendly introductions leading to small talk and upon me saying that I'm from Detroit he asked this god awful question. I was so shocked that it literally took me a couple seconds to respond. I didn't get angry though, I was just silently #triggered and it became the first of a laundry list of backhanded comments I get from people about my hometown. Now 7 years later, I'm LITERALLY over it and determined to set people straight and establish how someone will or will not talk to me, and quite frankly this just ain't it.
"Detroit like other cities has seen difficult times but things are really changing for the better. Instead of listening to what others say, maybe you should go see for yourself."
Ah you must have moved to Brussels for work or the love of your life?
If the love of my life is Brussels, then yes actually, lol. Can't a girl just like a country and make moves? Or is it unfathomable to follow your heart and move somewhere just cause you like it. At first I thought this was an insult to me, but I've realized that people view Belgium so poorly that this question is a reflection on how others view Belgium, not me. I see opportunity, potential and a great way of life here whereas others see a boring, small and unexciting country that anyone barely knows about, especially Americans. I've since set a boundary between me and this question by reframing the #trigger. So in response I simply state my truth, something they can't argue with or take away from me.
When I first visited Brussels I felt welcome and instantly feel in love with the lifestyle and energy of the city. Professionally, I feel like I have so much to learn yet so much to give at the same time.
Where do you really come from?
Not but like your parents or grandparents?
Do you know American history?
This conversation is probably the most painful. Ya know, giving a quick snapshot of how my ancestors got to America centuries ago. Idk who's more uncomfortable during the convo, me or them, lol. Then they convince me I should try harder, ya know other people have gone back to countries and searched or there must be documents. And I then have to emphasize that it's just not that easy. Every African American's story is like a leaf on the same branch similar yet different.
My family has been in America as long as we can remember, but if the opportunity arises I do hope to learn as much as I can about my origins.
"Tu parles bien le Francais!"
English translation: "You speak French well!", I ofter hear with more than a hint of surprise from strangers or friends of friends. In Brussels, most expats don't speak French or speak very little of it because English is so widely spoken. Actually, most French speakers will switch to English once they hear your accent anyway, so the expectations are set very very low. Me, however, I practice everyday through conversation, reading, and Netflix and take weekly private lessons. Basically, I'm pretty close to fluency, so when I speak with ease people literally don't know what to do with themselves. At first I kinda found it offensive but realized that it's not about me. I then had to put my feelings aside and realize the reality of foreigners and language in Brussels. I used to cop an attitude like "yeah why wouldn't I?", but now I politely say "Merci" and keep the conversation moving.
Well that's rather ambitious.
The first time I heard anything of the sort was here in Belgium. I've proclaimed some pretty strong intentions about the impact and work I wanna do here and there have been moments where it was met with doubt, for the first time in my career. I've just always seen anything as possible, because if you have a choice between possibility or impossibility which would you choose?
All of these questions are really just a reflection of the ignorance that still exists around the world and an opportunity for me to lessen that ignorance by unapologetically being and showing who I am. I recognize their reaction as a reflection of the unique aspects of my story and identities and remember that what makes me different is a superpower.
Instead of responding defensively, I can answer with a set of matter of fact and confident responses and then turn the focus back on them by asking them questions to get a better understanding of their viewpoint because it's not their fault that they don't know or that they have lived a different experience. Through being confident in myself and establishing these boundaries I can firmly stay grounded in who I am while setting the standard for how I would like to be treated because the more grounded I am, the more grounded and kind I can encourage others to be.
Thanks for reading,
And remember to always have faith, keep a vision and set boundaries in everything that you do.