I tweet about crying a lot. I insert anecdotes about how I don’t have many real-life skills in every single first-person piece that I write. I’ve been thinking a lot about my predilection for sharing my feelings with anyone who might be slightly interested.
Jacobin Magazine writer and co-host of the podcast “Chapo Trap House” Amber A’Lee Frost crystallized the biggest problem with my self-portrayal when she wrote, “Why do women always have to flay themselves open and let everyone gawk at their guts just so someone will listen?”
This sentiment that women are, in some ways, forced to constantly share sent me into a tailspin. Do I talk about my feelings too much? Am I the patriarchy? When I joke about not knowing what Python is, am I to blame for the lack of women in tech? No, but I think my penchant for this type of expression is a product of this environment that privileges emotional content made by women.
Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” (2016) is a masterclass in beautiful harmonies and minimalist instrumentals. Throughout the track, it features her coping mechanisms and coming to grips with her divorce: “I tried to drink it away / I tried to put one in the air / I tried to dance it away / I tried to change it with my hair.” The song is excellent; there’s nothing wrong with it, and artistic expressions have certainly always featured confessional expressions of tragedy. But I think that we demand too much from our marginalized artists.
And this certainly extends to the more general population of racialized people who don’t work in any sort of entertainment industry. In academic environments, there is an expectation that students of color will share their “powerful” deeply personal experiences with racism. This is not to say that personal experience in the classroom is unnecessary or inherently oppressive, but environments where people of color seem to exist solely to provide learning experiences to white students are both.
However, it’s hard to refuse to commodify my trauma because the system that we live under makes it materially beneficial for marginalized people to “flay themselves open and let everyone gawk at their guts.” I often joke that the only people who know my deepest secrets are friends that I’ve vetted for at least six years and also anyone who works on a college admissions board for any elite university.
To be honest, I don’t know where to go from here. My knee-jerk reaction to the realization that I’ve inadvertently been shaped by this demand for personal experience was to never share anything again. I wish I was the type of person that, in rapper DaBaby’s words, could be unknown until they “pop out with a million.” But I know that if I ever found a dollar coin on the ground, I’d probably immediately text all of my friends. All I can say is that my vulnerability, and the expressions of it, is a product of my own agency.