All the Things.

So, by now, I’m sure you’ve heard the details of the “bombshell” interview that Oprah Winfrey conducted with Harry and Meghan a few weeks ago. (If you’re a woman and a person of color, not much that you heard was surprising.) But believe me, despite not being largely surprised by how Meghan was treated, I found the interview to be utterly impactful. I felt sad for them, too. Ultimately, however, I have no doubt that she and Harry will keep it moving. The interview got me thinking about a lot of things. Race, microaggressions, my own life experience, so much. Here are some related thoughts and reactions from the more popular comments and remarks I saw on social media.

One question I saw more than once was why Meghan felt like she’d be accepted by this institution.

Image Credit: O, The Oprah Magazine

When I came to this country, the black and brown kids that I longed to be with mostly ignored and/or mocked me. Of course, in hindsight, I now understand that my “otherness”, coming from Africa, was largely informed by a stereotypical representation of my continent in the media. It explains why many questions were related to where I had lived in Ghana, if it was a house, if I owned shoes. They didn’t really know any better (we’re talking about 10 and 11 year-olds here, too). At the time, it was perplexing, sad, and infuriating. And lonely. The kids that looked like me didn’t want me. Being in a predominately Caucasian school and area, I was soon accepted into mainly white friend groups. Now, young me experienced the other side of the spectrum: fascination, curiosity, and interest. Many of these friends sincerely wanted to learn what life was like for me, pre-US living. They wanted to be in my presence, to be in my company. A level of comfort set in for me. When that happens, that comfort level, you start to believe–and I certainly did–that all spaces were ready for me. Because my white friends seemed to be accepting, all white folks would accept me.

Not so.

And I honestly think that Meghan believed some of the same things. Pre-Royal Family, she was an actress, in the public eye, likely accepted in a variety of circles and groups. Perhaps this mindset continued when she entered the RF. She mentioned in the interview that she assured her in-laws that she was ready to work hard on their behalf; she saw the opportunity for representation in the Commonwealth and embraced the new chapter that she would help start. But at the end of the day, some circles are not all circles. As I got older and navigated life/adulthood/race/ identity, I learned that there wasn’t always a welcome mat for me. Sometimes that mat seemed fine on the surface, but underneath was really full of ignorance, bigotry, and those microaggressions. So, yeah, I feel like she went in hopeful. And soon learned that there was a lot of stuff going on underneath.

Racism must be bad if they came to the States to escape it.

Word. But one thing I thought about: the British media was largely trashing Meghan. Here in the States, slants exist, yes, but there’s still a level of political correctness that will come with headlines. Harry and Meghan mentioned the British press more than once during the interview, their obvious bias against her and comparing her to Kate Middleton. (Love this quote from Meghan during the interview: “…if you love me, you don’t have to hate her. And if you love her, you don’t need to hate me.”) So it’s bad everywhere, yes, but at least the depth of journalistic vitriol isn’t as immense stateside.

Why in the world didn’t Meghan Google the Royal Family before getting involved??

She stated during the interview that she didn’t want to Google her husband-to-be, and wasn’t that informed about the Royals in general before beginning a relationship with Harry. Hey, it happens. I know plenty of folks who couldn’t care less about those people, nor need to be informed about them. Of course, This Square Peg isn’t one of those people. *laughs* Starting with my beloved Princess Diana and surpassing the British royals into royals all over the world, I’ve always been fascinated by them. But where Meghan and I differ: I’m Googling you. A potential relationship, a new friend, whatever–yes, I admire that she didn’t want to be informed by someone else’s POV about her husband, but Google is Google. I still need to know some things. Anyway, it’s a valid question. Maybe learning about the history of her late MIL would have better prepared Meghan for the life she was about to begin, but I also maintain that nothing prepares a woman of color for the welcome she will or won’t receive from society. Sadly, we mostly have to live it to find out.

Wait: it was the Firm’s decision not to give Archie a title and not H&M?

And here we see how the media drives thoughts and opinions. When Archie was born and the announcement came, I and several of my friends assumed that Harry and Meghan had chosen to not give him a title and instead afford him a regular life despite being the son of a prince. Not so. Meghan shared that the Firm–the RF as a whole–decided not to give the baby a royal title. And why? Protocol, they say. But I’m pretty sure Meghan’s reveal that some members discussed how “dark” Archie would be had something to do with that decision. (Talk about the part of the interview that infuriated me more than I can even describe.) It’s just interesting, optics and media, no? Even Harry and Meghan showing the baby, not on the steps on the Lindo Wing post-birth like Kate M and Harry’s mother, but in Windsor Castle, seemed like their choice. It wasn’t. (By the way, post-birth, a photo op seems really intrusive and weird and like physically uncomfortable to look at, but yeah.) Anyway, my point: their decision to want to step back as Senior working members of the RF was warranted and completely called for.

So, Team Meghan, right?

Absolutely. From the start. (Just search Meghan on TSP and you’ll see what I mean.)

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk, folks. Happy FriYAY and bon weekend, as well.

A New Mirror.

“Are your characters white?”

I looked up at my good friend who had just posed the question and who had just read one of my stories. “Why do you ask?” I replied.

“Well, they seem white. How they speak, how they seem. I was just curious.”

I explained that I rarely thought about race in my fiction; it was why characters in my stories had brown hair or brown eyes, which anyone can have. As far as their speech, my characters were me, and spoke like me. So…

Backstory #1: I was born in West Africa, where I primarily spoke English (with a mix of Twi; I like to call it Twinglish), which obviously didn’t change when I moved to the States at the age of 8. I never had an accent. Growing up, I heard more than once that I spoke “like a white girl”, which saddened me. It was sad that perceived articulation in speech was tied to race and not simply cadence. But that’s entirely another post, which we shall discuss. Anyway, fast forward to my fiction: apparently, my characters’ diction and dialogue also shared my history with speech.

Backstory #2: in the beginning, not describing race in my fiction was actually never a concrete choice I made. I just never thought about it. When I was young and hiding in library stacks and far away from recess, the books I read certainly weren’t about girls that looked like me. Sure, many of the stories I loved provided an emotional mirror; I devoured stories about girls who weren’t popular, were lonely, sarcastic and smart, so on. But physically? No, there were very, very few tales about brown girls. Nevertheless, for me, a story was a story. When I began writing, I barely considered the physical attributes of the characters I wrote about. I was more interested in their stories. As I grew as a writer, and as a person, however, I consciously avoided describing physical attributes. The reason was the same: focus on the story, not what they look like. Me as a reader, me as a writer. I wanted my reader to share my interest in the story.

But time goes by. We grow, we evolve. And I had a writer’s epiphany one day, y’all: why wasn’t I remembering that race and ethnicity were part of these people’s worlds that I was creating? Because those things were certainly a part of mine. Which led to my next thought: why wasn’t I writing more about “what I knew”? Yes, my previous characters and creations were borne from me, but I was now nursing a new hunger to see a lot of my personal worldview in my own written fiction. Because before that, story was it and solely it. Plot, structure, etc. But now, I wanted more from myself as both a writer and subsequently, as a reader. A new mirror.

Following the epiphany, I wrote a short story about a Ghanaian woman raised in Accra, now living abroad, and her struggle with the knowledge that a potential friend she met was bleaching her skin. It was the most personal story I’d ever written. I mined my own worldview; my background, my native language, my own feelings about skin color and race. I was so proud of that story because, for the first time, the very first time, something I wrote felt authentically mine. Before, I was writing like that 9 year-old reader. Plot-driven, only narrative-focused. With that short story, I felt like I was writing like myself.

Back to the conversation with my friend: at that time, my response was what you read above and we moved on. I was slightly perplexed by the “how they speak” bit, but I’d long learned that the interpretation of my work belongs to the reader, whatever it may be. These days, I write what I feel, about people I’ve been, am, and know, and they speak however I want them to speak. One of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Adichie, said it best at a reading: as a writer, write for yourself first. Happy to say that I fully am.

Second to that, my highest hope is that a fellow brown woman finds her mirror in me.

Confessions of an Overachiever.

  1. I was always the last chosen for teams in gym class. Always isn’t an exaggeration. It would 100% be between me and a kid somehow slower than me, which was usually baffling because, yeah, I was slow, unathletic, uncoordinated, terrified, all of it.
  2. When my high school counselor gave me my Senior year final GPA, I saw the 3.0 (this is hardly a humblebrag) and where I fell in the senior class percentile–not top, not bottom, but the middle–and felt the deep twinges of disappointment.
  3. I once met a guy who asked me, three times throughout a weekend, whether we’d met before. He would look at me quizzically each time and smile unsurely, as if we hadn’t engaged in animated conversation barely an hour before, or the day before, and ask, “hey, have we met?” Before you can excuse him, keep in mind that we were part of a tour group in NYC that was sharing every moment together. So, it’s not like I went home and saw him several days later. We were always together. Yeah.
Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

From my adolescence throughout my twenties, I felt my averageness, my unmemorableness (not a word, but feel free, all yours), in the pit of my belly. I hated it. I remember vowing to my mother that in college, I’d rise above that average 3.0. I’d get on the Dean’s List, I’d snag a 4.0 and prove that I was more than some average, forgettable girl who no one wanted on their team. It mostly worked. Save for a late-stage and woeful Math credit and some other non-humanities classes that pulled the numbers down (English majors will understand), I happily found myself seeing my goals through: Dean’s List time and time again, high class standing, etc. Without a doubt, the overachieving began and flourished during those four years.

Or did the seeds begin when, as an adolescent growing into a teenager, I didn’t hear the best things coming from some family members about me? I used to condemn myself a lot (you’ll note, if you’re new to TSP, that I had to do a lot of inner work to love and respect myself; that’s why my Square Peg nature and confidence is high; I proudly march to the beat of my own drum), believing that the words some in our family used to describe me (fat, lazy, etc.) were true. My mom mentioned recently that she saw a photo of me as a teenager and I looked so sad. I didn’t respond in detail and simply said, “could be.” (I rarely discussed my lack of self-esteem and self-worth with my parents, by the way. There was a big part of me that didn’t think they’d understand. Immigrant kids may get where I’m coming from. Discussing feelings just wasn’t a thing in my household back in the day. But my mom and I had a pretty revealing conversation about all of that years ago. Freeing and cathartic.) I clearly digress. The point is perhaps those toxic descriptions of my character were forming the overachiever that would come: the obsessive need to be good, perfect, and efficient at everything in order to prove them all wrong, the unflagging desire to seem valuable.

Overachieving didn’t end in my formative years, as I mentioned. As I began my professional life in corporate America in my early 20s, it bothered me when I didn’t understand something quickly at a new job, fearing that I would seem not smart, not capable. The fear of seeming average. Adding the fact that I was a young Black woman in corporate America and undoubtedly being judged made things exponentially stressful. Those little microaggressions made their mark, believe me. (“This Square Peg, we heard you graduated college! Wow! Did you go to a four-year school?”) I constantly pushed myself to have a reputation of efficiency and silently beat myself up when I fell short of my own impossibly high standards. And some exceedingly high standards were self-made, yes, and some were absolutely not. Either way, I was emotionally toast most of the time.

I’d love to say that presently being a grown woman who’s way more self-aware and happy with herself and who understands how adolescent trauma and insecurities can lead to traits like overachieving means I’m no longer an overachiever. That wouldn’t be accurate. I work on it constantly. (This new job brought it out like crazy.) I talk about it with a trusted friend, too. I pray about it. The high that comes from being known as dependable and efficient, especially in a professional space, is the same as the low that comes when you criticize yourself unfairly because of natural imperfections. I went through that this week and I was able to express myself to said dear friend who reminded me of a few things I hope to remind you of, if this is something you go through:

  • You did a great job and you do a great job.
  • No one is 100% amazing at everything.
  • See the areas you need to improve on and realistically find ways to make improvements, remembering that you may still fall short and that’s okay!
  • Is it really a necessary improvement or camouflaging as a normal thing that will happen and out of your control? Try to see the difference.
  • Speaking of differences, there’s a significant one between overachieving/perfectionism and simply being a hard worker. The lines can blur and it helps to understand this.
  • Read this.
Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

Oh, and therapy! 2021 may be the year when I hang out with a professional. Being self-aware doesn’t replace doing some good internal work with someone who’s licensed.

Be good to yourself, okay? I’m certainly trying to.