Why I Refuse to Let the Weight of Oppression Steal My Joy

by Felice León

“By the mere fact that you are living in this world, you have the obligation, and the duty to make it a better place.” Said my mother in our most recent debate. She had an authoritative, “let me school you” tone that Black women of a certain age often take on. Think Clair Huxtable meets Iyanla Vanzant. “But I owe the world nothing; I’m not indebted,” I said, trying to get a word-in. My mother shook her head in disagreement. “There is a reason that you were born on earth, in this space, at this time. It’s a privilege. Being positive is the least that you can do.” By nature I’m a positive person and often refer to myself as a buoyant optimist, so I get the importance of being positive. The point of contention here was whether I owe the world my positivity. Whether or not I have a debt to this world. I grumbled, rolled my eyes and attempted to think of a comeback filled with $100 words. No dice.

I sat with her response for a while. Now, I realize that Mom was absolutely right – It is a privilege to be alive in this world; I am in debt.

I choose to exist as a positive being of light. This will be my mantra. Furthermore, I believe in karma. Or, as Sir Isaac Newton put it, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What I emanate to the world, in my writings, thoughts and actions, is what the universe sends back. It’s like a ripple effect, ya know?

Some of my friends think that I’m hokey, a Black flower child. It’s all good. I’ll continue to encourage children by reminding them of their awesomeness, engage little old ladies in conversation and cheer on complete strangers by yelling “YOU BETTA RUN” during marathons (I embarrassed my friends, but the runners got a kick out of it. Most importantly, they kept on running). To some extent, I feel that it is my responsibility to bring positivity to the world – it is practically a form of service.

As a journalist, I feel equally responsible to my audience and to the voiceless. The key is balance.

I am aware of what’s going on in the world, but I don’t allow myself to be totally consumed by the headlines. I often take opportunities to unplug. I divorce myself from the news because constant consumption can desensitize the individual. Or, conversely, it can be maddening. Recently, I found myself discussing the vilification of people of color in the media with a friend. The conversation became heated. From ISIS, to domestic violence in the NFL and Ebola – the narrative has been, these people will kill you, beat their wives and bring disease to your country, respectively. These sorts of messages are constantly being affirmed, and essentially, chiseled in the psyche of Americans. It is so easy to be resentful about how people of color are portrayed, but I will not allow this ignorance to make me a rancid journalist. That’s not how I live my life.

Injustice is a weight on the soul – heavy and oppressive. I’m sure that if Trayvon, Eric and Michael were alive today, they would agree. Still it exists in our world, and we can’t run away from it. What’s the solution? As a Black woman in the world, do I solely focus on the negative news that calls for social justice and equality? I can’t. Yet, so long as unarmed young men are being slaughtered by for law enforcement, there must be an opposing force to cauterize these atrocities, this darkness in the world. Indeed, there is work to be done. Bringing positivity to the world is but one way that I will repay my debt.

Touché, Mom, touché.

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Felice León is a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and freelance journalist from New York. You can follow her on Twitter @RTSWFL.

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