How Amandla Stenberg Inspired Me to Take Up More Space

by Aurielle Marie

It’s 6 p.m. in Olympia, WA, and I am settling into myself in this new space. Your girl is struggling. (Can we say culture shock?) I moved to the pacific north-west after three years of community organizing, both in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and as a teaching artist and poet. I moved here, to find new ways to advocate for the communities that I love. Communities that are erased, attacked, and silenced in ways that threaten our lives everyday. I moved with confidence. Yet here I am, in this space, waiting for affirmation that this was the right move. It’s been a month and to celebrate I'm cooking healthy shit in this new kitchen I keep having to remind myself belongs to me.

If you know me, you know that I stan for little else other than Beyoncé and avocados. But I've been going UP for Amandla Stenburg lately. Have you seen this girl and her magic? Have you heard the gospel? Are you not amazed?! She's been dubbed Feminist of the Year by Teen Vogue, and I'm LIVING for the article that Solange Knowles so intentionally penned in January about Amandla's resistance against white supremacy, her fervent advocacy for black girls and Our Hair, and the magical way challenging white celebrities on their anti-blackness has opened up dialogue with our faves about the value of black life in pop-culture. While the entire interview is straight flames, check out what quote moved me to tears (literally) during the interview:

AMANDLA: I often find myself in situations where I am the token black person. It can feel like this enormous weight. I have definitely had moments when my hair felt too big or like I needed to make myself...

SOLANGE: Smaller.

AMANDLA: Exactly. Smaller and easier to digest. And that’s still something that I struggle with now, you know?


Can we just take a second to praise the ancestors for Amandla, and for "all power" belonging to her? It’s my first month here in Olympia, and I've never felt the weight of my black femme energy so strongly in any other city like I do here. It’s a silent hesitance that snakes its way between all of the moments shaping my experience. The small stutter just before their hello, when I introduce myself as a student to white people. The almost unperceivable frowns of confusion when I walk down an aisle at the Safeway. The shoulder that tensed ever-so-slightly as I passed a woman and her children at the bus stop. Being a big, loud, black girl in an incredibly small, white space is an exhausting endeavor. I've been tired all week, without the language to explain where my energy has vanished. The air here has a way of pushing up against your side, fighting against your gait, almost convincing you to pull your hair closer to the ground or wear less color or speak less loud, less often, from the back of the classroom.

My girlfriend felt my despair, the other day, and reminded me of one of my favorite quotes. "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you."

Now, in the context of anti-blackness, it seems too easy to say "Be Yourself" in a world where my perception of myself is constantly the refracted image at the bottom of a disturbed pool. But yes, let us black girls choose to be ourselves. Is "being" not an act of political resistance? Isn't it true that existing in this space that was never meant to hold my body or echo my words, in fact shaking the constructs of the supremacy which it was built upon? I think I can answer yes. Even in these moments, when I wait for the bus, with my shoulders hunched, I think I can answer yes.

I leave you with an excerpt of my essay from my first week back in school, entitled On Freedom and Visibility, where I told all these white folks in the room exactly how this learning environment business was going to go down:

"I am a black, queer woman who navigates through this world at the intersections of racial, class, and gender inequity. While it is true that throughout my life I wish to be a tool that helps shape a world where inequality is no longer status quo, I don’t believe I owe this world all of me. Right now, I'm simply a black girl yearning to survive in a world that fervently seeks to destroy me and my magic. White supremacy, anti-blackness, and anti-queer ideology have marginalized the communities I call home since this country was founded, and continue to inact violence in every way that we interact with the system. We, who are poor, who are woman, who are queer or trans, who are exceptionally fat/thick/curvy/round, we who are not white, we experience life through tinted goggles. Further, freedom has never been offered to we who sit dangerously at the intersection of these identities.

The hurdles are high, the hills are higher, and still we are told that the world is a peaceful place where all can sit at the table. In this world, I am taught to deny myself, to limit my full capacity in order to make patriarchy and white supremacy comfortable. I challenge this truth, and dedicate my journey to unlearning the behaviors that benefit whiteness by limiting the size of my presence. I believe that here, my value is not in how well I can fit in and make dominant (white) culture comfortable, rather, my value is linked to how different I am, how my presence and visibility make the dominant culture here uncomfortable, how my ability to speak up and aloud disturbs the surface of the pool. What can I bring? Why, my full self. In every capacity. No matter the discomfort. We will learn and love and grow together. We will challenge the constructs of our conditioning. It will be a revolution of sorts.

Photo: DFree /

Aurielle Marie is an Atlanta-born spoken word artist and pro-black feminist who identifies as Femme, Queer, and Radical. Her work moves fluidly from the streets to the stage, in resistance of anti-black state violence through her works as a poet and a community organizer. She's currently: addicted to matte lipstick, dissecting Drake lyrics, and trying to adjust to life in Olympia, Washington.

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