I Can't Breathe: To be Fat and Black

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Illustration by Emilie Farrugia

 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 8:20pm

I felt like when people talked about people who looked like me, they were talking about villains. They were talking about criminals. They were talking about burdens and deadweight. They were talking about deviants. After a certain point, I got confused if people were talking about my Blackness or my fatness. They started to blur.

Growing up being Black at a primarily white school, I navigated the associations, stereotypes and deeply ingrained biases and ignorance of my classmates, my instructors, the media, society and myself. I had been taught from an early age that to be successful meant to be different (read: not ‘Black). I was taught that being Black in white spaces was unprofessional and unbecoming. I needed to have more respect for myself and being Blackmeant that you didn’t.

Despite the reality of being Black, I was constantly navigating how to present myself in white spaces. This meant regulating my linguistic capabilities, dampening my cultural connections and distinguishing myself as the otherwith the otherin terms of my Blackness. It meant that my efforts to assimilate to whiteness, whether conscious or unconscious, had a direct impact on my place within the Black community and influenced my authenticity within Blackness. While at the same time, the realness of being Black was on my mind as I constantly examined the ways it contrasted to whiteness and worked to erase them. My Blackness was doubted by everyone and without my Blackness, I was left to cling to the only thing I knew: that success meant being as white as I could.

They know that my body is not my own, but theirs. Every moment of every day, people stare, they gawk. They clutch their purses. They cross the street. They leave me alone my bus seat. They avoid my gaze. I am under their surveillance. They pretend I don’t exist. They make me smaller, erase me, erase my Blackness, even as I erase, lose pieces… pounds of myself.

The message was simple: Hate yourself.

In a society that does its best to capitalize on fat bodies and Black bodies, why are Black skin and fat figures thought to be so worthless?

Fatness is the thing we love to hate, but hate to love. It is the imagined vessel of indulgence and shame. It is the canvas where the thin erase their insecurities and paint blame and ridicule. Being fat meant constantly doubting my abilities because fatness is seen solely as a burden. A burden, most often, carried in silence by those who bear it. Don’t have fat friends, fat partners or fat children because they only make you look worse. Growing up, I was taught not to love my body, but instead, I was met with militant, cruel and insistent ridicule. And those who do love people who are fat often use their love as a means of conveying the same message, because they were taught that to unconditionally love someone in their fatness, was not to love them at all, but to let them suffer. Fatness is thought to be a physical, social and moral disease. Fat people aren’t people at all, they simply the manifestation of a ‘problem.’ You don’t get access to your full humanity and autonomy when you are fat. You become the recipient of everyone’s expectations and their criticism. You lose control of yourself, because you realize that you were never meant to have it.

LOSE IT. YOU CAN DO IT. LOSE THE WEIGHT. LOSE YOUR HUMANITY. YOU ARE NOTHING. YOUR BODY IS EVERYTHING. YOUR FATNESS IS A LIMITATION. YOUR BLACKNESS IS A LIMITATION.

All you need to do is:

Hurt.

Be articulate.

Worry.

Count Your Calories.

Doubt Yourself.

Be Silent.

Hide yourself.

Black is Slimming.

Watch what you eat.

Watch what you say.

Watch how you dress.

Trying to figure out how to value your body for just existing.

Needing to figure out how to value your body for just existing. 

Being fat means feeling unjustified.

Being Black means feeling unjustified.

Being fat means feeling unworthy.

Being Black means feeling unworthy.

Of investment. Of love. Of life.

Being Black means constantly having to navigate being unwanted and erased in spaces.

Being fat means constantly having to navigate being unwanted and erased in spaces.

Being Black means being in the way. Occupying space. Unnecessary. An excess.

Being fat means being in the way. All the time. 

I was taught from a young age that my body was bad and that I needed to change to be better.

I was taught from a young age that my race was bad and I needed to change to be better.

I was taught that my body was a reflection of the person I was.

I was taught that my race was a reflection of the person I was.

I was responsible for being fat.

I was responsible for being Black.

To be fat is to be guilty.

To be Black is to be guilty.

My mind frequently wanders to Eric Garner.

Fatness tied as a noose for the destruction of Blackness.

“If I ever get that fat, please kill me.” - A random stranger in conversation with her friend as they walk passed me.

“You are killing yourself,” my grandfather once said, encouraging me to lose weight.

“Black-on-Black” crime.

To be fat is to die.

To be Black is to die.

You start to internalize these messages. They become a part of you until you wake up one day and realize that you have to actively fight against your own thoughts to love yourself. You have to redefine and reshape the definition of love and worth to face the world. You realize that you have to re-focus the gazes, the stares, the condemnations to messages of ignorance, the result of a system of oppression that was never meant to value your existence. You realize that to exist unapologetically is revolution (Thank you Lorde).

Fatness and Blackness.

Fat Blackness.

Black Fatness.

They are frameworks for the world. They are filters and pigments creating a kaleidoscope of experiences. Fatness and Blackness make us challenge the way we were taught to value and love life. My experiences as both a Black person and a fat person continue to shape the way I see the world. They have given me a capacity to love that is more than a finite measure of the color of my skin or the circumference of a waistline. They have made me aware of the ways in which we continue to marginalize and wound those around us. Wound ourselves.

How do you justify violence?

In the name of health?

In the name of love?

In the name of respectability?

Who determines the value of life?

What authority do you have?

Who gave it to you?

Because I didn’t.

I won’t.