In February 2021, I received a divination—I was told that I need to open myself to friendship and community and that, specifically, I should seek the friendship of other Black women. A close friend reminded me of this by reassuring me it would be easy for me to make new friends in Memphis, Tenn., where my wife and I decided to plant roots.
“You’re so outgoing and easy to talk to,” she said, unwittingly hitting one of my triggers and reminding me of how much I’ve changed since my days as an anthropology student in college. Back then, it was much easier to befriend people; I was in many different organizations, my filter was looser, and I wasn’t as protective of my energy as I am now. In such a context, making friends is easy.
As a little girl, I often spent hours daydreaming. I was perfectly content to reside in my mind. I was a powerful witch on an epic adventure to rescue the dragon egg from poachers deep in the mountainside. I traversed deserts, explored other planets and reveled in the glory of the journey. But even in these adventures, I was accompanied by a band of weirdos who fit so completely into my story that I never really questioned the lack of external friendships throughout my life in South Mississippi.
The Significance of Social Capital
My first authentic connections were in college. I’ve since shrunk, attempting to fit a mold that isn’t large enough to contain my dreams, wide enough to hold the depths of my desire nor stable enough to support the fullness of my voice. My spiritual path has irrevocably changed my life by shifting my worldview and making it impossible for me to accept inauthentic connections.
Additionally, social distancing has revealed the significance of social capital and made it clear that for me to have a fulfilling life in Memphis, I need to connect to its people.
Loneliness poses a severe public-health risk, especially for those of us who are LGBTQ. The Centers for Disease Control reports that social isolation significantly increases depression, anxiety and premature death across all causes. There is value in connecting via social media, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Additionally, my work in digital media makes me less interested in connecting online—I’d rather cultivate relationships in person.
The pandemic has been devastating for myriad reasons, the most difficult being lack of friendship and community. I do have close friends who live in various cities across the world: Maya has been in South Korea for the past three years, Tina just moved to California, Nic is in New Orleans, and Leann is back home in Hattiesburg.
There are others, of course, but of the few named, none is readily accessible for movie nights, dinner parties, a quick trip to the store or for those days when I just want to walk in comfortable silence with a companion. My inexplicable loneliness—after all, I am fortunate enough to be riding this pandemic out with my wife and our pets—has left a vast empty reservoir of longing within me that can only nourishing camaraderie can fill.
The diviner’s specific instruction for me to befriend Black women echoed a desire that I hadn’t quite been able to own. As I explored avenues for meeting people in Memphis, I sought safe spaces, familiarity and frankly, the unbridled shrieks of laughter that I’ve only found in the company of delighted Black women. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I no longer feel safe in predominately white spaces, a context I often find myself in as a person in an interracial relationship. It’s exhausting to pretend I am OK or that hyper-vigilance and paranoia aren’t at an all-time high.
Black Women Existing in an Anti-Black Country
The Movement for Black Lives is at the forefront of my mind. Each new instance of racial injustice and police brutality agitates the festering wound deep inside me. Other Black women share this wound and, at a glance, can grasp the fatigue I feel on days when my voice is down to a whisper. I crave connections with Black women who, like me, are seeking to heal from the trauma of existing in an anti-Black country; women who are looking back to learn from our collective ancestors and applying their knowledge to our lives; women with whom I can create a safe space, free of stereotypes, judgment and derision.
I wish that knowing who to befriend was enough. It isn’t quite that simple, though. I live my life at the intersections of my race, sexuality, gender and spiritual path. As a Black woman from South Mississippi, I’ve learned that many people have preconceived notions about who I am. When I fall short of those presumptions, they react in often bizarre, sometimes offensive ways.
As a lesbian, life taught me to be cautious about how much of myself I’m willing to share with people. I make it a point to be cognizant of everyone’s worldview and whether or not it will cause undue harm to my loved ones and myself. As a person who walks a traditionally African spiritual path, religious intolerance cannot take up space in my life. When I befriend someone, it’s with intention and careful consideration.
Most of my time in Memphis has been spent working at a small local creative agency, which allowed me to put a bandage over the gaping hole in my life. After leaving, I found myself bereft of local connections. I became an outsider looking in at the people around me, their ties to this amazing city, its history and one another. Black communities in Memphis are cautious, with good reason, when welcoming unknown faces into their circles.
On multiple occasions, Memphis police were found to be illegally spying on Black reporters and activists. Having their agency stripped thus has bred distrust and created close-knit communities that are very protective of their privacy. I understand and respect that. ATR (African Traditional Religions) communities are very private and secretive. It protects our traditions from culture vultures and snake-oil salesmen who would profit from our spiritual inheritances. I’ve only met a few practitioners online and one Ifá practitioner at a public event. It’s inconceivable that I will be able to attend any events soon due to the pandemic.
Still, friendship is essential to our emotional well-being so what are those of us who desire connections and community during a pandemic to do? Participate in conversations of interest on Clubhouse? “Love” another Facebook post? Re-watch episodes of “Lovecraft Country” again because it makes us feel seen?
I’ve taken the initiative of making a strategic post-pandemic plan to obtain deeper connections with like-minded Black women. It contains many different possibilities like attending yoga classes with Black women as the instructors. Or inviting those few ATR-affiliated Memphians that I’ve connected with online to my house for a movie night. I can volunteer my time and skills to progressive local organizations that focus on uplifting Black women. I’ll do my best to find and integrate myself into communities of writers, thinkers and doers and, in doing so, step out of the mold that our society has set for me.
The diviner was right. It’s time to unfold myself to allow for community, new connections and to create the context which engenders friendships that, as writer Anaïs Nin wrote, open a new world in me—a world of adventure that elicits joy, companionship and the fulfillment of connectivity.
This essay is part of the “Equity and Resilience: The Impact of COVID-19 on Mississippi’s Black Women” reporting collaboration between the Mississippi Free Press and the Jackson Advocate, supported by the Solutions Journalism Network. Please write email@example.com to submit MFP Voices essays or to join upcoming virtual solutions circles.
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