“Focus on your truth, focus on your message, focus on you.”
(Eggurue, ‘What A Time To Be Alone’)
By Erin Stott
Flowering from feminist roots and unapologetic black pride, The Slumflower’s manifesto for self love guides us: on how to take charge of our lives and relationships; how to stay true to ourselves; and how we can realistically – and practically – create peace in our mindsets and lives. ‘What A Time To Be Alone’ depicts the value and the need of putting ourselves first by detaching from the negativity of others and going forward, strong with self love, to more positive attitudes and relationships.
“Learn how to celebrate YOU
Don’t worry about THEM
Feel the togetherness in US”
(Eggerue, ‘What A Time To Be Alone’)
We live in a world where the nuances of feminism, Black Lives Matter and mental health discussions are often cast by mainstream media in the inaccurate concrete of negative adjectives such as “hysteria” or “irrelevant”. We all remember the media perpetuation of Serena Williams as the hysterical black woman archetype.‘What A Time To Be Alone’ is a rose blooming in resistance to this toxic narrative. Punctuated with Igbo proverbs passed down from Eggerue’s mother, Slumflower is unapologetic in exploring the implications of race and gender identity around our perceptions of ourselves and others:
“As a white person, make room to listen to the experiences of people who do not have your privilege. Do not speak over them. Do not tell them how to deal with an experience you literally know nothing of – if a strawberry is complaining about losing seeds and you are a lemon, it is not your place to tell the strawberry how to deal with their seed loss.”
(Eggerue, ‘What A Time To Be Alone’)
This passage was particularly powerful in voicing the same “check your privilege” we found in Edugyan’s ‘Washington Black’ from the October box. And one of the many beauties of ‘What A Time To Be Alone’ is exactly this ability to bring concepts to clarity, combining direct instruction on how to use privilege for good with poetic metaphor. Privilege and oppression are so often long-standing and powerful that, though we can identify them as problematic, dismantling that problem is a scary mission to undertake. But the eloquent clarity of people such as Eggerue and Edugyan is needed more than ever, and is especially inspirational as we look at this month’s theme of self care.
“Fill your own cup and let it overflow onto others.”
Self care is an umbrella term for all the behaviours we practice in order to look after ourselves: some by necessity – health care, period products, meals; and some by luxury – reading for pleasure, facemasks, holidays. Self care encompasses a huge range of actions, and is specific to an individual’s wants, needs, liberties and limiting factors. Self care is personal. But our personal is bound and blurred with our political, and that which is a personal practice of self-worth is too-often bound and blurred with our societal worth.
Whether it is the bathroom we choose to use, the way we style our hair or the people we fall in love with, that which certainly is personal has become political because there are societal factors acting upon personal freedoms. How I choose to wear my hair *should* be my personal choice, and yet its natural state or protective hairstyles have been called untidy and unprofessional by people and institutions who would see my curls tamed. When I sit and take the time to properly nourish and care for my hair, I am making a decision. The decision to honor myself in my natural state; to honor my heritage and the hair I share with my family; to honor my belief. I believe in my agency to assert my freedom and reject that which would ask me to conform to a standard that is not inclusive.
“Don’t touch my hair, When it’s the feelings I wear.
Don’t touch my soul, When it’s the rhythm I know.
Don’t touch my crown, They say the vision I’ve found.
Don’t touch what’s there, When it’s the feelings I wear.”
(Solange Knowles, @saintrecords)
Solange expressed it beautifully in her interview with Evening Standard, when she said afro hair braiding is an “act of beauty, an act of convenience and an act of tradition – its own art form”. Notably this was the very same interview where the editors of Evening Standard Magazine decided to remove large portions of Solange’s braids from her head for the magazine’s cover. The point is, whether being called unprofessional or straight up being erased, afro hair has been rejected, shamed and ‘shopped from mainstream narratives for so long that to unapologetically promote and praise it has become an act of resistance.
So too is all self care political because, to greater and lesser extents and in several ways, it is resistance and antidote to oppressive misconceptions and falsities: stereotypical femininity or just general “me-time” is seen as weak, mental health days or natural hair are considered unprofessional, dressing provocatively or speaking languages other than English are called uncivilised. Of course, this is all complete nonsense: what progress is actually made by asserting these views? I would argue none. In its many forms, massage, “me-time”, mental health days, mindfulness practice, mother-tongue or magnificently immodest clothing, self care is about taking care of the self and rejecting the confines that anything would place upon that self.
“It is important to know you have worth even when you’re alone, you don’t need to rely on another person to give you that reminder because you know within yourself.” (@brcebanner_)
Now, a note: there is a distinction between self love and self care, though the two are related. Self care is the action, self love is the feeling, and the two do not always go hand in hand. It is possible to love yourself totally without having the time, money or resources to deeply explore self care. And indeed it is possible to perform acts that care for the body without reinforcing love for the self. In fact, some acts of self care have been criticised by feminists past and present for upholding patriarchal values of beauty – acts such as choosing to shave our legs or maintain a certain style. However, the problem with these acts of self care is not the act itself, but the misappropriation of meaning in the act. When we maintain a healthy diet because too much of whatever will make our body unloveable, it is firstly: false. Secondly, it is a misdirection of worth. When we maintain a healthy diet because it gives us the energy to do more of the things we love doing, and makes our body feel good inside because our bodies are worthy of feeling good in every way, this is a positive combination of self love and care.
Understandably, the misdirection of intention in many acts of self care has brought some concerns to self care: am I keeping up a certain style for someone else rather than myself? Surely only those with the liberty of time and money can afford a skin care routine? Even when fulfilling necessary self care, might I still be treated with prejudice? (I’m talking about how black people and especially black women are undertreated and taken less seriously than their white counterparts when seeking healthcare). And, I think, most strangely of all, by buying some “self care products” am I not being sold back my pain by industries that helped perpetuate it in the first place? I imagine all of you reading this will already know how toxic the beauty industry, for example, can be.
The recent surges of self care can feel inaccessible and exclusive. But here’s another note: no industry should dictate what your personal self care looks like. Your self care can be as industry free as taking a deep breath of fresh air or enjoying a hot drink. Self care can be as simple as going about your regular routine, only mindful during the “mundane”: gratitude for a hot shower in the morning, appreciation for a meal. (Hopeful-lotus’ http://hopeful-lotus.com/2018/06/inclusive-self-care-ideas/ blog has some accesible self care ideas thoughtfully organised.) Earlier I wrote that self care is as personal as the individual performing it, and whilst it can be fun to share some elements of self care with others, it is ultimately your own. This is where Slumflower is coming from when she states: “What a time to be alone.” What a time to focus on ourselves, what a time to release anxiety over the behaviours of others – they are beyond our control, what a time to get comfortable and at peace with ourselves when we’re alone.
“Because one thing is for sure: you are the person you will spend the most time with in your life.”
‘What A Time To Be Alone’ is a beautiful, bold, concise reminder and action plan for loving yourself first, avoiding projecting negativity and spotting when negativity is being projected onto you. And the best part is, “What a time” really refers to all the time – it is always the right time to love yourself.