No More Apologies
If you’ve been paying attention to my Twitter feed over the last few months, you might have noticed my newfound obsession with the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
It’s funny, because when a certain feminist friend (who brought up feminism about as much as a vegan brings up veganism) handed me her book We Should All Be Feminists, I turned my nose up at it. Something about the “should” of it all irked me. Don’t tell me I should adopt an entire worldview based on a half-inch-thick essay, kid. You don’t know me like that.
I actually ended up giving the book back unread only to circle back around to it after finishing Adichie’s novel, Americanah—which was literally life-changing.
Even more affecting than her words, however, is Adichie’s breathtaking presence during interviews. The smooth, even planes of her chestnut-hued skin boast a simple but elegant smattering of makeup. Her frame is womanly, draped, usually, in a brightly-colored dress that hints at her Nigerian heritage. She has long, thick, coarse hair that is always coiled atop her head like an unapologetic crown.
In fact, everything about her is unapologetic. She shares her opinions in a simple, straightforward way. She doesn’t offer a host of caveats. She is not defensive. She says what she means, plainly, the first time, and leaves little room for misinterpretation. She has overcome the knack I still struggle with, of feeling as though her presence on this earth is an imposition that requires an apology.
I have always been a timid person, which surprises people all the time. I think part of it is because I don’t have a timid presence. I’m a five-foot-eight-inch black woman with an afro that adds six inches of coily halo around my head. I sport a nose ring and am not above topping my look off with bright red lipstick. I have always come off as an extrovert, even though I’m painfully introverted. On the surface, I’m the girl with a million friends when in reality I have only a handful.
I couldn’t order food at restaurants until I was fourteen; and even then, my mother forced me. I got my first job because she found it online and drove me to my first interview, which she had to do because I still wasn’t driving myself at twenty years old. My dad had to talk me into pursuing a college degree because I was scared.
Literally. Just scared. I’ve been scared my whole life. Of the dark, of strangers, of new experiences, of being seen.
And when I was a young girl, I found a version of womanhood that allowed me to dig deep into that fear. It prized timidity as a virtue; told me new things were a dangerous tool of the enemy to draw my heart away from my home; made my apologetic presence in this world a direct result of the fact that I’m not quite as valuable in God’s economy as my male counterparts.
I became an apologist for this lifestyle. It fit well with my constant apologies for taking up space.
Owning Up and Owning Space
For me, marriage was the wakeup call I needed.
I had spent my late teens and early twenties subscribed to a philosophy called “stay-at-home-daughterhood.” It placed no value in training girls for college and careers because they’d eventually have to give them up to focus on marriage and family. Already leaning in to the ease of timidity, I decided to spend my single years learning how to be the ideal stay-at-home wife and mom.
It sounds ridiculous to me now, mostly because I realized soon after my wedding day that being Phillip’s wife had more to do with the character I had developed during singleness than my practical skills. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I had extra time at home with my family and learned how to juggle life with my seven littlest siblings. They were one to ten when I left home, and I wouldn’t trade that time or the experience with them for anything. But I often wonder if I could have been a vital part of their life while developing a bit more independence. What came far less easily was learning how to speak up when he wanted my perspective, how to make decisions for our family without feeling paralyzed, and how to be the full person my husband chose rather than the caricature I thought he wanted.
I hemmed and hawed for three years of marriage, refusing to own up to my skewed perspectives on femininity. But as I round the plate into year four, I’m okay with admitting it: I was a timid little girl capitalizing on a worldview that allowed me to stagnate in timid little girl land instead of calling me to mature womanhood.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I could not have more different pasts, especially if Americanah is any indication. I never would have had the courage to move to a different country for college.
But, like her main character Ifemelu, I too launched a blog to chronicle my (albeit less entertaining and hard-hitting) journey as a young black woman in America. Like Ifemelu, I made mistakes. I wasn’t always likeable. I was not always right. But I was forced to reconcile who I really was with how I wanted to present myself to the world. Like her, I was unveiled again and again and again.
And I think that’s the source of Adichie’s unapologetic stance. It grows not from having always gotten it right. In fact, I think she’s wrong on many fronts, and she’d feel the same way about me. But it comes from having failed and growing from those mistakes—again, and again, and again.
I’m sure some people are born unapologetic. But I’m not. And I suspect Adichie wasn’t either. But I’m growing into it.
That’s what I want for so many of us.
I don’t mean that we should brazenly push through the world like bulls in a china shop. I’m talking about a quiet confidence that comes from knowing who you are: a daughter of the Most High King. Loved. Cherished. Woman. On purpose.
I don’t want you to take the easy way out of learning and growing in Christ. I don’t want you to use womanhood as an excuse that keeps you from rooting your identity fully in him. Not in marriage or children or home (though those are all wonderful things), but in his death and resurrection.
There are places where I will compromise. Just last week, we talked about gray areas. But I will never compromise on the truth that I am unapologetically loved by a savior who chose me. I don’t want to apologize for taking up space, because he made me to fill the space I’m in.
His word holds what is required of me—nothing more than that. And certainly nothing less. He requires more from me than my comfort zone and expects me to question the world’s definition of who I’m called to be in him. It’s in his word that our confidence is rooted. And I’m so excited to start digging into that with you here. His word has the final say on my womanhood.
And I’m learning to be as unapologetic about that truth as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is about almost everything else.