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My History, My Valentine

Diamond Raymond, Program Assistant

Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Black History Month! Those words still feel a bit awkward to say at this point in my life but I’m proud that today, I can say them with a genuine smile. For much of my childhood and youth, I avoided these holidays and consistently found myself in tension with them both. Many women struggle with insecurities throughout their life; I, however, found myself completely incapable of being desirable. My skin too dark to be loved, my hair too rebellious to be appreciated, my hefty curves a burden, and my brown eyes too muddy to shine that brilliant light I found in so many others. Needless to say, I found the yearly occurrence of Valentine’s Day to be excruciating.

Black History Month plagued me in the same and different ways. Growing up in a mostly white and Latino community, I never quite believed I was black enough to be included in any black narrative, but for the entire month of February, I could look forward to a black narrative and stereotype being all that my peers could see in me. I could look forward to my lily white playmates apologizing to me for slavery, asking me intrusive questions about how I felt about being black and trying to touch my hair as if it were the first time they had ever seen it. Remarking that the twist my mother had so lovingly wound my hair in and decorated with vibrant berets and knock knocks looked to them like the cotton that grew in fields. The cotton they had only ever seen in the same black and white picture that was in every history book next to a sentence that sounded something like “Once upon a time, slave labor was used process cotton, it was necessary economic evil…” In short, for much of my life, February has been a month littered with holidays that made me feel the worst about myself.

As an adult, I have worked hard to change that. These days I find myself getting more and more excited about February coming around. It has become the time of year that I allow myself to love on myself not only unapologetically but publicly. Every year I learn a little better how to appreciate my revolutionary hair and melted chocolate brown eyes. I spend the month marveling at the richness of my history and search for it everywhere. As a black woman, being my own Valentine has been essential! Every year I unpack and separate myself from so many myths I’ve internalized that led me to believe black women were unlovable. With help from the incredible black women in my life, like my mother, my best friend, aunties, neighbors, and even my favorite store clerks, I find joy and appreciation for our Black womanhood. Watching them survive, thrive, and resist every day is like witnessing creation. Even when tragedy strikes our community and loved ones known and unknown to us are lost, I have watched these women build and carry the most fatigued of us with them. They spread hope, tough love, and invaluable lessons. With their strength and flare they have healed old wounds in me.

This year I worked on an art project that brings me so much joy when I look at it. It is my Valentine to Black womanhood. I made it to remind myself always of our beauty and grace. Every heart, flower, and butterfly in the hair of the portrait is a symbol for the strong black women who raised me and continue to be an inspiration. In their grace, strength, rhythm, and soul, they are so magical to me and are forever my Valentine.