Last week, February gifted me surprise temperatures in the 60’s plus sunshine. Now, I’m not one to hate shoes. But, after months in confining boots, my feet begged for freedom. So, I had to go for a barefoot stroll. I mean, it was my civic duty. During this walk, though, an experience triggered a question in me. Are barefooting and clothes free living things black women do?
an awakening stroll
During my walk, I passed by a woman resting on a stoop twirling a cigarette in her fingers. Like me, she was black. As I passed, she gave me the weirdest look. You know, the up and down with twisted face. Perhaps she thought me crazy for not wearing shoes. But, even more, I wondered if she thought me crazy for doing something black people don’t normally do. Well, at least that might be the assumption.
As I continued my walk, I recalled a podcast episode I heard sometime ago. Two black women hosting the show talked with a black woman guest in New York City. The guest shared about how much she loves walking barefoot. And my goodness, the hosts could not believe it. They truly thought that was something only white people did. I wish I could remember which episode, but my memory escapes me. At any rate, that moment in the conversation stayed with me. And it resurfaced last week when I walked by the woman.
remembering our rights
This also brought me back to an experience last year. Gingerbread and I joined Paulette Leaphart in Washington, DC as she finished her 1,000-mile walk. Ms. Paulette, an amazing breast cancer survivor, walked all the way from Biloxi, Mississippi to Washington, DC bare-chested. Gingerbread and I decided to join by walking bare-chested as well. It was interesting to me, because there were many black women at this march. And they saw us and asked if it was actually legal to do this. Ms. Paulette had the same question. Gingerbread confirmed that our bare chests were legal in DC since 30 years ago. Ms. Paulette turned to the other women and exclaimed, “Do you hear that? We’ve been free for 30 years!”
Most women in the crowd expressed shocked. But then, there was also a sense of joy. This was our right, our legal right. Another young black woman, also a cancer survivor, confirmed that knowledge. She walked bare-chested as well. And all of this was so powerful for me to experience. In that moment, we walked our rights. We, black women, walked bare-chested together in Washington, DC.
You know, there is not a ton of appreciation for black women. Sure, some make surface comments about our bodies. But, even then, though, rather than appreciate black women’s bodies, they appreciate Kim Kardashian’s curves. And instead of celebrating our hairstyles, they promote non-black celebrities that sport “boxer braids” (cornrows) and locs. So, in society generally, people don’t really think of or credit us. Take wellness, for instance. People generally associate wellness with whiteness. Check the magazines, web ads and product promotions. Right? They also don’t think of us when they think “good”. Or naturism.
In contexts where society celebrates our features on other bodies but not ours, we don’t feel a sense of ownership. Even if we have rights, we don’t experience our rights, because we don’t experience existence. We don’t feel appreciated and we don’t feel like we belong. I mean, I felt this even with other feminist / women’s issues. Nobody cared to march for our rights until Hillary Clinton lost the election. Then, suddenly, women’s rights became a big deal. And people wanted black women to join in on the noise-making. But, my rape happened during the Obama years. It’s just that nobody cared then.
We are invisible, actually. And it takes a lot of work to remember who we are, what is ours and to celebrate it. To live it.
This is why the Black History Month features by EarlD become so important. Last year’s series included:
And this year, EarlD kicked off the series with decolonizing naturism: beyond eurocentrism.
These are extremely important, because the way folks generally frame naturism strips others of a sense of ownership. And believe me, people of color feel this deeply. In fact, there are many black women on Instagram who engage in clothes freedom. However, time and again, people overlook them. Nude Yoga Girl received so much attention even though black women with public accounts shared naked yoga years prior. And black people keep sharing and posting, but for some reason, people don’t see us.
Other people of color share their stories here and there. But their stories and histories still receive few retweets, commentary or attention. There is truly a feeling that our stories do not matter. That naturism, like many other things in society, does not belong to us.
But the truth is, this is actually our history, too. This is where we began. Somewhere along the way, through violence and change, it disappeared. People took it, destroyed it, re-birthed it and reclaimed it. But the truth is, it is also ours to own. It is ours to live.
is this something we do?
As I walked by that woman, barefoot in my dress, that very question arose in me. Is this something we do? Black women/people, people of color, is clothes free living something we do? Perhaps it looks foreign to some in current contexts, given histories of violence and separation. But, it is something to which we can return, if we want. It is something we can do.
I am a black woman, and this is something I do.
I walk barefoot and I live clothes free.
It is mine.