[This was first written for and published on Women’s Republic.]
It’s been a while (two-ish years?) since I last wrote for Women’s Republic and during that time, a lot has changed in my life. Some good, some bad. Most of all, I, for the first time ever really, properly experienced what Brown Girl Guilt really is. I met and fell in love with a white man which completely goes against my family’s hopes, dreams and expectations of me as their only child, and being a daughter at that. I have felt this Brown Girl Guilt coursing through my veins, invading every thought, every moment I spent challenging their views and traditions.
Growing up, I’d succumbed to the path already paved for me, but the older I got, the more I learned and unlearned, I realised that at the end of the day this is my life, and whilst I may be feeling this overwhelming guilt settling over me like a dark storm, lightning and thunder shattering through the moments of bliss with the man I love, with every decision I make for myself that disobeys the commandments ascribed by elders from decades ago, I need to choose myself, always.
A while ago (I think a few days?) my mum told me that certain family members were telling her about the blog posts I wrote on my site, where I wrote about what I was learning dating a white man, my journey on self-love, brown girl guilt, my periods, sex, amongst other things, and about the poetry books I’d self-published. Due to their unapologetically honest nature, she told me to take it all down, remove everything. my writing, from the internet, because people we know, and people we don’t know, could find it, read about my life and judge me and them.
Whilst I see where she is coming from, I know exactly what people will find. Type my name into Google and a few pictures of me, and my boyfriend, show up, as well as my poetry collections and past articles I’ve written for Women’s Republic and The Opinion Panel.
I am well aware that the content I put out onto the internet will remain there forever, I haven’t gone into this blind. Writing, for me, is therapeutic; where I can’t express myself or my thoughts verbally, a problem I need to be able to work in order to better my communication skills, I am able to do so via writing.
The things I’ve written about, my trauma, my heartbreaks, falling in love again, sex, my periods and the issues with it, the wavering journey with religion, are all important topics I published online so other people, other brown women, could read and relate and know they’re not alone. It’s not a matter of seeking attention and trying to ‘bring shame upon my family,’ but because Brown Girl Guilt is a horrible, debilitating experience that sucks out our energy, our strength, our ability to live our lives wholly, wholeheartedly, happily. Guilt-free.
We’re constantly made to look over our shoulder in fear of what the brown community and ‘aunties’ will say, because that is the idea our parents have instilled in us from birth; before everything, we are meant to think about the impact it will have on our izzat, on our family’s reputation. Never mind the affect it has on our mental health and our happiness–as long as our family’s name is intact and our father’s name is not tarnished and dragged through mud because of our actions or choices, it’s all fine.
On my Instagram, after changing the handle to @browngirlguilt I posted a picture of myself in a yellow low-cut, cold shoulder top. I, at first, attempted to completely erase myself from my blog, even going as far as creating a new site under my name, listing only that I am a writer and the articles I’ve written on here and on The Opinion Panel. Wanting to hide my identity on Brown Girl Guilt was so I could, after a year of signing off each of my posts with my name, become anonymous.
I discussed this new anonymity with J and my friend, Sam–I even took down my books from Amazon. But after much deliberating over this decision, and then my mum calling me to tell me not to “dress revealing” outside (meaning someone in my family is still preeing my life online and posts–honestly do they have nothing better to do with their time?), I decided – screw it.
I put my poetry books back up on Amazon. Whoever it is must be following me under a fake name, and keeping tabs on everything I put up and is snitching, despite being in their mid-30s with a spouse and children. A bit weird and childish. But I won’t allow this pathetic behaviour to affect my choices and my writing. So my name is Sumaiya Ahmed and I am the proud owner of Brown Girl Guilt and founder of Poised, which will be launching in September 2020 and is an online platform for womxn and the LGBT+ community to write and create art, whether its through photos or illustrations.
I write about relationships, sex, pieces to challenge the stigma surrounding our bodies, our choices, love, sexuality, our very existence. I write to break taboos and create conversations, to speak against the age-old traditions of “what will people say?” and putting izzat before everything.
I will be keeping my official website separate from my blog, as I do feel it looks a little more professional that way–and my blog is, and will be, linked on my actual site. I am reclaiming and redefining (my) brown girl guilt, to show that I will no longer allow it to affect my life, my choices, my actions. Maybe I will always feel this guilt, but letting it overwhelm me to the point of changing my dreams of sharing my writing with the world, with my name attached? Letting it change my goals of the future of being known for my writing and helping other people to overcome this very same bs mindset of putting our family’s reputation before our own existence? No. That won’t, and never will, stand.
Brown Girl Guilt, the phrase, and my blog, is a very real emotion, but it is something to battle through and reclaim, redefine and recreate until it is no longer recognisable as a term subjugating us and stopping us from living our lives. We need to stop existing and start living, no matter what is said, ride through the brown girl guilt tethering us to our culture and traditions and the burdens of being born with a vagina, with the honour resting entirely on our shoulders. Because screw brown girl guilt and screw izzat.