Take Up Space.

Take Up Space.

You have the right to take up space. You have the right to be here. You belong. 

Sometimes I say these words to myself, out loud. I need to. 

As a Black woman, I often feel my reality is a precarious one. I am aware that my rights are guaranteed only insofar as elected officials want to protect them, and as much as judges care to honor them. I see rights that were hard fought – for instance, the right to vote and to reproductive freedom – being attacked and rolled back. Constantly, it seems, I am pushing against the edges of boundaries established for me and that I did not agree to.

I have the right to take up space. I have the right to be here. I belong.

Saying these words feels like an act of resistance when aggressions both macro and micro peck away at our personhood. As women, we are often expected to squeeze ourselves into spaces created for others. We are asked to apologize for our presence by accepting pay that is too low, conditions that are too harsh, and beauty standards that are too limiting.

One of the messages I would love to give young women, particularly young Black women and women of color is this: Take up space.

We are told that we should be grateful to be where we are, that if we don’t like it, we should move or work somewhere else, that our votes don’t matter, that are voices are inconsequential, that our concerns are frivolous or neurotic because they are not those of men, that we need to learn to let go of impossible standards even as we are measured against them.

I have the right to take up space. I have the right to be here. I belong.

Recently, I’ve stopped allowing myself to be interrupted. I don’t remember what prompted this, but maybe it was speaking up during a meeting only to hear my words become swallowed up in someone else’s. Maybe it was noticing that the interrupters were perfectly nice people, usually white and often men, who weren’t being overtly rude or nasty; they just trampled over my words in the way you might stomp across a yard without noticing the daisies and ladybugs underfoot. Maybe it was the frustration I felt at trying to re-enter the conversation, like I was wearing roller skates and trying to join a game of Double Dutch.

One day, I decided to keep talking until I was finished with my point. That meant that, for a few uncomfortable seconds, there would be two people talking. I would have the thought: “Maybe I’m being rude for not allowing myself to be interrupted? Maybe I should stop talking?” I allowed the thoughts to skate across my mind, but I kept speaking. Sometimes for five seconds, sometimes for 30 seconds, waiting for my interrupter to stop. Eventually, I’d hear their voice trail into awkward silence while I allowed my words to fill the space.

I have the right to take up space. I have the right to be here. I belong.

One of the messages I would love to give young women, particularly young Black women and women of color is this: Take up space. So often I see women defer to others to confirm their feelings and to validate their opinions. I see them soften their recommendations with caveats, their emails and text messages with exclamation points and emojis so as not to appear too much, too rude. I say this like I’m talking about other people, but I’m not. I’m talking about myself. 

Even as I write this post on my own blog – my very own space – I worry about how I am taking up space. Am I being too negative? What if people think I’m singling out white men? What if I don’t seem encouraging enough? Should I say less? Should I try to be nicer?

I don’t want to make a fuss. I don’t want to offend. I want to keep people happy. I don’t want to be seen as aggressive or angry, descriptors often lobbed at Black women who refuse to be doormats, or as shrill and unlikeable, descriptors lobbed at women who have an opinion and passion to go along with it.

Even as I write this post on my own blog – my very own space – I worry about how I am taking up space. Am I being too negative? What if people think I’m singling out white men? What if I don’t seem encouraging enough? Should I say less? Should I try to be nicer?

I have the right to take up space. I have the right to be here. I belong.

I feel shame sometimes that I have to constantly coach myself into taking up space, or that I have to remind myself that I can stand up and demand more. I am a Black feminist; these things should come automatically. Then I remember that we are socialized to believe what we do. You can’t repeat a mantra a couple of times and completely displace a lifetime of messaging. It takes time.

My favorite thing about getting older is that you have time on your side. Your priorities shift. You start to care more about the things that matter and less about the things that don’t. Honesty matters. Protecting the egos of our aggressors does not.

As I age past the youth and naivete of my twenties – when I thought I could change one racist at a time by being nice, put-together, and extraordinary – I am trying to take up more and more space, and make room for others to take up space, too. I have read that the universe is expanding, and though I am no physicist, this tells me that the people who have insisted success must be a zero-sum game are wrong. If the universe can create space, so can we.

So, say it with me: I have the right to take up space. I have the right to be here. I belong.

9 responses to “Take Up Space.”

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