Teaching myself to be unbothered: My Black Women’s History Month lesson 30 years in the making.

First-person essay by Tahirah J. Walker

My wish for Women’s History Month (and my birthday) this year was to be what many folks call “unbothered.” I discovered that I needed to think carefully about what exactly that means to me. 

I thought of that scene in “Sorry to Bother You” when Danny Glover’s character is explaining how to capture the ‘white voice’ that brings in the sales for telemarketers. “Got your bills paid. You’re happy about your future. You about ready to jump in your Ferrari out there … Breezy like you don’t really need this money.” But as Glover’s character put it: “It’s not really a white voice. It’s … what they think they’re supposed to sound like.” 

An illustration of a person in shorts and a white tshirt looking at a red car.

I had many potential ways to build a definition for myself. From this financially carefree white masculinity version to others floating on the ends of hashtags and pop songs, unbothered seemed to appear everywhere and nowhere at once. I had the sense that, as a soon-to-be-47-year-old Black woman, I was as bell hooks described, “at odds with everything around me.” 

An illustration of a person holding their hands over their face.

For me, a major part of that sense of being at odds has been a buildup of microaggressions, negative experiences and degrading interactions that happen to Black women daily for no reason other than the fact that we dare to exist. When we start adding sexuality, faith, limitations like poverty and disability along with hosts of other social and wellness issues, the ability to find that unbothered voice becomes an extraordinary and unique power. It is a power I have witnessed so many Black women exercise. As I look to enjoy a new chapter of life, I know that not only do I wish for this power of unbothered voice, but also my future birthdays may depend on it. 

An illustration of three people, one with their harm around another's shoulder, smiling and looking out.

Before I graduated from high school in 1993, some principal or administrator or teacher or all of the above decided to offer students an opportunity to take an African American studies class (Props to the trailblazing educators, right?!). It’s difficult to remember details of a time so long ago but as we approach the 30-year reunion, many of my classmates will begin sharing and things will come back to me, I’m sure. There are some things I don’t need help remembering. 

Like the time we watched “Black Orpheus” and my classmate LaTesha said how pretty Marpessa Dawn’s hair was. Our teacher smirked, slid his hands into his pockets and started what I’m sure he thought was about to be a deep conversation about hair and Black women. The next thing I can attempt a fair memory quote at is LaTesha’s swift and adept, “Mr. A, I didn’t say her hair was good. I said it was pretty.” This is burned in my brain as one of those times where something happened that rang a special bell just for Black women as discussions about hair and the rest of our bodies so often become sites of antagonism. And so often over the course of my life I have wished I had the swift, adept, unbothered voice-handling LaTesha did that day for all the future microaggressions to come.

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