Guest post by Felicia Montgomery
When I learned of Live Unchained and its focus on women of African descent, I think the image was rather literal in my head. Since the end of slavery, we have been living in a sense, unchained.
Yet, I thought it was rather interesting to explore that thought, that question of “are we truly living unchained?” If so, how are we achieving that? What factors inhibit our ability to live unchained? And, what sparks the desire for some to go down a different path that varies from the strict social construct of the black woman living in the Americas.
I’m proud that there are projects like Live Unchained that seek to provide a spotlight on so many black women living in the nexus of creativity, activism, entrepreneurship, technology and communications. I definitely put myself in that category.
I have been an activist since the age of 15 or 16 years old. I’ve been a social critic since the age of 4 or so. I have always recognized inherent inequalities, oppression, misuse of power, and abuse around me since before anyone “explained” to me how these things worked. Being so aware from such an early age and growing up in the South was difficult to maneuver. Even before I gave up a lot of limiting things like permed hair, fast food and degrading hip hop, I was longing for another way to live. Moving to Atlanta from Texas helped a lot. Not because all those things weren’t going on around me, but because I was forced to create a new community. I created from thin air a community of like minds and kindred spirits. It was easier to stop perming my hair there – although my mom did visit me once my first year in college and convinced me to perm my hair. By that time I had had almost six months under my belt. But, I did get back on the path to natural living after that slight digression. But, my point is that I had to leave my community to create a new way of living that worked for me.
I find it so magnificent and miraculous how I ended up where I am today. My first couple of years Atlanta was like a settling-in of the ascended Felicia. I lost many friends back in Texas who just weren’t into ascending. I felt alone and depressed sometimes. Around my third or fourth year, I found out about enlightened living. I learned about meditation. I learned that I had an ego. I learned that I am not my ego, and I control my mind. All those years of being controlled by my mind had put me in the oppressed state I had been. Plugging into the collective insanity that was around me and that we all share in this society also resulted in that state of affairs. But, when I got on the path to spiritual enlightenment and using my brain when I wanted to and learning to shut it off to achieve peace and quiet was like an awakening to a whole new life.
So here I am – a twenty something sister trying to live unchained from all that drama, trama and collective insanity. Challenges that I recently grapple with is plateaus in spiritual development or outright regressions. Understanding that we’ll never ‘arrive’ like a Buddah or something to me is very liberating and invigorating. It frees you up from being obsessed with knowing everything you’ll ever need to know. It’s an empowering feeling.
I find that living this way has required me to establish an entire new value system that is in direct contrast to many of the images, cultural norms and people around me – especially people back home in Texas. When they see two black women who are of similar aesthetic, yet one has green eyes, so-called good hair and light skin, and the other has dark brown eyes and kinky hair, they subconsciously value the lighter skinned woman with more European features. They gawk at how “beautiful” the light woman is. I most certainly don’t have time to dig deep into the, oppressive, and racist origins of those feelings for every person that I encounter. It’s just hard sometimes when you work so hard to create a new reality based off standards of beauty and culture that are not dictated from Europeans. It’s especially hard when they catch you off guard – when they creep into your bedroom or kitchen table. I find this happens to me a lot. And beyond these prevalent issues of beauty social constructs and aesthetic – what about the more nuanced limitations that we as women face. Managing the bombardment of media, advertising, commentary, etc. that strengthen limiting views of black women is a constant challenge. That’s another reason why I’m grateful for venues like Live Unchained that bring women together to dialogue about creating new paradigms.
Part of living unchained to me is questioning social constructs, like gender and race, and living your life in a way that allows you to redefine, undefined, and create in ways that are nurturing to yourself and others. Living unchained to me is living free.
Yet, living unchained to me is also living connected. I think we have to understand the intricate connections of the Universe and how we all affect the other life forms on the planet. When we come into an understanding that we are connected to each other, the planet, and our Creator, we live in a state of more peace, love, and development. Another factor that led to my starting the spiritual enlightenment path was the fact that I recognized that I was not the “lone ranger” that my Texan and US social upbringing had taught me to believe. So the challenge before our generation, one that perhaps hasn’t been unique to just us, is that of living unchained and connected. Our challenge is to continually seek ways by which to develop, grow and live in ways that are sustainable.
The US corporate machine does everything in its power to keep us unhappy, feeling inadequate, and isolated. So, what kind of an economy and social system will we create that will be the alternative to this current state? This is the revolution that our ancestors worked for. Now it’s up to us.