Why We Sometimes Need to Unplug From Our Friends

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by Mariah Williams

I am sure that most of us can scroll through our phones and pull up a group chat we are a part of with our closest friends, family members or even co-workers. I am all for a good group chat with girlfriends. In fact, sometimes I don’t know how I’d get through a day without them. They supply me will countless moments of laughter, endless memes to save for a rainy day and the sisterhood and camaraderie that I so often crave and require in my life.

Like most 25 year olds, I am still trying to figure it all out. Life. Love. Money. Career. Family. Myself. On most days, it is refreshing to speak with my friends in a chat around similar topics. Any sharing of a news article or Instagram post can spark a 2-hour round robin between all of us.

“200 messages??” I think as I look at my phone after putting it down for just 30 minutes.

But, admittedly, there was a point in time where I just could not indulge in the conversation.  Where it became too much. Instead, I’d see a string of text messages about how a girl looked on IG or a long thread of a friend giving relationship advice or summoning it and it all became too much information to take in. Not because I did not care about what was going on in my friends’ lives or about how an article made them feel, but the constant picking a part of something was more than I could handle. Someone would post their philosophies about men and relationships and I found that their comments made me anxious about my own. While the intent of this messaging space was certainly to be uplifting and supportive, it sometimes felt like the blind leading the blind in many ways, the spewing of thoughts and ideas we assumed made us “strong and impenetrable” black women, when in fact, we were all trying to figure it out.

Most of us were around the same age, had varying life experiences and wanted similar but different things out of life for the most part. But somehow, when the conversations began, our varying perspectives often got lumped into one category and fused into one way of thinking about the world. Again, not because we intended for them to. In our efforts to support and reaffirm each other’s thoughts and ways of being, it seemed like we forgot that we in fact didn’t really know how we were supposed to exist or be, in ourselves, in relationships, in life. Not yet.

I’d find myself second-guessing my own thoughts and philosophies on certain issues and becoming anxious about the way I was living, the choices I made or did not make with my partner. And it became exhausting, and perhaps the fact that these conversations began to exhaust me suggested that I had things I was working through. And this in fact was true. However, I think it also highlights the danger in sharing everything with people.

So I left the group. At first I thought it would only be for a day or two. But then it turned into weeks. At first I missed chatting with many of my friends who lived far away in this group setting, but I realized how much time I had spent in my head during and after our conversations (and how unproductive it made me at work). I realized that taking a step back, in the same way one steps back from work or a relationship, was what I needed to focus on myself and to develop and reaffirm my own thoughts, paths and relationships.

In an age where we are constantly plugged in and connected to others, there is a pressure to divulge everything. Group chats with our closest friends can certainly be a sacred and much needed space and the easiest way to stay in touch. I promote and love these spaces. But I also value time to embrace and live my own life, without the constant picking a part of one’s choices. It is okay to say, “not today” or “okay, you ladies are going on mute today” and to control what our eyes and minds absorb. And our friends, our sisters, shouldn’t take it personally. It’s simply another act of self-care and self-love. I think it is okay to acknowledge that we are sometimes fragile and impressionable beings, and that as much as we try to convince ourselves that other people’s opinions of our lives don’t matter, they sometimes do. As I continue to work through my own life, insecurities, hopes and desires, I recognize the need to unplug and not feel bad about it.

Mariah Williams is currently pursuing her Masters in Urban and Regional Planning at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the founder of Black Girls Meet Up, an organization dedicated to creating spaces for the being of Black women and girls. She aspires to become an urban planner who advocates inclusive spaces and communities for people of color, specifically Black women and girls.

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For Call-Out Culture to Matter, We Must Be About the Business of Healing

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by Briana Perry

Recently, I have come across several Facebook posts, tweets, and op-eds addressing call-out culture and disposability in movement work. For some, “calling out” a person for causing harm and being overly problematic is also detrimental because call-outs can take place publicly and become heated, which could be unhealthy. For others, “calling out” harm that is inflicted upon them is warranted, especially harm that is rooted in systemic oppression, as it can lead to distress and trauma. People who support “calling out” might also argue that it is unfair  to tell someone how to address and process their pain. It can also be viewed as a form of tone policing.

I was once a big proponent of “calling out” the abusive and problematic statements/practices of a person (or group), especially if the practices occurred publicly. Growing up, my mama taught me to never let anyone “make a fool out of me,” so I’ve often taken the approach that if someone hurts/embarrasses me (especially publicly), then I am going to address it in the same manner (i.e. engage in a public dragging). While I am aware of the old adages “you can’t fight fire with fire” and “two wrongs don’t make a right,” there was always a sense of relief (and sometimes joy) that accompanied going off about a harmful comment and/or action that was directed toward me. And after the call out, I quickly removed the culprit from my life. If it was someone from the movement who I knew, I would abruptly cease communication. If it was just a person from the comments section, I would simply block them.

I also utilized this approach in my personal life, even before becoming involved in social justice work. If a friend or romantic partner did or said something that was painful, I would address it (publicly if necessary) and then remove them from my life. This was deeply rooted in the belief that if someone has harmed you, then that person does not need to hold space in your life. Over a month ago, I relied on this principle to remove a person from my life because of some actions that led to pain and embarrassment for me. I even provided a deadline for when the removal would take place. However, when I tried to do so, the individual said something that startled me; they shared how I am adamant about being compassionate and not wanting to be disposed of by others, but yet I was trying to dispose, which was problematic (and hypocritical). Initially after receiving this feedback, I became defensive. I felt as if the remark was a deflection and an attempt to not take accountability for the harm that had been caused. Upon further reflection and processing, I realized that I was being hypocritical, and my deadline approach was damaging.

This situation was a gateway for confronting a harsh reality; while I try hard to navigate the world without causing harm, I have in fact harmed others. I have engaged in abusive and problematic practices that have probably been shameful, hurtful, and embarrassing for some folks. Nayyirah Waheed states in one of her poems that “we have all hurt someone tremendously. whether by intent or accident.” I have come to realize that I thought because I am, for the most part, a caring and considerate person, I was exempt from this. But that is not the case. We have all harmed and inflicted pain. And this is what makes call-out culture and disposing of others complicated. Capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism have taught us that certain individuals are disposable. But we are not. Even though it can be difficult to give grace and be patient in some situations, I am now reminding myself that I have made mistakes. I have wounded.

I am not suggesting that we completely do away with publicly addressing harm or pain. I do believe, especially for historically marginalized groups, that space should be created for expressing and processing an array of emotions as a result of being harmed. I also believe that there are times when people need to part ways due to toxicity, a constant denial of one’s humanity, and a lack of contribution to mutual growth.

I do hope that we consider the nuances and think more deeply about the historical pain/trauma that we, as marginalized folks, carry (that we have both inherited and experienced), how we can inflict that pain on each other, and our healing process.

In the past, I thought that I was healing with my approach and practices, but I was not. My recent situation has helped me to recognize that part of the healing process involves acknowledging and addressing how I, too, have harmed. And I don’t want to be disposed of for my shortcomings.

Briana Perry is a Black feminist born, raised, and currently situated in the South. She is passionate about reproductive justice, storytelling, and investing in public schools.

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