Although we have a lot in common, I’ve always hated Superman. I may not have the gift of flight, but I know what it feels like to have a secret identity. Many of us have an inner Superman: a zany persona that is the concentrated bomb of our honest, unfiltered self.
However, because society isn’t always accepting of aliens like Superman — or our own quirks, idiosyncrasies and identities — there exists an instinctive need to hide and conceal. People may take to wearing glasses, becoming “mild-mannered” pencil pushers. It is better to stay under the radar than risk discovery and elimination.
We compartmentalize, only letting Superman out for special occasions.
For me, it’s not so much of a special occasion as it is a space. Within my culture, people tend to be demonstrative when it comes to expressing their feelings. Because of this, I’ve always loved going to Hawaiian funerals. We laugh loud, wail, sing, hug fiercely, eat a lot and make sure to honi — kiss — everybody. It is a spiritual experience that is deeply cathartic.
When we are all together we can be ourselves. There is no need for a stretchy blue suit with a big red “S” emblazoned on it when you’re with your own people.
However, as soon as I step out of that space, I feel the need to suppress my feelings.
In high school, I used to snap pencils to prevent a public outburst when kids would diss on affirmative action as a free ride for minorities. I didn’t want to be seen as the “angry minority.” I didn’t want them to excuse what I had to say as being “overly emotional.” Due to my identity, my feelings were never treated as natural and normal. They were a race thing.
For this reason, it was better for me to be emotionless.
I think most people of color have felt this way at some point or another. We are hindered from having normal feelings as individuals.
That’s why we have protests and demonstrations.
For me, Black Lives Matter protests are like funerals. Everyone gets together to grieve. They cry, scream, get angry, sing, hug fiercely, share their memories and stories. When people make negative comments or when the government sends in forces, they are making a statement. That statement is that it’s wrong to grieve. That it’s wrong to feel.
It’s jacked up.
However, that is reality in a colonized society where people of color are forced to acclimate to cultural norms that are not their own. Our feelings are politicized because we don’t express them according to white mainstream expectations. As a result, some people even feel threatened by our emotions.
To me, this issue is not just hurting people of color. It’s hurting everyone.
When someone breaks something in anger, another person will instantly come running to stop them. When a person cries, people sometimes think it’s a bad thing.
If someone is crying for a good reason, I always tell them, “Keep crying if you need to.”
Too often people are forced to keep their feelings in check because it makes others feel uncomfortable. There have been many instances where I’ve just wanted to scream or throw something to let off a little steam. However, my instant thought was always, “What if someone hears or sees me?”
So instead, I just kept it all in.
From experience, this has never been a good decision. When I’ve been able to let out how I feel, I’ve also been able to work through it more quickly. Once the physical tension is gone, my mind clears up and I’m able to problem-solve more effectively. However, when I keep it in, the tension itself feels bigger than the issue I’m facing. With each new frustration, the tension builds and becomes stifling.
A lot of people in my family use sports to get rid of this kind of feeling. Physicality is the healer of our psyche. Still, not everyone has time to shoot hoops, run a mile or kick a ball around. The same dilemma arises stress relievers like art, watching a good movie or talking to a friend for a few hours. It takes up time.
Sometimes, having a short cry, stomping around, screaming or indulging in a little strategic destruction is just what someone needs. But it is hard to do when you don’t have your own private space to interact with your feelings.
What if we could all feel safe to let out our emotions even if other people hear? It would be nice to have a natural moment with one’s mind without the interruption of anyone’s prying questions or criticisms.
Sometimes the best way to overcome a tough emotion is to let it out. There’s nothing wrong with showing your emotions when you’re not using them to hurt or intimidate someone else. If people need to cry, shout or break something small in their own space, they should feel free to do so. It’s exhausting to keep it all in because we’re worried about what people down the hall may think.
Now more than ever, people need to let it all out. Now more than ever, people need to hear that it’s safe for them to feel.
This article has been updated to clarify that the author meant affirmative action, not Title IX.
For more disjointed thoughts and abstract feelings, contact Sophia Kim-O’Sullivan at huali99 ‘at’ stanford.edu.