"I have a dream that one day women of color can pass by each other and not see Imaginary Enemies"- Byakko
Many people ask me: Where did your shirt idea come from? Who is the Imaginary Enemy? How did you come about creating this? My short answer: America. Being a Black woman in America inspired this movement. And it is the contagious nature of this movement that will make America question everything she ever assumed about the power of sisterhood amongst women of color.
But before I got to a place of declaration and appreciation of sisterhood and Black womanhood everywhere, I had to find it in myself. Not an easy task. I was a high school senior fed up with the idea of sisterhood, solidarity, and pride in Blackness. What had Blackness done for me? I spoke too “good” for the black girls to take me seriously and I was just enough Black for the white girls, as long as I kept up the hyperactive and over indulgent public minstrel show for them to marvel at. It seemed like I could not win no matter what I did. I was whitewashed. I was "bougie". I was red-bone. I was an Oreo: black on the outside, white on the inside. They never let me forget that one. Oreo. What was exploring my Blackness going to do but give people more opportunities to ostracize me?
It was the spaces and communities that I found myself in while in college that, over time, opened me up and deconstructed the oppressive armor I was wearing to protect myself from past hurt. By sophomore year, I found myself surrounded by an army of Sisterhood Excellence. My identity began to emerge with the support of my newfound friends of all backgrounds. It was like looking into the mirror through a kaleidoscope lens. My name was mine again and Oreo was a snack you had when you studied for finals. By my junior year, I began to see that I needed multiple spaces to feel safe in and that was my responsibility to make those spaces. I spent more time in communities and spaces of color. I couldn’t believe I felt safe in those spaces! I also began to learn about an insidious system called White Supremacy that is multifaceted in how it oppresses marginalized individuals, down to the historical trauma that plagues the way we Black people treat each other everyday. I finally had a community to call my own!
But the real world has a powerful way of reminding us that we are not in control. Outside of college, it was all too apparent that I changed, my circles changed, but the world hadn’t. Walking down the street, I saw Black women look at me as if I challenged them or cursed them. They eyed me up and down, as if searching for something. I found myself many afternoons engaging in the silent battle. What was the point of all this? Even if someone had a bad day and just looks nasty, I see more Black woman with that default face than anyone else. Why? I decided to explore that question in a Facebook post one day: I have a dream, that one day women of color can pass by each other and not see Imaginary Enemies”- Byakko (my pen name at the time). I was surprised how many likes the post got and how many people commented co-signing and agreeing with me. A poem is in there somewhere, I thought.
I remember exactly when the movement was born and beating inside me. I was under the Eiffel Tower with my mom in line waiting to go all the way to the top. I felt beyond blessed to be able to share this moment with her. That is when I caught the eye of a young lady of color in line, I gave her a smile, how could I not? We are both about to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower! What I received was a defiant stare at my outfit and an eye roll. My old Facebook post came back to mind. Maybe I’ll make one shirt, I said.
That summer I had shirts made for both of my moms and I to wear. The universe did the rest. Airports, grocery stores, buses, women of all backgrounds stopped me and asked, “Where did you get that shirt?”. They told me that this constant battle against other women was their experience too. That was the magic. A conversation ensued about what made women feel they had to break each other down instead of building each other up. Patriarchy and racism were being explored and deconstructed amongst strangers! More often than not they would finally ask, “Are those shirts for sale?” Then it hit me, and with the support of my family, I trademarked the quote and made more shirts.
With the help of this movement, I was able to write the most important poem of my life thus far, Letter to My Unborn Daughter, All Women of Color, and Lastly to Me. I met amazing creative director and photo editor, Amanda Luxe, who saw my shirts and felt compelled to direct a photo series inspired by them, Jumping Colors II: #ImNotYourEnemy. The photo series was submitted to Blavity and accepted! More conversations are happening; friendships are being born from nothing but words. But I want to make it bigger. So big, that pop culture will have to stop depicting women of color as hyper sexualized caricatures just long enough to listen; so big that women will have to stop carrying the world for two seconds to get the support they need. I want sisterhood and solidarity amongst women of color to become mainstream, and I am not going to stop doing the work until it does.
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...
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