The most painful part for me is that I feel as a black woman I'm not allowed to process my own pain, but that I'm still expected to be okay. I'm not okay. Days after the murder of George Floyd happened, I was still completely shut down, mentally lost, and I wanted to use a sick day at work just to give myself some space to grieve, be angry, and process the pain I'm experiencing. But I felt like my white employers were watching me; that if I took the time I deserved, earned, and needed, they would hold this against me. And as the only black employee in the company, I work hard to not slip up.
Not being allowed to grieve, to process trauma, to experience the pain that exists, feels like a modern form of slavery. How can they also own the pain that I experience as a black person in America?
This piece that I created is the mirror that I so often feel separates my self-image from the image the system (systemic racism) projects me to be based on race, class and gender: Limited, powerless, shameful, undeserving, broken. When I stand in front of the mirror I see a bright, vibrant human being represented by the African and Native American prints of my ancestors, my heritage, and my legacy. It's built on a very strong foundation, and it's forward movement. This is the image reflected back on me when I look into the mirror.
For me, in the future I hope that I can learn to live more as the person I am and the person I want to be - simply me. As someone who has survived a lot of racial trauma and pain, I hope I can choose how I go forward in the world, regardless of how others project their misunderstanding of who I really am into my sphere. So many of us have lost so much, been silenced and broken. I want to lift up young black girls and black women - our ancestors are the heart and soul of the story of how this nation came to be and how it has thrived - and today I only want to be a part of empowering them and giving each one of us the opportunities we so deserve. I have so much love to give, and they say love is more powerful than anger and hate - I want to know just how much more powerful for myself.
- Cherise Rollins
quilt made with cotton, African wax prints | 46" x 46" | 2020