About The B Word…Boundaries
Source: Healing Space
Please join me in saluting Naomi “try me and see what happens,” Osaka. As if her athletic prowess and advocacy of #BlackLivesMatter weren’t enough to make me stan, last week, our SiStar gave us a master class in defining, asserting, and maintaining boundaries.
Long story short, in advance of the French Open, Osaka announced that she wouldn’t attend post-match press interviews as a measure to help safeguard her mental health. She even pre-emptively agreed to pay the fines usually imposed on athletes for missing interviews. I thought, “Good for you Sis, protect your peace,” case closed.
But nope, the French Open and other Grand Slams came back with threats of defaults and suspensions if she refused to attend pressers. In response, Osaka said, deuces, I’m out.
Part of the reason I am so impressed with Osaka is that at the age of 23, she maintained her boundaries publicly, in full view of the world, while some of us struggle to do so in the privacy of our own homes and offices.
Many of us—especially women—are taught from a young age to disregard our own needs and boundaries for the sake of other people’s comfort. Think about it, what’s often said to little girls when they balk at hugging someone or express upset with another person? “Be nice.”
In other words, swallow what you’re feeling and what you need so that you’re more palatable. This deference to other people’s comfort above our needs is so ingrained in us that as adults, saying “no” can be challenging, even when it compromises our health, wellbeing, or safety.
Asserting boundaries and having them respected can be doubly hard for Black women. The trope of “the strong Black woman” is so pervasive that some—including us—believe that we should endure at all costs.
Don’t get me wrong; Black women are magical. Dealing with misogynoir, that less than delightful cocktail of racism and sexism, and still achieving is miraculous indeed. But I long for a day when we don’t have anything extraordinary to endure, when asserting and having our boundaries respected is par for the course.
But no matter our identities, the first step in maintaining our boundaries is recognizing their necessity. Too often, people regard our instance on boundaries as being mean or difficult, as the hallmark of a “nasty woman.” But in the words of Prentis Hemphill of the Black Embodiment Initiative, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”
Osaka was very clear about the distance she needed to love herself and the game; unfortunately, those needs weren’t respected. It wasn’t the first and won't be the last time this happened in the world, let alone tennis.
You may remember the 1995 footage of Richard Williams, father and first coach to legends Venus and Serena. When a reporter tried to undermine the confidence of a then 14-year-old Venus, Williams stepped in to assert a boundary on her behalf. And this week, when asked an inane question by the very same reporters Osaka didn’t have the capacity to engage healthily, we saw Venus assert a boundary, and her identity, herself.
The events of this week made me think of the words of Maya Angelou, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
The truth is, people may not respect our boundaries in the ways we need them to, but speaking up and speaking out is essential for our health and wellbeing, and for those who come after us.
If you’d like some help with boundaries, stay tuned for next week’s Thursday Thought. I’ll share my “Seven Cs of Boundaries” to help you establish and maintain healthy ones. If you'd like that newsletter delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe to my newsletter.