In the Season 6 finale of YR's Adult ISH podcast, the team asks: Is there a guide to Black womanhood? One listener voices her fears about simply existing in a racist and troubled world. We consult Black women who we look up to about creating a roadmap forward in the face of countless perils, from being pulled over by the police to constant gender and race bias. Also, producer Dominique French talks to Khadija Mbowe, a Gambian-Canadian YouTuber, educator and all around creative.
While this season is a wrap, Adult ISH is still taking listener letters about the social conundrums and personal challenges of young adulthood for future episodes. Just fill out this google form.
Adult ISH is produced by YR Media and brought to you by PRX’s Radiotopia. Be sure to follow all our socials @yrAdultISH!
Nyge: Welcome to Adult ISH by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX.
I am Nyge Turner, and today I'm joined by our producer Dominique French, who you probably remember from earlier in the season. Welcome back, Dom.
Dom: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Nyge: Thank you. Thank you for being here. So as you may know, this season, we've been accepting listener letters from people just like us trying to figure out this whole adulthood thing. And Dom’s going to read today's letter on behalf of the person who wrote it — a listener in New York City. Take it away, Dom.
Dom: Dear Adult ISH, My biggest struggle of adulting comes from being a Black woman. I recently moved out of my home with my boyfriend. I imagined me having fun and going outside more. I find myself afraid. Fear of going to Walmart and a shooting happening or a cop stopping me and I'm in peril. Maybe it's because my parents instilled in me to always be aware, but I want to chill. I didn't think adulting was this hard.
Nyge: Thank you for reading that, Dom. For me personally, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about the fear surrounding being Black is I think about run-ins with the police. And so I guess I'm curious, have you ever been pulled over?
Dom: Yes, I have been pulled over twice in my life, and they both happened in the same night.
Nyge: How did they - how did they go if you don't mind me asking?
Dom: So, picture this. It's about 1:20 in the morning on a Tuesday. I'm driving home and I accidentally let my foot off of the brake as I'm going down a hill, pick up some speed, don't really notice it. Get pulled over and I'm freaking out. This is the first time I've ever been pulled over in my life. He is like, “Do you know how fast you're going?” And I remember thinking, “Man, I really … I've really fucked up." I've never had a ticket before. And he writes me a ticket. I am like just trying to calm down. My hands are shaking. I'm so nervous. I merge back out onto the road and like a block later. Woo boop boop boop boop. I'm being pulled over again and I think, “This can't be for me.” But let me tell you, it's like 1:25 on a Tuesday. Like, there's no one else on the street, so it has to be for me. And he pulls me over and at this point, I'm bawling my eyes out. I'm really, really sobbing. And he is like, “Do you know that you're driving with your lights off?” Somehow when I was turning my hazard off, I was so nervous. I was so confused, I'd accidentally turn my headlights off and I hadn't had time to notice yet. And I was like, “No.” And he was actually really nice to me, which is something I think about a lot. He told me to take a deep breath, and I did.
Nyge: Mm hmm.
Dom: That's something I think about a lot. And I took the time to gather myself before I pulled off this time and I looked at the first ticket and I realized that that cop had written my race down as white. This was the dead of winter and I lived in Chicago at the time. So I was I mean, I was light, but I wasn't that light. And that's something that has sat with me for a really, really long time. That colorism, that privilege, that confusion and not really realizing until after the fact that I should have been a lot more scared than I was. Because it wasn't until I got home that I thought. “Damn, I just got pulled over by the cops. I'm Black and I just got pulled over by the cops twice.”
Dom: And I think about that all the time, and honestly, it … I feel a lot of shame around it, a lot of embarrassment to tell the story. It feels like this big area of naivete and of blindness that I should be aware of in order to protect myself.
Nyge: Yeah right. I don’t think — I mean, I guess I'll start off by saying I don't, I don't think that's anything you should feel shame surrounding. It's just like — it was your natural reaction. You didn't yet kind of like grasp the gravity of the situation. And I don't think that's anything you can like, blame yourself for. It's just like how things went. But I mean. I was always taught how to act when I was around the police, how to act when I would get pulled over or anything like that. Like put your hands like on the dashboard or put your hands on the back of a seat or whatever, like if you're sitting in the back seat. And just wait for them to, you know, order you to do something and follow orders.
Nyge: Actually, I had been pulled over by the police or detained by the police like a ton of times before I even started driving. So, yeah, I mean, I used to skate a lot. So like, I would always end up like zip tied on the side of the street somewhere or whatever from like skating. That happened probably around like three times. But when I started driving, I remember the first time I ever got pulled over, I was with a bunch of my friends. It was right after school and we were on our way to basketball practice. And all of my friends — as soon as, like, the police officer you know, did the little siren like “woop!” of “OK pulling you over.” I pulled over. And as soon as I stopped the car, all my friends got out and start running.
Dom: Oh, my God.
Nyge: So I'm just sitting there. It's me and one other, like, kid, and we both were still in the car. The other person was in the front seat. And so he's like looking at me like, I don't know why everybody just ran. I don't know what to do now. Like now we look super suspect. Anyway, then, like I remember the cop came up to the window. Like slowly, I have my hands on a steering wheel, and the first thing that really threw me off was he opened the door. Like, he didn't knock on the window. He didn't say, “Roll down the window.” Nothing. He just opened the door and that like took me off guard. And then he reached over, unbuckled my seatbelt and like, grabbed me and pulled me out the car. And so when all of that was happening, like, my heart's like racing. I have all this information from my parents and I'm like, “Yo, this is … this is feeling like it might be it,” or this might be how certain stuff go down. And it's really scary just as a Black person being put in those situations and really having to think like, “I have to play every card right in this, in this scenario.” Like there's no room for error because error is, you know, death. And so. Then like, I guess when he pulled me out of the car, I like leaned up back against the car and I was like shaking and … he like, the cop like looked at me and he was like, “Are you OK? Like, What are you shaking for?” I started crying and I was, “I don't know what you're going to do to me. I don't know what you're going to do to me.” And he was like, “I'm not going to do anything to you. I just want to find out why everybody started running. I'm trying to like ask you questions like, what's going on?” And so then I was just like, “I don't know, like, you have your hand on your, on your baton. I don't know what you're about to do to me.” And then, he looked at his like hand on his baton, and he was shocked that he had his hand on his baton.
Nyge: And he was like, “Oh, I didn't, I didn't even know I had my hand on my baton.” And then, like, we kind of just started from there and then like, it was OK. He ended up letting me go because I was playing basketball for the police department's youth league.
Nyge: It just felt like — a lot of those situations just felt really wrong. A lot of the the ways that all of that was handled just felt wrong. And I've been put in that situation … I can't tell you how many times I've been pulled over. Like, there's no number I'd be able to put on that. But where I really thought it could have been like the end, that's happened, yeah, twice. And the other time, I won't get into like the whole story, but the other time, like just me reaching for my registration led to three police officers pulling out — like drawing their weapons on me.
Nyge: It's like those situations where you kind of just feel like, okay … In that situation, I remember I just kinda like froze with my hand right next to the glove box. But just like frozen because it just feels like, OK, pressure is on. Any slight movement, it could be a wrap. And so…
Nyge: Yeah, that like fear of, you know, just going to work or just going to the grocery store like the letter writer brought out, like going to Walmart or something like that. Anything happening is scary, like being Black because it could, it could – it's always something simple. It's always something simple. Like, I think that you kind of have to like, learn how to — how to live like with your fear. Because I mean, obviously, you don't want it to stop you from doing anything that like you really want to do. But also, I think fear is knowledge. And I think if you find a place for that fear to where you can still hold on to that knowledge, but it doesn't limit the way you happily live your life, then that's like the correct balance that you have to find as — as a Black person managing that fear.
Dom So we have talked about the fear that comes with being Black. But I think it's incredibly important to focus on the specific fear that the letter writer talked about, which is if you're being a Black woman. And I wanted to talk to someone who, as a Black woman has spoken to my heart and soul in many times of fear and doubt, and who brings a lot of great energy to their educational and cultural critique.
Nyge: So we reached out to Khadija Mbowe, a YouTuber, educator and all around creative.
Dom: This episode has a special focus on Black “womanhood,” and for the purposes of this conversation, I am defining that as anyone who self identifies as a woman or femme, or just anyone who faces misogyny. Is there anything that you would like to add to that definition?
Khadija: Maybe I would add femininity because I think it's not even — like trying to define womanhood is so difficult. But there's a lot of it that is associated with femininity. And the way we demonize that I think has even more to do with that than somebody being a “woman.”
Dom On that same sort of line, you recently changed your pronouns to they/them, which I —
Khadija: Officially. Yes. If we're going to talk about sex in terms of like anatomy, then you want to call me a woman. Sure, fine whatever. I don't care.
Dom I feel very similarly because I am like straddling the line between using she/her and they/them pronouns.
Khadija: That's how it always starts out
Dom: Just to get a little taste in taste,
Khadija: You can a taste of that nonbinary life and you are like Uh oh!
Dom: Exactly. And part of that is I know how I'm perceived. I know that the way that I dress and like to dress and like to present myself falls in line with those things. And I don't feel like a girl, but I feel like a woman. Uh, so switching lanes a little bit. A lot of your videos deal with the emotional lives of young Black “women.” Since you've been deep diving into this, how would you say media and technology affects Black “women's” emotional development?
Khadija: One thing that I want to try and avoid is when we conflate acknowledging the difficulties presented by racism and difficulties that human beings face all the time. Because I think if we focus too much on one and not both, there's that narrative that Black women are so strong and blah blah blah, and it's like we unknowingly feed into it by talking about the very specific rarities that we have to deal with.
Dom No, absolutely. We don't want to recreate the issue we're trying to address.
Khadija: Exactly. Exactly.
Dom: Which often happens.
Khadija: Yeah. So I will say that the struggles that Black “women” have to deal with are not unique in terms of … of the emotional impact that it has. But the way society treats them is unique is what I will say. Because I am someone who kind of grew up in the mostly internet, but still not fully. And I think it unfortunately, it kind of maybe would have been nice to have an internet community because I would have found out that I wasn't as alone as I felt or as unprotected as I felt.
Dom: So this particular listener that wrote in whose letter we are basing this off of was very much talking about the fear of growing into Black adulthood, Black adult “womanhood.” Do you remember the first time that you felt unsafe because of your identity?
Khadija: So this might sound sad.
Dom: That's OK.
Khadija: But I don't remember a time where I did feel safe. Do you know what I mean? Like, I think —
Khadija: And it's, it's because not even because of being racialized as Black, but because of how dark my skin is. That is the first thing that I ever knew that I was. Before I even knew what Black was, I knew I was like dark. So I have always felt like there was something wrong with me or wrong with where I was from or my family or all sorts of things, just because I — and I've talked about this in videos before because I was bullied for so much of my like — born to like, starting high school years. So, yeah, I don't think I can even remember a time where I did feel safe. And I think I still feel that honestly to an extent. Way less now, but to an extent.
Dom This makes me think of your Lizzo video.
Khadija: Oh yes.
Dom: And the intersection … I mean intersections. There's so many specifically of fatness and Blackness. How can these intersectionalities complicate feelings of fear and othering?
Khadija: Well, I don't want to speak for anyone. But yeah, I think the more intersecting identities you have. And I've talked about this a lot that push you further and further out of being desired by the dominant group, it's going to feel more difficult at times. People like to follow others and don't like to feel like, again, othered or the outsider. So if the whole group is saying, “Being fat is bad and wrong and living in a fat body is bad and wrong and immediately means you're unhealthy, blah blah blah.” Then you're an outlier if you disagree with that.
Dom: So how do you respond when you feel like all of this becomes too much, all of the stress, all of the pressure of being a Black “woman,” what do you do? How do you decompress? How do you take care of yourself when it becomes insurmountable? Or at least it feels that way.
Khadija: Throw yourself a pity party, but don't overstay you're welcome. So when my pity party is happening, I have already been sad. I have cried a lot. I have watched sad things to make me cry harder or listend to Lianne La Havas’ “Good Goodbye.” You know, things like that to just really bring the tears. (Dom: Of course.) And then when I'm ready to stop overstaying my welcome, I try and do like — there's this meditation stuff that I do with this video about quotes from Rumi that I really love, and it's just very affirming and very calming. So I'll do like yoga and meditation to that.
Dom: For those that don't know, what is Rumi?
Khadija: Oof. So Rumi is a Persian poet, I guess. He's just a very famous guy who wrote a lot of really profound things. Stuff like the wound is where the light comes in. You know? Like all that sort of stuff is, is him, and some of it might be too woo woo wee and hippie and cheesy, but it kind of grounds me. So I'll like rosemary smudge my whole apartment, clean everything and then do that yoga stuff. And that's when I'm starting to, like, come out of it and be like, “All right, self-care. But like, do something.”
Dom: So this is a question straight from my heart to your ears.
Khadija: Ohh. Ohh. I thought you were going to say my heart to your heart.
Dom: You can put it in your heart, but it's like, I didn't want to put it there, like without asking.
Khadija: Oh, I appreciate that! I consent.
Dom: So, I find so much pure, childlike joy in your work. You are so hilarious. And you really just like, make my day when I watch. It feels like I'm participating in your content because I'll be like, “Oh, let me click on that link because I have got some learning to do!” So I want to tell you that. (Khadija: Oh!) And then I wanted to ask you, how do you get that for yourself? Like what sparks your joy? Where do you seek joy for yourself, a.k.a. who or what is your Khadijah?
Dom: We both just became tiny little mouses!
Khadija: I can’t get human again. I have to stay this way forever. Oh oh, the thing that brings me the “eee!” Um, I don't know conversations like this when I just vibe with somebody and I'm like, “Oh, this is fun!”
Dom: Are you saying we are vibing right now?
Khadija: Obviously. (Dom squeals)
Khadija: Christy Carlson Romano's YouTube channel (Dom: Oh yeah!) is giving me everything I need. OK?
Dom So for those who don't know, that's the actress who played Kim Possible.
Khadija: Yes, and Ren on “Even Stevens.”
Dom Yes. Ren on “Even Stevens.” Yeah. Yeah, so fun.
Khadija: Yeah, so that kind of stuff. Is making me like “eee!”
Dom: I love that. I think that was a great list. Yes. So going back to our listener knowing that she wrote in about those feelings of Black fear and it being different than she thought it was going to be. (Khadija: Mm-Hmm.) Is there anything else that you would say to the listener that wrote in?
Khadija: So many things I want to say. Oh my goodness. I think that it is important to not let anyone make you feel like your feelings are wrong or that you're making things up, of course. But I also want you to never feel like, or not never feel like, to do your damnedest, not to internalize the stuff that people try to perpetuate about your different intersecting identities. Because you are your own person. We are not a monolith. You have a right to exist as your own person and discover who that is, and that's the other important thing. Growing up into adulthood, “womanhood,” you're going to be discovering lots about yourself. There's a bit more in your way because of different intersecting identities. And that's not to say to give you a green light to be like, “Oh, it's going to be too hard.” But that's to say, keep your eye forward. Like to know what's in front of you to prepare yourself for that. To prepare yourself when you have a coworker that stays, say in microaggressions and touching your hair and you're like, “Girl, I swear to God we will fight.” It's the stuff in your way of like when you try to talk to any of your friends about the experience or experiences that you deal with and they can't relate. You know, it's all of these different things. I really do believe in being impeccable with your word. When you're speaking about yourself and your future and who you are and what you want, really being mindful of how you speak to yourself. So many of us will say the things that we've been told our whole lives and internalized and say it in a joking manner, not realizing what effect it might still have. And so for me, like if I'm at home by myself and I mess up something, I'm like, “Oh, Khadijah, you … made a mistake and you're going to correct it next time.” Be honest with yourself in that things are hard. That things are difficult, but that you are at the end of the day, going to be OK.
Dom And you're not alone.
Khadija: Exactly. Most importantly. You got any advice?
Dom: I was pretty much coming in with that. You're not alone. All right. And now I got to ask me that. Yeah. And now that's why I said that. That's why I had that locked and loaded, you know. In addition to not being alone, try to find people who have been through what you feel like you're going through. (Khadija: Mm hmm.) And be able to sit in that space with them, people who you don't necessarily have to put words to that experience.
Dom Yeah, you're like, it's happened again.
Khadija: Oh my god, yes.
Dom: And you can just sort of stew in it without having to put yourself through it again.
Khadija: Aha.Oh, that's good.
Dom: Oh, thank you. Thanks so much.
Khadija: Because I'm feeling it now. I'm like, Oh.
Dom And if you have the means, find Black “woman” therapist. Cause if you're anything like me, it will absolutely change your life and make you feel a lot safer in yourself, your own body.
Khadija: And seen.
Dom: And seen. Do things that make you feel seen. Whatever they are.
You can find Khadija’s work on their YouTube channel or Instagram at Khadijah.Mbowe.
Nyge: Thanks so much, Dom, for talking to Khadija. This was a great interview. And I just want to thank you for joining me on this episode.
Dom Oh, thank you for having me, Nyge. I'm always just a Zoom call away.
Nyge All right. It's always a pleasure doing an episode with you, and I really appreciate you.
Dom: Appreciate you, man.
Nyge: Before we let you all go, we wanted to share a few last words of wisdom from some of the Black women leaders who got us every day right here at YR Media. We're going to toss it over to them.
Kyra: Sometimes when I've had a particularly stressful time, I will like treat myself to some food that I really like or cook a meal that I really enjoy. But I think self-care needs to go beyond some of that physical or even financial treats that we give ourselves and just give yourself permission sometimes to disconnect from situations and from people.
Kathy: Number one, self-care for me now over the past few years has been when I'm off work, I disconnect completely from the news. I don't watch the newscast I don't look at my timeline on any social media. I don't read the newspaper. I need a few hours to be completely disconnected.
Rochelle: As I've gotten older, my self-care is more so mental and physical. For me, peace is priceless.
Patrice: What brings me security, in my view, is to just be knowledgeable of your situation. Be knowledgeable of life in that there's going to be ups and downs. And you just have to try to navigate through it as best you can. Considering me being a Black woman, every day is a challenge for me. Just stepping out the door with my Black skin can be hazardous to my health, not by my own doing, but just because I'm a Black woman. And so what I try to do is just be as decent as I can. I know that might be a corny answer, but it's just, I think that's the thing that brings me peace.
Kyra: On Saturdays, that is my day. I'm not working. I'm not doing anything. I'm not doing anything for anyone. When people ask me, Hey, what are you doing on Saturday? I don't even answer because I know there are fishing for something that they can put me to work doing or obligate me to do. So that is my rule. Sunday, we could have a conversation, but Saturday I do whatever I want and I have found that that really helps me to recharge. Because Saturday is Kyra day.
Kathy: I actually take a moment to myself to close my eyes, try to make sure everything around me is completely silent. Just complete disconnection from everything in a dark room. No one else around you. You don't realize how much at peace you feel until maybe you turn on the light and you're back at it again
Rochelle: Just keeping the toxicity out.
Kyra: I spend my time with people that have sense and that know how to talk to me. Because in your working life, sometimes you don't have that option. So I certainly cut it out of my personal life, and I no longer even have any of the friends that would say something like, “Is it really that bad between Black women and police?” or “Do you really get followed through the store?” I'm not about to have that conversation with you. There are any number of resources that you can look into if you are that interested in finding out, and I'm not here to be anybody's personal guide, book or Siri that answers questions — or Alexa — about racism in America. So I've retired from that, and I will tell you that it really has made a difference in my mental health.
Rochelle: For me, self-care is just really being cognizant about my environment and what I invite in. And you know what I'm pouring into me, who I'm allowing to pour into me. I'm just real protective about my space.
Kathy: I get weekly massages because I just need to be in a complete zone of relaxation. No talking, no nothing.
Patrice: Well, I take a lot of my strength from my grandmother. She was a she was a pioneer in her own right. She got a nursing degree from Tuskegee and became the third Black woman to be a nurse at the St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the early 1950s. And so what I try to do is I try to mimic, somewhat mimic, what she did — try to do what I can to help my community. Whether it's, you know, doing some volunteer work, speaking to young people, you know, especially young black people, young black women in particular about my experiences.
Kyra: I would say the other thing is I'd like to remind myself of who I am. Sometimes when I have a meeting with someone that I don't think has my best intentions at heart or any kind of discussion I'll just — and this really works in the Zoom landscape — I'll put up a picture of my dad, my mom, my sister, like people that I care about and they care about me. Because that's whose opinion really matters to me. It doesn't bother me as much when I'm in these types of meetings because I'm constantly surrounded by touch points that make me feel great.
Rochelle: When those challenges come. For me, I just try to be still and not make irrational decisions based on emotions. I just try to be still and I do a lot of praying.
Patrice: When it comes to combating racism, combating intolerance. The youth has really impressed me and they give me hope that things could change for the better in the future.
Kyra: I try not to get bogged down by what we don't have, and I look at when we could have, and I'm really excited by the fact that we have seen a lot of social change and we do have a lot of people from all generations, younger generations that are leading the way and just refusing to accept this. And they're just showing their receipts and demanding change. Like the fact that we have viable conversations about reparations right now, when before it was looked at some kind of pipe dream that can never come to be. I think you have to acknowledge what has changed, even though you know that it hasn't changed enough.
Rochelle: Oh, what brings me joy? I mean, a lot of things bring me joy. When it's raining, I open up my my doors. It could be freezing cold and I open up my doors and listen to the rain. I love that. Going back to my three daughters, they bring me a lot of joy. We have a lot of fun. And I'm just so proud of them. And so that brings me a lot of joy to see them succeeding and excelling and just being these awesome, incredible women.
Kyra: Good food, good company. A great sci fi movie or novel, just being around just powerful kind of change. It just makes me feel electrified. Like the work that I do at YR Media, that excites me. Just being able to be part of something that is trying to shift a system that seems unshiftable.
Patrice: You know, if I did something to make somebody stay a little better, even if it's just speaking to them, you know, just do what you can to bring some kind of joy to a person's life. And if I can do that, that makes me happy.
Rochelle: I think what gets me through is just believing in the good in others and serving others.
Kathy: Always lift as you climb. Make sure that you're doing your part. But when you're doing your part, make sure you're lifting others that come behind you so they don't have to work as hard, but they see your example and then they're lifting as they climb as well.
Rochelle: And just having people again in your circle where you can be unapologetically who you are. That's that's key.
Kyra: Remember your program. It's you know who you are. You know what your morals are. You know what drives you never let anyone come into your life and try to shift you or change you in a way that doesn't feel intrinsic to you.
Rochelle: Do what makes you happy.
Kathy: Allow yourself to be vulnerable and to say, OK, you didn't really hit the mark this time, but you got it next time. Allow yourself room to breathe, make mistakes, but learn from the mistakes and grow.
Patrice: What I was taught was to be proud to be a Black woman. We've had everything thrown against us, and yet we're still thriving. You know, a lot of us are successful. We've contributed to society and that's something to be proud of. And what I try to do is I try to walk in that pride. Don't let anyone tell you that you're less than or other. That you come from a long line of people who have, like I said, persevered, that are strong, that are intelligent, and you are a combination of all of those things. And that's what makes you a powerful Black woman. And so I walk in that pride every day, and that's how I live.
Nyge: Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation.
Our show is produced by George Wright, Dominique French and by me, your boy Nyge Turner.
Our executive producer is Rebecca Martin, and our intern is Tamara Sanchez.
Thanks to our correspondent Zahra Crim who helped develop this episode and season.
And thanks to Patrice Easley, Rochelle Reeder, Kathy Chaney and our YR CEO Kyra Kyles, whose voices you heard in the final segment.
There are so many people who helped make this season happen, thank you to the young people here at YR Media who contributed art and music for this season, as well as Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez, Maya Drexler, Brigado Bautista, Pedro Vega Jr., Angela Serna, Eli Arbreton and Donielle Conley.
We are also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX, an independent listener-supported collective of some of the most amazing shows in all of podcasting.
Find them at Radiotopia.fm. And if you haven't reviewed our show on Apple Podcasts. Please be sure to do so. Five stars is much appreciated.
Finally, thank you to everyone who wrote in letters this season. We are so grateful that you shared your experiences with us. If you want to write a letter for future seasons, you can head over to our website at adultishpodcast.com.
This is the last episode of the season, but please stay in touch on all the socials @YRadultish. We love you so much. And with that, see you next year.