Vulnerability is Your Superpower
November 7th 2021
The danger of the thick skin narrative
So many of us have our walls built up high - this is an exploration into developing and having thick skin, and learning how to lower your guard - especially for the right people!
Malik Saad
The glorification of developing a thick skin is seen everywhere, especially with regards to finding happiness, peace and contentment. There is a huge truth within this - there will be times when one is knocked down and torn apart, so it is vital for one’s own sanity to be able to brush these things off and continue with one’s life. As such, certain questions have to be addressed: how does the monetisation of self-care and self-love play a role in the manipulation of our approach to seeking fulfilment? How does developing this thick skin harm us by pushing us to normalise emotional abuse within our relationships? There is a difference between putting up with the people in your life projecting their negative emotions onto you, and building an environment for yourself where one doesn't have to face such emotional abuse, a safe place in which one is able to be their most vulnerable self without fear or danger.
“I think everybody who feels different has a hard time in their youth”
As a queer, biracial person growing up in Northern England, where nearly every face I encountered was white, I felt othered immediately. The small comments, the stares, the laughs, the whispers, all alongside the insidious undercurrent of covert racism within the education system, it all chipped away at me. Growing up, most kids and teenagers just want to fit in, and, such, I was no different. I learned to deflect, to make jokes about myself, and to invalidate my own identity. For me, developing thick skin meant making stereotypical emasculation jokes hoping that it separated me from my East Asian peers. It meant making nasty comments about gay men who were a little more feminine than me. It meant validating racism and homophobia from my white classmates, because I don’t take offence, and feeling relief and some false semblance of happiness when it was not directed at me.

I look back on these facets of my past with the utmost shame and regret, but also with the awareness that I was a victim of subtle (and sometimes outright) manipulation by the white supremacist patriarchy. I thought that thick skin was the solution, my key to assimilation in this white society. I thought that happiness was becoming comfortable and familiar with these ugly, violent, deprived walls that I had built up within myself. I learned to tear down those walls and thus, I began to figure out how to incorporate kindness into my life - kindness to myself and kindness from others. By realising my self-worth, the value in my uniqueness and differences, I have been able to raise the standards I hold for the people in my life, and as a result, the people I hold close to me now are only those I am able to be my most vulnerable self around.  I no longer feel like I am constantly standing on the edge of a cliff.
“I thought that thick skin was the solution, my key to assimilation in this white society.”
By allowing our thick skin to consume our emotions, our humanity deteriorates. There is so much power in reconnecting with that vulnerability, that childishness, that youth. Connection to our own emotions is a form of wealth, a currency that is seemingly reserved for white people, but it is something that we should all be able to indulge in without guilt or shame.
“You can see how all of these Black women … who are faced with white women being violent, you can see them checking themselves, because they understand that if they do even the slight raise of the voice, if they are, in any way, stern in their tone, it will be received by the public in a very, very different way, so you can see themselves holding themselves and guess what? Even upon all of that, they’re still seen the same way, and this is why I keep saying, Black women, we really need to reclaim our anger and just be angry.” - Kelechi Okafor in Say Your Mind Podcast
The weaponisation of white vulnerability is an epidemic which oppresses the emotion of people of colour, but I want to highlight one of the most horrific dynamics I have witnessed: the dynamic between white women and Black women. White woman tears and Karen culture are both clear examples of the way in which it is ingrained in white womanhood to use emotion to their advantage and to quash the emotions of other people, Black women specifically. Furthermore, the ‘angry Black woman’ narrative is designed to oppress, silence and gaslight Black women, constantly being told to ‘calm down’ or being seen as aggressive even when talking and acting calmly.
Don’t you dare cry - I’m the only one allowed to cry in this situation. - Sharon Osbourne to Sheryl Underwood, whilst discussing Osbourne’s defence of Piers Morgan’s tirade of racist and abusive comments towards Meghan Markle
Regardless of the awful things that we may face in our lives - especially as people of colour - fighting for our right to feel is courageous and brave; our ability to continue to show vulnerability is truly magical. Rather than be a barrier that stops us from feeling our full emotions, thick skin should be a form of armour that can be worn and removed at will. Developing and learning to utilise thick skin is necessary in surviving what life may throw at you, but learning to shed that skin - remove that armour - is imperative.
I firmly believe that consciously and consistently loving yourself is instrumental in bringing meaningful and loving relationships into your life. Self-love doesn’t just mean going to a spa and buying a new outfit. It means getting enough sleep for a night, even if you have to cancel plans with a friend. It means making time for yourself to indulge in your hobbies. It means actively distancing yourself from people from your life whose actions and words make you feel less than whole. The last point is the most significant; adding fuel to a poisonous fire will only result in yourself breathing in the toxic fumes. Work to build that safe place for yourself, where you’re able to take off that armour and rest.
Loving yourself has to be purposeful and it’s something you have to keep working on - it’s consistent … [I want] a love that gives me the freedom to be me, where I can exist as the whole version of me. - Tolani Shoneye in Keep The Receipts
Finally, please be kind to yourself, and where you can, only let people into your life who will be kind to you and love you for who you are entirely. The relationships you foster should not drain you - they should fill you up, with happiness, love, fulfilment and joy. Of course, we cannot prevent every mean comment from reaching our ears, but we can try our hardest to reduce the number of those transgressors in our lives. Remember to take off your armour every once in a while and let the love sink in.

I want to end this with a quote from Kelechi Okafor’s story, The Watchers, from Sareeta Domingo’s Who’s Loving You? Love Stories by Women of Colour:
“The Watched tell themselves that ‘Time is the best healer’ but what they truly mean is that love is the best healer. Time cowers in the face of love’s many manifestations.”
So many of us have our walls built up high - this is an exploration into developing and having thick skin, and learning how to lower your guard - especially for the right people! I have so much work left to do when it comes to learning to prioritise my needs above others, and take care of myself first and foremost, and I hope that I can help anybody else reading this feeling the same way make steps towards that goal. We’re all on this journey together, and hopefully, the community we have here at DAYLDN can be a prime example of a place where you’re allowed to tear those walls down, at least for a little bit.
1. Foroux, D. (2016)
2. Cassidy, A. (2020)
3. Okafor, K. (2021)
4. Daniel, V. (2020)
5. Rao, S. (2021)
6. Shoneye, T., Indome, A., Sanchez, M. (2021)
7. Domingo, S. A. (2021)