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My Emotional Constitution

By Shenequa Golding

Shenequa Golding and A Black Girl in the Middle
Author photo: Uli Seit. Cover design: Louis Roe

I get why so many Black women are divorcing themselves from the “strong Black woman” trope. The world measures our strength by how much deliberate mistreatment and neglect we accept. We’re expected to pour ourselves into others so much that it’s positioned as an “honor” to die empty. Black women deserve so much more than to live as everyone else's mule and then go to our graves depleted.

But for far too long, I’ve been weak; equipped with a spine made of boiled spaghetti, I was unable to speak up for myself. Now, I relish the opportunity to build muscle.  Maybe this is an IOU to my younger self. Who knows?

Wait, let me back up for a second. Hi, how are you? My name’s Shenequa. I kind of went all in without warming everyone up first. Sorry about that. It’s just I get so excited thinking about who this new version of me is, y’know? I’m happy I made it to this side because there was no proof it would happen. Reader, I’ve taken copious amounts of Ls (lowercase Ls, uppercase Ls, Ls in Times New Roman font) just to get here and I’m proud I’m here in one piece.

My twenties were a wild ride. They were a combination of maxed-out credit cards, an impressive digestive system, and what I assumed was a haute-couture smoky eye, which in reality was just poorly-placed black eyeshadow. You can learn more about all the shenanigans that took place during that time in my new book, A Black Girl in the Middle: Essays on (Allegedly) Figuring It All Out. The best way to describe my book is it toggles between “Yeah, I used to do this.” and “Girl, you deadass right now?”

Looking at everything from where I’m at now, you couldn’t pay me to go back to my twenties or even the early part of my thirties, but as a woman closing out this third decade, I’m taking stock of everything and creating my constitution. This living document will act as a North Star and help ground me when my life quakes. This might be a fool’s errand, as I’m using my younger self to navigate a new, older version of me, but I feel good about the historical data I’ve acquired.

So yeah. These are just a few principles I’m now abiding by.

It’s More Than Yes or No

As an adult, I have the freedom to do what I want. Growing up, this freedom was all I ever desired. I was raised by a teen mom who, for the most part, believed the word “no” was an effective parenting method, so as I inched closer and closer to twenty-one, all I lusted after was my resounding yes! And for a while, that’s all the thought I put into making decisions. Do I want to do this, yes or no?

Now, it’s not so black and white. Instead, I ask myself, how will this yes or no affect me? How long will this decision stay with me? What blessings or consequences can come from this? Am I emotionally prepared to handle the results (expected or otherwise) of this choice? I don’t have a spare life like some folks have a spare tire. I’ve learned you have to work hard just to have a decent life, while it takes very little effort or none at all to ruin your life. There’s no live studio audience that claps for you when you’ve made the right decision or a buzzer that goes off when you’ve taken your first step in the wrong direction, so with that newfound insight, it’s got to be more than a yes or no.

Do I employ this thought process regarding what brunch spot I’m going to? Of course not, but is this something I factor in more as an adult, yes.

Common Ground

An underrated sign of weakness is when someone doesn’t look for, value, or stretch themselves to find common ground with others. Insistence on always getting their way is fertile territory for control issues and an inability to harmoniously disagree. Reasonableness, however, is the opposite, and that’s what I now strive for.

What’s the common ground and how can we both get there safely with our dignity and integrity intact? I’ve been the victim of controlling bosses, manipulative “friends,” and ex-boyfriends, and let me tell you, it’s not a vibe. I’ve also foolishly internalized their behavior as the only way to demonstrate strength, becoming overbearing in situations that didn’t call for any of the energy I brought. Finding common ground and/or being reasonable allows for collaboration and it sets a giving tone that’s missing from so many relationships.

Do not conflate this to mean I’m seeking common ground with racists, sexists, or anyone who thinks race, gender, or ethnicity dictate one’s value. I will never willingly occupy space with such individuals. But if there’s space for me to bend a little, if there’s an opportunity for me to give of myself for the betterment of the relationship or project, I’m not opposed to that. This “me first” society and the attire you’re encouraged to wear doesn’t protect you. It turns you into the very thing you hate.

Wisdom > Intellect 

Walk with me for a spell, because on the surface this may sound fake deep. 

I’m a woman who values intelligence, and for a long time, becoming intellectually sound was a top priority, and to a certain degree, it still is, but now I’m more inclined toward wisdom. So, you might read this and think: what’s the difference? Intellect has a time limit. What may be the smart thing to do today, may not be the smart thing to do tomorrow. Wisdom, however, is infinite.

This life comes down to making the best decisions you can with what information you have access to at the moment and, unfortunately, we don’t always do our best. So, now, instead of asking myself “What’s the smart thing to do?” I’m now going to ask “What’s the wise thing to do?” Maybe it’s not making any decision at the moment, or going home and sleeping on it. Maybe the wise thing to do is take a step back and wait for things to play out a bit more. This question, I hope, will allow me to dig deeper and find richer answers. This question also requires that I employ a bit of discernment.

I don’t think this is a surefire way to avoid all of life’s pains, but I do believe it’ll help minimize them, and honestly, a win is a win!


As an insecure young woman, the best way I believed to assert myself was to have an edge in my voice. I wasn’t going to ever let anyone “try me” or “play me” again, and as a result, a hardness formed inside of me, and an inability to relax and breathe easily engulfed me. I soon realized this was no way to live. I could survive but I wouldn’t be able to live.

So, recently, I’ve tried to adopt mildness, which to me evokes calmness in demeanor, tone, and language. Harshness begets shame and embarrassment and can sometimes encompass an undertone of “I’m right and you’re wrong.” A harsh tongue can cut down a thousand-year-old tree. Mildness is the water that keeps the tree growing.

But mildness is a practice that I believe will bear ripe fruit. How you conduct yourself and speak to people matters. I’ve been spoken to and treated harshly and it's made me question my self-worth. Why would I intentionally do that to someone else? So yeah, I want to speak to people in a respectful and encouraging way and I think mildness is the best way to achieve that.


In the intro to this essay, I detailed my weaknesses, and throughout the body of it, I discuss how I toggled from one extreme to the next. I went from being a punk to attempting to preemptively punking others, and honestly, none of that worked. Many building blocks were missing from my character, but none greater than self-control. 

It’s my job to control my tongue, my conduct, and my reactions. It’s my job to say no to something now so I can warmly say yes to what’s important in the future. My lack of self-control has caused everything from financial problems (I don’t always need the newest $30 red lipstick from Sephora) to suffering through the after-effects of my time with Redacted.

Wait, who’s Redacted? 

Chapter 3 in my book, boo. Tap in.

Had I exercised more self-control, which also encompasses patience, I could’ve saved myself time and tears. Had I employed more self-control, I would’ve responded properly to the Aries who crushed me with his hurtful comments instead of reacting out of justified yet untamed anger. Self-control makes all the difference. It allows you to keep your integrity, grace, and dignity intact no matter the offense or circumstance. There are no hacks in life, but self-control is as close to one as any of us will ever have. I severely lacked it in the past and suffered the consequences. I’m done with learning those lessons.

Like I’ve said, reader, I’ve taken copious amounts of Ls to get to this point in my life, and what I’ve learned is that the best way to live is to be the best me I can be. I can’t take precautions on someone else’s behalf. I can only control who I am, what I do, and how I move in this world.

This is a living and breathing document. I may move some things around and may make some edits here and there, but for the most part, this is who I am, Shenequa, 2.0.

If you’d like to meet the Alpha version of Shenequa and hear about how all those Ls happen, you can say wassup to her HERE.


About the Author 

Shenequa Golding is a writer and an editor whose work focuses on race, gender, popular culture, and entertainment. A native New Yorker, her work, both on-camera and in print, has appeared in prominent Black publications, such as Vibe and Essence, as well as mainstream outlets, including Complex, the Associated Press, BBC, and Vanity Fair. Her essay, “Maintaining Professionalism in The Age of Black Death is . . . A Lot,” published on Medium in May 2020, has received 990K views to date. When not writing, she can be found watching The Golden Girls reruns, listening to her favorite true crime podcast, or geeking out whenever someone compliments her nails knowing they’re press-ons from Walgreens. Connect with her at and follow her on Twitter (@GoldingGirl617) and Instagram (@goldinggirl617).