Who is Sophie Williams? Well, a TED Speaker, leading anti-racism advocate, activist, and the author of two books – Anti Racist Ally and Millennial Black, which is coming out this April. Her writing also features in appeared in publications such as The Guardian, Bustle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Refinery29, Elle, and Grazia. Sophie is a regular panelist, speaker, consultant, and workshop facilitator with a focus on anti-racism, and Diversity and Inclusion. She’s also someone who see’s the importance of the family you make. Here it is in her own glorious words:
In Praise of Chosen Families
I think it’s time we redefined what family means. Because, at least for me, the old version just isn’t working any more.
I don’t mean it’s not working for anyone, but I do mean that for millions of people, setting up email filters to avoid having to see countdowns and floral arrangements to a day that hurts more than it helps, it’s too tight and too narrow. Too small, and too shallow.
What we have now, the way it’s ‘meant to work’, for so many people, just doesn’t. Instead it pinches and squeezes, forcing us to decide between cutting off chunks of ourselves to fit into shapes that were never, really, meant for us, or finding…something else. Some other way.
And so that’s what I’m suggesting. A new way. An other way, this others day.
I want something that I can shape, something that I can build and sculpt and mould around myself into the perfect fit, just for me. Wrapping myself up in it, and feeling held in the safety of it’s embrace.
I started writing this several days ago, and I kept walking away from it and coming back, not sure what to say or how to say it. It’s harder than I expected, I think because it’s something we don’t talk about very often, out in the open where it belongs. It’s hard to say ‘I don’t speak to my family. I am estranged. I am here on my own. Sometimes it hurts, but I have found ways to make that work.’
Happily, these days, a big part of the reason that saying ‘I am here on my own’ is difficult is that, although it felt true in many ways for a very long time, the truth now is different. I am not alone. Not any more. Because I do have a family, just not one that fits into a box with a Hallmark bow.
I have built and crafted my own family, my chosen family. These are not bonds held together by a shared past, or a biological desire to protect genes for the future, but by love. Simply that.
So, now I’m back, to finish this piece that I’ve started, and to be able to do that, I needed to think ‘what is it I want to say?’ And I think it’s this.
I want to say that family is the people who make you feel safe. The people who make you feel loved. The people who you know beyond a shadow of a doubt care about every inch of you. And not just because they have biology in the game.
I want to say that family can be the people who you choose, and those who choose you, actively and consciously. And that chosen families are no less important, and no less valuable than those that are held together by strings of DNA.
I want you to know, with absolute certainty, that chosen families are built on, maintained by, and protected with just as much real, deep, enduring love as is shared by any ‘traditional family’ in a portrait you’d see on the front of a greetings card.
I want you to know, if you feel alone, if what you’ve been handed isn’t what you need, that doesn’t need to be the beginning and end of it. We can redefine what family means, and we can do it on our own terms, in our own ways, and for our own reasons. And we don’t have to justify that to anyone else.
I need you to know, as Arlo Parks told us in a song I have been listening to on repeat recently, ‘it won’t hurt so much for ever.’
Solonge (in her infinite wisdom) told us ‘Create your own committees, build your own institutions, give your friends awards, award yourself, and be the gold you wanna hold,’ Do all of this, and more. Take it further, build your own families. Do it with love. Invest in the relationships, even if other people don’t recognise them.
Choose your family, be chosen by them in return.