Nubia Yasin: Art Is A Weapon Against Unhealthy Shame

By Nubia Yasin

1 year ago

Somali-American writer and artist Nubia Yasin on art and shame

First generation Somali-American, Memphis-born: Nubia Yasin is a writer and multidisciplinary artist telling stories about Black femmehood, with a specific focus on shame. From Netflix to Apple Music to a full poetry collection (The Blood and Body, published in August 2022), Nubia’s poetry meditates on pain as a catalyst in deepening the inner world, with a goal of eradicating shame. Here, Nubia writes for C&TH on the use of art as a weapon against this unhealthy shame.

Nubia Yasin: Art Is A Weapon Against Unhealthy Shame

Nubia Yasin

Nubia Yasin (© Jamie Harmon)

In my life, there has been no more debilitating bully than shame. 

At times, it has stolen my voice when I needed to speak. My strength when I needed to run. My softness when I needed to be compassionate – to myself and others. I think many can understand what poison unhealthy shame is to the self. What I don’t think we spend a lot of time on is how our own shame can poison those around us, too. What you cannot accept within yourself, you will weaponize against other people. And you will do so unconsciously at times. You may even feel like you’re doing it for their own good. They should know they aren’t acceptable. Why should they get to be this way when I’m doing everything in my power to show that I’m something different? 

That’s the thing about shame. It separates you so drastically from those things within you you may deem defects. You begin to believe those parts of you are, by virtue, unloveable. Inhuman. Evil. To protect yourself from the pain of that, you begin to bury those parts. You open a door to a room inside of you, oft not ventured into. You stow those parts of you away. You lock the door. You attempt to forget about them. But you can’t really forget. They gnaw at you from the inside. They’re a tinnitus ringing in your ear. You may attempt to cloak yourself in the inverse. You may do what you can to distract yourself and others. When you see things in other people that remind you of those hidden parts, you may feel a burning in your cheeks. You may feel disgusted. You may feel ashamed, embarrassed. You may think, don’t they know they should feel this way too? And just like that, a weapon is formed. 

Maybe it takes the shape of judgment. Or coldness. Meanness. Maybe you laugh at them. Maybe you attempt to save them from themselves, like you have so successfully done for yourself. Maybe they become a villain of sorts. Unlovable. Inhuman. Evil. 

For much of my life, I’ve felt this way whenever I observed someone just being themselves, and doing so loudly. Whenever I saw people taking up space, freely locating their own joy, it would sting. I’ve felt so restricted in my life and in my body. I’ve felt so ashamed of my strangeness that when I saw someone doing what I felt I could not, I disliked them. I found some flaw and clung to it. This was secret work, mind you. I scarcely knew I was doing it. To my surface mind, I was just ‘keeping it real’. It took some long hard looks in the mirror to realize I was envious of their freedom. And that envy made me unkind. 

So how could I fix this? One thing I knew wouldn’t work? Feeling bad about myself. You don’t cure a lack of external compassion with a lack of internal compassion. I didn’t need to be punished. That only brings more shame. I needed to acknowledge what I was running from in all my judging. I had to go to that room inside me, oft not ventured into. I had to unlock it, and say to what I had hidden there; I see you. I don’t hate you. 

For me, the key to that room has been art. Most, if not all of my shame, at its root, is about things I left unsaid. How liberating, then, to tell my story again and again and again. That’s what poetry has done for me. There are so many things I thought I would die having not shared. But now, I’ve published an entire book of former secrets. I’ve performed the very words I wrote in isolation. I’ve granted my shame an audience so that it may be transmuted into something powerful. 

Recently, I’ve rediscovered my love for singing. Yet another thing shame almost stole from me. I used to sing endlessly when I was younger. As I got older, for one reason or another, it began to feel too audacious. I stopped. Now, I’ve taken to singing loudly in the shower. It doesn’t always sound amazing. Sometimes it even hurts a bit, to be honest. I can feel the effects of my shrinking over the years. Being big in my art, taking up space, it’s a muscle I’m gonna have to build back up. I’m still not exactly where I wanna be. Shame still sits on my chest sometimes. And I think I can’t move. Or speak. It’s easy to feel like maybe the task is just too daunting. 

But then again, nothing feels quite as good as belting after years of whispering.

The Blood and Body

The Blood and Body (© HomieHousePress)

The Blood and Body is published by Homie House Press.

Featured image © Jamie Harmon.