My Letter of Love and Care to The Onlys: 5 Practices and Beliefs that Keep Me Centered in Self-Love

Aiko Bethea
8 min readFeb 15, 2021
Veertzy via Unsplash


Who is The Only: I have to be clear about what I mean when I say “The Only.” I don’t mean that you just happen to be the only one in spaces with a specific identity. I mean that you consistently find yourself in spaces where you are automatically put in the position of less than. You enter the room perceived to be at a deficit. There is automatically a status of exerting power over you. You are not expected to be there. The room, the space, the dynamics, history — none of it contemplates having your presence, your experience, and your history in that space. As Abigail Echo-hawk says: you’re colonially underserved and institutionally underserved.

As a Black American woman who is nisei and was raised without material wealth and access, my lens on being The Only primarily focuses on the intersection of race, class, gender, and nationality. I think these experiences overlap with many other intersections, but certainly do not account for all. So this Valentine’s Day love letter is to those who have been and continue to be subjugated systemically, historically, and institutionally. In colonized spaces- by default you don’t belong. By default you are an imposter. By default you are denied power. By default, power is exercised over you.

This definition of The Only is critical to include as a precursor as I’ve noticed that anyone who feels “left out” will deem themselves an Only, despite the fact that colonial history and systems bend to them. I’m not talking about you in this piece, but that doesn’t mean that perhaps it can’t be of use for you to read this. Maybe it will help you to love us, and after all, this is a love letter.

To My Folx: The Onlys

It’s a gift to see so many who are resisting celebrating and defining only one type of love, the love that is erotic and often steeped in sexism. There’s more language about loving ourselves in a way that enables us to be more of Ourselves, even if we exist in a world that does not love us and/or does not know how to love us.

I’m sharing 5 Beliefs and Practices that support me in create loving spaces for myself. These are spaces where I can thrive. (This can also mean creating headspace and mind space that’s healthy for me.) Maybe they’ll be useful for you as well.

1. Be Rooted in Fertile Ground (Community) My community is everything to me. I see community as defined by M. Scott Peck and cited by bell hooks in her book, all about love:

The coming together of a group of individuals “who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to ‘rejoice together, mourn together,’ and to ‘delight in each other, and make other’s conditions our own.’ ”

Community fuels me, covers me, sees me, and holds me.

All of us can’t count our family of origin as our community. Find or build your community. Find people who you can be real with. Find your space to cry, to shout, to be profane (although I seem to do this anywhere and with anyone), to freely give support to and receive support from, and where you can be vulnerable and psychologically safe. Where is this for you? Seek to have this with at least one other person. It is a gift if you have this with more people. Community will affirm you, shelter you, and even hold you accountable to your truths.

Important note: My community has changed as I’ve changed. As I learned more about myself and grew, I was no longer welcomed in some spaces. I no longer had freedom to communicate honestly. I wasn’t seen. So yeah, I experienced loss and grief. And, when I honored my values to be in community where I was seen, I was rewarded. It reaffirmed my love for myself and my right to take up space openly, to be safe, and to be loved.

2. Filter your Water. (See it and Name it)

Like a fish doesn’t know it’s in water, many of us can’t see that we’ve been swimming in toxic water since Day One. Water that is meant to kill us. Water that was never meant to nourish us. Step back and see it. This means seeing and naming colonization, white supremacy, sexism, transphobia, classism- all of it. Then it means Naming It. You cannot shift into a healthy and loving mindset when you are absorbing and internalizing toxicity. Your inner critic will take on that toxicity- the mindset and sentiments of our broken environment and speak it back to us until it becomes our own voice.

You ever struggle with an inner critic that consistently tells you you’re not worthy, you’re not enough, you don’t belong? The toxic water of white supremacy feeds that critic. So you gotta filter it.

If you can’t identify and name the toxic shit, it makes it a helluva a lot harder to reject it. Give words to the toxicity so that you can tell yourself when you see it and feel it, and then disarm it.

I am NOT saying that you need to take up arms against every assault. I AM saying that you must be equipped to neutralize the effects on you. This requires- seeing the destructive systems etc., naming them, and speaking to yourself affirmatively to reject them. (See# 5)

3. Feed yourself well (Do work that you believe in.)

Many of us spend a majority of our time performing some type of work or labor that will support us in existing: housing, food, healthcare, recreation. We spend five or more hours a day performing this labor. How might your spirit feel if for those five or more hours, it is constantly messaged to you that:

- You (and those like you) don’t belong there. You are unworthy. You are invisible. You aren’t welcomed into informal community conversations as an equal participant. You are compared against a default standard that does not account for you.

- You (and those like you) aren’t good enough. You’re provided opportunities, if any, that are secondary to those offered to others. You’re criticized v. coached.

In addition to toxic culture, there’s also the issue of performing work that is harmful to your community. Philanthropic work that disempowers communities and even countries. Legal work that keeps some at the top and others at the bottom. Take your pick.

How do you remain nourished?

- Plan to transition to a space that humanize its workforce, particularly The Onlys

- Spend time with community that is affirming

- Use your voice and presence to shift the workplace

- Exercise high engagement and low investment at the workplace

- Keep learning, growing, practicing

- Find ways to live purposefully (values are aligned with your practices, which drive you towards a path of action)

4. Prune. (Affirmations) Sometimes people describe this as speaking to ourselves the way we speak to someone we love. I can’t quite say that because I don’t always show up in a loving way with those who I love the most. My words can be caustic and harsh. I am a work in progress. However, do

- My affirmations are short statements and come in many voices. Cut to Issa looking in the mirror and saying: Girl you know you all that. You know you supposed to be here! Shit. I dare them to say otherwise.

- My affirmations are images of resilience, strength, and my folx. I see Sojourner, Harriet, my mama, Audre, Ms. Anderson (my 6th grade teacher), Ms. McJimpsey (1st grade), Madame LaBiche (elementary French), Mr. Prysock (kindergarten), Prof. Charles Daye (lawschool), Assata, Angela- and yeah Issa out here saying on the red carpet: I’m rooting for everybody Black. I feel like she’s looking right at me and saying: Git it, girl. I got my girl on Twitter saying:

- My affirmations are songs, gospels, scriptures, and sayings from my Obachan. If you’re faith-based or spiritual, get those chants, mantras and scriptures that speak to you about who you are, and who you are meant to be. Sometimes it’s a lyric or beat from Missy, Nina, or Janelle.

5. Living in the (sun)Light (Practice radical self-love)

I will always hold Sonya Rene Taylor up for the Three Peaces she outlines in her book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-love:

Make peace with not understanding

I have been conditioned, rewarded, and incentivized to be a Knower. We are respected more, can exercise more control and power over processes, systems, and other people by being a Knower. We know the data. We know the facts. We can hold firmly onto our ground and position by countering. Knowing allows us to engineer the hell out of vulnerability.

It is stressful to be a Knower. Being a Knower is stationary and stagnate. There is no longer space to be wrong, to shift, to grow. Being a Knower leaves us with few options to share knowing, power, control, and grace (to yourself and to others). Being a Knower leaves you paying a heave burden of shouldering an disproportionate amount of accountability, because you refuse to share power, control, and knowing. Being a Knower often leads to binary thinking where multiple narratives aren’t allowed to co-exist.

As Sonya Renee Taylor writes: Contrary to common opinion, freeing ourselves from the need to understand everything can bring about a tremendous amount of peace.

Embrace being a Learner- knowing you will make mistakes as part of growing and that others will be the teachers. Be persistent in making this invaluable investment in yourself.

Make peace with difference

We are The Onlys. We are different. To love ourselves, we must make peace with difference and even embrace it. As cited by Sonya Renee Taylor, Audre Lord wrote: It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

Consider oft-cited statements like: I don’t even see color; You aren’t like the Other xxxx (which usually means you’re more like us and therefore more acceptable to us). These statements erase our differences and attempt to create a false sameness. They rewardssameness, sameness with the colonially favored. With this formula, you will always be less than.

By not accepting and embracing our differences, we will always be wrong. We will always operate at a deficit. Our attempts to achieve equality will mean to assimilate and become as proximate to whiteness or whatever the majority power marker is. This will kill you.

Make peace with your body

I will simply state that you cannot love yourself if you cannot love this vessel in which you exist. I mean love it now and in its current state, at this very moment. Not after that surgery, after losing x pounds, getting this hairstyle, being cured. Sonya Renee Taylor writes:

Hating your body is like finding a person you despise and then

choosing to spend the rest of your life with them while loathing

every moment of the partnership.

And remember to rest.



Aiko Bethea

Aiko is Founder of RARE Coaching & Consulting, a leadership development agency that focuses on emotional intelligence. NYT Best Seller: You Are Your Best Thing.