A Window In: ShiShi Rose’s Sanctuary In The City

 ShiShi Rose is a writer and advocate for Black people, focused predominantly on Black women/femmes, LGBTQ+ Black people, and Black birth. She is also the co-host of the new podcast, It’s Not Me It’s You (which I can’t recomend enough). Today, she gives us a window-in to her sanctuary in the city.

Terracotta planters and indoor/outdoor blue bistro table.

LY: Can you share what is the difference for you, being raised in California, but now choosing to live in NY?

SR: I’m not used to paying so much to live! California is expensive, but New York is next level; and I think we only put up with it because it’s New York and we all wanna live where dreams are made or whatever. But some of those dreams are quickly smashed when its 100-degrees outside and you have eight grocery bags and two UPS boxes (that they couldn’t drop at your front door for you) to carry up a three-floor walk up. Living here is weird sometimes! I feel like most of us only stay here because of the illusion that New York provides. So many people are struggling to survive in these tiny apartments, jobs they hate, and subways that are always breaking down.
The difference I feel in living here is that people don’t wanna give up on the dream of living here as fast. What’s that saying? “If you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere.” Well, too many people are dying to make it here.

LY: And with that, this is your first solo apartment! What is it like living alone and being able to design your space as you wish?

SR: I lived alone in an apartment in LA once, and I was so scared I was gonna lose it all and not be able to afford it and someone was gonna take my new home from me that I never decoratedI All I had was a bed and a chair. This is my first time fully being able to make a space my own, and admittedly, I went a little nuts! I bought so much stuff that I had to get rid of some—I slowly started turning into my mother, the hoarder. I’m good now, and I’ve stopped buying furniture. Its been fun though! I love decorating and I love finding ideas to make this place feel more like a home.

LY: It is hard to ignore the energy in your place—it felt much like I was entering into you sanctuary. This was clear to me from the altar, to the tiny colorful and layered corners. Is this an accurate description? And if so, why is it important to you to have your place feel like this?

SR: Yeah, my home is really special and sacred to me. When everything in the world feels nuts and my work is stressful, or I had a hard day being Black, at least I know that in this space I can set a lot of that down for a moment. I work from home a lot with my writing, but lately I’ve been trying to be more intentional about writing outside of my apartment so that when I’m here in this space, it’s about joy and calmness.

LY: Do you have a morning ritual?

SR: Well, the alarm clock on my iPad goes off, I ignore it. Four of the alarm clocks on my phone go off, I ignore those, too. Then my actual alarm clock goes off and I scream and throw the covers off. I run to the kitchen to stuff some food down my throat, then waste more time finding the perfect playlist to get dressed to. I scream again because I’m running out of time, brush my teeth, get dressed, trip on my cats on the way out the door, and pray I remembered my headphones because life without music isn’t one I want to live! All this to say, I have no routine and every morning is a mess. I’m working on transferring some calmness to the morning!

LY: You have a lot of herbs and stones in your kitchen and around your house! I know your work requires a lot of energy, so how do you save some for yourself? How do you practice healing and self-care?

SR: I take small moments to breathe and center myself. I also try to force myself to take breaks from this work and from life as much as I can. Sometimes a break is just a few rounds of deep breathing before the chaos starts again. The little altars around my apartment and all the crystals really help with me meditate and calm down. And for the past two years, I’ve been learning a lot about Root work which not only helps me to calm my energy but helps me feel connected to my ancestors while being here on this land and feeling so disconnected from African culture. 

Candle from Sonshine Bath

LY: Do you have a design philosophy when it comes to your apartment?

SR: My design philosophy is to do what feels good. While I love looking at home design websites and Pinterest boards, ultimately its just inspiration. I want my home to feel like its mine not like I copied it off the Internet.

LY: Where is the rack hanging your fruit from?

SR: Target!

LY: I love the mural on your door! Can you share about why you felt it was important to create a Blank Panther mural on your door?

SR: The Black Panther Party, and particularly the women in it, are my biggest inspiration. They were fierce and powerful. This country has so much work to do when it comes to liberation for Black people and I don’t know if we will ever get there. I do know that the progress we have seen and do experience now as Black people is due to the Black people who fought to the death for us to be here. The BPP was predominantly run by its women, though history likes the leave that part out. They sacrificed so much, lost so much, and lived through and sometimes died in such terrifying times, ultimately paving the way for Black people to live and for future Black leaders to step in where they left off. 

My goal in life since I was a teenager was to to honor them and work hard advocating for Black people. This mural (which is a work in progress) reminds me of that promise to myself. Activism isn’t for everyone and I don’t think Black people should have to do this (especially because Black people shouldn’t have to obliterate the system of white supremacy when we did not create it yet suffer under it); but for those of us that are willing and can, we have the ability to change so much if we center around Black liberation, not whiteness, and don’t let our egos of being “big” in this work go to our heads.

Vinyl storage rack. Muave record player.
Art is Shi Shi’s own.

LY: One of the most common things you are asked to do is to teach, yet you refuse this identity of a teacher with students as followers. Why is this something you reject? And why is it important for white people not to look to black people to be their teachers in this conflict paradigm?

SR: Because I think its really boring that the people that made and benefit daily from white supremacy go to the people that they oppress and not only say, “Teach me about it,” but also “How do we end it?” It’s like if a neurosurgeon shows up drunk to work and when operating he clips something in your brain that removes your ability to function then tries to wake you up yelling at you to tell him how to fix it.

My problem with this whole student-teacher thing is that it also mistakenly assumes that Black people are in positions of power over white people, like we have access to knowledge and literature that they can not even fathom, so they must sit down and listen to us. Then this teacher-student archetype that we keep seeing playing over and over insists that THAT is the work to end white supremacy and liberate Black people. It centers around learning for white folks, as if thats all that was missing this entire time. To assume that white people are unintelligent or incapable of learning on their own is actually doing them a disservice. You can’t build the biggest power structure in the world—whiteness—and then be labeled as not knowing. They know enough about the damage that has been cause and is still be caused, so their learning is not the work. Their actions are. Redistribution of money is. Investing in the Black community through entrepreneurship, birth work, and programs is. Properly educating their white children is the work so that they do not continue a multi-century long tradition of raising entitled white children.

Is there learning to do? Sure! As a Black person, everyday I learn a little more about how deeply the Black community has been affected by white supremacy. And if my learning has never halted my actual work, why should it halt anyone else’s? I think people have this notion that they will learn and then they will do. That’s backwards—you do both at once. There’s no time for anything else. Black and Brown people are being killed; Black birthing people can barely have babies without facing extreme racial violence; and the Amazon is on fire because of how whiteness must dominate the entire world for money, even if it means killing us all. For centuries white supremacy has prioritized profit over human lives, and that’s why environmental racism exists at all. There’s no time for anyone to wait for white people to finish reading that book about race.

Everything Everything, Go Tell It On the Mountain, Between The World and Me

LY: When it comes to activism, New York, and your apartment, where do these worlds meet?

SR: Honestly? They kind of don’t meet anymore. I definitely think that my activism and my apartment work hand-in-hand in that this space is a safe place for me to land; but at the same time, I really don’t know how long I will be in New York. 

I moved here because, in California, I was having a hard time feeling like my activism was supported and in finding resources to move forward. But I mistakenly thought that New York was doing a better job of advocating for Black people. After working for several different organizations, and seeing the way that whiteness was monopolizing spaces, I realized that the biggest work for Black liberation was happening on the ground, not in some organization in the sky. Those doing this ground-shattering work in the Black community are not getting the support they deserve. So my goals while I’m here, however much longer that may be, is just to continue to work alongside those Black people and follow their lead and advocate with them. Currently I work for Ancient Song as a birth and postpartum doula. Ancient Song is a Black-run community-based doula collective in Brooklyn that prioritizes the care and advocacy of Black and Brown families and they are doing life saving work. 

(Thank you so much, Shi Shi! This post uses affiliate links, which we may earn a small commission from if you choose to purchase somethingThank you!)

3 thoughts on “A Window In: ShiShi Rose’s Sanctuary In The City

  • Reply Latoya August 30, 2019 at 9:25 am

    This interview was everything to me. Love Shi Shi’s work. I also wholeheartedly agree that teaching those that are in privilege is a disservice to them because it makes them comfortable with never having to do the work that change requires, including understanding their privilege and ways to change the narrative whether it be.on a large scale or in their daily lives.

  • Reply Rachel August 31, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    What is it about hanging pothos ivy and stacks of books that make a space feel so safe and dreamy?

    Love this interview and the work Shi Shi is doing. I recently ready this article about my city and was brought to tears. https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/deadly-deliveries/2019/03/07/maternal-death-rates-secret-hospital-safety-records-childbirth-deaths/2953224002/

  • Reply Katherine September 2, 2019 at 7:41 am

    What an incredible window-in. So many truth bombs in such a short space. I had to read the post three times to soak them up. Thank you ShiShi. And thank you LaTonya.

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