I love how you put this. It’s an ongoing chess game. What part of me do I put forward for this, that part for the other? What do I have compartmentalize, tamp down, shut up or control in order to accomplish X? What mask to I have to wear in this conversation to have someone not perceive me as threatening?
I think, although I cannot know how accurate this is, that the demand to constantly appease a societal expectation- particularly to avoid being shot or damaged for the crime of Womaning While Black (if you will forgive my bastardization of a phrase) is a whole other stress on top of all the others. Work, love, romance (such as there is with the mass incarceration of Black men, and the limited numbers of those with degrees, jobs and intellectual development equivalent to the numbers of Black women who have done that kind of work). I have no answers. Just more questions.
Every year in October, at least up until now, I’ve spoken at the SREB conference which celebrates the achievement of primarily Black students who have gotten their PhDs. This would be my 18th year. These people are brilliant. Yet our world- with its inability to see Black women, and the deeper and more insidious issue of confirmation bias- makes their achievements hard to see and the best jobs hard to get. Especially in a world where some 85% of us lie on resumes. A young Black woman with a shiny new PhD in Mollecular Biology has a long road to climb, in part because of the issues you’ve listed. She simply doesn’t exist. She cleans the sink. She doesn’t do research.
It is my deep and abiding good fortune to have grown up in the Deep South to Northern parents, who ensured that I not only got a real education, but grew up with a Black family which was inseparable from my own. For me strong Black women defined my childhood, not as nannies but as fellow employees on my father’s very small farm, as a second mother, as sisters. Both our families were very poor. My dad was able to hire people but barely. Two of those women are now dead, both from complications of diabetes. One was my second mother, the other my sister. I am always and forever cut off from those experiences by my color. But the intimacy of our upbringings, the experiences we all had growing up together bound us deeply. My understanding, as limited as it will forever be, is at least guided by a childhood that saw color as normal. I am deeply uncomfortable where there is no diversity. And far more uncomfortable with the fact that no matter how “diversity” efforts move forward, they still fall far short of addressing the state of Black women. That any of us, of any color, would blame people for being victimized is as horrific as the white supremacists who attacked me for my stories about being raped in the military.
That is, of course, our compulsive desire to believe that society is just. Please don’t spew your coffee on your keyboard. The inability to embrace the viciousness and racism that lives in all of us, our denial that we aren’t righteous and that the world is fair are all part of what perpetuates our evil.
Again, I don’t have answers. I do have friends, friends who are across the spectrum of race, gender, creed, culture. I am immensely grateful to them that my being a white woman does not seem to limit the level of closeness. There will always and forever be a limit to what I can possibly understand about being a gay woman, an Hispanic man, a Black woman. That’s true for all of us, but further exacerbated by color. But these and many more are my foundation, my building blocks. Without them I would be poor indeed.
Thanks for your article.