Over the years, as my writing has become almost entirely focused on whiteness and white people, I accidentally have moved further away from the very reason why this blog was created: To claim my own humanity while living in a very white state—and not lose my very essence as a Black woman.
While I have generated a sizable audience across the nation and even beyond, there is a cost to choosing to fully immerse myself in the waters of anti-racism work—both professionally when I became the executive director of Community Change Inc. in 2014 and through my writing here. I have unwittingly allowed the tentacles of white supremacy culture to grab hold of me.
How you might ask?
By not allowing myself the spaciousness to be fully human at all times. By slowly allowing myself to succumb to anti-Blackness by holding myself to an impossible standard that whiteness inflicts upon Black women in particular.
As Dr. Jenn Jackson recently tweeted, “Black folks (especially women) are socialized to not seek help, not to reveal personal struggles and hardships, and not to ever seem “undone” or imperfect. Essentially, we are denied humanity, so we become inhumane to ourselves.”
I read these words several days ago,and they have just sat in my soul. Especially as I was grappling with whether or not I had made the right decision to publicly disclose I have been struggling with low-grade depression. Or even that I am struggling with the recent breakup (of sorts) with the man who has been in my life. In choosing to share these details, it felt like I was being “too much.”
I was allowing myself to be vulnerable and that felt deeply uncomfortable, because unlike some types of public disclosure, this is the deep stuff of the real me. Not some random racist annoying me and causing me temporary discomfort. This is the stuff that has laid me out and that keeps me up at night. As a Black Gen X woman, I was raised that our personal business stays personal. Yet, how can I be my most authentic self when I am hiding the stuff that deeply impacts me. If I am showing up as “business as usual” when it’s anything but, how can I be in authentic relationships with others and myself?
It’s even more complicated in a world that rewards white women for sharing their authentic vulnerability. Brene Brown and many others have made careers and fortunes out of it. Meanwhile, Black women—despite our seemingly brave external facades—too often are stuffing down ourselves out of fear and anti-Blackness rules, unspoken but still very real.
We cannot move the needle racially if we are not allowed to be our full selves. At the same time, our fears of blowback are not without justification. I recently revealed to a client that I could not finish our project as scheduled because I am coming out of a bout with depression. The client at no point expressed concern about me as a person—just concerns about the project. It rubbed me the wrong way and actually compounded the fact that most of the time, when Black women allow ourselves to be vulnerable and messy, we are met with empty platitudes about “strong Black women.” I don’t know, but at 50, I have been strong my entire life. I am tired of being strong. In fact, can I sign up for the soft life?
In the United States, Black women have always been seen as strong. We literally toiled in the fields and took care of massa’s kids, while creating space to tend to our own babies—and more. All while dealing with the injustices heaped upon our psyches and bodies. We were and are the backbone of many efforts for social change in this country. Anytime a Black woman is allowed to ascend to leadership positions, more likely than not she is cleaning up someone else’s mess before she can even start the work of executing her own visions of leadership. Trust me on this one—I’ve seen it a multitude of times and I’ve lived it.
A Black woman’s strength is making the impossible look easy and doing it with style and grace. Meanwhile, she may be carrying the financial weight of multiple family members, raising kids, being a rock for her partner and community—all while very few ever show up for her. Societal conditioning says, “Don’t ask for help; don’t allow anyone to see what you are really facing.” In the last three years, I have weathered storms that would have crushed many, but the price has been high. I literally am a ball of stress. In some instances, I danced with the devil and slayed the dragon—I won, but with the cost I paid to do so, have I really won?
Dismantling white supremacy is not just limited to white-bodied people. It is a group project that we all must be involved in, at both personal, interpersonal, and community levels. In many ways, the work for white-bodied people is more clear-cut.
For Black folks and other folks of color it gets trickier. We have to unearth how many of our “values” are simply manifestations of white supremacy. It is dismantling global anti-Blackness that makes us yearn for a white aesthetic. It is turning inward and seeing our own humanity and claiming it—knowing that as Black women, for example, it is critical at times to unapologetically center ourselves and our well-being and not give in to the temptation to become a caricature. To not play the strong Black woman role when it is slowly killing us.
For those who purport to love and care about Black women, can you love and care for us in our fragility and brokenness? Can you tenderly hold us whether physically or metaphorically? Or can you only see us when we are saving the day and enduring more than any human should? Can you see us, when we stake our claim and say “yes” to ourselves first? Or do you still need a societal mammy to caretake and inspire you?
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Image by Johnathan Kaufman via Unsplash.