I am black. I am a woman. I am a black woman. Those are three different things. Truly. Plus they are all things that you can see on sight. They bring different responsibilities and varied challenges. I'm okay with that. Well of course it's permanent, but I am still really okay with that.
I do not speak for all black women, I do not speak for all black people or all women, athletes, Brooklynites, those under 5'6", right-handers, etc.
It's tiring to always represent your race or gender, but I have been successful at it and am happy to do it well, which I hope is most of the time.
Sometimes, I am the first black woman that someone has interacted with, dated or developed a friendship with. At times, I am that "one" that surprised you. And there are times where it doesn't matter who or what I am, because you knew who I was the instant you saw me.
I love me for all that I have experienced. I wanted to be as tough and strong as my dad and show that I was cut from the same cloth. I wanted to show some that I can do as much as they can and surpass them (I am competitive -- very). I wanted to suffocate the hate and doubt that I saw in people's eyes by my performance and fair conduct with others. I wanted the hateful doubters to either learn from me or be vexed.
Stereotypes: I embrace some, use some, mock some and shake my head at others.
Being black... you always have to be better, work harder, not be too threatening/be on good behavior (to an extent) and are a representative of your race.
Being a woman... you have to be better, work harder, not be too threatening/be too aggressive and are a representative of your gender.
Being a black woman... well, shiiiitttt, you know how it goes. All of the above, besides combating "Angry Black Woman Syndrome" and dealing with more reasons for people to doubt you.
I take it all and I use it. Have I handled everything with class and grace? No. With wit and humor? Sometimes. With anger? Occasionally. With sadness? Yes.
When a girl in college verbalized her surprise that I could use Herbal Essences shampoo, I turned the bottle around and said, "Well, it doesn't say 'No Nigras' on it." Disbelief and anger there.
When I overheard a friend and crush of mine say, "Oh she's nice and cute -- great girl -- but I could never date her; she's black," it cut me to the quick and I was crushed. Someone who had made it past my moat and been let behind the wall hurt me.
I have smiled and said nothing when I was being complimented on my performance, on completion of a task or when I exhibited a certain skill level. Doing my job all the while representing blacks, women and black women in the midst of surpassing preconceived notions.
When I excel, I don't have to know why you are pleased, impressed or surprised.
If you are not about me, I don't have to know why you are disinterested, you disapprove or you diss me.
While there is the triple-play of prejudice that one can serve me, there are also three exciting ways for me to pursue legal action (wink wink). I make that joke at work to those who can handle it. For we all have the knowledge that the one thread of truth in there is quite real and carries some weight. I don't want to throw a boomerang out there to check people, but it is there. I will never turn down having more items in my utility belt; it just doesn't mean I have to use them.
I have learned through experience, relationships and time that I can only be me, however; there cannot be a period at the end of that sentence because I am black, I am a woman and I am a black woman. Since it isn't all that simple and there is a certain gravitas that comes along with that, I ponder on Stan Lee's "With great power comes great responsibility." As a comic fan, I love you Stan Lee, but it was Voltaire who first said, "With great power there must also come great responsibility." And as a good and faithful servant, I think about "To those who much is given, much is required" - Luke 12:48. Do I have power? Yes, of a certain kind. I feel that much is required for what I have been given. One thing is certain: I have always wanted to effect change.
I feel it is my duty to rep my groups well, so maybe there will be one less comment, one less shunning of someone else who comes along or to combat some crappy individual that somebody crossed paths with.
I am not out there looking for people to put me in a category or group, but it happens a lot. By my existence I am inevitably in these groups, but some people want to put you in those boxes and assign your identity or makeup -- with some very real consequences. For instance, I was up for a job and went through a rigorous application process. During my last interview, some of my college alumni activities were discussed. I had conducted prospective-student interviews, was a member of the Black Alumni Committee and had recently been nominated to be on the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association. The rest of the interview presumably went well and I waited to hear the decision. As you may have guessed, I did not get the job. A couple years later, I happened to find out that they had really liked me and thought I would do well, minus the fact that I was "militant." Militant?! Shut the front door! Damn, shut it twice! Really?? Being involved in planning activities sponsored by black alums means I was symbolically raising my fist in the interview and letting them know that in the meantime? Unreal... nope, just one portion of my life. Jeez.
In general, I think that I have been considered a "safe" black person/woman/black woman, minus attending those Black Power rallies (you better know I am kidding). I have a sense of humor, I am not easily offended by people being politically incorrect and I am all for using teaching moments when appropriate. I do not think that I am trying to be safe, but I must say that I do adjust my blackness and womanness (emphasis of or attention drawn to) in certain situations or different groups. It's like attending an event and deciding which attire and what kind of item to bring: You need to keep in mind the setting you will be entering in order to be dressed appropriately and find a good pairing.
I am not a feminist, but I am about gender equality and gender intelligence. With all of that said, it doesn't matter what my background is, because guess what? Once that N-word zings around it's the great equalizer. If the See-You-Next-Tuesday C-word is dropped, the sisterhood is in full force. Double your pleasure and double my fun by combining slurs or derogatory language, and hot diggity: You've got yourself a double word score of bigotry.
I do not go out there looking to see how someone is categorizing me. Something that I deal with consistently is men and women of all races, ethnicities and nationalities telling me how someone is being racist, sexist or prejudiced against me. Whether I am doing something for work and a man calls me "Darling," someone gives me "advice" but does not give it to a man in the same situation or an assumption is made about me connected to race, people point it out and frequently revisit it. Barring something egregious, if someone is being a dick, then they are being a dick. That's the bottom line. I do not need to overanalyze why, since it is usually something small in the spectrum of what I have seen and may possibly face in the future. Growing up, learning and dealing with certain situations and encounters has learned me on how to deal. I cannot let the past instances tear me down. I do not consistently rehash things, because that would not serve me well and could keep me from being whole.
It's in my personality that I would like to be liked and thought well of by others. I am a people-pleaser and I want everyone to be as comfortable, accommodated and happy as possible. I do run myself ragged from time to time, trying to make sure that we (me plus whomever I am with) are reaching the fairest solution, resolution or conclusion as possible, for the sake of all. I am fairly successful, but it can be tiring.
Why do I do this? I think it's because I feel that everyone should be considered. Before you hear "Kumbaya" in the background, let me say this: I do not suffer fools. I am a social architect with Art of War tendencies. I just am. However, if I am not about you, then I will keep my distance and be cordial. There is no need to be crude.
You cannot make everyone happy, but I try -- and at times I wonder if that was me playing a kind of offense for my potential prejudice trifecta. If I work hard, am awesome, make everything good, make everyone happy, then how can you hate me? It's a nice and presumably sound strategy, I suppose, but there will always be those who are not about me, for any number of reasons.
There is a weight that I carry around because my words, actions and interactions are frequently perceived on behalf of my race and gender. No pressure, right? There is pressure, and it's even more evident to me because I care. I have to be me, the best me, and what if I make a misstep? Did I let down my race, my gender or both at once? I do not live in fear of failing; I feel there is no use in that and it's a waste. Instead, I am aware, responsible and live in the space where at the center I am me.
For more by Angela Gray, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.