Yesterday I had the displeasure of watching MSN’s Everyday Racism; Town Hall Meeting. The meeting wasn’t bad or inaccurate, it just angered me. I don’t need anything else to bring out my rage, intolerance and hopelessness regarding systemic, institutional racism. But as much as the conversation brought out emotions, it also made me think deeply and reflect. One topic was about the things that we as black people do to not rattle, scare or make the white folks uncomfortable. I started to think back…far back into my twenties and thirties.
I worried about what white people thought at all times. I worried that if I took too many samples in Sam’s Club or Cub’s, I would look broke and hungry. I loved the different colors that could spice up my hair, but I would only do dark reds that you only see in the sun. I didn’t want to be the “ghetto black girl” with the orange, purple or blue hair. When I would speak, instead of speaking the King’s English the way my voice comes out of my mouth, I would talk one octave higher and sharpen my words.
As I moved into the workplace, I would never speak up for myself. To add insult to injury, my self esteem was very low. Instead of having opinions in performance reviews; I would do passive aggressive things like talk to the other black women about our white supervisors. I would perform the way I thought they wanted me to perform, and my conversations were geared toward the topic that interests them. None of this made a difference in my performance reviews or paychecks.
As I entered my thirties my children’s education and getting into good universities was my focus. When my son would act up, the first thing I would address is how he’s making me look to our white neighbors, instead of addressing his actual behavior. If a white mother brought my children home, I would feel queasy when they pulled up to my home. I would prepare to be “on”. That meant discussing the things going on in their lives and pretending to care. Behind our doors we were sacrificing and working our asses off just to stay in the school district, but I’m in my driveway talking about how her husband never puts his suit jackets away.
After my children were accepted to top Universities, I told every white person I knew. And I mean EVERYONE OF THEM. My mindset was look over here at what my children have done. They succeeded and did better than your privileged children. My daughter received a full academic scholarship to The Ohio State University.
Once I turned forty, things changed drastically. My two close friends, white women( Hey Dawn and G) began to have conversations with me regarding race and privilege. We would have hour long conversations on the phone and one day out of the blue, I was told that I was fine the way I am. I was told that although I talk a lot and come into the room with lots of noise, I was loved. They said I shouldn’t be working for the approval of anyone who doesn’t have love for me, whether white or black.
These last two years I have made it a priority to be my authentic self. I do exactly what I want to do. I don’t live my life to make sure someone who gives zero thought about me is comfortable. I take samples when I want them and wear my hair however the heck I want-my life is not run by trying to fit in with my oppressors. I am a black woman ; strong, courageous, intelligent, funny and proud. I am free to be who I am with not one apology. Tomorrow morning I plan on mixing a few colors and having fun with my hair. And this weekend I’m gonna spend time with the people who love and appreciate every single part of me.