It's not a secret - I am an American woman of African descent. My face is on our blog, my Twitter, and Instagram feeds. Yes, I see myself as an American first. My family has been part of this land, the United States of America, involuntarily and voluntarily since the 1600s. I see the world through a slightly different lens than many people outside of my culture. I am culturally African American, and I identify as a female heterosexual. I hate I have to write what I am, but it's delusional to think it doesn't matter in the USA.
When I use the term African American, I am not speaking of color per se, although that is the chief identifier society uses to describe me. I'm referencing the particular combination of traits and traditions which impacts most moments of my life outside of my home and has the potential to affect me inside my home. It's the cultural glue that holds black and brown women together - family values and the need to persevere for future generations. We've learned to listen and differentiate the truth from the lies because our lives depend upon it. We are bi-cultural because we must be able to fully function in our culture and the dominant culture around us. Black women have learned to shift between the two as needed. This conversation might be uncomfortable to some, but I will press on. It's time to talk about the elephant in the room.
As a black woman, I don't owe society smallness. If shrinking myself is the cost of being accepted, I'll pass. I refuse to make myself smaller or less interesting, dimming my intelligence to make others feel comfortable. I will continue to reject the label of being intimidating when others are intimidated not by my actions but by my presence. It's not up to me to make anyone comfortable with who I am if I am being my true self. We are all created just as we are supposed to be. Designed to have warm pecan brown skin and big hair, and I'm perfectly ok with that. We all should be comfortable with who we are and how our genetics engineered us. No one group has the right to claim to be the one and only or the best over any group of people. No human group is inherently better than any other group because of outward physical traits.
Black women should not be required to be perfect to stay alive, be seen, loved, and protected. This perfection isn't a requirement for any other woman. This argument may seem superficial, but it is serious for Black women. Perception can affect black women in a very deadly way.
I have been a registered nurse for over thirty years. Years ago, there was a shocking revelation that noted tennis player Serena Williams almost died after the birth of her daughter. I was not shocked, having worked in obstetrics, just sad it was still happening. While working in high-risk antepartum and post-partum units, I noticed that the average healthcare provider - male or female could not understand what the average Black woman was saying regarding her pain or symptoms. Stereotypes of various cultures permeate all aspects of life but are especially dangerous in healthcare. The providers found it easy to disregard these women and their reported symptoms. The miscommunication wasn't a vernacular issue. It was as if the woman spoke Chinese and the doctors were Russian. I often found myself acting as the interpreter. These were articulate women, yet they were in danger of not being heard. That was one of the reasons I stayed in obstetrics for so long. Communication was always tense as if there was a mental wall that the women had to chip away, bit by bit. I had to coach these women on what keywords to say to speak the provider's language. Most of the time, I intervened and interpreted for the woman because time was of the essence. People's ability to live long, happy lives is often connected to the quality of healthcare they receive. Something as straightforward as a normally progressing pregnancy and impending delivery of the child should not threaten a Black woman's life disproportionally than any other woman. It should be a happy celebrated moment. If the provider doesn't believe or understand the woman, it puts her in danger of losing her life and her unborn child. Many say this is the past. Those people need to look beyond their immediate circle to see the challenges of others. Sometimes it is sad when "allies" can't see the path you have to travel daily, disappointing even. But we, as the human race, must first understand people around us and the various roads they have traveled to occupy the same space to be true allies.
This blog is not a poor me blog. It is an I am here and will not apologize for my existence type blog. A specific type of invisibility comes with this skin I'm in. It's a negation of existence unless my physical or mental labor is needed or if I have a talent that can be annexed or commodified for others. Any challenges to these perceptions are deemed angry or problematic. The problem is society can't continue to label Black women as insignificant and a threat to be boxed out of conversations, blocked from achieving fundamental human rights, or contending with professional stunting. It's illogical.
We, as black women, are expected to accept this as who we are unless we play by society's rules, but thankfully we don't. We live our lives and pursue our joy despite it. Black women are the most educated group in the United States and, thankfully for me as a writer, the most well-read. While others project what they think we are upon us, we reject efforts to define us as less than we are.
In the end, being human should be enough for people to treat one another as valued, but it is not. We must resist the urge to project our insecurities and fears onto others. Whether it's your coworkers or your family, we all have the right to self-determination without the gauntlet of someone else's anxieties littering our path. Projection is very useful and necessary for the plot in a novel and for character development in writing fiction. In real life, not so much. What if we try being mindful that we never know what burden each of us carries and choose love? Life is challenging enough.