A Future Full Of Equity For Black Women Sometimes Seems Bleak, But My Black Daughter Gives Me Hope
The barriers and challenges to a person of color can often feel never-ending.
August 27, 2021 at 4:35 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
The winds have changed on the subject of race in this country. I reflect on the history and legacy of the key events of the last 18 months — the murder of George Floyd and Juneteenth finally being recognized as a national holiday — and realize we have made strides in the discussion of race in America all the while solutions for the constant struggle for equal rights remains elusive.
As a Black single mother, I think about my own family’s history and legacy in America. I think first of my own daughter, now a young teen, as she ventures forth in this world. I think about the other young women and men of color who are joining her and what part I can play as a Senior Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Practitioner who has led in this space for well over a decade. How can I enable their paths to be more welcoming; their contributions, insights and experiences to be sought after and valued; and their dreams and talents more fully realized? We all have a part to play in creating this legacy.
The legacy my parents gave me was informed by their experience growing up in the segregated South. My mother, being the only child in a family of seven to obtain a college degree, made it clear that this was expected of us at the very least. She and my father also made us understand that doing well in school was not enough — we needed to excel in every opportunity given in order to participate and obtain the most basic level of the American dream.
Most of my Black friends and colleagues didn’t have college-educated parents or the generational wealth and frame of reference to understand and advocate for their own basic educational and economic rights. Because of this, they were vulnerable to an educational system that funneled them into trade schools, despite the fact it provided limited options if seeking a long-term professional career, less opportunity for homeownership and decreased financial security. The belief was that it was where Black folks went; and that’s where I almost went until I told my college counselor that based on my grades, achievements and interests, being a hairstylist was not an appropriate recommendation for me. At the time, I didn’t think the counselor was being racist; I just thought I needed to work harder to show my potential.
This is the danger of assuming that a person in authority has your best interests at heart — even if they, in fact, believe they are providing support and guidance that will help. My parents prepared me with the understanding that, as a Black woman, I would need to advocate for myself, which may be the reason I am so passionate about advocating for others.
However, self-advocacy is not enough. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people who have advocated for me.
When I was tapped for a global executive role that entailed a move to Paris with my then eight-year-old daughter, my doubts and those “oh-too-familiar” stereotypes resurfaced. I had actually imposed them upon myself because of constantly being told that people who look like me, people in my situation (Black, divorced, single mother), would not be able to work outside of the U.S. in a global role. This indeed rivaled my ability to self-advocate.
There are enough challenges in being a global executive without adding the realities of being a divorced single mother. Yet, I was told that was exactly why I was chosen; it was precisely because I could multitask, had insights into these conditions, and because my lived experiences proved that I successfully used those perceived obstacles as advantages, helping me create conditions for everyone to thrive. This is the power of someone who doesn’t see gender or race as limitations but instead sees them as the assets they are. They created a role for me and a new frame of reference for others, which I leveraged to understand and connect with the people within the diverse communities across our global markets, creating an inclusive work environment that truly reflected the unique culture, background and experiences of all employees.
Grateful as I am for advocacy, the barriers and challenges to a person of color can often feel never-ending. As a Black female executive walking into a new organization or room, you are asked to prove yourself again and again and again. Inevitably, the conversation will turn into an inquiry into your education and your work experience — the subtext being: Why are you here and do you belong? Speaking with other Black and under-represented executives, the experience is the same.
In social and racial justice work, the phenomenon is described as the oppressed having to make the oppressor feel comfortable and safe. This is a huge psychological burden. In the workplace this means that before a Black or under-represented person can literally do their job, they have to make the majority feel at ease — meaning they have to prove they’re supposed to be there (usually more than once), prove they have the pedigree that the majority does and prove they will succeed in their work — all before they can build the trust and relationships one needs to succeed. For a woman or a woman of color, this is even more true, and unfortunately, the more senior you go, the more egregious those practices are.
So as my young teen daughter takes her first independent steps into the world, what do I tell her? Granted, her experience and background are different than mine — not to say that she won’t have similar experiences and challenges. However, her generation seems to have a desire and demand for something better, the will to create it and a perspective that is as global as it is local — and a stated requirement for equity and accountability when not received.
Since she went to an international school, everyone she was exposed to had a different background, culture and language. The students were challenged to find a bridge that led to connection, and children, in particular, seem to do that naturally when given the chance. Once, when we were vacationing in Southeast Asia, she became instant friends with a child from the Middle Eastern city of Abu Dhabi, located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Within minutes, they were dancing together on TikTok — they’d found their bridge, knew the same dances and spent the next eight days as besties. This gave me hope.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t have conversations with her that aren’t similar to the ones my parents had with me or Black parents everywhere have with their children. However, sometimes, those conversations are with other adults and become teachable moments.
For instance, when my daughter was in third grade here in the States, she was the only Black girl in her class. Her best friend at the time was white and they, like many kids, would sometimes get rambunctious and talkative together. The teacher reached out to me and the other child’s parents about it, and I subsequently found out that we were told two very different things. The other child’s parents were told that their child should disassociate herself from my daughter and play with other children instead. They were told that my daughter was a bad influence. I was told my daughter had behavior problems and was essentially at fault.
Academic research has shown that Black girls are viewed as more adult and aggressive than their white counterparts, and are disciplined at far greater rates. When I met with the principal and teacher to discuss the feedback, I shared this research with them, and what was initially a negative experience became an opportunity for learning.
Thus, as I think about the legacy of our history. I think about my daughter and I think about daughters of other Black families. I think about the collective legacy that each of us is tasked with creating. My hope is that diversity will be seen as an asset, a way to complement an organization’s talents, skills, ideas and perspectives. For this to happen, we cannot turn a blind eye to the history of disenfranchisement and marginalization, but instead, we must recognize and acknowledge it so we can put the culture and values in place to eliminate it. This is my prayer for the future and hope for a better world.
Wema Hoover is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion thought leader and practitioner with over 15 years of experience leading global DEI teams across Fortune 500 Companies.