Finding My Place In A Community That Sometimes Doesn’t See Me As ‘Fully Black'
"... I have had countless times in my life when Black people, not just Black women, have made me feel like the 'other' ..."
The issue of identity has been on my mind a lot lately. I grew up in a home where blackness ranged from latte, as in the case of my mother, and mocha in the case of my oldest sister. Race was such a taboo issue to talk about in my family that it wasn't until my grandfather was on his death bed that I realized he was mainly white; believe it or not, I always saw him as a light skinned Black man. I even have family members who are still passing to this day. I know that I'm not alone in this. And I know this stems from a deeper issue of identity that's clouded by our painful racial history in America, and just about anywhere Black and brown people reside in the world.
I also know that outside of my family, navigating through identity terrains can be tricky. Since I can remember, I've been labeled as the "other," which has caused me to wonder, at times, where my place is at in the world. The truth is, I see myself as Black, and often times the world doesn't. They know I'm a woman of color, but struggle to see me as fully Black because of my somewhat European features and the french toast complexion of my skin. Couple that with my flighty nature and some of my interests and people wonder if I really belong in the Black space?
Let me give you a couple recent examples.
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I was recently at the Black Women's Roundtable in Washington, D.C. During the event, you get a chance to "buy Black" with numerous vendors in the area. Excited to get my hands on some graphic tees, which are kind of my jam, I approached a vendor who seemed taken back. As I started to peruse her merchandise, she asked what made me come to visit the vendors. I replied, "I'm attending the Black Women's Roundtable." She said, "oh," as if she was surprised and then commenced to ask me questions, like if I knew Nina Simone and other Black figures to help inform me about her designs. I was thinking, umm, yes. I just quoted Nina in my last e-news. But I digress. No matter how many questions she asked, she continued to quiz me. It was cognitive dissonance working at its best. Even though I made it clear that I was a part of the same event she was, she couldn't wrap her mind around it.
On another occasion, one of my podcast interviewees couldn't come to the studio to record, so we did a phone interview. I happened to run into her weeks later and was eager to introduce myself. Shortly after our introduction, she confessed that she thought that because of the work I do and the way I sound, she thought I was going to look different. She went on and said in fact, she thought I was going to be more brown skinned. I knew that her response was innocent so we laughed it off. But I couldn't shake the interaction. It haunted me all day, because the reality is this: I have had countless times in my life when Black people, not just Black women, have made me feel like the "other," like my skin wasn't dark enough or my interests weren't Black enough (as if blackness is monolithic), and more.
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Growing up, I remember being told frequently that I must have had Indian running through my veins because of my complexion. I was also called "white girl" because of the way I speak, and more. Y'all know exactly what I'm talking about because either you were a victim, a perpetrator or a bystander to this kind of nonsense.
I personally know countless Black women that have felt shunned by other Black women to the point where they are suspect of other Black women. That's how deep the pain runs for some of us. And quite frankly, it's a damn shame. And we have got to do better if we are truly going to be in solidarity and build the kind of world that we were created to build on the backs of our ancestors.
This requires us to face ourselves — to really face ourselves — and realize the ways we perpetuate pain to people who don't look like us, talk like us or act like us. We are one, yet of all groups of color in the U.S., we are the most divided. Take Black buying power, for example. It's worth 1.2. trillion annually, so why is it that more of our Black-owned businesses aren't flourishing? I recognize, this is not just about the "other," but it is one example of ways we divide ourselves and are not proactively working to support each other.
If we want to change that, we have to start with love — love for self, and love for our fellow sisters and brothers. We have to fess up to the ways we hurt each other across skin tone and "other" lines. Also, we must fess up to the biases we have about the "other," because we, my sisters, are Black women, too.
I think it's time for us to talk openly and honestly about not just the ways society keeps us down, but how we participate in the oppression of other Black people, which keeps us down, too. We, at Black Women About Business believe healing is possible by doing our inner work. This is why sacred spaces like the Be Well Fabulous Black Woman Tour is so critical. Being well requires us to do the hard internal work. We can and should continue to work to change the systems that oppress us, but that will never make-up for the inner healing that only you can facilitate within yourself.
The Be Well Fabulous Black Woman Tour is an opportunity to help you on your pathway to healing. The tour will help you connect with other Black women in an environment meant for all of us to feel like we belong. Dr. Lynn Richardson will deliver a powerful opening talk, Yes, Girl Yes, You Deserve Everything in Life, Afrobeat Fit will help us move in ways our bodies were meant to and The Black Health Academy will give a captivating talk on Healing the Heart of the Black Woman. The tour will also help you gain valuable insight on leadership, business and wellness.
We'll be in Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, Detroit and Grand Rapids. Right now you can enjoy early bird pricing for only $150 and save 15 percent off that price through April 1 for Kalamazoo/Battle Creek (extended for other tour stops) with coupon code SAVE15. And of course there will be so much more in store! Don't wait, tickets are going quickly!