One of the toughest things about being a Black woman is knowing when, and having the courage, to point the finger in the opposite direction. As my grandmother used to say, “your finger points both ways. Never forget that.” She was right, but it takes a lot of learning, growing, maturing, thinking, hurting, digesting, realizing, and sometimes humiliation before many of us can get our finger to point inward instead of outward.
This week I had to do just that. Although I had been working on the direction of my finger for a while, little by little on my own time, this week, thanks to Joe Biden, I had no more excuses and I’d run out of ways to avoid the truth. I finally had to pull my finger back and point it towards myself.
This week I had to point the finger inward. This week, as I watched Joe Biden announce that Senator Kamala Harris would be his running mate. I watched Black people criticize her for doing her job. I watched and listened to other women call her names I care not to repeat. I watched as many Americans, both White and Black, posted lies and ill-informed images, half-truths, new challenges regarding her race, derogatory terms, misleading information and much more. Along with the rest of the world, I watched the first woman of color be chosen as the 2020 VP candidate. As I watched the many complementary and condescending images and posts whirling around like an unusually angry tornado in a thrift store, I listened to that small voice coming from my head or my heart. I listened closely and wondered to myself, why I too questioned her validity.
I watched an intelligent, well prepared, experienced and proven, poised woman of color speak. And I didn’t like her. Why?
I had to point the finger inward. There was nothing wrong with Ms. Harris. She is a woman who did her job and did it to the best of her ability. She is an accomplished, successful woman. She is educated. She is a wife. She comes from a family of intellectuals. She is a sister. She is a mother. She’s fought for people who needed a fighter. She’s fought against people who have made poor choices. Personally, she’s made her mistakes. We all have. I had to look at the facts, write them down, look up her voting history, find as much as I could about her past as a California prosecutor. Everything I discovered and wrote down forced me to stop. Why was I so critical of this woman?
It is easy for us to see Systematic Racism. Maybe, in part, we see it so easily because seeing it gives us the luxury and comfort of pointing the finger at someone else in response to what they did to us. However, there is a partner to Systematic Racism that we, Blacks, are reluctant to talk about. It is the partner that is much more dangerous and detrimental to us as a people than Systematic Racism will ever be. As I continue to watch others find fault with Ms. Harris, I find myself seeing more and more the apparent and disguised residuals of Systematic Self-hatred. This week I was forced to look at the finger I pointed at Mrs. Harris and I finally chose to slowly turn my finger around and point it towards the real problem. I pointed my finger at myself. There was much pointing to do.
I am a Black woman. I grew up in an all-Black neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. I went to an all-Black school, with the exception of the occasional Hispanic neighbor. I attended a majority Black college, so much of the majority that our student government tried its best to have our college identified as an HBCU, but of course administration had to give us a history lesson. Reminding us that our college began as a teacher’s college and through a process no one can clearly identify, it became a majority Black university when all the Jewish people moved away from the south side of Chicago. I’ve been around Black people my entire life. Albeit, I also have the “privilege” of having a biracial father. This makes my Black journey a tad-bit different, not very much so, but different than a child who has both Black parents.
I am an introvert, disguised as a very confident extrovert. At work I socialize with the group I’m most comfortable around, the White group. I live in what appears to be a majority White community. I have a number of White friends and often find myself supporting my White neighbors when my Black sisters and brothers find it necessary to assert their “blackness” all over their newly labeled “Karen” or “Kevin.” Put those things together and I guess one could label me as a misguided Black-ish introvert. Very few people know just how uncomfortable I am around others. When I’m around Whites I wonder if I’m doing everything right. I wonder if I’m coming across too black or am I coming across as I intend to, neutral. I wonder, constantly, how am I being perceived? Am I coming across as the angry Black woman? Am I coming across as the know-it-all African American? Do I come across as the confident professional who is colorless? I wonder about all these things when I’m in White space.
When I’m in Black space it is just a little different. I spend more time wondering if I am Black like them or if I am like the other Black folks. This questioning of myself happens more-so when I’m around Black women as opposed to when I’m around Black men. I wonder if Black women like me, or not. I wonder why, sometimes, I am not very engaged in the sister conversation. I wonder how Black women would react and respond to me if I told them how I truly felt about a number of issues, how Black women talk to each other, the dual role of being our own best support group and our own worst enemy, BLM versus ALM. In short I wonder if, to them, I’m Black enough. For that matter I wonder to myself about myself, mostly when I’m alone, in my own colorless space, do I believe I’m Black enough?
I’ve performed this dance all my life. Generations before me have referred to this “art” as a form of code-switching. But unlike generations before me, this code-switching is deeper than trying to blend in with another race, something our ancestors did for their very survival. This code-switching is much deeper than that because it is optional. It is not a necessity of survival, it is a desire to find acceptance. This form of code-switching is a matter of questioning what I am amongst who I am around. Am I woman enough. Am I Black enough. Am I Black woman enough. Am I White people friendly. Am I White people welcoming. Do I shield White folks too much. Do I protect Black folks too little. Where do I stand. What exactly am I and why or how?
Undoubtedly recent events have caused a number of Black people to focus on their Blackness and what that means. I see this happening all around me, all the time. In my own neighborhood we now have a Facebook page dedicated to improving race relations by allowing Black people to vent in a “safe place.” The odd thing about this safe space is, it’s only safe when the opinion agrees with the Black quid pro quo. When the opinion goes against the grain, even if the origin of the opinion is from a Black person, it usually gets attacked on the main stage of this said “safe-place.”
I recently had an interaction with a sister on this page and the interaction made me a little angry. I’d used the word “complain” to question what we do after all the “complaining” is done. Needless to say the other Black women didn’t receive it well. One even messaged me asking what I meant by it. I respected her for that. At least she asked. Another just told me if I don’t like it, I could just leave the group. This sentiment reminded me of that popular phrase that most Black people take offense to, “if you don’t like it, go back to where you came from.”
Black women are beautiful, and we are ugly. We are loyal and we are betraying. We are loving, and we are hateful. We are warriors, and we are cowards. I am a Black woman and the finger, usually almost always, points both ways. The “sistahood” is what some call it. Our ability to show up for one another is just as strong and endearing as our tendency to tear each other apart and tear each other down. Our quickness to come to the rescue of a sister is just as strong as our history of talking about each other behind the other’s back, or at least telling another’s business, gaining a very strange inner-peace and reassurance that we are “better” because we are not going through the same thing, not at that moment at least.
Let me be clear. I don’t hate Black women, but I do struggle to understand our why?
Amidst the new awareness of what it means to be Black, each of us defining that meaning in our own individual way, yet understanding that no matter the individualism there are some undeniable basic common threads, I have noted my own very micro-innate responses towards other Black women. Many times these innate responses are so quiet, so subtle, that if I weren’t paying attention I would miss them completely and own them, falsely, as organic. They begin somewhere inside my head or my heart. I’ve yet to correctly identify which, but they whisper and I suspect they think that I do not hear them. I do. I hear their whispers,
“she’s full of it.”
“here comes the BS.”
“what she just said makes no sense, no sense at all.”
“good lort what is she wearing.”
“really girlfriend, that’s not what you said yesterday.”
“oh, a new boo. Okay.”
“another sob story.”
“weren’t you just with . . .”
“here comes the world’s smallest violin”
I could go on and on, but I’m ashamed to. The truth of the matter is the innate reaction to Black women by a certain type of Black woman, me, is ingrained. It is just as alive, just as strong, and just as valid as Systematic Racism itself and Systematic Racism is as strong as it is, and is undeniably fueled by Systematic Self-hatred.
For generations light-skinned Blacks and dark-skinned Blacks have been pitted against each other for a mere chance to have a better quality of life in the midst of the poorest quality of life. In the beginning, house slaves were selected from the herd of field slaves. They were fed just a little better. They were dressed just a little better. They were talked to just a little better. They were quartered just a little better. This little better treatment was not because they deserved or earned it. It was because they “represented” the house. They were close to the house. Therefore they had to be more presentable.
Although there are no longer “slaves” in America, we still see the perpetuation of this ideology today. In the beginning, light-complexioned slaves were treated just a little differently, just a little “better” than darker slaves. Although there are no longer “slaves” in this America, we still see the perpetuation of this psychological foundation today. This history, this engendering, is the origin of Blacks in America. This manipulation, first overt then gradually subtle pitting, of non-worthy Blacks against white-identified more preferred Blacks, has reverberated itself amongst all of us since the day Blacks were brought to this country. It is our psychological scar, inflicted by our neighbors. But it is a scar we choose to keep picking.
I can’t imagine how it felt to be the black, dark slave, destined to work only in the fields. I can’t imagine how it felt to be the slave who was tired, hurting and sore, hungry, mourning the loss of a husband or the rape of a wife, mourning the loss of children, but not allowed time to mourn those loses because “niggers” don’t feel pain.
I can’t imagine the pain of seeing my sisters, my brothers, lashed for dropping an egg while delivering them from the cock-house to the big-house. I can’t imagine being lashed for not picking cotton fast enough, or having to watch the dogs maul a man for trying to run away, a warning to all the other slaves of what would happen to them if they tried the same, and then, still having to go out and work the fields immediately afterwards.
I cannot begin to imagine the psychology foundation created during our ancestors’ reality, to see the light-skinned slaves in the quarters standing in the shade, clean clothed, sleeping in decent quarters. I cannot begin to imagine how that felt then. No one living today can and no one living today should be so disrespectful as to lie and say or suggest that they can. They cannot.
However, I feel the residuals of that psychological design. I have been guilty, unknowingly and unconsciously but still I have been guilty, of benefiting from this engineered system, from this engineered Systematic Self-hatred.
Today I put my finger down. I’ve done the hard part. I stopped pointing at others and I reluctantly and painfully pointed the finger at myself. Now what.
As I begin to support the Biden/Harris ticket, and I think about where we are as a people, all of us, some the benefactors of “The System” others the victim of it, and then there are all those in-between, as I think back to the question I posted to my Facebook group, “after all the complaining, then what,” wondering if I were wrong for my choice of words, I find myself reading a post from Senator Kamala Harris, written the day after I posted my question:
Facebook: August 13, 2020, Kamala Harris
“My mother always use[d] to say, ‘Don’t just sit around and complain about things. Do something.’”
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