Just Balance with Brittany: Balancing my identity as a Black woman
Click here to listen to this week's blog.
Hi Triple B's-
I have spent the majority of my blog really examining balance within relationships that are most important to me. I thought it was important initially to not put it all out there, but honestly I want to ensure that here I am always my most authentic self regardless of who reads this blog. Today's blog is an exploration of how I am balancing my identity as a black woman. I've talked to several of my girl pals about this (shoutout Patrice, Denetria, and Chandra) and have decided that continuing in the vain of being my most authentic self is important to my journey- even if my opinions are unpopular because they are rooted in my singular experiences over the years. And because they are my experiences they have continued to shape and alter how I navigate through spaces and how I show up in the world as a black woman.
I'm going to begin to tackle this and I know that I was raised amongst black people, but also share intimate spaces with folks that aren't black who have proven to be allies in this work around equity. This is my blog and I want to be transparent about my journey in the continued balance of who I am and how I show up as a black woman. I know that we are in a polarizing time and race can be a sensitive subject, but as I heard in a video around internalized racism once, it's important to just SAY THE THING AND SHARE THE EXPERIENCE. Lena Horne said "my identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman". This quote serves as the foundation for today's blog- it centers my very existence.
I was reading and watching a couple of clips around internalized racism and from that I was tasked to create something that represented by antiracism journey. As I began to really push into this activity, I was trying to think about some of the defining moments for me that have been pivotal on my life long journey around this topic. I was six years old in the first grade when I realized that I was different, well black to be exact. My teacher would give me a "B" in a random subject area every six weeks. After the first three six weeks, my mother started to ask questions. Determined to peel back the layers of my white teacher, we were able to examine that there was a deep mindset issue that existed about what children could do- about what black children could do. While I spent the remainder of the school year in another classroom (now ya'll know Stacey wasn't going for that), that experience really stuck with me. It wasn't that I wasn't smart, but it was that someone else was defining what "smart" looked like for me. She told my mother that while I was an excellent student, she just couldn't give me A's every reporting period- the gaul to even say this out loud is still appalling.
Fast forward a couple of years later while I was still thriving academically but had experienced a geographical move (white flight is a real thing folks), I heard someone refer to me as an "oreo". You know black on the outside and white on the inside. Now, this didn't do a whole lot to my self confidence or worth, but it made me examine the depth of where something like that could come from. I now understand that things like "speaking correct English", "wanting to learn and participate in class", "not engaging in disruptive behavior" and "proactively engaging with my teachers" were things that the folks that called me an "oreo" believed to be true about the white experience. It was that my actions in some way reflected a close proximity to whiteness. While I disagree 100%, I think I understand why they felt that way in how we have been programmed to see the world, especially how we see identity in terms of race and culture. Because the dominant culture is that of white folks, everything is really about how close something is to whiteness, I'll dive into that more another day.
In college, I went to a university that was 8% minority at the time. I was an English major which made that percentage go down to about 1% for me in terms of the amount of black people that I would actually engage with in classroom settings. One day, while discussing our reactions to reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, a question was posed to the group- I wish I could remember that stupid question. It was in that very moment that I realized that the folks around me expected me to be the singular representation of "blackdom". I had been charged with being the sole representative of the black experience. At that moment, I literally was clueless. It also didn't help that whatever they were asking me was completely out of my wheelhouse because it also hadn't been my experience. I grew up pretty middle class, with middle class values and experiences, and I couldn't relate.
Of course I could continue to talk about the many experiences with blatant racism, micro-aggressions, I mean the works. But I narrate all of this to share how our experiences are at the core of who we are. In all of these instances, someone else was creating a narrative for me, specifically in how I show up as a black woman in educational spaces. Today, I balance my identity as a black woman by using these experiences as fuel to be my most authentic self and navigate spaces with a spirit of excellence. I use my voice, my experiences, my perspective, and I challenge others when I see something that should be challenged. Balancing my identity as a black woman also means fully embracing everything that it means to be a black woman. Dorothy Height said "when you're a black woman, you seldom get to do what you just want to do; you always do what you have to do. Balancing my identity as a black woman looks like "always doing what I have to do" in order to thrive, survive, and more importantly to continue to excel beyond my own wildest dreams.
Let's be clear, in this day and time being a woman is HARD. Now, start to add adjectives that center identity and race in front of woman and that becomes EVEN HARDER. Shola Lynch said "I was not allowed to be an individual. I was black and I was a woman- and I was a black woman". While I stand on the shoulders of other black women that came before me, I also understand that there is such a ways to go in balancing identity for women of color. While we don't ever want this to be the thing that defines us, the reality is that oftentimes it does. There is never a time that I am not aware that I am black- the awareness in how I show up is what I continue to balance. Next week, I've got a very special friend who will engage with me as I continue this conversation about balancing my identity as a black woman.
"Black girls, don't be afraid to use your voice. Your thoughts, opinions, and ideas are just as important as anybody else's. When you speak, speak with boldness and purpose. Have courage, be confident, and always be true to yourself! Live your life fearlessly! Your voice has GREAT power; don't be afraid to utilize it when needed. You're NOT an angry BLACK woman; you're a woman who has something important to say. Your voice matters and so do YOU!" - Stephanie Lahart
As always, words are what I have for you.
Image from: The Confessions of a black girl: Abandoning stereotypes & redefining my identity