Cue Chaka Khan right? Or perhaps turn her down if you’re tired of feeling the weight of being all black women to all people all the time. The question of feeling like you always have to put on for black women is one I’ve been wanting to ask for a while now and Angela Gray recently brought it back to mind with her article on The Huffington Post, “No Pressure: You’re Just Representing Your Entire Race And Gender!”
In the article she talks about the triple-edged sword of being black, a woman, and a black woman, writing:
Being black… you always have to be better, work harder, not be too threatening/be on good behavior (to an extent) and are a representative of your race.
Being a woman… you have to be better, work harder, not be too threatening/be too aggressive and are a representative of your gender.
Being a black woman… well, shiiiitttt, you know how it goes.
At this age, most of us are probably at the well s*** stage or perhaps we’ve advanced to I don’t give a s***, realizing we will drive ourselves crazy caring too much about these pressures, and yet it is an umbrella over us from which we cannot escape. Even when we don’t want to rep for everybody who looks like us (at least to outsiders anyway) we find ourselves in the unfortunate seat of doing so and with that can come repercussions we don’t realize or want to be responsible for.
Interestingly, I’ve only been most concerned about the black woman I come to represent when it relates to other black people. When I worked in medical publishing and would attend conferences I was often the only person around under the age of 45, if I’m being generous, one of very few women, and hands down one of five, maybe 10, black people altogether. Sometimes that included the catering staff clearing lunch off of our tables. I knew I was wherever I was to report and that by just being the professional woman I am naturally, I was a good representative (whatever that means) of a black woman and so the pressure wasn’t there. I even felt proud to add some color to the room, literally.
Unfortunately though, when it comes to other black people, that good black light doesn’t always shine so brightly. I remember the first time I felt like I’d probably set black women back a few steps than necessary. I’d come home from work in a terrible mood and one of my neighbors—a black man— was standing in my door way and, from my view, was merely an obstacle standing between me and the peace and quiet I sought in my apartment. Seeing the look on my face, he made one of those “why are you so mad” comments and I brushed past him unacknowledged and let the gate to the outside door slam behind me. When I got in my apartment I just knew I would end up one of those “black women have the worst attitude” stories the next time he was having a little black female bashing pow wow with his boys and I thought, well I definitely didn’t do anything to challenge that stereotype.
Another time when I was out a black man had spoken to me and I smiled and said “Hi” and I think he wanted to chat for a bit but I was headed to make a phone call so I told him I’d be back. Somehow by the end of the night I never made it back to him and found myself grinning in some non-black Latino man’s face for the remainder of the evening. I remember the black guy came back and tapped me on my shoulder before he left and said he just wanted to thank me for being pleasant and that even though we didn’t get to talk, I was the first black woman to smile and be friendly toward him when he approached. Now, part of me was like here we go throwing all the sistas in the angry black woman pile, then I felt good for giving him a different, more positive experience, then I felt odd thinking about the non-black man’s face I was all up in and thought he probably feels the way I do when I see that one interesting black man all up in some white or “exotic” chick’s face. As you see from the gamut of emotions I experienced from that one small comment, it is entirely too much pressure to always try to be the exemplary black woman while catering to your own needs, wants, desires, and my biggest downfall, moodswings, as Future would say, at the same damn time.
It certainly isn’t mentally healthy to feel like you always have to represent for all black women and the truth is, you can’t. But I want to minimize the instances where I think I contribute to the demise of our interpersonal relationships, particularly by recognizing my behavior in the moment and not after the fact. I’m far more concerned with the way black men and women view me and each other than other races, although my actions don’t always prove that belief, and so that’s the pressure I feel on my shoulders, not the weight of women like Evelyn Lozada or Tami Roman making “us” look bad. Likewise, the only shame I feel when these stereotypes persist is when it is through fault of my own and not some reality TV figure. In all honesty, the only reason we have these stereotypes we’re battling is because one person experienced it and told someone who told somebody else who may or may not have experienced it themselves and they told somebody too and then all of a sudden it became a thing or what we are. I don’t want to add to that list of negatives but I’m not going to drive myself crazy preoccupying my mind with stereotypes people chose to hold on to either. As Angela wrote:
“I feel it is my duty to rep my groups well, so maybe there will be one less comment, one less shunning of someone else who comes along or to combat some crappy individual that somebody crossed paths with.”
That’s the mindset I try to keep at the forefront of my mind when out being my non-social self sometimes so that one more pair of black women who don’t know each other can not be catty or standoffish toward one another or one less black woman is put in the stank attitude pile. But let’s be honest, there will undoubtedly be off days, and if someone comes in contact with me on one of those days and happens to think all black women are like me, well let me apologize to you all now. I just hope they have that same all-inclusive attitude about what a black woman is when I am at my best.
Do you feel a lot of pressure to always be the ideal example of a black woman? Is the pressure stronger in relation to black people or those of other races?
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