Being Black in White Spaces

plural noun: microagressions

a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a certain marginalised group such as a racial or ethnic minority.

I started writing this about a week ago and it's taken me a while to post it because I've found it hard to articulate certain feelings; and as I began to reflect on certain experiences, the world continued to show it's disrespect towards black women and I am just tired. Can black women just live without the world trying to constantly police our behaviour, emotions and greatness?

When I think of my past experiences of navigating through life in predominantly white spaces, I usually see a version of myself which isn't whole. I see me, but not always the full authentic version. In fact, in most cases I am fully conscious of my appearance (this includes the way I am dressed, my hair, my accessories), the things I say, the way in which I say them and how they will be perceived. The sad truth of the matter is that none of these things were ever on my radar until they were made apparent to me. This happened from a very young age. Now this may sound strange to some people and you might even be confused as to why this is; so I'm going to go ahead and explain. For the sake of this post, I will be speaking about being black in your environment of work.

Now most people come into work everyday and the only thing on their minds is that they wish they were still in bed or where they're going to get their first morning coffee from. My experience of  working in predominantly white spaces is having to psych myself for a day of unnecessary comments (aka microaggressions).

Can I change my hair in peace?

From braids, to fros, to wigs, black women are known for having various hairstyles, and I for one have had many. But changing your hair as a black woman is one of the most tiring things in the work place. Before you've even stepped foot in the door, someone is waiting with a comment. Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of genuine compliments, which is fine with me. I appreciate them. It's great; and I can get on with my day. But spending the whole day having to justify my appearance, listening to all the comparisons to any black woman with hair and answering unwanted questions like, "can you wash it?", "did it grow?", "does it hurt?", "is it real?" and the worst one of all, "can I touch it?" is exhausting to say the least. I am not a pet. And do you know how weird that sounds? Most of the day is spent trying to politely decline a hand in your hair or trying not to be rude as the hand has already entered your scalp. I remember the first time I went into work with my natural hair. I was so nervous about coming into the office that I ended up being late, as I needed to build up the confidence to go in. It wasn't even that I was nervous about going out on the street with my natural hair, but the thought of going into the office gave me so much anxiety. I remember putting up a post that evening. The caption read, 'something so simple shouldn't feel so hard.' And it shouldn't be so hard. But it is, because the truth is, in that kind of environment you are surrounded by a lot of ignorance. It was only three years after this, that I was asked by a senior member of staff, "so when are you gonna do your hair then?" when I came into work with an afro on the day of a work event. I was so taken aback I didn't even know what to say. When you ask me to "do" my hair that is growing out of my head, are you asking me to make it more European? More straight? More palatable for you? More white? I'm tired of seeing black girls and boys, women and men just like me, being discriminated against for merely owning their blackness. When people are being refused jobs, excluded from schools and are made to feel uncomfortable for something so natural that no one else has to deal with, then clearly there is a huge issue.

I am allowed to express my emotions however I choose to.

I can't even count the amount of times I've been patronised or dismissed for giving my opinion or speaking with passion about something. It's very unlikely that you will voice an opinion without hearing any of the following responses, "alright! calm down", "oohhh, someone's [insert stupid description]", and my favourite of them all, "no need to be so aggressive."  Just say that you can't stand black women having a voice and go; because I'm bored now. To be a black woman is to be constantly critiqued for simply just being; but it is also remaining unapologetic and self assured in times of adversity. It has taught me that regardless of the situation I am in, to always speak my truth no matter how it makes anyone else around me feel; because our light should never need to be dimmed to make anyone else feel comfortable. It was only on the weekend that we saw Serena Williams being portrayed by the media as a tantrum throwing, masculine, difficult, "angry black woman" for speaking up about a blatant case of discrimination. This genuine passion and upset for the things that we believe in is always dismissed and reduced to us being irrational.

I just want to feel comfortable.

It isn't unusual to be made to feel uncomfortable by people who just have no idea how to conduct themselves around people of colour. If someone has a certain preconception of you, their ignorance will never fail to make an appearance. It may be as a passing statement or more often than not "banter". A classic example of this, is a time that a colleague felt the need to shout repeatedly that they were having "jerk chicken tonight" because they were in close proximity to a few black people. What are we supposed to do with that information? It's just awkward for everyone involved and really unnecessary. You also don't need to tell me that my hooped earrings make me look "ghetto",  turn up your nose at my food choices or ask me if my partner is a "rude boy" [if I had a side eye emoji, it would go right here!].

If you're going to speak to me, speak to me properly.

For anyone that isn't aware, you are allowed to interact with black people just as you would interact with anyone else. You don't need to start a conversation by telling me about the latest hip hop or RnB song you listened to and you also don't need to start speaking in a way in which you think I will "relate" to. I can't tell you the amount of times I've witnessed colleagues approach someone of colour and either try to mimic their accent whilst speaking to them, or turn on the worst ever "road man" accent [insert plenty of outdated slang]. You also don't need to click your fingers in an attempt to be "sassy" or call me "girlfriend." It really is OK for us to simply not speak at all, if you have nothing constructive to say to me.

The worst thing of all, is that many people don't feel that they are able to call out this kind of behaviour when it happens to them, for fear of being labelled as "angry", "aggressive" or any other stereotype people tend to attach to black people; in particular black women.

"The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings."
Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race

As individuals, I feel that it's so important to stand up for what is wrong, regardless of whether it affects us or not. An injustice is an injustice, no matter how big or small and unfortunately people of colour aren't blessed with the luxury of privilege to be able to ignore race, hence these conversations. It is also important to recognise that we don't all experience life in the same way.

Time has taught me that change doesn't come from turning a blind eye to things and pretending they don't exist, it comes from speaking about issues regardless of how uncomfortable they may be for yourself or others. I may not have always had the courage to do that, but that is what growth is about. 


No comments

Post a Comment

© Unique Rosch
Blogger Templates by pipdig