I am a highly educated Black woman and mother of three beautiful black children who all happen to be lighter complexion. I have always struggled to get ahead in my career, despite doing everything correctly, and be recognized for my dedication, hard work, intelligence, and achievements. I've heard and experienced so many biases in my life I've lost count and I'm only in my 30s. I want to share a few of these experiences and why I preface my entry with these details about my life/identity.
My whole life I've heard I'm pretty for a "black girl." Even to this day despite being a woman. I've had a white man argue that I couldn't be 100% black because my features don't seem black enough. As if he was an authority on my genetic makeup or black features. Black women constantly hear that they aren't good enough or beautiful enough. Hearing from many men within our own culture say how they refuse to date us because of one reason or another. But for most of my life, I was consoled by the fact that at least "I'm pretty for a black girl." The older I got, the more this sounded like a slap in the face. Why can't I just be pretty, beautiful?
Friends that I grew up with would call me an "Oreo" because I didn't act like them or sound like them. If you are unfamiliar with the term "Oreo" it's a slang name for someone that is black on the outside and perceived to be white on the inside. This is what usually follows behind the "You're pretty for a black girl" comment-- "You don't sound like or act like other black girls." What am I supposed to sound like? How am I supposed to act? learned very early in life to code-switch to better fit in with my neighborhood friends and my school friends (I attended predominantly white schools). My "blackness" always being questioned. Feeling too black for some and not black enough for others.
As an adult, I made decisions or chose jobs that were meaningful to me. I worked at a school helping to run their after school program. Worked in the medical field and for social service organizations. When I worked at the school, the man that initially hired me left the organization. I hoped that they would've promoted his assistant director (another black female) but they hired a black man that had no experience or affiliation with the program. This man was completely unqualified and to make matters worse, the assistant director and I were charged with training him for the position. Despite how we felt, we tried our best. He was eventually fired for sexually harassing almost every black woman in the building. After his departure, the assistant director and I came up with a proposal to take over the after school program as co-directors. I worked diligently and typed up our proposal then submitted it to the Nun in charge of the entire school. A month or two went by and we hadn't heard anything. We essentially ran the program over the summer and things were successful. At the end of the summer at our employee retreat, the Nun announced that she would be naming the new director of the extended day program as she passed out a sheet of paper that contained the job description I had included with the proposal we submitted to her. I excitedly waited for her to announce our names only to give the job to one of the white teachers who she then said we would be responsible for training. Needless to say, I left that job ASAP.
The last story I will share is about my wonderful children. Despite my milky chocolate complexion, my children have light complexions. I have been asked if I am their nanny, if my husband is white, or if they are indeed my children. This is not okay to ask, nor is it any of these strangers' business. These questions imply that I'm incapable of being their mother without the assistance of a white man; that I'm incapable of being these beautiful children's mother because of the color of my skin. My husband is black (light complexion) and no one ever says they are beautiful for "black" children but just that they are. I related to the Conversations with Black Women Video because as you've read, I've heard or experienced those things throughout my life.