Recently I was asked to be a panelist to discuss anti-racism in the education sector. I have been on numerous panels, but this particular panel haunts me often. It haunts me because I was awkwardly silent, hit with a phrase that made me go blank for about a minute. I had commented about being an ally versus an abolitionist, and another panelist, a white female, spoke up to say how she is trying to ensure she does just that. A black male panelist then spoke up for the female panelist, saying this woman is a near and dear friend and how she has always truly advocated for Black people, especially and how she is doing her work as an abolitionist.
No shade there, I commend any co-conspirator/abolitionist during their work to truly make this world an anti-racist space for all. The blow came when he said, “she is a black woman at heart.” It was like I was hit in the stomach. I was wide awake and just couldn’t quite focus on the words that needed to come out of my mouth to explain how wrong that was to say. How disrespectful it was to say he could have said “a sister from another mister,” “a kindred spirit,” “an abolitionist,” but a “black woman at heart,” she will never know the pain or pride of living in a Black woman’s skin.
The intersectionality of being a Black woman is surreal at times. This white woman will never understand what it feels like to be told to “get down on your knees like a Black girl should” while trying to remove books from a bottom half locker. She will never understand the frustration of walking through a department store and being followed. She will never understand the anger, disgust, and sadness being told by a white male, “you have big lips, Black women have the best dick sucking lips.” She will never be infuriated during Black History month when a teacher turns to her to ask, “how do you feel about Martin Luther King”, as if we were somehow born with the knowledge of every black activist stored in our brains at inception while attending schools that never taught us about our history, our ancestors, all while a sea of white faces stare at us in anticipation. She will never know the daily fear of wondering if our children and Black partners will come home safely every time they leave our house based on the amount of melanin in their skin. She will never understand our anger and frustration as grace is given to our white female peers to “fail forward” while we excel and are still told, “it is not quite enough.” She will never understand the trauma inflicted upon Black women by White female peers, due to a subconscious threat by our very existence that they can’t quite put their finger on. The intersectionality of female and Black is an inherent threat to the white woman who chooses to base her platform on being a female minority. Never understanding the barriers and pain caused by our White female peers who choose to work against us rather than with us on this plight of surviving racism. She will never understand the disbelief when we say something or give a presentation to have everyone looking confused, and a white peer can restate verbatim what we said and the “awe,” “I get it now,” comments and moments happen as if we were speaking an alien language.
That woman will never know the pride I feel as a Black woman. She will never know the elation of having two master’s degrees after being told it will be a miracle if I graduate from undergrad, and not just because of income or intelligence, but because of my skin color. She will never know the strength of crying out to my ancestors and knowing they will hear me and give me strength through hardships. She will never know the honor I feel in the utter beauty and transformative power of my hair as my crown. She will never know the joy I feel in being in a sea of melanin around me. The liberation I felt walking across Howard University’s campus and being taught by Black and African professors. She will never know the freedom music brings to me when I hear bass and drums course through me and connect me back to my ancestors, the need to move to the rhythm. She will never know the true power of being called “mom” accidentally by a Black scholar because those scholar’s mothers are brilliant, strong, and powerful; the weight of such a subconscious compliment.
Many of us Black women do not seek out compliments; we aren’t accustomed to them in the real world, the day-to-day. We have to work ten times harder to even be told we are mediocre. We no longer look to the compliments of others; when we are blessed with love around, they are the ones that pour into us. They are the ones who wipe our tears at night after a hard day of just being Black, forget the woman part, for now, it’s just a double whammy! Many more Black women are wiping their own tears. We have been just aiming to survive all too often, and doing it so well might I add. Resourceful, creative, powerful, authentic, and resilient because we would not survive if we were not.
Black women are the most feared and disrespected people in our nation, some would argue the world. So to hear a white woman be told she has the heart or soul of a Black woman, my very simple answer is just “no.” Most people would never survive a day in the shoes of a Black woman, let alone be able to still exude kindness, authenticity, and love through so much s**t thrown at us. So if you are a white woman being told you have the heart of a Black woman, know that can never be true, and my peers saying it, stop, because it gives a false sense of arriving into “Blackdom” that can never happen anyway. Quite frankly, White women, White people do not need to be validated by being akin to Black people; we must stop validating White people in this manner; it is unnecessary and unwarranted. An abolitionist is an abolitionist regardless of their race, and instead, by their actions and words together, an abolitionist is enough of a compliment. Paul Mooney said it best, and I’ll leave it there.