What is blackness? It can be uplifting and frustrating to recognize how complex the answer to that question is. It is a spectrum of colors, a history of movements, a source of swag, a hybrid experience, and a resilient soul. Unlike others who can choose when it is convenient to step out of their privileged bubble, we are always in a time where our voices need to be heard and our presence needs to be respected. Our reality is filled with the unrelenting battle between our royal essence and brutal environment. A balance that is constantly shifting.
Sometimes, I experience that shift when I feel I have to constantly second guess myself in interpreting how people interact with me and how I allow my identity to be swayed by self-doubt. It takes so much emotional energy to resist carrying my color as a burden. Feeling as if no one around you really understands how much unfair foolishness you have to tolerate on a daily basis. So, when I came across this discussion with Melissa Harris-Perry about the crooked room analogy to define black women’s identity, you know I was snapping my fingers for the entire clip. Her book “Sister Citizen” is on my reading list for this summer. The gist of the analogy: black women are sitting on a crooked chair in a crooked room. As we try to adjust our chair to be aligned with who we believe we are, we overcompensate the adjustment to either oppose the limited spectrum of stereotypes or suppress our natural glow.
This analogy is so true! It is also one of the first things I thought of after watching Beyoncé’s beautiful performance at the Grammy’s. (I am not sure if that was the intention, but let us flow with it.) So, how should we align our crooked chair? Is it as simple as paying attention to what influences our mental conditioning? or is it as complex as healing centuries of damage. That is a discussion I would love to continue.
How do you use your blackness? I feel there is no one right way to do this, but a few questionable ways to do so. Since everything we do becomes a trend, there will always be some who choose not to participate in order to refrain from jumping on the band wagon and others who choose to participate to make an impact on directing that band wagon. The truth is, there really is no band wagon. Similar to the crooked room, sometimes we are made to feel foolish for doing what is right and made to feel confused for not doing anything. This came to mind while viewing a number of things.
First, the New York Times did a feature on Harry Belafonte to reflect on his life near his 90th birthday. One of the many gems he dropped in that interview spoke about leadership. During the civil rights movement, a number of people were pushed forward to run for office and represent in politics. Ironically, those “leaders” stepped up to office and proceeded to forget about their community and leave their supporters behind. As you may or may not know, the majority of those “leaders” are still in office and “the community” still feels forgotten. This wisdom influenced my response to the recent headlines about black leaders refusing to meet with President Trump and HBCU representatives meeting at the White House. I feel there are two sides to this. One, the black community has grown comfortable with the illusion of freedom. Just because we can sit anywhere on a bus, tweet to our heart’s content, attend any school, and announce that “our president was black, and our lambo is still blue” does not mean we are really equal. It does not mean we are considered significant. Every other group in America skips the line ahead of the black community. Why is that? It is quite heartbreaking, actually. I feel it is similar to when slavery was abolished and some slaves did not want to leave the plantation due to the wicked conditioning they had suffered in believing “massa” protected them. It is similar to what Harriet Tubman noted that she could not rescue everyone because some did not realize they were slaves. So, instead of getting upset, just work with what you have. On the other hand, we should not be shocked when proposed meetings end up only being a photo opportunity. It seems hypocritical, doesn’t it? It is. That is why utilizing blackness can be exhausting and draining.
Second, the film “I Am Not Your Negro” is a powerful documentary. Even though reading James Baldwin’s work would give you a similar impression, hearing his words juxtaposed with images from then and now really emphasize how everything he said resonates with what we are experiencing today. I feel it pushed the envelope within the documentary category because it is not simply a biography. The way the director painted a story with James Baldwin’s words, historical photos and footage, as well as current images is really creative. Not only can it be used to introduce James Baldwin to different audiences, it also illustrates how we possibly have not made as much progress as we thought we did.
Does this mean that anytime we refer to blackness it should always refer to gloom and doom? No. We are still experiencing a version of the Harlem Renaissance. Take note of all the creative work that has been published and acknowledged: such as 13, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Lemonade, A Seat At The Table, etc. The increase in community-based programs and individuals stepping up and showing up for their community. The spike in interest to no longer be oblivious of reality. We continue to make something out of nothing. This is one of the many sentiments I picked up from President Obama’s farewell speech. America may never be ready for the change we were willing to bring, but that does not mean we sit back and give up. As long as we help at least one person, that change is still valid. As long as we continue to step up and show up, that hope is still alive.
Now, when I refer to “America” throughout this post, do I mean every single American person including your pet cat and virtual pet fish? No.
How do you think we can continue to use our identity to empower? Let me know in the comments below.
Wearing: Zuvaa blazer; New York & Company blouse; The Limited pants; DSW heels; Aldo purse; Vinti Couture earrings