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Black People Have Nothing to Prove

Why do we need their approval? Why do we shrink ourselves to fit into their standards? Why do we press so hard to separate ourselves from our own people, to be in their liking?

If you ask 10 different Black people what being Black means to them, you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Our complexities and experiences range from on a broad scope, and we’re multifaced chameleons able to adapt in any given situation.

How many times has someone mentioned that you were smart for a Black girl, or even your own people telling you that you sound white? That’s always super cringe for me when I heard it being said to others. It implies that a Black person who has mastered the art of communicating effectively, articulating complex thoughts, and using “big words” somehow are less Black. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

On the other side of that, Black people have mastered the art of code switching. We speak differently, depending on who we are around and the environments that we’re in. When we’re in our most comfortable spaces, we use African American Vernacular English (AAVE). It’s an actual dialect, that allows us to show up, as our full selves, comfortable and authentic to who we truly are. However, we’ve allowed white society to dictate what acceptable American dialogue looks like, and we often find ourselves caving into that. We’ve been told that our dialect isn’t good enough, to the point that we obviously believe it. This somehow means that we’re not good enough, smart enough or articulate enough. We then get in professional settings and go above and beyond to prove ourselves.

I’ll use myself as an example. I am guilty of switching my dialect around white people, not really for my own comfort, but for theirs. I’ve also felt the need to highlight all of my accolades in these conversations, almost as if to say, I’m worthy of being here. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I ever allowed my own elitism to have me fall victim to searching for approval in those moments. Essentially what it does is downs others in the process by perpetuating stereotypes that those of us with degrees are more accomplished than those of us without, and it’s simply not true. It implies that I’m here because I’m smart, and these degrees prove it, when in reality I know Black people way smarter than me, without a single degree. That is elitism, and it is toxic.

Why do we need their approval? Why do we shrink ourselves to fit into their standards? Why do we press so hard to separate ourselves from our own people, to be in their liking? Why do we need to prove that we are married mothers, instead of single mothers? Many of us like that fact to be known and highlighted, because again, we want to prove people wrong about an ill intended stereotype in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments. We all should be. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your family structure. We all should be. There is however something wrong with using it as a means to prove your value and your worth and I think many of us are guilty of that, unintentionally.

Here are some other ways we don’t always show up as our full selves in this society:

· Biting our tongues in board rooms where racially insensitive “jokes” are shared

· Turning the other cheek, not necessarily because we think it’s the best response in the moment, but so that we don’t appear to be angry Black women, even when we have every right to be

· Being afraid that our natural hair isn’t good enough or professional enough to wear to work or to a job interview

· Laughing at jokes at work that we literally don’t understand, and that aren’t even funny, just to appear less awkward, as the only Black person in the room

· Worrying about how our responses or perspectives will be received, more than feeling liberated enough to share them regardless of perception

We already know what it means to navigate this society as Black people. It means having to work 10 times harder, be 10 times smarter, and 10 times faster, just to prove yourself and earn your seat at the table. It often means questioning the motives of every white person that you encounter and feeling the need to figure out if they’re genuine or not, or if their morals lie heavily against the best interest of you and the people that you love. It means being treated unfairly solely because of the color of your skin, and then having people look you directly in your eyes and deny that it happened. It means watching a debate on national television, where the 2nd person in command of this country can state that implicit bias doesn’t exist in policing and in law enforcement, with a straight face. That was truly the most tone-deaf statement I’ve ever heard. Implicit bias is real. We ALL have it. So how then do police officers get to avoid it, when they are regular people like the rest of us? I’ll go more into implicit bias in part two of this next week.

All that said, I am so proud to be Black, and to have turned many lemons into lemonade, like we specialize in doing. As a result, and as I’m growing and maturing more, I’ve begun to take some tough stands, and to stop shrinking myself for other people’s comfort. I wear my natural hair majority of the time, especially in professional settings, and I do it intentionally. I speak out any time I hear someone make a false statement, or stereotypical statement that impacts my community or any minority group. I donate money to the organizations that fight for change for my community. Most importantly, I show up, as my full, beautifully melanated self, and dare someone to say something. I stopped changing my voice at work. I always hated doing that anyway. I stopped worrying about how anyone will perceive my thoughts or ideas at work. I stopped going along with things that I know aren’t right, just to keep the peace. I encourage you to do the same. It has proven extremely liberating for me, and very essential to my healing and growth.

Lastly, I’ll share this funny story. I was at a job in DC a few years back, and there was this one white guy, who would constantly brag about his degree from Duke. I didn’t take issue with that necessarily, but I did take issue with how he would attempt to demean my degree from an HBCU. One day he went so far as to say, I mean it’s good to have a degree, but not everyone will acknowledge it from an unknown university. I’m always tickled by these people that feel the need to do that. The gag is, their cubicle is right beside yours, on the same job, and in the same position. I simply reminded him of that fact while he was on his ego trip, and I never heard a peep from him again. Further, I’ve landed in a position where I manage people who went to Princeton. I’d say my HBCU degree is recognized quite nicely. Aggie Pride by the way!😊 We’ve got absolutely nothing to prove.

With Love,

Michelle L.

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