Being a Black woman in the workplace can be exhausting. I’m sure it has always been that way but the reasonable expectation is that in 2019, we should not still have to deal with the same “isms” we dealt with in 1959.
I attended a Women’s Leadership Summit recently. It was sponsored by an institution of higher learning and brought together a variety of women from all walks of life. The spectrum of attendees included students, professionals, older women, younger women, and Trans women from various racial and ethnic groups: Black, white, Asian, Latinx, etc.
I flipped through my program to select my sessions for the morning. One in particular caught my eye. It was titled “Dark Skin Love: Exploring Colorism of the Past, Present, and Future”. My first thought was, “Wow. We are really going to dive deep into some real issues today”. Imagine my surprise to find that a white woman was the presenter. Errr??! Am I really supposed to believe that there was NOT ONE Black person on the entire campus or in the surrounding community available to facilitate this discussion?
I tried really hard to have an open mind but in a nutshell, the session was the shit show that I expected. It essentially consisted of a White woman telling a room full of mostly Black women about her “academic research” on the roots of colorism and its tie to slavery. She went on to talk about how it manifests today in the lack of representation of Black and brown women in Hollywood. From an academic perspective, it was a mostly solid presentation. However, from a common sense perspective, it was majorly problematic. I don’t care how much of an “expert” you claim to be, your academic research will never hold a candle to my lived experience.
Things became even more troublesome when the conversation shifted to the sharing of personal experiences. The way I saw it, colorism is such a deeply cultural issue, it is not a conversation that should be had in mixed company, i.e. under the “white gaze”. Further, I just don’t understand how someone who looks into the mirror and sees a lily-white reflection feels that they are qualified to lead a conversation on this topic. It felt racist, macro-aggressive, patronizing, and violent.
I felt so violated by the presentation that I immediately expressed my concern to a Black colleague only to find out that she had given the “green light” and helped with the presentation. WednesdayThursdayFriday?!! Apparently, she thought it was a great way for the presenter to showcase her research and emphasize her role as an ally.
Listen up, Black people who love handing out invitations to the cookout. We are not giving “allies” credit for learning about Black culture and then trying to “educate” Black people on said culture. I even question the notion of “ally” in such instances. How can you call yourself an ally when you are epitomizing one of the most basic tenets of white supremacy: feeling entitled to everything.
I have asked myself a couple of times if I am being too harsh in my critique. No, I don’t think so. I fundamentally believe that facilitating a workshop on matters that are unique to a culture that is not my own is problematic. For example, there was another session at this conference on perceptions of Muslim women who wear a hijab. Even if I had done extensive research on the topic, I would NEVER apply to facilitate such a workshop to an audience of Muslim women because my research will never trump someone’s lived experience.
I also asked myself if I would feel differently had her audience been comprised of other White people. Maybe. I truly believe that it is not the responsibility of marginalized people, but rather the responsibility of White people to educate other White people about racism. But to call yourself an ally while patronizingly trying to teach me about myself under the guise of being an ally is a slap in the face. You show yourself as nothing more than the people you claim to despise, those who have a vested interest in upholding a system from which they (you) benefit.
If were truly an ally, you would know that intent does not negate impact and that it costs $0 to STFU and stay in your lane.