A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

Tag Archives: Black Women

The Immortality and Identity of Henrietta Lacks

 

You walk into an inviting room and approach the receptionist’s desk. Most times, they smile in your direction and inquire as to why you are there. You sign in on the clipboard and the thought may cross your mind, “What do they do with this?” Since it’s routine, it’s fleeting. You finish signing in by confirming your information.

And then you take your seat.

You wait. 10 minutes on a great day or close to an hour on a really bad day. Finally, you hear your name called. You walk through a door and you glimpse an official-looking sign that may read: NO ENTRY UNLESS ACCOMPANIED BY STAFF. This part of the office is less inviting. Your escort knows this and tries to lighten the mood by engaging you in small talk.

“How have you been since the last time we saw you?” You step on a scale. They take a note. “Oh right! I remember. Did you manage to get that job you were applying for?” You walk down a hall illuminated by fluorescent lighting. “I know that’s right. That’s all you can do.” You walk into a room with two chairs next to a very small desk which holds a computer used for notating in your electronic chart. “You can have a seat in one of those chairs.” You sit down and explain why you’re there. If it’s a good day, it’s just a check-up.

But if it’s a bad day? There is really no telling where it will go.

You answer those questions as best you can. Your escort finishes their notations and says the words that you either welcome with anticipation or meet with dread.

“The doctor will be in shortly.”

***

Most of us have this very sterile experience when visiting our doctor’s office. While there are many people who are there for routine visits, a great majority of us often go when we feel something is wrong in our bodies. In these cases, we trust that our doctors and their staff will do right by us and give us the type of treatment that allows us to live the long lives we hope for ourselves. The expectation here is that Mothers will walk out the door to spend time with their Children. Daughters will walk out the door to spend time with their Mothers. Wives with Husbands. The expectation here is that doctors not only heal, but that they heal our bodies with good intention. But a sad trend is that if you are (1) Black, (2) poor, (3) uneducated, or (4) any combination of the first three, the likelihood is that you won’t have that experience. You won’t have the experience of being seen as a whole person with a family outside of the walls of the hospital. You, and to some extent your body, can become a fascinating specimen where the need to make a significant contribution to society and science erase the empathy that allows medical professionals to see you as a person.

That was the case with Henrietta Lacks.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks. Shutterstock Image.

It took me a day and a half to read the tapestry Rebecca Skloot weaved in her writing of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The author does a stunning job of adding the depth of Personhood that is intentionally stripped by most scientists in their discussion of her. To many? She is a “thing”; a marvelous thing but a thing nonetheless. Skloot reminds you (the reader) that the woman behind the HeLa cell very much mattered to those she touched in life. In The Immortal Life, you learn of her impact on her children, husband, extended family, and community. Finally, you get the idea that what made her remarkable wasn’t that a damaging piece of her was immortal; but that she loved fully and completely – even in damaging circumstances. She was real. She was raw. But more than that? She had a name.

For that alone, I would recommend the book to any person who is interested in learning about the woman responsible for many of the leaps and bounds medicine has made in the last 60 years.

However, as I read this book, I felt a gathering of emotion that will easily consume anyone identifying as part of an underserved population. As a Black American woman from a low-income background who currently finds herself a part of the working poor? This book brought to surface the feeling of “Other” I was introduced to early in life by those possessing some form of societal privilege. In many instances, I was reminded of the extensive disenfranchisement and abuse Black Americans endured at the hands of those in power. This reminder left a constant knot of frustration in my throat while reading.

Other parts of me, trained social scientist, abuse survivor, and the patient living with a chronic health condition, read the book differently. “For once,” I thought, “here is a book that puts it plainly what it means to be Black and poor in the US and experience different institutions.”

As a social scientist, I appreciated the qualitative approach Ms. Skloot took in introducing those close to Henrietta Lacks. You were reminded she had a family because their voices and emotional burdens were loud, clear, and distinct on these pages. Their frustration in never receiving an answer to the ever-present question of “What happened to my Mother/Wife/Cousin/Friend?” was palpable. Their condemnation of those who would take advantage of people who trust someone because of their expertise was rightfully placed. More than that? The void of having missed a Mother/Wife/Cousin/Friend in their lives would never be filled and was only exacerbated by the assumptions they understood what was happening to their family. With the writing of this book, Ms. Skloot seemed to help fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. This left me somewhat relieved.

As an abuse survivor, I readily recognized the cyclical and long-term damage of being harmed at the hands of close relatives. To see it take place generationally reminded me of the “Keep family business in the family!” stance many Black families take. I thought about how differently life might have been for a few of the women in the book had they received the kind of help that would let them lead a life free from worry. I wondered what would have happened if they had been advocated for. More than that? I recognized their bodies being harmed as a byproduct of having to protect the Black Family and the Black Man above protecting their own Black bodies. The intellectual toll, emotional scars, and lack of skills to cope with physical abuse was also illustrated. This left me mostly sad.

As a patient living with chronic health issues, I felt conflicted reading about a woman whose death directly contributed to my personal management of my health crises. As a Black woman living with chronic health issues? I felt anger at the thought that my cells could be used (and probably are being used) in such a fashion. I thought about the lack of accountability in meeting people where they are when explaining confusing ideas and field-specific terms. I thought about the lack of foresight many of the medical professionals seemed to possess when it came to deciding between furthering their ambitions or receiving a “No.” from a patient fully aware of the risks involved. This left me mostly angry.

As a person from a low-income background, I felt a deep connection to the environments many of the voices introduced in the book found themselves in. At any moment? I can take a trip to a neighborhood not too far away and see the implications of what happens when people are tossed to the side only to be remembered when they need to clear space for other people. In many of these instances, the faces there will look like mine – Black or Brown but noticeably absent of white faces. Understanding this, the distrust of Ms. Skloot was warranted. After all, who put people like us in those neighborhoods to begin with? Who benefitted most from programs allowing upward mobility and a chance at a life better than the one their parents experienced? The blight and subsequent effect on the welfare and well-being of the remaining Lackses spoke to the determination to make it by any means necessary. All too often, this is a story many Black Americans still find themselves tied to. This “fact of life” left me reminded with what it means to be burdened while Black.

Overall, this book was a really good (almost great) read. It was written well and comes across as thoughtfully intentioned. The biggest thing is that it finally gives the everyday person an idea of the woman being called Immortal in the medical and scientific community.

We are finally told of the woman Henrietta Lacks.

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Single Black Female: Is Something Wrong With You? (#31WriteNow)

NOTE: This was a private post written in 2010. Funny…it still applies even though I’m 27. I decided to update it and share it with some of my more current thoughts (in italics).

***

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that question or how often I’ve heard it hidden within some other backwards compliment, but I hear it often. It’s now to the point where I change subjects rather skillfully (if I’m up to the challenge) or I forget all of my Southern upbringing and charm classes and cuss someone out.

Yes, I’m single. Yes, I’m a Black woman. No, there is nothing wrong with me.

I understand why people become so up in arms when I take the opportunity to describe myself. It usually goes something like this:

“Oh, I’m 23 (now 27). I have my BS and MA. I hope to go on for my PhD. I want to work in Education (the policy/administration side…not teaching). I hope to…” and so forth and so on. However, in taking the time to describe myself I face these questions later:

1. Do you have a boyfriend/Are you courting? No./No.

2. Why don’t you have a boyfriend? I don’t leave my house? I don’t know.

3. What are you going to do with all that education? Use it.

4. Don’t you know a woman’s place? Yes. It’s her address right?

(Updated Note: I’m probably single because I have a smart mouth and unintentional snark.)

Wait…whoa…what in the fudge sticks?!?!

You see, when I get around family and this topic is always brought up, I’m left feeling like an outcast. Of most of my cousins from 15-26 that identify as a “woman,” I’m one of TWO that are single/uncoupled (three years later and it still applies). That can be a self-esteem killer, and until recently, it was.

I had an interesting conversation with a Sista of mine. She posed the two questions: “What are 10 ways a man could charm you?” “What are 10 ways a man trying to charm you would annoy you?” I gave her my reasons and quite honestly, it was an eye-opener for me (I’m actually going to answer these questions for myself again). The more that I thought about it, the more I thought about how these things impact my “dating” life. I mean, it’s really hard to walk around as a young, seemingly successful, Black woman who is single AND remain confident in yourself when there are so many things out there telling you why you’re still a failure. There are “experts” who release books on why Black women can’t get, keep, and marry a (Black) man. There are nightly “specials” that devote time to harp on the connections we make with each other, our accolades, and then pose the question (usually by non-Black people) why can’t we find, keep, and marry a (successful Black) man. (Sidenote: HA! I’m watching One-On-One and would you know, this is an episode about how a successful Black woman has managed to step on a Black man’s ego and that’s why she lost him).

I say one thing to these specials and experts:

Spare me the story of the tragic Black woman that happens to be successful and goes to sleep alone at night because she can’t find a successful Black man. And here’s why.

I’m 23 (now 27). I’m (still) being told that I need to start looking for a man. I need to settle down and have some babies (okay…now I want to. Then I wasn’t ready). That’s great. It’d be nice if I weren’t alone (if only it would cut down the chatter at my family reunions) and it’d be nice if I knew of multiple successful Black men aged 22-27 (let’s move this on up to 27-33-ish or something) looking to settle down. The fact is, they aren’t. MEN MY AGE ARE NOT LOOKING TO SETTLE DOWN (hmmm…this isn’t true so much anymore cuz I’m older now). Besides the countless male friends that I have (okay, 6 so as not to sound like a floozy), I also have 5 brothers that were raised by BOTH parents to play the field and put women through the wringer before they put a ring on anything.

So yes, I’m single. Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I’m a woman.

And there is nothing wrong with me….. I still want a boo though. LOL

My Endometriosis Story

Have you ever felt that something was wrong with you but because so many people told you that nothing was there, you started to think that you were crazy?

Well, that’s how I would describe the past 9 years of my life. For as long as I can remember, I complained about pain in my abdomen and side. The pain, which was pretty consistent, happened daily and got worse about midway through my cycle. I’d bring this up to people and I was told everything from “It’s all in your head” to “Maybe it’s gas.” At one point in college, I was in the ER almost every week so that people could help me get a handle on what they were calling GERD (a very severe form of Acid Reflux).  These years were also the most embarrassing. Because of the bloating and cramping that came along with my diagnosed incorrectly problem, I would wear certain types of clothing – always loose and never really form-fitting unless I was going someplace that was dark.

But the craziest part of it all were the comments from other people.

I heard things from people like, “Oh! When are you expecting?” because there were some days that I looked like a sorta pregnant lady (it was actually because of this question that I invested in sweatshirts). I heard things like, “Oh! She’s too young to have a kid. I hope the Dad sticks around.” to which I would always respond, “I’m not pregnant. I’m just bloated or some shit. And I can hear you.” But the most hurtful comments came from Medical Professionals. That’s right, those pesky people that we pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to reassure us that there is nothing wrong with us AND if there is, then they will fix it. But perhaps the most painful comment was, “Well, you know…you could have that type of pain from multiple sex partners. Young women like you often run into this problem. Your cervix might have shifted a bit.”

This was told to me after I explained to my lily-white doctor that I was not having sex, my cycles were painful, and I always felt faint and had trouble keeping food down.

After this comment, I just decided to stop going to see gynecologists who were white and practiced in rural areas where they probably never dealt with Black people. This decision meant that I didn’t go to a gynecologist for about 3 years. It would be another 3 years (so six total) before I was seen by anyone because I didn’t have insurance…and that’s another saga all on its own.

But more recently, my faith in good doctors has once again been restored. I have a wonderful doctor that took me seriously the very first appointment. Once I explained to her the comments I heard and my fear around coming back in to be seen, she reassured me that she would figure out what was causing the issue AND that she was opened to working with the other doctors to figure out what the problem was. After being seen by her, I had to go through a few ultrasounds because they found some growths in my uterus and she also wanted to get an idea of why my cycles were super heavy and painful.

And they found some growths (I named two of them Bruno and Endi) which my friends and family have reacted to by saying: “Dang! Those are like lil babies!” because they were sorta big (oh, I’m tiny. I’m 5’2″ on my license which means I fudged the numbers up a bit).

Now meet Bruno and Endi!

photo-5

Bruno is the seven pound fibroid removed from my uterus on April 2, 2013. This was the smaller of the two (I have no pic of the larger 11 pound fibroid also removed). Endi, the ovarian cyst removed from my right ovary, is that lil thing next to Bruno.

On April 2, 2013, I had a life-changing surgery where two large fibroids and a painful ovarian cyst were removed. To say I feel like a new woman would be an understatement. Because of their positioning, these masses made even simple tasks such as walking or running for my streetcar pretty painful.

Today, I’m at a point now where the big issues have been taken care of and I’m looking forward to simple pleasures in life that some (read: most) women might take for granted. The removal of the fibroids and cyst means that I can be monitored more closely. In the future, it’s likely I’ll be able to have a baby. And although that picture looks quite gross (it is kids, don’t worry if you felt this way), just think of this fact – I didn’t have the worst type of Endometriosis. That’s right, there are cases out there that are worse than mine.

So I’ll close this post expressing my deep gratitude that I finally have a doctor in my corner that LISTENS to me. I’ll also give myself some kudos for listening to my body and never giving up (I’m not a crazy woman with a problem y’all). Then finally, I’ll ask those of y’all mosey on over to my other post for my friend’s story about her challenge with Stage 4 Endometriosis. On top of all of that, all growths came back benign (no cancer for me!) after there was some concern over the rate that they grew at and the amount of growths they found in my uterus and other areas (it was starting to attach to my intestines).

I’m finally looking forward to doing fun stuff in life, like walking with no pain.

~Ms. C. Jayne

Let’s Give Amanda Michelle a Great Birthday

On April 2nd, I had the opportunity to undergo a much-needed surgery where large fibroid masses and an ovarian cyst were removed. After battling this pain for quite some time (since I was 17), it was awesome to know that in the coming weeks, the only pain I’d feel in my abdomen area would come from the recovery process. As I started to recover, I began to think to myself, “Why did it take so long?” but more importantly, I expressed gratitude that some key people had come into my life within the past two years. Two of those people were in the medical field (my primary care physician who also serves as my main gynecologist and a fertility specialist that she works very closely with).

However, there was perhaps one person that I expressed the most gratitude for (and now that I think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever said this to her) — my Twitter friend, Amanda Michelle. So this post is my personal “Thank you so very much for always being a person I could ask questions to (no matter how dumb they sounded to me) and I hope that you get the surgery that you so desperately need!”

You see, she has Stage Four (IV) Endometriosis which is reserved for the worst cases of endometriosis. Amanda has been presented with the opportunity to have her much-needed surgery (and this is super cool) done by the doctor who came up with the procedure, Dr. Camran Nezhat(I just thought to myself, “Ahh! So much better than an episode of Grey’s Anatomy!”). But she needs our help!!!

Amanda needs $5,600 and I’ve included her budget below. So far she’s had 40 people donate enough to cover $1,278. That means, she needs $4,322 and she only has 16 days left through HopeMob (the tax-deductible and fee-free fundraising platform) to get the rest of the money.

“My Budget

It’s taken a while to hammer out the logistics with the hospital, so we’re now in crunch time with regards to getting reasonable reservations.

  • $3600: Surgery – $2500 deposit + $1100 left on the out-of-pocket max for my insurance

  • $1200: Hotel room w/ kitchen – for 5 days (endo = random food & gluten allergies)

  • $300: Car rental – 5 days

  • $500: Plane ticket – as of 5am on April 10th, this is the cheapest plane ticket

  • $5600 Total – excluding food & gas”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with endometriosis, it is “the abnormal growth of cells (endometrial cells) similar to those that form the inside or lining the tissue of the uterus, but in a location outside of the uterus” (source). It occurs normally in women of childbearing age with it being estimated that it occurs in 3% to 18% of women. On top of their being renegade uterine cells in other parts of our bodies, it can be very painful. Amanda has been diagnosed as having Stage Four (IV) endometriosis which is described below:

Stage 4: This is the most severe stage of endometriosis, with over 40 points needed for diagnosis. Patients with stage IV endometriosis will have many superficial and deep implants as well as large adhesions. Endometriosis symptoms including infertility are common in patients with stage IV endometriosis. (Source)

It is my hope that you’ll read this post and think about the ways that you can help Amanda (every little bit helps). I know that many of you who come to read my blog care about me (well, those that know me personally) and I’d like for you all to donate something. I’ve already donated to her by gifting her with $100 (because if her pain was worse than mine she DEFINITELY needs this surgery).

All of my appreciation and love to Amanda for her help. I’m rooting for you and I’m glad you have the opportunity to get this done.

Please see the links below for the appropriate places to go:

Amanda Michelle’s HopeMob Fundraising Platform

Amanda Michelle Jones’ website

Her Endometriosis Story/Introduction to HopeMob Fundraising

Is This What Regret Feels Like?

Yesterday…I realized that I may regret one thing in life and that’s not having gone into the field I dreamed of going into since I was 10.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a Chemist. No bullshit. I was smart too. Top of my class. Always on the Honor Roll and I would ask for gifts that only nerdy people asked for. Think – telescopes, microscopes and encyclopedias.

Who asks for that shit…in the hood no less?

As I got older, I started to wonder why people in my neighborhood behaved the way they did. It had to be some chemical thing and I read up on Pharmacological Research in the neighborhood library. At this point, I was 13.

In that moment, I decided that I wanted to become a Pharmacological Researcher but because I knew of the neighborhood I was being reared in and the people who were around me, I kept it to myself. I kept it to myself until the day before I left for college. And I said, offhandedly might I add, that I was going to double major in Chemistry and Psychology and then go on to a Tier I research university to finish off my studies. Even at 18, I knew…it was what I wanted to do.

And for a while, I was successful.

For those of you that don’t know, I attended a PWI, or a Predominantly White Institution and that was the most shocking wake up call ever. I got to my undergraduate institution and realized I was nowhere near prepared. I was smart, true. I had taken the tough classes, true. But I still wasn’t ready. So I worked hard and for the first year, it was all good. I did well in not only my Math & (Hard) Sciences courses but also in my Psychology courses. And I was overjoyed. Then Year 2 happened. Along with year 2 came the realization that I would have to be used to being the ONLY Black face in my course section taking the hard track (I majored in Graduate Preparation studies, so think AP of college).

But what also happened, and this is something that I wasn’t prepared for, was that I had to be ready to defend every excellent mark I made. Because there was no way that I could score that high on tests when my peers didn’t. And I got tired. I dealt with racism and sexism and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. My friends didn’t understand…they were in “simpler” majors. My professors told me that it came with the territory. And my family questioned why I wanted to “do that shit” anyway.

So I dropped Chemistry as a major and I shrunk my dream to something that made sense to everyone. I would just major in Psychology. Well, today on Twitter, I was recounting the excitement I felt when I thought of Chemistry and I thought of Pharmacology and I’ve been wondering ever since if this is what regret feels like?

Earlier, I sorta felt like, if I could do anything, I’d go back to school and pick up chemistry again. But I don’t know what I would do with it because I’m starting to feel really drawn to working with young people. I want to be  in spaces where I can affirm them and their impossible dreams. But I want to be a Chemist.

It just feels like…well, I’m not sure what it feels like. Maybe I just want to do something so I don’t feel so helpless?

Artificial Masculinity

Artificial (adj) – Made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural; contrived or false; conventional as opposed to natural; insincere or affected

In essence, a facade.

The Issue

With the recent release of Rihanna’s “Man Down” video (here), people have decided to raise their voices concerning a very important issue to the Black community. For those who haven’t seen the video causing all of the controversy, Rihanna essentially shoots an assailant after he stalks her when she leaves a party and rapes her in an alley.

Given that scenario, it was no surprise that people had something to say.

I was surprised by what people decided to take issue with  — the murder of a Black man. Not the rape. Not the stalking. Not the depression of the victim. But the murder of a Black man (who in my eyes was no longer a man when he decided to assert his masculinity and take what wasn’t willingly given to him).

Why Does This Happen?

But the question is why does this type of behavior towards Black women take place, especially at the hand of Black men?

During a discussion on Twitter concerning Black men, Black women, and various forms of harassment, @purplepeace79 posed the question, “Do we think over generations of being unable to do anything to protect Black women, that Black men simply gave up?” It was a very interesting thought and I found myself saying yes. I then responded with, “I’d also say that it stems from not being able to be a man in larger society, so they mimic negative behavior towards us.”

And this is what I mean by artificial masculinity.

For far too long, the Black community has had to cope with the negative implications of our men being feminized (made something more characteristic of women) by larger society. What could possibly come from a legacy of slavery where Black men were used to breed and family units were almost nonexistent (roughly 1619 until 1863)? What could possibly come from the disenfranchisement we faced (as a community) after the Reconstruction era (roughly 1870 until 1964)? How could we cope as a community when men were pushed from the home with the Vietnam War and subsequent Welfare Laws? How could we possibly rebuild ourselves after the Crack Epidemic (1984 to 1990) and then the War on Drugs? And let us not forget the war on poverty. After all of this, we really feel that as a community, we are unscathed and that men are…Men?

No. They are not. Not fully anyhow.

What we are witnessing with the majority of men is simply what happens when role models are only present through the television and gang culture has seem to become the law of the land. Stereotypes are projected through media and impressionable young people come of age idolizing those who experienced a quick rise to riches and a fast fall to nothing (think American Gangster, Scarface, and the main character from GTA). For most, fathers are not around and our community has moved from the stance that “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child” (which has been capitalized upon by white women, most notably HIllary Clinton) to one of, “If that’s your kid, then you deal with it.”

We’ve moved to silence.

Because of this, we’ve put our entire community in danger because we are allowing young men to run around with free rein doing what they think a man should do. men say what they want to women without regard to how disrespectful it is. men don’t heed the word no and when a woman speaks up, she becomes a bitch. Or a ho. men congregate in hopeless flocks with nowhere to go except the streets. Men are doing what they think defines masculinity and it’s simply contributing to the demise of a community. Our entire community has become like an antique plate which is perched on a perilous ledge waiting to fall over and shatter.

What Can Be Done

Just as the problem affects the whole community, it will take all of us to fix it.

Men raise your Sons. You all constantly walk around bashing single mothers and harping on their inability to raise young boys up properly. So you take up the task and do so. For those of you who don’t have any Sons (or children for that matter), MENTOR. Move back to a time of community and work with the young men in your neighborhood. Take something as simple as coaching a team, and instituting principles of manhood into practices. Tutor someone and mention that young men should respect young women within the classroom. When you teach a young man to tie a tie, mention that he’s to hold open doors for young women as well AND to not react if she doesn’t say thank you. As a woman, she could just be silenced by the shock of the situation (because it doesn’t happen often). But most of all, highlight that they can not respect women if they don’t respect themselves or their Mothers.

Make sure respect for self translates into respect for women and the larger community.

Women, we aren’t off the hook either. While men are busy raising their sons, teach your daughters that it is okay to speak up (unless her intuition is telling her to shush it). After reviewing some of the responses to purplepeace79’s tweet, I’ve come to the conclusion that while some men are fully aware that the disrespectful behavior is just that, they remain silent because we remain silent. Tell your Daughters that it is okay to have a voice. Give them a whistle and tell them to blow the hell out of it when males say some crazy mess to them. Teach your Sons that their masculinity is not predicated upon how disrespectful they are towards women. When walking out with them, encourage them to compliment women (as youngsters and to address them respectfully). Promote positive behavior towards young women by you yourself being positive towards yourself (which is an entirely different blog all on it’s on). ALWAYS. Children mimic what they see. But most of all, highlight that they can not respect women if they don’t respect themselves or their Mothers.

Make sure respect for self translates into respect for women and the larger community.

It’s time that we work on reclaiming what is ours, and men, this means that you have to raise your Sons. For some of you guys out there, this may mean that you’ll finally have to raise yourselves.

This Is A Man’s World

Today on Twitter, I went on a mini-rant after I remembered an encounter I had with a young man yesterday. For the record, I currently work in retail to pay the bills so I’m used to assumptions being made about the level of education I possess. However, there was something this young man said that rubbed me the wrong way and his attitude did little to help the situation. During the “discussion,” he told me that if I got a degree, I wouldn’t have a problem finding a job because I’m a woman. Let’s momentarily forget that the country is in a recession and the unemployment rate for Blacks is almost twice that of the overall unemployment rate (15.7 percent to 9.8 percent) source.

According to this guy, holding all things equal, I would find a job in my field easily before he found one in his. There may be some truth to this statement (although in my experience, I’d still call this bull) but I was completely offended when I realized a few things:

  1. I told him I had my degree. He exercised his “right” to ignore me.
  2. He gave sexual harassment the ok (whether he realized it or not).
  3. He told me I was like the “BINGO!” in the field because I’m Black AND a woman.

Cue dramatic eye-roll here.

I’m the first to admit that racial and ethnic minorities face systemic and systematic discrimination that could possibly make it harder for us to earn a living and lead happier lives. But to simply say that I have a better shot at a job because I’m both Black and woman denies the truth of my everyday existence. As a woman who happens to be Black, there may be instances where I’m denied a position or opportunity and I have to ask myself, “Is it because I’m Black?” OR “Is it because I’m a woman?” OR “Is it because I’m a Black woman?”

After sharing my experience on Twitter, I made a comment where I asked the question:

“When will men admit that many of them only view women as objects to further their own personal agendas? I mean, once we get there, we can REALLY start to build ourselves up. It would also save many from being cussed out.”

This tweet led to exchanging comments/thoughts with two followers/friends. Both of them happened to be Black males (there was an interesting discussion and a brilliant idea born of this). While I understand that they was an offensive tone in my statement and the qualifiers that I used/didn’t use, I simply wanted Black men to understand that there are certain privileges that they enjoy because they are male.

Women in the workplace are subject to non-affirming behaviors every day. It could be the simple mistake of a visitor asking a woman who holds some power in her company to fetch them coffee. It happens in meetings when statements are made and people gloss over them ONLY to praise the male coworker who says the same thing. It happens when our work is stolen and our names are removed from the product. It happens when comments are made that are sexually harassing but nothing is done when it is reported OR we’re told not to report it because it could damage the credibility of the men in the office. We’re not affirmed when people laugh off or chuckle at our credentials. We’re not affirmed when we’re given 3rd author on a project that we’ve done a large bulk of the work for. We’re not affirmed when we’re asked to quiet down or change our behavior in such a way that leads to our male counterparts being more comfortable with their own ability.

For me, the discussion with the man in the mall, and the questions/comments that I received, point to a larger problem within our community. There are assumptions made about the status of women in this country and because of our background and history, some Black men seem to feel their behaviors don’t maintain the idea that women are lesser beings when they do. To me, this is sad. At the end of the day, this isn’t even about feminism and equal treatment and shit like that.

It’s about affirming women and our abilities for the betterment of us all.

Femininity Lost: The Story of the Black Woman (Pt. 1)

It had been my intent to write a post on this topic long before now. Life happened. The more that I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to write about it. That is, until I had a talk with a very close friend of mine. The conversation, centered around dating, was perhaps an eye-opening event for me. The question being asked was, “Is chivalry dead?” Being two women, it was a very one-sided conversation. Much was speculated on this topic but I left the conversation with my question,

“If Black men don’t have the freedom to be chivalrous individuals, what does that mean for Black women and our Womanhood?”

To some, these topics have nothing to do with each other. To me, they are the two sides of the same coin. Masculinity and Femininity. The duality from which all life springs forth. For every man who questions or laments on the fact that Black women don’t allow them to be chivalrous, there are many more Black women in the shadows who wonder why can’t they be free to express themselves as [other] Women.

The Historical Context

I recently read the book “Fierce Angels: The Strong Black Woman in American Life and Culture” by Sherri Parks (I suggest that you pick this up if you would like another viewpoint within the Black Woman/Femininity discussion).  It offered to me a counter-narrative to what’s presented in the popular media and even by close friends of mine. Once I finished reading the book, I took to Twitter to ask, “Are Black women capable of being feminine?” The answer, or the one offered the most, was that we weren’t. According to many of my followers, “Femininity is an European/male construct” and as such, we don’t fit into the mold because we are neither European nor male. The one thing that Parks’ book did for me was offer the evidence that I needed to stand firmly on my ground:

Femininity has always existed, and will continue to exist, for Women of Color, especially Black women.

So why are many of my Sisters still wandering around in a state of confusion?

The question, Ain’t (Aren’t) I a Woman? isn’t a new question. In fact, records show that Sojourner Truth asked this very question at a women’s convention in 1851. The point highlighted in her speech was that certain “privileges” are given to White women who don’t have to work (these privileges weren’t extended to Black women). Interesting point. Those who can wholly identify as feminine enjoy privileges that those who can’t do not (Did that make sense? I hope so. I’m not trying to confuse anyone here.).

And really, that’s what this whole discussion is about.

When I ask, “Are Black women capable of being feminine?” I’m really asking, “Are we allowed those certain freedoms that come along with being a woman?”

Thoughts?

To be continued….