To Tell our Truth, pt. 2

29 Aug, 2012

by Dasha Kelly

…continued from “To Tell Our Truth, Part 1″

 

“We have to do more of this!” new Michelle says, gesturing to our tabletop of appetizer plates and empty glasses. We nod and toast in agreement.

 A 2007 American Bar Association report titled “Visible Invisibility” describes how black women in the legal profession face the “double burden” of being both black and female, meaning that they enjoy none of the advantages that black men gain from being male, or that white women gain from being white. ~Washington Post

“When I first moved here I was baffled to find out we have three black chambers of commerce,” says new Michelle. “I was, like, ‘Really? Three? Is the city that big?’”

“No,” says Azure’De. “It just feels like our only choice is to fight for a small slice of pie instead of sharing it.”

“The old black guard needs to get out of the way and make way for these young professionals coming up,” says Michelle. “The more they hang on, the more good talent we lose to other cities.”

“Where would they go?” I ask, referring to our veteran black leaders. “There’s no succession of power for them. They don’t get invited on to boards, absorbed into corporations or get to reinvent themselves into consultants.”

 In the last decade, 98 percent of the nation’s population growth was due to increases in the black, Latino and Asian populations. Together, women, racial and ethnic minority men already comprise 66 percent of the nation’s population. White men overwhelmingly dominate boards of Fortune 500 companies, holding three-quarters of all seats. Fortune 500 boards are less diverse than Fortune 100 boards. ~Huffington Post

“I had a woman crying in my office once,” says Michelle. “She was so frustrated that she couldn’t get the information and support she needed. It wasn’t from whites, though.  It was black women who wouldn’t give her the time of day.”

“Let’s be honest,” Johnna says.  “When we do try to connect and support each other at the job, we get followed around and looked at funny for having ‘secret meetings.’”

Secret meetings! We all shake our heads at the familiar suspicions.

“Remember, when I told you about the woman walking back and forth past my office when we were in there?” Johnna says, referring to her previous agency. “She wanted to know soooo badly what we’d been talking about. I should’ve told her ‘you.’”

“I’m tired of folks asking me if I’m mad, too,” Michelle says. We shake our heads a bit more, laugh a bit less.

 Scholars at the business schools at Duke University and Northwestern University conducted a study that showed black women in a corporate setting faced less of a backlash from the survey participants for dominant behavior than white women or black men. The reason appears to be that participants expected black women to be strong and accepted that type of behavior from them. ~Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

“Dasha, how have you been received in this role for the hotel?” new Michelle asks me.  “You’re the first African American Narrator, right?”

I had to pause and give this an extra thought.

“I don’t doubt that more than a few guests have been caught off guard,” I say.  “I’m a complete stranger walking up to them in a hotel asking them to tell stories about themselves.  To be fair, I think the idea of a hotel having a program like this blows them away way more than the fact that I’m black.”

“And you speak so well,” Michelle quips, sending us all back into laughter and more head shaking.

 The problem is that popular culture and the media glorify and foreground Black women in so many caricatured and undignified ways that Michelle Obama appears to be more of an anomaly than she really is.  In the African American community, we are accustomed to seeing good looking, intelligent, well-educated Black women. ~Dr. Marilyn Mobley, Case Western University

“We should have our own TV show,” Johnna says.

“As long as you’re not talking about having us throw drinks on each other,” I say.

The majority of what we, as a community, celebrate in the media, isn’t worthy of our women. Not the ones that I know and love. ~Essence Magazine

Individual black women are more likely to be viewed as representatives of their race by the majority culture.  ~Bitch Magazine

“Listen, there are plenty of white women acting a fool on television every night,” says actress Holly Robinson Peete. “But there’s a balance for them. They have shows on the major networks—not just cable and not just reality shows—about them running companies, being great mothers, and having loving relationships. We don’t have enough of that.” ~Newsweek

 “Girl, no,” Johnna says.  “But I want to host the segment on entertainment.  I still try to keep up with what’s ‘poppin.’”

“I would want to tell stories for all the silent voices,” says new Michelle.  “Regular black women living regular lives.  That’s who gets ignored, the vast majority of black women who are living between the extremes.  Those are important stories to tell, too.”

There are menfolk circling our table now.  Michelle’s husband. A colleague of Azure’De.  The fellas in jazz trio have begun to play near our table.  It’s time for me to float away to another soft seat of the hotel.  As I hug all the women and pledge to join an upcoming happy hour respite, new Michelle asks the question swelling in my mind:

“What are you going to write about all of this?”

“I’m going to try and capture the range of everything we crammed into forty-five minutes,” I say.

Mostly, I think to myself, I’m going to do my best to tell our truth.

 ===================================

As a society, we know very little about the psychology of Black women, a group of 19 million people — seven percent of the U.S. population. The way they experience the workplace, the complexities of their romantic lives, the challenges they face as mothers and grandmothers, their spiritual and religious practices, these and so many other aspects of their lives are largely unknown to the wider community. Being ignored and poorly understood likely explains why so many Black women today still feel profoundly unhappy about their place in society. ~ Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden, authors of “Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America”  (HarperCollins Publishers)

About the author

Dasha Kelly

Dasha Kelly is founder and director of Still Waters Collective, a Milwaukee-based outreach initiative utilizing the transformative power of the written and spoken word. Dasha has performed and delivered workshops to writers, youth, educators, co-eds, executives, inmates and artists throughout the U.S. She is also an HBO Def Poetry alum. As a poet and novelist, Dasha’s writings have appeared in anthologies, text books, magazines and online. Her latest collection of work, Hershey Eats Peanuts is available through Penmanship Books. She is currently working on her second novel and a new collection of essays.

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