I had every intention of writing a lengthy post about World Aids Day. Instead, I’ll pull a Buzzfeed and share with you my tweets about today:
** Header image by: AIDS Service Foundation
As a co-founder of #CiteASista and one of five founding members of #SisterPhD I am no stranger to spending a lot of my time working towards (and on) supporting Black women.
My research is about Black women.
My life’s work is on centering and supporting Black women.
I work, every day, so fewer Black women have to suffer the ways that I have…
It’s in everything that I say about myself. And while so many of us have no idea who we are outside of work (and that’s another post entirely) for those of us who love the grind, need the hustle, and appreciate everything that comes with it, work is an integral part of who we are… But In watching last week’s Grey’s Anatomy episode and looking at just how much the Dr. Miranda Bailey’s and Maggie Pierce’s work, I realized I and many of my girlfriends do the same… Sometimes to a fault… And I’ve found it difficult to have real conversations about what it means when we take advantage of each other. Afterall, it’s easy to tell a classmate or coworker you dislike to stop messing around or that you’re #ReclaimingYourTime, it may not be the same for a friend, though and especially another Black woman as we try to coalesce and support each other in the name of sisterhood.
The other day, a friend and I vented to one another about our frustrations with co-writing, working, and doing projects with other Black women because it was starting to feel like people were taking advantage of our labor and work. I was crushed when a friend and sister of mine thought it okay to “let me work my magic” on a joint project as if the skills I’d be employing at that moment weren’t things I had to learn. I texted her back, “additional labor, sis” as a means of pointing this out. And while this particular friend was receptive and I was able to push her to see she could do more of the heavy lifting WITH me, some friends simply are not as amenable.
So what do we do when we feel like fellow Black women are asking us to join forces on school and work projects only for them to slack off every time? What does it mean to trade being bamboozled and used for your knowledge by non-Black women, for Black women who do the same and offer little in return?
eh… QTNA, amirite? Let me admit right now that I don’t have all the answers to these questions and certainly not any definitive ones. When I tweeted to ask about how you tell friends you feel you’re being taken advantaged of, most people said something along the lines of address it directly. But not everyone, friend or not, can take this kind of feedback.
But I also want us to be able to hold each other accountable and to have difficult conversations so that we can become better, stronger, and more prosperous friends for having done so. And while I won’t pretend to have all the answers, I want to be a part of the solutions. I want my friends to call me in, love on me hard, and help me be better even if I am initially combative or resistive to it because while my brain may not want to hear it, my heart will know I need to feel it.
So, here are three ways we can start to protect our Black Girl Magic together:
Although we often have a sixth sense and can say pretty much anything without talking to each other in meetings when ridiculousness is at play, this is not always the case within our own friendships. Sometimes we have to name and make plain the fact that we are feeling taken advantage of to our sisters– this means creating space for one another to talk it out in meaningful ways. Taking a moment to name it can prevent any issues with holding one another accountable for things we do not realize we’re doing and enable us to move forward in manners productive for everyone involved.
Sometimes, sistas need to know what you can and can’t do. I despise group work because I always end up doing most of the work. These days, I simply do not have the time to control every single detail imaginable for a smaller project. By setting boundaries, we can make clear our expectations for engagement before we get to a point of having to have the difficult conversation, and be sure the collaboration we’re envisioning is one that can take place, to begin with.
If you’ve done one and two but still find yourself struggling, you may need to reevaluate what you have in place. Letting those close to us/ we work closest with know that there have been shifts in our priorities and that we need to adjust can help lessen the tension and ultimately the load. By reevaluating our priorities, we can choose to move forward or stop the things we are doing. Not every project has to have us (control freaks/ overachievers) at the helm. Sometimes we have to let go of control and trust that others will see things through. Besides, if it all falls apart because of someone else, that’s on THEM– not you.
Protect your energies, time, and space at all cost– even if this means having to sit another sister down. It’s okay to say no and hold one another accountable– it’s not okay to make someone feel as though people are taking advantage of them.
What do you all think? What ideas and plans do you have for holding yourself and your sista friends accountable? What strategies might you suggest I employ? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think!
I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to write this for this platform. Everywhere I go I see post after post saying people without kids are “assholes”, “rude,” “mean,” “selfish,” and every other word in the book. This post originally appeared on my facebook, but I wanted to add it here and flesh out a few pieces for a greater audience because there just aren’t enough posts like these. I also feel like it can contribute to the conversation that is circling regarding Jeannie Mai and her husband’s impending divorce. With this ridiculous disclaimer out the way….
In the childfree community, we call it bingoing/being bingoed when people with children or those who buy into norms of having children say certain things to us because we have made a decision to opt out of parenthood. The decision of whether or not I wanted to parent became particularly salient for me when my ex-fiance and I went back and forth in the months leading up to our planned wedding date.
Go head, laugh. I can *now* laugh about it myself; but it took a few months to get here. Anyway, I have been very forthcoming with people about the end of my last relationship and that at the core of this change was my lack of willingness to have children, to give up my dreams and goals associated with travel, and to stifle my career by placing another person’s vision of happiness above my own. Some people call this selfish, I call it self-awareness.
I think it is noble and nice that folks say their kids are the best thing to happen to them, and yet I see so many parents on my social media timelines and elsewhere who are utterly miserable. People who mention their lack of sleep, continued inability to save for a rainy day, find themselves consistently canceling plans because of a sick baby or unexpectedly busy co-parent, etc. and it’s touted as a badge of honor. I don’t purport to understand it and I have decided it’s not for me to do so. But gosh golly people. Canceling on the same friend every month? It sucks. Walking around a shell of who you are? It’s hard to watch.
Asking me for money? Well, that’s actually no longer an option for anyone because I cannot help you.
What I do know is that I did not grow up with the life I felt I deserved. My parents did everything they could and I am grateful for every sacrifice they’ve made to get me here. It is not lost on me that my parents contributed greatly to the woman I am today. My parents worked to their bones to provide for my sister and I. I have watched as they gave everything they had and poured into us with a selflessness that I honestly think should be illegal. I am hyper-aware of the fact that my parents, who are low income by every measure I’ve come to learn as a social class researcher, have worked 40+ hours per week for the entirety of my life and they do not have enough to retire on. They have not because they sacrificed for us. And in many ways I’ve already made the decision to make sure they do not have to suffer for it.
Make no mistake I am grateful. In fact, I want the best for everyone in my life, and if that means having 2972972982 kids and struggling or having no kids at all great. But I must admit openly and honestly that it is utterly exhausting being bingoed. I am tired and I am frustrated with everyone else’s preoccupation with what I do with my vagina, my wallet, and my willingness to sacrifice. People treat me as if my decision not to have kids is somehow an affront to them. As if I have somehow invalidated their choices by choosing to make my own. And the worst part of it all is how many people ignore just how many Black women, women who could be me, my sister, my cousins, etc. have died during childbirth and die at a higher rate than everyone else in this first world country we call home. I am exhausted by hearing–
“it’s different when you have yours”
“you don’t want to give your parents grandkids”
“You didn’t really love [ex-fiance] if you wouldn’t have his kids” (I’m no longer friends with this person.)
“Children are a blessing”
“What will be your legacy”
“You’re not a real woman until you have kids”
Etc. Etc. Etc.
I must admit I’ve been particularly sensitive this month. I was supposed to get married *and* I somehow forgot to remove the calendar invites going haywire to remind me about my “honeymoon.” I still love my ex-fiance and do not pretend as if this isn’t the case.
I think the most frustrating part of all of this is how people question me as if I have not thought and calculated every piece of this decision. Do people honestly think that I walked away from a relationship that would have guaranteed me fun and comfort without weighing how much having a child because he wanted one would hurt and harm me? Do people think I am unaware of the exorbitant costs associated with daycare and private schooling? Do people think I am unaware that amongst even my closest friends those married, in a partnership, a relationship without legal guarantees, and even those who are single that the women *almost always* do all of the parenting work? Even amongst my friends in queer relationships, the person who is most femme presenting *often* does all of the work (this is a whole different dialogue for another day, btw).
I have thought.
I have researched.
I have made budgets.
I have remade budgets.
I have mapped career timelines from front to back with and without kids.
I still have no desire to have kids.
I write all of this to say stop trying to make me make the choices you’ve made. Stop trying to make me be with someone who wants kids (or is fence sitting) when I know I’m setting myself up for divorce. Stop talking to me as if my life is not as important as yours because you’re a parent. Stop saying “at least you don’t have kids” when I mention my annoyance about unexpected expenses popping up. I still have bills to pay and a mouth to feed: Mine.
I am a whole person. A living breathing individual who wishes to be seen as more than an incubator for a human fetus. Who wishes to have her accomplishments judged by their merit, not by the man or kids I am or am not attached to.
And stop trying to force me to qualify “I’m not interested in having kids” by following up quickly about how much I like them. Everything I do is for the good of other people. Nearly every desire I have is for the betterment of society. Every decision I make is so that I can get to a point of being more charitable and giving than I am today– things that are for the good of a future I don’t have children coming into.
And if you can’t do any of that, just please for the sake of my heart, feelings, and emotions stop bingoing me.
P.S. My ex is a great guy. Have at him. 😉
My mother raised me not to say anything if I’m not sure what to say. She also taught me to never dismiss the feelings of people around me, even if I do not understand them… And yet, as a high-achieving Black woman (as described by others, this isn’t a narcissism thing), I find myself time and time again hearing things from people when shutting up and being empathetic are better solutions.
Over the last few months, I’ve been stressed: I’ve been to more funerals and loss more people than I want to admit; mourned and buried a broken engagement; faced rejection of things I didn’t want to begin with after being forced encouraged to apply for them; dealt with a comps debacle; and, stressed myself beyond belief to build a CV that can only be stopped by white supremacy and institutional oppression.
Though I am now officially a doctoral candidate and the stress of comps is behind me, I’m relieved but only to a degree. The reality is, I’ve merely made it over a hump but not the hump… I have no idea what my ultimate hump will be but grad school is just one of many things I’m trying to juggle right now. As I look out at my life’s trajectory there are so many markers and milestones I must meet to hold the title and job I endeavor to have (Professor of X). So alas, my life is a never-ending cycle of continuous deadlines and expected accomplishments—a conundrum that most people would and should run away from.
But this is what I love… And I’m not the only sista feeling this.
I can’t be.
People always say take care of yourself but when that care means having someone to listen to you and feeling supported, I feel as a high-achieving Black woman that such a thing is nearly out of the question. I have shed a lot of tears. I have released a lot of frustration. I have found myself trying to reach out for help and find support in people around me… only to be dismissed. I asked a few girlfriends, people I consider to be rockstars and they, too, have reported feeling the same. For instance, In the last few months, I have heard all of the following (and these are just a select few examples):
“I’ve never seen you get a task and not complete it”
“Oh, you’ll get a job at Harvard”
“Might not look good right now, but it always works itself out…”
“You never haven’t landed on your feet”
“You’ll catch up”
“You’ll get it done”
Sure. Fine. Okay.
Constantly hearing you’ll be okay or you always overcome things is not only dismissive but downright frustrating. I do believe that things tend to have a way of working themselves out, but right now and especially in those low moments, I find myself wondering if the people who send me these messages see my humanity. Do they see my health? Do they see the balancing acts I employ to minimize avoid mental health strain? Do they know that until last week I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours per night on the regular since July and that sleep deprivation has both long and short-term implications? Do they care that Black women, like myself, who are often positioned as heroines and rockstars need love and support too?
Why yes, we will find a way to rise to the occasion, ask for extensions, or in an extreme case walk away… But the million dollar question is this: Are high-achieving Black women being seen for more than the work we produce? Are we valuable to people around us beyond the ways we are of service to them? Do they view us as a person–someone fully, wholly, and unequivocally deserving of love, respect, attention, and care? A lot of this has been about my experience, but this raises a larger question:
Are there other Black women feeling this too? Other Black women rising to the occasion, making things happen and sacrificing self for others only to get back advice that “it’ll be okay.”
My friends can attest to the fact that I routinely offer solution-oriented advice and support, often appear to make the impossible happen, and have even been referred to as a superwoman—but none of this is without faults. When I need my cup filled, when Black women, in general, need our cups filled, it can be silencing to hear “you’ll be okay”. This leads me to often question if empathy and support are for those among us who consistently fail… That for some it doesn’t make sense to stop and even try to realize how important something is to a high achieving and/or high performing Black woman because our production and achievement have become akin to a machine.
There is already documented evidence that we treat Black women like crap as a culture and society, but I would argue when that Black woman is someone we’ve come to see greatness within, it is compounded by minimizing struggle and dismissing pain.
If you’re reading this and feeling guilty, good. You probably should. If this doesn’t sound like you, great—keep doing what you’re doing. If you have no idea, check in with the high-performing and achieving Black women you call friends to make sure you’re not exhausting them—as Black women we can do this to each other, too!
So, what can you say Here goes that solutions thing again…:
I write all of this to say sometimes we, the high-achieving/ high performing Black women’s delegation, don’t need to be reminded of our track record. Instead, we need to be reminded that this feeling of exhaustion, frustration, or whatever, no matter how painful in the moment is fleeting rather than permanent. Sometimes we need to be reminded it’s okay to just feel it, and that someone else will be there to feel it with us, too.
So be a good friend—stop saying foolishness!
*This post was updated to reflect changes submitted by the author.*