Afrolatinagirl Girl Peeps, I want to share a brief encounter with all of you that I had the other evening. I work at a university and recently I had the pleasure of attending a lecture in which I got to hear DeRay McKesson, one of the founders of BLM speak. It was a great talk, and afterward, my family and I chatted with DeRay briefly, and we took a photo with him. In the midst of the picture taking, I noticed this black woman who I have seen several times around campus, and being that black staff members are in the minority, I thought I would introduce myself. I proceeded to walk up to her and say, “Hi, I don’t believe we’ve met, I’m Ada, and you are?” She responds, in this “I can’t be bothered” voice, “Doctor XYZ.” So I say to myself, okay, she is giving me a little attitude, but I figure, like me, she’s a professional black woman who works in a predominately white environment, and she has her game face on; I get it. So giving her a moment to recover I then say, “It’s nice to meet you, what department do you work in?” She continues to say in an even snootier voice, “I’m Dean of XXX,” (to get the full effect of her attitude, replace the words “Dean of XXX” with the “Queen of England” and you’ll get my point). Then she proceeds to turn her back on me, and she starts talking to someone else as if I am not even there. I was completely stunned, so I picked up my bottom lip, turned around and walked away.
I am not a delicate flower; this wasn’t my first time being snubbed. Without divulging my age, I will say that I have lived a significant amount time on this planet and during that time I have dealt with my share of pompous people. You know the type who feels as though their shit doesn’t stink and that their professional status somehow makes them superior. Had this woman been white, I must say, that I wouldn’t have been stunned or shocked. I would wager to say that if you asked most people of color, they would agree that being slighted by white people in positions of power is not an anomaly, it happens on a regular basis. When the slight occurs, it may sting a bit, but in the spirit of self-preservation, we learn to shake it off, dismiss it, and keep on moving. I suppose the most disturbing thing for me about our encounter was that this was a fellow woman of color, an individual who is forced on a daily basis to navigate the same erratic waters as me and she somehow felt that none of that mattered and that it was okay to treat me like garbage. To put it into further context, all of this happened while we were in the midst of attending an event intended to highlight how unfairly black folks are treated within the confines of our racist society. I know on the surface this seems trivial, but to me, it just didn’t sit well. I can’t help but feel that this one situation speaks to much deeper issues within our community. One of the issues being the general lack of camaraderie and cohesiveness among black folks, and another being the tendency, especially among black women, to view one another as enemies rather than as allies. Also, there are some black people, in an attempt to impress the white power structure, who happily promote themselves even if it means sacrificing their own people.
The media frequently promotes one-dimensional images of black folks that are purposely narrowed to provide an illusion that black people can be painted with a single brushstroke. These media virtually define us as being poor, from the hood, and on public assistance. There are very real social and economic divisions within the black community, but despite this narrow depiction, there are segments of the black population whose families have amassed generational wealth and who live very affluent lifestyles. Many of those individuals look down on black people who come from what they consider to be, lesser backgrounds. Then there are also those black professionals who are the first in their families to attain some degree of education. They earn more than previous generations, and they strive to be accepted as equals by their white colleagues/bosses. Some part of them believes that to attain this acceptance they must distance themselves from the “other black folks,” i.e. the ones that they have decidedly labeled as inferior.
I have always found the social distinctions that we black folks create for ourselves to be asinine. In reality, by societal standards, we are ALL black, and in being black there are two things that we all have in common; we go to sleep black, and we wake up black. That is to say, regardless of how we define ourselves, there are those in society who make no distinctions between our perceived levels of blackness. To them, it makes no difference if you received an Ivy League education, whether you are an Afro-Latino or African American, “high yellah” or “black as coal,” or whether you come from a legacy family or if you grew up on the corner. To them, black is black is black. I don’t know about Dr. XYZ’s upbringing but growing in my house, this fundamental truth was always understood. My parents taught me to have respect for ALL people regardless of status. The message was: education can afford you opportunities that you might not otherwise receive, but it doesn’t make you better or smarter than those less fortunate.
I say all of this because I wanted to set the stage for what I have to say to Dr. XYZ and all the other black professionals out there. My feelings are this; we are living in one of the most racially polarizing times that I have ever experienced. The alt-right is on the rise, and racial tensions are high. Black bodies are under attack; our young men and women are being sent to prison at disproportionate rates; we view recordings daily of our people being killed in the streets; and even with all of the evidence, we are still denied justice. In short, there are few safe spaces left for us in the world. That means that when we see each other in places where we are few (i.e. white spaces), we should form alliances, not turn our backs. We need to do what other ethnic groups have managed to do historically. We need to help one another succeed.
All of this is not to say that I wanted, or needed, home girl to serve as my mentor or to help me get a job; I’m doing just fine. Had I been a young girl just starting out, it might have had more damaging repercussions, but all l I wanted was for her to give me a little respect, just a little acknowledgment that says, “I see you out here navigating this space like me, and I feel you. I understand your struggle.” I wrote this to Dr. XYZ but also as a message to all the black and brown folks out there who have reached a certain level in society. I want you all to understand that your achievements are a thing to be proud of, but they don’t entitle you to treat other people poorly, especially not other black people. The world is a mess right now, and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. Your status won’t grant you immunity from what is coming, and if we are going to fight it, we have to mobilize that means ALL of us, despite our socioeconomic or educational level. We have to be willing to drop our egos, and we have to agree to begin to embrace one another. There is no place for pretention in the revolution.