“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes’; They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.’”- Clare Boothe Luce.
It is safe to say we have experienced an impressive amount of inclusion of Black women in spaces where adequate representation is lacking in the last few years. As a matter of fact, in the last decade, the number of countries where the highest position of executive power was held by a woman has more than doubled.
We have progressed in redefining the position of Black women in the world. However, the world's acceptance of the relevance of Black women in places from which they have been historically excluded has come with a great deal of expectations. These expectations are particular to Black women and aren't extended to everyone else at the same table.
Not only are these expectations absolutely inhumane and a reflection of how much misogynoir we still need to fight through, but they also stand over the head of every Black woman who walks into a space where she has to look around twice to find someone who looks like her.
These expectations don’t just hang over her, they multiply and sit at her desk, follow her home, and hold her wrist too firmly, offering a false sense of direction. They sit with her at dinner, wake up with her and occupy a position where her strength is constantly engulfed by the cold hands of these expectations.
When a Black woman walks into a room where people of her kind still have a short history, there is a folder anonymously sent to the neurons of everyone else in the room; the folder contains pictures of how hard she must have worked to be there, and the enormous amount of obstacles she has had to scale through. They see pictures of her overflowing jar of grit and valour and pictures of her covered in blood and sweat. Some might even have one of her in a Wonder Woman costume.
‘She must be such a genius’
‘She probably never slept’
‘Do you think she even has a bed?’
‘If focus was a person!’
‘Is she married?’
‘Does her husband support her?’
‘How about her kids?’
‘How does she do it all’
In all honesty, some of these pictures are legitimate, and a reflection of the challenges she has had in her life, but a very poor interpretation of her entire life and lacks enough detail to serve as a guide to how she should be treated.
When this “god-like” representation sits in the mind, it comes with an assumption that she doesn’t have the capacity or even worse, the need to receive grace and empathy.
Given that she has already seen terrible things in life and will still see worse, she must be made of steel. Not only does this Black woman have to spend years validating her existence, but she has to prove her humanity.
She is now faced with the challenge to prove that this vessel of greatness that everyone sees is just as human as everyone else, that her hands are capable of mistakes, and her heart - capable of being misguided.
In this quest, she spends time, energy, and a lifetime that could be spent investing in personal and global progress trying to authenticate the absoluteness of her being. In the process, she loses pieces of herself. She is crushed by these presumptions and isn’t offered as much empathy as everyone else. She has to fight through these extra trees in the forest that leads to a land where her goals welcome her home. Not only does prejudice pull her back, but these expectations also pull her down.
She isn’t in need of exception, absolution, or immunity, nor is she in need of exoneration. The Black woman needs to be treated differently neither in pity nor adoration. She is in need of equality in treatment and a reminder that she can be a vessel for greatness and still bear humanity in its purest form.
She is allowed to fall and get back up. Her distinction doesn’t invalidate her humanity nor does her humanity disqualify her from greatness.
So, dear Black woman, don’t hold back grace when you should offer it to yourself. You deserve every bit of it!