Invisible AF

Fear is a bitch with a vengeance. When it’s coupled with both the possibility of death and tbe loss of power, it’s not just a bitch, it’s a lowley bitter savage that’s hungry of soul and cold of heart. It’s ugly and treacherous and grimy. It’s the thing that filth and wretchedness are made of at their core. The center of hatred.

Racism is fear’s first born.

While we sit in our homes binge watching and critiquing the humor, wardrobe, and audacity of Black AF, two disturbing AF videos have emerged of Black men in Indianapolis and Atlanta being gunned down. One, Ahmaud Arbery during a jog when he was hunted and left for roadkill like an animal by a White father and son team, in what they claimed was vigilante justice. The other Sean Reed was driving, pulled over, got out of the car asking his Facebook Live viewers to come help him minutes after he was shot down by police officers, one who jokes after murdering this man that he may have to have a closed casket. It’s the same soup warmed over that we’ve gotten used to burning the roof of our mouths with… videos of our Black men being killed with no concern for their humanity. It’s Trayvon, Mike, Eric, Botham, Oscar, Renisha, Jordan, Tamir, Sandra, Philando, Amadou, and Freddie on repeat. These murderers don’t abide by the scales of Justice but by the code of the Grand Wizard. In a land where a young Black woman can be manhandled by grown men at the soon to be elected President’s rally, simply because she protested and disagreed while Black , it is no surprise Black men can be dead AF at the hands of those who pledged to protect and serve and men who claim to seek justice. There is no justice or protection for us.

When They See Us?

They won’t ever see us. We live in their neighborhoods in Calabassas, Brentwood, the Hamptons. We win their awards, when we are properly honored, and we aren’t properly honored because we’ll win their awards. We dominate their sports. Our faces are on their televisions and movie screens. We sit on Forbes lists ahead of many of them. We aren’t hidden, they know we are there. They see us with their eyes but they don’t plan to acknowledge us, our skills, our talents, our bodies, or our lives. Separated only by the color of our skin, the White people who hate us, they see us, but not as worthy of air, sun, life. Not worthy of this country’s nationality. If that ain’t some… I brought you in this country, Ill take you out … hateful AF foolishness, I don’t know what is.

Mostly, they are afraid that we will take their power because we have taken some of their accolades, prizes, and money as our own, through our own toil. But like a true bully, these bullies will only lay their weapons down if we either fight them or disarm them. They once poked holes through our bodies with water hoses and dog fangs, now they hide behind badges and semi automatics to riddle our bodies with bullets. Vigilantism is illegal, not jogging. Murdering a man who was no threat to you and then joking about it shows premeditation, he is supposed to run from murderers. They are afraid we will win their wares, secure bags they thought they had a skin color right to, and collect allies that share their skin tone but not their hatred. They should be. Bullets don’t kill spirits, they strengthen them. We get sadder but also stronger as a collective with each bullet you pierce our people’s skin with.

They are also afraid we will take their legacy. With the exception of a few acceptable Black faces, most of America’s history is only positively attributed to white people’s actions. They were the heroes, builders, creators, thinkers, great minds, and the politicians who shaped America and American government. When Ida B. wells (posthumously), an abolitionist, and Kendrick Lamar, a rapper, were awarded Pulitzers… trust it set some of them off. The higher we excel, the less their claims of higher intelligence, civility, and worthiness matter. The higher up we get in government and law making roles, the more we can pull back the veil on these institutionalized policies and systems that allow murderers to go free for months and allow judges to let their murderers go free. We saw that video of Arbery and our social media presence, sharing, and loud demands for justice had to at least be considered. But even small victories matter when our lives are being snuffed out.

Their legacy is also threatened by each biracial couple and child, White boy at a Travis Scott concert, White girl twerking on Tik Tok and speaking in what she thinks is some colloquial Black language. Cash me ousside. Howbowdat. It’s threatened by their mothers who love Oprah and Iyanla, and their wives who are our allies because every White woman is not the stereotype calling the police because Black people are having a BBQ, clutching their purse at our site, or being some version of privilege and acceptable American ignorance. They still carry confederate flags, wear their Make America Great again infamous red hats, and think Jim Crow is an actual White nationalist hero. They semi worship the American flag and the vestiges of a country where their Whiteness made everything they did acceptable. As they lose that foothold slowly but surely.

The Racist AF want us to be Invisible AF by diminishing us in any way possible. Ain’t no coming back from death. Nothing makes you more invisible. They don’t want to see us.

We here AF tho.

That’s the thing about Black people, we have been stolen and taken, beaten and bruised, relegated to 3/5th, razed, and shot dead. But still we rise. We find beauty in our ashes. Roses grow between the concrete squares that jungles. Let’s see… Black women are the largest growing sector of entrepreneurs in America. We have used the power of social media to make us small fortunes. We run for political office, and despite the stones thrown in our path, we win. We are billionaires… in America. We are the mighty Phoenix… we soar despite… even death. We have found our voices. We have already pierced America with our very existence, bullet free. But imagine us with the means to protect ourselves. That fear seeps from your wounds. Your hate is like a boomerang. Watch out for the ricochet.

Despite our accomplishments, we still end up in some second class holding cell despite being born in this country, citizens by jus soli. (law of the soil). We may not ever win in your courts, because they weren’t built for us. That’s the lesson. America’s internal structure was not meant to shelter us but to keep us out. The rules are different for us. We can’t just wear clothes, go to the store, drive, play, jog, watch TV, catch public transportation, or listen to music in your America. But we have been paying attention, we are whole billionaires out here, whole judges, whole Presidents. We win your awards and take your titles. We want nice thing too. Also. In addition. As well. We don’t want your power, we just want to harness our own. We don’t want your legacy, we just want to live long enough to build our own. See us. Or don’t. But we see you … AF!

You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still like air, I’ll rise-Maya Angelou

This Woman’s Work III: A Foreword

A Modern Day Tale:

“…but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind! ” -Virginia Wolf

It was 2018, I was working in a federal government office, where I had worked since 2004, amid moves and changes in everything from job title to the way I logged into my computer. People had come and gone, and I was still plugging away. My workplace had transformed from this very robust, albeit disheveled and disorganized office, like the set of Barney Miller, to this very sterile building. It was cold, soulless. Clean and neat, but like a psychopath, it lacked a genuine personality and flavor. It wasn’t even vanilla. Very often my spirit felt held captive.

Welcome to Dystopia.

Culture and diversity are kaleidoscopes. No matter which way you turn, there is rich color and a soundless rhythm you can still feel in those same places music makes move. Some White Americans are devoid of culture, so they latch on to the fallacy of the American Dream as their identity. When one can only see themselves as important through a lens of monetary and positional success, money and power become the things that mean the most to you. Similarly those of us who embrace our many cultures, I for example am a Black woman, of the hip hop generation, educated, urban, and a Detroiter, have an identity beyond the tools use to subjugate most of society… money and power. Most of the White people that I know and consider friends are very cultured… whether that be spiritual, regional, ancestral, you name it. And in this cold and sterile environment, cold and sterile White men had infiltrated this once robust and diverse group of people. Money and power trumped (pun intended) public service, employee development, and humanity.

In practice, these White men wanted me to turn over my brain to their whim… and I wasn’t built that way. I am of the “Mama Said Knock You Out”, “Knuck if you Buck” generation of Black women with a killer side eye, a big ass brain, and a deadly vocabulary. So as they tried to force us into servitude, held us down and forced disciplinary action and termination down our throats, I refused their poison. Instead of gouging out our eyes, they made us watch our ancestral sisters walk the green mile, cardboard box in hand, to remind us of our punishment should we disobey.

It was a pure mind fuck!

While this wasn’t unique to any particular women in the office, Black women were on the front lines. It was almost like they hired newbies to remind the old school folks just what would happen to us if we were bold. A few days in the door, and the writing on the wall was clear… do our bidding or get sold. I watched them come and go like barren slave girls, sold off, cast off. And although I knew their pain, I could at least find solace in the fact that the powers that be were threatened by my big ass brain and deadly vocabulary. I also knew that I was more competent than anyone above me, and being the smartest person in the room is a sign to find the nearest exit. You are the prey.

My daily experience seemed like a cross between films I had seen on the gestapo and life on the plantation. Overseers watched over us and used bullying, threats, harassment, and discrimination as whips upon our backs. I got paid a nice sum, so it wasn’t the horror of involuntary human subjugation, but it was inhumane all the same. To shield themselves, our overseers did the bidding of the powerful… and no one seemed to do it with more enthusiasm than other Black people. A Black woman in particular. The personification of self-hate.

A self-proclaimed minister and counselor, she was so blinded by feigned power and control, she could neither see nor feel the sting of her own abuse. Her own personal demons lashed out at us, all younger, more aesthetically pleasing, and well liked. She was Black and cracked… and not with the beauty of kintsuroi but with the fury of karma. If you didn’t kiss her ass she disliked you more, and if you did, it was only a set-up to stab you in the back. She used stereotypes to paint us as loud, lazy, Black girls with bad attitudes. Behind closed doors her White friendly smile turned into a self-hatred scowl and her fake endearing voice turned into a Newports and Colt 45 growl. She thought she was keeping us in line like a den mother, but in all actuality she just proved that Black people can be racist towards one another. She was the antithesis of freedom. Her presence was the penitentiary.

The workplace was not a place for me to develop my talents into skills, and serve my country. Instead, it was the realization of my intersectional position. My race, my sex, and my race paired with my sex, along with my age, after 40, became these identities that both made me proud and also served to marginalize me into professional pariahhood. I felt alone. I started to share my experiences out of necessity, so I could see if anyone could feel me and maybe help me navigate this space.

“Your silence will not protect you.” -Audrey Lorde

Suddenly, I had a hundred other examples and stories and anecdotes from Black women who assured me I wasn’t alone in dystopia. Soon, every group of Black women I came into contact with had discourse that would read like an anthology on the plight of sistas on the modern day plantation. I was swimming in a sea of support, and it made me realize that like Kimberlé Crenshaw before me, there didn’t just have to be one Harriet to lead us through the maze of patriarchy, racism, sexism, ageism, and colorism to freedom. I too could be in that number.

Come with me on an exploration of how Black women experience the workplace, and how despite our trauma, we continue to succeed and elevate with style and grace. Only through the sharing of information, can we expose how limiting these practices are to corporate America with the creativity and innovation Black women bring to the table. We must take our seats at the table armed with our manumission papers. We must free ourselves. Furthermore, perhaps just one somebody will refuse to participate in this exercise of inhumanity, drop their weapons, and free themselves from dystopian thought. We don’t have to join them to beat them!

This Woman’s Work: Part II

“Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.” -Eckhardt Tolle

Picture it, 2018, Detroit, three scenarios:

Two professional Black Women discussing a disturbing incident with a customer during lunch, the victim says, “…I didn’t want to make a big deal about it and be the Angry Black Woman.”

Similar environment, two sistas discussing career development, the older woman says to the younger woman, “Be careful with all those ideas and opinions or they’ll label you the “b” word.”

One Black female supervisor speaking to her Black female team member on talking to White male managers…”You can’t lead with your intelligence because that is intimidating.”

But …. I am Black, I am a woman, I am opinionated, intelligent, and sometimes I am angry… especially in the one place I spend most of my waking hours that gives me zero respect despite the fact that it thrives off my intellect… Work.

I am who I am… and I don’t need to be less than that to ever get what I have worked hard for… even if I’m Black, female, opinionated, and sometimes angry. I have just as much right to be my authentic brilliant, compassionate, but take no shit self as:

these sexist and racist White men get to use work to play out their gestapo porn fantasies, shouting out authoritarian demands like orders at a fast food joints while trying to feel on your ass;

these racist White women get to prance around without a care in the world, except the hands going up their skirts which they payback (to the wrong people) in the form of harassment and discrimination of people of color;

these turncoat Black people get to act like they have assumed some privilege by selling their souls to do the racist’s dirty work, but as Jay-Z said “still nigga”.

Whether we know it or not, our presence is vital in every space and place, especially professionally, as we are representative of the people who use and purchase the services and goods we are in the business of providing or selling… whatever our role. We are their mouthpiece. And despite what insecure co-workers, supervisors, and managers might believe… we are often the leaders others look to for guidance and expertise… or perhaps it is the reason they dislike us. If those people get to be all they can be… then surely my whole authentic self is welcomed… no?

According to a 2018 survey of 100 Professional Black Women, 59% report feeling like they have to be less of themselves to be accepted in the workplace. While 58% reported co-workers who are not Black females are treated better than they are. 71% reported being discriminated against in the workplace. 72% reported being talked down to by a man, and 56% reported having a power struggle with another Black Woman. (1) Similarly, a study by the Perception Institute in 2016, tested bias of Black Women and their hair. It showed that Black Women had more anxiety about their hair than their White counterparts and that the majority of people had negative towards Black women with natural styles, particularly white women (2).

The writing is on the wall, that who Black Women are is looked down upon by people that they see and interact with daily, even to our own. And while we are capable and creative and innovative enough to break the glass ceiling, we can do it with our Afros, braids, sass, and round asses despite anyone’s prejudice. But that prejudice is a weighty issue.

Black Women are judged based on negative stereotypes that have no roots in the truth… assumptions about our hair and grooming, marital status, parental abilities, health, bodies, and community. We must be dirty if our hair is natural, singularly raising kids if we are parents, have undisciplined children, be unhealthy because we are curvy, and from violent and dangerous neighborhoods. Our personal lives are not considered our private business, and we are subjected to questions and demands that would never be made on White men or women. When your worth and lives are considered of minimal value it’s common for others to treat you as less than the professional you are… and instead treat you like a child in need of correction or a servant to take their orders.

It’s not our professionalism that should be being questioned. I assure you, the sistas I know are not only professionally responsible, but they can take care of their kids, mates, homes, selves… then come into work and deal with levels of harassment, discrimination, and privilege unlike any other group.

But we don’t have to deal with it!

We have earned the right to be exactly who the fuck we are… curly and kinky hair, big personalities, opinions, big ass brains, and yep, sometimes anger… because we carry the weight of the world’s -isms on our backs. Both Black and woman, marginalized and disenfranchised. Not just misogyny but misogynoir. Living at the intersection of racism, classism, sexism, and often, colorism. Let’s not forget our LGBTQ sister’s dealing with homophobia and transphobia, and our disabled sisters being discriminated against because of their physical limitations. I see it everyday, a Black woman with MS is treated like she has a learning disorder because she walks with a limp, and the sista with the big butt is talked to like she’s an idiot. Our brains are in our heads just like all other humans. WTF! Whose the idiot in this scenario?!?

We have to embrace our Blackness, and disallow anyone from making us believe that we have to conform to standards outside of ourselves to fit in… we don’t have to fit in. We were born to stand out! In a world full of thigh gaps ours were made to touch. In a world full of flat hair, ours waves, curls, and coils towards the heavens. In a world full of hateful and narrow thinkers, we continue to be compassionate because were meant to make them uncomfortable. Only in discomfort do people change.

In the workplace, we have to continue to assert ourselves, have confidence in ourselves, promote ourselves, stand up for ourselves, and be ourselves! And when it’s a detrimental environment, remove ourselves. Our voices, creativity, opinions, intelligence are necessary. We matter just the way we are… now go out with your fro out!

Update: I’m currently embarking on a bigger project about the lives of Black Women in the Professional space. If you would not mind doing a short phone interview or filling out a brief questionnaire about your professional experiences, please contact me at info@karyndeshields.com. Thank you.

(1) The Balancing Act.www.karyndeshields.com

(2) The Good Hair project. The Perception Institute, 2016. http://www.perception.org/good hair/