Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Black Woman Thing

by Tayé Foster Bradshaw, a proud black woman of AfroLatina, African, and Creole ethnic heritage, proudly wearing her crown high and living that "black woman thing."

There was an interview on NPR with a young African-American woman talking about being black in the tech industry.

She talked about the opportunities that women of color are waiting to capture with their ingenuity and innovative ideas.

Her interview mentioned some collaborative efforts taking place in Atlanta and Portland to help these emerging entrepreneurs discover what they can do with their creative genius.

Then she talked about the well-known whitening of Silicon Valley and perhaps why that exists.

A venture capitalist said he didn't want to do "the black woman thing."

I was driving when I was listening to the radio and had to stop a bit longer at the stop sign and ponder what in the world that meant.

Thirty years on the other side of my professional work life and we are still experiencing backlash for being black and female.

When I lived and worked professionally in Chicago, I once cut off my past-the-shoulders hair and wore it in a curly afro. No one seemed to have an issue with it except for another black woman who was getting her hair fried and laid every two weeks. She essentially told me I was being an embarrasment.

My manager at the time was a black female, a bit older. I asked her what was wrong with my curly perfectly coiffed afro. She told me nothing.

Fast forward a decade and I again cut my past-the-shoulders staight hair and wore it in a curly afro, then in two-strand twists, and after I left that corporate entity, I let it loc.

The black woman thing with the natural hair during a time when there were very few of us was one of the things that made the white male Vice President deem me to be on the chopping block for those being laid off. There really wasn't an issue with my performance, all my reviews had been quite stellar, I had been a rising star prior to moving to that department. It wasn't my perfectly fitting suits from Halls or Casual Corner. It wasn't my matching scarves and designer purse. It was my hair.

Thirteen years as an independent consultant, fifteen consistent years with my hair natural, and it comes down to the fear of the black woman's embrace of self.

Béyoncé scared them. The BLM millennial women scare them. The formation scares them. The culture scares them. The assurance scares them. The confidence scares them. The presence scares them.

So they do what they sometimes do.

They try to cut us off.

Either by silencing us and the passive aggressive bullying of privileged PTO moms or the choking out of needed capital for expansion by their wealthy husbands, they try to eliminate our presence because we truly are the ones who carry the world on our shoulders.

Raising black girls to be independent and assured black women has taught me the power of their presence and their voice. I seek to keep impacting them so they can impact the world, regardless of what white man is afraid to see them one-on-one.

The black woman thing is beautiful, actually. We survived the unthinkable, from being raped by their men to raising their children to having to catch the tears of their women, we hold the secrets, the reality, the truth.  We nurtured our own children and supported our own men, even when they briefly were swayed like Kanye for the anyone-but-black woman with features that match our own.

It takes a lot to stand up and speak when they want our silence.

We create trends that they steal and call something other than what it is.

Our entire existence is copied and studied and they want to eliminate us from profit.

But the thing about that "black woman thing" is that we will not go away.

We survived.

We thrived.

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