“I am more than my work.” – Austin Channing Brown (a Black woman who be knowing)
It’s been a long time
I shouldn’ta left you,
without a dope blog to get to.
How’s Black History Month treating y’all?
All I can say is that it’s been raining Blackness and this is the only time I’m gonna get my hair wet. I have been loving everything about the festivities, talks, and the everyday ways that I have held myself accountable to show up as my Bliggity Black self.
Listeeeennn, I’ve seen social worker and feminist author, Feminista Jones, author Angie Thomas, journalist and MacArthur Genius, Nikole Hannah Jones and the incomparable Anita Baker at Radio City Music Hall. Yaaaasss! Had to be at the farewell concert and she still got it. I just came back from a conference in Atlanta where I was blessed to see the Queen Mother, Dr. Nikki Giovanni, Dope Brotha Like No Other, Dr. Chris Emdin and Roland “Tell-It-Like-It-Is” Martin. As a forever educator, I was also calling attention to Black Lives Matter in NYC Schools Week. Not to mention making sure that I’m supporting and raising Black excellence- my 18 year old daughter and 3 year old son.
And those Oscars? Which I don’t watch but I was getting my Buzzfeed highlights. Shout out to Regina King, Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler. #BlackWomenBeBrilliant
So if I’ve been neglecting y’all lately, I blame them.
But let’s get into it.
Recently, I had a conversation with my son’s godmother via text. She stay telling me that she’s trying to set her life up in such a way that she has a cleaning lady, a chauffeur and a task rabbit so she can free up some of her time and just relax more.
And I’m not gonna lie, while I was cheering her on because that sounds ideal, her words sounded weird AF to me. I remember when she first talked about wanting a cleaning woman, I made a comment like, “Girl, I can’t have someone washing my clothes and all in my draws.” But this wasn’t about my draws cause everyone knows I ain’t got no shame. It’s about my toxic relationship to work and who I believe should do it and essentially, I believe I need to do every fucking thing. My identity as a Black woman is tied to that unfortunate belief.
I feel like an entitled White person when I have to consider someone else doing a service for me that I feel is personal work (i.e. cleaning my house and washing my draws.) But also, service work is something that usually fall in the hands of someone who looks like me.
About two months ago, there was a fire in the laundry room of my building and my initial thinking was, “how bad was the fire? I’m sure there’s one machine available.” I even went to the basement to check and the area was taped off and the ceiling was clearly burnt. That’s what I needed to see in order to convince myself to send my laundry out to be cleaned. I didn’t want to hand my work to someone else.
My partner in crime always says you gotta outwork the work. What he means is that we as Black folks always have to stay ten steps ahead of the game. We can’t get caught slipping because we are remembered by what we produce. Thanks bae for the inspiration.
But why? Why do I have to outwork the work when there are so many people around me who are on the “Nah-player-I’ma-just-kick-it-here” train. Here’s a reason…
Cause if not us then who?
This love-hate relationship with work obviously didn’t begin with me. It began with my ancestors- you may have heard of a thing called slavery. We worked alongside our men in the fields, took care of white folks and their babies and still had to make sure our babies were straight. So Black women know how to work. Our survival as Black folks is due largely to the back-breaking labor albeit labor of love that Black women bring to everything that we do. So in that regard, I’m very proud.
However, I’m not ok with the way I have bought into the idea of the strong Black woman. It’s not to say that we aren’t strong but we are so much more than that. Last year, I wrote a blog post, “My apology to strong women” because it was literally exhausting to not only be strong but constantly think about the ways I need to live up to being a strong woman. It’s a little prison that society has built for me but I realize that I have the key and refuse to let myself out of it.
One of the things that I mentioned in that post is that to be strong is to endure and withstand. Sorry but that shit doesn’t sound fly at all. Enduring is not necessarily empowering. I really don’t want to carry everything just because supposedly I can. That’s not a good enough reason.
Not to mention that the message of Black woman = work is so damn pervasive. You can’t escape it. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have an ill collection of T-shirts. I was online shopping and saw a T-shirt that I love which has the following statement on it, “It’s handled. – Black women everywhere.” Any time I love a shirt, The Dream starts playing in the background, “Just throw it in the bag.”
But I couldn’t.
While I will never disagree that if a Black woman is at the helm, shit will get done, I just feel like it gives other people an excuse to be lazy when we’re around. I still want the shirt but I honestly feel some kind of way about the message.
I’ve been at work functions where the people who are setting up and cleaning up are usually Black women and/or women of color. That’s one of the reasons why I hate work functions so much. It’s a given that the Black women will do this work. Mind you, everyone ate, made a mess and spilled some soda but somehow the same dark faces end up on the clean up committee. Coincidence much?
As I stated in a previous post, Black women be telling their truth and here’s some truth for y’all ass: Black women are the evidence, the walking, breathing proof that meritocracy is bullshit and the old adage, “If you work hard, you can be whatever you want to be” don’t apply to us.
When people say that, I just be thinking, You ain’t gotta lie Craig.
I don’t know anyone who works harder than Black women. White folks are so lazy they traveled across the sea and got us so they wouldn’t have to work. Yet, we’re the lazy ones. That’s some Jedi mind trick shit right there. There should be fewer Jeff Bezos and a lot more Keisha Johnsons if that premise was true.
But alas, it isn’t so. Despite the ways that we have been portrayed, Black women, overall are petrified of being seen as shiftless and good for nothing, welfare queens and leeches. This invades my head space more than I like because I know how stereotypes reinforce certain perceptions of Black folks which then affects our behavior. The professor and author of Whistling Vivaldi, Dr. Claude Steele refers to this as stereotype threat.
Those damn stereotypes loom over our heads so much that it’s work just to quiet the voices in our heads that tell us shit like, “ I have to work three times as hard to get a third less than white men. I can’t make a mistake because I may not get another opportunity to prove myself. Why that white bitch don’t have to prove herself? I’m not an angry Black woman but I AM an angry Black woman and rightfully so. Did my angry Black woman voice slip out? Even when I’m polite, I’m not polite enough. Oh shit, I didn’t smile at my colleague when we were standing in the elevator. Is that gonna affect my mid-year review?”
This stream of consciousness is exhausting. Imagine living it. Steele calls this work, ghost slaying and we’re constantly trying to kill these ‘stereotype ghosts’ because they are very real for us. Poet and writer, Tiana Clarke wrote a dope article about Black burnout and all I could do was say, “Chile, you ain’t never lie” as I patted my braids because as we know, there are real consequences for us when we’re vocal about feeling overworked and when we refuse to be taken advantage of. It’s so difficult for Black women to feel empowered when we feel like the “mules of the world” as so honestly stated by Zora Neale Hurston.
Here’s another truth: Black women are not only in financial survival mode but social survival mode as well. We are in spaces that require us to perform under a damn microscope and a magnifying glass. If I hear one more sista ask me,- “Oh shit, sis. They let let you wear your hair like that? Not at my job. They didn’t say anything about your nails? That’s what’s up!”- I’m gonna lose my whole ass mind. I don’t want to have to do the double work of thinking about how I’m being perceived for showing up as I am in addition to doing the work I was hired to do. But this the reality for so many Black women that it distracts from the real work that needs to get done.
But there’s a light at the end of this raggedy ass tunnel.
Last year, I was listening to an episode of 2 Dope Queens and there was a Black comedienne, whose name I can’t remember but whose joke I can’t forget. She says, and I’m paraphrasing,
White feminists are always yelling “Equal pay for equal work, equal pay for equal work”…. I don’t want to work.
Black women, you requested it so we rewind.
I. DON’T. WANT. TO. WORK!
I need that on a t-shirt. It’s not that I don’t want to work (although there are some days when I feel like that) but I want the OPTION not to work and not to be seen as lazy for feeling that way. For any of you who haven’t seen the show, Trigger Warning with Killer Mike on Netflix, it attacks this feeling perfectly.
On one of the episodes, Killer Mike tries to convince the Black community to abandon Christianity and embrace the religion of sleep. It’s kind of a genius episode because he speaks about the ways that stereotypes prevent Black folks from doing something simple but necessary- REST. He claims that enlightenment can come to us through sleep. One of his “disciples” gives a testimony and starts crying because she states that she’s just tired of being a strong Black woman.
Is it starting to feel like deja vu?
This made me think about Chris Rock, who I’ve referenced in previous blog posts. He got it right when he said on HBO’s The BlackList, “True equality is the ability to suck like the White man.” White men are mediocre and hella OK with it. Of course, the world is designed for them to win with minimal effort but we as Black women, every so often, have to take that pressure off of ourselves. We don’t owe anyone anymore than anyone else.
Trust me, I’m working on this too. My supervisor once asked me if I work hard and go above and beyond because I’m a Black woman? It was an emphatic hell yeah because I know the weight I carry and the fact that my behavior (fortunately and unfortunately) has an impact on every other Black woman around me, before me and after me. So when I see Black women being mediocre- because yes, there’s a few that exist- part of me admires them because I’m like wow, that’s what freedom looks like and the other part of me wants to trade them when we have the next race draft.
We’re always gonna do what we gotta do.
One of my close friends recently reached out to me to vent about how disgruntled she is at her job (in other words, she’s tired of the fuck shit.) Not surprisingly, I’ve been hearing this a lot from my Black women friends and I just give them this basic advice: Do what you have to do in order to finance the things you want to do until the things you want to do can finance the things you have to do. Basically, it would be great if the things we’re passionate about can support our livelihoods. And there are people living their dreams and getting paid for it. But until then, we gotta do what we gotta do.
Here are three ways that I’m fighting against this ‘watch me work’ mindset.
Celebrate Black women who stay the fuck home.
I’m hype every time I hear about a Black woman who is even contemplating staying home and holding down the fort. I encourage it if it’s doable. And she shouldn’t need to have kids to come to this decision. No one I know has actually done it but when I meet that woman, I’m gonna bow down. Yes, housework is work but many of us are doing the professional work (and dealing with White folks which is double work) AND the housework so if someone can take one of those things off their plate, mission accomplished.
Once work is over, do something else.
I have made it my business to pour into other Black women and have them pour into me and gathering in community to do more creative activities. A few of my girlfriends came to my house this past weekend and we made vision boards and jewelry and just enjoyed each other while doing what we do so well- create. It was work but joyful work and it allowed me to reset and feel re-energized.
More of this please!
Maintain high standards without killing yourself.
As much as I would love to be as wack as white folks in theory, I would never want to be like that in practice. I care about everything that I do but I have to understand that there are no trophies, awards and sometimes no acknowledgement whatsoever. Often times, the reward for doing your work efficiently and effectively is more work. But I refuse to be a martyr. I am here to serve and the reward is seeing the impact of what I do and create. But in order for me to do the work, I have to rest. There was a recent article that highlights the idea that the more you work, the more quiet time you need. #Meditation
Black women, we have to prioritize OURSELVES. I love my friends but I’m tired of getting text messages that scream stressed edges, knowing that my ladies are dope, creative, passionate people who are about to wild out at any moment cause they’re simply fed up.
The work ain’t going nowhere and we have to see ourselves as assets or else we’ll let others decide who we’ll be. I don’t know about y’all but I’m nobody’s mule. Not anymore.
Work as hard as you want.
Work to meet your standards.
Drop comments about the way you’ve celebrated BHM and how you will continue to celebrate because as I posted on my IG, “I’m Black every month.” Black women, talk to me about your relationship to work. Looking forward to hearing y’all further the discussion.
Thanks to everyone who started following Black Women Be Knowing on IG and liking my gallery of pics that celebrate the Black women who be knowing in my life and out in the world.
And if you don’t know now you be knowing.