Difficult Women: May We Know Them, May We Be Them, May We Raise Them

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Well behaved women rarely make history.

— Anonymous

It’s a common phrase: well behaved women rarely make history. As a Black woman, I have found that “behaving badly” is often synonymous with terms like difficult, rude, unprofessional and aggressive. And all of those are fodder for the biggest and baddest word: unemployable

Historically and disproportionally underemployed and, ironically, also the fastest growing most educated demographic, Black women are vastly knowledgeable in the attractiveness and importance of employability.

We know what it means to keep our heads down and to ignore microaggressions.

It’s why I have historically kept my mouth shut when coworkers pet, touch and grab my hair.

It’s why I have historically swallowed my anger at work when people ask me if I eat a lot of stereotyped southern food.

Or when white coworkers only use black GIFs when messaging me.

It’s why my girlfriends tell me not to change my hair too much – keep a brand. It’s why there are specific coaching groups for aspiring Black female politicians that teach you the importance of hair and respectability politics. We know what is at stake. And yet, Black women have historically burnt down bridges so that others can find their way by the fires we have set.

Celebrity Gabrielle Union is a pro at this.

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago Gabrielle Union, two months into a 3-year contract, was reportedly fired from her position as a judge on America’s Got Talent. Yashar Ali from Vulture reported, “A source close to the production disputes that Union was fired, and specifically that she was fired for being perceived as “difficult,” saying that she was “rotated out.”

In Rachel Sklar’s Medium essay, The Power and Danger of Being a Difficult Woman, she asserts:…Here’s what was “difficult” about Union during her stint as a judge on the performance contest show: The wildly popular actress’s three-year contract was cut short after one season, according to multiple press reports, because she complained to NBC higher-ups about comedian Jay Leno making a racist crack about Koreans eating dogs; the decision to cut the 10-year old black rapper Dylan Gilmer in favor of a white group from Texas, because they were an act “America can get behind”; and an incident where a contestant imitating Beyonce pulled on black gloves, which Union saw as imitating the singer’s skin tone. There was also apparently friction about Union asking drag performers for their preferred pronouns, and repeated criticism of Union’s choice of hairstyles as being “too black.” Oh, and then there were Union’s complaints about Simon Cowell, the show’s creator and executive producer, persisting in smoking indoors, despite Union’s allergy to smoke and California’s workplace laws.

Union was difficult. And, I’m willing to bet that it was because she was “difficult” in ways that were unapologetic and bold, she was also fired.

In my experience, being a “difficult” Black woman often means drawing attention to the ways in which white supremacy shows up in everyday spaces. It means speaking up about my right to personal space. It means speaking up about my right to speak in ways that defend my right to exist. It means calling attention to racial injustice. It means challenging traditionalism when traditionalism is linked with supremacy.

And, being consistently difficult in PWI’s is hard. Some would even call it stupid. Because there is always a cost.

I’m willing to bet that almost any member of a marginalized group can relate to an experience in which they were deemed difficult for speaking up about a specific oppression.

As a woman employed in male dominated spaces, I know what it is like to be encouraged to smile more oftenlaugh more and to be complimented on having a “pleasant tone.”  When was the last time a man was complimented on his tone or smile? As women, we know this experience.

As a Black woman, I know what it is like to be complimented on having a professional hairstyle, a professional demeanor and a professional attitude.

For some Black women, being difficult sometimes means showing up with their natural hairstyles.
It’s why in 2019 states are still passing laws that make it illegal for employees to discriminate based on the style of their employee’s hair.  

We know the cost.

In her 2018 piece, “Do Not Move Off the Sidewalk Challenge: Holding Your Space in a White World” by Hannah Drake, Drake urges Black women to hold their space. Specifically, she states: I challenge you for the next 24-48 hours to be aware of your body in spaces and do not move for a White person or make any apologies for physically occupying any space. Be mindful of how you navigate sidewalks, who moves to accommodate you and who doesn’t. If someone infringes on your space, do you speak up or remain silent?  Make a mental note of any time you feel you were “expected” to move and the reaction of the other person when you didn’t. Take note of how people accommodate others in spaces. Was it frightening or empowering to hold your space? Do you think people felt you were intimidating? How did you feel at the end of the day? 

As a Black woman, I know the cost of being difficult.

But I also know too intimately the cost of not being difficult. I am convinced that sometimes our greatest detriment is not being our greatest ally.

Difficult women get that. Nasty women get that. Badly behaved women get that.

Folk that stand around and rally for those who can’t do it for themselves get that.

Self-allyship. Get into it.

We are all out here in these spaces asking for allies (which is important and critical) but not always showing up for ourselves. I’m learning to show up for myself.

And, sometimes when we show up for ourselves, we find transformation in the unexpected. For me it has meant that sometimes a coworker listens and gradually gets it. Other times it has meant making space for new voices at the table. Our voices will not always be heard. But on the off chance they will be – we have to try.

6 Tips for Engaging in Political Discussions this Holiday

Reading Time: 4 minutesIf you’re anything like me, you might be dreading the upcoming holidays.

I mean, midterms, am I right? And, of course they were strategically placed on day 6 of the Gratitude journey to Thanksgiving. Because – reasons!

As a (pretty opinionated, and the youngest) black woman in a white (mostly moderate, also very opinionated) largely conservative family, you can imagine that I have all the feels about the upcoming holidays.

Maybe you can relate?

So, if you are feeling anxious about the upcoming holidays, I wanted to share a few resources which I have found helpful, as well as my own tips and strategies for promoting holistic conversations while navigating difficult subjects.

Though, if you need an out, when I asked one of my girlfriends if she had any suggestions, she said: “Tip 1-10: DON’T.”

Anyways, here are 6 Tips for Engaging in Holiday Political Discussions. What are the tips and/or strategies you have developed?

1. Take time for self-care. Okay, so maybe this one sounds obvious, but if you are anything like me it is easy to skip the “obvious” solution. Don’t. Manage your expectations and set appropriate boundaries. It is okay to say that you need a break. It is okay to refuse to engage in devolving conversations. It is okay to ask for what you need. For me, this sometimes looks like setting specific boundaries, ie: I am invested in this conversation and what you have to say is important to me, but I need a ten minute break before we resume…

2. Identify and assess your goals. So, maybe you’re like, what? Goal identification and assessment? This isn’t a business meeting. And, you’re right. But identifying your goals before you enter into an -often emotionally charged – conversation is crucial for managing your expectations. What do you want from the conversation? Do you want to be heard? Do you want the other person to agree with you? Do you want to know that you are valued and loved? When you are able to identify and assess what you need it becomes easier to develop an effective strategy.

3. Check in with your body. Okay, so this one requires some willingness to be intentionally self-aware. And, it’s not always the easiest. But, as you are able, check in. Do you have what you need to feel supported? Are you able to dialogue in a safe place (ie: really distinguish between safe and uncomfortable. There is a difference. For example, a safe white space does not automatically correlate as a safe POC space). Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you irritated?

No one is always in a “perfect” place to dialogue. People have tough conversations all the time without checking in. But, by doing a check-in it helps us to identify and uncover both our needs and our capacity to have sustainable, holistic conversations.

4. Ask meaningful follow-up questions. Are you that person that likes to be snarky? Maybe you inadvertently weaponize intelligence? When feeling desperate, sometimes I give a low blow. Reminder: These conversations -though, if I’m honest, any conversation – are not the place for these snark attacks. Respect one another to ask meaningful questions (ie: questions in which you actually want to know the answer and questions in which you don’t know the answer). 

5. Evaluate your Racial/Social/Political Goals. About a year ago, I was challenged to intentionally identify my racial justice vision and then develop a clear strategy. To be honest, I had never considered creating a strategy with clear identifiable steps for racial justice. But, I am so glad that I have as it has helped me identify how to engage others.

For me, part of my Racial Justice vision includes promoting and attaining sustainable relationships. Understanding this goal has helped me to identify that humanizing and valuing the ‘other’ is important to me, and it has also fundamentally shifted the way in which I engage with the ‘other.’ ie: if I care about the ‘other,’ I will refrain from disparaging, hateful speech. This does not mean that I will not speak truth, but it will mean that I won’t call Trump…well…a lot of things, etc., Additionally, this means the way in which I speak to my more conservative family members centers on humanizing and valuing their concerns in order to focus conversations while also promoting my own needs and concerns. 

6. Be kind. Okay, so I used to hate this phrase because I was pretty sure it was white fragility dressed up as a 10 Commandment…But…I have started to shift my thinking. Growing up, “be kind,” was that phrase your mom used if you said something a little too true to your sister. You know the, “that shirt is ugly,” type of thing. It was a warning to rethink what was coming out of your mouth. It was an invitation to be passive aggressive (I mean, it was an opportunity to exemplify tact). Whatever you want to call it, I had the opportunity of working in education and this fun little phrase somehow became our theme the past two years, and I discovered something. Being kind doesn’t mean being indirect, and it doesn’t mean letting someone walk all over you. I can be kind and still think you are racist. I can be kind and still ask you to check your privilege. What if kindness is a wonderful opportunity of telling the truth in love? Yeah, I know, overused phrase. But, something that I’ve been trying to practice.


Additional Recommendations: 

1. Christena Cleveland. Yes, I pretty much shamelessly promote this woman because…investing in black women (particularly those whom are invested in spirituality and justice practices) is critical. Recently, Christena began a biweekly newsletter entitled Justice & Renewal. And, this week she gives tips and strategies for engaging in difficult conversations over the holidays. Click here for access.

2. Dr. Amanda Kemp. Check out Dr. Amanda Kemp’s blog here for some vulnerable and reinvigorating strategies.

Shalom always,

For Girls Asked to Participate in Communion: A Slam Poem

Reading Time: 3 minutesIt’s a Thursday when I get the email.
An invitation to participate as a communion attendant.
They would like me to hold the bread. My husband, the wine.
Am I willing and able to serve in this way.
Please advise.

Please advise.

Will I hold the bread?
Please advise.
Am I willing and able to serve in this way?
Please advise.

It’s a Thursday when I get the email

Technically, I still have 3 days
To make a decision
Please advise.

I am 8 years old again.

It is my first communion After
He is still 16, After.
Still my cousin After
It wasn’t rape but this is After
It wasn’t assault but this is After
It was just a game: After.
Something we will laugh about
Later.

It is After and

We are at Church together and this is
Our first Communion Sunday After.
Our first Bread and Wine After.
First Transubstantiation After.
First Hunger and Thirst After.
First Here, take this bread After.
Here, take this body After.
Here, drink this wine After.
Here, taste this blood After.

I am 8 years old

And he is 16
And we are After.
Church clothes and Listerine mouths After
Forgetting what happened in the dark After.
Forgetting what happened in the night After.
Forgetting what happened
Because
This is
After.
  

After means please advise.

After, means willing and able to serve in this way.
Am I willing and able to serve in this way.
Was I willing and ableto serve?
After means willing and able
After means willing and ableto climb into bed
Means willing and ableto play hide and go seek
Means willing and able
To hide
For a while in the dark
From monsters
From seekers
From communion drinkers using terms like
Willing and able.
From emails
That end with
Please advise.

This is After and it is Later.

This is After Later.
Later After.
Space and Time After.
17 years After.
And I have this email
And it is fucking Thirsty Thursday
And men are still thirsty.
And men are still hungry.

I know what it is like to be 8-year-old wine

On a Thursday night.
I know what it is like to be bread
Broken for men
             Broken for teeth
                           Broken for appetite

I know what it is like to be broken

By men with appetites.
I know what it is like to be drank
By thirsty men on
A First Communion After.
I know what it is like
To be sacrificed in church to men
With appetites more righteous than my own.
After all, who can blame a man that learned he can only be
Cleansed by broken bodies and blood?

Please advise.

I am 25 years old again.

I am sitting at a computer
And it is still After.
And it is still Later.
And it is still Thursday
And they are waiting.
Because this is After and Later and Now.


Now feels like Today but not.

Now feels like Today but still feels After.
Now feels like
An invitation to participate.
I participate Now.
I am married Now.
Now, I remember that this is Later After
And Later After can be Now and not
Can be Thirsty fucking Thursday
And frozen at a computer
And Okay and Not Okay
And After and Later and Now.

Now,

I am married to a man who only knows red wine
As a beverage.
As a pairing for meat -well done.
To a man
Who likes it when I bake fresh bread
To a man who
Eats bread with his wine
His teeth covered
In fresh homemade wheat
His throat coated in sweet red wine
He likes to drink wine
Before bed.
He likes to hold me before bed
He likes to eat before bed.

Men like to eat before bed.

But, he is different.

We are married
And this is a different kind of Communion
We are married
And this is After
This is Later
But Later still is After
And sometimes After still feels like
Now.

Please advise.

My therapist tells me that sometimes
Now and After will feel confusing
And don’t worry: this is normal.
These things are normal
Women drank too early are normal
Men who are too hungry
Are normal.
Because After is normal.
Because 8-year-old wine
Is normal for men with
Expensive appetites
Normal for men who dine
At communion
And resurrect in church clothes
3 days after Thirsty Thursdays.
3 days after a crucifixion
3 days After
Expecting a resurrection
Expecting redemption
Expecting communion
Technically, we are just broken bodies and blood.
Technically, this is normal,


Please advise.

It’s a Thursday when I get the email.

An invitation to participate as a communion attendant.
They would like me to hold the bread.
My husband, the wine.
Am I willing and able to serve in this way.
Please advise.