As a Black woman who has worked in Corporate America for my entire professional career, I have oftentimes had to downplay my Blackness. From altering my 4C textured hair to code-switching to always having to work harder than everyone else to receive a fraction of recognition, I have faced my fair share of discomfort to make others comfortable. Then, when I am finally given the space to be unapologetic in my Blackness, I am having to explain the intricacies of Black culture so that my non-Black counterparts can feel some sort of inclusion. Never mind the fact that very few return the favor and some go to great lengths to see that I am not included.
Being Black in America means that we are not given safe spaces to be our beautiful Black selves. We are not given the same kinds of opportunities or concessions as others. We are not celebrated. We are not even looked upon as equal. Rather, we are placed in situations requiring us to conform to others’ expectations. And when we refuse to comply or finally speak up for ourselves we face harsh penalties and become labeled as angry, difficult, aggressive, or a threat.
So to combat this, we often find ourselves having to create those spaces. Those sacred circles for us melanated individuals to be who we are in our Black skin. Areas for us to relate to one another’s experiences and uplift each other.
Yet, when we do create these safe havens for us and by us, our non-Black counterparts often feel they are entitled to an invitation. Mainly under the guise of “being a better ally” or “understanding Black culture”, or my personal favorite, “to help them better raise their Black kids.”
An example of this was on a recent episode of Vh1’s Love and Hip Hop Miami. Cast member, Shelah Marie, was forced to explain to two of her castmates why they could not attend her retreat for Black women. While neither cast member identified as Black, they argued that they should attend because they have Black children. But Shelah stood firm in her stance stating that she had a commitment to her community and that the two would not be invited.
Naturally, this triggered me and other viewers because we know what it is to have to explain the importance of Black culture. We know what it is to endure years of not feeling safe in other communities and having to create our own. We know what it is to share our Black experiences with those who will never face the same racism as us. And we know what it is to watch others mimic our Blackness and be celebrated for it. Meanwhile, the minute we show up as our authentic selves, we are singled out and ostracized.
To this, I ask, “Can we keep our Black spaces, Black?” Can we not feel pressured or bullied into extending invitations to our communities to others? Can we not be considered divisive the minute we try to protect our Black culture?
We have already given so much to society. Had our families torn apart. Been stripped of our native languages, customs, and names. And built an entire country off of our backs. So can we please, for once, have something exclusively for us? Without having to share it with people who would not and could not walk a day our shoes even if they tried.
Contributing Writer Racquel Coral is a national lifestyle writer and journalist based in Chicago, Illinois. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.