A couple of months ago I was out with my husband at the bar and witnessed at a nearby table a couple causing a scene. Nothing physical/abusive/crazy; more of a forcibly hushed voices paired with some pretty intense neck rolling and hand guestures type situation.
After a few minutes, homeboy left in a huff to go grab another beer. Homegirl stayed behind and promptly began crying angry tears into her margarita.
It was… awkward.
Part of me wanted to go over and ask if everything was ok. Thankfully, she had a friend with her who swooped in with a handful of Kleenex, saving me the moral dilemma of deciding whether or not to go over and make sure everything was cool.
Why the moral dilemma, you may be asking.
Here I was, LC Johnson, champion of colored girls everywhere, nurturing coach and friend, a woman who often (and loudly, because really, my voice is always at least two decibels above anyone else’s in the room) proclaims a profound attachment to words like sisterhood, solidarity and Southern Hospitality… it seems almost blasphemous to blatantly ignore another sister in distress.
Here’s the thing though: While part of me wanted to walk over and offer a few words of comfort, another part of me was, well, pissed.
On being raised with the communal “US”
Let me give you some background. On the night in question, my husband and I (plus the feuding couple) were at predominately white bar and just about the only colored folks as far as the eye could see.
Pretty much as soon as stuff started going down, my first thought was “Dammit. Don’t embarrass us.” US. Don’t. Embarrass. Us.
You see, there is a reason why so many African-Americans call each other “sister” and “brother.” It’s because, for so many of us, we are raised to identify as part of a collective, a cultural family inextricably and intimately intertwined. I do not need to know another black woman for her to be my “sister,” I do not need to know a black man to feel a brotherly kinship towards him; my parents made sure of that.
In my household, there were constant reminders that when a little black girl gets kicked out of school for wearing dreads, I need to care. Because that little girl? She is me. She is my cousin, my sister, my friend.
The ugly side of “solidarity”
The flipside of this sense of solidarity; this acknowledgement of collective identity?
The flip side was being the only black in my high school AP classes and being incessantly asked to speak for my entire race. The flip side was constantly being reminded that when I accomplished something, it made all of “us” look good; and when I acted a hot ass mess in public (especially in front of non-African-American folks), it made all of “us” look bad.
When I hear a new story of some foolish crime being committed or someone in the public eye saying something particularly asinine, my first thought often is, “Please don’t let them be black.”
Somehow, it seems doubly atrocious to me if they are black – first, the bad behavior, and then the reflection on our entire community. Because the fact of the matter is, even in 2013 there are still so many stereotypes and misconceptions about my people, my community, and so few authentic representations of us in the public sphere that every negative public spectacle feels like being shoved one giant step backwards.
Life lessons to a little black girl: “You have to be twice as good to get half as far.”
A few weeks ago on the show Scandal, Olivia Pope, the African-American female lead was reprimanded by her father for sleeping with a married man (who just happened to be the fictional president of the United States, but I digress…)
Her father’s reprimand came not just because he disapproved of her behavior but because, as he was quick to reminder her, as a black woman in America, “You have to be twice as good to get half as far [as your white peers].”
A good number of colored girls watching that episode (myself included) found ourselves nodding along. Not only is this something our parents told us all the time when we were growing up, it’s something that many of us have seen time and time again throughout the course of our own personal, professional, and academic lives.
That night at the bar, I was surprised and confused by how quickly I became annoyed with a complete stranger. I couldn’t quite put my finger on where the annoyance had come from.
Then, just a few weeks ago while watching Scandal, I was reminded: We have to be twice as good, twice as put together, twice as presentable. AT ALL TIMES. There is no room for mistakes, no margin of error.
Fair or no fair (and let’s face it – it is un-fucking-fair) when minorities (especially minority women) are in predominately white spaces, every thing we do and say is a reflection on all of us. That woman fussing with her dude at the bar wasn’t just making herself look crazy, she was making me look crazy, dammit.
And that sucks. For her. And for me. And for every other colored girl who has ever felt the desire to cry at the freaking bar.
Was I trippin that night at the bar; too worried about the impact of another woman’s actions on how I was being perceived? Is there still a communal “us” these days? Do you believe that women of color have to be “twice as good to get half as far”? Share your thoughts below!