something happens and we are forced to confront our own presumptions,
preconceived notions and faulty premises.
the corporate workplace and in a relatively homogenous social construct
that often does not reflect the heterogeneity of its true broader,
community composition, these moments may be few and far between.
That’s because our judgments, knee-jerk reactions and visceral responses,
held in check by a desire not to rock the boat too much or come
off conspiratorial or crazy, often prove valid.
are planted and cultivated by years of disappointments and deferred
dreams. They are tended to in our darkest hours and interrupt our
brightest moments. They are the subtleties that, for us, don’t go
unnoticed – the sideways glances, offhand remarks and general cluelessness
that impinge on our humanity and nip at our fortitude.
may be the lingering looks when you venture to your mailbox, laser-beam
eyes conveying that you don’t belong in the zip code. It could be
the act of being interrupted in a meeting at work when you’re the
only person at the table versed in Kemi Oyl, cornrows, beads and
aluminum foil. Or perhaps it’s a moment when you must fight, tooth
and nail, bone to muscle, brain and emotional brawn, to get the
credit, the pittance, which should not be in question that you have
are instructed not to cast our pearls before swine. Yet we make
lemonade out of lemons everyday. This should not be the inheritance
of black life in America, but it is the conditioning, tilled and
harvested over and over, season after season, that becomes our bounty,
while someone else typically gets the booty.
sometimes something subtle yet seismic happens. As a black woman
in the corporate workplace, the idea of such a confrontation that
doesn’t confirm my suspicions, but instead begs me to reevaluate
my own issues, is rare. But a recent occurrence brought me to pause,
rocking the foundations of my long-held feelings about race and
sex in this environment dressed in the artifice of jargon and codes
and networks and visibility.
am accustomed to being the only, among the few, the first or the
novelty. From childhood to present day, I have frequently been the
lone black face, the sole black body, in a sea of majority presence.
Such exposure has afforded me the flexibility to be comfortable
among people of all types and stripes; while I may notice that I
am the only one in a room, in a meeting or at the table, that recognition
has become expected and not exceptional.
a black woman with shoulder-length dreadlocks in the Bible Belt,
I don’t bleed into the background. I have been called a strategic
nonconformist who bucks convention but does so in a way that inspires
curiosity rather than outright fear. Still, I have attracted stares
and glares. I have been the recipient of terse responses to genuine
attempts at conversation. I have noticed eyes averted, hands fidgety
and nervous cracks in voices when faced with my presence.
have been indoctrinated into assuming the worst. I am fluent in
the looks and language of prejudice, discomfort, xenophobia and
under-exposure. As much as I may try not to, my color can indeed
color my interpretation of events, human relations and even the
most seemingly innocuous interactions and exchanges.
sometimes you have to check yourself – as much as you analyze and
day, a power broker who looked the usual part . . . someone who
consistently averted his eyes . . . who sometimes did not speak
when spoken to . . . who looked down at the floor in the elevator
rather than yield to the natural impulse to establish eye contact
. . . who sped away when I was within a 20-foot radius . . . who
I thought might be a closet case of hatred and animosity . . . broke
down and put it to me quite simply.
are beautiful. That’s what I think every time I see you. Absolutely
stunning and gorgeous.”
gulped and delivered a response mined from my mental deck of talking
night I thought not of the abuses of white men during slavery, but
of the bonafide beauty of my sisters and me. White men have loved
and lorded over our physical blessings for ages. Even today, though
conversations still debate the viability
of natural black hair in a white workplace, we can’t overlook
women and white men are hooking up for the long haul like never
before. In fact, where I live, there is a “Something New Club,”
christened after the film featuring Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker,
dedicated to the purpose.
things are not always what we perceive them to be. We can be victims
of our own built-in defenses that develop from being generationally
victimized. And while others may use their position and power to
make statements from a privileged comfort zone, we cannot always
project our own preconceptions onto others.
exchange taught me that sometimes we are forced to drop our security
blankets, remove our blinders and momentarily turn off the voices
in our head to see situations for what they are.
Columnist, K. Danielle
Edwards, a Nashville-based writer, poet and communications professional,
seeks to make the world a better place, one decision and one action
at a time. To her, parenting is a protest against the odds, and
marriage is a living mantra for forward movement. Her work has appeared
in Blue Jean Magazine, Mother Verse Literary Journal,
Mamazine.com, Mamaphonic.com, Parenting Express, The Black World
Today, Africana.com, The
Black World Today, The Tennessean and other publications.
Work from Edwards is forthcoming in Black Magnolias Literary
Journal. She is the author of Stacey Jones: Memoirs of Girl & Woman, Body & Spirit,
Life & Death (2005)
and is the founder and creative director of The Pen: An Exercise in
the Cathartic Potential of the Creative Act, a nonprofit creative
writing project designed for incarcerated and disadvantaged populations.
to contact Ms. Edwards.