Finding Vulnerability- The Fight to be Humanely Black in Dehumanizing Spaces
If your family is anything like mine, you have grown up believing that being strong is the absence of emotions and the presence of toughness, which ironically is an emotion. It took me a long time to understand the difference. In my adult life it has taken me even longer to find my vulnerability due to the challenges I face in personal and professional spaces as a Black, plus size, and a Woman who grew up in poverty and has had to fight most of her life. Needless to say vulnerability does not come easily.
In my younger days vulnerability meant weakness. I can remember even being told asa child and a young adult that to cry was shunned and opened me up to be taken advantage of by not so nice people. The emotions that were reinforced and respected in my life were toughness, happiness, joy, and even then the message was not to celebrate too much because it was unacceptable. I remember the day it all came together for me my mother and I were having a conversation about life and I remember it turning into “the talk.”
The talk was about the fact that because I was young and Black my behaviors were not as acceptable as those of my White and male counterparts. The talk describes how I was more likely to be disciplined for showing emotions of anger, pain, excitement, etc it didn’t fall into the acceptedness of our societal norms. Even within my own community my mother warned me to be mindful of my presence because the norms that have been passed don to us were perpetuated by others in different spaces, even if they looked like me.
Even as I write this article I reflect on how hard it is for us as women, Non-white people, especially Black (because that is my lens for racial identity) and all other marginalized non homogenous identities to be vulnerable and show up as our full selves in different spaces. I can honestly say that I while am writing this article I am constantly reflecting on the repercussions that come with authenticity, and for me my Black authenticity and vulnerability. For me, to be vulnerable requires an openness about the positive and negative experiences and how they impact our positionality in the world. We are often punished if we step outside of behavioral norms, even though those norms do not encompass our experiences of existing while being Black. We are constantly criticized for our hair, language, emotional expression etc. This causes us to build up an emotional wall with bricks of strength, toughness, and grit. I’m not saying that being tough is wrong, what I am saying is that it’s a problem when it’s forced upon us due to our survival and right to exist as human beings in the world.
It was clear to me that being vulnerable meant weakness. This has been a journey to overcome that challenge. The thing about fighting to find vulnerability is that the journey as a marginalized person can go against everything that you know regarding our behaviors, communications, and opportunities to receive acceptance and even avoid disciplinary action. To say the least it has been hard and painful as an adult to go on this journey of finding my vulnerability. As an entrepreneur it is necessary in order to achieve my purposes (I don’t believe that human beings have to have only 1) in my life.
Two years ago I remember meditating and talking with my higher self, I asked her what was the thing I needed to do in order to show up and be the best CEO I could be in the world and in my line of work. I received the answer, “challenge the spaces where fear impacts in your life and challenges your authenticity.” I had to work to figure out who I am and why I am. I also had to let my guard down to be accepting of the answers I received about me, the good and the bad or positive and negative, basically the hard shit that created blockages to my own success.
As a Black woman, Here are a few of the things I had to admit
- I was covering up some of the pieces of me that hadn’t been accepted in my social and professional spaces. Sometimes I curse (a lot of the time), and I’m loud, and I have strong opinions about the things that impact my people and my work. I felt shame thinking about how I had been forced to cover my own identities and willing to accept that. After I recognized this and was vulnerable enough to admit it, I did the following in order to minimize it in my life:
- I made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish in my life both personally and professionally and the pieces of me that I had previously sacrificed but would never sacrifice again in order to reach my purpose and find fulfillment along the journey.
- I removed myself from spaces and people that made me feel unsafe and I started to pay attention to the characteristics of those spaces. Now as a Black business owner there are many spaces where I feel often unsafe and I have to be mindful of when to say fuck it and show up anyways and when to walk away. I determined this by thinking about what was valuable enough to hold onto and what did not serve me and my purpose well. This was hard and painful, but necessary, because I found myself walking away from many people in my life and some without explanation.
- I stopped turning to unhealthy outlets like drinking at a happy hour in order to clear my mind and process what was happening to me in my life and constantly reflecting on the participants and the outcomes. Be mindful here because reflection can get exhausting and avoidance of such spaces can turn into loneliness. Which leads to the next topic….
- Be ok with isolation and being alone with myself. I’m a social person and I need human interaction, but I had to learn to be alone with me and figure out how to enjoy my own company.
I write today to encourage the reader who has had to deal with embracing so much of strength that it hides your vulnerability and causes you to bury pieces of the humanity within you. To be vulnerable is to be open and honest in both thought and emotion. Work to embrace it. I have included a link to a podcast called Melanated Diaries that has an Episode that discusses this topic, take the time to listen. It is helpful