“bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma/ i haven’t conquered yet”
~ Ntozake Shange, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf
There’s no denying that 2017 has been a monumental year for Black women. From Auntie Maxine Waters reclaiming her time (and her respect) to #MeToo to putting the vote for Doug Jones in Alabama over the top and to Cardi B breaking Billboard records, this year Black Girl Magic has been on fire. With all these money moves we made, there was still the larger discussion of how we were undeserving of the credit for our accomplishments or that they were bigger than just us, allowing room for others to take credit for our blood, sweat and tears. I have proof of this, just check my Twitter timeline on December 14th for the racist and sexist “whitemansplaining” of how Black women weren’t the only ones who voted for Doug Jones and ignoring all the facts and statistics about the numbers in proportion to other voting blocs because they wanted credit for going to the polls, too (insert male fragility here). However, when it seemed the Virginia Governor’s race in November may be in peril, people were poised and ready to blame black women and they set their sights on Donna Brazile, blaming her for the loss before the votes were even cast. When the loss never manifested and was actually a win, not one person, including Terry McAuliffe, who was most vocal in trying to tear at Brazile’s credibility, offered an apology as public as their shaming of her. There was no follow-up interview where McAuliffe even claimed to have “mispoken,” he just said nothing.
This is an everyday thing for us and as Black women, we have long memories. This is one of the reasons why the messages in Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Colored girls has endured for more than 40 years. For all our awesomeness, there is also a wealth of pain that we carry with us, silently. And while we are carrying the burden of our own pain, everyone else wants us to shoulder theirs as well. Frankly, we are tired of it and need to move toward putting ourselves not our community, not our country, first. If you will not listen to us, we cannot listen to you when you show up at our churches and in our communities asking for our vote. We vote for our own best interests and now, we need to take care of our own best interests FIRST! Those interests are ourselves and our own healing.
As Black girls, we learn early on that we are supposed to be “strong.” Sadly, that strength also comes at a serious cost to our mental health which many, not even Black men, see or acknowledge. We saw this when women who wanted us to unite with them in championing their cause in support of Rose McGowan, but are the same women who three days before would not support Jamele Hill when ESPN, racist Twitter AND President Trump basically ran all over her. We called them out on it. I, specifically, pointed to the fact that when we need to support, we have to beg for it, but when they want ours, it is demanded we give it; and that we do so happily while people continue to walk all over us. They basically told me to shut up and accept the fact that they were throwing us a bone (sort of) now and to get past the past, despite that past only being three days prior.
So, we have to to ask the questions: who is looking out for Black girls and women? After so many centuries of degradation and disrespect why are we still asking this question? The answers are simple. Black women and girls are looking out for ourselves as we always have and we will continue to do so with or without support because our lives are just as important as anyone else and WE MATTER. While we do this, we must also document our experiences and leave a record for generations of Black girls and women to come so that they know they are not going through this alone and there is an entire history of women from which they can draw strength. One of the extraordinary Black women doing this is Dr. Consuela Ward.
I got in touch with Dr. Ward, author of On Healing Black Girl Pain, through Dr. Donna Y. Ford, who encourages Black women like myself and Dr. Ward who’ve worked in higher education to support one another and share our experiences in a safe space where we can discuss what we often go through as Black women in academia that no other group does. One of the group’s major accomplishments is a book, edited by Dr. Ford, Gumbo for the Soul: Liberating Memoirs and Stories to Inspire Females of Color. Many of these stories end in triumph or liberation, but nearly all start with or demonstrate the depths of Black girl’s pain.
Dr Ward’s own story is, indeed, inspiring and while discussing her book, I decided to just let her tell it. Here’s that story:
“This book was my dissertation, but I wanted to publish it so folks who experience life outside of academia could have access to it. I, initially, wanted to create an empowering STEM curriculum. I then shifted from with encouragement from my dissertation chair to creating some emancipating curriculum for Black children. Most people won’t read a dissertation, but, when it is presented as an autobiographical story purpose is to added to that body of work. So, I took out academic pieces and put more personal narrative in.
I was a first generation college student. The book is my story. Something that is very interesting is that my mother was born in Chicago and I tell about the great migration, but in the opposite direction. In the 1930s through the 1960s Black people were leaving the south to come north to places like Chicago and Detroit, but after the 1970s, we were moving back. We moved to Florida when I was very young and I was raised in the south by a woman who has a northern mentality.
The religion piece is very heavy because that’s my experience. I grew up in the church, very typical Black church. No matter where we are in the diaspora, it [the Black church] doesn’t change. We aren’t monolithic as a people, but we have the common pain and we are conditioned by some religious practices to accept it. I was indoctrinated as a child and I accepted it. I now practice Ifa. I was inducted into Ifa as a priestess. When you do that you are susceptible to all kinds of energy. You learn that colors attract energy. You wear white because it repels negative energy. When I went to an Ifa temple when I visited Africa, there was a choir was all kids all dressed in white and it felt like church in Florida on youth Sunday.
Through this growing process, I learned how the Black church hurt and saved us as the same time. As Black women, we have the same kind of wounds. I write about how critical it is for us to work at strengthening Black girls. I talk about this in my last chapter and how critical it is we learn to acknowledge trauma, name it for what it is and allow ourselves to feel it. As Black girls, we are taught to be strong and ignore our feelings. We can’t keep doing this. It is absorbing all of our energy. In my book, I tell them to be authentic, bring your whole self into the room, regardless of how others receive it.
We have so many things in our community we don’t talk about and not talking is hurting us. There’s molestation, we don’t talk about. There’s our relationships with our mothers we don’t discuss and the impact these relationships have on us. Pain is passed down intergenerationally. How many of us are bearing the weight of our mother’s pain and their mother’s pain?
When we have daughters, we have to remember this and constantly work to not put our pain and experiences onto them to stop the cycle. Ask yourself, how old were you when you first received that message [about having to be strong all the time]? Recognize your daughters as individuals with feelings and their own pain. If you don’t recognize her, how old she is, you can’t ground yourself. Remind yourself of how old you are now and how you thought back then and the process it took for you to get where you are now. Would you make a different choice? Would that little girl in you do something different?
While I do advocate for us bringing our whole selves into the room, I know it is not economically safe for us to do so. This is why I advocate that, as Black women, we have seven streams of income. I do this and it gives me room to breathe and be my authentic self. I’m not looking for one person to cut off my food, water, shelter. Once you have that, then you have the freedom to say what you need to say.
One of the most eye-opening moments for me was learning about how Black men also perceive our pain or think about our strength. Remember, they are getting the same messages we are about who we are. A Black male in my office once told me that when he dated white girls, he would put them on a pedestal if they cried, but didn’t with the Black girls he dated. When I asked why, he said, ‘Because, I thought you can take it.’
Revolution is not going to be given to us, we have to take it. I have learned that I cannot be both petty and elevated at the same time. I rise above the seeds they’ve sewn for me. People only acknowledge the power of heterosexual, Black men, but we ALL have power. We are all just at different places in understanding that empowerment. I have learned to let people grow at their pace, not where I think they ought to be. People who are afraid of change and feel powerless tend to bully. Just because people are bullies, doesn’t mean you have to absorb their bullying. I believe that you must leave people intact no matter where they are in tact.
Black women are now in a time where we are working collectively to recover from trauma. I do not want to deal with stuff from family because it is toxic. Remember the power of modeling, but also that some models can be toxic. My role model was Claire Huxtable and that got me to a point of being able to navigate living in a capitalistic society, she was flawless and I wanted to be that; but Claire wasn’t real. Black girls are not afforded the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. We need to let them have that freedom, learn from it and stop punishing them over and over again.
We want to correct them in ways that make us feel good. We have to change how we punish our children. Unfortunately, survival took place of love in certain situations. We need to bring the love back. We have been teaching our girls what to do to get a man to love them. We need to teach them how to love themselves and to love themselves first.
The book is heavy; I’ve been told that. I had to take breaks writing it, but I kept telling myself to be authentic and keep in mind who would be reading this and acknowledge where they are on their path. In the end, I hope they get the message that as Black girls and women, we don’t have to be all things to all people. When you teach people that about themselves, you teach them they deserve compassion, love and all the good that life has to offer them. We have to reclaim that power. We have to do that for ourselves.”
Dr. Consuela Ward has approximately 20 years of experience as a speaker, facilitator, consultant, trainer, and coach on diversity and inclusion topics and has served Colleges and Universities, School Systems, Human Resources, Professional Conferences, Youth Groups, and Community Groups. She is the founder and president of the Montage Group, LLC, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm where she is the principle speaker and facilitator for keynotes, trainings/workshops, and diversity & inclusion strategic planning.
Dr. Ward has touched thousands of lives by creating opportunities for complicated conversations in safe spaces around diversity, inclusion, equity, and privilege. She is a visionary and an activist for healing from issues related to systemic discrimination and marginalization and has the ability to educate, empower, and excite audiences. She is passionate about helping others negotiate the diverse world in which we live. Today, Dr. Consuela Ward is committed to changing the world, one conversation at a time!