The Thinker: Don’t Ask Me to Smile…Yet

I’ve been asked a few times, “why do black women look so mean all of the time.” It’s a good question, but I can’t think of an easy response. See the comments to the right I read this week.¹ I am referred to as an animal. “These are animals.” “Stop hiring these animals.” That was hard to read. I can highlight the inaccuracies and contradictions, but I can’t undo the words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me,” is false. These comments wear down my psyche as a black woman. I was not prepared, I’d done a search for a news item and stumbled onto vitriol.

During the 2008 election cycle, a co-worker described the turmoil of his father in-law. A vote for McCain/Palin would be for a woman. A vote for Obama/Biden would be for an African-American and he didn’t like either possibility. Always seeking truth and data, I was fascinated. I love that I am able to hear these things; to be that bridge. At the same time, as a black woman, it was a chip away at my psyche. I have two genetic traits that make me in-despicable, where  race and gender deemed unqualified and undesirable.

Pop-quiz. Thus far, at any point, have you thought, well those were anonymous random people? Try this: “I hate you. You are black and female and you are going to take my job.” That was not random, that was not anonymous, that was my classmate. For 5 years, we’d been in an engineering program together. While I’d like to think anonymous did not have the facts, my classmate did. My grades were the same as his. While I’d like to think anonymous or my coworker’s father in law is uneducated, my classmate was; we were both about to receive our Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. While it is comforting to think of anonymous as jobless and bitter, my classmate had secured a job. I want to think anonymous is someone I’ll never encounter, but in truth, I already have.  Anonymous could be my former classmate.

Understand, when I pass you on the street, when I meet you, there is a hesitation and weariness, do you wish to vanquish my very existence? Will anything I say or do be met with disdain or invoke rage? As a minority report, these are things I think of daily in public spaces. A fourteen year old scrolling though my Instagram feed commented, “you are smiling in every picture, you look happy.” I thought about it. Yup, it’s my happy and safe place. As we try balancing on unstable surfaces² of life, may we all greet the world with a smile from a happy place.


¹This comment is in response to an article from the Herald-Sun Times and posted on the website Topix. Topix is a news community connecting people to information and discussions that matter to them in U.S. towns and cities.

²The meaning for BOUS – Balancing on Unstable Surfaces




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