Why Doesn't the Black Woman Smile
Photo by Liza Summer (Pexels)
It was a frigid winter day. The sky was overcast, hiding the sun. The chill filled the air. I walked to our meeting room. I was enthralled. I had gotten a new job, which included a drastic pay increase. I inhaled the freshness of opportunity with every breath and smiled. As I made my way to a seat and prepared for the presentation, I glanced over at the only other Black woman. She frowned. “Why doesn’t the Black woman smile?” I thought to myself. She sat in her invisible and impenetrable bubble. She did not speak much in the meeting, except when asked questions directly. Throughout the discussion, our team conversed and laughed. I occasionally glanced at the Black woman. “Why doesn’t the Black woman smile?” Inside, I chastised her, thinking, “This is not a good look. I mean, be nice, be polite, be cordial.” Over a period of time, I encountered her. Each time, she frowned, except for the rare occasion she saw another Black person she knew. I thought, “That is odd. How come she doesn’t do that with everyone?” Again, I asked myself, “Why doesn’t the Black woman smile?” It is a question I would ask myself numerous times while at this job and in my day-to-day life as a Black woman.
Why is it hard to be a Black woman who smiles?
It is hard to smile when family members are stripped from your home and incarcerated.
When loved ones are the byproduct of the drug epidemic.
When you have inherited trauma through the mass genocide, enslavement, abuse,
And mistreatment of your people.
When you face racism in school and the workplace.
When classmates make racist and privileged comments,
So many that you get tired of being the one to object.
When White colleagues steal your ideas and package them as their own.
When White coworkers summon your strength to fight their battles,
Yet pounce on you when you are direct with them, set boundaries, or are no longer needed.
When teachers and supervisors fail to give you credit for your ideas,
For fear that any encouragement may make you “proud.”
When you are assumed to be wrong or unknowledgeable in conversations,
Becoming your own defense attorney to prove that you are right.
When people are surprised by your level of achievements and articulation,
As if to say it is because you are Black.
When you are harassed and raped.
The dwelling place of your soul used
To be produced and to reproduce.
When people replace racist language like “nigger” with hidden racist language like “aggressive.”
When you watch the brutal murders of Black people repeatedly on the news.
When Black people die from COVID-19 at alarming rates,
And it is shrugged off as “underlying health issues.”
You frown because you must possess a great deal of intrinsic motivation
To survive this trauma-ridden society that is hostile towards Black bodies.
You frown because you know as you work with Black clients,
They will have ten times the number of hurdles and a tenth of the resources.
You worry about how you will raise kids in a world where half of the people are aggressive towards you, And the other half are unaware of the true level of impact.
You grow increasingly frustrated by your non-Black peers,
Knowing they are still unconscious while claiming to be “woke.”
You realize much of your smiling is not indicative of your current mental state,
But to appease your peers, more and more of whom are White.
You are the one that makes others happy and provides encouragement and entertainment
At the expense of your own health.
You are the definition of Setting Yourself on Fire to Keep Others Warm.
You are Harriet Tubman, risking your own life to lead others to freedom.
You are the one who historically takes care of others’ babies, others’ families, others’ problems.
Yet conveniently left out of the benefits.
We are a plagiarized people.
You are there, fighting for wars you did not create in a place that
Disregards, disrespects, and neglects you (Malcom X, 1962).
You are the subject of displaced wrath.
Your body – shape, size, and color – are seen as a weapon or a source of an obsession.
You’re to blame for the sexualization of you as a child
With words like “fast” and “ho” used to describe you.
You are there, warring against eugenics and sterilization to keep your descendants alive.
All the while dying on the inside and blamed for not taking care of yourself.
Your hair is coveted and becomes a White hand’s playground.
You are told to “shake it off” and “don’t let them see you cry or sweat.”
People who look like you chastise you for showing emotion,
Or not allowing mistreatment from others.
When the world is against you, “bitch” becomes a word of endearment.
You can’t ever be late, invest in your mental health, or set boundaries.
No, Black woman. You are not your own.
You give 110%. Always. And are left with a negative percentage for yourself.
You may exercise the privileges of being educated, but the more education you achieve,
The more you realize how hostile the world is toward you.
You may have an excellent job, but your ideas are not welcome here.
In fact, we think you may have gotten this job just to appease White guilt.
As people ask, “Why do we still celebrate Black history month?” Or “Don’t all lives matter?”
You shake your head and recall the moments in history
When people referred to a Black person as three-fifths of a person.
You are more than angry. You are sad, hurt, lonely, in despair, dismayed, and feel powerless.
You encounter much social isolation because of your identities.