Saturday, October 22, 2011

Coping with and Leveraging Your Invisibility

My father grew up in the Jim Crow South in a area on the border between Alabama and Georgia. To make extra money he would caddy on the golf course. His clients were gangsters whose acts were so nefarious , that the president at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, imposed martial law on the city.

My father told me that as his clients were selecting a golf club, hitting a ball or retrieving a ball, they'd be in dicussion. Right in front of him they would say who they killed and where they had dumped that particular body. In their minds, my father was not only unimportant, he didn't count because to them he was invisible.

Fast forward. I noticed a book advertised online. The topic was the economics of beauty. On the cover was a face divided in at least four parts. Each feature on the face was created by a part of a face from a different woman. Not one part of the face had a person with skin the color of a brown or dark woman of African descent. The unspoken message to me was, based on the cover of this book, the economics of beauty didn't even include a black woman. In the equation she didn't even count.

I worked on an international project. It required that I facilitate meetings in the Netherlands and Scotland. Many times as I looked around the table I was the only female and the only black person in the room. I remember going to dinner and I was 'jokingly' relegated to the end of the table, and told to sit and converse with a man who had been deemed as not very personable. Understanding his status as well as mine, he surreptitiously turned his back to me during the meal.

When I lived in Japan I remember sitting with a fellow teacher, listening to him bemoan the fact that he was not able to obtain a high level opportunity in a Japanese corporation because he was white American. I looked at him incredulously as I thought about the opportuntities that had been denied so many people of color in the US because they were not white American. But I guess those people didn't count.

At the university, I remember this young woman was expressing her empathy for the character in a book called, "Black Like Me". The protoganist in this true account colored his skin and masqueraded as a black person. She was moved by the fact that it was so horrible that this white man had been so terribly mistreated in his black skin disguise. I looked at her and said, "But that happenened to black people all the time". She sort of shrugged it off like, "Whatever". I guess real black people didn't count and were not worthy of her empathy.

As the average black woman, not necessarily average looking, you may be invisible to society at a large. It does not mean that this is YOUR percecption of yourself, but that this may be how the world perceives you. In general, in our society, a great deal of a woman's value is based upon how she looks. In modern day society there is a standard of beauty and most black women will never fit that standard. You know what I say, "So what!"

I don't believe that as a black woman you can afford to be color blind. You need to have an idea and an understanding of how others may perceive you. NOT, so that you can internalize debilitating feelings and beliefs but so that you can learn to cope, navigate and leverage this information to YOUR advantage. I know I am preaching to the choir. Sometimes a reminder is needed.

How do you do that? You give people the benefit of the doubt but don't have any expectations of them. Only have expectations of yourself. Afterall, you have control of one person- YOU.

When I worked in Japan, I was treated like a queen. Prior to my arrival in Japan, I had developed coping skills that enabled me to focus on my work and do my job well. I can't tell you how many times I was complimented on my work ethic by my Japanese managers and co-workers. I was offered jobs and opportunities that I didn't even know existed.

When you walk into an organization, it is very unlikely that you will be openly excluded. There is a great possibility that you may not be included, though. You have to cultivate vision and hearing that can see the unseeable and can hear the unhearable. Those are skills, ladies. They are transferable and if used with awareness, in conjunction with a solid education, great work ethic and professionalism, you will be unstoppable. People can slow you down, that is for sure. But they can NEVER stop you. The only person who can stop you is you.

Don't let someone's perception of what your beauty is supposed to be create a kink of vulnerabilty in your armor or expose you like it did to Achilles. Fortify yourself and continue with embracing your God given beauty. You've got work to do. In order to do it well you need all your wits about you and of course you will look good while you are doing it! Lastly, remember that in order to change the game, you got to be in the game. In order to be in the game, you have to be able to successfully navigate and leverage what you got. Beauty is power. Power is needed to help uplift and serve those around us in need. When you help others to reach their dreams, that just gets you even closer to reaching your own.


ValeriesWorld said...

Excellent post, that is why Isiah 60, is so important to read. God in his infinite wisdom, wrote these passages for us. Especially black women, we have become invisible even in our own communities.

As long as we work, no-one sees us.

chicoro said...

Hi Valerie! Thanks for the comment and the reference.

Evie said...

Thank you for the words of encouragement sometimes we don't see ourselves.

chicoro said...

Yes, Evie that is so true!

DressRoomChronicles said...

This is just what I needed, being one of the few women of color in my MA program.

chicoro said...

@DressRoomChronicles, I know what you mean. I have just completed a graduate degree two weeks ago.

I would be the last to be chosen for group work and at times my comments were met with blank stares. I am not inferring that this is your experience as well. I hope you know that as time passes it will get easier. Not because the people in the program are changing, but because you will be changing. You will be getting closer to getting that degree in your hand and getting closer to going about you business and doing your thing. Keep going!

chicoro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LoriLoveXoXo said...

Amen, amen, amen. I cannot tell you how many times the word invisible goes through my head in a single day. You wrote a very articulate and profound piece. It certainly sets a standard for how I should formulate my own perspectives...hopefully to this depth before I share them, and I can only hope to be half as eloquent. Thank you for sharing this.

chicoro said...

@LoriLove, your short comment is a confirmation of how well you can write. No need to doubt your skills, they are self evident. I hope that when you write something you will let me know so I can come by and read it!

DressRoomChronicles said...

Hey Chicoro, late response, but congrats on your degree.

And thanks for your encouraging words because, sadly, that is my experience all too often.

Happy Holidays and a Prosperous New Year!

Anonymous said...

What coping skills did you use in the office? How did you learn how to use coping skills? What are coping skills?

chicoro said...

@DressRoomChronicles, thank you! Same to you as well.

@Just Jacquie, I try to maintain who I am. I try to be myself. The unspoken expectation at many organizations is that you conform, act like every body else and don't rock the boat. I try to choose my battles.

Coping at the office means learning the rules, learning the expectations of your position, learn your job.Then do your job. Do what you are supposed to do. But remember, there may be people in the organization who believe that you don't deserve to be there. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt, help people when you can, but don't EVER let someone try to make you feel that you are less than them. Also, people may not call you a name but they may not welcome you either. That's okay, just do your job.