An exploration of tokenism, societal expectations, and how they interact in exhausting Black women
As a black woman, I feel like I am always being pulled in different directions, based on which societal group feels they can use my energy the most. I can never be a black woman simultaneously. In this world, I am either black or a woman. My feelings are pushed to the side for the greater good of whoever deems it greater. I cannot express that I am tired, anxious, scared, alone, unprotected, or feel used. I must appease, code-switch, and push through the emotions that continuously fill me up, but I am exhausted and wondering if anyone hears me? I recently did a poll of the black women in my life that I deem significant to my mere existence. I asked them if they felt protected by society as a whole and/or by black men especially. I was met with a resounding “hell no.” That response was not a surprise because I, myself, have felt unprotected throughout times of my life by those meant to protect me. The follow-up question posed was, “Then why do you protect those that don’t protect you?” Many felt like they had to because they had black sons, husbands, uncles. They felt that everyone needed healing, therefore not protecting or fighting for others did not help the situation. Lastly, many of them said they gave up protecting those that didn’t protect them long ago. With that thought, it makes me wonder how other black women deal with the idea of separating their blackness and the issues that affect it, from their womanhood.
Separation of self
Within society, I have to create an entirely separate being of myself to navigate the world of others that don’t look like me. Seeing myself in predominantly white spaces is rare, and when it does happen, we are usually busy fighting our own fight to stake claim in a strange world. So I often wonder where I belong?
One of the things that I constantly grapple with is the idea that I am black and a woman. I am never allowed to be both at the same time unless it benefits someone else. Within the feminist movement, most of the ideology is geared towards white women. It advances the goal of protecting them, pushing their struggles forward, and creating an equal and inclusive society for them. It does not work to include the voices of the marginalized people, and thus the voice that speaks to my blackness is often silenced unless I separate myself out to incorporate my intersections.
Within the movement, I feel as though my experiences are commonly used to create a sense of tokenism. If “I have black friends too” was visualized, the scene would be white women using black women (and other marginalized populations for that matter) as the shiny new doll that they just got to make them feel better. The realization is that the advancement of white women does not equal the progress of black and brown women, as we have seen with voting rights, reproductive rights, and affirmative action.
So, where does that leave us? Within this space, we are being asked to push forward with advancements that will help a group of women first before it will support black women. We are asked to continue to silence the blackness that makes up so much of our experiences. Yet the reality is that I am seen as black before I am seen as a woman. I do not have the ability to wear myself wholly in the experience of being a woman. While society may wish to silence me for my biology, they also wish to silence me for my blackness, and that makes for a completely different experience than those that want me to fight alongside them.
I was 27 when the police killed Sandra Bland. At that time, I had one child, a daughter, and I remember saying that it could have been me. I remember deciding within myself at that moment I needed to be on the fighting lines for equity and inclusion within society for black women. I realized even more than before what was happening around us was being wholly ignored. It took 48 hours for the hashtag #WhatHappenedToSandraBland to take off. I remember tweeting about and posting about it everywhere. The thing that stood out to me the most during that time was the amount of black and brown faces (both male and female) speaking out with excuses for her death.
She should have just listened to the cops. Why was she smoking that cigarette in the first place? She was too angry, that’s the problem with black women.
These excuses showcased examples of how black women are not allowed to be human or experience emotions because it can get them killed. They are not allowed to question because they are thus seen as broken and needing to be controlled by any means necessary. They are not allowed to make mistakes because our mistakes become the justification for the horrid things that happen to us. Yet, at the same time, black women are still expected to speak for those that do not speak for us. Examples of this present themselves over time; Some of the prominent spaces included:
Black men’s responses when Korryn Gaines was shot and killed by police in front of her son in 2016.
There was a lack of response shown towards black women that were raped by former policeman Daniel Holtzclaw in 2015.
Even further back is the case of Samuel Little, who was found guilty of killing eight women and linked to killing at least 60 others throughout 1970–2005. The majority of Little’s victims were black women. He chose them strategically, noting that “he thought nobody was accounting for his victims.”
These stories showcase an underlying issue, and that issue is that black women don’t matter. There are approximately 64,000 or more black women and girls missing in the US. What does that say about the worth of black women to society? Black women are regularly shown that no one will fight for us because we are not worth fighting for. However, we are worth utilizing in the wars of others. Our biology makes us worthy of the causes of whites women, while our blackness forces us to stand by our black male counterparts. Within our pieces, we are the perfect token to grab hold of when you’re down and need a landslide victory of sorts. Our stories thus become invisible. We become pawns that never turn into society’s queens. We exist only to serve the means of others. With the mounting cases, society must work to shift the trajectory. It starts with changing the rhetoric about black women and girls as argumentative, over-sexual beings who deserve their captivity. Society must change the narrative and realize that black women and girls can be victims too and it is not because of anything they’ve done or their behavior.
Black girl exhausted
Even in my weariness, I fight because I was never given the opportunity of mediocrity. I fight for the girls that see themselves in me and the women that I strive to be. And with all my faults, I accept me, even before society chooses to. I realize that I cannot play superwoman and solve everyone’s problems before first addressing the intersections that make up my being. Regardless of the circumstances, black women face we find a way to make it through, and I guess that’s a part of the problem. We find ways to fight for ourselves even when others won’t. We make a dollar out of 15 cents because we’ve had to for so long. We stand in the streets and scream out for the rights of others even if that means it will take longer to get them ourselves. We never give up, we hold our heads high and push down feelings of unrest. These actions lead to high blood pressure, higher anxiety and depression rates, higher rates of heart issues, and much more. This is an urging that we continue to talk about our issues through our exhaustion with the hopes that someone will hear us, and if they don’t my hope is that we find a way to continue to push us to the forefront for our sake.