We’re in a time of significant change. I still question why the death of George Floyd created such a paradigm shift. I’ve been compelled to look into my own vulnerabilities as a black woman. Vulnerability: the state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. So many of us are ready to break the patterns in our behaviour which we now clearly recognise are sustaining our marginalisation. Watching a human subjected to such a callous death was always going to cause trauma, however what I wasn’t expecting was my own revelation of the deep PTSD that I’ve been suffering under the surface of a controlled, successful and happy persona.
The part that has surprised me most is just how unaware and complicit I was in my own suffering. Am I happy? Yes. Am I successful? Yes. Do I feel in control of my life? Yes. But what I am also is hurt, wounded, defenceless and ultimately vulnerable. But this vulnerability is different; it’s a vulnerability that I have kept to myself. The type of vulnerability that creates a barrier for progression; it stops you overcoming your weaknesses and truly blossoming as an individual which is such a key part of life. For me, this is what has made this particular chapter in the Black Lives Matter movement so poignant. I’ve been galvanised into my own genuine healing.
Since the death of George on 25 May, I have been peeling back each layer of me – the good, the bad and the damn right ugly. Like a broken record, I’ve been reliving my trauma over and over again; including situations I hadn’t even realised had negatively impacted how I value the real and raw Dionne. I can only speak for myself, but as a black woman, there is an unspoken pressure to be faultless to the world. There are so many negative connotations that are perpetuated whether it be from the media, to within our own community. I’ve been aware of this my whole life and cannot and will not deny that I have strived to pull away from those representations so people wouldn’t place me in “that” category. But honestly, what the hell is “that”? Let’s break it down…
We’ll use the professional workplace as an example. The disparity between the societal standing between women and men is nothing new. Within this chasm there is an additional aperture – between white women and black women. This is not to say that this has been created by either party, but it is issue that cannot be denied, especially in western society. It’s important to develop a deeper understanding of the different factors driving these differences. There is a unique discrimination that black women universally face which has led to our voices, opinions and experiences being devalued. In the workplace, black women are the lowest paid group. One explanation behind this is education levels where you find that black students achieving first and upper second class degrees trail behind our white counterparts (58% compared to 81% – Government stats from 2017/18). However this can’t be taken at face value as there are a number of reasons sitting firmly behind this statistic. One example, like in my own experience, many black students have to work and study at the same time. I worked three days a week (minimum) and throughout every holiday – let’s be real, that’s going to make a huge difference! The DWP report that students from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to be awarded maintenance grants which only strengthens the point that the playing field is far from level.
To cut to the chase, black women have to prove themselves so much more to be provided with the same opportunities as their peers, masked and supported by the notion that we are less intelligent, which is so far from the truth. As a result, many of us take the sucker punches. We work longer hours, take less sick days, overcompensate on everything, including our physical appearance. Those who fail to comply with these standards may find they are overlooked when it comes to progressing. Outside of the workplace, this position can be even more dangerous. The almost fivefold higher maternity mortality rate amongst black women compared with white women is another key indicator showing how important it is now than ever to put our foot down and speak and act the hell up without fear of how we may be perceived or how others may judge us.
It’s a fact that when black people do human things, we are labelled. Negative racial stereotypes have an effect on how others feel about us and can filter into our own subconsciousness which manifests into unhealthy hidden vulnerabilities. We begin to feed into the false narrative and attribute these negative characteristics to our own communities as well as distancing ourselves from common human behaviours which leads to the internalisation of matters that we should be able to confidently address.
Yes, society has a role to play in admitting that black women are particularly marginalised in many areas, however we have a role to play in halting and reversing these issues. How can we do this?
- We need to stop being afraid of the judgement we may experience when we use our voices, particularly when addressing things we don’t believe is right;
- We need to stop holding in our pain and express our feelings openly – we are humans and demand to be treated with the respect and empathy that is so easily accessible for our white counterparts;
- We need to feel comfortable to be in a weakened position, especially emotionally – it’s a myth that black women always need to be strong – we really don’t need to maintain our composure more than any other person who walks this earth;
Image: Taken from Jennifer Sterling’s amazing book
4. We need to realise that we are a valuable part of society whatever the circumstance; our place in history alone tells us this – every human on this earth has one common ancestor that can be traced in their DNA – the African woman; and
5. We need to realise that we aren’t the problem, society has the issue – therefore we don’t need to defend ourselves and should stand tall in all our convictions.