“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Shirley Chisolm
Hey, hey, hey!
As we come to the close of February and welcome March and Spring, I’m excited that I get to celebrate two of my favorite types of people this week: Black people and women. Basically, this is another post about me sweating other Black women.
What better way to get lit than by examining the written works of Black women? Y’all know I’m an avid reader and I gave y’all some book recommendations from my Top Shelf Bookshelf late last year. So I’m here to present my most recent reads that will show you why you need to just give up your seat to the next Black woman you see. If she’s already sitting, pull up another chair so she can put her feet up. White folks, think of this as a Rosa Parks reversal.
These writers are doing what we all need right now. They are leading the discussions about race and toxic masculinity; they are undeniably and unapologetically Black and they are giving voice to other Black women in a way that cannot be ignored.
This will be like a “Who wore it best?” segment but instead a “Who wrote it best?” piece. While I can talk about these authors for hours, I’m only going to drop one jewel that I got from each book into your morning coffee. Hopefully, you will go out and read these works on your own afterwards.
Without further ado, here are the jewels from my winter top shelf picks.
Jewel #1: White people need to hush when it comes to race.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
The title alone had me imagining the author in her boxing shorts and mouth guard ready to give it to some White folks. Oluo is biracial but knows that she is definitely a sista. Even if she didn’t know, she makes it a point to let us know that the world was constantly reminding her that she is Black. She talks about her co-workers asking her about her hair at a meeting and her White male boss interrupting the agenda to talk about how much he hates weaves. She tells the story about being denied a promotion after she was offered the position because a less accomplished White colleague complained that they deserved the promotion because they had been there longer. I could provide more points but based on those tidbits, she sounds like she’s living the Black experience to me.
Anyway, in one of the chapters, “I just got called racist, what do I do now?” Oluo provides some tips for Wypipo who have put their foot in their mouths and gotten called out. She advises them to first and foremost, LISTEN!!! (my emphasis.) She says the minute White people try to get defensive and preserve their character after saying some insensitive ignorant shit, they are centering themselves and making it about their hurt feelings when clearly they just shit all over someone else’s feelings, culture, history and soul. She also emphasizes the fact that you can’t negate the impact of your words by covering it with your intentions.
Basically, you may not have intended to be racist but you were. Think of it this way, no one cares if the pilot intended to land the plane safely if he crashed that shit with over 100 passengers inside.
White people have to assess the damage of their remarks.
I agree 100%. White people have to practice the art of hearing Black people because between color blindness and racially tone deafness, White folks are definitely the Helen Kellers of race.
They really don’t hear themselves when they speak.
I’m tempted to get one of those lunch lady clickers for every time a White person says some crazy, racist shit. I’ll probably need a new thumb by the end of the day and I’m not exaggerating.
I think it would be healthy to end Black history month with a lunch and learn at jobs across the country. On February 28th, there should be a fishbowl activity where Black folks and other people of color sit in the inner circle while White folks sit on the outer circle and just listen for a full hour about the feelings and experiences that we have had just working in their institutions (and this obviously wouldn’t be enough time.) This needs to happen without any backlash from HR and without interruption. If White people do attempt to chime in, we’ll just bark at them (sorry, I had to throw in that Black Panther reference. Might be one or two more throughout this post.) But you get my point. The only way to truly learn is to listen and Oluo makes that point throughout her book.
So stand up and give your seat to Ijeoma Oluo.
Jewel #2: Black women need to bring in more Black women into different spaces.
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
This book is great on so many levels but in the final chapter, Jerkins leaves Black women with a sense of duty. She emphasizes our obligation to bring other Black women into spaces where our faces our scarce. In this chapter, she recounts the time that she asks a Black writer whose work she admires and whom she’s written for, to pass her information along to someone at The New Yorker and the woman doesn’t do it.
Jerkins is not only confused but hurt stating,
Nepotism has been reserved for the white and wealthy for too long. Given that
mainstream media feeds off black people and their ideas yet hires them at
disproportionately lower rates, I do not consider this kind of assistance mere
generosity, and amiability but a cultural duty for those like me.
Shout out to that first sentence and calling it like it is. It is complete bullshit when people, especially White people, say that they got their jobs by grit and credentials. We all know a hook up goes a long way. There are a lot of hardworking qualified Black people, Black women who can’t get their stilettos in the door because no one will give us the address.
I remember a year or so ago, I was reading through my newsfeed and a post came up asking “Where are all the Black women?” and it was a call to everyone to say that you need to ask yourself when you’re in a room why there are certain people that you just never see in certain spaces whether that’s the boardroom, at a conference or any other space where decisions are made and ideas are shared.
This got me to thinking about my first job and the fact that a Black woman looked out for me. I was about to graduate from college and I had already been accepted to a graduate program. I went to update my College counselor about my next steps. The administrative assistant, Mrs. Robin Taylor always spoke and joked with me as I dragged my daughter around after I picked her up from the school’s daycare.
She congratulated me for all of my accomplishments but she was never one to beat around the bush. She was and still is very direct so she just came out and asked me, “So when you getting a job?” I forgot those financial aid checks had run out and I was really about to be in these streets adulting. I told her I planned to live off of my dad until I was 30. She rolled her eyes at me but she also asked me to send her my resume. I became a College Assistant that summer and after a month, I was promoted to College Counselor. This allotted me the income I needed to get my first apartment.
The point is, she not only saw me but she looked out for me. And while Black women are great at holding our shit down, we also have to lift each other up. Women in general carry large bags but I’m gonna suggest that Black women carry a stool in ours just so we have a guaranteed seat, if not for us, for another Black woman.
Morgan Jerkins, save me a seat at your writing table.
Jewel #3: Black women aren’t here to make people comfortable.
Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
I’m going to be completely transparent and say that I’m only on Chapter 2 of this book but I read Cooper’s work in the Crunk Feminist Collective which I also discuss in my Top Shelf post. She is fierce, and thought provoking, and all about creating spaces for Black women’s voices.
In her opening chapter, Dr. Cooper (yes, gotta put some respeck on her name) talks about running into her former student, Erica who tells her, “I loved having you as my professor. Your lectures were filled with rage. But it was, like, the most eloquent rage ever.” At first Dr. Cooper is taken aback and replaces the word rage and anger with the word passionate but she then realizes that her former student is correct.
As one of my favorite podcasters, Crissle from The Read, states, “Words mean things.” Passionate is polite. Passionate is safe. I have even said this many times in an attempt to make others comfortable. I, along with every Black woman, know that anger and rage can get your ass fired, have Black women seen as a physical threat and reinforce stereotypes that don’t work in our favor. But Dr. Cooper is basically saying fuck all that. You gotta call a spade a spade. Not only do we need to feel our rage, we need to channel it so that we can get shit done.
I tell people all the time that I can’t even write from a happy place, something that Dr. Cooper echoed in a recent interview with Cosmopolitan. Y’all lucky y’all got that heartwarming post a few weeks ago and that’s only because it was about my daughter. The rage is real and denying it only intensifies it. Last time I checked, I was not a professional pillow fluffer so my job is not to make people comfortable.
This goes back to Oluo’s book and the way we talk about race. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. It’s supposed to challenge your beliefs. It’s supposed to make you re-evaluate those beliefs and work on creating new beliefs if need be. Most times, it’s only after a crazy incident happens that we are forced to talk about race and the rage associated with it. I’m not suggesting that we talk about race all day or else we’d never get any work done or just enjoy our friendships/relationships or enjoy our lives. But NOT discussing race could jeopardize all of the things that I just mentioned (work, relationships and our lives) and the ones with the most to lose are the ones who are most affected by it (just so we’re clear, Black people have the most to lose.)
With that being said, based on my prior knowledge of Dr. Cooper, I’m gonna say that you shouldn’t give up your seat for her, you should just give her the whole damn bus.
Quickly, to my educators…
– High School teachers, we have to get some of these titles in our classrooms. If you read them, please share excerpts with your students and encourage them to go to their libraries and bookstores and purchase them as well for their own collections.
– Take advantage of what Black Panther is teaching our kids about the importance of Black women. I facilitated a discussion at my job and a bulk of our conversation was about the role of Black women as warriors, counsel and engineers. They are represented in every scene of the film and they are absolutely essential to the success of Wakanda. We need to replicate that appreciation for Black women inside and outside of the classroom.
– Finally, you have to hold space to talk about race not only with your students, but also with your colleagues. The adults are the most problematic. Create book clubs, affinity groups and whatever else is needed to move the needle.
Oh and if you want to know who I think wrote it best, the answer is: they all did the damn thing! I’m never gonna make Black women compete with one another. All of these books are giving me life and if y’all decide to pick up some copies, I hope they help you get your life as well.