#SWAAYthenarrative

How One Black Woman Dealt With Rejection From Her Own Race

4 Min Read
Self

Racism is a multifaceted monster that thrives on visual and audible cues. From elementary to high school, as a person of color, I experienced what I can only describe as counter-cultural racism. I felt severely isolated and often degraded by the Black community. As a result, I had many more white friends than Black for most of my life. As I got older, my interactions with white women would sting with traces of biased and superior behavior. This was painful and unexpected, and again, I felt isolated and at times degraded.

There has been tremendous damage done to not just Black women but women as a community. We have been pitted against each other, divided, and pushed to meet impossible standards. What I experienced is so hard to unpack. It's hard to pin exactly where the breakdown occurred. But I believe there is hope for us. I believe it is our destiny to intertwine. The wounds can be mended, and we can work together to create a world where our daughters adore each other. It is possible for the next generation of females to understand and love each other.

Growing up, I never, ever, ever fit in with the Black girls at my school. From elementary all the way through high school, I was picked on, shunned, and laughed at by my own race. The rousing theme was "She acts white" or "She thinks she's all that."

In high school, I had three very special Black friends that seemed not to be offended by my "whiteness," but even then, there was a limit to how much we could relate to each other, and we all felt it. I did not live in the same neighborhood. I hadn't seen the same raw things that they had, and I also wasn't sexually active. There was always a quiet barrier between us, but for whatever reason, they accepted me for who I was. As for the rest of the Black girls who noticed me, I stood out and not in a good way. It was like I was a walking contradiction to them.

I remember singing in my very first middle school talent show, and while the teachers adored what they considered a very mature voice and pushed me to train classically, the Black girls in the talent show said I sang like "an old white lady." They targeted me because I was so vastly different from them. They accused me of acting when I was just being me. That continued into high school where their dislike turned to hate and name calling and prank playing. I gained bullies on both sides: white and Black, but mostly Black. Even in college, although the bullying stopped, I looked up, and I was still surrounded by white women. We just related better, and I never apologized for that and never once felt bad about it.

It is possible for the next generation of females to understand and love each other.

By my mid-twenties, I moved from a small town in North Carolina to a larger town in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Things did not completely change, but they did become odd. I kept hearing the same phrase from different white women almost everywhere I went, whether it was church, work, a store, bar, or gym. White women would come up to me and say verbatim: "Oh my gosh! Darlin', you are the most beautiful black woman I've ever seen!" They would be giddy with excitement like they had stumbled across some secret treasure or something. I remember feeling complimented but also confused. Almost every time, they would venture out and touch my skin and hair without permission. And the complimenting would turn into gawking. I got the very strong sense that to them, beautiful Black women were a rarity. Conversations with white co-workers and church members were laced with a faint but very present condescending tone. As this happened more and more, I remember that two questions would stand out in my head: "What do you mean beautiful Black woman?" and "Do they see a glass ceiling over my head?"

Until white women stop wanting Black women to stay in their lane and never merge, we will always be at odds. You need to admit that we can compete. And even surpass you.

In this moment, you're probably thinking "What the heck is your problem, Terah? They were simply stating what was true for them in their world." But if you burrow through all the fuss and condescension, there is something there that highlights a big problem, one that society has promoted as gospel. For a white woman to say that I am the most beautiful Black woman they had ever seen or to imply directly or indirectly that I am limited in life says "You are beautiful in your category, but you can't compete in mine. We cannot compete together; you are no competition." And this is also what society says. Society drove down the value of Black women so low that now we are not even seen as desirable, and we all know that is not true!

There is this super ugly sense that if you are a Black woman with dark, caramel, brown, light-bright almost white skin, you are in a category of null and void. Society says, "You are not valuable to us. We are not going to promote you, we will not listen to your brilliant ideas unless to later steal them, and we are going to make sure that you are disrespected everywhere you go. Doctors are going to overlook your pain, and designers will not include you in shows and magazines. Heck, we will even make sure they skip over your skin tone when making skin-colored bras! Everything from makeup to Band-aids will be an issue. You will not be able to find yourself anywhere."

Do you hear that? You will not be able to find yourself anywhere! So what message does it send when you can't find yourself anywhere?

What does it feel like to see four revolving anchors on a local TV station and all of them are white? Well, you might comply. Shrink yourself down. Stay quiet about it and accept the fate you were given.

But that is certainly not what's happened, has it? Black women have this God-given gift to sustain and push through. And no, this is not about us being able to take pain or be loud and angry, so stop with the biased nonsense. This is about being brilliant.

Credit most be given to Black women. We have an ability that I do not consider magic. It's you that draws the crowd in and leaves them wanting for more. Your mind is what comes up with these astronomical ideas that surpass your counterparts and leave people wondering how in the world you thought of it, created it, and then promoted it.

Those women were not just drawn to my beauty, they were drawn to me, Terah Boyd, Black or not. And to be honest, I'm not angry at them for treating me like a slave up for auction, looking at everything but my teeth. Because the truth is, we are better together. We need each other. I know some may get mad when I say this, but there are lessons to be learned from each other.

Women are what can build and change a world. Women together can affect people in position of power, and we can put each other in power, but we must be on the same team. We must see each other as equals. It's not enough for me to buy your product. I need to promote you and have a conversation with you. I need to understand what ails you, what drives you. What do you need?

And no, this is not about us being able to take pain or be loud and angry, so stop with the biased nonsense. This is about being brilliant.

Until white women stop wanting Black women to stay in their lane and never merge, we will always be at odds. You need to admit that we can compete. And even surpass you.

As Black women, we need to let our guards down. The constant state of guarding promotes stress, disease, and missed opportunities. Be accepting of each other regardless of skin tone and/or characteristics. We also need to admit when we are hurt and be quick to ask for help. I'm not implying to give up the fight. I am simply suggesting a bit of evolving.

Can we agree that women are brilliant beings? Can we agree that Black women deserve much, much better than what the world has given us? Can we agree that we want to work together and we will prefer each other over ourselves? Can we push to see each other win even if it means someone surpasses you? What must stop is any race thinking another has to stay in their place. There is room for everybody in the lane. Let us merge over, please.

5 min read
Self

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.