In the past couple weeks there has been a surge of people asking what they can do to be better. Conversations are beginning to take place and guards are beginning to come down. While that's a good start, it is just the starting point and there's plenty of work to be done. Below are six ways you can begin playing a different role in a Black woman's life.
When I was growing up, there was a local furniture store that my family and I would go to. We would walk in, and one of two things would happen. First, we would be ignored and not acknowledged or helped. White families came in after us and were immediately greeted with big wide smiles. They were offered sparkling water and ushered to see the latest living room set. Or second, we would still not be greeted and would be followed around at a distance, as my younger brother and I sat on couches and explored furniture sets. I distinctly remember a white associate with a fierce brown ponytail wrinkling her nose at us, asking us to keep our hands off the couches. Meanwhile, little white children jumped on a myriad of mattresses, squealing loudly and proudly in the other section.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented moment for our country. What we see playing out in front of us isn't just about police brutality; it's about a trifecta of police brutality, murder, and the weaponization of skin color. We see these events nearly everyday, and they underscore, in a very visual way, how Black people do not have equality in this country — not by the government, society, and in some cases, the general public. These events highlight how they often continue to be thought of as less than whites.
As a psychologist — i.e. one who studies the mind and human motivations — my mind periodically returns to Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist who is lovingly known as the father of psychoanalysis, which is the foundation of psychology and the basis of many of the psychological treatments that we use today.
As part of his theory explains, the Oedipus complex is a childhood psychosexual stage, wherein young people harbor unconscious sexual desires that fuel their anxiety and/or frustrations that may, or may not, appear negatively in life — depending upon the successful resolution of this puzzling, internal conflict.
I have periodically come back to this tenet of psychoanalysis, always with the nagging inclination that this somehow explains America's issues with racism
Someone jokingly tweeted that COVID-19 lost a 28-3 lead to racism in America. The analogy is based on the infamous Super Bowl 51 when the frontrunner, the Atlanta Falcons, lost a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots and, as a result, lost the Super Bowl in the last few minutes of the final quarter. This sentiment is still being stated after everything the African American community has endured in America. From 400 years of slavery to the Jim Crow system. From racial profiling leading to the New Jim Crow's mass incarceration of African Americans to the disproportionate cases of police brutality and murders of African Americans, with the most recent incident, no less, occurring in the midst of a global pandemic that is also disproportionately impacting the African American community. No, this is no joke at all and is even more evidence that racism still exists.
Take it from someone who just graduated with their Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater, when I tell you I know a good performance when I see one. Let's put my training to the test shall we? In my opinion a good actor consists of three things: A. An understanding of tactics and given circumstances, B. An ability to command an audience, and C. A believable performance of the material. It isn't a surprise that performative activism also encompasses all of these things, because it is just that, a performance. My only questions remaining, as a critic, what activism is true activism? Or are these simply just cover up performances to ensure that you do not get penalized for actually being ignorant and racist?
As cities burn and protestors storm streets across America in reaction to the ongoing slaughter of Black and brown people by law enforcement, many have asked what my late husband, Congressman Elijah Cummings, would say in this moment. I think he would urge protesters to "focus on what they are fighting for" and not fall into the trap of letting anger and destructive actions distract from their goal.
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.
Aji Oliyide is a Senior Program Manager at Google who has worked on a number of projects related to product launches, and mergers and acquisitions. Aji sits on the board of directors for San Francisco CASA, a San Francisco non-profit devoted to supporting youth in the foster care system. In addition to board service, she enjoys volunteering and travelling. In 2011, she traveled to Nepal to participate in a charity trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp resulting in over $5,000 personally raised for a local Nepalese non-profit. In her spare time, Aji explores her creative side through her blog (Pivot Points) and her podcast Eat.Plank.Live. Her blog is focused on sharing insights from the decisions and events in people's lives that have influenced their path and how they interact with the world. Her podcast focuses on the role that food and fitness plays in our lives and is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. Aji holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and an MBA from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
TaChelle Lawson is a hospitality veteran with over 20 years in marketing, branding and events and has worked with brands such as Nike, Louis Vuitton, Coca-Cola, M&M Mars, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz. As an entrepreneur, TaChelle focuses on bringing understanding to the corporate world about what it's like to be a black woman in corporate America by shifting the mindset of diversity. It's about more than ethnicity; it's about mindset.
TaChelle started sassmouth to acknowledge the natural beauty of black women that is rarely acknowledged outside of the black community. As little black girls are raised to believe everything about us is "too" something and that we need to adjust to fit in and be accepted. So, we do, and our adjustments become our norm. Although the average black woman is born with fuller lips, dark skin, and a big butt, her features are not considered "beautiful." Today, there is an unusually high number of non-black women undergoing surgery to adopt average "black" features. Yet, the black woman has still not made it to the "beautiful" category.
She remembers watching a video of a young black man being forced to cut his dreadlocks off to participate in his high school wrestling match. While the video was appalling, she found herself staring at the anchor woman's lips who was covering the story. They were so fake and unnatural, yet this young man was forced to cut something natural because it didn't fit the "norm." She decided she wasn't ok with that, so she created a brand to give a voice to the audience whose natural beauty is overlooked, borrowed, and stolen, but rarely acknowledged: black women.
I am the host of the Style Your Life Podcast, where we inspire women to make positive changes in their lives through building confidence, embracing challenges and practicing mindfulness. I have a passion for helping people take back control and design a life they love. With a background in Human Resources, I have always cared about helping people. I offer individual and group coaching sessions focused on helping you achieve career success, whatever that looks like for you.
Visit www.styleyourlifepodcast.com to listen to the Podcast.