BLACK LIKE ME

I have been black all my life

So when I talk about living black in America

I know whereof I speak

Because I have lived black in America

All my life

I grew up in the Jim Crow South

I know whereof I speak

I found the 1940 census online

Found my mother’s family listed in that census

Chriesman Texas

You wouldn’t find it unless you were looking for it

My grandfather’s occupation listed as farmer

It should have been farm worker

Early morning risings to catch the truck to the cotton patch

In every season of chopping and picking and hoeing (a different meaning for a different time)

My grandmother is listed as washer woman

I remember accompanying her to Miz Willie’s to wash clothes in those huge cast iron “tubs”

Fires burning underneath

Lye soap and bluing for the whites (clothes, not people)

My aunt noted as a servant girl

She escaped to marry a man who spoiled her and to retire as a supervisor in the accounting department of a federal agency

My teachers in my all black high school prepared us for change though we did not know when change would come

I was prepped to work harder, to destroy stereotypes and to always represent my community well

i took it to heart

I worked harder, kicked every stereotype to the curb and represented my community well

“They” wondered “What are her credentials?”

“They” wondered, “How did she get here?”

Customer service rep for a national health care company

So good that when I left the South for the West

They created a job for me in the office in the West

One of the first women in outside sales, African American or not

A black woman giving directions

Managing a bank

Drawing up commercial loans, small business loans

Compiling million dollar loan packages from assets of failed banks for the FDIC

Regional Office oversight of four field offices, men answering to a woman

An African American woman

Sitting at the conference table with the Big Boys

Though never once thinking “I don’t belong here”

I still felt the weight of my color

The “burden” of my blackness

Left alone to fail

Succeeding anyway

A supervisor who came in every morning

A woman supervisor, who never spoke, never gave direction

I hear she’s now a minister

Followed around in stores by salespeople who assumed I could not afford to be there

Called girl long after the word referred to my daughters, not to me

Ignored by colleagues in the faculty room

White hands too often reaching out to touch my natural hair

Asked if I had grease on my hair when I lifted a hat to try it on

Saw a man my husband trained be promoted to a position over my husband though my husband’s numbers were better

Offensive comments made in my presence simply because “they” had no clue they were offensive

Micro-aggressions by parents, students and teachers

A parent offended by my tone with her daughter

My black voice of authority

Declares that it intimidates

Her delicate child

Brings holiday gifts to my supervisor and my co-worker who does not work with her daughter

But both are white

She overlooks me and my supervisor says nothing about the slight

Small things

Perhaps

But those small things begin to add up until everything is noted as a small thing

And we are told, “Stop playing the race card.”

“Everything isn’t about race.”

Unless you have lived black in America

All your life

Then everything is about race

Even when it shouldn’t be

“Until you have traveled the path in my shoes, you can’t tell me my feet shouldn’t hurt!”

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