There are a number of metaphors for existing while Black, and one that came to me recently, though I’m sure it’s not new, is walking a tightrope.
Except we have no safety net.
Like the gazelle watches for the lion, Black people look out for the manifestations of white supremacy. The tightrope bit comes in the way we have to exist in the world to avoid attracting unwelcome attention. Back in the day, in the period of enslavement, and even decades after, falling off that tightrope could land you at the end of a rope.
These days, that’s less likely to happen, but in certain countries - ok, the USA - you can still get killed for failing to explain your Black presence sufficiently to the white authorities. Sometimes you don’t even get the chance as many cops and other people shoot first and worry about it later.
Walking that tightrope can look like moving through the streets with your head down to avoid the white gaze, but with your senses on high alert to be aware of possible danger.
Walking that tightrope can mean not responding to attempts to bait you, because you know a response will make the situation worse, and perhaps even result in you being badly hurt, both physically and mentally. If you walk it right, you’ll still be alive and have avoided racist interactions at the other end.
Outside the terrible circumstance of losing your life, Black people walk that same tightrope in the office.
The office tightrope looks like trying to be both invisible and excellent. You need to be excellent to justify your place there, but if you’re too visible, you know people will try to bring you down.
It looks like standing up against bad treatment while keeping your tone measured for fear of being labeled as “angry” or “uppity”. Those labels can stick, and will hurt your career.
Even online, that tightrope exists. Sometimes you agonize about finding the right words to get your message across without awakening the trolls. And sometimes, you decide to write from the heart anyway, knowing that when the trolls surface, you’re the person that will be judged most harshly on your response.
Everywhere global majority people go in global minority spaces, we walk that tightrope. And we don’t just walk it alone, we carry the weight of Blackness (what people will think) with us. We know we will be judged, and all Black people will be judged along with us, Every little mistake adds to the weight of misinformation imbibed by our white colleagues with their mothers’ milk, and hardened by stereotypical media representations.
It’s exhausting, both mentally and physically.
For all that, I love being Black, and wouldn’t change it.
What I hate is teetering on the tightrope because of the racist reactions my blackness engenders. And that’s a problem I can’t solve alone.
Thanks for reading my perspective,
(Of course, other often marginalized groups have their own experiences of this. If you’re a person of the global majority, what does that tightrope look like for you?)
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.