by Kathlene Corley
M.Div. Student, Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina
I decided to attend The Daughters of the African Atlantic’s consultation only knowing that a trusted mentor said I would enjoy it. Reading over the proposed workshops and forums energized me, setting a high expectation that would miss the mark. What I found during the consultation was a place that felt like home. The feeling of familiarity, similar to a grandmother’s loving hug, set the atmosphere, created a clear difference between The Daughters of the African Atlantic’s consultation and any other conference or consultation I have attended. Each workshop, event, forum, and meal was community focused. None failed.
Content quality could be discussed for days; however, there was one item, in particular, that will be the focus of this post as it will likely stick with me for the rest of my life. A time was set aside for Community Building and Engagement in small group break-outs. Each group included an interpreter, women native to Brazil, and women from other areas of the diaspora, intentionally creating opportunities for exchange that may not take place otherwise. Each person openly shared the first time they met a Black person from another country, a Black woman from another country, and their experiences with privilege and a lack thereof as a Black woman. Listening to the sisters speak, I heard similar emotions attributed to differing encounters and experiences. Some of them caused us to laugh while others weighed heavier on the group. Though their words greatly shaped my take-aways, I will not attempt to tell any of their stories here. However, I will attempt to share something I verbalized for the first time during that group.
My first thoughts of being less than equal had nothing to do with the beautiful brown that adorns my body. As a young woman in a poor urban area most of the people around me were Black. The injustices I experienced, as understood by a child, were attributed to my gender, not my Blackness. It was easy to see that my younger brother was given more praise, trust, and respect than I was. My mother was treated differently than my step-father and uncle. Men were applauded for being present, even though the women themselves were never absent. My baby brother’s future was bright because the world was at his feet, and, on the other hand, I may do well if someone decided to date the girl with glasses who stuttered when she spoke. Value (or lack of value) was placed on five-year-old me based on the chances that I may be valuable to a man one day.
Life and changes in our familial income showed me that it was not only being female that changed how I was perceived and addressed. A Black girl could not be as smart as the White girl and was only in the top class because they needed a Black girl, according to my classmates. During school I fought to prove I belonged. That was a waste of time. It was painfully clear that everyone in the room was expected to be better, brighter, and more worthy than me because I was Black and female. During those formative years, many of my Black friends stated they wanted to be White or have hair like White girls, and it baffled me. I understood how much harder and more painful it was for us, but I was proud to be the one who was overlooked and still smarter than anyone realized. There was joy in my personal celebration of what is to be a Black Girl.
Graduating from college, entering, and continuing in my career opened opportunities that would have otherwise been closed for me. As my career was beginning, I associated privilege with a change in economic status. For the majority of my life I saw no benefit in being a Black woman living my reality. To be clear I am not stating that there are no benefits or that I would want to be anyone other than a Black woman, but being a Black woman is hard. We are abused and not heard; we are the engine that is not cared for; and a Black woman is the one who is discarded when the ship comes in. The tenacity of Black women kept me proud to be who I am.
While contemplating how to answer the small group question about experiences of privilege, I realized the first time I felt there was a privilege in being a Black woman. It occurred during the 2017 women’s conference at Shaw University. The theme was “Lives of Black and Brown Girls Matter.” Latinx women were describing the horrific experiences of children being taken from hospitals and deported to other countries. Women who look like me and love their children with the same fierceness with which I love mine were living a nightmare removed from my reality. I sat there embarrassed because I had no idea this was happening. I felt powerless because my voice did not carry the weight to create the change needed to stop it. The only difference between them and me is that there was less chance that this horror would happen to me (although thousands of Black mothers and fathers have seen their children wrongfully taken into the foster care system) because I am a Black woman born in the United States. That was the first time I recognizably felt there was a privilege in being a Black woman in this country.
Realizing that truth hurt. My mind continued to process it for weeks after returning home. I began this blog comparing the atmosphere of the consultation to the safely and solace one may find resting in their grandmother’s arms. That atmosphere provided the space where I was able to be completely raw in my experience as a Black woman and to learn from openness of others. My journal notes from the consultation continue to inspire me. So, if I may add to my answer from the small group session, this is it: It is a privilege as a Black woman to be in spaces like the one created by The Daughters of the African Atlantic. It is a space where individuals are challenged holistically and cared for throughout the process. And rigorous, critical analysis is never lost in the process. It was a privilege to be among Black women from around the world and to know that I am home by listening to what cannot be heard with human ears and embracing what I did not know I possessed.