Forget the ‘isms,’ embrace yourself
Friday, November 1, 2013
Posted by: Barbara Francella
By Ancella Bickley
As I sat down to begin to write this blog, I prepared to put
my "mad” on.
You know, "mad,” the frame of mind that helps you rail
against the "isms,” like racism and sexism, that affect us. That’s one of
the difficulties of being outside of what is defined as the norm. Because of
these "isms,” you are often viewed in terms of the problems you must manage and
the challenges you may present.
The "ism” mentality pushes you to focus on what you’re not,
rather than who you are. The mindset is
insidious because it allows other people to define you under the guise of sympathy,
understanding or well-meaning critique. Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather
So today, I decided to discuss why it’s wonderful to be a
woman of color. I know about being a woman of color because I am one and I know
many others. So I know that being a woman of color is not a "problem” or an
"ism,” but a deeply textured and nuanced experience, one that often has intricately
balanced connections. It is home.
When you are a woman of color, you often enjoy the luxury of
having a different experience of womanhood. That divergent experience creates
an understanding that helps all women. It gives us new concepts — other models
or ideas of how we can see ourselves or behave. Some aspects of these new
concepts of womanhood we’ll embrace fully, others we’ll reject totally. Yet,
having an enlarged perspective of how women can be, gives us some
of the most precious gifts imaginable. Among the gifts is a wonderful
selection of behaviors on which to model ourselves. These gifts expand our choice.
Strength is a characteristic of many women of color. It not
only allows us to survive, but to flourish in a society in which benign neglect
is sometimes a hallmark. At times, strength finds its form through tears of
release, expectations of excellence or simple endurance. Further, strength is
often something that others cannot see. It frequently comes in the form of invisible
sovereignty over one’s own thoughts, thus allowing us to overcome cultural
assumptions of inadequacy. We learn that, in fact, we are people of substance,
intellect and integrity. Once gained, this lesson is one we lovingly pass down
to our children — those born to us and those who cross our paths. Strength is
what allows us to hold our communities together.
A cultural bond
Another joy for women of color is reveling in our own
heritages. There are moments of pure delight when we are with others with whom we
share a cultural bond. Perhaps the connection is evident in a turn of phrase, a
way of doing a task or a look that harkens to a unique experience truly
understood only by the group. That instance of appreciation is one to be
savored — a perfect moment that you can recall again and again. These occasions
connect you to the present and also to the generations that have come before.
They situate you in a tradition that can help you soar.
Yet even as we revel in our own traditions, many women of
color have become adept at navigating the larger culture. We have learned to
cross boundaries without losing ourselves. We’ve learned to share our own perspective
while incorporating the perspectives of others. We are skilled at bridging
chasms created by vastly different viewpoints and at helping those from all
sides to cross the bridges we have created. In so doing, we’ve become
interpreters and connectors of people. By broadening our understanding without
losing ourselves, women of color help others to more effectively navigate an
increasingly diverse country and world.
There are many joys of being a woman of color that get lost
in the bombardment of messages that suggest that only problems are our lot in
life. Certainly, complications exist — in abundance — but because we are much
more than our troubles, we cannot allow these difficulties, or other people, to
senior faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, Ancella
Bickley Livers works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and
nonprofit organizations to design and deliver leadership solutions. She has
interacted with thousands of managers and executives over the past 18 years,
fine-tuning her expertise on diversity issues, particularly those focusing on
African Americans and women.
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