Current Events

Black Women Wear The Mask

Yesterday as I scrolled through Twitter, a video of a Black female police officer and a White subject sitting on the ground in handcuffs repeatedly found its way in my feed at least 5 times. I didn’t click the video because I was unsure of what I would see and didn’t know if I was mentally prepared for what was on the video. It seems every day we are inundated with videos of Black people enduring abuse. One minute it is something as ridiculous as Black people having the police called on them for barbecuing in a park and the next minute it is a video of a Black person being gunned down by the police for merely reaching for their wallet. I still remember the agony I felt watching Philando Castile bleed out on Facebook Live. To this day, I can still see the blood seeping through his white T-shirt. What many people do not understand is that these men and women are not just random names and faces. Black people understand that names forever immortalized by hashtags could easily be our sons, our daughters, our mothers, our fathers…us. My patience has grown thin and my soul weary watching video after video of our pain. Black agony is shown live and in color on instant replay around the world.

As I continued surfing Twitter throughout the day, the video of the Black female officer continued to pop up in my feed, so finally, I clicked play and watched a Black female police officer stand stone-faced as a White male subject sitting on the ground in handcuffs repeatedly called her the n-word. I watched a few seconds of the video, and I was saddened, upset and disgusted. I fast forwarded thinking surely there must be something else on the video that I must see besides this. There wasn’t. It was 60 seconds of a White man calling a Black woman the n-word as she stood silently, stoically, with pink gloves on her hands, just doing her job.

I wondered when she woke up that morning and stepped into her uniform if she knew that before the day was over the verbal assault of her being would be on display around the world? Many on Twitter shared the video and praised the woman for her composure, and I agree she should be applauded for her poise. She was the epitome of grace, dignity, and class even in the face of such a demeaning verbal assault.

However, I took issue when a person on Twitter remarked, “Watch this racist White man repeatedly call this Black female police officer the n-word trying to invoke a reaction. She stands unfazed and unbothered. What a QUEEN! Salute.”

Pause.

Unfazed and Unbothered?

I didn’t have a problem with people saluting this Black woman for her composure. Indeed she was the pinnacle of professional perfection. I get that. However, to make the comment that this Black woman is “unfazed and unbothered” as a White man repeatedly calls her the n-word and her male colleagues do NOTHING, struck a chord with me. Especially when many in this world have NO idea how it feels as a Black woman to be called the n-word, and you must stand in silence, taste the bitterness of the word on your tongue and still swallow it down, feeling the burn of racism churning in your stomach like a flared and peptic ulcer. I am called the n-word almost daily online and each time I keep my composure. However, ask ANY Black person if they can recall the first time they were called the n-word and I can guarantee they will ALWAYS remember the first time and how it made them feel.

The problem with this world is that it has sold itself a lie so that it can sleep better at night believing that Black women are unfazed and unbothered by racism. Ask Michelle Obama how unfazed she was when she was repeatedly called an ape, how she was unbothered while her husband faced death threats.  Ask April Ryan how unbothered she was when she was vilified for merely doing her job as a journalist. Ask Samaria Rice how unbothered she was when she buried her 12-year-old son, Tamir. Ask Serena Williams how unbothered she was having to defend herself against allegations of cheating. Ask Lesley McSpadden how unfazed she was when she watched her son’s body lay lifeless in the street for over 4 hours. Ask Maxine Waters how unbothered she was when she received death threats for speaking truth to power. Ask Jemele Hill how unfazed she was when people around the world call her the n-word because she has an opinion about Black men and sports. Ask Allison Jean how unbothered she was to get a phone call that her son, Botham was murdered by a White woman that was sworn to “serve and protect” simply because he was a Black man that opened his door. Ask ANY Black woman that exist in this world how unfazed and unbothered they are on a day to day basis of just trying to survive.

I am sick and tired of Black women being defined by how much abuse we can take. I am sick and tired of Black woman being labeled as the “strong mammy” that will save the world. I am sick and tired of Black women being seen as unfazed and unbothered when we are subjected to verbal and physical assaults.

Please check yourself! If you believe Black women are magical feminine Negroes that bake pies, fry chicken, with thick, ripe nipples out for you to nurse on, answering basic level questions about racism that you could easily Google, as we keep a straight face and never shed a tear, CHECK YOURSELF! Black women have emotions. As much as we laugh, please believe we do cry. As much as we champion causes for others, we are praying that one day,  someone will stand with us. 

You will never see the totality of our scars. You will never see the tears. You have no idea the weight that Black women carry on their shoulders. You have no idea how my soul weeps for my people. You will never know the rage that burns in the core of my being for justice. Not because we have not revealed it all to you but because you refuse to see. What you see as unfazed and unbothered is a Black woman that is fighting every day to make it in a world that seeks to break her. So, as Paul Dunbar wrote, we wear the mask…

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

Additional Readings:
Black Women Do Not Exist to Save You 
I, Too, Am Serena. Tales of Being a Black Woman With A Voice

4 replies »

  1. Thank you, Hannah, for your thoughtful essay, and thank you for reminding us of Dunbar’s wise words. I hope everyone takes your essay to heart. The most destructive stereotype we have in our society is that black people are “queens” or “have thick skin” or are “noble”. Please white people, wake up! I lost a friend last year who buckled under the accumulated hurts and stings until she couldn’t take it any more. Everyone thought she was doing just fine, she was the life of the party, after all. Thank you so much for writing this.

    • You’re welcome, Betsy. I am very sorry to hear about your friend. Some of the people we think are the strongest need to checked on. I was telling my daughter no one calls me unless they want something. Which I understand from the nature of my work but it is rare that someone calls me just to check on me. I think Black women need to learn as I am learning how to set boundaries and take care of ourselves. We have to be responsible for that. I am learning.

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