One of the perks of being black in American society is being practiced at ignoring some of the cultural norms of the status quo. Many of us who are black have gone through a rites of passage, having learned to adapt to living in a place where, not only are ideas of the culture promulgated by the white majority, but also, pockets of hostility among them will inevitably permeate our world. And since the ideas — many of which become trends in the culture — more often than not, lack consideration of non-white perspectives, and since there is random hostility, it’s not that hard to distrust the relevance of said trends.
I don’t speak for all black people, of course. But just for the record, I am black, my family is black and I grew up spending time around a lot of other blacks. Soooo …. yeah.
However, this post is not about black lifestyles versus white lifestyles … no, not today.
In my last post I was self-congratulating about fixing the shredder and that got me thinking about how many years it has taken to feel brave enough to do that kind of thing in public. And that also led me to thoughts about all the public shaming meant to keep us all in our place, regardless of skin color.
I understand how markets work across varying industries. Yes, we need laborers, professionals, entrepreneurs and artists to keep our societal wheels turning progressively. And yes, we need to be discerning about our strengths and weaknesses as citizens, distinguishing who is smart enough, strong enough and creative enough to do particular jobs. Everyone can’t be the leader in their preferred vocation, so the general population branches off, selects their luminaries and the luminaries convene and screen out the best among us.
But, I think they’ve gone a little too far.
During the last few months before I left my day job, while I often wore earbuds to listen to music as I sat working in my office, never wearing them away from the desk, I began wearing those earbuds at the copy machine and other common areas. It felt like awesomeness! Why, for so long, had I subjected myself to chatter typical of office antics — gossip, silly jokes, the latest doomsday rumor — most of which I found irritating and distracting? Why? Who says just because I punch a clock I have to marinate in the non-work part of office culture? Where was that written in the workplace manual?
So with months left to go — although they felt like years — I decided to restore some semblance of sanity and motivation with a little music, not every day or every single moment, but occasionally, when I felt I needed it. Of course music makes me move, so it didn’t take long for the looks to swing in my direction, following abruptly halted conversations. I didn’t care. I was being productive and happy with music. I wasn’t spinning around or break dancing, I was merely bouncing a little, nodding my head, …. oh and throwing in a little shoulder shimmy at times. It felt wonderful.
But I got those looks, the kind you give to a kindergartener who insists on wearing her favorite orange tutu with blue cowboy boots to school. Oh how cute, she’s lost her mind. I realized happily, after all the years as a middle-aged professional, following all the rules, I no longer care what anyone thinks. I can hardly explain the immensity of joy in that revelation.
Besides, I thought, who are all these luminaries deciding how we should live and how we should behave? Who chose them? Other than following general laws and regulations, why the hell are we allowing them to come into our homes or into our bedrooms or into our closets? Why do I need anyone’s permission to pronounce myself loveable or talented or beautiful or brilliant?
I came of adult age in the eighties– less technology, more costume jewelry and big hair. In the case of black people, less natural hairstyles like dreadlocks and afros, on the other hand, more perms. During those years, rarely did I hear words like “narcissm” and “hubris.” All of a sudden, in recent years, these words are a thing. Apparently loving yourself has become some kind of rebellious act unless you’re doing it inconspicuously.
Forget the fact that you could work your fat or narrow tushie off at a place for years and have a supervisor with such deep-seated insecurity, that you may as well be prepared to tongue-kiss the ceiling of possible advancement. According to societal norms, if some vague group doesn’t get together and agree on how worthy you are, then you’re not worthy.
Everywhere we turn, the status quo keeps trying to reign us in, announcing, don’t be yourself until you check with us first, through magazine covers, news articles, television programming, billboards, movies, etc. Well I’m a fifty year old woman who’s decided she’s not going to fade into the sunset of her life waiting for the world’s encouragement or approval. If I’m having a good day, not only am I going to crank up the tunes and dance around my house, I’m going write about it and hit publish.
I’ve decided that this world around us, creating and recreating all their many rules, are more interested in what’s in it for them than what’s in it for me. The writing is on the wall. Low-self esteem sells a helluva of a lot of products. Inner wisdom suggests I start taking my business elsewhere. I’m taking my life back, thank you very much.
The journey to wholeness requires that you look honestly, openly and with courage into yourself, into the dynamics that lie behind what you feel, what you perceive, what you value, and how you act. It is a journey through your defenses and beyond so that you can experience consciously the nature of your personality, face what it has produced in your life, and choose to change that.
–Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul