Little Black girls are often socialized to be polite, quiet, and low maintenance, always worrying about how their existence is impacting the people around them. We are taught to be helpful and lean toward a neutral nurturing role...as far away from being a bitch as possible. Some of those lessons unfortunately are still vital to our survival in white-dominated and male-dominated spaces.
The experience of being both Black and female is beautiful and complex; we spend lifetimes learning to navigate this intersection in society and our families. Add on anything additional - a differently-abled body, a fat body, a dark-skinned body, etc - and you quickly realize that not only is space not being made for you at the table, but some people are truly trying to keep you out of the entire room.
When I stepped into the music scene, I finally realized just how uncomfortable I was taking up space. I’ve always been involved in leadership programs, and the performing arts, but I never shook the feeling of feeling unworthy of space and attention. The idea that people have to give you their attention willingly leaves many people feeling inadequate when they aren't the focus of someone's attention. But I've not heard much about taking space when it is required.
On one hand, Black women are expected to be loud and “extra” to get some results. (the finger-wagging, hand on the hip, fast-talking stereotype haunts Black lady introverts day in and out). On the other hand, we are expected to be sweet and quiet so that no one mistakenly identifies us as loud. We are taught this with the false assumption that people will treat us better if we stay quiet. But the truth is they will treat us all the same whether it is subtle or blatant. There is power in knowing when to be quiet and when to get loud.
For those of us who are new to taking space and putting ourselves in the forefront, validating our voices and elevating our concerns helps everyone around us. I always refer back to the quote (lord knows who wrote it), never dim your light for other's eyes. But more importantly, when you step onto any platform, you're paving the way for everyone like you who is coming next. You will be able to encourage and uplift them by shining your own light.
So now that I've rambled my philosophy on your inner light, here are some ways I’ve created space for myself:
1. Cultivating the culture I want to experience.
The thing about being a culture cultivator is that you only have to live your life to achieve your goal. The heart of this message is the well-known advice; be the change you want to see in the world. I know what it's like to be introverted, young, black, female, urban, etc, and I can change how I interact with those groups to be a better mentor, sister, and friend. And in turn, those people's relationships will also improve, and now we have a cultural shift. Maybe I won't notice the effects right away, but I've liberated myself from a culture that I didn't fit in by disengaging.
2. Taking space when it is offered to me.
It's so easy to turn it down, especially when it is impromptu. I hate nothing more than an unplanned spotlight moment. But practice being a willing participant and taking advantage of sharing opportunities. This will make you more comfortable the more you do it and helps you stay ready to swoop in on opportunities to engage with people without your shyness shutting it down.
Being true to who you are is crucial in today's world. Elevate your impact by validating your voice and being seen and heard.