I feel triggered about a certain experience and I need to talk about it.
In May, the company I work for acquired one of the major outlets for Black women in the media space, MadameNoire. It called for a celebration and senior leaders of HelloBeautiful and MadameNoire thought it appropriate that 10 members of both teams sit down and break bread.
We gathered at Industry Kitchen in the South Street Seaport area of Wall Street to eat and be merry. We were just minding our Black-ass bidness, enjoying lunch at a restaurant predominately visited by people who did not look like us.
The group of women who surrounded me belonged to #BlackGirlSorcery (I want to start a new hashtag to differentiate from #BlackGirlMagic at times, because although it gives us our due, you sometimes have to take it up a notch) and rivaled in peak bad ass-ness.
We laughed, cheered, and spoke with no reservation. Just to let you know, this group included Black women SVP’s, VP’s, editors, writers, women with experience in this industry in which you could never, women with master’s degrees, (basically women who have contributed to the culture in represented and unrepresented ways) who attended the venue with the purest heart, mind, body and soul to drink to our NUMEROUS contributions and strategize on how to, f**k the world up.
Near the end of this illustrious lunch, a tanned White man walked over, suited and booted in nothing short of tailored and tapered, to strike up a conversation, uninvited. I was later told said man was filing in for the rightful restaurant owner. He was flanked on both sides by the General Manager and our waitress.
We laughed and obliged, due to the fact that Black women are always aware of their surroundings and guarded because of random, immediate danger, but, we were severely unprepared for what came next.
We engaged with the tailored gentleman, who asked, “What are you celebrating?” and we filled in the gaps of silence to inform him that we worked in the media industry and were invested in the culture, committed to making our mark within. Maybe we shared too much, but we were literally in the moment, thinking about our story to come.
“We’re here celebrating a company merger!” a colleague said. Filled with good intentions and jubilation, our voices filled the air in jubilee along with raised glasses of “frose” (frozen rose).
He asked with a slimy grin, “For what publication?”
“In the Wall Street Journal,” someone said, tongue-in-cheek.
To that, the tailored gentleman smiled and effortlessly inquired, “In the crime section?”
I can only speak for myself when I say, I immediately stiffened up to make sure that what I heard was not true.
“Wait, did you say the ‘crime section?’” I asked, as my VP took off her sunglasses and tilted her head back to ask the same question. The man, who didn’t even acknowledge our question, continued on about some other nonsense, and then walked away.
The moment may have been ruined if it were not for the persistence of Black women. And after a few failed attempts of expressing ourselves to our waitress, who dismissed our immediate concerns with a flippant, “Oh he was just kidding,” we talked amongst ourselves, because we are most often our own sources of refuge and understanding.
We came to the conclusion that we would not let this moment in privileged history become a part of our story. We waited as the same man came back to offer one of the most unapologetic apologies that I’ve ever heard in my lifetime. Our VP tried with all of her might to caution him to never automatically associate melaninated people with crime, something that he failed to learn through the lens of humanity and understanding. To that he offered no true acknowledgement.
“I feel so bad,” he said.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said.
“Don’t be mad,” he said.
There will always be spaces that value money and view minorities in subhuman terms. But the love of Black women around me, some of whom I’ve known intimately for over a year and some of who I knew for minutes, lifted me out of “Why do I strive?” and pulled back the strain of tears incensed by pure, unadulterated, anger.
And then we did what Black women should be allowed to do because we’re magical, resourceful, strong and forgiving. We continued on in self-care, but collectively. With grace. With space. With the mindset that we will continue to snatch everything that is owed to us, taken from us. With unabashed resilience and forcefulness.
I won’t say this man left scars because he will never be allowed to imprint himself on our life experiences or in our story. But he does belong to a very specific narrative that allows him the time and capacity to “free his mind.”
We will continue to do this until the world can give us what we have given so freely. We will continue to lift each other up until the scars upon us left by the ones before no longer show. Until our voices are hoarse with assertion, no longer pleading.
We are equal. We are in abundance and there’s not a got-damn thing you can do about it.