A few weeks ago, as I was catching up with a close friend over dinner, she informed me–with a laugh–that a mutual acquaintance had recently expressed awe at the fact that the two of us got along so well.
“I don’t understand how you’re friends with her,” Veronica*–a non-Black woman of color–had said. “She’s mean.”
Girl, I guess.
Most folks who don’t see it for me will just flat out say that they think I’m a bitch. Situationally liberal white folks tend to go with tacitly racialized terms like “combative,” “intense,” or “attacking.” There’s a delicate dance tied to chastising and disqualifying Black women for daring to speak “out of turn.”
There’s an equally delicate dance tied to women in general trying to avoid being seen as “mean,” as if it is life’s worst possible trait. Women are socialized to be sweet in spirit, meek in manner, and soft in speech. Deviate from that script and no one will like you, hire you, or *gasp* want to have sex with and/or marry you. Intersect womanhood with Blackness, and in my case, queerness and fatness, and you have a person who is essentially told to eggshell-walk for their entire life if they want to get anywhere.
Yeah, that’s a no for me. As hell.
In a lot of ways, the illness and death of my mother catalyzed my current boldness. For the final years of her life, as Alzheimer’s deteriorated her brain, she lost her speech nearly completely. I learned that because life is short and unpredictable, so is the amount of time that we have to use our voices, in whatever capacity we see fit.
Though I do quite a bit of sugar-coated speaking, especially as a professional, I frequently see fit to use my voice in a way which is incredibly blunt. I’m intentional, though, about being able to take what I dish out. I actually prefer it; I need to be challenged, not coddled. Not everyone does well on the receiving end of the bluntness that they mete out to others, though, and so you have people like Veronica, who cry wolf the second someone comes with the same energy they had.
In fact, after referring to me as “mean,” (to which my friend responded that I was just “very honest and real;” love her for that) Veronica launched into a story about how I had made her cry during a mediated conflict resolution. The thing is…I never raised my voice; never cursed; never resorted to ad hominem attacks to make my points. And furthermore, we were having the mediation because of her vindictive behavior.
But because I said some shit that she just didn’t want to hear–and didn’t hold her hand while saying it–she unraveled. Sometimes you don’t need to drag folks, you can just stick to the facts and it’ll bear the same fruit as a full-on cussing out.
To keep it all the way live, I happen to think that old girl was crying crocodile tears. NBPOC and white women vilifying the innocuous actions of Black women to gain an advantage is a post of its own, though. What’s maddening is that those same women–white women especially–are frequently able to turn ALL the way up without consequence, in response to things which are completely undeserving of that level of excessiveness (see: the I WAS TOLD BY APPLECARE lady, and others of her ilk)
But let a Black woman give an unfiltered, valid opinion at a volume which is just a bit too high above a whisper, and in a tone which is just a bit too confident, and it’s the end of the damn world.
Stop. No. Bye.
While the two can most certainly exist simultaneously, I would much rather have you think I’m a bitch who is deserving of respect and excellent at what she does, than be seen be seen as ~*nice*~. I’m not here for nice. I’m here for (among other things) success, coins, personal growth and the uplift of the marginalized.
Frankly, I’m ok with being a little “mean” to actualize those things. Get with it or get lost.
*Yall know the deal. I don’t want any smoke, so issa name change.