In honor of Black History Month, I thought it fitting to write about ways we as black people tend to hold ourselves back. I find it ironic that after facing slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement, we find ways to keep ourselves and other black people from succeeding. If anything, we’d want to succeed to prove that racists are wrong about us, right?
1. Black People Don’t Do That
Have you ever wanted to do something adventurous, such as sky dive, go white water rafting, learn rock climbing or go camping? Were you studious as a child, and told that you ‘talk white’, think you’re a white girl or boy, or called an Oreo? Have you ever been told that something you wanted to do – such as visit Europe, learn a non-Romance language, eat certain ethnic foods or listen to music other than hip hop, R&B, blues, jazz or gospel – was something that only white people did?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to follow any pursuit or interest that does not harm another human being. I don’t care if you want to be a goat herder in the Swiss Alps. Who cares if its not something that black people traditionally do? One thing is that, if there hasn’t been a black person to ever do it, there would be such a sense of racial pride by you accomplishing that feat. Another thing is, what was the point of our ancestors struggling, protesting and dying for us to have equal access to education, any social arena and any economic opportunity, only for black people to bar the door for other black people? This is one thing that I was subjected to when growing up and it has never made sense to me. I was always told I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be… but then black people told me I couldn’t do certain things because black people didn’t do them.
We have enough work to do to stop holding ourselves back – I’m not going to anybody’s ideas, regardless of what color they are, of what black people should and shouldn’t do hold me back. And you shouldn’t either. Unless the purpose of your life is to satisfy the black race, instead of being happy and contributing to the good of mankind.
2. Get Money First, Be Happy Later
Now this isn’t something that’s exclusive to black people. I just notice it more, I guess because my family and most of my friends are black. We have a tendency to discourage each other, our children and ourselves from following career paths unless they will garner a comfortable salary. I think the focus on “making good money” comes from being a race who, historically, were among the have-nots of our society. But times have drastically changed. Athletes and entertainers aren’t the only ones who have non-traditional careers and earn “good money”. All black people aren’t poor, and black women are making major strides in education and corporate America. We’re living in an age where people are now earning their entire income online; where you can be a dancer, writer, and other creative roles when you grow up and still support yourself and your family.
The real question is whether you can withstand the negative feedback from those who don’t share your vision. As an example, your mother may want you to become a doctor and not take your aspiration of writing children’s books seriously. Not only will you be miserable while you matriculate through medical school, when you finally make time for your dream, you’ll regret not having pursued it sooner. And it’ll be you who sacrifices their happiness – how much will your career affect your mother’s life? People want to be proud of us but they can’t live our lives for us. You have to make yourself happy, first and foremost.
3. Using Other’s Views As Your Own
Depending on your cultural background and where your family originates, you may have heard phrases growing up like “don’t bring home a white boy” (and its converse, “if she can’t use your comb, don’t bring her home”), white people always try to hold you back, the white man is the devil/can’t be trusted, all black people have to stick together, Hispanics keep moving here and taking over, etc etc etc. Because of this conditioning, you may carry a chip on your shoulder the size of Texas and see racial injustice at every turn.
There are so many underlying issues to this one, so I’m just going to reiterate that you are your own person. Use the experiences that you have had to make your own judgments. You don’ t appreciate it when other races make generalizations about black people – don’t be guilty of this yourself. I try to view each individual as just that – an individual. Each person I have ever met, regardless of race or gender, has been unlike any other person of that same race or gender. Racial and gender-based discrimination has happened to me before and I’m sure it will happen again. I refuse, however, to let those incidents and people involved keep me from interacting with any other person of that same race or gender. Just because I’ve met a white or black idiot doesn’t mean that all white people, black people, or whomever, will also be idiots.
What other ways do black people hold ourselves back, and how have you worked around them in your own life?