These are all stereotypes that plague black women. Stereotypes I often find myself faced with in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Growing up on a military base, I was surrounded by diversity constantly. The stereotypes that were fed to me through mainstream media mostly went unnoticed. My Jamaican parents tried to prepare me for how the world would one day perceive me, but because of our open-minded, multicultural community, it was difficult to even fathom how anyone could judge me based on what they saw on the outside.
That is, until I married a white man and entered the workforce.
Little did I know before then that it’s not so much about what people see, but what they perceive that can determine your worth. After all, our perception is our reality. And I’ve seen this play out in more than one way time and time again.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband took me shopping for maternity clothes in a department store. I had stopped wearing my wedding ring in my first trimester, because my fingers were already starting to swell.
My husband, like most, dislikes shopping (at least when it isn’t for him or in any way food related), so he made himself comfortable in the middle of the mall while I shopped alone.
But when I went to check out, the cashier looked at my belly — and scowled. She informed me that her daughter was pregnant too, but she was married.
Thankfully, my pregnancy allowed me to focus on the good in the day, so the cashier didn’t steal my shine. But thinking back on that moment later, it was instantly clear she assumed that I was pregnant and unmarried because I was young, black, and female — and my momentarily ringless finger fed into her assumption.
After that day, I found a ring that fit my swollen finger. But comments like that one haven’t ceased.
Since having children, I notice that when I’m out without my husband, people tend to make assumptions about me that work their way out in awkward conversations or nosey questions.
It usually starts with something thinly-veiled, from, “Wow, you sure have your hands full!” to “Where do you work?”
When I say I’m a professional school counselor, people often look noticeably surprised.
One day, I suspect my children will pick up on these subtleties. They may ask why people are sometimes confused or skeptical about my job or why they seem so curious with our family dynamics.
But these moments — despite being awkward and sometimes even annoying — will no doubt lend themselves to some much-needed conversations with my kids. And instead of shying away them, I intend to face them head-on.
I want to teach my kids that perception is reality, and therefore, we have to be careful about what we fill our minds with. Television and social media are full of stereotypical characters that entertain us, but they can also change our perceptions about others more easily than we realize — and not necessarily for the better.
My marriage to their white dad shows my children every day that love transcends race. A black woman who marries a white man is not “a sell out,” just as it doesn’t mean “there aren’t any good black men left.”
Above all else, I want them to know that in our house, you can break glass ceilings, no matter your color — and I’m making it my mission to see to it that they do. In big ways, and small.