Anonymity and the Double-Take

My husband loves Assassin’s Creed. He is currently playing Assassin’s Creed III, and he’s one of those guys who must do everything in a game, so it takes him forever to do anything on the main story line. As a former history teacher, I enjoy watching–and discrediting or confirming–a lot that happens in the game. This game is especially interesting because it tackles the American Revolution, a specialty of mine.

Assassin’s Creed draws a lot of parallels to real life, based on the writers’ very extensive and great research. I don’t think that the writers knew just how well they could illustrate the life of a black woman in their prose.

This is something that I have reflected on before, but it hit me multiple times this week, most recently this morning when I was receiving my weekly Peapod delivery. I usually get the same guy, but this time I got a good old-fashioned down home New Englander. He already wasn’t expecting a black woman to answer the door in my fairly nice apartment complex, and he certainly wasn’t prepared for the “good morning” that came from my mouth.

Black women are anonymous in this country, and in a great irony, the saturation of Black women on reality television has made our anonymity even worse. “Normal,” non-loud and non-sterotypical reality tv archetype  Black women–The women who wake up every morning, do right by their kids, go to work, act like good citizens of the world–we pass through the world without so much as a second glance by the masses. Don’t believe me? Ask Michelle Obama. We’re not considered beautiful enough to take notice of, smart enough to be listened to, pleasant enough to be addressed. Of course, in places where there are far more women of color, this isn’t necessarily the case (which makes the Target story even more inexcusable), but in places like the segregated North, it happens every day. Not only can I go my entire day without seeing a person of color (I’ve done it. It’s insane.), but I can also go through my day without so much of a smile of recognition of my humanity.

So when I said “good morning” to my delivery man this morning, out of good nature and politeness, I wasn’t surprised by the double take. The look of recognition that I received from him, the registration of sight, is one that I see all the time. I get it at the bank, the grocery store, at the campus book store at the elite college where I studied for my master’s degree, even at a few job interviews (so you saw my resume, called me in, and then you saw me, so you were expecting…what?). Recognition of humanity for Black women only comes when she is acting outside of the archetypal narrative that has been accepted by the masses. Should she become angry (or “sassy” as my mid-western white MIL likes to call it), she immediately stands out. If she  takes of the mantle of education and privilege (high vocabulary, good posture, no accent), she stands out. Either way, to be recognized, a Black woman must surprise. She must, with a measure of considerable degree, step out of whatever box someone has already put her in. All day, every day, from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to bed.

I don’t know what to make of my anonymity. I’ve been told that it’s a good thing–we aren’t noticed in the same negative way that our male counterparts are often noticed. A Black man is in constant danger when he reaches a certain age–he is a constant target of the most negative attention and can be swept up into something powerful and far out of his control. Don’t believe me? Ask Trevon Martin. Black Woman live in a constant clear and present danger for other reasons. However, I am not convinced that our invisibility in this country is a good thing. Indeed, I think that our anonymity hurts us and our children more than we realize.

Because we allow ourselves to walk through the world as whispers, ignored until we can’t be ignored (positively or negatively), we’ve been completely forgotten in the dialogue that our political nation is having. Has had. Those with power have decided that we are not important enough to be courted, that our voices aren’t strong enough to matter, though it is increasingly clear that we our the new majority in this country. Yes, there are organizations that are built specifically for women of color–sororities, mostly, full of the elite, snobbish, exclusive, or otherwise unhelpful–but while they espouse to be doing things for our greater community, their work has very small impact, and indeed, they seem not to be players at all when it comes to a national conversation on Brown womanhood/motherhood. They seem to be in it for themselves: Doing small “community service” projects and sometimes giving money to pet-projects. It would seem to me that they are worried more about their next grand party and less about the rest of us who are struggling to gain the power needed to make real, lasting, and positive impact for our children.

Because let’s be clear: Our President, during his campaign, rarely if ever talked to Brown women directly about their lives, their children, their needs, their power, their vote. He created programs that do things for our children (Reach of the Top), yes, but he didn’t empower us. He didn’t talk to us. White Suburban women were courted, heavily, by both sides of the aisle all year–their voices were so valued that over a billion dollars were spent over the last 12 months to move them to vote one way or another. Ads everywhere, speeches everywhere, handshakes everywhere. But where were we?

And then November came, and the numbers were brought to bear: Brown people gave our president his election. Brown women brought this president his election. And we were never brought to the table.

What could happen if, in 2016, there were more ads targeted toward women of color in this country? What issues would be brought to the table? What if Michelle Obama, who is a proud Mom-in-Chief, elevated other Brown mothers along with her? And not just the elite ones, not the ones in the political class, but the real ones. The ones who get up, go out, do the best for their children and come home exhausted but ready to do it again. What if Barack, the father of two beautiful daughters, elevated Women of color out of obscurity? What if he took down our hoods, brought us into the light? What power could be wrought? What mountains could we move for our children (rich, poor, urban, suburban? We’ve all got mountains in the way…)?

We mothers of children of color–I’m being exclusive here because I recognize that there are White women who adopt children of color and there are White women in interracial unions–are the best advocates for children of color. We have to come of our obscurity. Take down the hood of anonymity. Every time we keep walking, moving, being normal and unrecognized, we hurt our children.

I refuse to keep my sons from the political table any longer.

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